Teachers should reward brevity, not bullshit. (This is a follow-on to yesterday’s post about teaching writing.)
Writing assignments today look like this:
Turn in 4- to 6-page paper on themes and symbolism is Raisin in the Sun by Monday morning.
Everything is wrong with this. The page length trains students to focus on print rather than online, which is their future. Teachers then need to create rules about margins and font sizes to keep students from gaming the system.
Students should get a feel, not for pages, but for words. The limit should be 1000 words or 1500 words. Writers like me write differently for a target of 250 words, 800 words, or 1500 words; so should they.
More importantly, why specify a minimum? This implies that longer is better (and we all know the joke about tossing the papers down the steps and giving the ones that land at the bottom an A). Shorter is better. The student who can elucidate the most powerful ideas the most effectively in the shortest piece is the one who has mastered the subject (and writing).
I’d like to see assignments that look like this:
Upload your piece on racial challenges in America by Monday morning. Maximum length: 1000 words. Papers that express original ideas boldly and logically will receive the highest grade.
Students who hand in 200 words will get a D either way. But if you can write 500 brilliant and insightful words, you deserve to do better than the hack who generates 1000 words of fluff. This also gives the teacher a way to reward the hard-working students who pare their 1100-word papers down to a tight 750.
Photo: Niklas Bildhauer via Flickr