One way I help motivate my writing students, have them experience more collateral learning, and allow them to get extra credit points (all at the same time) is the following assignment. I give this assignment selectively to students late in the semester who are in jeopardy of not passing and who really are academically capable but just can’t handle all the obstacles they are facing in their lives (98% of our students).  

The assignment is a 5-6 page essay (a lot longer than traditional essay assignments) exploring the challenges and obstacles THEY PUT IN THEIR OWN WAYS which cause them to get “off course” both in this class and in life.  100% of the students, when given this assignment DO IT and do it well.  Thus, the writing is taken care of (I can justify giving the points) and, most importantly, through this self-reflection and introspection, they truly learn important life lessons. On class evaluations, the students who have been assigned this task reply that this was the most meaningful essay they have ever written. 

I use my judgment and assign this to only those students who are truly willing to complete the class, are motivated enough to want to continue on in the class and in school, and have “gotten it,” but have “gotten it” so late in the semester that they might otherwise never get back on course.

–Barbara Jaffe, Faculty, English (Puente Program), El Camino College, CA

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