Mission

Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Coffee

On Grades...
It's been a while since I did a Sunday Coffee post. It's been a while since I've had the time to be reflective. Since we returned from Winter break, the pace at school has been relentless. And it seems that every time I turn around there is a deadline for grades. Grading seems to have replaced true assessment, true reflection about learning, and even genuine learning itself sometimes. I feel like a hamster running on one of those little wheels as deadlines approach, and I rarely leave the building without some monstrous pile of ungraded papers. More than one student has told me "my parents don't care if I'm learning anything, they just care about my grade--and I believe them! Grades are a false currency, and I wish that more people realized this. If I could eliminate one aspect of my job, it would be grades. Which is not to say I think assessment is unecessary, just that grades are not the way to provide real assessment.

Rant over. For now.

On Looking...
On days when the steam begins to escape from both ears, I can lose myself in a good book. Or, I can find incredible calm through the simple act of drawing from observation. When I think of it, I throw a small sketchbook in my work bag-a 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 spiral bound sketch pad that has been to a lot of faculty meetings. The mere act of slowing down long enough to look, and to record what I see, has a remarkably calming effect. This is a habit I pick up and then put down again. If I had made any New Year's resolutions, perhaps one would have been to make at least one drawing every day. Two books I read recently are An Illustrated Life by Danny Gregory and How to Make a Journal of Your Life by D. Price. Both books extol the pleasures and virtues of keeping a sketchbook/journal and recording everyday life-every day.... An Illustrated Life has journal pages from many different artists, illustrators and designers, and it is a pleasure to sit and peruse the pages. How to Make a Journal of Your Life is more of a urgent call to the artist's life. I do admire and even envy those who make their art the overriding priority around which they arrange their lives.

On Writing....
My creative writing class has moved on to fiction, and so I'm dipping into the best books on teaching and writing fiction. Here are a few I've found invaluable:
The Making of a Story by Alice LaPlante. LaPlante's book focuses mostly on fiction, but there are useful ideas for creative non-fiction as well. This is a very well-written book that has much to say about the mental processes and craft of writing, and there are excellect exercises at the end of every chapter, as well as very good stories.
Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway. This seems to be a favorite for college writing classes. I'm making my way through Writing Fiction very slowly, mostly because there is so much to savor in every chapter.
The Lie that Tells the Truth by John Dufresne. A funny, informally written book, The Lie that Tells the Truth is filled with encouragement and good exercises, and I love the author's chatty, conversational tone.

On Reading....
Getting lost in the brilliance of The Great Gatsby again, I looked around and found a used copy of The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I love to read the journals and notebooks of favorite writers, and Fitgerald's notebooks give the reader an insight into what Fitzgerald noted and noticed.

More on this later, but I just finished Townie, a memoir by Andre Dubus III. Another book to be read slowly and savored, and one of the best memoirs I have ever read.

Teacher work day tomorrow....Will you have the holiday off? if so, I hope you read a book-or draw a picture!

6 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I agree with you on grades, but I can't recommend a better system. That's why I always appreciated teachers who gave my son the opportunity to correct his work.

Kate said...

I feel like I have grades staring me in the face every time I turn around as well. 4 quarters plus midterm progress grades. 8 grading periods a year, and two of them have midterms and final exams! Exhausting!

I love The Great Gatsby. Enjoy getting lost in it!

Amy said...

I didn't realize Alice LaPlante had a book about writing. I loved her novel Turn of Mind.

bibliophiliac said...

@bermudaonion-I can dream of a world without grades! I agree allowing students to revise or correct is good for everyone...
@Kate-tell me about it!
@Amy-I will have to check out her novel. Her writing book is really excellent.

Robyn said...

My start to our winter term has felt exactly the same...overwhelming. I agree with you about grading. I think about it's pointlessness more and more the longer I teach. Mostly I think, how can I motivate students to do the work that is required for them to learn some important things without having to grade them? And I have some freedom about that teaching at a private college. Lately I've started doing oral exams, and it seems the process they go through to get ready for the exam teaches them a great deal. After that, the grade is kind of extraneous.

bibliophiliac said...

@Robyn-I like the idea of oral exams. My favorite method of assessment is socratic seminar. Sometimes it goes beautifully, and sometimes it is a did. But when a seminar goes well I am on cloud 9. An overemphasis on grades just seems to lead to cheating, plagiarism, and the total loss of any idea of learning for the sake of learning....