Monday, May 07, 2007

Homework without the tools?

Jan Freeman's column from this weekend is about an assignment for high-school students.
"Their AP English class had read my Word column about the history and uses of tart (both pastry and prostitute) and its various connotations, they said. And now they were supposed to research and write something similar, on a different subject: a short paper comparing two words with overlapping senses, like art and craft, club and gang, labor and work."
Jan concludes by saying how much fun the assignment sounds, and what a delight research is.

Well, yes, if you're interested in it and have been given enough guidance to carry it out. But if either of those conditions haven't been met, it can be pretty awful.

Now, I don't know what instruction this class have been given, but too often I've seen students set loose on a task that seemed obvious to the instructor (sometimes me), but that simply hadn't been well enough thought out. I wonder what I would do if somebody asked me to write a short paper comparing two engine parts with overlapping roles, like the, um, well, I'm sure you can come up with an example.

(BTW, I'm not saying it's a bad assignment. I think I might actually use it myself.)

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