The $5,000 Approach to Teaching Writing

“What if I had a check on my desk for $5,000? And what if I rewarded the writer whose introduction most caught my attention, who most effectively made me want to continue because of a solid and clear thesis, with a check for five grand? Would your introductions improve even more?”

Cries of “Absolutely!” filled the room — to which I replied, “Then you always could do it. You just couldn’t be bothered.”

Silence followed. — Bob Kunzinger, Chronicle of Higher Education (paid subscription)

After working with students on their thesis, Kunzinger has his students write the introduction to their papers in class, and gives them a separate grade on each section of the paper. He points out that students know their professors have to read anything they write, and that professors will allow rewrites, so they don’t put much effort into their drafts. (He notes that this isn’t malice on their part — they’ve been trained through high school that a good assignment is a finished one, and he argues that poor performance in wiriting classes has more to do with students choosing not to make any significant effort, rather than students being unable to write.)