I’m finishing up my 12th+ year of teaching. But, I still am learning…and I still make mistakes.
Over the years, I’ve struggled with teaching writing, specifically research papers. I’ll admit during my first 5(ish) years of teaching, I appreciated the format of five paragraph essays and the Schaffer Method because it was something known—something concrete I could teach.
Writing is so subjective and amorphous…how the hell do you teach what you can’t exactly explain?
My first AP summer conference was an eye opener. I had an amazing, dynamic woman who had been teaching more than 20 years—and still loved it! She had an overwhelming amount of energy and handouts and tips and tricks and advice and wisdom. I could have listened to her for longer than the week we had. She helped me begin breaking the mold I’d encased myself in. Unfortunately, AP, and college writing, still needs quite a bit of format. And, I’ve taught AP longer than any other level.
I further evolved as a writing teaching when I began writing more myself. I’ll admit I started with writing AP essays with my students. But, I at least dropped one of the “required” body paragraphs. Haha! As I wrote, I actually began thinking about my writing and how best to communicate an idea. It wasn’t simply topic sentence, example, commentary, rinse, and repeat. I thought about punctuation. About the rules. I didn’t make all my changes that year, but the journey has continued since those first steps in 2007.
Each year, I get better, more confident in teaching writing.
I’ve also become better and more adept at discussing writing with students rather than “dictating.” I love looking in a student’s eyes and saying, “Hmmm, that’s a good question. What do you think?” or “Let’s look at your sentence. You could use this and achieve this effect. Or, you could do this and achieve this effect. What do you like better?” It’s amazing how empowering it is for them to make the decisions about their communication. That kind of freedom can also be terrifying for many of them, especially if tied to a grade (don’t make that mistake, teacher).
This year and last pushed me even more. I work with juniors who have barely written anything since middle school. Hell, I would’ve even taken a formulaic essay. I can work with that. I’ve almost started at ground zero: basic essay structure (they needed training wheels), grammar/mechanics IN CONTEXT (not drill and kill), annotation, analysis, blah, blah, blah. I even pulled out some of my 8th/9th grade assignments to introduce skills to them.
I do have to say I’m incredibly proud of my students’ growth last year and this.
Now that I’ve prefaced enough…on to the actual post. Sorry, folks, I’m big on context!
Grading research papers has always been the bane of my existence. They take me so long! I try to read them twice: once for content and once for format/grammar/mechanics. In years past, I’ve been the copy editor, slashing and correcting until the paper lies bleeding on my desk (partly why I switched to pink/purple pens from red).
Each year, I try to find loopholes and more efficient ways to grade and actually help students instead of them glancing at their grade, ignoring my corrections, and trashing the paper. Last year, I only butchered the first two pages and focused on content for the rest. That saved me some time, but still didn’t teach students much, even though I had them do another revision.
This past weekend, I think I had a brilliant idea. I handed back the “final” drafts on Monday. Students grabbed a highlighter and a red pen (which I keep in my class for other assignments).
1. Grab a highlighter.
2. Look at the 1st source on your Works Cited.
3. Find it in your paper.
4. Once you find it, highlight the citation and the source. You only have to do this once for each source.
5. Now, do this for all your sources.
6. Compare the Works Cited and your citations. Are there any in your paper not on the WC? Are there any on the WC not in your paper? Circle those.
7. You cannot list it on the WC unless you used it in your paper. Period. If you use it in your paper, you have to list it on your WC.
Part II: To earn your grammar/mechanics research paper grade:
1. You must find and correct 15 mistakes.
2. You can use capitalization, any punctuation, spelling mistakes. There must be a variety--not just 15 capitalization mistakes.
3. Highlight the sentence you are correcting. Make the correction in RED INK.
4. If you actually used the revision checklist for your rough draft and are having problems finding mistakes, feel free to play around with punctuation: use a colon, semicolon, and/or dash.
I had some of the most productive discussions with students during this process. They weren’t afraid of failing, so many of them really did play with punctuation. They also felt free to not use my suggestions. Seeing their confidence gave me a high.
Today, Tuesday, I asked for feedback: 1. Was yesterday helpful? 2. What is one thing you learned/remembered?
Overall (like over 90%), students said this was helpful. Many of them said they learned their papers are never finished. Just when they think they’re done, they should re-read and make more corrections. It’s only been 2 months since they submitted these, but the majority couldn’t believe how “bad” the papers were. That’s growth, readers.
So much of AP writing is rushed and “bad” writing. I try to stress the process whenever I can. I will definitely do this assignment again. I think I’ll only wait 2 weeks-1 month next time—kind of depends on whether I need to review that fancy punctuation (as the kids call it). Putting some of the work back in their hands saved me and actually taught them something.
Why didn’t I have this epiphany sooner?!