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Learning the Game: Individuality and Advancement in the Composition Classroom

Tyler Sheldon
Baton Rouge, LA, USA 

Practices in English Composition are undergoing a gradual and seemingly inexorable shift. Comp, seen by some enterprising students as a forum for exploring creative thought and for bettering oneself as a writer and as a student, has in recent years become plagued by students full of doubt rather than hope. To put it more plainly, some students seem to have acclimated to an educational system that provides reward (in the form of grades) regardless of commensurate effort. In some ways this seems a validating practice—likely many of us, as teachers, enjoy lauding our students for their sheer potential to achieve.  However, in my own composition classroom, I hold firmly to two tenets. I do not regularly give extra credit (lest it lose its value as reward for academic effort), and I do not provide answers to any student questions without first witnessing effort on the part of the student to arrive at an answer themselves. Both principles stem from my unwillingness to “spoon-feed” solutions to my students. If they are to better themselves as students and as writers, they must learn how to conduct independent research, and to venture on their own into the dark forest of databases and decks of the university library. They must learn that curricular and extracurricular life alike can be enjoyed without the lure of extra credit, and that “extra credit” as a concept is like dessert at the end of a meal: it is earned once all regular credit is complete. Furthermore, by allowing students to reflect on a question rather than blurting the answer to them right away, I am fostering the independent thought that students deny themselves when they expect their teachers to open their mouths immediately like pedagogical Pez dispensers. Continue Reading →