Agony Aunt/Uncle - Letter 2 (How much advice is too much?)


Dear Agony Aunt

Just looking for a quick bit of advice really as most of my colleagues seem to be elsewhere.

A student who is keen to do well asked me whether I could have a quick look to make sure their upcoming key assignment is on the right track before submitting.  Initially I thought that would be okay (happy to help out) but it seems like an issue as if I say it looks okay from a ‘cursory glance’ then I really have to award a high mark, with the other helpful option meaning I would have to effectively mark it twice.  Both options could give the student a rather large advantage.

I figure this must be quite a common question and wondered what others do?


New lecturer on the block


Dear ‘new lecturer on the block’

Yes, this is a tricky one.  I usually get around it by saying in advance to students that I’m happy to discuss their essay plan (e.g.  a one pager) with them and look at their reference list, but explain that if we were to pre-read one student’s assignment it would only be fair to offer this to all students in a course...which is beyond what we can do workload-wise.  I also remind them to talk to the student learning advisors around essay construction etc.

Good luck!

Agony Aunt No.1


Hi ‘new lecturer on the block’

Perhaps the student should be rewarded for their initiative. Most students do not bother and hand in rubbish. I promise my students that if they are unhappy with their mark for an assignment they can try to convince me to allow them to resubmit another assignment for a better mark. It actually saves me time, therefore, to prevent this by making sure a quality piece of work is submitted in the first place. I would acknowledge their initiative by promising to take a cursory glance at the assignment and indicate whether they are on track or not.


Agony Uncle No.1


Hi ‘new lecturer...’

Don’t forget you can refer students who want to do well, like this one, to the Teaching and Learning Centres .  The TLC has a pre-reading service where they check first year and distance students’ assignments for writing style and "form". 

Also note that on the PN campus, there’s a new peer tutoring centre at the Centre for Teaching and Learning, based in room 2.01 in the Student Centre. The students who work in the Centre are senior students who are identified as strong writers, and then complete a 200 and 300 level course on peer tutoring. Their role is to be a peer mentor of writing. There are 15 peer tutors working in the peer tutoring centre this semester.

Here are a couple of info links:

All the best!

Agony Uncle No.2


Hello ‘new lecturer on the block’

I have tried various combinations of dealing with this issue and here are some of my experiences:

1.    When I didn’t look at drafts I had students I had to fail because of basic errors that would have easily been picked up if I had checked an early draft for them. It is not only heart-breaking to fail people but it takes a lot longer to mark them – good work is much easier to mark.

2.   However when I suggested people could send drafts and stipulated I wanted drafts at the plan stage, students would instead send me near final pieces of work which, as mentioned would be a lot of work to look at and essentially result in you having to mark them twice. I used to try and just have a “quick look” to give them a general overview, but got bitten by this once. A student submitted a piece of work in which a section was in a point form style I presumed was at a draft stage and made no comment about – then they did not correct the writing for the final submission and I had to mark them down severely because it was not properly written. I then felt guilty that I had failed to comment on something at the draft stage that then caused the students to lose a lot of marks.

3.   The last iteration of this I have tried is to make looking at an outline draft part of the assessment, by making the assessment a 2 stage assessment. In stage one (worth only a small amount of marks) the student submits an overall plan and list of key references for me to mark. I have a making scheme for this and grade it and give them feedback they can use to work the piece into the final piece of work. This means two sets of marking, but hopefully if you limit the scope of the first part it’s not too bad and the resulting improvement in quality of the final work means the final piece is quicker to mark. Also all students get formative feedback at a time that means they can use it to their advantage which surely means it is more worthwhile – and hopefully looked at and thought about!

I think whatever you choose to do you need to offer the opportunity for it to all students. I don’t mean you have to announce to all that you will do it, but I think you have to say ‘yes’ to anyone who asks if you have said yes to one of them. Also you can set cut-off dates – eg drafts will not be looked at after…. This last is a good way to limit your workload in looking at drafts as most students do their assignments too late to take advantage of your offer. The other thing is to decline to look at their work but agree to talk to them about it – i.e. have them come and tell you what they are planning and then talk to them about whether that sounds like they are on the right track. That of course depends if they are internal students or not.

Just lastly – I would add my voice to Agony Aunt No.1’s  recommendation of the pre-reading service offered by the student learning service (can’t keep track of their current proper name!).  It is excellent and I think really helps students in a lot of ways.

Agony Aunt No.2

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