In an undergraduate history class, an instructor assigned a paper in which the students had to argue whether or not the U.S. Colonies had legitimate reasons to start a revolution. Many students turned in papers discussing the accomplishments of the United States, arguing that had there not been a successful revolution the great nation we know today would not exist. These students all received failing grades. One student left the classroom crying.
In this situation, a large percentage of the class's student body misunderstood the writing assignment. The instructor asked for an argument constructing reasons that exemplified an understanding of the conflict leading up to the American Revolution. All facts concerning the United States post-revolution are irrelevant in such an argument.
Although one can assume many of the students put forth a considerable amount of effort in their work. because they did not understand the assignment, the work and effort could not be rewarded.
This situation is far more common than we may initially realize. To avoid it there are simple steps we must take.
The first is to keep the handout describing the assignment. Professors often go into great detail to explain and construct the assignment on handouts for students. Reading this handout and comprehending the instructions are essential. Any questions a student has must be asked as soon as possible. This will allow the student to begin to construct a paper that is in accordance with the assignment.
Any digression from the assignment, even in the preliminary stages of thinking about what to write, can be disastrous and can lead to unnecessary stress and last minute revisions.
We should also consider discussing the assignment with fellow classmates. Casual conversation about assignments is often the best way to discover how other students grasp the concept the teacher is describing. When we learn out peer's strategies in regards to the assignment, we often gain a better understanding of it. Often, through discussions such as these, students discover new approaches and questions to ask about the paper.
Anther approach we can take is to seek advice from the EIU Writing Center. There writing consultants can help writers brainstorm and work through problems writing assignments pose. This approach can provide students with much needed confidence as they begin to writing their paper.
We can also speak with the professor. This may be the best suggestion to consider. Once a professor is aware of our approach, he or she can offer suggestions to narrow the focus or pinpoint the direction we should follow. Conferencing with professors limits miscommunication and allows students to move ahead with the assignment in complete confidence.