Monday, March 13, 2006

Reflections after a Marathon Grading Session

I just spent the last three hours of my life writing assessments of my comp students' note cards, source cards, and scratch outlines. (They turned in all source cards, plus their first 25 note cards, today, along with informal outlines called "scratch outlines.")

My assessments were detailed and were about a page each. Some students will toss them. A few will use them and benefit from them. The assessments included observations of what was working and what wasn't working, suggestions for the "next step" of the process, and (hopefully) a few encouraging words. I also included my questions: How do you plan to unify all of this information? Do you have a draft thesis in mind? Which poems, specifically, do you plan to focus on? Et cetera.

Research papers are difficult, hairy things, particularly for high school students, and I'd like the process to be as painless as possible. At the same time, they need the experience of digging deeply into a topic, of seeing connections in a variety of sources, of communicating their conclusions and ideas on paper. When they get to college, they'll be glad they had this kind of experience in high school, even if they weren't entirely comfortable with the process.

I just remember my first couple of semesters at college--first at Tulane, then at Mary Baldwin. Then I remember teaching freshman comp at LSU. When I was an undergrad, students in my dorm would be so stressed over freshman comp; they had no idea what to do. I placed out of both freshman comp classes and actually (informally) tutored a few other students. Then at LSU, so many freshmen shed so many tears over their initial inability to adjust to college-level academics. I was horrified at how poorly my college freshmen wrote, and they were even more horrified when their high-school A's and B's were replaced by Waterfallian D's and F's.

I love my students here. I don't want them to go through the frustration that I've seen so many college freshmen suffer. The adjustment to college is hard enough as it is. There's no reason that my kids should have to go through that. They're a very smart bunch of college-bound juniors and seniors. I want them to be ready for college-level work. Unfortunately, the road to being ready isn't completely painless, and it certainly isn't a walk in the park (more like a walk up Katahdin). But it's necessary.

I know I can't perform miracles in the single year that I have most of these kids, but I can do my best. Some are responding, and some aren't. But that's fine. Those that are responding help me to see that I'm not wasting my time. So I don't feel so bad when I spend two hours writing assessments of stacks and stacks of note cards, source cards, and scratch outlines.

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