Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Grading, Grading, Grading

So, it seems my advent reflections will not be a daily thing--I'm a tad pressed for time after a full evening of grading and watching the first basketball games of the season (and still with more grading I'd like to get done). I can promise that the advent reflections will be frequent... just not daily. Next year, I'll have to plan out ahead of time what I'm going to write about so that I have a real sense of direction going in.

Instead, this evening, I'd just like to share a bit of what's been on my mind for the last 48 hours. In case the title of this post and the previous paragraph didn't give it away, I've been spending a lot of time grading. When I haven't been grading, I've been thinking about grading.

I won't lie to you, dear readers: Grading is the part of my job that I like the least. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I sometimes hate it. It requires an extra measure of motivation for me to start grading. However, once I get started, I am a grading MACHINE!!!! In my Junior classes, we are coming up on the end of the semester in January, which will coincide with the end of our current (and very long) unit on "American Buzzwords: Freedom, Equality and Diversity". As the kids prepare to begin writing their final unit essay, which will address a question related to one of those major themes and incorporate examples from history, literature, Scripture, class discussions and personal experience, I've been trying to prep them for the writing expectations.

I feel like I did an inadequate job of preparing my kids to write last year--I'm much better at teaching presentation and speaking skills. The reason is, I had to struggle to learn how to be an effective public speaker myself and so I am very familiar with the process of learning attached to presentation. Writing, however, has been as natural to me as swimming is to a duck--I suppose there's a period of time where a duckling doesn't know how to swim, but this is a fleeting moment soon eclipsed in memory by a lifetime spent on the water. I don't remember a time where I struggled with writing. I always scored high on writing assignments in school. I never proofread my own work. My classmates never had any criticism for my writing on the rare occasion that teachers required peer editing. It felt good at the time, but, as it turns out, it was poor preparation for eventually teaching others how to write.

Rereading that last paragraph, I come across as arrogant. I know I am not God's gift to writing: I found that out in an advanced expository writing class that I took in college (first time I ever got a B on a writing assignment--it really shook the core of my identity at the time). I tend to use elevated diction (fancy way of saying I use big words too much), I lack organization and structure, I ramble sometimes... Professor Schaap wasn't one to sugarcoat, and I discovered that I had much to learn.

I still do. I guess that's why I'm blogging regularly, so I can practice and improve my writing. For instance, I now can tell that I'm rambling. Back to the main topic...

Grading. I find that I teach writing best by grading. While it takes a nudge to get started (a nudge that I prayed for in a blogpost several days back... God answered with a full-out shove), I do find the process intriguing. Two days ago, I graded AP essays on the Scarlet Letter as a diagnostic for my AP students' writing abilities. This evening, I started grading in-class essays as a diagnostic on the entire classes' writing abilities. I am actually enjoying reading through and making comments. The quality ranges from good, to bad, to barely legible, but in every case, I enjoy the challenge of thinking of comments that will encourage the kids, and comments that will push them to improve.

I've probably graded 30 essays over the past 48 hours... I'm settling into a good pace. My goal is to keep it up through the next two weeks so that I do not need to bring a huge stack to my parents' house over Christmas (where I know my pace will inevitably falter).

I am also going to try having the kids workshop some parts of the writing process in class so that they do not put off starting their rough drafts until the night before it is due, like I would have done. Hmm... I guess I can apply some of what I learned in school to my own teaching after all!

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