Saturday, February 24, 2007

Mutterings of an Exhausted Mind

Before this most recent warm spell, we had a bout of cold weather last week in Kansas. Pictures of the snow appear in an earlier posting on this blog. When I was between grading projects last weekend, I managed to get outside to take more pictures of the ice on the Missouri River. I’m pleased with the picture I’m including because of the reflection on the water. I used an aperture setting and increased the f-stop so as to improve the depth of field. I had been having problems with my depth of field, particularly in the pictures I took of the Canadian geese, one of which is included in this blog. Through practice and by playing with the settings on my camera, I managed to muddle my way through this hurdle in my quest to take better pictures.

Although some of my pictures appear in this blog, I have been using most of the ones I’ve taken since last September in my screen saver, occasionally pulling out a new one every few days for my wallpaper. Something like 2,000 files make up my screen saver now. I’m not the kind of person who uses the screen savers and wallpapers that are included as part of the programming from Microsoft. I much prefer to make my own. All of the pre-installed screen savers had been deleted from the HP Pavilion that I gave away to a friend of my son’s more than a year ago. Eventually, in another year or so, I’ll be moving some of the older folders in the screen saver to a jump drive or a CD for storage.

I used to download pictures from Google to use in my screen saver before I had access to a digital camera. As an insomniac, I used to take time late at night to surf the Internet in my desire to create my own screen saver. Some of the ones I’ve found of places like Istanbul, Turkey and Adak, Alaska, where I used to live as a Navy brat, remain on my computer. If I had kept a log of where I got them, I might have uploaded some of them to this blog.


Most of my time of late has been spent grading. I’m not as prompt as I used to be in returning my students’ essays, so I have been working especially hard this past week so as to return three sets of writing assignments. Another two sets await me before I get to the next rotation of assignments, that is, the more current ones. If I had entered a discipline in math or science, it would have been possible to have my students’ work graded by computer.

Someone of the conservative persuasion once said that the grading in a discipline like English is entirely subjective. I have mentioned earlier how that misconception exists among students who don’t realize that experienced writing teachers can easily reach agreement about an essay earning an A or less. My assignments are all graded according to pre-established criteria. Academic writing has certain characteristics which need to be met, such as smoothly integrating quotes and documenting sources, not to mention the areas of major concern, i.e., focus, development, organization. I would like to see someone without my training and experience grade five sets of essays in two weeks time and type up end comments justifying the grade for each student as well. That person would also need to be around later when the students start complaining about their grades and be able to meet face-to-face with a student so as tell that student why his/her essay earned a C- or a D and not a B or an A. Let’s see that person smugly say then that all grading in writing classes is subjective.

Grading a literature essay is no different because each assignment is composed of certain criteria. A line-by-line explication of Dulce Et Decorum Est or Shakespeare’s Sonnet #73 (That Time of Year Thou Mayest in Me Behold) can easily fail if the student generalizes or has no evidence from the text to support his/her ideas. A good essay uses an examination of meter to reinforce meaning because the words that convey the meaning receive the stresses. Similarly, when an established pattern of iambic feet suddenly becomes spondaic, the alteration is done for a reason.