Monday, September 24, 2007

breaking the spirits of freshmen everywhere

[Look! I'm actually writing one of the posts in my list! Amazing.]

I might have mentioned before that I'm a grader for World Civ this semester. Why, you're right—I am in the English department.... But here, World Civ I and II are required courses for freshmen, and they fall under the General Education department, which "borrows" (buys) graders from English (and other departments like American Studies, History, and maybe a few others). The good news is that being a grader is relatively easy—relative to actually teaching an entire class—and being a grader replaces one of our required teaching slots for our TAships. In other words, I only have to teach one comp course next semester because I was a grader this semester. Sometimes people request grader positions during exam semesters so that they can lighten their load while studying.

I should begin by saying that I'm a grader for a good prof. She asks good questions. Unfortunately, the students are not yet up to speed when it comes to thinking or writing like college students. Or, in the case of many of the students in my section, even up to speed in reading like college students—namely, reading the assignment sheet (and correctly). The first essays were, to put it mildly, trainwrecks. Something like 102 of the 110 essays were Ds or Fs (the class average was a 66). The majority of the Fs were simply because they failed to read and write on the assigned topic. The majority of the Ds were because they came close to writing on the assigned topic but then failed to do something (anything!) close to analysis. I almost cried when I got to the lone A- paper. The clouds parted, angels sang, etc.

Bardiac has a post about stamps for grading. I could have used ones that said "thesis?" and "and...?" and "generalization!" and "cite your source" and (my fave) "essay does not address assigned topic."

In the three sections of composition that I have under my belt, I've graded something like 500 essays. I think I gave 5 Fs out of those 500. I hate giving Fs. I hate even more that the students earn Fs. I don't hate the students, of course. Hell no. I just want to teach them something.

Students who have complaints have to come see me before they go to the prof. Lucky me, eh? I had seventeen students make appointments. I had more student conferences in one set of office hours than I had in two semesters of teaching. I only had two loud, belligerant, "but I'm an A student so you must be mistaken" fellows. I would have preferred more of them if it meant that more than seventeen came to see me.

I also made a handout that diffused most of the situations. It was three pages of bullet items: what the assignment asked, what the assignment specifically said not to do, examples of bad theses and why, a template of a good thesis for this assignment, and then numerous fallacies they clearly forgot (or never learned) from high school English. The first thing I did in these meetings was go through the handout. By the time I was through with it and let them yell/ask their questions, very few of them had a thing to say. Except for the one or two students who, of course, are just now finding out they're not the big fish in the little pond anymore, and that they can't rest on their high school laurels, and that yeah, while they might be A students, they wrote F essays. Get over it. It happens. Learn from it.

But I admit I felt like absolute crap for an entire week because so many students did poorly. Not that I did anything wrong—I graded to the rubric, the prof backed me up, and some people who came to see me did learn from their mistakes. We'll see how the next set of papers look when I get them this Friday...

Labels: ,