If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Saturday, October 8, 2011

In Which We Don't Go To The Beach

This morning we pulled the plug on the beach vacation.  We had been iffy on the financial prudence of the trip from the beginning and there was more than a little threat of rain for the entire time we would be there (of course now the forecast is changing).  I am fine with the decision and am hoping we can make it happen for spring break.  b, I think, is sadder.

So there is still tons of grading in front of me but also a full week of not having a reason to go into the office. We will make plans as the days go by.  Angel and a friend may come up at the end of the week for their fall break.

I spent several hours grading the first set of undergraduate papers today.  It was painful.  I know grading is always abhorrent and our students have serious writing deficits but this was particularly painful.  I tried a new assignment and it was really bad.  I think it could eventually be a good (and important) assignment but this version is quite bad.  So I am stuck figuring out grades that are fair for their lack of ability and effort but also fair for the poor quality of the assignment.

One of the (several) reasons why the assignment was bad is that it depended on peer reviews.  I believe (strongly) in draft writing for my students.  If I don't force them to write in drafts they will hand in what they wrote the night before.  With almost 50 students I can't provide feedback and grade drafts.  In fact just grading the final product is going to take upwards of three days (again, partly my own fault because of the suckitude of the assignment).  Most (if not all) of my colleagues do not give written assignments for classes of 50 and above.  So I thought I'd compromise and give one small assignment in two drafts with peer reviewers providing feedback between the drafts.  The problem with the plan is that the students don't know how to write and therefore most don't provide adequate feedback.  In fact some give quite wrong feedback.

Students, in general, don't understand the meaning of revision.  In most cases I'm finding very little difference between draft one and draft two and some very complimentary peer reviews (they have to hand the whole packet in: original, peer review and final).  So as I am reading the final products I am realizing I needed to provide several lessons: (1) on the original assignment idea (which focused on reading in my discipline); (2) on writing; (3) on giving a peer review; and (4) on revising.  None of this, of course, is possible in the time I have to teach the course content.

As found in many other universities, we have a policy for integrating writing across the curriculum. This means teaching writing isn't supposed to only happen in students' general education requirements, such as English, but instead should happen in their major as well.  The current policy has every major offering a course that focuses on writing and that course is supposed to be capped at a certain size (certainly not 50).  My course is not the course.  My course isn't even a required course in the major.  But I believe in writing so there is a lot of writing in my course but this is the only assignment that provides feedback on writing.

The problem is enrollment has increased dramatically and it is difficult for some departments (including mine) to cover these writing courses for all their majors.  The university is trying to come up with a new system but the current suggestion, in my opinion, doesn't solve the problem.  However it will probably hide it.

I believe students should graduate college knowing how to write clearly; how to organize and present their thoughts in a written format.  I know they won't learn that (a) in one or two courses only and (b) without getting feedback between drafts.  I also believe their reading comprehension and critical thinking skills should increase from their college experience.  I believe writing helps there too. This assignment has done none of the above.

I am amazed when I read Angel's drafts, not because they are perfect but because I know where his writing was in high school.  I also see the connection between his ability to think and analyze text and his increasing ability to write.  I want the same for my students.  Unfortunately in the current climate it makes more sense for me to drop the assignment completely than to make it a useful one.

1 comment:

Drax said...

"Suckitude." It's what's for dinner. Especially w/ no vacation. But seriously. That truly does suck. Sorry.