Well here I am grading a stack of papers that don’t seem to match each other in terms of style, content, skill level or even assignment (though that might be because they put them on the wrong piles on my desk). While the ideas are great, and most of the writing is passable, I am disheartened by the wide variety that my “open assignment” has garnered. When I assigned only critical papers instead of creative papers I knew just how to respond, but here, now I am “perflummoxed.”
I am giving suggestions (writing margin and end comments) that go in many different directions. For some they are grammatical and others structural (language and paragraph corrections) while for others my comments are stylistic and imaginative (“write a thesis that describes the rat’s attitude in the poem”).
The freedom of this assignment is making the paper a lot more fun for most of the students, but going through these low stakes first drafts is a lot of work. When I decided to retreat from my impulse to have the papers all critical analyses of the poem “The Message” I naively thought that everyone would suddenly “get it” and have higher skillsets. Sigh. It is especially hard since there was supposed to be an interim draft due on Blackboard where I could just comment on the content.
I gave the class back their first ACT exams yesterday and I have to say that I really like the rigidity of the ACT exam in light of the first three paragraphs that I wrote here. While I was disappointed when I turned over the covers and discovered who I passed and who I failed, I have to say that I am optimistic. By reviewing the ACT criteria with other professors and reviewing the materials in the “book room,” I think I know what each of the “lost sheep” will need to do to succeed (pass).
The research plans that I’ looked at and returned yesterday also show a lot of promise. Of course about half were late, so I might just have the best of the bunch.
This class is sharp. Of course I wish that I had more writing to confirm my opinion of their verbal skills. I am impressed by their responses to Phyllis Wheatley, and Olaudah Equiano. They are very mature in terms of their responses to these, honestly, fairly dry texts. I was particularly impressed by the close reading that they did of Wheatley’s poems. NICE.
When we got to Frederick Douglass’ 1845 yesterday there was a “clicking into place” of the class understanding. Wheatley and Equiano, neither of whom stylistically fit the “common understanding”of African American literature, suddenly made sense when the students read Douglass’ sentimental slave narrative Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. This is, in my opinion, the beginning of modern or contemporary Black Lit. The ability to make the connection between pre-abolitionist literature and the late-enlightenment works that preceded it is, I think, a break-through for the students.
And I love Frederick Douglass’ 1845 Narrative.