Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Do we really think we're keeping students from procrastinating once they're out of our classes?

My thesis advisor asks if we writing teachers tend to assume procrastination is only an issue for our classes, not for classes other than writing. The implied answer seems to be yes, but it wasn't an implication I'd intended in my writing. It's not a question I'd ever thought about.

Isn't the whole point of having a required composition class that these writing skills are applicable across the curriculum? (It seems like that might also be the point of not having a required composition class, as was the case where I got my bachelor's.) We force students to take a writing class because we're going to teach them stuff they need for other classes, but stuff we figure they wouldn't actually learn in those other classes.

I think we know that students procrastinate in other classes, but maybe we think that our process models of writing are the key to preventing this. (I'm pretty sure we work under the assumption that procrastination should be prevented.) In theory, we hope our students will use the techniques they learned in the writing classroom in their other classes. I mean, this is what I told my students over and over again to justify to them why they had to take my class and why they had to write papers they thought were pointless. It's about learning these techniques which will serve as tools in the future.

It's a bit suspicious that I had to verbalize this belief so often. Was I trying to convince myself? Did I even believe my class was important? Did I secretly believe my students would learn to write better (as I had) when they had writing assignments that weren't merely exercises and attempts to teach techniques?

Maybe I was lucky to have some professors who were good at teaching writing, despite teaching classes that weren't necessarily writing classes.

I don't think most of us really believe that are students take away from our classes this great store of writing techniques and apply it to the rest of their classes. I think the most we hope for is to get them to think beyond the rigid rules they've picked up along the way and put more than five paragraphs in an essay.

I also think we're pretty moralistic about all this. I think we want to show our students how well things work when they don't procrastinate (because we require them to do in-class prewriting, submit drafts, revise based on peer review, and so on). I think we expect them to go right back to procrastinating in most cases, but now we can feel like we've taught them and they should know better. They deserve what they get now.

I don't mean this harshly. But the more I think about it, the more I feel that we care about procrastination because it is an easy way to judge students. They know they oughtn't to procrastinate, so when they do it, we can write them off.

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