Most of these papers are so bad, and they’re taking so long, and I know I’d get done faster if I kept my nose to the grindstone instead of reading blogs, but really, it’s hard to keep at it when the papers are so bad, and I’m eating way too many chocolate-covered cranberries to try to keep myself in the chair, so I no longer even want chocolate. I practically gave the students a recipe for How To Write A Good Paper, and with half the papers in one section done, very few are following the recipe successfully. The best papers are from the double majors (English and Philosophy, English and History) which tells me something: not something I want to hear, but something I have suspected. And actually, in some ways this message is comforting: it’s not Kids These Days, just those who major in what they think is a subject where you can get away with hand-waving and bullshit, and aren’t sure what to do when they’re given a recipe that does not include either one. But GAH. I have spent a beautiful November Saturday mainly indoors reading papers that make me want to lie on the floor groaning. And I still have 3/4 of the batch left to do. Please tell me that somehow all the worst papers are in this first quarter of those tackled. Even if you’re lying to me. I need hope. I cannot go on. I know you’re expecting a Godot-esque “I’ll go on,” but I’m giving up for the day and going to the gym.

The interesting thing is the in-class reflective writing I had the classes do on the day the papers were due. I asked them to reconstruct their thesis and argument from memory, and to write about how well they thought they’d succeeded at saying what they wanted to say, and what they would like help with or wished they had done better. Usually the thesis is better stated on the in-class paper, and they’re actually quite aware of where their biggest problems lie. Maybe next semester I’ll use this exercise in a required revision. But I have noticed before that my students are much better at getting to the point in class, on paper or in oral presentations, than when they have essays due. Is it paper vs. word processor? The need to say something, anything, NOW, rather than having time to tinker? Feeling that there’s less pressure on the in-class writing, whereas essays have to be Formal and Perfect (and therefore become horribly imperfect)?

I’m going to go take out my frustrations (and work off the chocolate-cranberries) on an exercise bike. Tomorrow is another creep in this petty pace through the papers, or something like that. Maybe tomorrow I should substitute wine for cranberries.

4 thoughts on “Grading whine

  1. Re: getting to the point in class, but not in the actual paper…I have had students tell me the reason they have had problems with thesis statements is that they didn't want to reveal what they are arguing because it will make people want to stop reading. I think this is a side effect of the high-school technique of telling students they need to "hook" their readers with some sort of gimmick like a quotation from a famous person or an amusing anecdote. Some of my students also believe in the importance of what I'm started calling "self-evident argumentation": they believe they should just be able to put a pile of evidence on the table in front of you, and the conclusion should be self-evident. They believe in Truth, and Truth don't need no stinkin' thesis. I haven't found a way to deal with this yet, except to do what you are doing–ask them in class or in person to tell me what they are arguing, then tell them to put it in their intro.

  2. Ah yes, Truth. It don't need no stinkin' thesis.I empathize, profoundly, and I have nothing more to offer than that. Good for the exercise, though. That puts things in serious perspective. I also recommend wine.

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