I would like to preface this post by stating the obvious: transcribing is difficult and time consuming and not my favorite thing on earth. But by the end of this semester (hell, by the end of this week), I’m gonna be really good at it. Practice makes perfect, right?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ “Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like, jump-up-and-down-in-your-chair-can’t-control-yourself-love it. When people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is “You like stuff.” Which is not a good insult at all. Like, “You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.”” – John Green
Intern 2 Student 9
Intern 1 Student 10
Student 3 Student 8
Student 4 Student 7
Student 2 Student 5
As the class period began and students began to quiet down, the Mentor initially addressed the class by announcing that he was having a terrible morning.
Mentor: “I lost my keys, and then, like, I burned my eggs, and then, I was just like, Jesus, what is going on? The 49ers lost again, so I was just like, my world is crashing down around me right now! And that professor we were talking about? On Wednesday? That I don’t care for, I have him tonight so it’s just like, this whole concoction of shittiness (shittyness? shitty-ness?) going on in my life right now that’s kind of….but it’s alright, we’re gonna get through.”
The nine students present looked concerned and the Mentor stopped being the “Teacher” and instantly became a human being, a fellow student who is struggling his way through college. For a moment, the Mentor was so frazzled that he couldn’t remember the prompt for the quick write, but, luckily, it came to him.
Mentor: “So, yeah, um, two part question: you can either write about what your strengths and weaknesses are with regards to writing or you can kinda tell me about your practice. Like, as a–as a student writer. Like how you go about–like, when you have an essay, what’s the first thing you do?”
After giving the students the two possible quick write prompts, the Mentor immediately gave the students an example of how he might respond to the quick writes:
Mentor: “Like for example, like, my weakness is, like, I hate revising. Like, especially with poetry. If I ever have to revise a poem, I just, like, say, ‘oh, it’s not good enough,’ and I just write a new poem. Cuz I don’t wanna revise it, so, I hate revising.”
This is a practice that is very familiar to this mentor and I due to the fact that we are graduate students in the same program. Many professors here are in the habit of using themselves as examples when explaining an assignment like a quick write or blog post.
The students wrote diligently for about 4 minutes. Students 2, 3, 4, and 8 were the first to stop, but the Mentor did not notice until both Intern 1 and 2 stopped writing after 5 minutes. He was busy writing and, at one point, took out his iPhone. In this moment, without his knowledge, his students stopped looking at him as the authority figure or leader in the classroom and this was immediately reflected in their silence when asked to share what they wrote.
As a countermeasure, the Mentor used the age old threat to “call on a random student” and, after less than ten seconds of silence (with students carefully looking everywhere but at the Mentor or Interns), the Mentor called on Student 8. Luckily, Student 8 is not a shy soul (probably why the Mentor felt comfortable choosing him) and immediately responded with a smile.
Student 8: “Um, so basically, I hate revising. Because, um, when I’m revising someone else’s paper, I feel like, if I write something down, they won’t like me cuz, like, I write something bad–I don’t know. I feel like I might mess someone’s paper up”
Although the class had moved on, I was stuck on Student 8’s frank statement:
“when I’m revising someone else’s paper, I feel like, if I write something down, they won’t like me cuz, like, I write something bad–I don’t know. I feel like I might mess someone’s paper up”
First of all, I find it fascinating that Student 8 bent his understanding of the word “revision” to include “peer review” since “peer review” wasn’t a term used in the Mentor’s description of the prompt. He is using the same word as the Mentor, but his understanding of the word includes what the Mentor would most likely refer to as peer review. I have no idea what that means, but it’s so interesting.
Second, it seems to me that this feeling of “mess[ing] someone’s paper up” is a sort of residual effect from peer review in high school. It is a feeling that I have come across many times in my past four semesters as an English 30 mentor. So many students are fearful of coming across as “mean” to their peers and are therefore intimidated by those students who are not afraid to offer constructive criticism.
So, I guess my question becomes: how do we alleviate that fear? In my 30 space, it feels absolutely critical to have a conversation about how we will conduct peer review in the space and that conversation stems from each student’s previous experiences with the practice. Many have admitted that their previous teachers (or current English 130 professors) use rubrics to facilitate peer review and do not collect these rubrics, so students are not held accountable for their work. Also, students are forced to print copies of their paper/narrative/memo/etc. but their peers do not write on the copies. They simply read them and write notes on the rubric.
To my surprise, that conversation didn’t happen when I expected it to. Granted, the students have already begun the process of peer review within the space and a few (Students 1, 2, and 4) seem to have little concern with offering constructive criticism to a peer’s work; however, Student 8 made it clear that he still feels that fear and, ironically, it was his day to bring in a piece of writing to workshop.
Using his background as a creative writing student, the Mentor asked the students to begin their discussion with positive comments after they had silently read Student 8’s paper in a shared Google Doc. Positive comments included compliments on his topic, his skill at including quotes to support his argument, his inclusion of the opposing argument, etc.
When asked how the paper could be strengthened, Student 7 dropped in the term “code-switching.”
Student 7: “Code-switching is basically knowing when and how to speak and to who [.....] It’s basically saying, like, how I talk to my roommate or how I talk to my fellow peers, I wouldn’t talk to my boss like that. Or I wouldn’t talk to a professor like that.”
This was possibly one of my favorite moments from this class period because a student who had hardly spoken (she is usually very vocal in class) had the opportunity to demonstrate her expertise in a subject that the Mentor and Interns were unfamiliar. Not only did the Mentor acknowledge her expertise by asking her to explain what the term meant, but she also was able to help her peer further his understanding of his topic and give him an opportunity to expand his argument. It was a pretty cool moment to witness the Mentor relinquishing the reins as the “teacher” or the “more experienced peer” and giving that power to his student.
Learn to love the process.