Believe it or not, despite procrastinating and bike riding, I've managed to grade my first year writing students' research papers!
There are two really good ways to organize this sort of paper; one is the traditional "here's the thesis, and then I argue for it" and the other is the almost as traditional "I have a question, explore it, and end with a thesis point."
The best papers were of the latter sort. In the very best, the student asked a question about a fairly complex contemporary question. As this student has been working, s/he's tended towards one answer. In reading the final essay, s/he came down on the other side, explaining in a footnote that s/he'd had an epiphany and realized that s/he'd become convinced by the evidence that s/he should support the other side. How cool is that? My student actually learned something from his/her research, and continued learning through the writing process. I think there's not much more I can hope for as a teacher.
As I've talked about before, students sometimes write about familial problems. One of my students wrote an essay that's bitterly angry about a parent's addictive problem and the parent's unwillingness to change. It was painful to read, though not badly written. The only comfort I can honestly give the student is that s/he has moved away from the problem, except s/he'll be going back to it at break and probably over summer. Sadness.
On the other hand, a student who researched a behavior and found it was dangerous decided that s/he'll continue with it. Pleasure 1, Logic 0.
I become really aware of the stupid grammatical things that irritate me out of all reason. Today, it's using "amount" when "number" makes logical sense. As in, the amount of dollars rather than the number of dollars. It's stupid that I obsess, but it's cropping up repeatedly.
Some students wrote about where they might choose to live after college. I actually wrote on one, "but you'd have to live in _____!" You can fill in the blank with a medium sized US city you think I'd run from. I've actually been to the city in question several times. It was probably inappropriate to write that, but I did. Maybe I should go back and erase? I always write paper comments in pencil, so I can judiciously reword if I need to.
I'm once again stunned, though I shouldn't be, at some of the attitudes my students have. I have several female students who seem to think that it's bad for women to work outside the home, though they plan to do so. When they talk about the not working outside the home thing, I want to ask them if they think I should starve to death because I don't have a husband to support me. I think, though, that they don't "see" me, in a way, and certainly haven't thought things through about the working world.