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Oct 18

The paper, “Mistakes are a Fact of Life: A National Comparative Study” by Andrea A. Lunsford & Karen J. Lunsford, is an attempt to evaluate student errors in first year composition classes as recorded in three prior studies dating back to the early 1900s in comparison with their current study by Lunsford & Lunsford. The studies drawn from took place in the years 1917, 1930, and 1986, compared with the Lunsford and Lunsford study that took place in 2006.

One of the interesting findings was that the length of the average paper was significantly longer in the 2006 study than was typical of earlier papers. In addition, they noted the subject matter of assigned papers shifted from personal narrative to papers that were more argument and research based. An expectation of error not found was that student errors were not a result of “the creeping influence of IM and other digital lingo” and that students “wrote with a sense of what is appropriate for formal college writing” (358).

Overall, researchers noted that while types of student writing errors have varied over the nearly 100 years of this focus, the number or rate of composition errors have held stable. Despite the fact that student papers have significantly increased in length, and subject matter has required more attention to outside sources, Lunsford and Lunsford determined that “student errors are not more prevalent - they are only different” (360).

One last interesting finding was the lack of technology use by both students and instructors. Lunsford and Lunsford noted that while the majority of papers were printed using some form of word processing software, most teachers graded and commented with hand-written notations, rather than making use of such mark-up technology as what is found in Microsoft Word. What seemed most interesting to me, however, is Lunsford & Lunsford’s surprise that students were not using “the many tools available” to them such as images, clip art, colored fonts, hyperlinks, and blog-style writings (358).

It seems to me that the students’ sense of what was appropriate for formal college writing (mentioned in this study) played a large role in students’ resistance to use such tools. Rarely have I had an assignment that required such tools. In fact, in my experience, papers that used images or colorful text or different fonts - without that being a requirement - resulted in points being docked from the overall grade.

Which leads me to my question: In this age of increasing multi-modal technologies, should instructors be more accepting of student creativity in their assignments?

(Reading from St. Martin’s Guide to Teaching Writing, pgs. 342-364: "Mistakes are a Fact of Life: A National Comparative Study" by Andrea A. Lunsford & Karen J. Lunsford)

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