Friday, February 22, 2008

Holding Back the Snark

I've been, as the title says, Holding Back the Snark, as sung to the tune of Simply Red's "Holding Back the Years." I've gotten about this far in rewriting the lyrics:

Holding back the snark
Thinking that it's better in the long run
But what I'd rather do
Is speak it awfully slow for you

But I'll keep holding on
I'll keep holding on
I'll keep holding on

The inspiration for such a masterpiece of revision? Student emails, of course! I actually have quite delightful classes this semester, including a brand new film class that is a challenging mix of senior English majors who are all about the theoretically-informed critique of films, and students taking it as an elective who want to talk about their love for particular actors. I've committed to having them do weekly writing in this class---short papers in which they apply the secondary work we're reading (either an article about the genre, about the time period, or a film textbook) to a very specific element in the film, and move toward a larger argument about effect and ideology. No, it's not easy, but that's why we practice, eh? Attached to the syllabus is a description of the assignment that students can follow. This puts me in the unenviable position of reading and commenting on 20 of these a week, but there's nothing like weekly writing to embed some habits of mind (and, sadly, make students take a film class seriously).

So my student R. is a well-meaning and dedicated student. She's an adult who's got kids, and she's taken film classes before at the local community college. So, three weeks in, she writes me to tell me she's concerned about her grades on these papers (on which she was receiving B's, for the record), and asked me to clarify what I want. Right---on TOP of the comments that I give you each week? Okay, so I construct a sample for her---a "this is what I would do if I were going to write it, but this is only one of many models" type thing. Since it took me about 45 minutes to do that, I figured I should post it for the entire class so that everyone could see it, effectuating the creation of a course website to do this on, but whatever.

Okay, so this week, after having posted the example. Virtually all of the papers are better, and start moving toward the kind of analysis I want. They're not perfect, but they're in the ballpark (and not largely made up of "gee, I saw this movie when I was 14 and my sister and I thought that Andrew McCarthy was the hottest thing. And then we went to the mall and bought glitter socks. But back to the movie..."). Of course, virtually all of them are on the same topic as the example that I posted, but they all worked through it in their own way. So, I'm not complaining. And, like those of her peers, R's paper is better too---she got an 87.

Her email to me, sent the day after class, reports that she's disappointed and wants to know if I have any suggestions, because she thought she was doing what I asked.

And here's where I have to start singing my little song. Because seriously----other than write it for her, what else can I do? How do I respond to that email without saying, "Well, R., did I perhaps say anything in the comments that would specifically explain how to make it better? I don't have your paper in front of me, but it so stood out from the other papers that I can practically recite it verbatim, and thus here's what I would suggest, over and above what I wrote in the comments. Because usually, that's how I roll: I refuse to tell you what to do differently next time unless you specifically write to me. But good on you! You figured out my secret code, and thus I'll give you REAL feedback now!"

You can see why the song is necessary, no? For your viewing pleasure, here's the video. Sing along, if you're so inclined, or suggest more lyrics. And picture me with that hair...

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3 Comments:

Blogger Ashley said...

You ask me, which you kind of did, this is about the hardest type of student to deal with, because for me, the B+ student is generally somebody who's doing everything rightish, but just doesn't have the insight and/or analytical skills necessary to fall into the A category. So you have one of those standard "an A paper does X; a B paper does Y" sheets that you distribute? I usually end up just pointing to that and saying something about good-but-not-sophisticated.

Sunday, February 24, 2008 7:45:00 PM  
Blogger kfluff said...

Oh, man, I so need one of those things! And you're exactly right, that's right at the level she's at. The description of the text is good, and she's locating themes and such, but it's just not resolving into an argument about why it should matter. Which is sort of the A move, you know?

I wish I could quote to her one of my all time favorite lines in literature: Henry Park, from Native Speaker, described by his wife as a "B+ student of life." Ouch. It's hurty 'cause it's true.

Sunday, February 24, 2008 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger Ashley said...

Damn, that's cold. And yet so often how I feel about myself.

I've changed to a less-elaborate description of the different grades, but I'll check when I get to school to see if I have a version to send you if you want it.

Monday, February 25, 2008 8:23:00 AM  

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