Dearest reader, I apologize. It is a truth universally accepted that a grad student in possession of application materials must be in want of even a moment of personal time. Hopefully, this marks the return of the regular blog posts, as I try to beat back the waves of application anxiety and focus on the here and now.
Due to a scheduling mix-up on my part, I ended up with an “extra” class today. Of course, the “extra” class is a lot like the “free” lunch — not real. Still, I wanted to try something different, so we took a whole day to work on drafting in class. I didn’t offer them the option of leaving this time, and, frankly, they didn’t do anything that made me think they wanted to leave. I’m sure that no more than two students were at some point watching a football game, and that is progress. It probably didn’t hurt that they’d gotten their first round of grades back; the realization that they were no longer in high school was sinking in. The amount of growth that happens in that first semester is really incredible; I forget how sink or swim college can be sometimes.
I started the class by asking them to submit questions about the assignment to me, and then I turned them loose on the assignment at hand. We’re working on a researched argument right now, which, as far as I can tell, looks like
It’s modeled after APA style articles in the social sciences, so the form is a little odd for me. Particularly problematic is that I’m in constant contact with social science articles that look nothing like that. Often, this generic subversion is linked to an ideological point that the author is making. It’s a little troublesome, then, to prescribe this format for my students, but it keeps the focuses of the assignment (locating and responding to academic sources) front and center. A friend recently pointed out that they are not going to fail at life (or just at being decent human beings) because of something I do or do not do; similarly, their success is really not a product of my efforts. Somewhere in focusing so intently on how I was going to operate under an emphatically student-centered paradigm, I lost sight of my relative minuteness in their lives. Partly, I would attribute this to “growing up” in the humanities; humanities folks are constantly called on to justify themselves and their roles in the educational system. It’s no huge surprise that we have a tendency to overstate that, and it may be par for the course that, eventually, we internalize the rhetoric we use to justify our day-to-day to the people with the dollars.
But back to class.
So, as they wrote, I let the left side of my brain go nuts organizing their questions into groups and analyzing common themes, and I realized that there were some serious holes in their understanding of the purpose and form of their assignment. So, every 20 minutes or so, we stopped writing for 10 minutes or so and did a mini-lesson. Some of their questions:
What exactly do I need to have in my introduction?
So, do I put my opinion in the literature review at all?
Can we draw out the way the paper is organized?
What do you mean when you say “dissenting voice”?
Big questions. Important questions. Questions I could have sworn I went over, but, given the current state of my life (and the level or retention in any classroom), I think these safety-net activities are probably going to play a lager role in my teaching from here on out. It boils down to admitting that my students and I are all terribly busy people, and some of the minute details of rhetoric that come up in the ENG 101 classroom don’t stick with us through our busy days. And, really, I think that may be a complement to all of us.