Thanks for voting!

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?

4 responses to “Thanks for voting!

  1. Haloscan ate my last attempt, so I’ll make this brief.

    Congrats on the election! You’ll learn a lot, perhaps more than you’d like, by watching the DA.

    As for the grading headaches, just reduce the percentage your useless exam affects the final grade, if it skews your internal rankings too much. And switch the tests around before you teach next time, so that you’re doing less quiz-like assignments, perhaps exams closer to mini-essays on specific topics or issues. Have you talked to Carrie H or others about how they test students at that institution? That might give you leads. But don’t hesitate to switch your assessment style to forms that work best with the students at that institution.


  2. Carrie, I’ll be at MLA, and I’d love to meet and chat with you over lunch. I’m arriving on the 27th in the evening and have an interview on the morning of the 28th. Otherwise, I’m free.

    Jen Golightly

  3. Hi Jen — I’m going to send you an email with my phone number. Maybe it will be easier to schedule when we get our bearings.

  4. Since I rarely make it to MLA (two conferences is my limit), please let the rest of us know if you see any good panels.