So, let's change the subject. I want to write a bit about my grad seminar that I'm teaching this term. Our MA program is basically brand spanking new, and while at first I had concerns about us starting such a program (who needs another MA program in English?) I actually see that we are fulfilling a need in the region, and so that's fine. That said, well, I got seminar paper proposals in from my students who remained in the course (lots of attrition from my initial enrollment, which I had expected would be the case, and which I'm ultimately fine with) and I am... how do I put this?
Well, let me back up. When I designed this course, I was very clear about the fact that I could not just put together a course that would have passed for graduate-level in my own experience. Most of our students are working full time, and they just don't have the time to devote to reading or the sense of graduate-level expectations for workload that I had in my own grad experience. So, in thinking about the course design, I very clearly wanted to set up a schedule that pushed the students but also that gave them a lot of milestones throughout so that they could chart their progress.
So, whereas in my grad work, where the reading expectation was something like 1 novel per week plus secondary readings and theory, in this course, students are reading about half of the amount. I'm ok with that, as I'd rather have them do all of the half amount of reading rather than none of a larger amount of reading. And whereas my seminars with rare exceptions had a grade breakdown of 80% seminar paper (with no proposal assignment or anything folded into that) and 20% a presentation/discussion-lead and participation, my course has more bites at the grading apple. Presentation; Participation; Proposal/Annotated bibliography; Reading Journal; Seminar Paper, with percentages distributed more evenly across assignments (though the seminar paper is still the largest percentage). Again, for my student population, I think this makes sense. In my grad programs, the expectation was that you'd be doing things like a reading journal, refining a topic and doing research, participating, without instruction. My students, for the most part, did not enter this program with a level of preparedness that would indicate that they would do these things without them being assigned. I don't think that it's a bad thing for me to make these requirements explicit, given my context, so that's fine, too.
What concerns me is not the structure of the course or my level of expectation. I put a lot of time into designing the course, and I think it's a good one. And, for the most part, the students are bright and enthusiastic, if perhaps a bit lacking in maturity and seriousness compared with grad students at research-heavy institutions. But.
I was totally shocked by the quality - or lack thereof - of their proposals for their seminar papers. (In general - some proposals were alright, I suppose.) Here is what surprised me:
- Quality of writing. Poor word choice, lack of clarity, failure to proofread.
- Failure to comply with the required topics that the proposal assignment indicated that they should address. Because that's the thing: I didn't just say "hand in a proposal" - I gave them an assignment that broke down explicitly the information such a proposal should include.
- Lack of specificity. This goes along with the first two bullets, but it's also a distinct issue. Ultimately, I don't think the majority of them actually revised the proposal before turning it in.
I mean, these are graduate students. Not grad students in a top program, surely, but still: why would a person pursue a graduate degree if one didn't intend to do one's best on all assignments? I just don't get it.
I mean, I get it when undergrads don't necessarily apply themselves on all assignments. It's not what I'd wish, but I understand it. This, though, I do not understand.
Also, let me be frank: most of my undergraduates who are majors in upper-level courses produce better topic proposals than what I got from my grad students. At the very least, they follow directions. But more often than not, a good number actually have really interesting ideas above and beyond meeting the basic requirements of an assignment.
So I guess what I am, beyond anything else, is disappointed. I'm going to force some of them to redo the assignment before I'll pass it (something I'd never imagined I'd have to do) and I think I'm going to take time in class tonight for them to workshop their proposals with comments and to meet with them individually while they do so. I feel like this is a freshmen comp style thing to do, and I think it's infantilizing, but I think they all will benefit from it. I'd rather infantilize them and help them to do well than to treat them like grown-ups and have them all tank the paper.
It does suck, though, that this is where we are at this point in the semester. I'd just expected so much more from them.