Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pesky Essays, FINALLY done!

See that stack? That's ONE ASSIGNMENT. 110 essays, averaging between 7 and 12 pages, with a few outliers. Basically that's nearly 1,000 pages worth of writing. But not just any writing. Student writing. And not just any student writing. Student writing about non-fiction, which is inevitably shaky at best. But tonight I FINALLY finished the. I've only had them since February 11th, but no never mind that. I had to make their AP-based in-class essays a priority because of the AP test looming -- and I graded THREE of those. 330 handwritten essays. But since those have been done, I've been ignoring EVERYTHING else in order to finish these blasted things in time for their 12 week grades.

In honor of my finishing these essays, here is what I've learned from my AP juniors:

1. Correctly formatting a Works Cited page according to the Modern Language Association's (or MLA's) specifications is apparently impossibly hard. I mean, forget that it's a formula, and it is the ONE time in English class where there is a COMPLETELY right answer and many COMPLETELY wrong answers. As my friend Allison said on my Facebook, you'd think THIS is what they would excel at. But no. Evidently, having resources on the Internet like EasyBib and NoodleTools has made this process MORE challenging, not LESS, even though when I was in high school, we had to either check out (or just give in and buy) the MLA handbook to make sure our citations were correct, lest we lose our precious PUSD Writing With Style manual they used to hand out in hard copy to us at some point in our schooling (perhaps 9th grade?). I mean, seriously. I had blue hyperlinks, centered entries that made the Works Cited page look like poetry (fail), incorrect indents, incorrect entries, non-Times New Roman, too much space between entries, too little space between entries, and even students that forgot to cite their actual primary source (their non-fiction book). Sheesh.

2. Students are not above bribery. I found a dollar bill taped to an essay this year. But as Bonnie pointed out, one dollar isn't even enough to buy a delicious Starbucks drink. So that's sorta fail bribery. Exhibit A:
3. Someone out there -- and it is NOT me -- is teaching students to center justify their papers. I don't mean center -- they know (well, MOST of them know) that their essay paragraphs shouldn't have the look of a poem on the page. However, more and more in the last two years, I am having students submit essays with both the left and right margins flush, rather than just the left. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you're probably lucky.) The problem with this is that, despite looking deceptively more "professional," it throws off the internal line spacing and gives me a headache. It just looks weird and unnatural on an essay. But SOMEONE must be teaching this. What else explains this epidemic, especially given that generally when you actually ASK students to do something that requires finding an obscure setting, option, or button in Microsoft Word, it takes a PowerPoint, several walkthroughs, an YouTube Video, trial and error, and snarky Facebook posts to teach it to them effectively.

4. Apparently magazine and newspaper titles require no formatting. Except, actually, they do, and so I have expended more than a little red ink circling all of the times students mentioned The New York Times or Newsweek without italicizing them. And in an essay where these are two VERY popular resources to mention, this is a very nearly criminal offense.

5. Students get really cranky about books they don't understand that they don't realize they don't understand. It's fun.

6. Students *think* that I won't notice that some quotes are randomly in different fonts, or that their whole essay is in a Times New Roman-like font, but is not, in fact, Times New Roman. I have an eagle eye for these things; they cannot fool me. But inevitably, they try. Or, weirdly, this year, I've had whole essays in Times New Roman except for, say, the Works Cited page title, which is in Courier or Arial, or an occasional citation word in another font. It's inconsistent and bizarre.

7. Even AP-level juniors are not comfortable enough with their writing to take risks and stitch all of the requisite elements of their essays together with engaging transitions. The transitions were probably the weakest element of every single paper in that stack because students seem to see this particular assignment as six or seven disparate parts that they can write in a vacuum, away from each other, and then just copy and paste them together and make it work. But in many ways, it doesn't. Sure, their ideas are good, and technically all of the required components are there, but there's no talking of paragraphs between each other, and no ... finessing ... of ideas from one paragraph to another. I suppose this comes with maturity. I guess.

8. Even when students can actually PICK the book they want to read, they still don't read it. This was so apparent to me that I actually am annoyed. I don't really get annoyed when it's obvious they haven't read a core lit novel; it hurts their grade, sure, but ::shrug:: it's life. But when you've been able to PICK your book from a rather lengthy list of non-fiction books, and really, as long as it meets certain criteria, you can even pick books that don't appear on the list, and then you STILL don't read it? This is just stupid to me.

I think that's all I can think of that I learned from them as I was doing this, other than the same standard things that were reaffirmed: students aren't very good at editing and proofreading, they still don't quite understand the idea of full circle arguments, and they don't understand the difference between a semi-colon and a colon. But that's par for the course.

But I'm done. And I feel like a HUGE weight has been lifted momentarily off of my shoulders. That weight returns tomorrow when I arrive at school to the two buckets OVERFLOWING with the work I either have been completely ignoring or just collected TODAY. :-/ I have a long weekend of grading ahead of me to get ready for 12 week grades. Not to mention that I have to prepare my All Quiet on the Western Front unit to roll out.

... sigh. My work never ends. But for now, bedtime. I deserve it. I've graded 16 essays since I got home at 4:00.