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Some things I have learned from student self-evaluation assignments in my first year writing class, a strange and wonderful thread of personal growth and useful feedback. #AcademicChatter 1/12
1. Five paragraph essays, banishment of personal pronoun, fixed topics, check-box rubrics, and literary analysis of books they don't like is what they do in high school and they learn to produce teacher-pleasing writing that they hate and find irrelevant. 2/12
2. They understand writing, then, as a chore with no point other than securing a grade so that they don't have to take another English/Writing class ever again. 3/12
3. Often, they feel shamed in their own language use and interests by their teachers who seem to count among them every last prescriptive grammarian gatekeeper intoning against split infinities and it feels punitive. 4/12
4. In my class, almost all of them express mild-moderate-severe panic when their first assignment allows them to pick their own topic, their own style, etc. Some of them get actually angry about it. Also, they have little experience of freewriting, and find it scary 5/12
5. They struggle with procrastination and prioritization: mostly they mean very well and want to work hard and do well, but working on their writing outside of class is a substantial challenge, for various reasons 6/12
6. They mostly come to really like the freewriting. It unlocks something for them in terms of writing for discovery, and writing for themselves, and unclenching, generally. They really seem to learn something in the draft and peer workshops, that they like. 7/12
7. Many of them are startled by my affect, and by how I run class (think: chaotic good, with moments of lawful good as required). Many of them are startled that they are allowed to be themselves when they write. Most of them rise to this occasion. 7/12
8. Oddly, a surprising number of them talked about how much they liked the tiny yoga breaks I inserted in our writing exercises, like really tiny easy things that many expressed finding deeply useful and transferable and soul-restoring. Huh. 8/12
9. It is absolutely the case that I have no idea who they are, what they value, how seriously they take the course, whether they care, just by looking at them. This assignment lets them invite me behind the curtain and I am always humbled by this. 9/12
10. Mostly, if I make the feedback specific and useful for the NEXT assignment, they will truly engage with it. They really read all the lengthy and detailed feedback, especially critical feedback, and try to improve (their work bears this out). 10/12
11. I almost certainly benefit from a charisma effect, in much the same way as a cult leader: a lot of narratives feature me, being my weird-ass Dead Poets Society self, climbing on desks and sharing cat memes and using weird classroom tricks. Not universally available. 11/12
In conclusion, students are complex people in complex circumstances doing the best they can, challenged as much socially and emotionally as they are intellectually, and doing their utmost to rise to the occasions they find themselves in. Fin.
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