How I Learned to Love Bad Student Papers

I read once that J.R.R. Tolkien came up with the idea for The Hobbit while grading student exams. Bent over a desk, grinding away scoring exam book after exam book, he finally came across one with a blank page at the back. He was so relieved by that short break from grading that he wrote on the blank page, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” He wrote the novel The Hobbit to find out what hobbits were.

After eighteen years of teaching college English, during most of which I’ve taught at least one section of first year writing (often more), I’ve come to appreciate how Tolkien felt. Grading papers is one of the worst parts of the job, and I’ve heard that from quite a few fellow English teachers as well. I could quote from my Facebook feed right now.

It’s partly the tedium of grading paper after paper that’s performing the same task, and it’s partly that student papers are always very much early works: students seldom have the time to fully revise, some students don’t attempt to write well at all, and others just don’t seem to have been taught. After spending years in graduate school reading literature, great writing, the best writing, it’s hard to spend that much time reading writing that’s often the opposite.

But then I started listening to myself.

I’ve been telling my students for years that writing is an acquired and then developed skill, like playing a musical instrument or a sport. You can’t shoot free throws at over 60% without standing on the line and practicing shot after shot. You can’t really play guitar or the piano without hours of practice, a lot of it boring: scales. And you can’t learn to write well without writing a lot and without reading a lot. Those two skills — reading and writing — are intimately related.

In other words, I’ve started telling my students, you only learn to write well by writing badly, and by writing badly a lot. And on top of that, even though I’m years past my Ph.D. now, and even though I’ve been publishing since about 1991 (my first poems appeared in a student-run college literary journal, The Valencian), and even though I’ve been reading constantly and like crazy since I was a kid, I still write badly. Sometimes, not all the time, but still sometimes. Even just this year.

At one point I looked at a batch of student papers, some of which were remarkable (in either one direction or the other), and I told myself. . . this is them trying. This is them doing the work of becoming good writers. This is my students following my advice and writing. . . badly, or well, they were still writing. Some of them were on training wheels, some of them were riding wheelies down the street with their hands behind their heads, but they were all on the bicycle, moving forward.

So when I listened to myself, finally, I learned that I loved bad student papers.

Writing for College and Beyond Book Site Up

Bright Futures Publishing is providing marketing and administrative support for the new first-year writing textbook Writing for College and Beyond (Lulu Press, 2019). Contact Bright Futures Publishing for desk or review copies, and check out the book webpages for more information, including links to ordering information, the table of contents, the book flyer, testimonials, and a list of special feature.

Writing for College and Beyond is a new kind of first-year writing text, one that emphasizes connections between the writing students do in typical English composition classes and their future business and professional careers. It’s also fully customizable for departmental or group orders. Order below:

wbccover

Writing for College and Beyond

Writing for College and Beyond is a new kind of first-year writing text, one that emphasizes connections between the writing students do in typical English composition classes and their future business and professional careers. It covers writing commonly taught in first year writing courses such as summary, synthesis, analysis, and argument writing as well as MLA and APA documentation styles. It’s also fully customizable for departmental or group orders.

$25.00

Updates on Publishing

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First, Writing for College and Beyond is now out and desk and review copies are available. Check out the book site, and if you’re a first-year writing instructor and would like a review or desk copy, or would like to review it for your journal, email me.

 

 

 

 

 

CoverRDC
Next, Reading as Democracy in Crisis: Interpretation, Theory, History was published in April 2019. Consider ordering it for your library, for yourself, or for review in your journal. This edited anthology explores how crises in democracy during different historical periods influenced the development of different theories or methods of interpreting written works.

 

 

 

Rock and Romanticism: Blake and Wordsworth, Book Cover
Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 (2018) 
is doing great. It’s been nominated for an ASCAP music writing award and has been reviewed by ChoiceReview 19, and Rock Music Studies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover Image, Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms
Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms
 (2018) is doing great too. It’s been reviewed by Review 19.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, I’m happy to report that David Bowie and Romanticism: The Chameleon Poet and the Changeling Self is now under contract, and Women in Rock/Women in Literature: The Emancipation of Female Will is under consideration with a publisher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flyer for Writing for College and Beyond

I’ve created this downloadable flyer for my new first-year writing textbook, Writing for College and Beyond. Besides being the least expensive composition text on the market, every chapter emphasizes how its writing tasks are applicable to students’ future business and professional contexts. It’s fully customizable for departmental orders and written with rural, at-risk, first generation, and professionally-oriented students in mind.

See the full book site at Bright Futures Publishing.

Writing for College and Beyond Now Available

I’m proud to announce that the first-year writing textbook Writing for College and Beyond is now available for order at the publisher’s website. The result of 18 years of teaching first year writing, I realized something many students need — and that most first year writing textbooks lack — are explanations of how the tasks students perform in their first year writing classes are common in business and professional contexts. If you’re tired of hearing freshman students complain about having to take “irrelevant” general education courses, this textbook is for you.

This text provides simple, step by step instructions in summary, synthesis, analysis, and argument with the needs of first generation and at-risk students in mind, and is one of the least expensive textbooks on the market, coming in at under $30.00. Check out the publisher’s page linked above, and email me at jamesrovira (at) gmail (dot) com if you’d like a review copy.

This text can be fully customized for departmental orders of eight sections or more, and you can talk to me about developing a fully online version of a first year writing course based on this textbook.

See the full book site at Bright Futures Publishing.

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