Monday, November 23, 2009

The little-known secret of Composition courses






I hope, I only hope, that I am speaking too soon. There is still one chance for my students to redeem themselves this semester.

But oh, God, if I could physically insert the drive to cite sources into their heads, then maybe we'd get somewhere.

Does this happen to you? Do you find yourself becoming obsessed with some one thing, some single obvious thing that 80% of your students simply won't do? Like cite their sources? In a research paper???? I can't think of anything else. It's practically all I read for anymore.

OK. I will stop. I've been raging about this for two weeks now (6 conference days in 10 days, yes indeedy, that'll make you nuts). And tonight I made the mistake of figuring out that I spend about 200 hours a semester (or thereabouts; this was a highly unscientific calculation) working on comp when I teach two sections of it, as I normally do; that's five full work-weeks. And really, I'd be cool with that, if I honestly felt that it resulted in significantly improved writing. But I don't. And I'm frustrated.

Or maybe it does work, and they're all learning, but I just can't see it. Maybe. And maybe they'll continue to develop in the directions I've pointed them long after this semester ends.

The thing is, when I meet with them one-on-one, my frustration fades and I want so badly for them to get it, to succeed, to write kick-ass papers and do really really well. And I hate to hand them Ds and Fs. But love can't make them write any better, no it can't. And neither, apparently, can the textbook, multi-stage assignments, in-class discussion, group work, endless activities, feedback on a neverending series of papers, peer workshops, individual instruction, email reminders, checklists, or anything else I can come up with.

Sigh. Oh well. I'm off tomorrow night for Thanksgiving with the in-laws, and my computer will be staying home. Have a nice week, all.


Good Enough Woman said...

Ditto. I mean TOTAL ditto. If any of your regular blog peeps have the answer, I'd be stoked. Because I always feel exactly the same way at this point in the semester. Since I'm on sabbatical, it's not a problem right now, but it will be soon!

I recently told my husband that since only about 3-4 student per class ever seem to really make significant improvements, maybe I should just relax and have fun with them and not get so worked up and freaked out about all of the things that they will not (or cannot) do.

But then there are the Ds, Fs, complaints, tears, and bad evaluations.


But there are still many things to be thankful for, yes? Happy T-giving!

Sisyphus said...

I knew that! Not that this helps _you_ any.

So, if scaffolding and meetings and reminders and feedback and you doing all the work doesn't make any difference, what about starting off a semester being the evilest bitch possible and just shredding their first assignment? _Then_ go back to the helpy scaffoldy stuff and those people who you have scared straight, as it were, will actually 1) listen and 2) try. Or not.

But I really hear you about the whole there is no magic bullet and there is no way to make them do what they don't want to do and there is no best way to teach writing and there is no way, sometimes, heartbreakingly, to make some really bad writers who try very hard actually improve.

My solution: go drinking!

Maude said...

I have no advice since as you know I've been struggling with comp this semester. And I do the same thing--focus on the one thing. Argh!! It's so frustrating.

But, here's to a great thanksgiving with the in-laws!! I hope you have fun!

Belle said...

Not just the comp folks that suffer from this. One of my favorite fantasies is something that one of my psych colleagues does: s/he has a rubber stamp:

"I don't have time to read this BS!" Hir students love hir. And they dread that stamp, so work to not get zapped.

If anybody finds a silver bullet (napalm, whatever) that will do the trick, we should petition for a Nobel Prize for them: Nobel Prize for Making Students Care.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Clearly I spend most of my facetime with students talking to myself. No matter what I do or say, the Wife of Bath is a sex addict, Chaucer (and, indeed, Shakespeare) wrote in Old English, and word choices simply don't make any difference to the meaning of a text. I keep wondering why, then, I don't spend my time talking to myself about things I care about more than the Wife of Bath and linguistic development. Feline diseases? Medieval romance? What clothes to pack for my next conference?