I emerge briefly from the lightless pit of exam grading to thank any of you who may have voted for me for the MLA Delegate Assembly. I will be representing the graduate students of New York State from 2007-2010. May I not actually be a graduate student that long!
As we’ve mentioned in comments, this blog may be taking an unplanned mini-hiatus while we all do some deep-breathing exercises. I will probably need some advice about evaluating what are some truly baffling exam results. I only gave the exam, you’ll remember, because I was concerned that all the opportunities for getting a grade in my class were based on extremely rigorous at-home and in-class writing, so I thought I’d make at least half of the exam easy, non-analytical questions one can actually study for.
As is par for my class, the students who were already doing well (about a third) studied very hard and got high A’s, even a few perfect scores. The students who were not doing so great at the analytical exercises did not study at all (or freaked out, or something) and failed the exam mightily, misidentifying even the protagonists of the three novels we read, naming Samuel Johnson as “A Victorian poet,” and answering the gimme question “Who is your favorite writer we read this semester and why?” with “William Burroughs” and no explanation. (Needless to say, we did not study William Burroughs in Brit Lit Survey.) I know my students probably know the answers to these questions—they’re all pretty obvious and I have made sure in other ways that they read the material—so I’m guessing it’s some kind of intense exam-phobia.
I can’t ignore the final results; obviously many of my students deserve to have their grade raised by their excellent performance. But I also feel terrible dropping some of what are already barely-passing grades because of totally botched exams. Sure, these results are probably an effect of poor reading skills, and it is a reading class, so those skills are being tested, but testing someone on how well they understand my questions, as a text, is less important than whether they understand the literature itself.
So this is why I’ve been away from the blog. Thinking about it makes me want to bang my head against the wall, and though I would rather be thinking about interesting C18 scholarship, my head is otherwise occupied.
I am hoping Parker is able to join the conversation once the CUNY semester is out, which is this week.
Is anyone else coming to MLA? Should we have lunch one day?