PUZZLING OVER THE USE OF GUIDES AND GUIDELINES

Now that everyone is marking papers and exams, some colleagues and myself discuss over lunch the function of guides and guidelines (yes, you, students, occupy our thoughts a great deal of our time). I’m using these two words to distinguish the documents that offer information on a whole subject, and that we call Teaching Guides, from the documents written specifically to help students with particular tasks (like our Writing Guidelines for Literature Papers). We’re divided on the issue of whether guides and guidelines should be offered at all.

Those of us who think that they should, argue that it was about time there existed a unified document (the Teaching Guide) for the whole Facultat de Lletres here at UAB that was taken seriously as a contract between teacher and student (a very good Bologna-related innovation). As for the guidelines, we write them in the belief that they give clear instructions that help students and ourselves save time. In both cases, the intention is also giving students an impression of cohesion and coherence in our teaching practice, and improving indeed these two aspects. The detractors, like those at our lunch table, however, think that students are given too much help and point out that their exercises are proof that many, anyway, don’t even read the documents we pass on. Some of us, they say, coddle students too much and prevent them thus from developing their own autonomous skills (from ‘wising up,’ which, I think, is the closest verb to Spanish ‘espabilar’).

An important issue like this shows the difficulties in communication between students and teachers. When writing guides and guidelines, we think of helping, believe me, of simplifying students’ lives. But I feel, like many of us, awfully frustrated when the course begins and no student has bought the set books even though the Teaching Guide has been available for months. Or when I mark papers that haven’t been edited in the way the Writing Guidelines indicate. Where do we go wrong? If books are not bought sufficiently in advance, the Literature class degenerates into chaos. If guidelines are not followed, marking becomes exasperating and, you, students, should know that an exasperated teachers simply tends to award lower marks. We’re human, after all.

A student once told me that books are bought at the last minute because we, teachers, change our minds all the time. Well, check this with us. And, truly, the function of the Teaching Guide is to prevent that from happening – teachers publish their reading list and this is it: as binding as a legal contract. As for the Writing Guidelines, there are two points that we simply can’t understand: why they aren’t read and why they’re not applied. No small points… Maybe we sound as a bunch of quirky, capricious individuals – one wants footnotes, the other MLA parenthesis… Or we fail to impress students with the importance of obeying rules that we need to obey ourselves if we ever want to publish academic work.

The same applies to deadlines, which some students seem to think are another teachers’ whim and not a way to organise their workload and ours. By the way: the deadline marks the last possible time for handing in an exercise, not the moment when this SHOULD be done… My colleague in Victorian Literature was asked to extend her deadline from 14:30pm to midnight on the grounds that my students could email their papers until that moment. I agree we should have had the same deadline but a matter of hours should NOT make a difference, particularly for a paper that has been in development for at least three months.

I’ll be grateful for feedback on this one.

2 comentarios en “PUZZLING OVER THE USE OF GUIDES AND GUIDELINES

  1. I’m sure your conversation lead to this conclusion: some students care, some don’t. The question is whether you want to make an effort for the sake of those who do, or not to make it because when those who don’t care get you frustrated you think you shouldn’t. Are there more students in the first group, or in the second? I don’t know, and I don’t think it matters, at the end of the day. What matters is how you feel as a teacher: the sensation you have when a student follows your instructions and works hard is stronger or weaker than the disappointment you feel when some don’t? I think you should basis your decision on this, and not on numbers.

    Anyway, I think that guidelines should be offered mainly in the first years of the degree, and yours being a second year subject, my opinion is that you did well (right, I profited from your guidelines, maybe my opinion is biased).

  2. I can understand both point of views; however, I must say without the guidelines/guides I wouldn’t have been able to pass this subject. So my comment is to support these, and to thank whoever is responsible for those which were made for me (us).

    As Sara already knows, my background is slightly different from the rest of my classmates, we could say there was an important gap between my primary school and the university (secondary school? what the hell is that?), so unfortunately I missed some details that seem to be quite important on these days, research, bibliography, quotations, etc., are words from a new universe I just entered last year in. I cannot say how helpful guidelines were, not only did they guide but also helped me through my work.

    Paper examples were of great value as well, especially at that terrible moment when you have to face a blank (virtual) sheet of paper: how to start?, how to distribute it? what the hell I’m gonna write about? Moreover,once you’ve got an idea, you have to deal with millions of ideas flouting in your brain which you have to sew in order to get something from that inner chaos. Not to mention that strange feeling that one has (at least I do) that whatever you’re writing is just a piece of rubbish.
    You can mix all these feelings with some drops of anxiety (we shouldn’t forget that an important part of the whole semester is in whatever you are able to write in that paper!) and you’ll get the perfect recipe for a nervous breakdown!!!
    Summarising, dealing with all these without any kind of external help would have led me in failing the subject.

    So, for my own experience, and thinking in people who might be in a similar situation in the forthcoming years, I encourage you (teachers) to keep doing guidelines and providing examples. Also deadlines are of high value, especially if Mr. Alzheimer is taking control of your damaged brain as is my case.
    Are you spoiling us? Are you just coddling us? I don’t think so. You’re just helping those who are interested in writing something worthy and perhaps they are lost, as it was my case.
    Everybody knows that a paper needs time and dedication, so either you plan it carefully (with the help of guidelines/deadlines) or just a piece of crap will be typed from your fingertips, that’s precisely the punishment of the laid-back ones: repeating it from scratch, either for the re-taking or for the next year. If I have learnt something from the time spent at university is that laziness brings failure; regardless of guidelines!

    Ok, at this point of time somebody may think that I’m buttering Sara up, those who know me already know that’s not my intention, but for those who don’t I’ll just tell you that I’ve waited to end her subject to write this, so no possible interference in my marks can be done. Once I’ve said this, I just want to send a big THANK YOU to those teachers who spend part of their time in thinking about us (students) either by doing guides, or by being avalaible when needed, (you know who you are) and I can assure that we students appreciate it (at least some of us).

    And as my friend Porky Pig would say: That’s all folks!

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