Saturday, May 15th, 2004
So all the grades have been submitted and there are a few things to note about this difficult semester, difficult for many reasons.
First semester composition in college teaches people a few things: to articulate ideas to a rational audience in Standard written English (pattern oriented), to evaluate ideas, and to assess their progress given a certain set of objectives. My students learned a lot and made good progress, but the progress was hindered by the “place” from which the students started, what they knew to begin with. It sort of like throwing people into combat without the required bootcamp or having them run a race one hundred yards behind the negociated starting block. The majority are still not ready for the basics at the start of the course and therefore where they end is not necessarily where I want them to be, ready for more content directed courses, such as Comp and Lit or Composition II or Econ.
I see this in later courses, such as Brit Lit. In that course, I require a research paper, but students still struggle with what a research paper actually is, and it’s hard to assess how much time I can actually take to explain basics, since I don’t know what they need to know. The basic reqs of a “research paper” are articulated in comp: it’s not about reporting or listing or articulating someone else’s ideas.
1. Students coming into comp are still not familiar and comfortable with texts of multiple kinds, whether text or image-based (some would perhaps claim that our culture is image/visual oriented so students should be more learned in evaluation of images: this is nonsense). Texts are not part of their intellectual life, therefore they have a very difficult time with techniques such as documentation styles, paragraph ordering, and understanding a focus. In a way, a documentation style is an orientation, a way of picturing the phenomenon of writing and reasoning through writing. They are beginning to learn this, though.
2. Students coming into comp have a great deal of difficultly conceptualizing an audience and its needs. They have a difficult time, therefore, understanding where they fit as members of an audience other than one that is simply meant to consume goods (I must have) or survive day to day (I must work). They are learning this, though, or considering the concept.
3. Students coming into comp have a difficult time solving problems that have no predisclosed or disposed answers one or two of which may be correct. Confronted with a problem, such as a lack of data or multiple points of view or some new disclosure, they freeze or retreat into familiar answers. Here analysis is the enemy, because analysis and evaluation call for independent conclusions which could lead to failure, confusion, or ambiguity. But they are beginning to learn.