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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Playin' hooky

Today I really did play hooky: I'm pretty exhausted (despite a beautiful nap), but I'd have been perfectly capable of holding class. However, the chance to take that nap and to otherwise engage in a little battery-recharging (metaphorically speaking) was heaven. I had hoped to get some of the assignments marked for the T/Th 101--and stopped by campus specifically to pick them up--but as it happened, I ran out of steam before I could. Instead, I finished up the essays for the Poetry class. And my plaint of yesterday was reinforced: I have mercifully forgotten the train wrecks that I already marked, but one of the remaining papers--actually two, a new submission and a revision--were ungodly disasters.

I truly, simply do not understand how anyone can write sentences that are utterly incomprehensible and think somehow they make sense. I understand the occasional lack of clarity (and am guilty of my share and then some), but really: completely incomprehensible. My experience is that, when I read a sentence aloud to a student in conference, often the student will say, "I have no idea what I meant." Clearly. This is the problem with the aliterate: because they don't read, they don't recognize their own lack of ability to use language to clearly present an idea--at least not in writing.

What's particularly discouraging is that, even given the opportunity to revise, the student couldn't tend to the problems of the paper: neither in terms of the substance, nor in terms of the problematic language.

That in itself is a complicated issue. The inability to revise may indicate an inability to see the problems, but it may also indicate a lack of awareness of what genuine revision requires: that to revise effectively, the writer must examine every individual sentence as well as the larger issues of idea structure, organization, logic and so on. Students seem to think that paying attention to one or two things will be enough. Periodically, I trot out examples of my own revision process--but I sincerely doubt the value of my work as example. Paul and I both say, repeatedly, that students don't apply anything that is said generally to their own work: they only can see that a comment applies to them when we point to it. "Look: this is what you wrote. This is why it isn't a thesis." Or what have you.

Despair. No wonder many of my colleagues give up the fight after a while. Nothing, absolutely nothing that I do seems to work--except for the students who would do fine even without what I do. OK, that's not entirely true: there is always a small percentage of students who are on a borderline and who can be tipped toward understanding by what I offer. But the percentage is very small, vanishingly small.

So, how to reframe? Part of why the reframe is difficult is that I worry about what will happen when these students get out into the adult world. Either they'll suddenly be slammed with their own failures--which is actually the best possible outcome, as they'd then have to do something to change, to finally learn--or, my worst fear, the adult world will gradually come to accept that utter incompetence as perfect competence.

And then where will we be? (Pretty much where we are, I guess. I mean, look at American politics--which I try not to do, as it's bad for my equanimity.)

But for my own sanity, it is important to reframe. And the only way I can do that now is to think about the students who are good, the ones who can benefit from what I offer. I'm half tempted to list their names. There are four in the poetry class who are doing work that is in the "good to excellent" range, and another two who are on that borderline who may be tipped in the right direction. In the M/W 101, there are two in the first category and maybe two in the second. In the T/Th 101, there are three in the first category--and I think everyone else who remains, all seven of them, fall in the second. That class is clearly the triumph of the semester--and it has nothing at all to do with me, only with the miracle of class chemistry. But I'll take it. Right now, I'll take any crumbs of solace.

And tomorrow, I'm back in the trenches. I don't expect that I'll have any time to do any paper grading during Advisement, but it's marginally possible (given the strange tides of students through the Center), so I'll have to do at least a little after classes--and maybe get up early on Thursday so I'm sure to have enough time to get them all done. (I have to make up a little time in Advisement on Thursday, so that will truncate the time I have in the office before class.) And of course I'll be collecting homework--two days' worth--from the classes tomorrow, so all that will need to be attended to, and soon, given how little of the semester remains.

But all that's for tomorrow. Right now, I can relax into the knowledge that I have cleared the M/W decks in preparation for tomorrow, so, as they say, "It's all good."

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