Process and Professionalism

This post is written by member Galen Leonhardy.

GalenLeonhardyI wrote to an online student and, after assessment comments, explained her paper was not coherent and needed more editing before I would accept it. The student responded:

Hello, 

 So I read that comment you left on my paper. I don’t not have the time to use Tudors. Sorry. Just being honest. You are just gonna have to accept my papers without any revisions other than the ones you leave me or the other students. Sorry. Wanted to let you know.

The student is making two important points. First, she only has limited time for school. Accordingly, she will edit one time using my assessment (and peer assessment).

It’s an open-admissions school, and this student represents an everyday fluency/versatility/ perceptual/sociological reality. As composition theorists in community colleges, we interact with a vast range of versatility levels. That’s reality.

I meet such challenges by providing process-oriented assessments based on criteria and rhetorical possibility. I must trust that a student will do the best she or he can with what she or he has. I must allow a student to succeed on her or his terms. I can’t force learning.

In an authoritarian reality, this student would receive some kind of retribution for not doing what the teacher commanded. Composition theory, however, tells us linguistic versatility will change gradually if she persists. We believe in the process, not domination.

What I decided to do was give the student full credit for completing the process. It’s no skin off my back. I did not harm the student with a grade. Students in my classes have a binary evaluation based on completion of a process: the assignment is submitted for assessment and then for final assessment commentary and evaluation. Students get an A for accomplishing the process.

It is not my job to rank student proficiency or be a gatekeeper. Teachers from a different time and educational reality did that. I facilitate process-oriented instructional opportunities. It is each student’s job to do what he or she can with what he or she has to the best of his or her ability. Grades are meaningless in terms of what success is. Process-oriented instruction is really all we have. If I structure my classes around process and trust that process facilitates transference, then I am facilitating learning opportunities.

The student’s response was a bit abrupt, and the temptation might be to construct a rigid authoritarian response in order to maintain standards. But I know that if the student stays in the class and writes more while experiencing process-oriented interactions, then the likelihood of bettering her linguistic versatility increases. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but rudeness cannot harm me. If I relinquish authority, I increase my ability to serve.

We offer our learned opinions and facilitate. We also do what it takes to become better able to facilitate: write, publish, study, assess our strategies, and revise. If we accept that what we do is better our own skills, provide process-oriented learning opportunities, and facilitate, then we no longer need to worry about being the people who establish limits and enforce standards.

Galen Leonhardy teaches at a community college in Illinois. His work has appeared in CCC, TETYC, and other publications. He most enjoys spending time with his wife, Lea, and his daughters, Sarah and Hallie.

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About Lu Ann McNabb

Lu Ann Maciulla McNabb is the Policy & Alliances Associate for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Lu Ann has long been an advocate for teachers, students and education. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said, "Education is the anvil upon which democracy is forged."

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