Being a Student: Writing for the Course

Posted on by Brooke

“He could have written this before ever taking my class!”

Among my rubrics for student writing is the requirement that they rigorously engage the course materials (readings, lectures, discussion) and also engage the methods taught in the course (narrative criticism, form/genre criticism, attention to historical contexts, and so on).

For introductory students, who are still trying to get a handle on just what we are reading/doing/talking about, this can at first feel a bit abstract. Recently, an exasperated colleague at another school made a comment that, in my view, offers an excellent “thumb rule” on this business of writing for the course:

“He could have written this piece before ever taking my class!”

If I had to isolate the single most common complaint that I’ve heard professors utter about student writing, it wouldn’t be about grammar and spelling, or about making deadlines, or even plagiarism. It would be this complaint, that a piece of student writing (often for a final project in the course) could have been written by the student without ever having taken the course in the first place.

So, ask yourself—early in the process of planning, and again early in the writing, and again when approaching completion—could I have written this before I ever took this course? Or am I making concrete use of the readings I’ve read, the lectures offered, the modes of inquiry that have been encouraged, the discussions facilitated in class?