May 03, 2006

Peanut Butter Stains

I hate it when students haven't done the reading. I can always tell.

So I require my students to write response pieces, informal writing in which they discuss that day's reading. I read the response pieces, date stamp them, and perhaps add a comment or two, before handing them back the next class. Students will sometimes read their pieces aloud during class. At the end of the semester, the students' portfolios include 22 of these response pieces.

On the last day of class, as my students were looking over the portfolios they were about to hand in, which included putting all their response pieces in chronological order, one woman said teasingly, "jo(e), how come I always find peanut butter stains on my response pieces?"

"Yeah," said another student, "I’ve got chocolate stains on mine."

Suddenly, everyone in the class was looking through their response pieces and attributing every little smudge to one of the five major food groups. These are students who have gotten to know me pretty well over the semester, and they don’t hesitate to tease me.

"You should take the food stains as a compliment," I said. They looked at me.

"See," I explained. "I usually complain about grading papers. I hate grading papers. But the response pieces are different. Because I don't put grades on them, I actually enjoy reading them. So on winter evenings, I would sit down by the fire with a cup of hot tea, a bagel and peanut butter, and savor the stuff you’ve all written. Really. It was always a nice part of my day. Especially during February, which is always such a long month for me."

And the thing is – I did enjoy reading their ideas, their insights, their perspectives on the literature that I love. I was telling the truth. And they knew it.


Marcia said...

Yes, having to put a grade on a paper is not much fun at all. I really enjoy reading my students' blogs, which I also don't grade individually. However, I try not to eat and type and the same time -- peanut butter between the keys just doesn't work so well! :)

negativecapability said...

I love reading papers, hate deciding what grade to put on them and figure out what kind of comments to write to make the grade make sense. I wish that it worked out so that every paper just facilitated a conversation instead of a grade. I've been thinking a lot lately about how grades, while perhaps a good measure of acheivement in some fields, just don't work in the humanities.

The students in my class loved doing response papers (well, maybe not loved doing them, but a lot commented on the evals that they liked having a form of writing in the class that wasn't "judged" :).

Pink Cupcake said...

Next time I get a draft chapter back from my supervisor I'll take it as a good sign if there's food stains on it! :)

Songbird said...

Peanut butter flattery--I love it!

yankee t said...

I would so love to take your class.

Mona Buonanotte said...

I'm always handing the guys at work software reports with bits of my lunch on them. It isn't "MESS", it's "LOVE"!

peripateticpolarbear said...

Now if your students attended my school, they'd be figuring out a subsersive grading system based on the stains---peanut butter equals A-, chocolate equals b

liz said...

I want to take your class.