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Why I love spring term

posted: 6.14.13 by Andrea Lunsford

For writing teachers, and especially those on the brutal ten-week quarter system, spring can seem the cruelest term, stretching on well into June and always filled with a seemingly endless amount of responding and grading to do.  And while I can get a bit worn down toward the end of the term, I still love it because it represents to me the high point of the year, with its springtime celebrations of students and student writing.  This year, for the second time, I got to visit DePaul University’s famed Writing Showcase, sponsored by the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse and Writing Center.  As I understand it, all of the thousands of students enrolled in first-year writing classes are invited to submit their essays for consideration—and several hundred do so.  Then a small committee pores over the essays, eventually identifying roughly forty as top of the line.  This year the three students—coming from colleges across the curriculum—who were honored prepared poster sessions based on their research-based essays, many of them accompanied by an online “digication portfolio” displayed on a laptop screen.  And wow were they ever good!

Particularly impressive to me was the sheer range of research the students had taken on, from a study of Louis Sullivan’s architecture to military suicide to documentary photography to delicacies of Nigerian cooking.  Several of the projects were collaboratively produced, and those students spoke passionately about working together in their search, for example, for a way to use quantitative reasoning to track correlations between murder and homicide rates with poverty, percentage of high school dropouts, and race.  I spent a little over an hour moving from presentation to presentation, impressed at every turn with the quality of the research and with the ability of the students to “stand and deliver” their findings.

Poster to accompany a student presentation on Iran

 

 

 

Poster by a Veteran of the Afghanistan war about his experiences in Kabul

Once the poster presentation session was over, we took our seats in a grand, oak-lined room while the director of the program welcomed us and asked the student honorees to enter and be seated.  They did so to thunderous applause from teachers, parents and grandparents, and friends – and then each in turn came forward to receive a certificate and small cash award.

 

Me giving an “appreciation” of all the presentations

Later, we had time for delightful refreshments and more talk, and I listened as the students spoke about their research and writing processes, about what they hoped to do next in terms of research, and of their dreams for the future.  I was enchanted.

Now I am back on my home campus, just in time for a series of celebrations:  one honoring the writers of honors essays in Feminist Studies (I’ll be there rooting for the two students I had the pleasure of advising!) and many others, including award ceremonies for the best essays written in first-year writing classes, for the best essays written in the Writing in the Majors classes, and for the best multimedia presentations of research.  This last one is The Lunsford Presentation of Research Award, and of course I’m especially excited about attending and hearing and seeing this year’s winners strut their stuff.  What I’ve observed over the years of this particular award is that the presentations are getting better and better and better, as students learn to work more intensely with integrating verbal and visual texts, as they learn that the ability to present research in different formats and forums is important to their intellectual lives in college and, especially, after college.

I could list a dozen other celebrations taking place at the end of spring term, and of course there’s the celebration of celebrations, commencement.  Each one represents for me a hallmark of student achievement, a moment to stop and appreciate how much students are capable of doing and how high their own expectations are.  So while I think every day or so of the sheer grind of work spring term always brings with it, for the most part I try to enjoy these grand epideictic moments, ones that let me say, over and over again, with feeling, Congratulations!


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