I’m suffering from competing values.

I want my pre-calc students to make as much mathematics as they can. When they solve a problem, I want their excitement to carry them into the next problem.

I also want them to practice getting their ideas down on paper, with correct spelling and grammar. They are seniors, and their great ideas won’t get them very far if they can’t express them cogently. Their professors and employers will take incomplete, ungrammatical, mis-spelled, mis-punctuated, mis-capitalized sentences as evidence of ignorance.

The rules in class are that grades will be based only on finished papers. Finished means (among other things) a sensible problem statement, explanation and conclusion, with no grammar or spelling errors. (I secretly allow one error per paper.) I give lots of feedback on every draft, but no credit for unfinished work. Result: as the term ends, the relaxed pursuit of new problems has given way to a grumbling, resentful process of revision after revision. “We already have to do this in English and History. We understand having to write it up once, but why do we have to make perfect drafts? This is math class, not writing class!” They’re stressed: students with ten papers in progress have no credit yet. And I sympathize. I remember this from grad school. The fun part was figuring out the solution and a neat way to explain it. The long, boring, maddening part was the subsequent rounds of reviews, revisons revisions, rewriting.

So why am I doing this? I guess because my experience is that everything I start teaches me something, but only the things I finish move my life forward.

Is that the most important lesson at this stage of their lives? If it is, am I teaching it the right way? Turning a fun class into a tedious chore seems like a bad idea. But letting them skip off to college in the habit of turning in papers that would embarrass many 7th graders seems like a bad idea too.

Maybe I should ask them.

In the meantime, if you find any errors in this post, please let me know.

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