Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Week 7 – Talking Up Haswell + a splash of last night’s class

I had full intentions of dwelling only on Haswell this round, but Dr. Kemp’s last impromptu questions have had me thinking all morning. (I was at the hospital for hours on end, so it was a perfect opportunity to consider them.) What is learning? Nothing like trying to pretend I’m smart at 2:00am in a PhD class, and I **think** I spouted off something fairly cohesive. Without ‘cheating’ and researching the answers: Learning is opening our minds to others’ ideas and being receptive to them, considering them for present or future application. Is that how I run my own classes? Scheisse. I gulped. (Remember, at this point it was 3:20am.) Do I? Do I?? I said that I think I do this more in my Tech Writing classes with more ‘seasoned’ university brain power than I do in my Freshman Comp class, where the writing is everything from appalling to awe-inspiring. Heck, I think I do. My classes are positive environments that always contain at least one kind of learning moment. No one is embarrassed, a ‘good answer’ or a job well done is lauded. (At this point I could pick this to death and now ask, “What is a good answer?” I’m not going to do this now….) Finally, Dr. K. asked if we were happy. The hardest question of all. Some of us are / not happy and don’t know it, some of us are in denial, some of us react in knee-jerk fashion to save face, and then, well, some of us ARE happy. That’s me. My life is far from perfect, but my 41 years of living have been one heck of a journey so far, and I’m not done yet (unless Big Dude Upstairs has other plans, which would be sooooooo God). Good health, parents for best friends, nuclear family still alive and well, dear friends and other half, exotic life experiences, challenging TCR years, funky jobs, $, no debt: Yes, I’m a happy guy all things said. We could always be happier though, couldn’t we? If only I had my PhD. More $. A hotter bod. A smarter brain. Etc. That’s human nature.

Haswell’s article was my clear favorite this round. He discusses something that hits home, something very relevant to all of us. (I never talk about this sort of thing with colleagues, so it is quite refreshing to re-remember that everybody faces this.) How much time and energy do you devote to grading student papers? I felt myself agreeing out loud as I read it: Yes, so many of my students read my comments for superficial local errors only. No, as much as I like them, I stay away from correction symbols because students always end up asking me what the heck they mean; therefore, I grudgingly type out “Examine your verb tenses” instead of “VT”. We discuss grammar and textual errors in class without embarrassing anyone. We discuss meaningful examples of essay text. A considerable amount of students darkens my door to review their work one-on-one, which is simply the best; most of them catch local or global issues simply when I read them out loud.
Does instructional response actually lead to improvement in student writing? I don’t think that’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. Does that mean that I should stop trying to improve their writing? I don’t think so. However, I think it DOES mean that we instructors need to be open and receptive to a variety of ways to reach our masses.

We instructors read for all kinds of purposes every day. We read to grade student work, we read for preparation of committee work, we read to access our latest TCR assignments, we read e-mails to remain abreast of work situations, newspapers, facebook, twitter, texts…WHEW!

I’ve got a point of contention with Haswell’s ‘Regulation’ section on page 1279. If I were to simply write ‘redo’ on a student’s paper, a better draft would indeed be resubmitted, but I’d bet my salary that it was plagiarized, too. Copying from a friend, getting an older sibling to write the bloody thing, plagiarizing from here or there: Plagiarism is RAMPANT at TAMUQ. I’m such a Cheat Freak that I have my students write essays in-class, the 1st draft of which is on pen and paper. Ridiculous? Kind of, but I want to see what the heck my students can do in their most ‘pure’ brain power. No help from anything or anyone. (If someone has a better idea, I’m all eyes.)

By and large, I liked the takeaway from the article, and it reminds me to remain wary about band-aid shortcuts to lessen the workload (as well as page 1278’s dictum, “the young will resist even your efforts to reduce their resistance”). We need to be careful with what we write on student papers, what we do in our classrooms. As stated in a previous blog, we need to ask ourselves what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Joseph,

    I think your solution to have students write first drafts of essays in class in hard copy is a good one, but I'm going to be the "devil's advocate" in this response.

    So... I am wondering if we should also consider the definition of plagiarism. I remember reading that at one time plagiarism was the highest form of flattery. For example, Beethoven wrote variations on Mozart's themes, Bach copied Vivaldi, Rachmaninoff used Corelli and Chopin, Brahms used Haydn's themes, etc.)...this practice meant the originators were doing the right thing and were good enough to be copied. Allegedly, even Shakespeare copied plot ideas and dialogue. A modern example is the Harry Potter series, which "borrowed" much from Tolkien and others.

    In your case, you are trying to catch your students in getting other people to do their work for them, and that's a good thing. We should all have responsibility for our own work. But what if I take someone's idea and make it better? What if, instead, I look at plagiarism "as an important transitional strategy in the student's progress towards membership in a discourse community." [Rebecca Moore Howard. Plagiarisms, Authorships, and the Academic Death Penalty. College English. Vol. 57, No. 7, 1995. p 788].

    If you are spending a lot of effort getting students to stop plagiarizing, perhaps you could teach them how to do it well, instead? Don't get me wrong, I'm not in favour of plagiarism, but I do think we need to rethink what it means, from time to time. And I can see a learning opportunity for students by creating an awareness of prior knowledge.