It's midterm week: I spent the weekend grading paper #2 of my first year composition class (a causal analysis--more on that in a bit) and uploading midterm grades. I was quite disappointed in the papers--out of a class of 22, there were two As and six Bs, which makes me think that some people got it.
However, I had three Fs and four Ds, which is more than I'm used to. Those poor grades were primarily people who missed the point of the assignment, which was to explain a cause-and-effect relationship about an issue (using my usual research paper parameters, they could choose a campus issue, an issue in their major, or an advertising issue (as the first paper is an ad analysis, some students get really into it and want to research more))--instead, I had papers explaining the pros and cons of something, or arguing a position about an issue. Most of these also lost points for failing to turn in a topic proposal and/or rough draft--had they done so, I would have been able to point out that they were not writing to the assignment at that point.
They have the opportunity to revise and resubmit by Friday (I'll average the two grades for the final paper grade) as they did with the first paper, and I'm curious as to how many will take me up on the offer. When I returned papers by email, I actually had one student who failed both the first and second papers, and I included a note suggesting that he look at his grades on Moodle and consider whether he thinks he can make a satisfactory grade at the this point (we're not allowed to suggest that students drop the class, as they could sue), he responded that he's been really busy studying for midterms, so he's slacked on this class. I think there's a lot of that happening right now, as these first year students are learning to manage their time.
After returning papers via email Sunday, class was very quiet (which I interpreted as sullen) on Monday, as I went over common paper issues and introduced the new unit. I started class by handing out index cards and doing an informal midterm eval, asking students to anonymously write down (1) what in class is working/do they want more of; (2) what is not working/what do they want less of; and (3) other suggestions/comments. To be honest, I was really dreading reading them, and didn't look at them until last night when I sat down to do today's lesson plan. (The fact that I was doing the lesson plan the night before shows how less-than-excited I am about the class myself.)
To my great surprise, they were across the board positive. With a few exceptions, most said that they find the class set-up helpful, that they're learning a lot, that they find writing in class and collaboration helpful--I'm not sure what to make of it. I mean, they didn't write their names on the cards, so I want to think there's some sort of honesty happening. Would they actually write negative comments? But generally, this class is quiet and hard to get to talk and has a lot of people struggling to move past the five-paragraph-essay way of thinking about writing. And though I generally have good attendance (usually 18-20 each class period, which is above average here) (which means that I got 20 responses in this informal eval), I really had a different sense of the class. One card said that the student was really happy that zie has been able to keep a grade around a C or B, because zie didn't think it was possible.
I've written before about how hard it's been for me to get myself in the game this semester, between my crazy summer and my anxiety over exams and stuff (which, by the way, I passed, and now get to call myself ABD! yay!). So, should I be re-examining my expectations for this class? I'm going to try to really pay extra attention to this class, and re-examine my sense of the class. It just feels weird to have such a different sense of things than the students are reporting.