semester assessment

So all the grades have been submitted and there are a few things to note about this difficult semester, difficult for many reasons.

First semester composition in college teaches people a few things: to articulate ideas to a rational audience in Standard written English (pattern oriented), to evaluate ideas, and to assess their progress given a certain set of objectives. My students learned a lot and made good progress, but the progress was hindered by the “place” from which the students started, what they knew to begin with. It sort of like throwing people into combat without the required bootcamp or having them run a race one hundred yards behind the negociated starting block. The majority are still not ready for the basics at the start of the course and therefore where they end is not necessarily where I want them to be, ready for more content directed courses, such as Comp and Lit or Composition II or Econ.

I see this in later courses, such as Brit Lit. In that course, I require a research paper, but students still struggle with what a research paper actually is, and it’s hard to assess how much time I can actually take to explain basics, since I don’t know what they need to know. The basic reqs of a “research paper” are articulated in comp: it’s not about reporting or listing or articulating someone else’s ideas.


1. Students coming into comp are still not familiar and comfortable with texts of multiple kinds, whether text or image-based (some would perhaps claim that our culture is image/visual oriented so students should be more learned in evaluation of images: this is nonsense). Texts are not part of their intellectual life, therefore they have a very difficult time with techniques such as documentation styles, paragraph ordering, and understanding a focus. In a way, a documentation style is an orientation, a way of picturing the phenomenon of writing and reasoning through writing. They are beginning to learn this, though.

2. Students coming into comp have a great deal of difficultly conceptualizing an audience and its needs. They have a difficult time, therefore, understanding where they fit as members of an audience other than one that is simply meant to consume goods (I must have) or survive day to day (I must work). They are learning this, though, or considering the concept.

3. Students coming into comp have a difficult time solving problems that have no predisclosed or disposed answers one or two of which may be correct. Confronted with a problem, such as a lack of data or multiple points of view or some new disclosure, they freeze or retreat into familiar answers. Here analysis is the enemy, because analysis and evaluation call for independent conclusions which could lead to failure, confusion, or ambiguity. But they are beginning to learn.

8 thoughts on “semester assessment

  1. Maureen

    Oh yes, I do often see many students freeze at the thought of coming up with an independent answer..Often, they will ask the professor in regard to a research paper, “What do you want?”..In the end, it is not about what the Professor is about the journey..the student’s search for ideas..but too few know how to navigate this ship…They still want to be “directed” to the answer instead of finding it themselves..and isn’t that the beauty of a research paper..discovering something new..refuting another’s assertions and so on…

    I also agree that many students have a hard time conceptualizing their audience..they don’t understand just who they are speaking too in regard to research or other analysis papers..

    If one has read enough critical will not have a problem understanding how to speak to the “audience”…:)

    Most Graciously,

    *A Mayde in her own little woode..

  2. Christopher

    I prefer a more zen approach to my assignments. I may not end up with the “form” that is desired but the content follows a course much like that of a slowly winding stream.

  3. steve


    Thus you have a concept of form and an analogy to guide you. That’s really all that’s required–and then comes the content.

    Maureen is still right yet: audience in a way shapes content. Hypothesis: without some sense of audience, can content be shaped?


  4. Clarissa

    I don’t think content can be shaped without a sense of audience. I mean, when do you create a response, analysis, etc. without a sense of audience? You are always addressing an issue, another author, formulating a new hypothesis..but you are speaking to the larger community, [of writers, authors, academia, etc.] not just to yourself. :)

  5. Maureen

    Talking about analysis and evaluation..I think that it is only once you reach the university that you really tackle those two…

    I don’t think many High Schools focus on or cultivate the art of analysis and/or evaluation…So, it is no wonder that many students are befuddled by Composition class in their first year of college…It is as if they have to learn how to ride the bike all over again..or learn how to do it differently…

    Most Graciously,

    *A Mayde in her own little woode…

  6. Allison McConnell

    Having graduated from high school merely 4 years ago, and having survived the CAPT test, I can say that high schools do in fact “work on” analysis– I don’t know if that’s something that can be “taught.” (Maybe it comes with familiarity with texts.) But I was writing analytical papers even in eighth grade. The national obsession with standardized tests shows up in CT schools teaching to the CAPT, where one section is an argument type paper– I remember doing many practice papers in which we had to glean supporting and counterarguments from many sources and construct an essay. If students aren’t picking up this skill, I don’t think one can blame high schools– I think this and related issues have to do with ours not being a reading society. Sure, we all know how to read, and we may consume plenty of text (newspapers, advertisements, bestsellers) but much of it is superficial reading. And in general people don’t read enough, and they certainly don’t think enough about what they read– this shows up in speech patterns, email, IM, school papers, etc.

  7. Steve

    The great Allison M makes mention of CAPT. For those who don’t know this is the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, taken by all tenth graders in the state.

    And welcome to Clarissa, who may be a friend of Maureen’s, and, if so, she must be good people.

  8. Maureen

    Actually Steve..Clarissa is is a screen name I use on another site..Silly me, I put in “Clarissa” instead of Maureen..LOL… Apparently, I was confused that day…;)

    Most Graciously,

    Maureen [Clarissa-Samuel Richardson’s “Clarissa” if you would like to know the origin of the nickname..]

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