Tonight, I’ve been grading college application essays that I received from students yesterday, and I’ve noticed a pattern that I’ve encountered before during student teaching, so I have to say something about it. If you are a student in an English or writing course, I suggest you read closely.

The way I look at courses that focus on writing, your instructor has some expertise in the area that you lack. This goes for both secondary and post-secondary courses, as far as I’m concerned. When your instructor asks for an early draft to provide feedback for you, it is not merely an exercise in futility: he or she wants to help you improve your writing and has provided comments to facilitate that end. We don’t just spend time reading drafts and writing comments for our health; certainly, it’s one of those time-consuming tasks that we don’t really savor (even if you’re like me and actually enjoy giving feedback – it’s still tedious to read several essays).

So what should you probably do if someone who is supposed to know better than you provides information that would help you improve your draft? (Hint: this is not a trick question.)

But what do I frequently get instead? Students who turn in final drafts that are virtually identical to the earlier drafts, despite having been given feedback that should have resulted in major changes to the piece.

Why does this happen? I can come up with several reasons, none of which really seem acceptable:

  1. Laziness or lack of motivation. I hate to attribute this to plain ol’ laziness, but it’s not out of the question, and certainly I’ve seen other evidence of that at least in some of my current students. And I’ve already had motivation problems with one student in particular – maybe this one isn’t too far off. It’s disappointing if so, though.
  2. Apathy about grades. This one is related to motivation but in a different way: rather than having a lack of motivation to do work, students might simply see the cost-benefit ratio of doing the necessary work vs. the grade payoff as a waste of time (because they would do more work with only a small benefit to them, especially for the seniors since the course is weighted). Again, I’ve seen this, although more in classes other than one I’m grading essays for.
  3. Overconfidence in own writing ability. I’m not going to underestimate the extent to which some of my students might just think they know better than I do about good writing (or at least good writing for them) and take my comments as something to consider but not necessarily follow. That might be true to a degree, but for crying out loud, I’m still the one grading the final draft! And again, I have had training in writing theory and instruction, and (although they don’t know this) have even been recognized for my writing. And the assignments I give out are my own creation! Why wouldn’t I have an idea of what I want (or in the case of the college application essay, what admission people are looking for)? At any rate, I would think that it would be prudent, if you think that your way is really better, to at least talk to your instructor and try to get some more direct answers, maybe defend your position. If I give you feedback and no changes result, I am probably going to assume that you ignored my advice for no good reason unless I have reason to believe otherwise, such as a conversation about the writing choice.

There might be others, perhaps. Still, I am somewhat irritated at seeing this trend and hope that eventually it will wane.

(Teachers of writing, please confirm this for me! I could use the comfort right now…)