Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Drunk Bird In A Pocket, Or, The Story Of Mr. Do-Its

As I sit in my office, happily snacking on my home-made banana nut bread, sipping my decaf tea, with my Lilly Girl in my lap (I think this is the point where my sister would tell me to go do some yoga; little does she know...), I am both humbled and gobsmacked.
You may have noticed that this portion of the Webbyverse has been relatively quiet of late.
That's 'cause I've been busy.
See, a seven week composition class is mostly to blame. An essay that was only supposed to be 1000 or more words ended up being 3370 words (I always say that, once you get me talking, I don't shut up), not to mention something called Peer Review. Being homeschooled from second grade through high school, I'm more comfortable working alone -- and I really, really like it that way -- but you don't get a choice about that kind of thing. Never one to just get my feet wet, I took a flying leap off the ruddy high dive in this class.
I guess that attitude paid off.
"BUT HOW?" I hear the faceless "Dear Reader" in my head scream with enthusiasm rivaled only by the original Match Game studio audience.

Well, you see, I had a very troublesome Peer Reviewee; so troublesome, in fact, that I was given both his first and second draft to review. Of the seven different essays I saw, this man needed the most help (though they were all, quite tragically, in need of some TLC). With his entire essay based on the unfairness of child support, the overall tone of the essay (not just the subject itself) sounded like an episode of Divorce Court...

I'm not kidding, I referred to the essay as "Mr. Do-Its" work during the entire semester.

I helped the guy out as best I could; by the second go around, I was resolving myself to some of the harsher realities of what I had to tell him (names have been changed to protect the ignorant, or something):

7. Does this paper ever use language that is too colloquial or too informal? (For instance, does it use slang? Does it "sound" conversational? Does it use first and second person?) Give examples. Conversely, give examples of strong writing that enhances the academic register of the essay. And when I say examples, I actually want you to provide examples from the paper itself to illustrate your points.

I am going to be absolutely frank with you, Mr. Do-Its. I reviewed your draft during the first Peer Review, and I gave you a lot of tips and instructions to work with. After reading the second draft, I can see that you took my advice to heart, and tried to put the suggestions I gave you to work. There are more statistics, a Works Cited page, and parenthetical citation, which is a marked improvement. Unfortunately, it still is not enough. This essay will make up the majority of your grade in this class; this paper, exactly as it is presented to me, will most likely not get you a very good grade. The grammar is questionable, the problem and solution sections are weak, and the tone is not acceptable for an academic essay. Please, understand that I am not being harsh, but I am instead trying to help you by being straightforward. The topic you have chosen presents many opportunities to prove your point, but this draft does not showcase that fact. You have until Friday, July 22 to make this draft work; it can be done, but will take every bit of time you have. Since some of the pieces of advice I gave you on the last Peer Review are still relevant to the second draft, I shall restate them. Please, use them as a reference to guide you to the final draft. I truly hope you will succeed, and that this review does not discourage you in any way. If anything, my most sincere hope is that it will encourage you to do the best you possibly can. I wish you the best of luck.

This quote from the essay, "Then the courts can still hit the fathers where it hurts by putting them in jail for contempt of court," then going on to say, "That is violating civil rights," is misrepresenting information.
If a citizen is disobeying a court ruling, it is not a violation of civil rights for the courts to take away privileges such as driving, or to imprison the citizen. That citizen, to put it simply, is breaking the law by disregarding a court ruling. When a citizen breaks the law, they are punished. Were our parents violating our civil rights by punishing us as children? The same logic applies to upholding court orders.

There are a lot of grammatical problems stemming from the casual manner this draft is written in. Before the final draft is submitted, I urge you to go back to the Wadsworth handbook, and review Part 4, "Understanding Grammar," and Part 5, "Understanding Punctuation" (this was an assigned reading earlier in the course). If need be, also reference Part 8; though you may not be an ESL student, you will benefit from that section of the handbook. Some things to make special note of for your second draft are: plurals; possessives; all meanings of each variation of their/they're/there, is/are, and do/does (consult a dictionary if necessary; if you do not own a dictionary, I would suggest dictionary.com); proper placement of commas and question marks.
Also, be sure to go back over your draft and look for missing words, such as "an", "the", etc.
Again, keep the Wadsworth handbook, a dictionary, and a thesaurus within reach during the writing process. Perhaps imagine you are writing an article for a newspaper, not an essay; you can refine the draft to fit an essay later.

Considering the conversational tone of this draft, I am unable to identify any examples that enhance academic register of the subject matter.


I was unsure how this might go over, as I had said pretty much the same things with a sugar coating regarding his first draft. That, and I had tried just as hard with the other six reviews (even going so far as to use my infamous authors-and-icebergs analogy on some poor girl). I submitted the review just as you read it and thought nothing more of it, except for the fact that my Peer Reviews, after grading, had an additional twenty points added to them for no reason (my Mama always told me not to look a gift horse in the mouth, or some bollocks like that).
Fast forward to this morning.
I already knew that my essay received a 99.5% grade (which is a really good thing, since my grade kind of hinged on that essay), but the letter I received from my professor truly caught me by surprise (names have been changed, and all that rubbish):

Subject: Thanks

I read your reviews again for Mr. Do-Its, and I must say they are perhaps the best reviews that any student in one of my classes has ever provided for another student. Quite frankly, your reviews surpass what most composition instructors would provide. Both are impressive.
So thank you for your commitment to the peer review process.
P.S. By the way, may I use your proposal paper in future classes?


Well, this explains the twenty extra points on my Peer Reviews.
Oh, yeah, and there's that whole "may I use your proposal paper in future classes?" question.
As a hobby-writer that never shares her work (and obsesses over simple things like blogs), I was both floored and flattered that someone would ever want to use my words to help teach others. My words!
As soon as I had the chance, I sent this reply to the professor's request:

I would consider it a great privilege to have my essay incorporated into your curriculum, and hope that my work will be of help to your future students.
I am also pleased to receive such positive feedback regarding the Peer Review process, as I had never participated in one before. My sincere hope is that Mr. Do-Its took my advice to heart, and that he made a decent grade for his assignment.
I look forward to taking your Freshman Composition II class next summer, and wish you luck for the upcoming semester.
Regards,
Archibald Heatherington Nastyface


I have to admit, I'd love to know how he plans on using my material; I also feel sorry for the future students that might have to read twelve pages on animal smuggling.
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Reginald Kitty is not amused.

You would think that writing the essay was the hard part, but it really was the Peer Review. I'm kind of like the Grammar Gestapo, and make pointing out such errors in everyday situations a game (you would be surprised how many you spot, if you're looking hard enough).

If there are too many issues, though, I kind of go a bit mental.
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That being said, I devised something I called the Sanity Break. When I just couldn't stand to be surrounded by so many inaccuracies, I would unwrap a mini Hershey bar, and head to YouTube until the chocolate was gone.
My Sanity Breaks looked a lot like this (feel free to unwrap some chocolate and enjoy)...




Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to take an extended Sanity Break; I'll need more banana nut bread!
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Yes, this is my home-made banana nut bread.
No, you may not have some.

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