Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Courseblogging: Economies of Scale

I am holding individual conferences for the Brit Lit I papers this week, which means that it's only Wednesday and I'm already totally, completely exhausted.

I tried this for the first time in the spring, when I had fourteen students in my one and only section of Brit Lit II. It was nice. Holding individual meetings with forty-eight students is totally different.

I'm glad I decided to do this -- I think it's necessary, especially since so many of the students have told me that they've never written a literary analysis paper before, or they've never written a paper this long before (5 to 7 pages). But oh God, I feel like I've had the same conversation about twenty times this week. And it is still, as I said, only Wednesday.

(It doesn't help that I finally broke a long-standing resolution and made a list of suggested paper topics, although I think this, too, was necessary; last year I got some papers on ... interesting topics, of which my favorite was entitled "Is it possible to sell your soul to the devil yes or no?"* So I thought it was only fair to give the first-time paper-writers a little guidance, but it turns out the students collectively homed in on two of the seven suggested topics and ignored the rest. I'm getting heartily sick of The Relationship Between Canterbury Tale X and Its Teller and Is Beowulf an Ideal Hero?, especially since most of the students haven't really got the "anticipating and responding to potential counterarguments" move down, so many of the papers are turning into long lists of Why Beowulf Is Awesome. Personally, I think I am on Unferth's side, if not the Fire Dragon's.)

Anyway, this is the first time my two sections have started to feel like a great deal more work than one, and it's a bit of a shock to the system. (I've taught double sections of comp before, but not lit, and with comp it's obvious much earlier in the semester that you're going to spend your life slogging through massive quantities of paper.)

* The answer, in case you are wondering, is "Yes it is possible because Dr. Faustus sold his soul to Lucifer, in exchange for his body and soul." Who knew Lucifer threw in a free body? Certainly not I.


Unknown said...

Dr. Faustus sold his soul to Lucifer, in exchange for his body and soul

That sounds like an even worse deal than I *usually* think Faustus made. He sold his soul for stuff he already had!

I have yet to bring myself to do required conferences for just this reason. I often think that I should, but I find even the voluntary conferences to be exhausting and usually not all that productive. (I'm just bad at conferences, because I never know how to explain things I do more or less instinctively; I think "the conference" as a general thing is a good idea.)

Fretful Porpentine said...

But he got his soul back, which suggests it's not such a bad deal after all! Unless he ended up with Lucifer's soul, which would be bad. Darn pronouns.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Could you do group conferences, 4-5 students at once, sort of like a British tutorial?

If you keep your rubber chicken in your office and only use it as a prop for teaching, you can totally take it off your taxes.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Dame Eleanor -- Hmm, that seems like it would still take up the same amount of time in terms of reading and responding to papers, so I'm not sure what the benefits of group conferences would be. Besides, I feel pretty strongly that instructor feedback on students' work should be given in private.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

You don't have to spend so much time in the actual conferences, and you can group people with the same issues; it may be useful for students to know that other people struggle with thesis statements, or whatever. The reading is indeed the same.