e-Pages: When?

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I had planned on colon-titling this post “Write!” but as it turns out the correct subtitle is “When?”  Specifically, “when” is the problem I faced in class this week, as in “when are students going to turn in this draft?” or “when are students going to show up for class today?”  Both of these are suddenly pressing problems, although I can’t say if it’s because of our local institutional quirks or simply the way writing classes work.  Hence, this post—part explication, part plea. About half my students turned in a draft for this assignment.  I’m wavering between two hypotheses.  First, it’s midterm season.  Technically, for us, it’s just after midterms since we just had our spring break (early, yes, I know).  But there’s also a more general issue with this course.  As a spring section of our first semester writing course, it tends to have a very high fail rate, in part because many students taking the course weren’t able to pass it in the fall. That’s the explication part.  Now the plea. Do you experience a kind of massive mid-semester slump in your courses?  If so, how do you handle it?  Is it par for the course?  Or is there some way to offer a course correction (so to speak)? I’ve made it very clear to my class this semester that writing courses are what I call “self-punishing systems.”  Here’s the language from my syllabus to explain what I mean:


      Unlike other courses you make take, ENC 1101 is a process-based class.  You don’t learn content that needs to be memorized for an exam.  Instead, you learn the process of writing.  Like any process, the more you practice the better you get.  And like any process, the learning is hands on.  That means that ENC 1101 is a self-punishing system.  If you are late to class or absent or fail to complete a draft, I do not dock your grade.  Instead, your grade will likely be lower simply because you are missing the information and practice of the process that we do each week in class.  The majority of students fail ENC 1101/1102 because of absences but not because of the attendance policy.  They fail because the more class you miss, the less you practice the process, the lower your grade.
Most of my students have taken this to heart but still I feel I must be missing something to have so many stumble half way to the finish line. Or is this just the way of things?
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.