Assignment Mistakes: Beauties to Be Embraced

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Chin O’Malley was halfway through his Advanced Biology course, and on his computer he had several files open to help with the midterm assignment (a research essay related to problems facing the Earth, using 3-5 credible sources and 2 visuals): research …. an outline he created … assignment directions … notes from an interview Chin conducted with an Earth Sciences professor … several possible visuals. He was determined to create a project that would showcase his abilities, resulting in consideration as a Biology Honors Fellow for his college senior year. (This was most prestigious, as it carried a $2000 stipend for working as a Teaching Assistant.)  Two weeks later Chin’s project was completed, yet when it was returned his professor wrote a quizzical note on it, with no grade: “See me.” The professor went on to explain that, while Chin’s thesis was unique, with research that was solidly credible,  paragraphs logically placed, and focused visuals, he had made one glaring oversight:  this project had many of the same errors as in Chin’s previous three essays. Rather than give Chin a poor grade the professor offered him the opportunity to resubmit it.  Lesson learned by Chin – and for all: embrace past assignment mistakes as teachable moments so future attempts can be error-free.

University assignments – and projects, assignments, and tasks in the professional world – require time, time that is precious, especially when taking additional courses.  Completing assignments requires the proper effort, for all directions must be included, the project must be created (whether in writing, in a lab, or a workspace), and it must be looked over when completed to be sure it is the best quality.  Yet so often it is only the ”now” of the assignment considered, i.e., the present steps to create and complete it.  However, when past efforts, either directly or indirectly related to the assignment, have occurred these are too often left behind, placed in the “Over-and-Done-With” file. This is a big mistake. For previous input on errors made, content not included, possible better research, a more focused thesis, and additional components can go a long way in improving future assignments and projects. Sometimes, it is tough to look at ourselves in the mirror, but that look can help us improve. Looking over and embracing previous comments (from professors, supervisors, peers, friends) takes some extra time, to be sure, but when the final goal is considered, i.e., the best possible outcome, those extra minutes and hours are worth it.

What approaches could Chin take to be sure previous assignment “hiccups” don’t again pop up? The steps are easy. Yes, more time is needed, of course, but it is crucial to remember that one’s assignment or task efforts will always be judged by others, and one should always want those efforts to be judged well. Follow these steps, and the final outcome will showcase a person who uses the “then” to make the ”now” better:

  • Create an “Edit List” on the computer with various categories that would include all components of an assignment. For example, Chin’s assignment might have these categories:  Research, Writing, Visuals, Interviews, Directions.
  • Under each category write in a list of all errors or oversights made (such as shown in the Edit List below). Next to each of these fill in the “fix” to make it right.
  • Consider why each error was made, and include this after the first two items under each category.
  • For every new assignment go over this list to be sure the same problems do not occur.

Using Chin’s assignment, part of his Edit List might look like this:

  • Research:
  • Used two pieces of non-credible research [Chin’s error]. Be sure to use the Credible Research Chart to assure all research is credible [professor’s comment]. Was in a rush; used research from Google that seemed to fit [Chin’s reason as to why the error was made].
  • Writing:
  • Two proofreading typos [Chin’s error]. Be sure to read writing aloud when finished to catch typos [professor’s comment]. Wanted to simply get in the assignment, thus did not proofread it and did not have someone else look it over [Chin’s reasons as to why the error was made].
  • Visuals:
  • Illustration is too large [Chin’s error]. Be sure any illustration does not overwhelm the text, so reduce it [professor’s comment]. The illustration looked great; it needed to be showcased [Chin’s reason as to why the error was made].
  • Interviews:
  • Too much non-related commentary from interviewee [Chin’s error]. Only include interview quotes directly related to supporting points [professor’s comment]. The person interviewed has a national reputation;  the more words included the better strength for the essay [Chin’s reason as to why the error was made].
  • Directions:
  • Essay was more than 500 words beyond the maximum assigned length [Chin’s error]. Be sure to follow all directions [professor’s comment]. Was excited about the topic and kept writing [Chin’s reason as to why the error was made].

As for Chin’s resubmit, he followed the above guidelines. It took him 4 additional hours, but reading over the second attempt he could immediately see where it outshone the first draft.  By gosh, he thought, this almost reads as if it came out of an academic journal.  His professor was likewise quite content with the outcome; he not only graded Chin with an A+ but also penned a personal note at the bottom:  “I will highly recommend you for a slot as a Biology Honors Fellow!”  Wow, thought Chin, and all it took was one extra step — embracing his assignment mistakes.

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