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Monday, June 8, 2015

lists of lists

I have so many layers of work I want to keep track of that I'm almost--though not quite--to the point at which I need to make lists of my lists. There's the list of the pieces I need to create for the reconfigured 101 classes; there's the list of steps I need to take to get everything up and ready to roll on Blackboard; there's the list of grade weights and the order in which assignments need to fall--and at this point, I'm pretty sure that parts of all this are still falling through the cracks. Every semester I promise myself that--before I make a kagillion copies--I will carefully proofread every single handout and cross reference them to make sure the information is consistent, and every semester I renege on my promise, which inevitably, of course, leads to an "oops" moment--or several--as the semester progresses.

I think (emphasis, think) that I managed to sort out the submission stream: when I collect papers, when I hand them back, what students do in class between submitted versions. And I think (same emphasis, indicating a modicum of concern that I may be incorrect) that I still have the time for three papers in six steps--without driving myself completely around the bend with requirements for virtually instantaneous turn-around. There's an in-class portion of that stream that I'm a little nervous about: the part in which I essentially simply say to students, "These are the mechanical problems I see in your paper: sentence-level errors, documentation errors, overall format errors. Here are the pages in the handbook that address those problems. Find the problems and fix them." I will no doubt have to point to at least one example of each problem--but I am going to try very hard to only point out one, maybe two examples and leave the rest of the "search and destroy" mission up to the students.

There are two reasons why I want to approach mechanical problems that way. One is, it's the only way I can spend most of my attention on deeper level concerns while still having an opportunity to point out the necessity for the mechanics to be clean. I can't do all the layers of revising I want to do while still allowing time for me to extensively mark a "mechanics" version. The other is, eventually students do need to find and fix errors on their own. It's OK if they still make the error initially; they simply need to go back at the end, learn to recognize the error--"Oh, there's a comma splice!"--and know how to address it. Eventually, after enough iterations of the error-find-fix pattern, they'll stop making the error, or make it less frequently. Ages ago, I ran into a former student who told me that he still found himself writing and suddenly thinking, "Bozo error!" and fixing it. I don't use the "bozo error" thing any more; pointing out "static" (which is what I now call it" seems to have the same punch to the gut effect, even without my taking points off for it.

Essentially, when students see any marks at all on a paper, what they hear is "You're a shitty writer." It's going to take an enormous amount of reassurance and careful discussion for them to see my marks as feedback: nothing more, nothing less. I want them to see a mark on a paper and think, "This is something for me to notice: if it's good, I need to figure out why; if it points out a problem, I need to figure out how to resolve the problem." The whole re-design of 101 is intended to facilitate that process--and to begin the process of teaching them to evaluate their own writing. They won't get all the way there; that's why there is (mercifully, still) 102--and why Paul does "draft day" with students in his lit classes, too (a tactic I'm considering, though probably not for this fall).

Learning to write well takes a lot of time and practice. Writing has always come pretty easily to me--and I'm still learning how to do it better and need to continually practice.

Shifting gears: before I got lost in all things composition related, I spent some time writing up my sabbatical report. I can't remember if I mentioned this, but last week I found out that, in order to retrieve our sabbatical application folders, we need to submit a copy of our report on the sabbatical, explaining what we got out of it, what our students will get out of it, and how important the work is to the college. One copy goes to Bruce, the other to the VP for faculty services (or whatever the hell her title is). In the past, that felt like busy-work, but what the VP's administrative assistant told me is that the VP is often called on to produce a report that defends sabbaticals: granting them at all, and granting as many as the college does. The only way to keep funding for sabbaticals in the college's budget is to make a case that they're worth it, hence the significance of our reports. The last one I wrote felt like an awful lot of bricks made out of precious little straw; this time, I had to restrain myself, or I'd still be blathering about it. The difference between my two sabbatical experiences continues to astound me.

But, ahem, I still haven't returned to that last piece, the critical essay.... Well, there's still time before summer is over. Here's hoping.

Now, however, it's time for me to move on into my evening. Tomorrow is the big Board of Trustees meeting. The current plan is for me to have my riding lesson, come home to shower off the smell of horse, and head to campus to work there until time for the meeting. Not sure whether I'll post prior to the meeting tomorrow--I can virtually guarantee I won't post tomorrow after the meeting (I'll need to get home and decompress)--but at some point I expect I will post about the meeting. Stay tuned.

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