There is a pattern among formerly-known-as-remedial “academic support” classes that I’ve noticed that may work against their intended purpose.
The pattern is a result of the assumption that the subtext of planning and preparation in most assignments in college needs to be made text. That is, the assumptions of what needs to happen for a college student to be successful need to be made explicit and accounted for. For example, here is a representation of creative writing that I think gives a pretty accurate representation of the work that has to be done vs. what ends up on the page:
Academic support often seems to work by taking all of those hidden parts of the writing process out in the open and making them graded assignments themselves. An assignment that in another class might look like this:
Write a research paper on a topic covered in this class. (100 pts)
might turn into a weeks-long writing unit like this:
- Brainstorming discussion notes (classwork)
- Research goal discussion: 5 pts
- Mind map: 2 pts
- Library scavenger hunt (classwork)
- Works Cited and Plagiarism worksheet: 5 pts
- Outline w/ annotated Works Cited page: 10 pts
- Outline pair feedback (classwork)
- Introduction in-class writing (not graded)
- Rough draft 1: 10 pts
- RD1 peer feedback (classwork)
- RD1 tutoring visit reflection discussion: 5 pts
- RD2: 20 pts
- RD2 professor feedback reflection Flipgrid: 5 pts
- RD2 office hours appointment: 2 pts
- FD: 70 pts
- FD writing process reflection discussion: 5 pts
- Optional FD re-submission for makeup points
- Optional FD re-submission for makeup points reflection
- Optional FD re-submission for makeup points reflection2
Ok, the last two are jokes, but otherwise this writing process, where every step is explained, given its own rubric, shared, and reflected upon, is quite normal for a writing class that is coded “for English learners”, “academic support”, or just has a professor trying a more workshoppy approach.
This can be invaluable unless it sets too strong a precedent for explicit requirements of the writing process in students’ minds. Some students, particularly in ESL, may have no idea at all what the writing process is supposed to entail or how to use the resources like libraries, tutoring, etc. It’s better that at least one class during a college student’s first year puts this all on the record, but it might be counterproductive if too many do. It shouldn’t be lost on us that each step made explicit in the “academic support” writing process makes it resemble a typical college writing assignment less and less. If students expect these steps always to be explicitly outlined, they may neglect them or delay them on assignments where they are not.
The contrast between two types of assignments in my classes crystallize these concerns for me. The first type resembles the detailed, all-steps-accounted-for work flow above. I have 2 papers in a term whose writing processes basically fill all of the 2 or 3 weeks ahead of their final due dates with discussions, peer review, presentations, and pre-writing. The second type is an “all-term” assignment given the first week of class and due the last week, usually worth a significant amount of points but doable in a few hours with the right preparation. Examples of this type of assignment are “go to an on-campus event and take detailed notes” or “email a professor in the department you plan to major in and ask 3 questions”. Students tend to do the first type of assignment with the appropriate level of dedication, preparing them well for the big essays that come at the end of the two- or three-week unit. At the same time, they tend to leave the second type of assignment until the weekend before the last week of class, days before they are due, and often run into problems like not having campus events to go to on Presidents’ Day weekend (this post is a topical one). This tells me that, in my classes at least, the precedent of having all the “underwater part of the iceberg” work outlined in detail for some assignments results in the underwater part being ignored for others.
Another factor may be that, for the first type of assignment, students are all doing the same thing at the same time and know that avoiding embarrassment during a week’s worth of discussions and presentations depends on their doing their work. For the second, on the other hand, students may all go to different events, email different professors, etc. all at different times and never have to show their work to their classmates. Again though, it is not unusual for major assignments in other classes to be solitary affairs. The many reasons that students seem to neglect solitary assignments with implicit requirements on time and preparation only highlight the problems that that neglect causes.
I don’t really have a solution for the skewing of expectations that academic support seems to produce – I just verbally warn students that most of the steps in our writing process will need to be taken of their own volition in their History, Psychology or Accounting classes. Maybe I need to give points for reflecting on that warning.