Shall We Try Another Draft?

Conferencing with my students simultaneously marks the most rewarding part of my semester and the most challenging.  I meet with each student for 20 minutes.  We discuss the most recent draft of their paper.  Currently, their assignment is to rhetorically analyze another author’s work.  Yeah.  They don’t know what it means either.  All rhetorical analysis boils down to (for their purposes) is looking at the way the author lays out her argument; does she use appeals to logic, ethics and/or emotion?  How do those appeals impact the reader (do they have the intended effect or does the author miss the mark)?  How well does the author achieve her purpose for writing the essay?  Has she reached her intended audience?  Not too difficult, really.

Some kids get it right away.  For others, the assignment requires a bit more explanation (and some examples); I can see their expression shift when things click in their minds and they suddenly understand.  And then there are those poor souls who just can’t get past summarizing.  Those are the kids I really struggle with.  I try to explain the assignment in a different way.  I provide examples.  I chatter on about the way I see the argument… and they just give me the same blank look.  Just staring.

I always wonder if the problem lies with them or with me.  Why can’t I explain something this simple and get them to understand?  But, then again, shouldn’t any university student be able to understand this assignment?

Sometimes the impulse is to impatiently dismiss them (in my mind at least) as inferior students.  But I don’t.  Instead, I urge them to try another draft, to come to my office hours, to let me help them work through the assignment.  I will not give them a grade they didn’t earn, but I explain and re-explain and work with draft after draft in an effort to help them get the assignment right.  In an effort to help them learn.  Because I am a teacher, and that is my job.

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