November 4, 2004
My parents are watching the O'Reilly Factor right now. He just congratulated the American people for not being swayed by the European left in the election. He's such an idiot. I also had sort of a difficult student today. She was a NNS in an English class--intro to lit 1001. I think she was actually an IT senior. My problem was I didn't really see anything wrong with her paper. But she had already turned it in once and got a C- on it. The teacher had a grading grid, and she lost points on grammar, length (she turned in 2.5 pages for a 3 page minimum), writing style, and quality of analysis. She had fixed the grammar before she came it, but did little else to revise. She said she wanted to work on flow. Does anyone else cringe when they hear that? I usually do have some suggestions for flow, but I thought her paper was pretty good, especially for an intro level class. If I were grading it I probably would have given it an A. So I didn't really know how to get her from a C- to an A. I had a few peasly suggestions, but nothing substantial. I had her read the essay out loud to me, to see if it sounded like it flowed, but looking back I think I might have obtained a better analysis by reading it silently to myself. But regardless of that, it seemed like the teacher gave her a bad grade based solely on bad grammar. But the teacher also took points off for writing style and quality of analysis, but did not give any comments on how to improve in either of these two areas. And these are some pretty vague categories for improvement. Can you really expect to tell a student to go home and work on her writing style and quality of analysis and expect her to come back with an improved paper? And again, if she had done poorly in either of these areas, I probably would have had some suggestions, but she didn't and I didn't. I did spend a lot of time talking with her, but ended up strongly recomending she speak to her teacher about it and come back if she had an further problems. That was all I could do, and I was frustrated. In other news, I also had a student today that referred to African Americans as Negros in his paper. Then, while quoting an actual racist from the early twentieth century, he pointed out that this person spelled negro with a lower case n. I told him he should probably only use the word Negro when quoting people. And I did it without censoring him. Alright, that's it. Have a good weekend.
Posted by hoga0094 at November 4, 2004 8:29 PM
a good rule for life is to never watch the o'reilly factor. or...watch it, and feel smart by comparison.
it's really frustrating when you don't know what to do. and i hate admitting it to a student because then they get this look on their face like, "if i don't know and you don't know, who does?" and i feel bad. but if you've done all you can and you've encouraged her to see her instructor, that's probably the most helpful thing. i mean, she did what he said to do. she corrected grammar and she cam to us. but until she knows what the instructor wants, no one is going to feel confident about that paper.
and that other student of your's...wow. still the funniest thing i witnessed all day. not funny ha-ha, more funny in a "did that actually happen?!"/"where are you FROM?"/slightly ha-ha way. you did a great job of not censoring, especially on something that raises such a red flag. i heard you say that there are people who would probably be offended by it and that some people would perceive it as racist, which is true. you didn't get your opinion into it. gold star!
Sending them to the teacher is good advice. I did it Wed. when a teacher underlined the use of "her" in the paper for every use of the 3rd person singular pronoun. She didn't know why. So I told her about alternating the use of he and she between sentences or paragraphs, using plurals, or just sticking to he in formal writing as outlined in the dreaded style book. Then she said she had seen the word "co" used in a paper and footnoted as the gender-neutral pronoun. I've never heard of this, has anybody else? Anyway, since the professor seemed so picky and the student so concerned about what was "correct," which I could not say, I sent her to the professor/TA to ask what specifically to use. She said the professor was a grammar freak. I guess what I'm really wondering is this: has anybody heard of this word "co." I haven't, and if it is a picky professor, I doubt I would use an unheard of word. Or is this really common and I'm just totally blind to it because I spend nearly all of my waking hours outside of class locked in a basement reading papers where neither he, she, nor they are used?
Jeff, I'm stumped on "co"-- sounds like "what planet are you from?" ha-ha to me.
Reading both your post, Andy, and the comments reminds me how challenging being the "middle person" can be at this time of the semester when everyone is so grade-focused, and-- yes-- one of the most important things we do is encourage students to go talk to their instructors about why they received the grades they did and how to do better. But, I think it is important not to present that as a "cop out" (I don't know how to help you; go see you instructor), but rather to use the time together (1) to get the student talking about the clues s/he has about the instructor's expectations (what was said or modeled in class, comments on your other papers, etc.?), (2) to identify her/his specific questions (was the analysis weak because there wasn't enough of it-- since how to write more than 2.5 pages seems like a useful issue to discuss in this session-- or was it too vague, off topic, etc.), (3) to discuss multiple options for revision process (put your conclusion at the beginning, expand particular sections, write a new part of the body, etc.). Rather than give "a few peasly suggestions," I hope to give students more options than they could ever do (which takes the pressure off me to have the right answer too).
I agree that I cringe when students talk about "flow," since what is that, really? But, if you are really stumped, why not grab Williams off the shelf and jump into a discussion about coherence and cohesion? Either you'll have given the student what she wants, or --more likely-- annoyed her, which will push her to be more specific about her concerns with her writing. Hmmm, sounds like a job for the person researching style in the writing center....
It's so easy at this time of the semester to focus in on this paper, this particular grade (just as students do), but I think it is important to remind them that seeing us is about them as writers, and it seems to me there is tons of stuff to talk about on that topic. Do you agree?