Sunday, October 21, 2007

On being spineless

So, get this. I designed the assessment in my first-year course in a very particular way, because it is so large. Following the advice of Mentor, who has used such a device for years, and Dr. Crazy, who shared her assignment with me, I instituted a random-grading dealio for weekly critical responses. That is, they have to hand in a critical reading response every week (I am the Queen of Critical Responses, across all classes), but they only have 4 of the 12 graded. They seemed taken aback by this at first, but now are entirely accustomed to it. Good in theory, yes? Yes.

Well, what do I do?? I duly separate the pile into two every week, "to be graded" and "not to be graded"...AND THEN READ EVERY SINGLE RESPONSE, AND EVEN MAKE COMMENTS ON THE "NOT-GRADED" PILE. In short, I treat every single one the same - just don't attach a grade to most. But of course this defeats the whole purpose of the thing - the random grading thing is so that I don't have to read 70+ things every week. And yet here I am, reading 70+ things every week.

It's just that I feel bad! I don't think I can stomach having them do work and getting no feedback, no engagement from me. Especially because they're having epiphanies all over the place - these critical responses are full of them. It feels terrible to not engage with them. I'd never expected to feel like this, and I certainly don't for a moment think everyone should feel like this. I think the random grading structure is a good one. But I am too much of a softy, it appears, to do it.

More evidence of my weakness in the face of students: A student had talked at me for way too long about a novel she had read that related in some way to the course. She was really excited about the novel, and was suggesting that she would bring it in to "tell my classmates about it." (With me thinking, "oh dear god, no - what is this, show and tell?") Anyway, last week she brought it in and came up to me to tell me excitedly that she'd remembered it - and then she insisted I take it. So I took it, and now I am reading it. It is a really badly written (and problematic, I might add) young adult novel, for chrissake. But I don't have the heart to give it back to her without reading it. So, though I don't really have much time for fiction-reading these days, and I sure as hell don't want to be reading bad young adult fiction in the little time I do have, I have been reading it these last couple of nights before bed.

Sigh - where can I buy a spine?


Psychgrad said...

As a separate that you've read her work, what sort of feedback are you going to give her? It's relatively easy to give honest feedback on an assignment, but if this is a big project that is very important to her, can you tell her that it isn't very good?

Also - thanks for your advice on my blog!

Hilaire said...

Oh, no, Psychgrad - she didn't write the book. It was just a novel that she'd *read*. Is that what you meant? Oh god, if she'd written it, that would be horrible!

Psychgrad said...

Oh ok - sorry, I misread. My mistake. I thought it was something she was working on. But, to amend my question - are you going to give your honest opinion about the book?

Hilaire said...

No, I don't think so...I'll just give a MEH response...or say something like, "I read it...yes, I can see the connection to our course, blah blah blah..." Avoid the question of a judgement at all.

Hilaire said...

To clarify: I'll say this because it really isn't a question of judging the work's literary merit; the reason she brought it to my attention was because of its connection to what we do in the class - that's all I need comment on, I think. To do otherwise would only diconnect her from me and from the material - and I want to encourage interest, through (almost) any means.

Psychgrad said...

Well, although you weren't keen on the novel, it definitely shows a strong commitment to your students for taking the time read the it.

I've been struggling with the issue of how honest to be with students (or people in general). I'll probably blog about it in the near future. So, I was curious how you would deal with this student. But, in this context, it definitely makes sense to focus on the relevance to your course as opposed to its literary merit. Thanks for taking the time to respond!

Hilaire said...

No problem!

As I'm sure you can gather, there are some times when I have trouble being honest with students. I'm with you there, and look forward to your post!