Robert and Writing

Jennifer Hilker
Fitness, Wellness, and Kinesiology Instructor

When the semester begins, I like to give a simple and fun paper for the first writing assignment. It provides an opportunity to see how students think and get their thoughts on paper. Robert did mediocre on this assignment. Initially, I did not think much about it because he did well on the first quiz and in class assignments. He always came to class. He was never late, never left early, and always participated. The due date came for the second assignment. I began grading submissions and was surprised at how poorly his was written. It was just terrible. I had to set it aside and look at it several times to decipher it. Upon further review, I could tell that there was valuable content, but Robert’s trouble was formatting it into a paper.

I thought back to our Professional Development Days at the beginning of the semester and recalled the statistics regarding certain demographics and student success rates. Robert falls into the category of students who tend to struggle most. I discussed Robert’s writing with other instructors on campus. It was likely that it had been written on his phone. Perhaps Robert could not get to a computer on a regular basis. I also know that certain students can experience various struggles, including lack of access and even social barriers. I was inspired to reach out to him.

I wrote comments on Robert’s paper and we met after class. He had been to the writing center before, but expressed hopefulness that he could write without help this time. We decided that continuing to use the resources available at LCC was a good idea. Through our conversation, I got the sense that Robert was perhaps a first generation college student, though he never directly stated this.

The quality of his writing improved on future assignments. I knew Robert had potential because the right concepts were in his work and he presented good ideas, but he simply did not know how to write in paragraph form. For in class assignments and short answer questions on exams, I often ask students to list answers. This was no trouble for him. Robert was one of the only students to get a particularly difficult short answer quiz question correct. During the remainder of the semester, he continued to do well on quizzes and other assignments. I have confidence that he can meet his career goals.

Robert has taught me a lot. Students may want independence, but need reassurance that getting help is okay. They may demonstrate learning in other modes, and instructors may need to adapt methods when necessary. It was exciting and rewarding to identify someone in his situation and extend my help.