In the past few years I have seen more students who are very bright, hard-working, and grade-conscious, who are very comfortable when they have a list facts to memorize, or a formula to follow. Rather than thinking of a revision as an opportunity to develop, these students think more transactionally than organically about their learning, and prefer to see revision as a punishment for not getting it right the first time. I see it instead as an integral part of the critical thinking process.
The freshmen who are enrolled in info-dump courses in anatomy or criminal justice sometimes expect a college writing class will be similar — lists of vocabulary words to use in grammatically correct sentences; reading comprehension quizzes to take, in order to prove the student can churn out paragraphs packed with details from readings the teacher has pre-selected because they contain the correct information.
As a kid I loved buying a Lego set and following the step-by-step instructions in order to build the thing on the box, but there’s a different kind of personal growth that comes from starting with a pile of parts and deciding what you want to build.
I want to help my students know what to look for when they are gathering their piles of parts, and to know what kinds of connections and interactions between the parts are good for what purposes, but in a skills-based course, I’m not asking them to swallow and regurgitate the “correct answer” for points. In the real world you can only go so far by carefully following the rules someone else wrote down for you to follow.
What Tegan Bennett Daylight says about teaching students to read also applies to teaching them to write:
Universities are businesses. Students are customers. The more customers, the better the business does.
And of course, the best way to retain a customer is to keep her happy. I’d suggest that happiness for students might arise from challenge, from hard work fairly rewarded, or from the acquisition of new skills. But there is of course a quicker route: you keep students happy by not failing them. And then – surprise! – when they graduate they are not literate, or numerate, or knowledgeable enough to perform the work they have been studying for. —‘The difficulty is the point’: teaching spoon-fed students how to really read