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.