Some of my community college students once asked me how long it takes to grade one set of papers, and I shrugged and told them I wasn’t sure. Usually I try to spread it out over a few days, so I’d never really added up the hours.
Well, now I know the answer. This week I did something stupid and left it all for the last day. I made awesome progress on my WIP during the days I should have been grading, but then of course I was cursing myself all day yesterday as I spent six and a half hours reading and marking 19 eight-to-ten-page student papers. The only breaks I took were to pick up my son from preschool, to make both boys a sandwich, and to microwave myself a burrito.
It was grueling.
And that was just for the beginning comp class. I don’t even want to think about the twenty-something websites I still need to read and grade for my intermediate class this week.
On my students’ end, writing the assignments is also grueling, of course, but in my course they have the added “joy” of what I’ve termed The Grammar Project. It’s a twice-weekly assignment that covers twenty grammar concepts over the course of the semester. Each web page has a long list of professional examples of the concept, then explanations, then student samples, then a place for students to write their own analysis or definition and their own sample sentence.
What surprises me every semester is how much I get out of grading papers and how much they get out of The Grammar Project.
When I grade their papers, I get to benefit from all their research and life experiences. I learn about the latest trends in technology, about the current arguments in bioethics, about diseases I wasn’t aware of, and also about my students. I learn about the experiences they’ve already had in their 20–30 years of life and how those experiences have made them passionate to share about education, marriage, home buying, depression, therapy, alcoholism, drug abuse, gang involvement, and so much more.
Honestly, I love that my students can teach me so much.
This time around, the real stand-out paper included this image in its appendix:
The paper was about the crime of alcohol companies appealing to young kids, and the student backed it up with not only excellent research but also his own experiences of being persuaded by ads that alcohol was cool, which led him to become an alcoholic by the age of 20. On top of that, he told about friends of his and also the experience of talking with his seven-year-old nephew after a beer commercial came up.
(He made a video presentation to go along with the paper, and it was incredible, with his nephew and niece narrating about how many images of alcohol fantasies a kid will see growing up as hundreds of ads like the frog one flash across the screen too fast to count.)
Can I even tell you how cool it is as a teacher to see students creating that level of rhetoric, being that passionate and persuasive about an important issue?
It’s definitely a major highlight for me.
And on the flip side, when I asked last night, at our final class (the “exam” that was mostly about eating pizza while writing letters to next semester’s class), what the most beneficial part of the course was, they said The Grammar Project.
One student even went ahead and admitted that they’d all probably complained as they were doing it, but it was still incredibly helpful.
I would have expected comments about the video clips we watched and activities we did in class, or about making websites or visual projects. You know, something that was fun and educational at the same time.
Funny how the grueling parts of life and education are also often the most worthwhile.