Where do I even start?

As I slog through the mire of finals week, with seemingly endless papers to read and grade, I thought of how nice it would be to have some companionship in my misery. Zelda and Mrs. Parker were occupied with other things, so I thought I’d give you all the opportunity to share some of my pain. Aren’t I thoughtful?

Well, do you want them to get it off the streets?

My colleagues and I agree: one of the things that is so consistently frustrating about teaching writing is that so often, what’s broken is not really the linguistic knowledge but the thought process behind the stilted, imprecise, grammatically or logically flawed writing that we get. Too commonly, when asked to correct their own work, students will not even understand what is wrong. They see no obvious spelling or capitalization mistakes, so they look no further. Or they see no grammatical  mistakes and they are stymied. Or, in the most heartbreaking response, they will laugh, say how ridiculous the mistake is, and then identify something that is actually correct!

There are different forms that these errors in thought or translations into written language can take. Sometimes it’s using a word in the incorrect context. Sometimes, there are severe lapses in logic. Increasingly, it’s the reliance on generalizations which sound good but contain little substance. For this last sin, I can hardly blame them. If you really think about it, we live in an age of thinking out of the box in order to be someone in this world, but at the end of the day, we have to step up to the plate and take care of business.

I think I just sprained something writing that last sentence.

I started recording some of the more egregious examples of bad writing I come across in an effort to understand the mistakes and maybe come up with some strategies to address and – dare I say? – correct them. To organize the massive collection of sentences I’ve gathered over the years, I started to categorize them into what I like to call Types of Wrongness.

NB: All of the following excerpts are written as is, so imagine a little [sic] next to everything you might be tempted to pass off as a typo. I’ve seen all of these samples with my own eyes, written in real pen, pencil, or printer ink. This is no “a friend of a friend has a sister whose co-worker got an email from her cousin’s husband who got it from his brother” situation. These sentences are real. Oh…so…real. They were also recorded with no reference to the author; even if I wanted to, I couldn’t tell you who wrote what or when. And no, I didn’t get them from Shit My Students Write.

Without further ado, I present six of my categories to you now.

1. Facts or logic are optional.

  • Animals shouldn’t be used for medical experiments. Although they aren’t real people, it’s morrally wrong.
  • Even if it has brought positive and negative effects to our lives it shows that either way it has been bad.
  • Not many people go by this trend, but I see it in most people.
  • In reality, no one is naturally six feet tall.
  • From the age of five, my mother became a single parent.

2. Thank you, Captain Obvious!

  • Animals do take a huge part on our menu of choices meat-wise.
  • Life is offered to so many people in this world.
  • An education can help you with your reading with writing because without it we wouldn’t be able to read or write.
  • I now know about global warming from earth science and the different rocks that are important to society. Like who knew rocks would be something major on earth. Did you know?
  • Next, knowing what is going on in the world today helps us to be more aware of what is going on out there.

3. WTF?

  • I feel you create your own future, so why be mad or evil?
  • Life is a grand aspect that every human must attend as they are brought into this world.
  • When I was about 16 years old, my mind was childish enough to make the right decisions that won’t affect me or my future.
  • Life’s head is the basketball and I’m the basket.
  • For example, life is a challenge it shows you how far you can take it beyond life. Just remember, one day you will meet your match you can’t always win.

4. Oh irony, you fickle mistress.

  • The purpose of education is to make ourselves smater and skilled.
  • Although all course are important. The most one for me was the english course specifically grammar and punctuation.
  • To sum up, my parents time seemed more simple. I like simple.

5. Would you like a dictionary?

  • Next, showing someone love helps them build their self of steam up.
  • Then it affects everyone because the ultra violent rays can cause skin cancer.
  • Africa is probably the most struggling nation country dealing with HIV.

 6. Can you repeat that, please?

  • My goals in life may sound familiar to most young people who is fledgling at their beginning of educational start.
  • But no challenge comes easy, because a challenge is always challenging.
  • These elected officials are elected by the people of the state in which these elective officials are elected from the people.

Now it’s your turn! Anyone have any “best of the worst” examples to share?

23 thoughts on “Where do I even start?

  1. I wish I had some worthy of sharing, but you’ve stymied me! My absolute favorite is “Life’s head is the basketball and I am the basket.” I’m going to spend most of today pondering that one.

  2. I don’t know why you didn’t like the “Life is offered to so many people in this world” one…I mean…surely there are one or two people who aren’t…offered…life…? Ow. Never mind. Even setting up that joke hurt.

    Sigh, if only I required my students to submit two copies of their papers–I’d have some doozies to share with you. I’m taking this summer off to finish my dissertation, and your post just really made me appreciate that decision all the more. Thank you. Thank you for giving me some perspective. ;) Sorry it had to come at the expense of your happiness, though, lol.

    • Yes, taking the summer of was a wise, wiiiiiiiise decision! I’ll probably end up with a summer free of teaching as well (two more semesters until I’m a senior adjunct and can actually get first crack at summer classes). I still read essays for our college placement exams, and I always go into reading sessions with my ‘quote notebook’!

      Where would we be without life? Ouch, indeed :)

  3. I’m embarrassed to say that I reread bits of my MArch thesis, and found a glaring grammar typo. At that point I stopped reading. It was the intro. I was a poor student then, but truly should have paid someone to edit my thesis prior to submission:

    “Part 3… ends by beginning to explore…” sigh.

    • Too funny! I’ve absolutely written things like that. I’ve also forgotten to take out the little notes I write to myself in my essays when I’m stuck on something and want to remember my goal for that section. I turned in a paper in grad school that included a something like ‘[INSERT TRANSITION/THIRD ARGUMENT HERE]’ :)

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  5. Thanks for the laugh! The pricipal of the school I taught at sent a notice home to the parents that stated: “Their will not be recess this week due to the high wind sheild factor.” Aside from not realizing in his 60 years of life that it’s “there” and “wind chill factor”, he also had deplorable grammer. Should a pricipal say “we was” or “I seen?” I think not!
    I also had a grand collection of stupid letters from parents. Hopefully, you don’t have to deal with parents. Funny post :) !

    • Great example! I love it! I think that’s one of those things that will pop back into my head on the first cold day in December, and then I’ll laugh and laugh!

      I most definitely do NOT have to deal with parents, thank God! It’s one of the reasons I teach in college. Well, that and I’m really crap at dealing with state education bureaucracy, too ;)

  6. I’m so glad you were one of the people life was offered to. So funny!

    (I had another comment but I wasn’t sure about the apostrophe placement. If i did it wrong my self of steam would’ve been vaporized)

    • I wonder if that’s why people get big heads when they have too much self of steam…hrm…

      Apostrophes be damned, comment away! :)

      (Love the avatar. I’m a huge Lucille Ball fan.)

  7. “Although all course are important. The most one for me was the english course specifically grammar and punctuation.”

    Sigh.

    I see this kind of stuff all of the time.

    I hope you got this at the beginning of the semester and not at the end.

    When it comes at the end, I kind of want to slit my wrists.

    Did you see the video from this Professor from Stanford? She conducted a 6 year study and concluded that argues that she is not really seeing an increase in digital illiteracy. Well, duh! She’s at Stanford! And if she followed that cohort for six years, well, let’s just say they weren’t texting in 4th grade like kids are now. I would love to know what you think. Check out both the videos.

    http://profesorbaker.wordpress.com/2011/05/08/andrea-lunsford-stanford-myths-of-digital-literacy/

  8. Most of them do come at the beginning, but sadly, not all. That’s when I feel like I should run away and be the painted lady in a circus.

    I’ll be checking those videos out this weekend. Thanks for the links!

  9. These were great for a laugh, but painful as well. I think that grammar, spelling and the ability to present a cohesive series of thoughts in writing is one of those “you-get-it-or-you-don’t” kind of things.

    I was a good student, and well-known for being a good proof-reader. Often I would tell the author about the most glaring grammar and spelling errors, but some of the content was so atrocious I couldn’t bother trying to fix it without assisting in a complete rewrite. I was shocked at the poor standard of writing and wondered if the student was truly giving the best effort or just didn’t care. This is why I didn’t become a teacher even though that was the recommendation of a personality test I took as a college freshman. No patience.

    Of course, now, in the world of blog comments, IMs, tweets, texts and emails, I have truly shocked myself at the errors I’ve unleashed… usually it’s those damn homophones that catch me out if I don’t reread my hastily typed words.

    • It’s definitely a “if I don’t laugh, I should cry” situations :) And I think you’re right – some people just don’t ‘get it’, but I see lots that could get it but don’t care. Those people are frustrating. And my patience with them is short at best at the beginning of the semester, and practically non-existent at the end. There was one kid who, after the entire semester and gallons of red ink, would STILL write “I read X story. I will discuss my thoughts about the story. First, I will explain how symbolism was really big in this story. Then I will explain how characters were really important.” I mean, really? I bust my ass to give him feedback for 3.5 months and he’s still giving me that crap? So I wrote “I see you continue to give fifth grade introductions, despite comments and feedback I’ve given on every previous paper you’ve submitted. I can only conclude that you don’t, in fact, read my comments, or don’t understand them but have not bothered to ask me for further explanation. You have not improved your writing skills at all over the entire semester.” He also ultimately failed that paper and got a very generous gift of a D for the semester. This was a kid who would pretend to read when we did in-class readings, hardly said a word during group activities, and was described by other students in the class as the “Jersey Shore wannabe dude”. Yeah – he didn’t care, and I don’t even bother trying for patience with that type of student.

      • Oh, and just for clarification, the ones who do try to improve definitely get patience and effort from me. I had another student a few years back who could barely write a paragraph at the beginning of the semester. By the end, her essays weren’t good, kind of like the wannabe up there, but they were a HUGE improvement from the beginning. She got a D in the class, but both of us worked our tails off to get her there.

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  11. It must be so frustrating as you pursue your chosen profession to run into the sorts of students that just don’t care. “Really? Someone, somewhere is spending good money so you can come here and waste both your time and mine?” Ugh.

    I also admire you for working hard with those that do care, but not sugar coating the grade. There are too many situations in this world where the lowest common denominator prevails simply because people aren’t strong enough to give a fair assessment of another’s performance. That is demotivating to those striving for excellence, particularly in a team environment – or a classroom, for that matter.

    • When I first started, I tried to reach those students, thinking that they just didn’t have the right encouragement, background…yadda yadda. I quickly learned that it was useless. I got good at identifying the ones who were already motivated and would push themselves; the ones who were motivated but not as skilled; the ones who needed a lot of help but were still teachable; and the ones who were there only because their dad threatened to take away their pimped out Civics or not pay for Spring Break in Daytona. I no longer waste my energy on the last group :)

      You’re so right about the detriments of vanity grading!

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