Friday, May 27, 2011

"thank you for correcting my citations"

I am (almost) done correcting the second round of spring research papers. There's a lot of good, a lot of almost good, and some. . . some with a lot of room for growth.

When I read some papers--papers where a student has pasted in the entire Works Cited entry into the parenthetical reference, or numbered their references and put the numbers throughout the paper, or (and this is my favorite) colored-coded their references and the information in the paper--I have to remind myself that when I started here four years ago the "official" reference style was some combination of Chicago, MLA, and a couple things some teachers thought "looked good."

It is a long road I am on, but I am making progress. I've got everyone on board with using MLA style. We're using NoodleTools, which makes a lot of things a lot easier. Students are telling each other how much easier NoodleTools makes things. And we've got a really solid research unit (that we'll keep developing and fine-tuning) that we do with sophomores that I think will keep paying dividends in the next two years.

I am, to be honest, a little worried about seniors; I know not all of them are fully prepared to do this independently. I wish I had another year with them, for all sorts of reasons. But I know that even if I got that one extra year with them, I would have two years worth of things I wanted to teach them. This is the first group of students I've seen all the way through--my first year was their freshman year. I feel some responsibility; it is hard to let them go.

One night a couple weeks ago I was thinking about this, worried that I hadn't fully prepared students, and that some of them just weren't getting it. I'd just spent hours giving feedback in NoodleTools--sometimes copying and pasting the same comments I'd made during the last round of feedback, which students had deleted without fixing or asking for help. I was having one of those "no one has ever listened to anything I've said" moments, and in my exhaustion feeling like nothing I was doing made any difference.

And then my e-mail pinged, and there was an e-mail from a student with the subject "NoodleTools." The body of the e-mail is the title of this post.

I almost cried. And by "almost" I mean I did.

This was not a student I had a solid rapport with, or worked with frequently--in fact, we'd had some less-than-positive interactions in the past. And what I loved the most about that message was the fact that I'd yet to e-mail students to let them know I was done looking at their citations. It'd been completely proactive on his part--seeking feedback, accepting it, and showing appreciation for it.

And that let me know that--even if every senior still has some (or a lot) to learn--that I've done something right in the last four years. That when these students go to college next year it is with a different impression of libraries and librarians than the one they came here with. That the library is a place where they can ask for help and find it. And if I had to choose between them knowing that and them knowing everything there is to know about MLA format. . . well, the choice seems pretty clear to me.

This is unrelated, but not. The student from my last post about mistakes? I was nervous about the next time he'd be in class in the library and wondering what he would be like. Would he show up? Would he be engaged? Would he not want to talk to me?

Well, he showed up. And he stayed engaged the same way he'd been up until then. He was already done with his own paper, so he was working with his peers, helping them find sources, and take notes--and referring them to me for help with citations. It was like nothing had changed, but also like something really powerful had. That really incredible act of forgiveness on his part made it easier for me to forgive myself. There's plenty of people willing to talk about "kids these days" but some of them are kind of amazing, you know?

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