Saturday, September 18, 2010

I have essays to grade already. Wheeeee.

And I have pushed through 5 of them already. I will go back and do another 5 later today, but right now I am supposed to be revamping my job materials. Hello job market my old friend; I've come to talk with you again. Bleah. But the only way to deal with either of those tasks, of course, is to break it down into little chunks with lots of rewards. The hershey kisses are across the room from me; I have to cross something off before getting up to eat one. Of course, even with these constraints I'm going to end up gaining way too much weight, so I'm trying to have some of my minirewards be non-food-related. Hence the blogging.

That reminds me, I need to force myself back into an exercise routine. The gym here is unacceptable for many reasons, but they do have a couple yoga classes that seem decent and fit into my schedule ... finding this stuff out was on my to-do list last week; this week I really need to get my ass in there to work out!

And also, since I tossed my threadbare old swim suit before I moved, I need to decide if I'm going to replace my swim stuff and go back to doing laps. Humh. That's really more a note to myself than anything for you all.

For my lit class's first essay I am making them do a close reading of a single poem, very traditional New-Critical stuff except I am not even really teaching them about the keystone and the structures of irony and the architecture of a poem stuff. So you could say I do a crappy job of teaching how to do a close reading, considering I don't even get much past "quote actual lines from the poem" and "tell me what the words mean exactly" and then my standards for what they produce are even below that, but, whatever.

I have had almost phenomenal success in the past showing my students a model: a segment of my undergraduate essays that is very focused in on word choice and image patterns. At my old school, the few times I got to teach lit classes and made them do this assignment modeled on my own, I got great stuff that was looking closely at the writing and saying interesting things. And even here, where the students are not quite as prepared and everyone is a non-major fulfilling a GE requirement anyway, I have pretty good results of the form of a close reading. I glanced through the pile and I am getting short essays sprinkled about with lots of quotes and they range from a fairly simple reading of the form/content interplay of the poem to a very in-depth paraphrase.

And I am totally on the fence about that. On the one hand, students are not necessarily doing a reading of the poems, in that they are not making much of an argument or analysis of what is going on in the poem. But on the other hand I TA'd for years for lit classes and got back "close readings" that didn't have a single quote and that floated so high above the poem at the level of platitude, vague generality, and description of some of the themes, that I feel like it is a major accomplishment to get students to the level where I know they understand the poem at the level of paraphrase. (Oooh, those New Critics would hate me for the heresy of paraphrase!)

So showing them a very concrete model of what I mean by "use lots of quotes and analyze each one" really helps to get them to the form I expect, if not actually produce the level of analysis and texture present in the sample. However, this is why I have a paper due already; this very short "getting to know each other" essay gives them the warning that I am actually an Evil and Heinous Bitch Who Grades Extremely Hard, and gives them a list of what I really hit and don't hit for their later papers. So yeah, grading a lot sucks, but it pays off in that I get to read less-terrible essays further down the semester line. At least I hope it will --- it did back at my old place.

Yeah I don't know if I'm fooling myself or not: why yes, I get much more specific simplistic generalities with my patented method! So much better! They can't analyze, but they can blindly imitate! You go!

Also I have no clue how to teach anyone to think about rhythm and meter, or even any idea about what to say about it myself in lecture. If students address it at all, they say something like "this meter makes the poem flow along very smoothly" or "by making every two lines rhyme, the author produces a very pleasing, harmonious sound." Gah. My assignment has a long list of poetic terms and characteristics and maybe I should just lop those off the end of the list; I don't really cover it, and too many of my students trudge along and do a random paragraph on each one as if they had to discuss them all. Going over the instructions more carefully doesn't help, either, since so many majors do explicitly want a bullet point or separate paragraph covering each term (I'm looking at you, biology and psychology midterms!).

Sigh. Ok, need to revamp my job letter and teaching philosophy. Last night was the horrible experience of emailing people to ask for stuff again (I hate that!): letters, copies of stuff they promised me, statuses on articles and things, updates on conference plans. But, you know what, reading a tired old job letter and polishing it once again is no more fun than nagging people for letters. Even with chocolate at hand.


Dame Eleanor Hull said...

OK, you said it was a note to yourself, but my two cents: get a suit and go back to swimming laps, because it is so soothing.

And it sounds like you're getting good results with your model, so that's excellent. Maybe I should go back to that. Sometimes I have provided models, sometimes I don't: after getting either near-exact copies, i.e., borderline plagiarism, or else ignoring the model completely, I discontinued giving models awhile back, but right now I'd be happy to get what you're getting.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I had a student freaking out about an annotated bibliography, and instead of explaining it, I just sent her one I did on Hamlet in grad school. She wrote back with a big thank you. Sometimes you just have to give them a model and they're good.

Good luck with the market. I am completely unexcited about the offerings for Shakespeare so far.

Dr. Koshary said...

I'm there in the job-market trench with you. I'm wondering if rewarding myself with nips of whisky is, in the long-term, a strategy with poor odds of success. (Never really loved Hershey kisses.)

Mike said...

Did you end up getting published? Believe it or not, I actually went to a conference where I knew the editor of my target journal was attending, and I managed to wrangle him into a corner for a few minutes and pitch my article.

He encouraged me to submit and gave me the blah, blah speech on peer review and how they have so many submissions.

Well, I ended up submitting, waited four months, and they gave me the "YES." However, a second submission I made is going on a year and I still get from the editor, "very interested," just wait... So angering.

So if all else fails hunt down an editor in the flesh! Oh, and I am in Jewish studies.

Sisyphus said...

@dame eleanor: the pool is in a very non-relaxing setting: indoors, on a lower level surrounded by glass walls, with all the cycles and ellipticals overlooking it from the glassed-in second floor. I need to be more alone than that to swim. (also, when I swim or cycle alone I never work hard enough to break a sweat --- I really do need a structured class where someone is standing over me making me push myself. But they don't have those here. Sigh.)

About the models: ok this is super harsh, but I have had good luck laughing at students who plagiarize the models. I tell the class about it when I pass the instructions out and point out that they've gotta be really dumb to *hand back in the model as their paper* and not think I would notice. I'm probably gonna get killed over this someday, but it stopped once I started making fun of vaguely referenced "past students."

Dr K --- I don't know about job search stuff but nips of whiskey in the middle of grading is just asking for a catastrophe.

@ Mike ---- thanks for the advice! The good news is that editors have emailed me back and gotten the balls all rolling again. The bad news is that they have emailed me back and gotten the balls all rolling again. Sigh. I thought getting something accepted was the end point, but obviously it's not.

To say nothing of my poor lost unfinished article that I really really need to finish so I can send it out somewhere. Sigh.

AcadeMama said...

Just letting you know I'm in the job market trenches with you too :/ Clearly, this year is The Year of the Medievalist and/or Renaissance Scholar, but we'll do what we can, right?

I've never thought of the rewards system...I just opt for punishing myself until I am finished.