What are their real thoughts (not something they're saying to placate me)...what gets their blood boiling, their energy flowing, their minds stimulated and excited? Perhaps it's something I said, maybe it's a topic in a book, or a point made by a classmate. Whatever it is...they're thinking...really thinking. Seeing them mentally dissecting, questioning, responding, and getting their opinions out is a thing of beauty.
Often they'll stop me as the class is leaving to continue the discussion or add a point that they may not have brought up in class. Sometimes they'll approach me on campus, or sit with me in the cafeteria or lounge area, to ask me my thoughts, tell me theirs, or just continue the dialogue. It's great! I love it.
Of course, not all of them feel comfortable speaking in public, approaching their professor, or challenging the beliefs of a classmate (or me). That's where their papers come in. I am awash in pages of opinions right now. Their writings are upon me...hundreds of pages waiting to be read. This is when the introverts speak, the extraverts expound, the opinionated reinforce, the contemplative express, and the shy can yell. Papers give me a bit more insight into who sits in those seats, watches my moves, listens to my words, raises their hands, laughs, speaks, texts, dozes, or saunters in after the start of class. They're people - with lives that are textured and families who love them. They all have their problems, joys and thoughts about life. Now is when I get some additional information about who they are.
It's more difficult to read papers, from a time and energy perspective, than it is to test. Tests can (although I don't normally hold to that structure - or at the very least...not completely) be generated by a CD sent to the professor by a textbook company and run through a "scantron." All without much effort (not counting, of course, all the energy expelled by teaching the subject you're testing about!).
Sometimes...a student will try to pull a "fast one" and give me a paper that they really didn't write. Perhaps a friend took may class a few semesters before and just happened to have a paper he or she wrote for me on the same topic tucked away in a file on his or her computer. But...unfortunately for my all my students - I have a, sort of, photographic memory when it comes to papers. They flash in front of my mind when one seems a bit too familiar or similar to one I've read before. Yes...I've caught a few folks who thought they'd "pull the wool over my eyes." But...I can see in the dark and they, to their dismay, found that out. However, that's only happened on very rare occasions - maybe two or three times - in all my years of professing.
Now it begins - I will "hear" the silent students speak and find out how those who aren't the "quiet ones" express themselves in the written word. It's always interesting, if not always grammatically correct.