I just finished grading 24 papers and 24 finals for Composition Theory, 40 papers and 40 finals for my Science Fiction course, and 28 portfolios for my professional Writing course. This took four full days, Friday through Monday, to grade. It still amazes me how long this takes, even though these are final drafts, and no extensive commentary is necessary. Most of the work was pretty good too. Actually, it takes longer to evaluate pretty good stuff than than it does excellent or poor work. The pretty good stuff has strengths and weaknesses that must be weighed and balanced.
The Composition Theory students are graduate students working to become writing teachers. Some are currently teaching high school. They are learning about the history, the goals, and practices of composition as a discipline, and learning to apply rhetorical theory to teaching reading and writing. The course was designed to problematize traditional methods, and we worked through postmodern, Marxist, psychoanalytic, rhetorical, and philosophical approaches until nearly every possible approach had been questioned, and then they had to put some kind of pedagogy back together out of all of it. In a course like this, the coming together doesn’t always happen during the course, so I have to look for growth, potential, and half-baked insight in their final products rather than complete understanding. It sometimes takes time and patience to see through the false starts and misconceptions to the growing understanding.
The science fiction course is General Education, so it is a menagerie of engineers, scientists, psychologists, pre-med students, philosophers, math majors, business majors, historians, and even a few English majors. They all add something to the discussion and we have a great time. The tests are pretty straightforward. If they have read the material, they will do fine, but they do take a while to read because the questions are short answer, and a lot are a little open-ended to leave room for individual interpretation. For the final paper they can do a critical essay, a book review, or a short story, and most of them choose to write a story. Some have written science fiction before, but for many, it is their first attempt to write any kind of story. Although some are clumsy with exposition, and some are a bit too derivative of other popular culture, many of these are surprisingly good. Sometimes I even begin to care about the characters and get engaged with what is happening. Again, the best and the weakest are easy to evaluate. The uneven ones are tough.
The professional writing course was new to me. I ended up re-designing it on the fly. They wrote a resume, an application letter, and numerous memos and emails, many of them for a company I invented called “Rent-A-Genius.” They also did a research report that facilitated some kind of a decision, what car to buy, what test preparation company to use, what internship to seek, etc. they also presented this material in a Powerpoint. They designed a flyer, and created graphs and charts to present information. They actually learned a lot, but since I was re-designing the course as I went along, things were not always quite coordinated. At the end I had them revise everything and put it into a portfolio with a cover letter explaining all they had done and learned. At the beginning I had had them fill out a questionnaire about their experiences with workplace writing. Most had never done a resume. Only two had been taught to write a simple business letter. Only one had been taught any kind of time management system. The portfolios showed that they had done a lot of new things. I have no doubt that they are all much more employable after this course. But then I had to figure out how to evaluate the portfolios.
I don’t think that there is any way to use multiple choice questions or scantrons to evaluate this learning. I think this is the way it has to be. It sure takes a lot of time though.