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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Battered but better

It may have been evident from yesterday's post, but I was in a very dark place--so dark, in fact, that I couldn't even bear to talk to Paul in our first scheduled "let's talk pedagogy" conversation: I had to ask for a rain-check until Friday. I have some theories about why I was so deeply distressed by the fact that students weren't turning in work, but the main thing is that the black shadow has passed. The missing papers didn't suddenly materialize on time, but when I spoke to the students who were in class today without papers, I explained to them the situation--zero for revision on the first paper but they still can get the final product grade--and they were surprisingly chipper about the whole thing. I did make a point of being as positive as I could be about the bad news and encouraged them to do everything possible to make sure that final version is as brilliant as it can be, but still, they seemed grateful, not grumpy, which was a refreshing surprise.

That was the situation in the first session; in the session, everyone who was there had at least turned in something, even if it was more of a rough draft than a finished version. And in both classes, the students were (mostly) very willing to look carefully at my comments and seemed to feel they know how to address those comments and come up with a better paper as a consequence.

So, that's a mood lifter.

I am, however, beat to shit: I got up at six, but it should have been 5:30, as I didn't have all the papers marked before the start of the second session. The last few students got pretty sixteenth-assed comments, but they got something--and they don't know what they didn't get, so they were happy enough. All the students were also willing to have the class be a little bumpy to start, as I tried to get them rolling while still finishing up grading the last few papers. Everyone in both sessions could tell that I'm hammered with exhaustion and consequently even more addled and absent-minded than usual, but enh. It worked well enough.

I'm also happy that I won't have to read the riot act on Tuesday when Bruce is there to observe. I had thought I might be in that position and was trying to figure out how to make that work both in terms of the observation and in terms of getting through to the students, but since he'll observe only the first session, and since I already talked to the students I was concerned about, we can just launch into the discussion planned for the day and off we go.

I grant you, there are still a few students who have not turned in anything--and don't seem likely to. But even though I'm deeply concerned about attrition (witness my dream of a while back), those particular students I'm just as happy to let go. They're not adding anything of value to the class anyway, so, well, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

I always love the days when I get to just circulate around the room, giving advice and encouragement to the students as they work on their papers--they're so earnest about figuring out what to do, and I can feel actual learning going on--but today was particularly nice, even though I was in near zombie mode. One student said he was completely discouraged and wanted to just start all over, and I said no, in fact, that's a mistake, because then you'll just make the same kinds of errors all over again. Instead, keep what's good--and there's plenty that's good in every paper in the room. When I sat down with that particular student, the first thing I said to him is, "So, tell me what's good in your paper." And he did. Ah! There you go: you're right. So build on that. And at the end of that class, one student asked, "Are we going to do this process with every paper?" "Yep." "So we won't ever just write a paper, turn it in, and that's it?" "Nope." "Awesome!" I wasn't sure if he was being sarcastic, but no: he really meant it--and several other students in the class chimed in to agree. "We never got to do this in high school, but this is how we'll learn." Yeah, well, that's the general idea. Thanks for noticing. (And no, I'm not being sarcastic either: I'm delighted that they're aware that the process is designed to actually help them learn.)

Now, however, all I want to do is indulge my body with a drink and dinner, and then collapse utterly. To hell with tomorrow: next week is another week--one of only eleven more to go.

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