April, Already

I have these moments when I can’t quite figure out how the year has already slipped away so quickly – then I take about 30 seconds to consider how much we’ve done since January and before that, how much I’ve done since August. After that, the pieces start to fall into place.

We came back from spring break a week ago now. Including this week, we have 8 weeks of the school year left, which translates to 17 school days for seniors (after today) and 36 school days for the rest of us. Prom is in a week and a half. The AP US History exam is just around the corner on May 11 – still far enough off, I suspect, that my juniors aren’t yet freaking out about it the way they might be before long. From my vantage point, though, it might as well be tomorrow, considering that we’ll start our final unit (Cold War) on Thursday and move pretty quickly through the rest of our content between now and May 3 when we wrap up with Carter, Reagan, and the 1990s in one fell swoop. (After that, just review sessions around students’ AP exams, then a final project after the big test.)

The seniors are ready to be gone, but this is nothing new. I didn’t interact with many this year, but I’ve been told they’ve been itching for graduation all year. And this trimester, my experiences teaching the English capstone seem to confirm that. I get it, too. From my perspective, the capstone is awesome: you choose from several project types and undertake a research project of your own design. Then again, I was an English major, so the thought of writing 10+ pages on any English-related topic I please is something that would come naturally for me. It doesn’t for most of my students.

With that in mind, I’ve tried to structure this month to provide writing support and practice. Last week, I instituted freewriting for 10 minutes in each class; this week, it increases to 15 minutes per day. I also extracted some useful writing advice from one of my dissertation writing books, distilling it down to some basics that work for any project. They pretty much stared at their computer screens and ignored me, pausing only twice to ask questions about their next assignment – questions that we’ve answered several times in the past week (and questions that suggest they haven’t made much progress, then, on the assignment that’s due tomorrow).

I don’t take it personally – I get that they’re 18 years old and it’s spring and in their minds, they’re done with high school and don’t need this huge paper assignment (some of them, I think, are enjoying the project and do seem to be working on it – I’m not trying to suggest none of them are working). So I’ll keep trying. We’ll keep the freewriting going, but today I’m going to ask them to start by setting a freewriting goal. Until now, I’ve told them they can freewrite on anything, but today I’m going to tell them to focus in on their project and write a plan of action for approaching their actual drafting phase. Beyond that, I’m offering feedback on rough drafts, which they can indulge in at any time – and which, frankly, could be a saving grace for most of them, given how much the final project is worth. I hope I’ll see rough drafts from all of them; I’m not disillusioned, but I am optimistic (as always).

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