Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Quick Sigh from Bella

My Advanced Lit class and I have been having a wonderful time together.  They participate----they have opinions!  They argue with each other in an appropriate way!  They do their homework!

But yesterday, I sat in class, watching them peer review their first essay assignment with a sinking heart.  Nothing like a writing assignment to kill a good vibe.

I could tell the honeymoon phase was over by their worried glances at each other, their furtive peeks at me, and by the questions they asked ----"So, if we did not use two poems, as required, is that a big deal?" and "I can't tell where the intro ends and the body begins because this is all one paragraph."  and "Oh---I don't have a works cited page, is that okay?  I did not use any outside resources---is that okay?" and "Does it count for a draft if it is only one page?"

A quick peek at the stack when I got home tonight did not dispel my gloom.  Things are looking pretty dismal in that stack of papers.  I did all the things we do to make this work.  They did all the things they do to keep it from working.

Sigh.

18 comments:

  1. Yeah, the hardest part of grading for me... well, it's a toss-up between the dread anticipation and the sense of personal failure.

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  2. Plus one for Jonathan. Ain't that the truth? This story conveys SO much of my own college misery. WHAT THE FUCKING HELL, PEOPLE!!!!????

    Sigh....

    The Gog

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  3. Until professors just say NO, I WILL NOT ACCEPT THIS SHODDY WORK, it will continue. I myself have become part of the problem because I've been beaten down by my workload, pay, level of disrespect.

    I survive by giving mediocre grades to students who I think won't bitch about them. But I let stuff slide and I hate myself for it. But I'm afraid of changing careers, too old to really start again, and grown weary of being one of 2 department members who used to hold the line.

    I said to my own good colleague last year: "You're going to hate me, but I've given up."

    She knew exactly what I meant. She's the only good person standing anymore.

    Anonymous but a long time reader

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    1. Alice the AdjunctMarch 1, 2016 at 2:19 PM

      I hear you longtime Anonymous. I understand and I hate you for it all at the same time. I mean to say I have empathy bot not sympathy.

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    2. And now you got me humming "Sympathy for the Devil" and thinking of alternative lyrics.

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  4. Does the peer review process lead to students understanding, even on a superficial level, how awful some of their writing is?

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    1. Happily, yes. Absolutely.

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    3. It also (sometimes) allows them to approach their own writing with fresh eyes/a more distanced perspective -- or at least that's what I tell them, and I do believe it. It's easier to revise someone else's work than your own, and easier to revise your own once you've practiced on someone else's.

      But if you have very little experience with revising anybody's work, and very little perseverence/stamina in general, it's going to be painful. Even if you have all of the above, it's going to be painful sometimes anyway. Writing is just plain hard work, most of us find at least some aspects of it painful, and no amount of instruction or experience is going to change that (though it can increase one's confidence that something worthwhile will result from the effort).

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    4. "or at least that's what I tell them, and I do believe it"

      Cassandra, you and I are so always on the same page! You might not believe it, but it is true! Yes, peer review is hard, and very often they are not sure how valuable it is (because they are looking for value in their peer's review of their work). But, as far as I am concerned, the value of peer review is NOT in what they manage to write out about each other's essays. Very often, that [silly nonsense well meaning [drivel] advice is fairly unhelpful. No. What is valuable about peer review is what happens inside their HEADS as they try to figure out what their peer has done, as they try to apply to rules of the essay (laid out in the questions I make them answer about their fellow student’s essays) to their peer’s work. As they try to do this…..they start to realize what THEY themselves have done or not done. How THEIR writing fared in response to this exercise. Peer review is so very helpful for them.
      I just love it.

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    5. I stopped doing peer reviews because it was just a case study in the blind leading the blind.

      What was worse? The A students *refusing* to tell the F students what they did wrong.

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    6. Was it something like "If you don't know what is obviously wrong, I'm certainly not going to just tell you"?

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  5. "I can't tell where the intro ends and the body begins because this is all one paragraph."

    Lack of paragraphing is an increasing problem in the student drafts I see. It's as if none of them can find the return key, or it's broken, or something.

    In the meantime, our instructional designers (who are generally very good) are insisting that all instructional materials should be "written for the web" (i.e. in 3-sentence-max paragraphs, or, preferably, bullet lists). And more and more textbooks look like that. So maybe, if they never see any models, it's no wonder that students have difficulty writing a well-developed but reasonably compact 4-6 sentence paragraph -- you know, the kind of paragraph, with a topic sentence at the beginning, a few sentences presenting and analyzing evidence in the middle, and a concluding sentence -- that makes up much academic writing.

    And again sigh.

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    1. If lack of paragraphing is confusing, imagine how medieval readers felt. I don't know if you're well versed on it and I'm just saying stuff you know, but they wrote in what was called "scriptura continua".

      ItwouldbelikeifIwrotelikethis.

      It was so difficult to read that it was considered noteworthy and very impressive for monks who, after reading for decades, had mastered the ability to read without reading aloud.

      We've come a long way.

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  6. That's been my week. I gave an example, a detailed rubric, I went over it in class. Only to get "Oh we had to put information in our outline, not just the headings (listed on said rubric)?"

    *smacks head on desk*

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  7. What is valuable about peer review is what happens inside their HEADS as they try to figure out what their peer has done, as they try to apply to rules of the essay (laid out in the questions I make them answer about their fellow student’s essays) to their peer’s work. As they try to do this…..they start to realize what THEY themselves have done or not done. . .

    Very much this. Analyzing one's own writing is a skill typically learned later than that of the writing itself. This exercise breaks the tendency of writers to "read" what they meant, rather than what they actually wrote. As they become better at analyzing, they start to apply it to their own work while they're writing it the first time as well as during the editing phase.

    My curriculum uses a lot of multiple choice questions, and some students are just not good at them when they get to our program. Similar to the idea of peer review of writing, we counsel our struggling students to write MCQs for each other. After they take each other's quizzes, the question writer and responder must both explain what makes the answer choices right or wrong, using their sources if they must. Its not so much that they're learning how to write and analyze MCQs, it's that each answer choice is a chance for them to engage with the topic, to WORK at it. They're actually learning the material while they do this, and learning much better than skimming the material they highlighted in the textbook or their notes (assuming they took them) yet another time.

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