So, in my large classes I don't have them turn in much writing - I simply can't grade all of it and maintain sanity and a research agenda. But, in addition to exams, I have them turn in a couple of specific 1-2 page writing exercises - it's not a formal paper per se, but it is some kind of synthesis and discussion of the material. For the most part they were good in my undergrad class - a lot of them really tried and made the assignment something interesting.
However, there's a disturbing trend that I've noticed over the past couple of years and I want to know if it's spreading: the inability to use apostrophes to make possessives!
This goes way beyond the classic "its/it's" problems and they're not seeming to have problems with conjunctions (which I ask them to avoid using in papers, but I choose my battles and that's not one of them for this semester). What this is is things like: "The Reeves Tale", "the husbands anger at the adultery", etc. They're not under the assumption that there's more than one Reeve or Miller - they just don't conceive of the need to use an apostrophe to make possessives.
Wtf? Is this something they're just not teaching kids anymore? Is this skill slipping through the cracks? What I'm talking about is a systemic problem that plagues not only average but above average students and I've only seen it in the last 2-3 years (even at different schools).
This is my diagnosis: text messaging - J'accuse! What say you?