Will Wonders Never Cease? Heaven Forbid.

So, just for giggles before class, I open the discussion board where students are supposed to have uploaded their revised essays. My star student, and one other from his class have posted. It’s about the same representation for each of the remaining two sections of ENG 098. Being three weeks away from the semester’s end, I have grown accustomed to, though not resigned to such celebrated indifference to course requirements. I have not given up, hence the ongoing efforts to throw my brains at these walls as so much spaghetti until something sticks or the fat lady sings.

When I open the file, I am greeted by the requested cover sheet containing a summary of changes made according to Jeff Galin’s three modes of revision. The first sentence of the essay is there, with track changes showing the inserted phrase and bracketing commas. Wonderful addition, I think to myself if not aloud, until the morning’s glow wears off with a screech as I come to the end punctuation of the same sentence. Sadly, it is a fragment and for whatever reason, this strikes me as the last straw. I pick up the phone and dial my department chair who is normally walking across campus at the same time each day, a few paces ahead of me. He picks up. I am encouraged. He is not walking in my direction. Instead, he is taking our AAs out to an appreciation lunch. I beg him to send them to teach my classes and take me out to a liquid lunch during which I can forget what feels like wasted decades in the classroom. Realizing this out of character request and perhaps the tremor in my voice, he asks what’s wrong.

Briefly, I explain and he consoles, lamenting the state of developmental composition and local misdirected leadership on the issue. Tilting me in the direction of future projects to ameliorate the situation for the department if not for the profession, he signs off and I dry up, somehow ready to enter the classroom. Turns out that doing so with great energy (little did they know how close to hysteria I was) and good news set the tone and gave them some kind of permission to freewrite more than a few ‘personal best’ word counts.

I was able to have them freewrite on the operating room item from yesterday and then discuss their ePortfolio presentations due next week. Both were accomplished with great energy on their part and their questions led the way. We didn’t establish the order of presentations but, with the visual aid of a Legacy submitted by one in attendance, we were able to deconstruct the relationship between that letter to an incoming student and the ePortfolio accompanying it. No, the ePortfolio should not simply be an electronic version of their print portfolios containing all their work. No, they should not read their slides to the class. Yes, they should PREP their remarks and use graphics to illustrate and explain the things they’ve identified as most important evidence of their learning. Yes, they should summarize their Service Learning Reflection, and no, they should not cut and paste any document onto a powerpoint slide to compare drafts or skills from the beginning to the end of the term.

At the end, two students remained to ask, in so many words, if doing poorly on the Exit Exam and ePortfolio presentation could harm their current standing in the class. I assured them it could only help and they went off nearly as content as I.

The next section of 098 was even more gratifying. I received two great compliments: One came from a student who waits outside of our classroom each week for her own class to begin and asked not only if she could sit in on ours but if she could return next week. She is a filmmaker from Korea and explained at end of class when we asked her to take our photo that she hears so much laughter inside our room that she wanted to see what was going on. We will miss the member who occasioned the photo. She is heading out of the country to nurse a mother heading into chemo.

The other came from within. While collaboratively constructing an ePortfolio from a sample Legacy from a Spring 2010 student, I suggested that this class read a Legacy posted by a student from another section as she had warned her prospective reader that this class was like the family vacation that everyone dreads. I said it was a great use of an analogy to organize her information and artifacts and streamline her presentation. It also made for great opportunities to include graphics to reinforce her main points. Upon hearing this, the student said, you sure know how to take criticism well. I simply said I was from the moon and there we didn’t view such things as criticism but artistic license. Okay, maybe I wasn’t quite so ready and eloquent with my retort but it gave the entire class to understand how real is what I’m after and real is what will get someone in the next semester through.

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