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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Packing it in...

I'll almost surely regret it, but I am going to pack it in for tonight. I have three more stories to comment on for tomorrow's workshop (plus some that were finished in the last round and need to be graded), and I have the second version of 102 papers to review, one more observation to write up, some homework that came in from the Mystery class today, other assorted bits of flotsam--but my brains have apparently gone off-line for the night.

Well, mostly. I can still eke out a little blog post.

In 102, I went over some technical nuts and bolts for the students, as they're supposed to be working on sentence-level changes at this point (though most of them have a lot more revising to do). Of course I had to preface what I was about to offer with the comment, "You might want to takes notes on this, because you may not think it applies to your paper--but it might." Notebooks diligently were opened. I had written the following sentence on the board: "In The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin reveals concerns about gender." I asked the students to identify what was wrong with the sentence. First response: the title isn't in italics. OK: I underlined it to indicate italics. What else? There's no comma. Where do you think there needs to be a comma? Um... um... OK, I said, let's look at it this way: "The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin" is just a lot of words to identify the book. So what if we wrote the sentence this way: "In the book reveals concerns about gender." Does that make sense? Many furrowed brows, complete consternation. The knew it didn't work, but they couldn't figure out why. Mixed construction, guys. I couldn't clearly explain the two constructions to them (baffled looks increased), so I simply pointed out the two easy fixes: One, eliminate the word "by." Two, eliminate the word "in." One student said, "I did that: I'm fixing it right now."

Aha.

The material I went over was all along those lines--and when I'd gone through all my notes, I told them to read through their papers carefully, on a sentence level, making corrections, keeping the things I'd just said in mind. I suggested two techniques: one, read the last sentence, then the second to the last sentence, and so on. The other: read a sentence, then pause. Absorb it as a sentence. Then read the next one.

And the result was one of those silences I love, a silence filled with the "sound" of students' brains hard at work. Occasionally, a student would call me over with a question or request for a clarification--but mostly, they just worked through their papers. They have a strong tendency to say, "I'll wait to see what you tell me"--and I need to be more direct at countering that: they need to realize that I won't always be there to point things out to them, so it's important for them to practice recognizing problems and fixing them on their own.

But still, I think it was a useful session. The Mystery class was more of a bust: many students were not there (scared of the snow, I guess), and those that were had already pretty much done as much thinking and talking about the book as they could bear. (Everyone's getting pretty crunchy at this point of the term.) I let them go very very very early--but I told them they could hang around and talk to me about papers, and several took me up on it, including one young woman who was in my office yesterday and who is working like mad to get her work from a B to an A. In fact, that describes two of the students who stayed in class today--and both said that my class is the first one in which they've actually cared about learning what to do in order to write better papers. Judy Blue Eyes and Ms Enthusiasm hung around mostly just to yack with each other--though Judy did want to talk to me about her paper (not much, not in detail: she keeps telling me she knows what to do, but I have yet to see any evidence of it. Still, it's her grade, her learning experience: it's not up to me to try to force her to ask me more questions, gain further understanding). My Favorite Student hung out just to be somewhere warm and dry while she waited for her next class, which is in the classroom next door to ours.

I liked working with those two young women, the getting-B's-but-want-A's students. It's always delightful when the penny drops, the light bulb goes on.... I certainly hope their papers show the benefits of the conversation.

I'd also like to note that today contained another minor miracle or two: despite the fact that I had to make an unexpected trip to the vet this morning, losing about two hours out of the time I'd anticipated having in which to work, I got everything marked to return to today's classes. Part of that is because P&B ended early--and the only reason we weren't out earlier is that the problematic promotion mentee had left his promotion folder in his car and had to go get it so we could sign off on it. He's still working on it, so whenever he's finally finished with it, Bruce and I will have to go over it one last time with a magnifying glass to be sure there are no problems--which is a snorting pain in the ass, as it should be completely out of my life by now. But apart from his utter inability to be appropriately diligent about the application, he's a dynamite colleague and deserves tenure more than about half the department, so although I'm annoyed, it's worth the effort to be sure he gets it. And he owes me a drink: we've made that clear. Still, the short P&B meeting meant I could finish up the marking--and still eat lunch.

Now, however, I want to get home before the wet on the streets turns completely to ice. I won't count on more minor miracles tomorrow, but they sure would be nice.

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