Posted by: Emily | January 20, 2010

Reading student work

And we’re on to the next one. Classes are now in session at my university, and library instruction sessions are not far behind. I’ll be working for a third semester with the same faculty member in the English department. (Can I get a shout-out for continuity!) As we continue to work on embedding the library component coherently into his first-year composition classes (hard flippin’ work!), he’s given me a stack of student research papers to read through–something I’ve always wanted to do, since I don’t see how I’m supposed to assess my courses without access to completed research projects. (I give out a little quiz, but that tells me less than I want it to; I’m more a qualitative-measurement kind of gal anyway.) Included are reflective meta-texts on the research process, a core requirement of our English 16 classes. This means I’m looking at self-assessments alongside completed papers. Reveletory!

The first thing I’m noticing is a distance between what people think happened with regard to the library sessions, and what shows up in their bibliographies. One student proclaims I personally found these sessions helpful because I learned how to find books I needed and use the library databases. Most of the sources I used I received from the school library. My ego is all fluffed up and enormous! And yet, when I look at the accompanying bibliography, the student has used one book from our collections and the rest of his sources are from the Internet. What does that mean? Does that matter? Are Internet sources good enough in a comp course that’s focused on integrating sources at a pretty mechanical level? How does this change the way I read answers to open-ended questions in my own assessment tools? Etc.

And that’s just the first paper I’ve read. I’m not sure what I’ll do with what I glean from these, but I’m looking forward to starting to build a rich archive, and hope what I find informs my teaching in a cascade of comp sections this Spring.

Does anyone out there have a process in place for looking at student work? Anything you notice time and time again? Has anyone changed their instruction based on a review of these texts? How?



  1. Reading student work–and student self-assessment–is really interesting! I, too, have observed the disconnect you point out here: students claim to have learned much from library instruction but their work tells otherwise. Maybe part of the problem is that they haven’t yet developed the metacognitive skills needed to be accurately self-critical. Perhaps?

    I noticed this problem crop up in honors program papers and reflections. This problem seemed to decrease when I started holding individual research conferences (a la SLC) with each student in that class. I started seeing much better use of library resources. (Pats self on back.)

    Also, in these classes, I now spend a lot more time on determining information needs and selecting appropriate sources based on those needs. I don’t do much pointing and typing with this group very much anymore. If at all, this happens in our individual consultation, where I show them how to conduct a search with the keywords we’ve collaboratively generated.

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