English teacher Suzanne L. Schmitt shares a win-win strategy that allows students a chance to turn in a paper, participate in a quick review, and then swap that paper with a revision that improves on the first -- and may even mean a higher grade.
About ten years ago, Suzanne L. Schmitt's students at Antioch (Illinois) Community High School began using the school computer lab to compose their English papers. Schmitt got a pleasant surprise when she found the students were eager to revise their papers for a better grade.
"At first, I was floored that they cared enough to want to continue to work once they had turned in a project," Schmitt told Education World. "I told them to fix things and swap the papers the next day. They did!" Thanks to computer technology, making revisions is easier for students, so many of them are willing to spend the time to improve their papers, she explained.
Schmitt, who has taught English for 32 years, doesn't allow students to revise routine homework assignments. The paper swap is reserved only for major assignments. By the time the final draft is due, Schmitt has already reviewed the content of rough and second drafts.
Major assignments are multi-faceted, requiring primary and secondary research. On the day the students submit their papers, Schmitt checks for basic formatting errors during the mini conference she holds with each student. A paper must be complete to be considered on time. Students who don't have all the required elements, such as a title page, an outline, in-text citations, and a works-cited page with the proper number of sources, aren't entitled to make a swap with corrections the next day.
"Before [swapping], I marked [mistakes] and wrote comments about the problems," Schmitt said. "Students lost points on the paper and never learned to do it right.
"Often, when papers go back to students, they don't even look at the comments and marks within the paper," added Schmitt. "They check out the final grade and put or throw the papers away."
One major paper Schmitt assigns is a personal "American Dream" project about what students hope to accomplish in life. They choose a profession and lifestyle, research it thoroughly, and then write about it. Students are required to cite their research, using Modern Language Association (MLA) style for documentation.
"Obviously, I don't have time in the checking process to comment on content," Schmitt said. "The things that students fix are often formatting problems. When they fix these things, it saves me time and makes them prouder of the final product.
"Students often make errors when they cite sources within a paper," Schmitt said. "This is easy for me to spot when I am checking the paper. I tell them what is wrong and what should be done. If they fix [the paper] and give me a swap, they get it right and learn how to do it."
Students like the paper swap too. "The swap is helpful to us because it allows us to find mistakes that we wouldn't find before handing [the paper] in for grading," said Brian DeKind, one of Schmitt's students.
"I like the swap so that I can find as many mistakes as possible in my paper before handing it in for a final grade," DeKind told Education World.
Diane Weaver Dunne
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