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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A bit of noodling to end the day

I was going to try to get out of here a while ago but I ended up doing a little noodling: replying to e-mails and other messages--and beginning the planning of a presentation in the "Traveling Professor" series here at NCC. In February, I'll do a little slide show and talk about my trips to Portugal (mostly Lisbon, but a little beyond), probably including a little fado music as well as the photos. It's a lot of fun to contemplate--and I'll have a hell of a task in front of me, scanning the photos from my first trip (pre digital camera) and then culling the best of the photos from the zillions I have. Of course, even thinking about this makes me want to go back--tomorrow, if possible.

The traffic stream in Advisement is now constant. Down side: I can't get any of my own work done. Up side: time flies. No one annoyed me unduly today, but I felt like a dithering idiot: it was one of those days when I couldn't seem to locate the information I wanted in any efficient or intelligent way. Ah well. I helped the students I saw; that's the main thing.

I wasn't at all sure I'd keep the Fiction Writing students for more than about five minutes: I was pretty cranky heading to class, in part because several students hadn't gotten me the full submission of their second story revisions, despite repeated requests. My huff was deflated, however, when two of the three had exactly what I needed to get. The third? I handed his partial submission back to him and told him that I've recorded a zero. If he wants to change that, he needs to resubmit the story with all the required pieces.

I talked a bit about upcoming assignments and a slight schedule change (so we can get a jump on the workshopping, get everyone's story discussed prior to Thanksgiving) and a request (so we have some stories in advance of the final workshop session, on their "portfolio" stories). Some of the students still haven't checked their e-mail and so still didn't have the specific assignment for the next story--and were unclear, even though I went over it in class before. There is a lot of overlap between the exercise they did as homework and this upcoming story assignment, so I understand some of the confusion, but some of it simply is because they're not paying attention.

After I got that all sorted out (which took a while), I asked them what would be helpful. Tyra wanted to just leave (no surprise there), but one of the students wanted to talk about the exercise they'd done, and the Real Writer wanted to do another free write--so we did. Two students hadn't done the exercise (including Calyx), so I'll collect theirs on Monday. And I had a little talk with Edison Adams after class: his work has suddenly been slipping, and I wanted to be sure he's OK. Yes, he said, and then, after talking in general terms about an ongoing situation in his life, he finally said that he didn't want to use it as an excuse, but he suffers from depression....

...

I said to him what I said to the student in the Mystery class: that I understand very well, that I want to help, that I want him to do well, that he should let me know if the problem continues, that it isn't an "excuse," it's a real problem. But the whole time I was wondering not only what it is that has brought these students to me in this way but also, what is going on in our culture that so many young people are suffering from depression? I find that terrible, deeply distressing. I know I'm not looking at a statistically significant sampling here, but it certainly feels like I'm looking at an upsurge in a serious problem.

I am still concerned about the student in the Mystery class. I just marked some of her assignments, and they're pretty awful--so I can't give them good grades, much as I'd like to. In fact, I have the same problem with the "revisions" I got. I didn't get many, and most of the ones I got may have been changed, but the problems remain unaddressed. As I said to Paul, this confirms my belief that students truly cannot see what to revise or understand how without intensive work and training. In the past, I'd have been handing out D's and F's right and left--but I'm more forgiving now (or more exhausted, I'm not sure which). I'm more willing to give a C for a paper with no thesis, no argument, but clear writing--in part because I don't have the time to teach these students what a thesis is, what an argument is, and if they don't know, and I can't teach them, it seems grossly unfair to slam them for what they have never been adequately taught.

This is a radical shift in my core beliefs in terms of my pedagogy. I have always taken on the "gate keeper" role, much as I hate being the enforcer: I've felt that students need to know, and know now, if their work is insufficient. I still feel that way--but instead of just slamming that gate on them, I'd rather either let them through (knowing they may get slammed even harder later) or give them the keys. Ideally, I want to give them the keys--but that learning curve, understanding what analysis is, understanding academic argument, is a mighty steep one, and even in the classes in which it's my specific task to help them understand those things, it's almost impossible to impart the understanding in one semester. And in literature electives, I have a different agenda: I'm supposed to focus on the literature itself, not their writing skills.

I may well flop back the other way next semester, but what I really hope is that I can find a way to structure assignments for the literature electives so that the students can learn those basic writing skills, if they haven't before--and practice them if they have learned them. Paul does drafts in his lit classes: I may do paper review days, even in the electives.

I profoundly hope that sometime in the final weeks of the semester, when I'm marking less, I can spend some concentrated time working on revamping the syllabus and paper assignments for Nature in Lit. I want to keep the readings the same--but I want to radically restructure the writing so it's not so utterly daunting for the students. And I want to keep working on clarifying what the logs need to contain: that's still a struggle, for me and for the students.

One curse--and blessing--of this career is that it includes perpetual change. Even if the changes are slight, they're there. For example, I've used the same paper topics for 102 for years now--but the approach to the writing is different, and the way I word the assignments is refined almost every semester, in one way or another. Eventually, I'll get bored with the readings and topics, too, and I'll do a major overhaul of that, too. I may be frustrated, angry, discouraged, ground down by work load--but I am not bored. I am never bored.

I am, however, hungry. And tired. So I'm going home. Yet another unread, unrevised, un-proofed post. These are becoming more common than the more carefully worked posts of days long past. Ah well. I get the opportunity to think a little, and reframe, and that's all I really care about. I hope my faithful readers (both of you) are content with the roughage (as it were). Thank you for reading.

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