Sunday, February 5, 2012

First paper coming up

I try, try really hard, to make my two writing classes relevant and useful to my students, especially outside college.  Neither of my classes write personal essays for my class--that's usually all they've done to this point, and most of them haven't really had much life experience to write about yet.  Honestly, I think the whole focus on the self in writing is a symptom of the more irritating effects the whole self-esteem movement has had in education.  Same as Special Snowflake syndrome, which the whole "personal narrative" assignment feeds.

My composition classes either focus on analysis (comp I) or persuasive writing (comp II).  If I'm supposed to teach "critical thinking skills,"* I'm gonna teach them.  Personal narrative in any form doesn't teach--it's therapy, which I'm not qualified for nor interested in giving.

My comp II class has their first paper coming due next week--an evaluation argument.  They're allowed to choose their own topic and paper style (movie review, product comparison, etc.), so I think they're getting an idea about how the skills they're learning transfer to other situations.  I have had several students tell me in the past that the paper has helped them make a decision in a major purchase (which is what they've written about), or that it's helped them convince a spouse or parent that what they wanted in the first place better suited their needs than the other person's preferences. 

The papers are due Wednesday.  I need to have them back no later than Monday morning.

My comp I class's first paper is a little different, and is one I taught in my master's program: they have to go sit somewhere for five minutes, recording their sensory input, and then write two descriptions--one offering a happy, positive view of their surroundings and state of mind; and the other one doing exactly the opposite.  And the two paragraphs have to be describing the same place at the same time.  Then, they have to analyze how they did it, using five tools that were described in their chapter.  Much of the time, I have students telling me that the paper makes them more aware of how words are used by media sources and politicians, and that it's made them a far more wary audience, once they've learned how easy it is to "spin" something. 

Those papers are due Monday.  I need to have those back no later than Thursday morning. 

Yeah, you read my timetable right: I have, by contract, 72 hours from the time my students hand their papers in to get them graded and back to them, all with substantive feedback.  It's really gonna suck when I have two sections of the same class, because with the way the class website is set up, I basically have one big class.  The distance learning program has both sections of a class loaded into one site, so I won't be able to stagger due dates.  It's hard enough grading twenty to twenty-five 1000-word (or so) essays--I'm not sure I'd be able to manage to grade forty to fifty.

I do understand putting a contractual deadline on us--I have colleagues that might, might, get their students' work graded and handed back a month after they'd initially turned it in--however, I don't think three days is sufficient for writing classes.  I always tried really hard to get it all done in a week, and I think I gave better, more substantive feedback (and I know I gave more feedback to the better students) before I was limited to three days for my grading. 

I'm trying not to complain, but my paying job really interferes in my most important job, sometimes.  With this new contractual grading timetable, I have a lot less time during paper grading for my kids, and a lot less energy and patience for them.  I really wish the individuals that imposed the deadline on us actually taught classes and had grading that couldn't be done by computer--and the three day deadline to get their grading (complete with feedback analysis on the assignment/test for the students' benefit required).  As it is, I don't think they teach, much less teach anything as grading intensive as a writing class.

*Critical thinking?  I teach writing--a skill-based, not philosophy-based class.  I don't teach thinking patterns so much as I teach a specific skill-set.  I suppose it's better to try to teach them how to think, than think I need to teach them what to think, like so many of my colleagues do.


  1. Always nice to see a prof that actual cares about the job she/he is doing. Sounds like you have your work cut out for you!! :) Hang in there, I'm confident you will complete your slog through the papers in fine fashion!

    FYI - I completed my post on my "Boogie Bag". Let me know what our friend thinks about it.

    Have a great Sunday!

  2. Will do. I thought it was excellent, personally. I didn't really have time to comment when I read it--had blogs to grade yesterday.

  3. A question from my past?

    In 1958 I took my entrance exam to get into San Jose State.

    The 'fear' of most exam folks was the English writing portion, where you had to write an essay on the spot.

    If you couldn't write a good essay, you failed and had to take a no credit class called BONEHEAD ENGLISH.

    Is this part of college entrance exams TODAY?

  4. Yes, it is, and the director of our bonehead English program majorly undercuts his teachers by not letting them assign D's or F's. So, really, bonehead English does no good and a lot of harm by giving the students the impression that they legitimately passed it.

    I've got about four coming out of bonehead English this semester.

  5. This sounds like a case of a few bad actors spoiling it for the responsible people.

    We've had more stuff dumped on us of late, and we regularly get "nannying" e-mails from the administration (reminding us to do things that everyone in my department already does, and those e-mails make me livid, because I "hear" them as saying "We don't trust you, we don't think you can handle your own jobs." I probably shouldn't "hear" that but I do).

    I make an effort to get tests back the next class day; papers as soon as I can get them graded (That is also often the next class day). But I'd be offended by being told I "had" to do them in a certain amount of time: what if I got a migraine? What if a relative died? Is any consideration made for things like that, or are you just assumed to be grading robots?

  6. Pretty much, Ricki--and it's a lot more chilling when it's written into the contract of an at-will employee that also has written into the contract that their contract can be terminated without notice or reason at any time in the semester.