Old dog, new tricks

So I have two kinds of final assessments this year.  My 49 freshmen took a regular exam, and my24  juniors (13 of them inherited from my colleague) wrote a long critical paper.  Or rather, most of them have finished it, and several of them are straggling along on extensions of varying lengths.

I had one junior who missed most of the interim deadlines for this essay and then wrote me on Friday saying she was starting over with a different topic, having failed to find secondary sources on the “topic” (really a loose collection of ideas having no reference to any existing critical conversation about the books).

Of course, the reasons she didn’t find any secondary sources were that she a) didn’t develop her paper by learning about what kinds of things people have been saying about these works, and b) with an ill-defined topic, she went around (possibly in our approved online databases and collections, but also possibly by Googling) looking for already-written essays on her ill-defined topic, probably trying to use ridiculous keywords.

More to the point, she can’t start over now, because judging from what she sent me, it will be the whole comedy of errors all over again.

So I wrote her sternly but kindly, telling her what mistakes she made in the process, and letting her know that most people, including me, make these mistakes in college, so at least she is saving some time.  And then I told her that she that she needed more framework, so I was sending her a critical essay to respond to, and a written essay topic.  I took care to have these in the general ballpark of the interests she’d been pursuing in the ill-defined topic.  And I gave her a new deadline five days away and invited her to come see me after exams on Monday if she wants to discuss the new essay.

I think I am doing the best I can to set her up to have some success with this paper (and not be tempted to plagiarize).  I’m wondering what she thinks.  I didn’t hear anything for over 24 hours, and then she wrote me a very brief note to ask for a meeting tomorrow.

I really, really hope she isn’t going to try to convince me that she really has her topic all figured out this time.  I’ve got a bad feeling that it may be that.

By the way, she isn’t the only one who screwed up in this process, and the fault in all cases is at least partly mine, since I designed the process and was supposed to be holding them to it.  Believe me, I have lots of thoughts about how to do this better next year.  Nevertheless, let’s just say that I wasn’t completely surprised by which students screwed up in this process.

The title of this post, however, refers to something I’m actually proud of: for once, I’ve made a plan for completing my finals grading and am sticking to it. Saturday and Sunday, I graded exactly as many finals as I’d set the goal to grade.  Now I’m on track to finish the freshman finals tomorrow and have two whole days to grade the junior papers.  Since normally I keep revising that plan–fifteen papers a day becomes twenty-two papers a day after I miss the first day’s goal, and so on–this is making me very happy.  32 finals graded, 17 finals and 24 essays to go.

Assuming, of course, that I get all 24 essays!


3 responses to this post.

  1. Hey, I also stuck to finals grading plan for the first time ever! It helped that English was one of the first exams and so my daily grading quotas were more reasonable, but also maybe we’ve now been doing this high school teaching thing long enough that we’re getting the hang of it, eh?

    Our juniors (other than AP Lang) do a writing portfolio rather than a final exam at the end of the year — mostly revised work from the year, but they also have to write one new piece for the portfolio and also have to write a lengthy introduction to it. Works pretty well.


  2. Go you! It’s amazing how hard it is to stick to a grading schedule, but how good it feels to get stuff graded.

    That sounds like a great essay assignment, with good steps built in. 🙂


  3. Posted by meansomething on June 12, 2012 at 1:29 am

    I love the portfolio idea, WN?. I wonder if we could try it.
    B: I need to build in better and clearer steps, so that I really document–for myself, for the student, and for anyone else (parents) who gets involved–whether the student is hitting targets all the way along. They need more support, or at least the flaky ones do!


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