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Monday, January 31, 2011

"Miniature Disasters and Minor Catastrophes"

The lyrics from that K.T. Tunstall song keep going through my head. They're not quite apropos (nothing truly disastrous or catastrophic, and certainly nothing to bring me to my knees, as her song says), but the next few weeks are going to be a bit of a scramble on all sorts of fronts.

The early Monday/Thursday class is still, um, interesting. Had 18 students there today (out of 28 on the roster), was missing three I thought were likely to be among the best. One e-mailed to explain that she was sick; the others, nothing. I'm only concerned because I've changed around the assignment schedule for the next few weeks--and because we went over the first paper assignment today. However, dammit all to hell, I forgot to go over the assignment they need to do for Thursday. Well, I sent them an e-mail about it (follow-up to the e-mail that sent them the assignment itself), and they can either check their e-mail and follow instructions or not. (For most of them, I'm guessing not, but that'll be a good lesson for them to learn.) I'm starting to learn who the students are who will have intelligent things to say about the readings: Thursday should be productive in terms of their being able to get into a lot more conversation. Now they have the paper assignment, they will be paying attention to the stories in a whole new way.

The second class of the day went somewhat better (although one maddening young man stayed after class to ask me questions as if he'd never set foot in the room before--and he's been there every class and said, in our little name game, that he's smart. Precious little evidence of that on hand at the moment.) For the nonce, anyway, I'm getting more consistent attendance from more of the students on the roster, and that helps.

Over the weekend I got one and a half sections worth of first assignments marked, but I didn't return them to that first class: too many other things going on. Now I've collected a first batch of reading journals from each class, so the steaming piles of stuff to go through are already starting to build. And yet (oh, how tired you all must get of reading this), I'm out of gas for today. I got back from the second class and did a lot of organizational stuff: preparing assignments for the new syllabus, photocopying, making sure I've got copies of all the handouts in all the class folders (and I just interrupted myself there, as I realized there is yet another handout I want to go over with the students next week, and I hadn't pulled it out to be copied). That was all necessary just to feel like I'm ready for the changes in the syllabus.

The main change to the assignments is that I am not going to do the individual conferencing that I've done in the past. I think I mentioned that something was going to have to give, because of the snow days and consequent loss of time to discuss the stories and general stuff about paper writing--and that was what went. But I'm very interested to see how my new plan works. Instead of the conferences, the students are going to start working on their revisions in class, before they get their marked papers back from me. Two things about this are relatively exciting to me. One, they are given a lot more responsibility for evaluating their own work, without relying on me--and they will have to begin right there in class, forcing them to get an early start. The second is that I think it will be very helpful for them to see where their evaluation of what needs to happen and mine coincide--and where there is a divergence.

I don't know what to expect in terms of actual results from this, but as I was thinking about this over the last few days, I realized that when I do the individual conferences, although the students seem to understand what they need to do, their follow-through is often quite disappointing. I'm not sure this approach will make any appreciable difference either way, but it does allow me to experiment with a different method. One semester will not provide sufficient data about relative effectiveness, but at least I'll know whether I like this structure any better than the one I've been using for the last number of years.

I have to do a little life-maintenance this evening, errands and so on, and I'm still aiming to stay on this early schedule (my body seems to be gradually adjusting, even if my psyche still yearns for my late nights of reading and whatever). That means that I intend to be up at 5:30 again tomorrow, in to the office by 8:30, which gives me at least 3 hours--more if I bail on my committee meeting--in which to chunk through the stuff I want to have done for tomorrow's classes. The main thing is to get reading journals back to the 229 students: they need to know what they're doing right (and wrong) so they can begin improving--if they want to. Anything beyond that, great. And then Wednesday I have to be in early to meet a former student who wants letters of recommendation (and deserves them), and after I meet with her, I'll have time to chunk through until my 12:30 class, and then after class, more of the same until my brains seize up and it's time to go have drinks with colleagues.

I do this a lot, trying to picture how each day will work, thinking several days down the line, trying always to stay just half a step ahead of whatever is coming at me next....

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