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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Well, that was nice

All in all, a good day.

I started the morning working on spring adjunct schedules with my colleague Allen, who will take over my "evening supervisor" position for the spring. I found I was getting more confused about days and times than usual--partly because I was trying to work without having the schedule grid in front of me, which is what I do when I'm alone. I finally realized that was the problem, and went back to my usual practice of comparing the days/times on the faculty preference form to the days/times on the grid, writing down the section designations, and then seeing if anything fit. It's a teeny bit laborious, but it sure helps me keep from assigning someone a M/W section when all they want is T/Th, for instance....

P&B was easy: a fair amount of simply sharing institutional memory with the newer members of the committee, and Bruce reported that so far, the administration seems OK with what we're doing regarding seminar hours. So, whew on that.

And both classes went fine. I did, in fact, put students in pairs to outline each others' papers, and they did pretty well with that--certainly they seemed to be giving each other good feedback. I gave an option to the students who were there without papers: take off and work on your paper (or your chem homework or whatever: how would I know?) and submit the paper before the expiration of the "late submission" period--or hang out and I'll come around and talk to each of you about any snags you might be encountering. And, across both sections, all but one opted to stay--and the one who left said she was almost finished with the paper, just had a little more to do. Fair enough. I think the process worked pretty well for everyone--especially, I think, fir the two bright students who've been falling down on submitting work. Both had good questions and were bringing up important concerns.

Little Miss Arrogant wasn't in the least arrogant: in fact, she seemed to doubt her own process and to genuinely want to understand from me how to go about reaching a thesis. She'd been trying to narrow down a plan, paragraph by paragraph, but was worried because she usually ends up changing her thesis over and over. I assured her that that is, in fact, what should happen--except for the narrow, paragraph by paragraph part. Instead, she should write her ideas out in vast, enormous, uncensored detail, chew through the argument, both sides, all the information, as comprehensively as possible. Only then will she really be able to see what matters, what she's really working to prove or persuade her readers to believe--and what her strongest points are.

The Young Intellectual (the frequently AWOL member of the buddy team) had gotten some wonderful pointers from a friend of his and wanted to find out if they would work for this assignment. Absolutely yes. In fact, I want him to tell me again the three words his friend used to explain what a paper can do: it can confirm, refute, or ... and I forget the third one. At least I think that was the language, but in any event, I want to adopt it myself, or at least have it in mind to tweak, as it does help clarify what needs to happen in an academic paper. The problem for the Young Intellectual is that he can easily argue both sides against the middle, so he wasn't sure what kind of stand to take. I honestly can't remember where we left things, but I think he has a clearer sense of how to tackle the problem.

The other thing I said--and I said it to the Introverted Intellectual in the later section too--was that it's perfectly OK to say 1) For these reasons, and for the purposes of this paper, we will accept X as a given (noting that it's important that there is sufficient support for readers to grant the premise) and 2) There are seven different aspects of this issue that are important to consider, but for the purposes of this paper, I am only going to focus on these three. They're both working on a more sophisticated level than their classmates, but that added layer of sophistication means that they have to be a great deal more selective in what their overall claim in order to keep the paper within the length limits.

Then there's the young man whose brother was in last year's Fiction Writing class: I guess I'll call him The Tangential Philosopher, as he tends to ask huge, abstract questions that are at best tangentially related to what we're talking about. Today, he really came out of left field: I was in the middle of setting things up so I could show two students how to narrow search results in the databases, and he suddenly asked, "Professor, do you believe in aliens, extraterrestrials?" I just answered the question (in brief: I do believe that probably, somewhere in the universe, life as we know it has evolved on some other planet, but I do not believe that any of that life has ever visited--or probably ever will visit--this planet). Now I wish I'd asked him what made him ask. He really wants to get into conspiracy theory kinds of topics, and his initial idea for his topic, about cyber-war and cyber-security, would have made a good idea for a doctoral thesis but was just the slightest bit too ambitious and large for a 5-7 page freshman composition paper. I tried to get him to narrow things down, too, but with less success than I had with the two Intellectuals.

I find I'm actually looking forward to reading most of the papers--in part because I'm not deluding myself into believing they'll be any better than anything else I've read this semester. At the end of the second class, I had a relatively long talk with one student--one of the young mothers--who is struggling to figure out how to use support in her papers. We looked at two paragraphs together: in one, she was setting up a hypothetical situation--no need for "support" but desperate need for formality of language; in the other, she was referring to studies, percentages--and there were no citations anywhere. I was able to show her a paragraph from the Introverted Intellectual's paper that indicated how to cite paraphrase, and we reviewed again how to treat paraphrase versus quotation (and the ways in which both have the same requirements).

That was an excellent reminder to me that I need to go over all that again. I mentioned it in the first section, too, as a young woman in the class indicated she wasn't fully clear about it. But I probably need to drive it home yet again, and yet again, and yet again. This is quotation. This is paraphrase. Both need citation boundaries (so readers know when your use of someone else's ideas starts and when it stops).

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I have a pretty good idea how I'm going to approach the remainder of the classes for the rest of the term, in all my classes, which is a nice feeling. And, just before starting this blog post, I had the pleasure of interviewing a potential new adjunct who I think will be a great addition to the pool. He may face a pretty steep learning curve, dealing with community college students, but I think he can handle it, and certainly, his credentials are sterling, as were his answers to the interview questions.

So, as I said, all in all, a good day. I'm afraid if I keep writing, I'll write my way into areas of worry or concern, so, let's all recite with Scarlett: "I'll think about that tomorrow, when I'm stronger."

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