Thursday, October 02, 2008

Teaching Downpour

Grading Papers (1)
Before the first batch of student papers get turned in, I find my job easy and enjoyable. Prepare for class, teach class, interact with students--it's a nice life. And then the first papers come in for me to grade, and I think "Oh yeah, that's right: there's a reason I actually get paid to do this."

Grading Papers (2)
In comp class, the first assignment is a four page paper. I try to emphasize that the goal isn't merely to write a paper of a certain length (though that is something the students will need to learn to do). The focus is quality. And I do explicitly say something to the effect that I'd rather see a well-written, well-developed three-and-a-half page paper than a four page paper that is poorly written containing filler.

But while writing quality is more important than length, I'm afraid I won't be able to qualify the paper requirement with such a statement anymore. In this first batch of papers, I'm finding a paper that actually meets the four page requirement to be exceedingly rare. I'm afraid my "quality over length" comments opened the door to allow students to write shorter papers.

But it's not all on me: after all, my example of a paper missing the length requirement was three-and-a-half pages. I've received far too many papers that are around two-and-a-half pages. And I can't help but wonder: what leads a student to think that in his/her first college writing assignment, a two-and-a-half page paper is sufficient to fulfill the expectations of a four page paper? What sort of a grade does a student expect on such a paper? While some students are legitimately struggling to lengthen their papers, it seems to me many students are showing a lack of effort and a lack of concern.

Grading Papers (3)
The other big problem I've found in this batch of papers is a lack of support. Students are making claims but not backing them up. Even papers that develop a clear, focused thesis are generally failing to provide concrete, detailed support for the thesis, making the paper come off rather vague.

Luckily, this second problem helps fix the first problem: for students looking to expand a paper, providing more examples, anecdotes, and data for support is a good way to go. And the next paper is about television and film, so students will be writing about particular works--this provides ample opportunity to work on supporting a claim with evidence.

Teaching Drama
Lysistrata: I'm considering dropping it. It's a good play, and a fun play, but I'm always a little disappointed in discussion. This semester I threw out my old notes and tried to start fresh--still I found class to be flat.

Equus: I've never taught it before, but I am this semester. I'm looking forward to it, and I don't have a plan yet. I find each semester it's a good idea to inject works into the lit syllabus that I've never taught before. I've also taught some short stories by Lan Samantha Chang for the first time this semester.

King Lear: I'm always passionately looking forward to teaching my favorite play. I should probably seek out some film versions to examine (for class maybe, for my own pleasure certainly).

Weekday Vegan, Weekend Vegetarian
The new pattern for my life emerges: during the week I'm generally a strict vegan, but during the weekend I'm slacking off quite a bit. And it is not actually the academic semester that is altering this pattern. First, it's socializing: I'm visiting with people on weekends, which tends to lead me to make cheesy exceptions. And second, it's football season: I spend every Sunday either going to the Viking games or watching football at home, and I find it hard to avoid lovely, lovely cheese when watching football.

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