Tuesday, October 11, 2011

First Essays

I'm nearly done grading your first essays. By tomorrow morning, I will send you each detailed comments via email. You should receive two attachments: a PDF of a completed rubric sheet and a Word document with comments and markup. (If you don't see anything on the latter, make sure that you're in the correct mode in Word: "Final showing markup".)

Technical details out of the way, let me tell you several things I know:
  1. Many (even most) of you are going to freak out a little when you see your rubric. Not that it'll probably help, but pretty much everyone was in the same boat. In fact, I was actually pleasantly surprised that you did this well on the first assignment (previous classes have certainly done worse). 
  2. It may occur to you that I am being harsh or unfair (or . . . !). But hopefully you'll realize, on reflection, that I'm neither. In fact, I'm attempting to help you gain a valuable skill set by (a) holding you to high standards, (b) being honest with you about whether you are meeting those standards, and (c) offering as much help on paper and in person as it takes in order to get you there. I'm your advocate here. Better to learn now among friends (with a safety net) than in the so-called "real world" where the job market is fierce!
  3. You will put a lot more effort into your subsequent essays (or revisions) and by the end of the term produce work that is significantly better (gaining along the way a deep understanding of issues that you are only close to grasping now). You will look back on these first essays and be surprised that you wrote them only a few weeks before.
I know these things well enough by induction(!) over (suprisingly many) years of teaching students such as yourselves how to present and analyze complex and subtle ideas in writing. I structure my courses so that you will have ample opportunity to hone these capabilities without being punished for not being masters right out of the gates. Remember: of your two shorter essays, I will only count the best towards your final grade — and you may revise either of them.

So: try to avoid succumbing to Freakout (1) or Anger/Frustration (2) and instead focus on Improvement (3). Think about my comments, what you wrote, and how you can improve it. Look over my Writing Advice and linked resources again. Come chat with me about your understanding, your writing, your process, . . . whatever (you might also consider chatting with the folks at the Writing Center). Try revising your essay (even before you start the next one). Wash and repeat. This, unfortunately, is the only way to gain a skill like this. It's painful, messy, work-intensive, and often frustrating (I speak from experience on both sides of the table). But it is worth doing.

I have office hours tomorrow from 10AM–noon. As always, please feel welcome to stop by or arrange another time to come talk. 

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