In this post, I will whine and moan not about my freshmen but rather about my sophomore-through-senior students in my literature courses.
As somebody said in the comments to yesterday's post, one has to cut freshmen a bit of slack on the analysis thing because coming out of high school they don't necessarily have experience with the kind of analysis that is expected at the college level. I agree.
So what is the excuse for my upper-division class, filled mostly with juniors and seniors - and most of those English majors?
The assignment, in a nutshell, is this: For each unit (there are four in the semester), students complete a 1-page (it can be 10 pt., single-spaced if necessary, but I only will accept the one piece of paper) response-analysis paper. (I do the one sheet of paper thing because I had a professor when I was a senior give basically this same assignment, and I remember how challenged I was by it as a writer - for as English majors we learn early to write lengthy tomes that say nothing (as you all know from reading my blog, I've not totally broken myself of this habit)- and how much I learned about argument and structure by being forced into concision. The one page is symbolic of that: if you say two pages, somebody is always going to go those two or three lines over onto the third page, you know?) The assignment is the same for each of the four papers. They are to choose a pivotal moment in one text from the unit. They are to choose something that they believe is a crucial aspect (theme, tendency, formal element, whatever) through which to read that scene. The paper then should make an argument about how that crucial aspect comes through in the pivotal moment, and then they should relate that reading to the text as a whole and to the unit that we are studying.
To me, this assignment is great because it forces them to practice all of the analytical skills they need for more extended literary analysis papers - whether the traditional 3-5 page topic-driven paper with no sources or a longer paper with research. It's also great because it forces the crap out of their writing. There's just not room for all of the cliches and the passive voice and mixed metaphors.
And most of the time, students do quite well with it once they do the first one. Often, one of these papers will be the jumping off point from which they develop their topic for the research paper.
But this time, well, things aren't so good. Well, that's unfair. Most of them are doing fine with it. But I've got a couple who submitted papers that just don't follow the assignment. Papers that are all over the place and don't really demonstrate the ability to carefully analyze a passage in a literary text. Both students have taken many English courses. Both students seem fairly alert in class, and they come to class.
So what's the deal? Am I asking too much? Are the students just incapable of the kind of analysis I expect? Are my colleagues to blame, for not requiring similar kinds of analysis in their courses? (Answer to that last question: to some extent, yes they are, and I hate that I've got to deal with seniors who don't have the skills to perform identical tasks to those that I expect of my second-semester freshmen in introduction to literature.)
Won't you all be glad when I'm done with all of this grading on Thursday? I know I will be.
6 years ago