This week I am caught up on grading. I’ve seen lots of talk out there among the English Edublogosphere and Twitter about feedback on student writing. Something I do about once a semester is type comments as I read a student’s writing. I usually wind up with about a page when I’m done. It’s like a written conference. I wish I had more time for writing conferences in my schedule. I tried recording my feedback, and it felt like an awkward additional step. Because I have smaller classes, I am able to give substantial feedback on writing and still ask my students to do plenty of writing. That’s not to say it’s not a challenge to grade, but it’s such a reward when I can compare students’ progress. It’s really evident when I compare ninth graders’ writing to eleventh graders’ writing. It’s not that eleventh graders necessarily are inherently better writers, but I can see the growth that has taken place because I know they were writing like the ninth graders two years ago. Another thing I have done is allow students to revise for a higher grade. I gave my students a handout with Seven Deadly Sins — seven common grammatical issues I see in their writing — and a point value to be subtracted for each instance of the “sin” in their paper. They can erase their sins by figuring out what they did, correcting it, and attaching an explanation of their errors and corrections to the second draft. All is forgiven.
Right now my juniors are writing poetry explications. I don’t think I was asked to write an explication until I was in college. My freshmen are busily writing argumentative essays. My sophomores are in the midst of a research paper. Lots of writing going on!
I have really been enjoying the conversations with my department this week. Teaching can be so isolating, and it is good to connect and discuss with those who share the same burdens and joys that we do as a result of working in the same place. I feel sad when I hear stories of departments that aren’t close and refuse to collaborate.
My juniors read poetry (John Donne to John Milton) this last couple of weeks, and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of positive comments regarding the readings that they were making on the classroom blog. My students are generally, I believe, fairly honest about their likes and dislikes. When I was first exposed to these writers, I admit I didn’t care much for them. In fact, until college, I didn’t much care for writing before about 1800 or so. All that changed, and I actually find I like the older literature more now (go figure), but I have to admit that my teachers in high school did very little to engage me in that literature. I had one excellent English teacher in high school, and the rest of my English classes are a blur. I remember a lot of what I did with her because it was engaging and interesting. I hope I am not flattering myself too much to think I have actually engaged my juniors in Late Renaissance/Restoration poetry, but it feels good to read such positive comments.
What this post lacks in coherence chalk up to the fact that what I share is more or less stream of consciousness. Grad school is starting to get challenging. I’m learning, and I am enjoying my classes, but I can’t pretend it’s not difficult.