Essay Assignments
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By Lee Trepanier, March 5, 2012 in Pedagogy and Teaching

This is the week before our spring break where I meet with students to go over their second essay assignment. What I thought I would talk about was how I design my essay assignments. The actual question I assign to students is pretty vague, but in the classroom I spell out specifically what I am looking for in their essays. Essentially what I want to see is whether students have understood the material (summarize the readings with proper citations) and can analyze it with respect to the argument itself and its application to a contemporary political issue. Obviously the second part of the essay depends on the first part. What I find fascinating is how many students have misunderstood the material or missed major points in some thinker’s argument. It may be partially due to my lectures, but I also suspect that students are not used to reading difficult texts; or, if they have to, they are used to teachers telling them what the text means rather than finding out for themselves.

Image credit: Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis: http://www.flickr.com/photos/klearchos/

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2 Comments
Jim on Mar 13, 2012 at 10:55 am

I have arrived at the same conclusions. I have tried structuring questions in such a way that, one would think, they could not avoid the "answer". The apathy and intellectual sloth seem almost insuperable.

Lee Trepanier on Mar 14, 2012 at 3:31 am

I wonder whether this condition is unavoidable with students, i.e., there always will be a certain percentage of students who simply should not be in college. Of course, I suggest this not being a "snob" but really wonder whether our society values a traditional undergraduate education too much, as opposed to community college or technical school.

about the author

Lee Trepanier
Lee Trepanier

I am an Associate Professor of Political Science at Saginaw Valley State University. I teach courses in political philosophy as well as the Introduction to Political Science course. I received my B.A. in Political Science and English Literature with a Minor in Russian Studies at Marquette University and my M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science at Louisiana State University. My research interests are in Russian politics; politics and religion; politics, literature, and film; and political philosophy with a focus on the works of Eric Voegelin.