Monday, September 28, 2009

you can talk and talk and talk...

When I became a writing teacher, there were a whole lot of adjustments I had to make...and most of them (as I've moaned about before) have to do with evaluation. Until someone finds out a way to grade student writing using scantron, us writing teachers end up with a whole lot of student essays to grade. Sitting in the room with a stack of papers in one hand and a red pen in the other does weird things to people--personally, it just used to make me bitter and revolutionary--so options are never a bad thing.

I went to student conferences instead of marking up essay drafts a long time ago. Generally, it's superior in every way. It does take up a little more time, but it also is dramatically easier on the soul. It's also more immediate. When students are unwittingly violating key rules, you can explain and demonstrate how things are supposed to work. When students are consciously not doing their work, you can get a glimpse on whether or not they're going to change their ways...and thus remain worthy of your time and attention.

The best part of conferences, though, happens when you can see the shining light of reason dawn in student eyes.

When I run my first batch of conferences, people are more panic-filled than anything else. I have (no exaggeration) had tears shed during week two of the semester. This is mostly because I believe in immersion-learning, meaning throwing the students in the deep end immediately...just so they completely understand how deep really is the water. Nothing I can say, for instance, about leaving yourself enough time to revise is quite as effective as only giving students one week to do their first assignment.

Now, however, is when the class starts to change in glorious ways. People know what they need to do with their papers before they come into my office. When I explain a concept, they nod their heads rather than stare at me like I've lost my mind.

Today, in one of my conferences, I was explaining how argument points should build on each other into a complex, unified thesis. The student was silent for a second before exclaiming "that's a really good note" and diving for something on which to write down my words o' wisdom.

I've been doing this silly job for years, so I should be able to occasionally "wow" them with my knowledge...but it's always nice to see visual proof that I am indeed not a fraud.

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