Back in the swing

I slept twelve hours last night thanks to Mike who got the girls up and ready for school in the morning. Those hours of sleep were enough to make it possible to face today. Of course, I’m now a bit behind my schedule of where I wanted to be on everything but not impossibly so. That’s the benefit of having a good work schedule established where I’m ticking off writing assignments according to upcoming due dates as well as having a far more manageable teaching/marking load, I realize. Marking for 75 students in three classes is incredibly easier than 200+ students in the same.

So, looking ahead to the academic year 2006-7, I realize that I’m going to have to adjust my assignments and expectations in the fall term when I’ll teach four courses which will probably run a total of two hundred or more students (the upside is a winter term with only two courses and a likely enrollment between eighty and a hundred). Setting aside the graduate methods course (small enrollment, department-mandated texts and goals), I’ll still have two large “survey” classes — Western Civ and the Ancient Near East — and one large senior seminar.

I have to avoid the end of term crunch where four classes submit major essays (from eight to twenty-plus pages) in the same week. Not only is this a practical consideration, I believe it has pedagogical value. For example, this term I’ve dropped the big “end of term” essay in one class, opting for five shorter projects throughout the term. Two of those have been handed in — the students have completed 40% of their written work before the midterm rolls around and my marking load seems easier when taken in small doses. Plus, the students are getting feedback right now, if they choose to read it!, about their problems — I hope to help them improve the simple but structural problems with their writing before it comes to a head in the last week of class.

I’m planning to retain some sense of progressive work in my senior seminars — I like it when the students see that all of their term work builds upon previous efforts with historiographic assignments leading to rough drafts ending with a final research paper. The challenge is to remain true to my pedagogical principles (small stepping stones rather than random big demands) and not burn out on the resultant marking loads.

Any other bright ideas out there for making assignments both more responsive to the students and more manageable for the marker?

2 Responses to “Back in the swing”

  1. Another Damned Medievalist Says:

    I’ve been making mine turn in paper proposals and other things along the way, so that they will not all panic and turn in crap at once …

  2. anbruch Says:

    I like the idea of moving assignments forward in the semester. Grading term papers at the end is always insane, since the registrar rarely gives us sufficient time to do it properly. I’m saying that and I only have 30-50 papers I’m dealing with. I can’t imagine what I’d do in your situation. Lot’s of multiple choice I imagine. I’m just so impressed that you can have these sorts of assignments given the number of students you are having to teach!

    In terms of papers and grading, one effective strategy I’ve found is giving lots of short (200-400 word) reaction papers early in the semester. I’ve found that this forces students to get used to writing while it minimizes the amount of grading I need to do. Since students don’t have the space to get into real organizational trouble, you can grade them very quickly, add a comment here or there and be done with it. If I do the assignment right, I’ve found I can blow through them in less than a minute a paper.

    OF course the students don’t get a huge amount of feedback on any one paper, but they do get some and it comes early in the semester. It also helps me identify which students are having difficulty, which concepts are giving the class trouble, and so forth. Finally, the act of writing regularly just makes the longer papers so much better. In any case, it has worked for me whatever that is worth.