Monday, September 8, 2008

Spring and Fall Semesters

with apologies to Gerard Manley Hopkins

Margaret, are you frighting
O’er the essay you are writing?
Leaves of the reader turning,
The hours are you burning?
Ah! with procrastination
Grows grievous consternation,
By and by, on caffeine high,
Though panic start to make you cry,
And C to receive, you would know why.
Now no matter: just a draft:
Fret not too much over craft;
Prove, move the blinking cursor on,
Though night-time’s veil be nearly gone:
It is what texts are made of,
It is writing you’re afraid of.

* * * * *

I have to say, I quite adore reading my students' blog posts. Contra the parody above, they aren't actually afraid of writing, just certain kinds of writing. As soon as it's some doodly internet thing, the articulacy seems to skyrocket.

I remember Michael Drout writing at one point that he finds that his students' grammar and ability to make sense drops when they try to engage more complicated ideas.

That's true of course -- true for me too -- but I also think that students, at Cal, at least, tend to be invested in an image of themselves as high academic achievers, so as soon as they sit down to write an essay, the pressure is on. It's especially anxiety-inducing for first-years who are still adjusting to college demands. And that feeling can lead to paralysis, procrastination, and lower-quality writing.

It's not my job to fix my students' feelings, but it is my job to help them stretch from comfortable, low-pressure forms of writing to more demanding ones.

Which means, I suppose, that I had better finish my grading.

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