Monday, December 28, 2015

And We're Back!

I hope you've had wonderful holidays if you celebrate at this season.  I did.

And, I became smart phone enabled (I had a flip phone before), which is exciting.

I got a bonsai redwood tree, which I love, and am afraid will die here.

I spent much of the afternoon working on a small project, and am just about finished.  I'm pretty happy with the way it's turning out.

I've got a lot of stuff to do this break.

SAA paper
Revise another paper
Prep three courses, one pretty darned new
Committee work
Different committee work
Prep a library program for February

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Why is Grading so Hard?

It's not hard like breaking rocks or using a short-handled hoe, but it's hard.  Anyone who grades knows that.

But why?

It's repetitive, but so is playing solitaire.

It's repetitive AND takes a bit of concentration, but so does playing solitaire.

So why is grading what I'm avoiding, and solitaire what I've been doing to avoid?

I think solitaire has little rewards built in; you feel a little good when you solve the game.  But shouldn't I feel a little good when I grade an exam?  (I'm down to exams now.)

Maybe grading is higher stakes?  So it's repetitive and takes concentration, but unlike solitaire, you have to focus on getting it right or there will be problems.

And unlike solitaire, real people will be affected if there are problems, and I care about those people a fair bit, and want them to succeed for real.  (And not just in a letter grade sort of way.)

I wish I felt that there were an ethical way to give scantron exams in a lit course.

So, what is it?  Why does grading feel so hard?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Wrapping Up

I gave my two finals yesterday, and by the end of the second day, I'd graded the easy "half" (essay) of each.  I still have the passages and short answer parts, but I feel suddenly totally less stressed about grading.

My goal for the essay part of exams is that students will put what they've learned over the semester together somewhat, that they'll be able to work with what they've learned in a somewhat fuller way.

To that end, I start a couple weeks out with brainstorming, and have them make a list of topics that might be good on the exam, and give them the parameters (works from across the term, theory/critical works if an upper level course).  They take that list, and then do some work (either individually or in groups, or both) to try crafting some essay questions.  Then I take their essay question and work them into a list of questions, shaping them a bit. 

At that point, I bring those questions back to the class and they narrow the choices.  Then, if need be, I narrow the choices, until I have five, which I work into real essay questions, so that I think each of them could be used to write a really good exam essay.

And then, about a week before the exam, I take those to the students, and they choose the final three.  Of those three, two will appear on the final exam, and they'll write about one of them.  They can use books and notes on that part of the final.

So, they have a week to prepare to write about two of the questions, and can do whatever level of preparation they wish.  (I do warn them about the dangers of not preparing and thinking they can just look at notes or whatever during the exam.)  A lot of students do two essay outlines, and then mark things in their texts or notes to bring in.  A few write the actual essays and then copy them out during the exam.  (That seems overkill to me, but oh well.)

The thing is, they have time to spend really thinking about the essay questions, so by and large, they tend to write good exam essays, and some of them really bring things together in super ways.

In my intro course, which I blogged about re the calendar, and the initial challenge, back in May, and choosing the longer works here, students brought up race/racism, family, social class/wealth, and other good stuff in their initial brainstorming, and when I gave them the final, with a question about how the literature represented race/racism and a question about how the lit represented families, about half chose the race/racism question, and overall, everyone did a good job.  A few of them really wrote well (or else they wrote well about what they thought I wanted them to write about.  Is there a difference?).

More than one or two of the race/racism essays talked about being a white person, and not having experienced racism, and so reading about it made them think about their own experiences in different ways.

A few of the family essays were insightful and thoughtful, too.  (Most intro writing course essays were intro writing course essays.  They did the job as such, and did it just fine.)

Overall, then, I'm feeling pretty good about that course, the literature I taught, and what students learned.

My favorite piece from the semester is Kwame Alexander's "Life" (which is still under copyright, so I guess you have to go look in a library!).  I showed students pictures of termites, and talked about what it means to be a "liberal" and why that might not be enough, and what it means to use "termite" as a metaphor for white folks, and how that makes me think, and so forth.  So I felt a bit vulnerable teaching it, but it made me think and rethink!


I taught Timon of Athens in the Green Shakespeare course (and it worked pretty well, and I liked it a whole lot more on rereading than I had before).  As I'd blogged about here, Timon was the last play I hadn't yet taught.  And now I've taught it, so I've finally achieved one of my weird goals from when I first started teaching.

All in all, a challenging semester with lots of new stuff to teach, and all in all, I think a good semester.  Next semester, new challenges!  But for now, a massage and then some more grading.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Reading Papers

I'm reading this stack as they're stacked, which is the reverse of how they were handed in, if that makes sense.  The first few were stellar, and then I had a couple of very much less stellar ones.

Symbolism here, symbolism there, but nary a definition or thinking about what they mean or why anyone should care.

Unsupported assertions.  Character X responds thusly.  Except she doesn't seem to in the words I read. 

I have to get back to it.  I'm behind on my self-imposed schedule for how many I'm supposed to read in a given time.  The lousy ones really, really slow me down.  How the heck to respond?

I hope the next one is stellar again.  Please, let them be good!

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Morning of Interruptions

I came in this morning with two big tasks: to finish writing an exam for a student to take early (because they have three exams on the regular day, and thus have a right to request one early), and to finish (and record) a set of papers.  I started out with about four hours to do that, and it was perfectly reasonable.

Meanwhile, the department was also having a lunch potluck (I made and brought cookies) from 11:30-1:30.

Then I wasted some time getting a slow start.  No problem, still plenty of time.

Then a colleague came by and wanted to talk, and that turned into an hour or more.  It was important, but not expected.

No problem, still enough time if I'm careful.  I finished writing the exam, and started in on the leftover papers (most of which I graded over the weekend).

Then a student came for an appointment to talk about the final later in the week, and that took over 45 minutes.  The problem was that they hadn't reread or really thought about the essay questions for the final (questions they've had since last Monday), and so they weren't really ready to go to town on the brainstorming.  Still, in that 45+ minutes, I think I helped them a whole lot to prepare.

Then I took my cookies in to the set up room, with just about an hour to go.  I went back to the office, closed my door, and restarted grading.  And within just under an hour, I'd finished the grading and recorded the grades. 

I went to get a bite of the lunch food, leaving a note on the door so the student coming for the early exam could find me, and before I'd even had a chance to put food on my plate, the student showed up early.  Fortunately, she let me get some food, so I did, and then got her started on her exam a few minutes later.

Then I went to turn back the papers (there's a "final" that I have to be at, but I don't have to give a final or take attendance), and picked up the next stack from this class.

I have to say, I think I just graded the single strongest stack of papers I've ever graded.  Holy cow, over half were As, and I'm not known as a super easy grader.  They just really, really put in the work on these projects!  I hope the next set is also pretty good!

And now: I need to write the regular exam for that class, and an exam for another class.  And if I do that before I go home, and make copies, I don't have to come back until Thursday!  (Between now and Thursday, I have a big stack of upper level course papers.)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Modes of Grading

I was at a collegial gathering last night, and of course some of the conversation turned to the end of the semester, and grading.  And then a couple of folks started talking about modes of grading, of getting through big stacks of papers, especially.

One of my colleagues says he grades alphabetically, except that if he's pretty sure the first paper will be horrid, he moves it to the back.  He told me that grading alphabetically means he doesn't choose to grade the papers he thinks will be strongest first, leaving him a stack of much harder papers at the end.

My dissertation director told me that he mixed, "salted" was the term he used, the papers he knew would be good into the stack so that he wouldn't get a long string of bad ones.  I remember being vaguely horrified by this, wondering how it was he knew who'd write a good paper or not.  I'm less horrified now because I know how he knew. 

I graded some yesterday, by choosing the ones I've seen a lot in office hours, which meant they were quicker to grade, and they were good, and so not unpleasant to grade.  And now I have a mixed bag left, mostly ones I haven't seen repeatedly in office hours, and one I have, but know isn't going to be easy to grade despite the best efforts of a very nice student.

I often have students write something on the back of their papers, so that I can read something different.  During the main part of the semester, I tend to have them write something about how they feel about the paper, and what they'd change, and then a question that's more random, often (excluding my class), what's their favorite class, or how's college treating them, or whatever.  And then if I get frustrated, I read the notes, and it often helps somehow.

If I just have to put a grade on (as with final exam essays), it's much faster, but since I'm returning these papers during the final, I need to write a helpful note, too, and that makes it so much harder.

Then there's the deal making: if I grade three papers I can have a cookie (or whatever), which I find not so useful because I'm able to get the cookies if I want them at any time.  And also, I have to make the cookies, generally, which takes more time than just eating one, and is time that I'm not grading.

And housecleaning.  How many of us have cleaner houses at this point of the semester than at any other (except maybe midterms)?  Guilty!

What are your grading modes? 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Little Boost

One of my colleagues posted today about how hard he's finding it to teach first year students, and contrasting the ways his MA students and intro students have handled their respective assignments, in class discussions, and so forth.  He sounds really beaten down.

Then I went to the final peer revision day for my first year writing course.  Now, these students are exceptionally motivated, because they all want to get into our nursing program, and it's really tough to get into.  We've been working cooperatively with a nursing class, so they've been mostly writing on related topics that they're really interested in.

Anyway, I read and gave feedback on several really excellent drafts.  At the end, I gave one last student feedback.  They'd written a really strong draft for the project, and were commenting on how much they'd learned doing to last two projects. 

And then they talked a bit about how much they'd learned in college, and how, sitting with some friends, talking into the wee hours, they'd really felt like they're in college, like they're having the sorts of deep conversations that college is supposed to be about.  (We try to foster those conversations in classes, of course, but sometimes, the best college conversations happen in dorms and stairwells, with nary an instructor in sight.)

It really gave me hope.  These particular students have come a long way in their writing; they're all thinking more complexly about things than they were just a few short months ago.

And they'll continue to grow.  That does give me some hope.  Really, it does.  I feel so much better after talking with her than I did before.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Crying in Class

I cried in class yesterday.

Yeah.  A bit embarrassing.  It's the Paulina's last speech in The Winter's Tale that gets me every time.  It didn't used to.  But then my Dad died.  And the thing is, I'm not crying out of thinking about my grief that my Dad died, but rather, I cry because I'm thinking about my Mom's grief.  It's been 16 years, and my Mom's doing well, but I know that she misses my Dad, her husband of many years, deeply every single day.

So when I cry at those lines by Paulina, I'm not grieving Antigonus, but grieving for Paulina's pain, which feels very real to me in a way it didn't 17 years ago.  And I know, despite Leonte's attempt to wrap things up neatly with the marriage to Camillo, Paulina's still going to know grief.  Or, well, I imagine the character would if she existed at all once the scene ends.

Shakespeare doesn't really represent many grown up married couples who seem to have good marriages, and even fewer widows or widowers who grieve their partner.  Macbeth doesn't have time, nor do Antony and Cleopatra, and their in such a different world, where suicide makes sense as a response.

Antigonus and Paulina seem to have a decent relationship.  In 2.3, the scene where Leontes tells Antigonus to make Paulina "stay her tongue," Antigonus basically says he can't, and doesn't seem particularly bothered that he can't.  Leontes threatens to kill both Antigonus and his wife if Antigonus doesn't carry out his wishes regarding the baby (later Perdita), and thus can force Antigonus to commit what he's pretty sure will be murder.  Thus, his tie to Paulina distinguishes his act of obedience to Leontes' murderous intent from Camillo's avoidance of obedience to the order to kill Polixenes.  Camillo can, apparently, go into exile because he leaves no one behind for Leontes to attack, while Antigonus leaves Paulina and
 ... three daughters; the eldest is eleven
The second and the third, nine, and some five (2.1)
 He has a lot to worry about.  (The daughters are never mentioned again, and seem to be there more for momentary effect than plotting; in 2.1, Antigonus is trying to convince Leontes that Hermione was chaste, as was Paulina, and if they aren't, he'd "geld" his daughters to prevent them producing "false generations."

And so, there's Paulina 16 years later, seemingly alone with her grief, still remembering Antigonus in the midst of others' celebration:

There's time enough for that;
Lest they desire upon this push to trouble
Your joys with like relation. Go together,
You precious winners all; your exultation
Partake to every one. I, an old turtle,
Will wing me to some wither'd bough and there
My mate, that's never to be found again,
Lament till I am lost. 
She reminds us that death and grief are, in this play, still real and powerful.  So, yeah, I cried.

(All quotations from The Winter's Tale from: the MIT Text site.)

Monday, December 07, 2015

Special Arrangements

It seems like this semester, I have more students than ever before needing special arrangements for stuff at the end of the semester.  It's all reasonable and legitimate: too many finals on one day, emotional health issues, and so forth.

The thing is, though, I'm getting to capacity.

In one course, I got an electronic thing asking for a rescheduled final because the student had three finals on one day.  But the electronic thing basically asked me to just set a time.

So, I chatted with the student, and found a time that makes sense for both of us, and filled out the form.  That means I need to write a second final exam for this student.  Okay, it's extra work, but it's reasonable and has to be done.  (I do write a different exam because I don't want a copy of the one this student takes to find its way to other students, giving them an unfair advantage on their final.)

Then I got an electronic thing from another student requesting to take the same exam in the services office, but asking for it to start after the real exam had finished.  So, maybe this student has no nefarious plans (I don't think they likely do), but that seems problematic, doesn't it?

I called the office, and the people in charge weren't there, and the student worker answering the phones suggested that the student probably had another final after mine and so wanted a different time because they get extra time.  And I said that they'd asked for the exam right after mine, and that I'd have to write another exam.  Then he said that most professors don't write a different exam.  Which pissed me off.  First, I think that's BS.  Second, how would he even know.  Third, what does it matter?  If I, as the person responsible, say that I'd need to write another exam, then that's so because I'm the person responsible.  I didn't tell him off, but did say that even if no one else ever wrote a different exam, I would have to.  (Only many hours later did I realize I could use the other exam I will have already written.)

So I asked the student, and the student said they just wanted an extra couple of hours to study.  I suggested that making me write an extra exam so that they got a few extra study hours was inappropriate (and actually, against the rules), and could she take it at the regular time.  She agreed that she could, and filled out a new electronic form, which has the correct starting time.  I clicked my clicks, and sent it in.

Then the wrong starting time form got re-sent to me, probably because it's an automated thing.

I have two students in another course that need different sorts of accommodations.

So I make the accommodations as best I can.  But inside, I'm tired of having to make accommodations.  It's especially frustrating when the accommodations are for mental health issues, which look through the semester like the student isn't coming to class or doing their work.  When they communicate with me earlier on, and the deanlings that work with them communicate, it's less frustrating.  But when I get an email just before the last week of class suggesting that we faculty folks might be able to make accommodations, well, again, I probably make the accommodations, but I do feel frustrated.  (Yes, I know my frustrations aren't anything like as hard as clinical depression or anxiety.)

It's hard to balance the special arrangements with the requirements that other students are meeting without feeling like things are a bit unfair to someone.  (At the same time, one of my colleagues is dealing with a death in the family, and we've been covering in various ways for them.  And that's what colleagues should do when it can be done, of course.  So, special arrangements ARE good and important.)

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that we have bigger courses, and students are more fragile (because the economy sucks, primarily, around here) and more easily derailed/hurt, and we're under more pressure to feel responsible for them (without having any real power in the world), and we're under more pressure to do more bureaucratic stuffs (assessment fail) for more students.  Because of the budget crap, we're admitting students who are less prepared than our students on average a few years ago,  and admitting international students who are less prepared and whose English is weaker than our international students on average a few years ago.

I have another student who's looking very fragile right now, too, and who's going to need special arrangements as well.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Project Season

It's that time of the semester when pretty much any course that has projects assigned, has them coming due.

I have two courses doing big projects, and one not.

The Intro to Lit turned in their second paper before Thanksgiving, and I've turned it back.  I figure, on average, they've written 12-18 typed pages for my course.  That seems about right for an Intro to Lit course, with a good part of that low-stakes, small assignments, and two papers of 2-4 pages.  They'll have a final exam during finals week.

The writing course has a big project in the works, and they'll start peer revisions (over three days) on Monday.  Today, we're working on brainstorming for the third part, and checking in with everyone on the first two parts.  They won't have a final exam, but will turn in the third part of the final project during finals, and (if all goes well in my grading life) get back the first two parts of the final project that day as well.

My upper level Shakespeare course (using ecocriticism and Shakespeare) did peer revision of their final project on Wednesday.  I've given them today as a "panic day" to work on their work, and then they'll turn in the final project on Friday of next week.  Then they have a final during finals week, when (again, if everything goes well in my grading life), they'll get back their final project.

Next week, the two lit courses will wrap up talking about the lit, review for finals, and voila, be done.


I like having the upper level courses do peer revision.  I think they get a LOT more out of peer revision than they did as first year students.  (But I also think they need to practice as first year students, and in several courses, in order to be really good by their upper level courses.)

The other reason to really like peer revision in the upper level course is that every single one of my students had a rough draft turned in to share with the other students (and which I could see) by Monday of this week.  And now they have until Friday of next week to revise. 

If I'm the only one who uses peer revision to get them to draft early, then that means that they're giving work for my course more attention.  And, yes, I think that's good.

If everyone's using peer revision a week early, then it means they've drafted all their projects for everyone and have a good week to revise and prepare for finals.  And yes, that would be ideal.


The question of the day is: how many people have upper level students either peer revise together or turn in draft stuff ahead of time?

How many of use have upper level students do a proofreading exercise before turning in their paper (or in some other way take class time to proofread their work one last time)?

Why or why not use these practices?

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Talking After Returning Papers

Note: I don't know what to day about yet another day of multiple mass shootings.  I don't think saying anything much matters.  Like pretty much everyone I know, I'm tired of people saying that we need to stop gun violence without actually doing anything to stop gun violence, violence against black men, violence against black women, violence against women of all races, violence by white men, yeah, gun violence in so many forms, overlapping, but all too often resonating with the same explanations.


I handed back papers in my intro to lit course the other day, and there were a couple of dissappointed students, several of whom have come to office hours to talk to me.

They had a lot in common.  We went over the papers together, and in each case, they could see where their paper had problems.  In each case, I basically said something along the lines of them being smart and capable, and what they should learn for the future from this paper, how they can do better on the final, how they'd done better on other written work, how this is a stressful time.

And in each case, I think they really needed to hear those things, especially that I think they're smart and capable.  I think their response was only partly about the grade, but more about feeling disappointed in themselves and not wanting me to think they're stupid or lazy or whatever. 

I don't think they're stupid or lazy or whatever.  I think they wrote a poor paper, but that has no reflection, really, on whether they're smart or hard-working or not.  I've certainly written poor papers or done poorly on exams, and it usually meant that I didn't study or work quite hard enough on that thing.  But the poor paper or exam wasn't me as a human being, and I eventually learned to work a whole lot harder on the things that are important to me.  And I'm certain they'll learn and do better in the future.

And, finally, it's okay for 18 year olds to need a little reassurance. 

(That said, some of the papers were really good, too.)

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Required vs Available

We've had a physical activity requirement since time immemorial.  Students usually complete it by taking one single credit course in some physical activity, from power walking to weight lifting to whatever.

Except, in recent years, we haven't offered enough places in these courses for students to be able to take and complete the requirement.  In a school of about 10,000 students, we have a backlog of 3000 one credit courses, and the backlog grows all the time.

I'm all for students being active and such, but the idea that they had to take a formal class in walking or whatever just seems so 1950s to me.  I'm sure it worked well for all the assistant coaches of this and that back when, but as assistant coaches weren't rehired, the backlog grew, and the assistant coaches who are absolutely vital, you know the ones who coach football, they don't have time for all the students who are required to take the course.

We're trying to get rid of the requirement, and many folks are trying to make the getting rid of part count for students already on campus.  And a few folks are arguing against that since some students have actually done the requirement, and won't they feel bad.  Seriously, we have a backlog that's more than a year's worth, which means it's a requirement that's causing some students not to be able to graduate when they otherwise would, and we're worried that some students who've managed to take the class will be cranky.  (They might, but I think we should just say something along the lines of "we're sorry, we messed up, and we're trying to make things less crappy for people as we can.")


We've reformed our general education.  We spent years, literally years discussing what we want students to do here, and one of the things we mostly really wanted was for all students to have an experience of creating some sort of art.

That's unaffordable, though.  We aren't actually willing to use our minimalist budget for arts.  And the budget is even smaller and more minimalist than it was when we started brainstorming and talking about what we wanted.  So now pretty much every single major program on campus is writing up a senior level course (or several) to count as a creative endeavor. 

I do believe that all sorts of work is creative, that figuring out how to design an experiment that tests what you want to test, that's creative.  Figuring out how to market products is also creative.  And so on.  But when we brainstormed, we really wanted this to be a creative endeavor in the arts.

So, yeah, not so much the arts anymore.

I'm going to hear some opera tonight.  I'm happy about that!  I may not be making music, but I'm sure glad some of our students are!

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The [Name Brand] Conundrum

My school has this program for students who are parents; they can sign up, and write down their kids' (or kid's) ages and what they want for Christmas.  Faculty and staff sign up, and buy and wrap the stuff, and give it anonymously, putting a paper tag with the appropriate number on it (which is taken off so the kid doesn't feel like a number).  The gifts are supposed to be no more than $20.  That's important, of course, because if there are three kids in the family, and someone goes out and spends $100 on one, and the other kids get the $20 gifts, there will be very hurt feelings.  For me, $20 isn't much to spend, but it's a lot and adds up quickly, so it's probably a reasonable amount.

Anyway, the paper tags came out.  I have a 10 year old girl who's listed as wanting "Sculpey Clay" and a writing journal.  So I looked up "Sculpey Clay" and apparently it's a name brand and not just a different way of saying "stuff to shape with" or something.  I found a local craft store that has it, and off I went.  (I scoped out some journals the other day in a bookstore, so I'd have an idea of prices to balance for the $20.)

At the craft store, there's the Sculpey Clay, and next to it, another polymer sculpting clay.  The thing is, the other brand is WAY cheaper, so if I got that, the girl would get a bigger hunk (or multiple mid-sized hunks) to play with.  The Sculpey clay is more expensive, almost twice as expensive.

And there's my conundrum.  Get more of what's probably basically the exact same stuff, or get the name brand that someone (a parent, I suspect) has written down?

If I were buying the clay for myself, I'd get a big hunk of the other brand.  But maybe that's because I don't know the difference.

But I also remember being a kid and really, really wanting the name brand of something, and then being really disappointed when I got the non-name brand that was probably just as good but never seemed as good in my little kid eyes.  You know?  I also remember times when I got the name brand and was thrilled.  So there's that.

And maybe it's the parents who want the special name brand stuff for their kid? 

So, anyway, I bought a multi-pack with some hunks of bright colored Sculpey clay.  And then I went to the bookstore and bought a writing journal that felt well-bound, was aesthetically pleasing with a good number of pages.  I may be a few cents over the $20, but not too much.

Should I have bought the bigger hunks, or was it right to buy the special brand?

Cooperating Professor

That's what they call it over in the history department when a student working on their capstone asks another professor for advice.  Usually, it's another history professor, which totally makes sense.  For a student who's interested in Tudor stuffs, it's me, I guess, because there's no one in the history department who does English history.  (They've made a conscious choice to focus on US public history, with a few offerings from around the world, but they're not big enough to cover everywhere equally, and that's that.  They do a good job with the US public history stuff, and contribute a lot to regional work.)

Just over a month ago, I met with the student, who'd asked me before to be the cooperating professor.  At that meeting, I'd made some suggestions.  And then I didn't hear from the student, and since I've been busy in the way we all are, I hadn't much thought about the project until I turned the leaf on my weekly calendar and saw that the presentation was last evening.

So I got there a bit early, and the capstone professor was happy to see me, but also embarrassed because the student was supposed to have sent me a copy of the paper so I could read it ahead.  I did have time to read it while things were finishing up with the previous student, and then I joined the room of students sitting around a seminar table all civilized and such.

They have this pattern.  First, the professor in charge asks the student a friendly question about why they chose the topic they did.  Then the whole group looks at a manual of writing history papers and they talk about the formatting issues.  Then one of the students who was assigned as "editor" talks about the suggestions they made and what more they'd suggest.  Then another student who was assigned as "critic" makes some suggestions.  While this was happening, I was making some notes to prioritize what I thought would be helpful to say, having only quickly read the paper.  I came up with four points I thought would be helpful, one of which built on what the "critic" had to say.

And then it was my turn.  So I tried to be helpful.

The thing is, I'm not a historian.  I think I'd find a real historiography class fascinating, and I've read a tiny bit of historiography, but not much; I don't have the training to think like a historian.  But, I read historian's work.  I read, and admire, and reread, and think, and reread, because what historians do is amazing and fascinating, and how they work with the evidence they find is just so interesting.  And I've got a sense that a lot of the hard thinking that historians do gets sort of hidden when they write things up because they make it look so much easier than it really seems when I look at the sorts of records they work with.

Anyway, I hope I was able to be helpful.  It was weird because the professor in charge is pretty senior around the university, very smart and well-respected, and I partly felt like I needed to perform for him in providing feedback.  But, the paper was really not very good.  So, I don't know.  I'm guessing (hoping!) this wasn't typical of the capstone papers, but rather was a pretty weak paper.  I'm guessing (hoping!) that the papers written on areas he's more familiar with and the department's stronger in are stronger papers.

There was a core of an interesting idea, but really, not the sort of thinking about evidence and sources that I expect in my own students' senior work, and our students don't have two semesters to focus on writing a project.  So, is the capstone professor embarrassed by the student's work?  Was I too harsh because he thought it was a good paper?  I don't know.

I don't know if the student secretly was aware the paper was weak and so didn't send it to me or remind me, or if the student didn't send it to me or remind me because the student is a weak student who let's things go. 

At any rate, that task is done.  I tried to give helpful feedback, and the student has two weeks to work before the paper is due for real, so maybe the student can pull it off.

November is over.  Finals grading looms, though I have only a few straggly things to grade right now and an SAA project to work on (and, of course, some class prep) for the next couple of days.

Happy December, everyone!  May your students all head into finals with their pens poised!