The Gray

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[Note to self: sometimes it’s useful to write blog posts while grading!] Yes, I am still commenting on student work and yes again it’s bringing up issues that make me think. This time it’s about the gray. Sometimes I feel like students only see in black and white (or perhaps only want to see in black and white). But the world is gray and I try to encourage them to getting into the messy, muddled middle of that gray—because I feel that’s where the best critical thinking happens. Most of the students in my course this semester aren’t there yet. That’s not surprising given that we’re only on the second paper. It’s also partially my fault. I always tell new teachers that bad assignments create bad papers and I am regretting, slightly, some key wording in the prompt I used this time around: “write a paper in which you determine whether or not the benefits of living online outweigh the risks.” No wonder I am seeing few papers that seek some middle ground; the assignment wording practically begs them to take sides. Still, there are promising moments. Some students have started moving to the gray by making argument that say “Well, sure there are some benefits but here are the risks” or “There are so many risks but we can manage them if we do blah.” I think that’s the most exciting part of things for me at this moment: watching students begin to develop stronger critical thinking skills that we haven’t explicitly covered in class. It’s what I love most about teaching. Stand back sometimes and education (and growth) just happens.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.