I just realized that my title may lead readers to think I’m being sarcastic and am about to tell about some difficulty or craziness in teaching WR 121. But no, I’m just thinking how the everyday aspects of teaching first-year writing are predictably difficult and frustrating but never dull.
On Wednesday, I spent the whole class period on the need to plant (and respond to) at least one nay-sayer in virtually any academic paper. (This is chapter six of They Say, I say.) Before class, I had played around with, and even came up with, a lesson plan to start more talking to them about MLA documentation, as well as some about the differences between popular magazines and scholarly journals. I had been worried that I needed to get to these “lower-order concerns” soon. But I’m glad I decided to stick just with working on planting (and responding to) a nay-sayer, at least for that one day. One, this move (that of including a nay-sayer) is just one of those majorly important academic moves, one of those single most important moves that can make student writers into people whom readers will listen to. And two, the classes were engaged with our discussion and the activity we did. I could see the proverbial wheels turning in their heads. And I think at least a few of them were really caught by my emphasis on how important this move is. I could’ve sworn I could see this look on a few faces as if to say, “Wow, I want that credibility. I want that power.”
Tonight, I started grading their first essays. Of course, I”m already spending too much time on each one (I’ve done about six). But I’m not worried. The process is already speeding up. I met with Lisa Ede today (our weekly meeting regarding my thesis work), and she recommended I aim for 20 minutes per paper. She reminded me that when I teach at a community college, teaching four classes most likely, I will have to get down to 20 minutes per paper.
Also, I had been thinking about the fact that many students will not pay much attention to my comments, and that therefore it was going to feel like a lot of my time commenting would be wasted. Lisa suggested I tell the class as a whole that I am providing only basic summative comments, but that I am happy to meet with any of them and/or to provide more detailed feedback, if they wish. Great idea. Honestly, I think I’m STILL saying too much in my comments (i.e., taking too long), but I’m working on speeding up the process and saying less (and depending on those students who care about details to ask for them).
Now time for some sleep.