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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Several kinds of wall

I put in a small stint of marking the enormous wodge of homework from Nature in Lit yesterday, and a longer stint today. I fully intended to finish them off today--and I got close enough that I am frustrated to have hit the wall, but I realize there are two walls to be hit: one physical, one psychological.

The physical wall has to do with eye strain. I did take a break to go to a doctor's appointment--and it took my eyes a while to be able to adjust focus to further away, but since getting back, my eyes haven't been able to refocus on anything desk-length away. It doesn't matter what glasses I wear, or how close or far from the words I am: everything is a little blurry, and that detracts from my ability to focus mentally.

The psychological wall is the exhaustion that comes from saying the same thing over and over and over: here's how to write notes; here's what to look for; here's what you're missing. And from reading the same pabulum over and over. Something in K-12 education as it now stands encourages thinking in cliches and in "the moral of the story" type applications to "real life." So, Hector St. John de Crevecoeur's musings about bees attacking a king bird becomes "if we all work together we can overcome any obstacle." I grant you, Crevecoeur tended to use his observations of the natural world to make moralistic points, but even so, I think there's a little more going on.

The other thing students are taught to do is to generalize. I can't find the article now--I think it's by Katherine O. Atcheson--but one article I read about the importance of reading literature noted how students have to be taught to actually look at the words on the page and treat those words as if they mean something specific. I have probably written at least a dozen times on student homework, "Read what's actually there, not what you think will be there."

I've talked with the students a number of times about their notes--and I know perfectly well that until they've seen comments from me (more than once), they won't think what I'm saying applies to them. ("Not me! That's everyone else in the room, but not me!" No, baby, it's you, too.) So I have constructed part of the wall myself by not getting work back to them more quickly. However, I'm on the verge of asking how many of them would like to attend a little mini-workshop on notes, outside of class time. I doubt many of them would--and even if they would, I doubt I can find times that would ensure enough attendance to make it worth my while. But I'm at a loss. I do not know why I cannot find the way to get them to understand the value and purpose of writing out their thoughts about the reading. If I just ask for their thoughts, they'll write plenty: they are experts in the art of solipsistic maundering (or, as a colleague aptly puts it, playing with their own poop). But thoughts about something specific, where they need to demonstrate that they actually understood the reading on any level beyond superficial summary? Nope.

I suppose I should fess up and say that I don't usually use the note-taking process I'm forcing on them--but when a reading is complex enough, and my thoughts about it hard to hold on to, I have used it precisely as I show it to them, and I can personally testify to the fact that it fucking works. But I'm this grey-haired English professor, so obviously either I can do things they will never be able to do or I want to do things they see no value in doing. Or both.

I think I wouldn't be quite so down about it if even one student was producing notes that are close to what I am looking for. Not one--at least not yet. Discouraging to say the least.

But discouraging or no, tomorrow I must finish up the Nature in Lit stuff so I can embark on the vast sea of joy that is marking 102 essays for mechanics errors....

I will say that it's been a treat to revisit Sand County Almanac, even if it's only the sections of it I assigned for next Monday--and it's a treat to be able to read that and still feel like I'm working and not goofing off. For now, however, my mind has produced as much actual thought as I'm capable of at the moment. It is definitely (or, in student speak, defiantly) time to goof off.

1 comment:

  1. I'm defiantly wishing i wuz in Britian, or at least Birtisch Collombiar, jest about now, nome sane?