I’m willing to question (in fact, do question regularly) whether it is part of my job to re-teach composition in upper-division literature courses, or just indicate that yes, I do expect you to know how to quote, cite, and use commas and semi-colons appropriately, and if you don’t do these things I will (a) refer you to a handbook and (b) dock your grade.

The student essay I just read, however, suggests that the writer’s literacy level is way below college level, a problem that has been partially obscured through two-thirds of the semester by our focus on primary texts, i.e., those written in Middle English. But when a person doesn’t understand an essay published in this century, written for a student audience, there’s a problem that is way, way beyond my ability to solve. There may be an undiagnosed learning disability, or the student may simply have been passed through courses that Stu should by rights have failed.

I’m sorry this happened. I have no idea how Stu got to be an English major with this level of difficulty in reading and writing. But I’m not a literacy specialist. I teach Middle English literature and language, not middle school language arts. I’m signing off on this one. Even if Stu does come to office hours (a request I made weeks ago, which has been been ignored), I’ll punt, and recommend various other campus agencies that would be more use.

So, should I teach semi-colons, or just take points off for using them wrong?


5 thoughts on “Not my department!

  1. If you have a sheet with basic grammar and punctuation rules, I'd hand it out to problem students as a reminder, and also provide directions to the on-campus writing tutor.Personally, I teach anything in office hours that people want (usually for me this involves K-12 math), but in class I'm focused on the class at hand, unless it is something that the entire class has missed from the previous course. (And even then, if it's only half the class, I go over very briefly and suggest office hours for the half that's missing.)Good luck! And remember, you can't care more about students' learning than they care themselves. If they don't take the life-line of individual meeting…

  2. I'm not in the same discipline with you, but I do struggle with this. For example, students in upper year courses often need a good sturdy knowledge of research methods to do well in my class – but what do I do when they don't have it? I've seen my colleagues teach research methods, so I know it wasn't poorly taught. I've been trying to remind myself that sometimes we need multiple iterations of things to truly learn them… I do a quick review, which might be in the form of a lecture, handout, or group-based no grade quiz.

  3. I teach both. Literally, despite the fact that I'm a historian. I also teach geography, vocabulary, the construction of argument, and how to read primary and secondary sources — and write about them. Content seems like a luxury sometimes, but if they can't do the reading, then they won't understand the content.

  4. I add one remedial element that can help the entire class. Otherwise, I admit to punting a fair bit. I regularly refer students to the Writing Centre, not that they go. Just as they don't come to office hours or read my essay comments. But nearly all will complain at the end of term about their unfairly low mark!

  5. At the level at which you are teaching, those mistakes should not be overlooked. Dock points, or half-points, or whatever, but make it significant. Otherwise Stu will never learn….or maybe Stu doesn't care to learn.

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