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FAQ:  Best Practices in the Classroom


What should an essay assignment include?

 All essay assignments should be distributed to students on paper (rather than just verbally described). Such assignments should specify the due date, page length requirement, and a clear purpose for the assignment. It can be helpful to initiate brainstorming by asking questions that might generate topic ideas. It's also helpful to clarify the criteria you’ll be looking for (thesis, argument, support, organization, etc.). This document is also helpful if a tutor at the Academic Support Center  is helping your student.


Should I give my students the in-class essay prompt in advance?

In-class essays are typically treated like an exam.  Students should be told in advance which texts to read so they can reread and annotate, but they should not be given the actual essay question in advance.  


What can students refer to when they write their in-class essays?

Students should definitely refer to their textbook so that they can incorporate quotes into their essays as support. Throughout the course, they should be encouraged to annotate their texts, so it's appropriate for them to refer to such annotations during the in-class essay. However, you should make sure that they haven't written out an actual essay in the book. Likewise, if they won't write in their books (despite the bookstore policy that it doesn't make a difference in the price they'll get for it), encourage them to use post-it notes. They could refer to such post-it notes during the in-class essay, again assuming they don't have entire paragraphs written on them.  A dictionary and thesaurus may also be used. 


Are students allowed to revise their in-class essays for a higher grade?

No.  You may allow students to revise their graded out-of-class essays if you wish to do so, but students may not revise their in-class essays.


How much feedback and what kind of feedback should I give on drafts?

There is no one single answer to this question. When you provide feedback on rough drafts, it can be helpful to focus on the big picture (like thesis, argument, support, and organization), as opposed to focusing on editing grammar or technical errors. When you provide feedback on a final draft, comments about those issues should continue, but more specific comments regarding topic sentences, transitions, style, grammar, etc. could be added. Too many comments can be overwhelming, and too few can be unclear.


How do I handle plagiarism?

If you suspect plagiarism, try to get proof (e.g.  type a sentence from the student's paper into Google, and it may take you to the student's source). If you find proof, we recommend that you write a memo to the Dean of Academic Affairs outlining the situation and providing copies of the evidence. If you go through the office of the Dean of Academic Affairs, the first offense is considered a warning, but the second offense can get the student expelled. You do, however, have considerable discretion regarding how you handle the situation. Some instructors fail that particular assignment; some instructors fail students for the course. If it's not too late in the semester, some instructors recommend that the student drop the class. There are a variety of options depending on the situation. 

If you do write a memo to the Dean of Academic Affairs, it should be cc'd to the student and to the Chair of the English Department. It should also explain the assignment, the details of the student's violation, and your response. You should also attach the student's paper with the plagiarized source text, and highlight the identical or similar passages (if applicable).  Remember to keep copies of everything for your own records. Don't hesitate to contact the Chair or the Adjunct Liaison if you suspect plagiarism; we can also provide you with a sample memo to the Dean.



Updated 8/17/12 by SA

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