Sunday, October 28, 2012

The logic of student essays

Bleah. Grading. While most of my students have gotten better about the basic structure of an essay and the idea of making an arguable claim, followed by some sort of evidence that supports it, the actual quality of the evidence and the analysis of that evidence is still, shall we say, lacking.

I had my students in peer review highlight each others' paragraphs to color-code for claims and evidence and analysis, and by and large they discovered that the structures were perfect because there were, indeed, sentences on either side of the quotes being used. The actual content or relevance of those sentences to the evidence, however, doesn't necessarily match up. Clearly there is a disconnect in terms of quality control on both the writer and the peer-reviewer ends. Argh.

And the logic as they walk me through their argument processes! Sigh. My friend posted this satire of a TED talk from the Onion, and I shall re-post it as my students all seem to suffer from Because?Magic! in their logic:

I don't know how to teach this sort of basic "there's a hole in your logic three miles long and you have to actually explain how each step in the logic works" thinking. All of the "logic" I find posted on the web from philosophy courses and Toulminian argument is way more structured and advanced than I am going for. I just want them to show the steps of their thinking and not contradict their own claims half a page later.

Of course, if this satire is right that they're getting it from the business world (and political campaigns too!), I don't know how much I could do about it. ...Wait! I have an idea! An idea that will solve our students' logic problems, completely revamp NCLB and save our country money! Wanna know what it is?

You're gonna have to pay me to find out. Make checks payable to the Save the Sisyphus Foundation, Ltd.


Anonymous said...

This is why I like a good five paragraph essay. It's a good, short context in which to learn how to compose a paragraph properly so that it contains both a point and evidence plus commentary on that evidence that supports the point. Once they start thinking longer than five paragraphs and they sort of get lost--that is, until they've mastered the shorter form. Once they get that, it's easier to move them into essays with more complex structure.

TMedina said...

Is it a failure to understand the writing and structure, or are they not grasping the flow of logical reasoning?

Maybe a color-coded dissection of a paper on the overhead? Blue lines marking logical arguments, then red lines to indicate a break in the logic?

Nitewriter said...

My students don't even get the concept of argument, two viewpoints, and so forth. What I've tried is to have them choose a topic and write a short 1-2 paragraph paper about their feelings on the topic. Then we look up research and so forth to support their views. After that, they have to take the opposite viewpoint and find evidence to support that.

Finally, they put it together in an argumentative essay.

Tina said...

What worked with my community college freshmen, to my surprise, was to present them with something that looked credible on the surface but that in truth was outrageously bad. I found one such essay on The Adjunct Project.

Spurred by a few Jon Stewartish "REALLY??" types of questions, they took off and were soon discovering relevance issues, gaps in documentation, false juxtapositions of only superficially related factoids, factual errors, and logical fallacies.

Can they do that with their own papers? Well...can any of us, without a lot of practice? At least they demonstrated that they can recognize the issues in critical thinking that we wish they would grasp. There's hope that with further maturity and practice, they'll come to apply this skill to their writing.

Tina said...

P.S. Is there any way you can fix your comment function so one has more choices of identifying oneself than with a gmail account or a Blogger platform? a) I'm not going to switch from Wordpress; b) my Adjunctorium email is with Bluehost, not with gmail, and I'm not going to change that; and c) I'd like to be able to engage a username that's connected with my blogsite. "Tina" is Melete at Adjunctorium[dot]com.

Sisyphus said...

Hi Tina! I didn't know there were any rules or limitations on the comments, and I know nothing about the blogger preferences, so it may take me some poking about to figure what the heck you're talking about and how to fix it. I'll get back to you.