Although I’d like to claim the title of essay writing prodigy, I must also acknowledge that many of my classmates received the same strings of perfect scores. So the logical conclusion seems to be that we, collectively, are the second coming of Shakespeare. Watch out Harvard, here we come — right?
Maybe for a select few of us. As for me, I’m probably not that special. In fact, I never got back any comments on my allegedly perfect essays.
This experience isn’t limited to a single teacher or a single class, or even me. I’m sure we’ve all had at least one major essay that either disappeared or came back with a letter on top and not a word of explanation.
Feedback is crucial. Students can’t learn from mistakes that don’t get pointed out, and essay commentary constitutes valuable one-on-one student-teacher communication.
But, according to Palo Alto High School English teacher and instructional supervisor Shirley Tokheim, teachers don’t have the capacity to grade every essay in the wake of a growing student body and dwindling budget.
Teachers might need a smaller workload, but students also need to look at the feedback they do get more seriously and take the necessary initiative to obtain it when their teacher doesn’t give it to them.
“[Teachers are] definitely overburdened with the higher class sizes. I would say that’s the biggest impact on our department in the past couple of years,” Tokheim says.
After crunching some numbers, the difficulty does seem immense. Assuming a teacher has five classes, a jump from 25 to 30 students per class takes the essay load from 60 to a whopping 90.
One solution seems to be to assign fewer essays. Teachers always tell students not to overwork themselves, so shouldn’t they take their own advice?
Tokheim says, however, that she can’t always cut down on assignments. Her American Classics 11H class has a rigorous curriculum that requires a lot of writing from students.
So, one solution seems to be to cut class sizes so that teachers have fewer essays to grade. But since this isn’t immediately possible, students should do their best to adapt.
In fact, the bigger problem might be that students don’t value feedback as much as they should. A couple years ago, English teacher Kevin Sharp conducted a survey asking students to rank the importance of grade, summative comments at the end of an essay and line edits in the body of the essay.
He says that he found most students only cared about the grades, and few bothered to even look at the line edits. English teacher Kirk Hinton confirms this problem, saying that only about 20 percent of his students proactively seek feedback.
From what Hinton and Sharp say, it seems that students themselves might be contributing to their own deprivation of feedback. After all, if students don’t pay attention to comments, why should teachers waste their ink?
I’ll admit that I’m not any better than the average grade-obsessed student. The truth is, though, stewing over the less-than-100-percents I’ve gotten has made me a better writer. Thus, I urge students to prioritize constructive criticism over constructing a perfect GPA.
In a perfect classroom, this means simply paying attention to comments regardless of what grade the essay earned. Unfortunately, class sizes might never shrink down to what they used to be. So the ultimate solution the case of the disappearing essay is for the student to play Sherlock Holmes and seek out feedback him or herself.
It might seem like a lot of effort. But the benefits outweigh the one drawback. Seeking out feedback at tutorial or after school will give students the help they deserve without overburdening the teacher.Additionally, if students want to be on top, whether now or in the future, taking initiative is crucial. Even if teachers could give us unlimited attention, future professors and employers certainly won’t. As active learners, we should view the potential for input from smart, educated adults as an opportunity to be seized. So speak up and fight for your feedback.
The alternative, as Shakespeare says, is silence.