Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Examinating

We are in the midst of exam week. I never know what to do with exam week, since I don't believe that exams are particularly useful pedagogically, not in literature and definitely not in comp. Neither the University of Basketball nor New SLAC held final exams in the comp classes, but Misnomer U. does, and as far as I can tell, the only thing they accomplish is confusing the freshmen. ("Why do we have an extra class at 8:00 on Friday morning? Why is it three hours long? What in the world is a blue book?") I reminded them about the exam period on both of the last two days of class, but so far, about half a dozen of the freshmen have e-mailed me to ask me when it was again. I referred them to their syllabus and to the exam schedule posted on the university web site. I wonder if it's a mistake to announce these things in class -- it seems to induce a kind of learned helplessness. On the other hand, this sort of thing is a useful reminder of how much implicit knowledge about the university I grew up with, and how much of that knowledge I tend to take for granted in my own students when I shouldn't. (I knew what a blue book was when I was FIVE, because my mother was an adjunct and she gave them to me to color in. Different world.)

The Shakespeare class was mostly very serious and focused, and a couple of my best students wrote for the full three hours. I feel good about making them banana bread, and I'm actually looking forward to reading their responses.

Some of the Brit Lit I students handed in their exams after half an hour. Half. An. Hour. For an exam that consisted of fourteen short-answer questions AND an essay that required them to discuss at least three different works. I advised them to spend at least an hour on the essay portion alone. Well, at least they will be short essays, and probably easy to grade. But good Lord, why do students whose grades are already marginal DO this to themselves? What are they thinking?

On the bright side, I read about 2/3 of Thomas Heywood's Rape of Lucrece during the Brit Lit exam. Nothing like two hours of enforced quiet time with no Internet access! (It is very different from Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece. For one thing, it is a musical. One of the songs is in Scottish dialect, never mind that the play is set in ancient Rome. Ah, Heywood, you are completely daft and I adore you.) Anyway, I feel ridiculously productive, although I'm pretty sure The Rape of Lucrece will not become part of the revised Magnum Opus, as all of the characters are a) Roman and b) aristocratic, which places it firmly outside of Magnum Opus territory. I do, however, need to write a conference paper on subversive ballad-singing in Renaissance drama, or some such.

7 comments:

jw said...

I love those half-hour-exam-takers: they're so easy to grade. Sometimes I don't need to even actually read the responses; I can look at all the whitespace and (almost) assign the failing grade. I do usually read what they've written, but since there's so little there, it takes only a few minutes. It's like grading a quiz: maybe I should thank them for making my job so easy.

"Dear student, thank you for making my grading so easy. Please accept this 'F' with my kindest regards."

It makes me happy to have things so clearly distinguished.

Fretful Porpentine said...

You're right, it does make life easier. But I can't help being frustrated by it, all the same.

Bardiac said...

Didn't they have finals in high school?

Most folks here have moved away from blue books. Who needs a blue book when you can use a scantron!

Fretful Porpentine said...

I'd imagine the high school finals just take place during a regular class period; I'm pretty sure mine did, although I can't swear to it after all these years.

I do not know what a Scantron literature test would look like, but I'm fairly sure that I would not like it ...

R said...

That puzzlement about finals is really interesting--my high school had an actual finals period at the end of each term, with several-hour exams held in the cafeteria, on a different schedule than the rest of the term. So I would have automatically assumed the students would have familiarity with the concept as well. Oops.

Also, I would totally go hear a paper on subversive ballad singing in Renaissance drama. I never quite know what to do with the willow song in _Othello_, or Ophelia's songs, when I teach those plays.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Unfortunately, if I were actually to write such a paper, it would be about The Rape of Lucrece, Woodstock, and The Bloody Brother, rather than anything anyone actually teaches, because I am lame that way and hardly ever have Interesting Thoughts about anything canonical...

R said...

Well, I'm pretty sure I've never had Interesting Thoughts about anything *non*-canonical, so.

But still, the concept of subversive ballad singing could be interesting and applicable to more canonical plays even if you didn't talk directly about them. I'd still go. :)