Monday, December 29, 2008

Topic: Controversial Issues as Topics for Writing

Question: What are some interesting topics for compositions?

10-second review: Make a statement on a controversial issue and ask students to respond to it.

Title: “ ‘I can relate to that….’: Reading and Responding in the Writing Classroom.” R Lent. College Composition and Communication (May 1993), 232-240. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: If possible, use quotes. Find them in syndicated columns or in letters to the editor or editorials. Students learn to control emotions and to think clearly about controversial issues. Format: Summarize the offending statement and respond.

Comment: I always begin class with ten minutes of writing that I correct that night and return the next day. Usually, I encourage students to write on a topic of their choice. Responding to a controversial issue on a series of days would be useful. That ten minutes of writing can be expanded into a full-blown composition as one of the class’s major assignments. Purpose of the ten-minute essays is to identify and clear up grammatical problems. I give extra credit if students re-write the corrected ten-minute essay. If I have five classes a day, I assign the ten minute essays to one class for three weeks and then shift to a second class, etc. RayS.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Topic: Reading Professional Literature

Question: Why don’t teachers read articles in professional journals?

10-second review: Author finds that teaching assistants in writing rejected professional articles on writing because they were too difficult to read. They blame the article, not themselves, for their not understanding the articles or not being interested in them. Therefore, they did not discuss the ideas in the articles.

Title: “Teachers As Students, Reflecting Resistance.” D Hesse. College Composition and Communication (May 1993), 224-231. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Graduate students rejected professional articles because they were difficult to read (“convoluted sentences”), filled with jargon and theoretical. They spent so much time complaining about the quality of the writing that they paid no attention to the ideas in the articles.

Comment: I can empathize with the students about the writing of professionals who are writing about writing. One solution to the problem is to tell students not to read every word of the articles from beginning to end. They should preview. They should read the title, subhead, the first paragraph and last paragraph. What have they learned? They will be focused on the main ideas in the article. Now they should go back and read the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph and tell what they have learned. They should have picked up the important details of the article.

After reading the first and last paragraph and the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph, what questions do they have? They should skim to find the answers

To become interested in professional articles, readers should preview in order to gain the main ideas and the supporting ideas. Raise questions. Skim to find the answers. Readers will not then be distracted by the jargon and complicated sentences that cloud the ideas in the articles and focus on the main ideas and supporting details. RayS.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Topic: Response to Student Papers

Question: What can be learned from studying teachers’ comments on student compositions?

10-second review: Teachers play three roles in responding to student writing: readers, coaches and editors.

Title: “Teachers’ Rhetorical Comments on Student Papers.” RJ Connors and AA Lundsford. College Composition and Communication (May 1993), 200-223. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “Our readers also told us that the large number of short, careless, exhausted or insensitive comments really made them notice and appreciate comments that reflected commitment to students and to learning.” p. 215.

Summary: Readers analyzed the comments of teachers on students’ papers and concluded that teachers’ roles as responders were mostly in the context of evaluation and grades. They point out that teachers need to identify and separate their roles as responders: readers, coaches, editors and evaluators and to base their comments on these roles.

Comment: Something to think about. I know I never separated these roles in my comments. Therefore, I think my comments on student papers lacked any real purpose. And were probably not helpful to the students. I don’t know. I never asked them if my comments were helpful. Mea culpa.

The “Summary/Quote” shows the difference in teacher attitude toward students, the difference between really wanting students to learn and dispensing information that the student is responsible for learning without any real assistance from the teacher, the role of judge on high. Everyone seems to assume that teachers really want students to learn and will do anything they can to help them. I do not think that is true. The corollary of the “judge on high” attitude is that if students “don’t get it,” they are lazy. RayS.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Topic: Good College Writing

Question: What do we mean by “good” college writing?

10-second review: It's a good question. No one has really answered it.

Title: Mapping the Elusive Boundary Between High School and College Writing.” D Appleman and DE Green. College Composition and Communication (May 1993), 191-199. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: There is apparently a divide between high school writing and college-level writing. Defining the difference between the two is difficult. First, college teachers have to agree on what is “good” college writing. Which means that high school teachers also have to agree on what is “good” college writing since that is the high school writing teachers’ goal.

Comment: I have some tentative thoughts on what I mean by “good” college writing. I measure the finished product on a scale.

1. This reader’s interest in the content of the paper: 20 pts.

2 Evidence of the process: brainstorming, draft, revision and editing. 20 pts.

3. Organization: introduction, thesis, topic sentences, summary paragraph. 20 pts.

4. Unity. Clarity. 10 pts.

5. Word choice: precise vocabulary. 10 pts.

6. Style: no needless repetition; no contractions; third-person point of view. 10 pts.

7. Editing: no run-ons, fragments, spelling errors, faulty parallel structure, dangling modifiers, etc. 10 pts.

The result should be “good” college writing. RayS.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Topic: Portfolio Assessment and Grading

Question: How accurate is portfolio assessment in determining students' grades for their collected papers?

10-second review: Portfolio assessment has many advantages, but accurate assessment of students' writing is not one of them.

Title: “Questioning Assumptions about Portfolio-Based Assessments.” L Hamp-Lyons and W. Condon. College Composition and Communication (May 1993), 176-190. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “Like most writing programs, we shifted to portfolios because we thought they provided a more accurate assessment of writing. After examining our assumptions, however, we have found that increased accuracy is not an inherent virtue of portfolio assessment; while it stands to reason that including more writing and a wider variety of writing as the basis for a judgment would make that judgment more accurate, our research indicated that these improvements come not as a result of using portfolios, but as a result of how a faculty or a program approached the task of portfolio assessment.” p. 189.

Summary: Benefits of portfolio assessment: promotes communication among faculty; promotes faculty training; democratizes faculty as older and younger faculty work together; promotes consensus and collaboration.

Summary/Quote: “…it [portfolio assessments], in our experience, is a worthwhile endeavor, even if we were never able to prove that it is a better assessment than a timed writing holistically scored.” p. 189.

Comment: Interesting assessment of a method of assessment that has been promoted in the pages of English education journals. RayS.

Jargon watch:
"Portfolio Assessment": Collecting student papers over the semester, placing them in a portfolio and involving the teacher and/or other members of the faculty to grade them.

"Timed writing holistically scored": Student completes an essay within a certain time limit (an hour) which is graded by two to three readers without analyzing it line by line.

"Assessment" = evaluation.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Topic: Educational Research

10-second review: Teachers who read educational research need to look for the assumptions that underlie the theory that is at the heart of the research.

Title: “On Planning and Writing Plans—Or Beware of Borrowed Theories.” Sandra Stotsky. College Composition and Communication (February 1990), 37-57. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “However, regardless of the theory that is used for exploring the act of writing, it is as important for writing teachers to examine and understand the assumptions underlying the theory as it is for researchers to explicate and justify these assumptions.” p. 54.

Comment: Heavy stuff. But if research is difficult to read for the common, ordinary classroom teacher, the author suggests that 1. the reader locate the theory that is the genesis of the research and then, 2. identify the underlying assumptions on which the theory is based. An interesting approach to reading and understanding research findings and interpretations. She also suggests that the researcher has the responsibility to explicate those assumptions in print. RayS.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Topic: Teaching Across the Curriculum

10-second review: Project in which college teachers observed college teachers in many subjects and summarized each teacher’s style and the effects of that style on the students.

Title: “Cross-Curricular Underlife: A Collaborative Report on Ways with Academic Words.” Worth Anderson, et al. College Composition and Communication (February 1990), 11-36. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Among the observers’ notes: Confusing textbook. Students’ lack of interest in the content. No personal relationship with the teacher. Lectures. Professor talks too fast; can’t take notes. Professor reads passages from the text. No concern for students even when the class was small. The back of the room is “uncontrolled.” Skipped over detail that instructor knew but the students didn’t. (Classes included anthropology, Common Medicines, Intellectual Traditions of the West, and chemistry.)

Comment: Insights into what happens in college teachers’ classrooms. Too bad students can’t collect their insights into a guide for instructors on what works and doesn’t work in teaching at the college level. RayS.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Topic: Teaching Writing

10-second review: How do writing teachers and creative writing teachers differ?

Title: Review of Creative Writing in America: Theory and Pedagogy, ed. Joseph A. Moxley (Urbana: NCTE, 1989), 272 pages). Reviewed by DW Fenza. College Composition and Communication (May 1990), 239-240.

Summary/Quote: “The task of the composition teacher is often to bring competence to the unwilling; the task of the workshop [creative writing] teacher is often to cultivate genius in the unlikely.” p. 240.

Comment: What do you think of this definition of writing teachers? A bit simplistic, isn’t it? RayS.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Topic: Response to Writing--A Tempered View

10-second review: Collection of articles on “...reaction to writing, formal or informal, written or oral, from teacher and peer, to a draft or final version” (Freedman) “…moving far beyond an idea of response limited to comments written by the teacher on a piece of student writing.” p. 234. The editor’s and reviewer’s perspective to this pedagogy is balanced, not biased.

Title: Review of Writing and Response: Theory, Practice, and Research, ed. CM Anson (Urbana: NCTE, 1989, 371 pages). Reviewed by AR Gere. College Composition and Communication (May 1990), pp. 233-235.

Summary: Of interest to me (RayS.) is that the tone of the articles in the collection does not celebrate “the answer” to all problems in writing. The response to the technique of response to writing is “measured.”

Quote from the reviewer: “In my view, the best feature of this collection is its measured and tentative tone. Too often advocates of a new pedagogy, overcome with zeal for their approach, make inflated claims for its value. The new pedagogy is hailed as the solution to all classroom problems. In contrast, the authors included here take a much more tempered perspective.” p. 233.

Comment: Oh, how I wish the same could have been said for “whole language.” RayS.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Topic: Writing Response Groups

10-second review: The ideal method for response groups.

Title: Review of Rescuing the Subject: A Critical Introduction to Rhetoric and the Writer. Susan Miller (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989), 200 pages). Reviewed by Joseph Harris. College Composition and Communication (May 1990), 227-229.

Summary/Quote: An approach to reading response groups: “Students have simply been asked to write about something that interests them. In class they break into small groups and begin to read their texts aloud to one another. After a students has finished reading his piece, the members of his group begin to question and advise him about what he has written. The writer takes notes on what his readers have to say and perhaps asks them some questions back. In this way the group works through the writings of all its members, in each case first comparing what the writer intended to say with what he actually ended up writing, and then trying to find ways of bringing the two closer together.”

Comment: I have observed a number of classrooms with student response groups. In many cases I suspected that the ignorant share with the ignorant. I know this is a harsh judgment, but at the root of it is the fact that students did not know what they were doing or why. In some cases, students had not been trained in how to respond constructively—in a constructive tone. The result was hurt feelings and resentment. In many cases students did not know what they were looking for. In other cases, students did not take the activity seriously and began to talk about other, unrelated topics when the teacher moved on to another group. I am not saying that student response groups can’t work successfully, but the teacher needs to pay attention to the details of how the groups work—purpose, constructive response, problems to be addressed.

What worked for me were the following activities with partners.

Unity: Writer folds a sheet of paper in half, lengthwise. On one side, the writer records the main idea of the paper. Partner, without looking at the writer’s version of the main idea, reads the paper and records the main idea on the other side of the paper. The two open the paper and compare main ideas. If they are close in meaning, the paper is probably unified.

Clarity: Partner re-reads the writer’s paper and puts question marks in the margin wherever the partner is confused about the expression of an idea. The writer reviews the sentences or paragraphs with the question marks in the margin and decides either to rewrite or add details to complete the ideas. Or do nothing.

Awkward expression: Writer reads the paper aloud to the partner. Whenever the writer stumbles in reading, the writer underlines the place in the paper on which the stumble occurred. Partner also reads the writer’s paper aloud and underlines the stumbles. The writer decides to rewrite if the stumbles were the result of awkward expression.

Will the students take these steps without the teacher there to oversee them? Probably not. However, the one step I use in my own writing is the step dealing with clarity in which I ask my partner, usually my wife, to put question marks in the margins whenever she does not understand something I have written. She does not express opinions about whether the paper is good, bad, boring, etc., point out spelling errors or mistakes in grammar. Her question marks help a lot. Her not expressing opinions keeps our marriage together. She and I let the editor decide if the article is publishable or not. RayS.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Topic: Community Colleges

10-second review: The issue is whether community colleges can maintain credibility as institutions of higher education and still accept almost everyone who applies for admission.

Title: Review of The American Community College, second edition. A M Cohen and F B Brawer (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 1989, 460 pages). Reviewed by NA Pickett. College Composition and Communication (May 1990), 226-227.

Summary/Quote: “A question of growing importance to me [the reviewer] as a community-college teacher of 23 years and to all who are concerned with public education is whether community colleges can maintain their credibility as institutions of higher education and at the same time continue to accept almost every one who applies for admission.” p. 227.

Comment: This issue of the community college really bothers me. Most of the students I encountered in the community college in which I taught for three and a half years—four-year college drop-outs and older adults beginning a college career—were capable of matriculating in a four-year college. The drop-outs had allowed partying and bad study habits to cause their failure. The adults had never had the opportunity to go to college. They were delightful students.

One student who was dyslexic or learning disabled was, at the start of the course, incapable of putting together two or three consecutive words that made sense. He did every thing I asked of him. Gradually, he was able to put several connected sentences together into a coherent paragraph. Whether he could survive in other academic courses, I don’t know. But, at his present level, at the end of the course, he could not be considered a college-level writer. He had made progress, and I awarded him an A for his efforts. I needed desperately to talk to my colleagues so that they could continue to help him put together a college-level paper, but I was an ‘adjunct’ who had no connection to the full-time faculty or to the dean of the school of arts and sciences.

That student is the perfect example of the dilemma facing the community college. His papers were, after one course in writing, not qualified to be graded even a D. I gave him an A to encourage him because of the tremendous effort he put into doing what I had asked of him, and he had made progress. Apparently, no one in high school or in the previous no-credit course with which he had begun his career at the community college had been able to help him improve his writing. And my status as adjunct gave me no opportunity to talk to my fellow faculty.

Most students I encountered in the community college were college-level students. At least one was not but could have been if a coherent program had been put in place to help him succeed as a college-level writer. I don’t know what happened to him. My experience in the community college as an adjunct caused me to leave the college. RayS.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Topic: Writing Assignment

10-second review: The Harper’s “Index” is a list of statistical facts that will arouse any student’s response and interpretation.

Title: “Signs and Numbers of the Times: Harper’s “Index” As An Essay Prompt.” BJ Brueggenmann. College Composition and Communication (May 1990), 220-222. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Here are some samples from Harper’s “Index.” The statistics are supported by reference sources.

“Silicone breast implant operations performed in the U.S. in 1986: 115,000.”

“Percentage increase in the number of U.S. millionaires since 1980: 145%.”

“Percentage of Japanese with IQs above 130. 10%; percentage of Americans: 2%.”

“Percentage of American women who acknowledge that they wear uncomfortable shoes because they look good: 45%.”

“Percentage of American fifth-graders who report being in love: 39%.”

“Percentage of Americans who own running shoes but don’t run: 70%.”

“Rank of shopping for clothes among American women’s favorite shopping trips: 1.”

“Rank of shopping for a car among American men’s favorite shopping trips: 1.”

“Percentage of executive men who are single or divorced: 4%; percentage of executive women who are single or divorced: 52%.”

“Budget per episode of ‘Miami Vice’: $1,5000,00; annual budget of the (real) Miami vice squad: $1,161,741.”

“Number of Americans holding reservations with PanAm for a trip to the moon: 92,002.”

Summary/Quote: “What does this fact mean to you personally? Do you have any experiences that relate to it? Why do you think these numbers are as they are?”

Comment: Hard for anyone not to respond to at least one or more of these facts. I would add another question: What questions do you have about the validity of these “facts”? RayS.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Topic: Voice in Writing

10-second review: Observations on voice in writing.

Title: “Looking and Listening for My Voice.” Toby Fulwiler. College Composition and Communication (May 1990), 214 -220. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “If there is such a thing as an authentic voice, it is protean and shifty.”

Quote: “Most published voices are carefully constructed. They are composed, revised and edited to present the self in particular ways, conveying as best they can an image on paper that corresponds to a self-image in the author’s head.”

Quote: “When people hear a voice in writing, what they most likely hear is a tone….”

Comment: One’s voice or persona in writing changes. Published voices are constructed to convey the writer’s chosen self-image. The major characteristic of voice is tone.

What does voice mean to me? Conversational or formal. Calm or pugnacious. Ironic or straightforward. Earnest. Enthusiastic. Persuasive. Informative. Determined. I think that voice is part of one’s purpose. Do I ever think about voice when I write? No. Should I? Yes. It’s part of how I shape my expression.

This article made me think about voice, something I have not considered very often. I remember one time when I did deliberately adopt a persona or voice. I was giving a speech. It was afternoon and after lunch. The audience of school administrators and supervisors dozed through the previous speaker. I said to myself, “They’re not going to do that to me.” I defended my K-12 language arts curriculum pugnaciously, to say the least. The audience certainly did not sleep, but some members of the audience displayed their anger because of my tone.

Will I be a different writer if I consider voice when I write? I think I might be more careful about what and how I say something. Will I teach voice in my writing instruction? I need to think about that. RayS.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Topic: Two-Year Community Colleges

10-second review: Part-time or “adjunct” faculty teach a high percentage of community college writing courses. This author takes a dim view of part-time instructors.

Title: "Remembering, Regretting and Rejoicing: The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Two-Year College Regionals.” Elizabeth McPherson. College Composition and Communication (May 1990), 137 -150. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “Nowadays half the composition classes in some community colleges are taught by part-timers, euphemistically known as ‘adjunct faculty.’ Part-timers, although many of them are well-qualified, do not attend department meetings, do not subscribe to journals, do not go to professional conferences—and do not receive a third of the pay or any of the benefits a full-time teacher gets for the same work. Neither do they receive the supervision and advice a teaching assistant is given at a good university. If TA’s [teaching assistants] are the slave labor of the universities, part-timers have become the slave labor of the community colleges. Part-timers are today’s educational underdogs.”

Comments: Ouch! For three and a half years, I taught English composition in a community college. Although I was a bit different from the stereotype described in the above quote in that I subscribe to a dozen professional English education journals, all the rest of the description applied to me. I had no one to talk to, was not a part of the full-time faculty and the full-time faculty made me feel that way: they felt and acted as if they were superior to me. I received no encouragement from anyone, realized from speeches by the administration that I was a big part of keeping tuition low, and there was no consistent curriculum.

The students in my community college ranged from four-year college drop-outs starting over again, adults returning to begin a college career (delightful) and students with serious learning disabilities (a problem that required a continuing dialogue among teachers as the students moved through the system). No such dialogue was available.

These students deserved better. RayS.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Topic: Writing Across the Curriculum

10-second review: People in every discipline who use writing in their curriculums need to understand their differences in philosophies and types of writing.

Title: Review of two books on writing across the curriculum. Reviewed by J F Trimmer. College Composition and Communication (December 1990), 481-487. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “[English teachers]…need to clarify for themselves and for others their theories of writing and learning, and then develop an appreciation for the theories of those down the hall and across the quad that will be unalterably different. If faculty and students are encouraged to understand and accept the differences across the disciplines and among themselves, WAC (Writing Across the Curriculum) will not only be around but will form the ground of American education.”

Comment: At one time, I thought that WAC was designed to improve the teaching of writing in other disciplines in order to ease the load on English faculty and, therefore, as an English supervisor, I wanted nothing to do with it. I believe that English teachers must carry the load of teaching writing. It’s their job.

The reviewer of these books suggests that WAC needs to begin by exploring the difference in writing among the disciplines—and among English faculty as well. This exploration of differences is the way to begin reaching some consensus on how to apportion responsibilities for teaching writing across the curriculum.

WAC is too big a project for one little blog, but I subscribe to beginning by exploring differences in writing across the disciplines
. RayS.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Topic: Advanced Placement (AP) Programs

What’s Wrong with the Advanced Placement (AP) Language and Composition Program?

10-second review: What’s “wrong” is the focus on sentence manipulation in objective tests, timed writing, and formalist [“New Critics”] approaches to reading literature.

Title: Review of Advanced Placement English: Theory, Politics and Pedagogy. Ed. Gary A. Olson, et al. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1989. Reviewed by D W Chapman. College Composition and Communication (December 1990), 477-478. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “Because the [AP] Language and Composition Exam relies upon sentence manipulation skills and timed writing, assignments, AP teachers are discouraged from emphasizing the writing process. Students and teachers are well aware that, under the constraints of the examination, revision will be reduced to proofreading, and peer editing will be construed to be cheating. [David] Foster also observes that the AP Literature and Composition Exam is inconsistent with current critical theory because it relies so heavily on formalist approaches to the [literary] text. The teacher who acknowledges that readers must make meaning from the text [i.e., uses personal experience to interpret the text, RayS.] is also the teacher who must prepare students for an exam that presupposes… [the New Critics’—no personal experience is relevant –approach to interpreting the literary work, RayS.].”

Comment: More dichotomies in English: writing process vs. timed writing and New Critics vs. transactional [Rosenblatt] approaches to literary interpretation. Resolve these dichotomies by using both approaches. We’re not “training” students for the test. We are educating students who will have to take the test. Teachers can use both the writing process and practice timed writing, and use both the New Critics’ approach to explication and the personal response approach to interpretation of literary works. When will educators stop setting up either/or situations? RayS.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Topic: Reflection for Writing Teachers

10-second review: A series of interview questions about writing teachers’ (or students’) writing experiences.

Title: “In-Depth Interviewing in the Preparation of Writing Teachers.” Earl Seidman. College Composition and Communication (December 1990), 465-471. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Part of a project for pre-service English teachers. Students interviewed each other. The interviewer then wrote a profile of the interviewee. Purpose was to develop the ability to interview for the purpose of conducting writing conferences with students. Succeeded in generating good feelings among class members as they learned and wrote about each other.

Here are the questions:
Interview I. What has writing been like for you from the time you first remember until the present? What do you remember of writing before you began school? How did you learn to write? What was writing like for you in elementary school? Junior high school? High school? College? Who helped you with writing and what was that like? What kind of writing did you see your parents/siblings doing? Tell me about a time when writing was really good/bad for you. Can you recreate _______ for me? You haven’t said much about _______,

Interview II. What is writing like for you right now? Tell me as many stories as you can about what writing is like for you now. What are all the kinds of writing you do inside and outside of school? Tell me about a typical day and how writing fits in . How do you go about a writing project from the time you decide on what you will write until you feel it is finished? What is the process like for you? Give as many details as possible When is it exciting or hard? What do you worry about? How do other people help or hinder that process? If I had a picture of you at home writing, what would it look like? Where do you write, when, how, with what? What has teaching writing been like, or what will it be like? What do you or will you like/dislike about it?

Interview III. Now that you have reconstructed what writing was like for you in the past and what it is like for you now, what meaning do you make of your experience with writing? What sense do you make of it? What things are important to you in your life? How does writing or the teaching of writing connect with things that are important? Are you realizing anything through these interviews about schooling or the teaching of writing and its effects on you? How has the experience of writing been good/ bad/ exciting/ distressing/ frustrating? How do you understand that? What is there that seems important to you that we haven’t covered?

Comment: Worth responding myself to these questions or asking the same questions to students in classes. If students responded to them as a group, I would become aware of how different are the backgrounds of the students in my classes. If I were to use these questions with a group, I think I would be selective about which questions to ask in order not to have students bring up personal information that might be embarrassing. I might consider turning each of these interviews into a writing assignment. Based on my experience, I am not sure I could respond to these questions orally and would do better taking some time to think and write clearly. RayS.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Topic: Grammar

10-second review: English as a second language student (ESL) rarely makes mistakes in agreement (subject/verb) until he studies agreement in a textbook and then he makes a large number of mistakes in agreement.

Title: Review of Teaching Writing As A Second Language. A S Horning (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987. Reviewed by A Raimes. College Composition And Communication (May 1988), 249-250.

Summary/Quote: “We hear that G.W. made only one agreement error in his first five papers, and note that the error occurred in an attempt at an extremely complex sentence. However, one-sixth of the assigned textbook, we are told, was devoted to agreement, and after discussion of rules of agreement, G. W. began to make errors [in agreement]. One wonders why, once he had demonstrated in five essays that he had acquired the rules of agreement, he was subjected to classroom procedures to help him ‘learn’ those same rules. In fact, poor G. W. reached the point of making twelve agreement errors in one essay….”

Comment: After I finished laughing about this ironic problem in grammar instruction, I thought about why anyone would teach rules of grammar to someone who already knows them, even intuitively. In my opinion, the reason might be that long, complex sentences hide the problem, whether it’s subject-verb agreement, parallel structure, dangling modifiers, etc. My purpose for working with these rules would be to help students who know the rules to recognize and to apply them in long, complex sentences where they will be likely to make the mistake in their writing.

Still, I can accept the point of view that when students already know the rules, helping to apply them in long, complex sentences in their own writing rather than textbooks would save time—and be more efficient and effective—than the time spent on probably useless grammar exercises that they will have forgotten when the time comes that they are faced with the problems in their own writing
. RayS.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Topic: Freshman College English Courses

10-second review: The reviewer of this book on the history of writing instruction in college does not find the answer to the question about whether freshman college English courses actually teach students how to write. So I’m going to give the reader my opinion about how to teach a freshman college or high school writing course successfully.

Title: Review of Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1900-1985. James A. Berlin. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987. Reviewed by Sharon Crowley. College Composition and Communication (May 1988), 245-247.

The course is a single semester in length, meeting three times a week. To help students visualize the organization of expository writing, I emphasize the formula, “Tell them what your are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them.” Even if the students have had writing courses in the past, they have not mastered the first step in the formula, “Tell them what you are going to tell them.”

To implement the formula, I teach the students that a composition consists of an introduction followed by a thesis sentence or main idea (“Tell them what you are going to tell them”); intermediate paragraphs beginning with topic sentences (“tell them”); and a concluding paragraph that summarizes the composition (“tell them what you told them”). Seven or eight major compositions will be enough to help students succeed in mastering the “Tell them….” formula.

Grammar, Usage, Punctuation, Awkward and Clear Expression
Seven or eight major compositions will NOT help students correct problems in grammar or style. I accomplish this instruction by having students write for ten minutes on the topic of their choice at the beginning of each class period.

I literally “correct” this ten minutes of writing each night, not by labeling mistakes, but by actually rewriting the mistakes in sentence structure, usage and punctuation. I also show students how to write in formal style by avoiding needless repetition of “there,” “get,” “it,” “thing,” and by relating the demonstratives “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those” clearly to antecedents. I also rewrite awkward expressions (Students do not understand what is meant by “awk”) and ideas that are not clearly expressed (Student: “But it seems clear to me”).

Students understand the process of revising and editing by observing how I revise and edit their work. If they do not understand my corrections, they simply ask about why I made the changes in their writing. I ask them to rewrite the corrected version of their writing, which helps them visualize their writing as correct, clear and smooth.

By the way, I mark major assignments by labeling mistakes as is traditionally done and having them refer to the reference text. I only correct by rewriting the ten-minute essays that the students write at the beginning of each class period.

The results are astounding. Most students significantly improve their writing by the end of the semester. Their most frequent comment is that they now have confidence in their writing in almost any situation.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Topic: Essay Exams for Writing Courses

10-second review: Topics can include quotations, general issues and personal opinion. Responses must be “shaped.”

Title: “Who Writes These Questions, Anyway?” J O White. College Composition and Communication (May 1988), 230-235. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Example of the format for an essay exam for writing courses:

Quote: “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants; the other is getting it.”

.Explain the meaning of the quotation.

.Describe a situation from your own life or another’s which would illustrate the quotation.

.Comment on the writer’s insight into human nature.

Comment: I’m not sure I agree with the “shaping” suggested by the author. The first two directions are clear and then the third changes the purpose of the essay. Most students, I am guessing, would follow the suggested responses in order, which would rob their essays of unity. I think I would insert the following instructions before listing the suggested responses: “In responding to this quotation, consider the following:” Thus the students can take any direction they choose in writing the essay. RayS.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Topic: Remedial Writing--A Surprising Suggestion

10-second review: Teach remedial [basic] writers the techniques of fiction writing in preparation for teaching them expository writing.

Title: “Remedial Writers and Fictive Techniques.” B Lott. College Composition and Communication (May 1988), 227 – 230. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The author believes that by teaching remedial writers the techniques of fiction writing before expository writing, the students will succeed, raise their confidence and pride in their writing and will approach the standard remedial expository writing course with enthusiasm. The “fictive” techniques? Plot, dialogue, flashbacks and characterization. The topic: “Describe a Significant Event in Your Life.”

Comment: The idea is interesting and I would try it. RayS.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Topic: Alternative to Teaching English for English Majors

10-second review: Train college English majors to become editors.

Title: “Does Your Curriculum Need Editing?” G Brenner. College Composition and Communication (May 1988), 220-223. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: As an alternative to a teaching career for English majors, editing is challenging, but rewarded by anonymity. “Anonymity refers to the fate of most editors…. Rarely will they get a by-line, seldom see acknowledgment of their work and talent. So any students choosing editing as a career need forewarning…. But most editors shrug off being unsung. They claim fulfillment in knowing that they do good work on difficult texts, that, as Frances Halfpenny writes in ‘The Editorial Function,’ the excellence of their work is most successful when least observed.’ ” p. 223.

Comment: I think that such an alternative to teaching English is well worthwhile. I wish it had been available when I was in college. However, in some ways, English teachers are editors with their students’ compositions and training in editing might have been very useful even to future English teachers. RayS.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Topic: Drafts and Writing with the Word Processor

10-second-review: It’s easy to confuse clear copy with the finished copy. You need to remember that a draft is a draft. Here’s how.

Title: “Lessons from the Computer Writing Problems of Professionals.” G. Grow. College Composition and Communication (May 1988), 217-220. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “So they won’t confuse clean copy with finished copy, encourage students to leave in extra headings, embed working questions, etc., so their working drafts look distinctly different from their final drafts.” p. 220.

Comment: One of the advantages of word processing for students is that each printed copy looks finished, without all of the cross-outs, additions and arrows to indicate movement of text from one place to another when writing with pencil or pen. One of the disadvantages of the clean copy is that students are more willing to let poor writing take the place of the hard work of finishing.

The authors’ suggestion that students leave in extra headings that keep the student’s writing unified and inserting working questions indicates that the clean copy is a draft. Of course, an obvious method of showing the progress of a draft is to mark it by red-lining, noting in red all changes. In Microsoft Word, click “Track Changes” on the Tools menu. Then a draft looks like a draft, and enables writers to track and comment on their changes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Topic: Collaborative Writing

10-second review: Teaching students to write collaboratively.

Title: “Lessons from the Computer Writing Problems of Professionals.” G Grow. College Composition and Communication (May 1988), 217-220. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Students need to learn to write collaboratively because in the business and industrial world, that is how people write. Problems include different styles and changes in sentences and paragraphs when one partner edits the other partner’s writing. Help students decide on responsibilities before writing. They need to learn to merge the different styles to make the final copy look as if the article were written by one person. Collaboration should also include three or more participants.

Comment: I never taught students to write collaboratively. If I were to do so today, I would probably give the students the assignment, help them define responsibilities, then let them learn the problems of collaborative writing and develop a handbook for collaborative writing to be shared with other students. RayS.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Topic: Professional Writing

10-second review: If you want to publish an article in a journal, become familiar with the format, purpose, audience and conventions of the journal.

Title: “Journals in Composition: An Update.” AM Anson and H Miller. College Composition and Communication (May 1988), 298-216. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Lists professional journals in writing with the journal’s auspices, number of times published, appropriate readership, emphasis, subscription information and complete address for submission. The authors of this article have advice for would-be writers for these journals: “While many editors of these…journals expressed interest in receiving more manuscripts on writing, they did so with one caution: authors should be familiar not only with the conventions of the journal but also with the general area of the journal’s focus—whether it be adult education, business management or neurolinguistics. We speak on behalf of many editors in urging readers…not to submit manuscripts to unfamiliar journals….”

Comment: A fundamental rule in writing to publish is to know your market. You have to read the journals you want to write for and become familiar with them. RayS.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Topic: Paraphrasing, the Bridge Between Reading and Writing

10-second review: Has paraphrasing become a lost art? It’s a rewriting of what someone else has written.

Title: “A Dramatistic Approach to Understanding and Teaching the Paraphrase.” Phillip Arrington. College Composition and Communication (May 1988), 185-107. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The bridge to connecting reading and writing is the paraphrase, and paraphrasing needs to be taught and practiced throughout the course. Usually taught with the research paper to prevent students from tediously copying long portions of text, with an emphasis on synthesizing the paraphrase within the research paper. From another point of view, paraphrasing is a technique that helps passive readers become active readers.

Comment. What I have just written is a summary, not a paraphrase, and not a complete summary because I have summarized only selected ideas from the article.

The paraphrase as a technique to change passive readers to active readers is an interesting thought. Asking students to paraphrase key sentences or paragraphs in what they are reading would do it. Shakespeare would be a good place to start. The need to practice paraphrasing throughout the course is a new idea for me. Need to work out with the students what exactly is a paraphrase
. RayS.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Topic: Composition Assignments and Social Issues

10-second review: Why not make social issues the source of composition assignments?

Title: “Researching the Minimum Wage: A Moral Economy for the classroom.” V Neverow-Turk. College Composition and Communication (December 1991), 477-483. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “…thanking me for having encouraged him to think about social problems he had previously dismissed without investigating their origins and their implications. If the ability to analyze a problem, to plan and execute a project, to think critically about complex issues, and to gather evidence to support an argument or demonstrate a point is part of what we want to teach in composition classes, then this type of assignment offers a model for engaging students in a process of inquiry….”

Comment: Just so long as instructors remain objective and do not try to proselytize or to penalize when students disagree with their point of view. I read an article by one college writing instructor who made it very clear that if students disagreed with her point of view about women’s issues, she would read the compositions more closely than those written by students who agreed with her point of view. That approach to grading, in my opinion, is harassment. RayS.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Topic: What Is an Essay?

10-second review: Students free write or brainstorm to generate ideas, but what is the format into which they place those ideas? What is an essay?

Title: “Sophisticated Essay: Billie Holiday and the Generation of Form and Idea.” S Zaluda. College Composition and Communication (December 1991), 470-476. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: When students finish an essay, the teacher has them answer a question: “What is an Essay?” Their answers are thoughtful and thought-provoking. They try to establish a relationship between the form of writing and their personalities.

Comment: In a sense the students are trying to establish their personas.

In the matter of form, there are two basic types of essays: the Addisonian with a pre-planned beginning, middle and end, and the format of Montaigne, in which his ideas are recorded as thoughts come to his mind. An integral part of those formats is the nature of the writer.

I think this question, “What is an essay?” after completing an assignment might help students understand better the nature of writing. Purpose for writing. Audience for writing. And, with each assignment, the students’ understanding of writing’s nature, purpose and audience should deepen. I haven’t thought this through, but it’s an idea I wish I had used.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Topic: Portfolio Assessment and Grading

10-second review: The author describes grading papers submitted for portfolios.

Title: “Portfolios and the Process of Change.” M Roemer, LM Schultz and RK Durst. College Composition and Communication (December 1991), 455-469. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: A small group of teachers convenes to grade together student compositions destined for portfolios. The process of discussion of grading a paper was invaluable. “To the extent that teachers build community with others and use the experience to learn and grow, they can find the collaborations exhilarating and revitalizing.”

Comment: Whether for the purpose of portfolio assessment or not, convening a group of teachers to grade papers can be an excellent opportunity to grow in terms of both response to student writing and evaluation. RayS.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Topic: Audience for Writing

10-second review: Author identifies two types of “communities” or audiences for writing or discourse.

Title: “On the Very Idea of a Discourse Community.” T Kent. College Composition and Communication (December 1991), 425. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: One type of audience or discourse community can be clearly identified. The second type of audience, or discourse community, is indeterminate, a part of several communities at once, and “…is already committed to a number of beliefs or practices” (Joseph Harris). As I understand the concept, one audience shares similar backgrounds, i.e., biologists, English education people, etc. The other audience consists of generalists, having some background in several fields of interest.

Comment: I have always been uncomfortable in asking students to identify a specific audience because people with different interests and backgrounds will be reading their writing. Students, like published authors, do not really know who is their audience. On the other hand, if they are writing for teen-agers, they can more readily address the interests of teen-agers.

I still think that “audience” is a slippery concept. Generally, I think most people write for a general audience. However, at specific times, in specific situations, the writer can write for a specific audience. From this article on discourse communities, I conclude that students should practice writing for both types of audience, the generalized reader of many interests and ages, and the very specific audience, like the school board meeting or your boss. Most writers in professional publications seem to think that student writers should always define a specific audience. I think we should differentiate between the specialized audience and the generalized audience.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Topic: Labels in Education

10-second review: The term “remedial” as applied to writing implies failure and deficiency. How does that label influence the way the teacher teaches?

Title: “Remediation as Social Construct: Perspectives from an Analysis of Classroom Discourse.” G Hull, M Rose, KL Fraser and M Castellano. College Composition and Communication (October 1991), 299-329. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: When it comes to labeling students “remedial,” the authors believe that the implied sense of difference leads to a sense of inequity and failure. “To talk about difference in America, given our legacy of racism and class prejudice, requires us to talk, as well, about the many reductive, harmful ways difference has historically been represented.” Given the negative label of “remedial,” the authors believe that teachers approach these students negatively.

Comment: I suppose the negative connotation of “remedial” is the reason people in the writing field have not borrowed the term from professionals in reading, why writing professionals use “basic” or “underprepared” as terms for people who do not write very well. I don’t doubt for a minute that the negative label prescribes the approach of teacher to student as primarily negative, which results in negative effects on the personality of the student.

For years, I have mindlessly used the term “remedial” in the field of reading. I have seen the negative results on students. I suppose the best way to approach any student is as an individual and to determine what the student can do well and what needs improvement. Difficult task in our group-oriented approach to teaching.

The cure for racism in society is not to label people, but to look at each person as an individual. (Try telling that to the pollsters who drive the election process.) In education, we should not label students as failures or “A” students, or high-IQ’s and average or “low.” And colleges should not admit students on the basis of SAT scores, but they do. I’m not sure about a solution, but I am sure that even well-intentioned labels limit the richness and complexity of human personality and I have plenty of examples in my own experience in education to illustrate it.

All of this is getting too philosophical for the purposes of this blog. But the issue is important and I would like to discuss it with others who might be interested. RayS.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Topic: Response to Reading

10-second review: Questions students ask themselves about what they are reading.

Title: Review of Sharing Writing: Peer Response Groups in English Classes. Karen Spear (Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1988. 172 pages. Reviewed by D. Lipscomb. College Composition and Communication (February 1989), 103-104.

Summary: Suggests some question that students should consider when responding to books they are reading: What Questions do I have? Memories or Associations? Most important? Least important? Difficult passages? Questions are designed for free writing as they read.

Comments: Helpful suggestions on responding to reading. I think we sometimes assume that students know how to respond to what they read. Maybe they don’t and these questions will help them think about what they are reading. RayS.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Topic: ESL Students' Writing Problems

10-second review: Types of concerns about language, how to begin working with the student’s paper and how to approach ESL students.

Title: “Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Opinions.” M Harris and T Silva. College Composition and Communication (December 1993), 525 -537. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote. Types of ESL Mistakes: “Tutors can be rendered to stunned silence when they try to explain why ‘I have many homeworks to completed’ is wrong or why we say ‘on Monday’ but ‘in June.’ ”

Quote. How to Begin Working with ESL Papers: “When tutors ask how to prioritize among errors, they should be encouraged to begin by looking for what has been done well in the paper, acknowledge that and go from there.”

Quote. How to Approach ESL Students: “There is a tendency to think about ESL students as if they’re all alike when obviously they’re not.”

Comment: The latter two pieces of advice are helpful: acknowledge what’s well done and treat ESL students as individuals. The first problem has happened to me. The ESL student asks “Why?” when their expression does not conform to standard English or to American idioms.

At least as a starting point, I write out the correction so the ESL students can compare what they wrote with what I wrote. Explaining it? That’s another problem. I was too used to the pattern to think about why I used it. Having the ESL student keep a record of the student’s expressions followed by the teacher’s actual correction might help the ESL student to become more familiar with the correct pattern
. RayS.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Topic: Change

10-second review: Change in the writing program at Syracuse University brought with it unintended consequences.

Title: “Portfolio Evaluation, Collaboration, and Writing Centers.” Irene L. Clark. College Composition and Communication (December 1993), 515-524. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Changing to portfolio assessment led to unintended and unexpected outcomes, some of which were difficult to deal with: “…we have discovered that ‘the implementation of such assessment represents more sweeping change than may be apparent at the outset!” p. 524. Issues and confusion occurred. One of the issues was whether improved grades resulted from improved writing ability.

Comment: The mantra for Mr. Obama was “change.” One of the problems I had to deal with when I was a language arts supervisor, K-12, was the unintended and unexpected effects of our changes. I held that position for twenty years and, now that I am retired, I believe evaluation of the effects of changes was the most important lesson I have learned and the most important step I did not take. I hope Mr. Obama is aware that, like medications, change comes with side effects that might not be good for American society. From his speeches, I do not expect Mr. Obama to be ready for the inevitable negative side-effects of his changes. Youth never learns from the experience of the elderly. RayS.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Topic: Reading and Writing Autobiographies

10-second review: Students write their own reading and writing autobiographies, but they also analyze their own language.

Title: "The Interaction of Public and Private Literacies.” R Courage. College Composition and Communication (December 1993), 484-496. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “…assignments that challenge students to become researchers into their own patterns of language use. It has meant students observing and recording language use in different settings, constructing time lines of their lives as readers and writers, interviewing each other about the ways they currently use reading and writing outside and inside the classroom, comparing their own literacy histories…. Such a pedagogical approach invites students to begin discovering themselves as literate people….”

Comment: This activity is intended for basic writers. Seems to be valid for all writers, beginning with the teacher. RayS.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Topic: The "I" and "We" Point of View

10-second review: Writing from the “I” or “we” point of view is respectable in scholarly writing and should be used. Check commercial publications to discover the frequency with which the “I” or “we” point of view is used.

Title: “I-Dropping and Androgyny: The Authorial ‘I’ in Scholarly Writing.” JC Raymond. College Composition and Communication (December 1993), 478 – 483. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Author suggest that objectivity does not come from the opinions of the writer who uses the “I” and “we” point of view but from “…the paper as a whole [that] will hold a wide range of opinions.”

Comment: Whether one accepts the author’s contention that the “I” and “we point of view should be used in scholarly writing, from a practical point of view, using the “I” and “we” point of view is useful in starting to write, combating writer’s block, and completing the draft. Then as Zinsser (On Writing Well) suggests, the writer can rewrite, eliminating the “I” and “we” point of view if the third person point of view is required. RayS.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Topic: The Research Paper

10-second review: Suggests that teaching the research paper effectively means slowing down and teaching the many skills needed for research and writing the paper carefully and fully.

Title: Review of Writing From Sources. Brenda Spratt. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983, 562 pages. Reviewed by RA Eden. College Composition and Communication (May 1986), 252-253. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: We need to recognize the many skills required to complete a satisfactory research paper—formulating a thesis, revising an outline, using ellipses and brackets, underlining and annotating passages, summarizing and synthesizing sources, etc.—and teach them thoroughly. The research assignment is usually a waste of time because it is taught too hastily as the last assignment in a semester.

Comment: Well, my immediate response is that the author is absolutely right. Teaching all of the other types of writing usually meant to me that the research paper was last in the sequence and I always ran out of time in a semester’s writing course. I now think that the research paper should be a full course in itself, or at least, that a complete semester be devoted to it. RayS.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Topic: What's Wrong with the Personal Essay?

10-second review: Doesn’t prepare students for the types of writing they will meet in other disciplines and in the real world.

Title: Review of What Makes Writing Good: A Multiperspective by WE Coles, Jr. and J Vopat. Lexington, MA: DC Heath and Company, 1985 (360 pages). Reviewed by P Bizzell and B Herzberg. College Composition and Communication (May 1986), 244-247. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: “One could argue, then, that concentrating on the personal essay is pernicious because it does not prepare students to write in the variety of situations they will encounter elsewhere within and beyond school.”

Comment: Sounds like a good research paper for a class. Students interview teachers of all disciplines and learn what types of writing are required in each discipline. Expand that to people in professions in the real world. Then structure writing assignments on a variety of types of writing. Hmmmm! Why didn’t I think of that when I was teaching? RayS.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Topic: Plagiarism

10-second review: Suggests that many students have not been taught how to avoid plagiarism.

Title: “Responding to Plagiarism.” A Drum. College Composition and Communication (May 1986), 241-243. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Defines plagiarism: “…both legally and morally wrong because it involves the appropriation of words or ideas that belong to someone else and the misrepresentation of them as one’s own.” We need to emphasize with students that to avoid plagiarism all they need to do is to credit the source. Sounds pretty basic, but students need to be reminded to do that. In the past, the complications of footnotes might have deterred the students from acknowledging the source, but with today’s methods of including the acknowledgment in the text, students should find the procedure easy for the writer and more intelligible and less distracting to the reader.

The author also suggests using preliminary assignments like abstracts, summaries and background papers in which students briefly describe their procedures in developing their research papers.

Comment: Ultimately, I believe that most students will not plagiarize if they engage in assignments in which they want to find the answers to real questions. RayS.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Topic: Reading, Annotations and Researchable Questions

10-second review: Teaches students to respond in writing while they are reading, leading to questions that can become researchable topics.

Title: “Investigative Reading and Writing: Responding to Reading with Research.” BT Petersen and JN Burkland. College Composition and Communication (May 1986), 236-241. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Authors teach students to respond in writing to what they are reading—associations, question and thoughts. “From these initial responses, students develop questions by sharing responses with other students and with their instructor. They then seek to answer their questions by asking their peers, interviewing experts, performing an experiment, conducting a survey or doing research in libraries.” Thus, from their reading, students develop research questions.

Comments: In my experience as student, teacher and supervisor, I have not seen an emphasis on annotating reading, which will improve comprehension and lead to extended reading and application of the ideas gained from reading. I think every student in secondary schools and college should be taught to annotate their reading. Annotation is one key to active reading. RayS.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Topic: A Research Sequence

10-second review: The research sequence begins with a non-researched opinion piece and develops through a series of documented papers to the final research paper.

Title: “The Research Sequence: What To Do Before the Term Paper.” James Strickland. College Composition and Communication (May 1986), 233-236. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The author’s “research sequence” consists of a non-researched opinion paper, a letter to the editor, proceeds through identifying dubious points, conducting research to resolve these points, formulating the thesis and writing a documented essay, conducting more research and concluding with the final researched paper.

Comment: Taking students through a sequence in research can give them a procedure, reducing the apparently complicated procedures to a series of steps. It is a sequence I would most certainly try myself first before trying it with my students.

Many of the techniques suggested in professional articles need to be tried by the teacher personally in order to learn the difficulties students might encounter unexpectedly. Another way of learning how successfully these techniques work is to set up action research in which the students become your collaborators.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Topic: People as Resources for Research Papers

10-second review: Don’t overlook the interview with experienced people in researching a topic: finding them, preparing for the interview, recording the interview and incorporating the interview into the research paper are necessary steps for the successful use of the interview in research.

Title: “Research Outside the Library; Learning a Field.” T N Trzyna. College Composition and Communication (May 1986), 217-222. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Students need to find resources outside the library for completing research. People experienced in the field of the research will have more timely information on the topic than will be found in published—and probably outdated—material. This article was written before e-mail became a popular method for conducting interviews, but students still must be able to find sources and organizations, prepare interview questions and incorporate the information into the research paper.

Comment: Including interviews in the research paper will also add a deterrent to plagiarism, since the student’s contacts and information can be checked with the source(s). But that’s not the main reason for including interviews in the research process. Timeliness of recent information is. The interview will also add interest to the research. RayS.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Topic: "Be Specific"

10-second review: The command by teachers on students’ written compositions to “be specific” is simplistic. Student writers do not know how to put that command into action.

Title: “Specificity in Context: Some Difficulties for the Inexperienced Writer.” SP MacDonald. College Composition and Communication (May 1986), 195-203. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: “Students…need to learn to use specifics, but merely enjoining them to do so will not produce the transformation in their writing we desire.” One device that does not help is to use examples from literature, because students are engaged in learning academic writing, not literature. The author tries to analyze the process of adding specifics, but her explanation is complicated and abstract and will probably be impossible for students to follow. So the question remains: How can we teach students to “be specific”?

Comment: One way is to show them: teachers add the specifics to the student’s composition and explain how and why they did it. RayS.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Topic: The Role of Textbooks in Teaching

10-second review: Textbooks are tools, not crutches.

Title: “Textbooks and the Evolution of the Discipline [of Writing].” RJ Connors. College Composition and Communication (May 1986), 178-194. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: Just a reminder that teachers need to think about how to incorporate the textbook into their teaching. As a student, I have purchased expensive textbooks that were rarely if ever used by the teacher—a waste of valuable money. I have also purchased textbooks that were the course; the teacher’s lectures were irrelevant to the tests. You had to figure that out. The teachers never told you.

Did the teacher think about how to incorporate the textbook into the course? Why was the textbook chosen? Ever think to tell the students why it was chosen? Did the teacher explain to the students how to use the textbook to help them learn the ideas in the course? What does the textbook do that the teacher doesn’t?

Most college students sell their textbooks after the course because they have little value to them. Perhaps that would not be so if teachers thought about the role of the textbook in their courses. RayS.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Topic: Why Do We Write?

10-second review: Although college teachers gripe about the need to publish, their satisfaction in doing so has nothing to do with royalties, which rarely come to those who publish. The satisfaction is internal.

Title: “One Writer’s Secrets.” D M Murray. College Composition and Communication (May 1986), 147-152. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: “The true rewards [of writing for publication] are internal—the satisfaction of asking your own questions and finding your own answers.” p. 153.

Comment: I have always been intimidated by those who criticize writing teachers like me who do not make the writing “real,” i.e., for real audiences for read purposes, whose audience is only the teacher. I find my approach hard to defend as other teachers’ students transform communities with their writing.

But maybe the relevance of students’ writing for the teacher, beyond learning to write, lies in this article in which Donald M. Murray suggests the real rewards of writing for publication are internal—the satisfaction of asking your own questions and finding your own answers.

Perhaps this inner satisfaction, which occurs in any number of circumstances, justifies students who learn to write by writing for the writing teacher. That writing might be of interest to other people—friends, parents, relatives and even the audience at large—and therefore I try to find ways to publish that writing, but its real significance and reward still lies in the inner satisfaction of asking one’s own questions and finding one’s own answers. RayS.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Topic: Journals in Teaching Writing

10-second review: Suggests writing lists and imaginary dialogues as journal entries.

Title: “Using the Journal for Discovery: Two Devices.” S Whitehall. College Composition and Communication (December 1987), 472-474. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Uses lists and imaginary dialogues in daily journals as a way to generate ideas for future writing.

Comment: As I have said before, I never used personal journals in my writing classes because of the too-personal materials in them that were none of my business to read. But writing journal entries on what is being studied in class is a good idea and generating lists and writing imaginary dialogues and writing letters that you will never send are useful in developing ideas. I think I have changed my mind about using journals—although I still do not want “confessional” stuff. If students want to keep personal journals about their personal lives, they should, but they will not be part of my writing classes. RayS.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Topic: Creative Writing Through Literary Models

10-second review: Using poetry and prose models, students learn to transcend the imitation to develop their own ideas.

Title: Using Imitations in Literature Classes.” A Loux. College Composition and Communication (December 1987), 466-472. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Students gain an understanding of the skill used by poets and fiction writers by imitating models of their poetry and prose, usually in short selections. In most cases students might begin as simple imitators, but they soon shape their own ideas beyond the imitated form.

Comment: Try it yourself before trying it with your students. I have tried imitating literary models myself and have been impressed by how I went beyond the form into my own ideas. The model is not just a format; it’s a starting place for original composition. You might try your students at imitating cinquains and haiku and conclude with Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets. The students will gain insight into just how difficult literary composition is. And they will produce some very interesting writing. RayS.

This blog, English Education Archives, reviews articles of contemporary interest from past English education journals.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Topic: Proofreading Is a Different Kind of Reading

10-second review: We need to define “revising” and “proofreading” more clearly for students.

Title: “Proofreading: A Reading/Writing Skill.” Jeannette Harris. College Composition and Communication (December 1987), 464-466. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: A thoughtful analysis of the nature of proofreading.

Quote: “Many of our students fail to detect surface errors in their compositions because…they see what they mean rather than what they write. The reason they do not perceive errors is that they read rather than proofread. Since reading is a process of anticipation and prediction, readers look only at what is necessary to predict meaning. Rather than looking at just a few words on each line, as an efficient reader does, good proofreaders force themselves to attend to the text closely and deliberately—looking specifically at each word and mark of punctuation, carefully noting not only what is there but also what is not there.”

Quote: “Finally, in addition to their reading-related problems, our students cannot proofread effectively because we—teachers, researchers, textbook writers—fail to use the term ‘proofread’ in any consistent, clearly defined manner. As a result, students often make no distinction between revising and proofreading. They equate revising with copying a paper over neatly in kink…. In effect, they collapse the entire, complicated, highly recursive process of re-writing into what is essentially manuscript preparation.”

Quote: “Consciously or unconsciously, they modify their normal reading process so that they see what is actually on the page rather than what they expect to see. One of the simplest means of modifying our normal reading process is to use a pointer—a finger, pencil, whatever—in order to force ourselves to look at each word and mark of punctuation.”

Comment: I think these quotes on proofreading are cogent. We need to distinguish between reading and proofreading and between revision and proofreading.

I define revising as adding, deleting, substituting and moving text. Students perform these operations in three ways:

1. Unity. Student writer folds a sheet of paper widthwise. The writer summarizes the main idea on one side of the folded paper. The partner reads the writer’s composition and writes a summary of the main idea on the other side. They open the paper and compare their two versions of the main idea. If the two versions of the main idea are similar, the paper is probably unified. If the expressions of the main idea do not agree, check especially the thesis sentence, the topic sentences and the final paragraph and revise as necessary.

2. Clarity. The partner re-reads the writer’s composition and places question marks in the margin of any idea that is confusing or incomplete. The writer notes the question marks, explains the meaning to the partner orally and revises the expression if necessary.

3. Awkward expression. Both writer and partner read the composition aloud. If either stumbles in reading, the place is marked and the writer decides if the expression needs to be revised.

Proofreading. The writer reads backwards, from last word to the first word, noting spelling and punctuation. Look out, especially for commas around interrupters. One might be missing. Partner then does the same, reading from last to first word noting spelling and punctuation. Not easy to do but the reader is forced to see each word and mark of punctuation individually.

Finally, the writer checks of for sentence structure by reading each sentence individually.

Worth the effort? It is if you’re writing a resume and letter of application or an office assignment or a college essay.

This blog, English Education Archives, reviews articles of contemporary interest from past English education journals.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Topic: Visualizing as Pre-writing

10-second review: The author suggests that students learn to visualize what they will write before putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Title: “Pre-Text and Composing.” S P Witte. College Composition and Communication (December 1987), 397-425. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: I have read about authors who have practically memorized what they are going to write in their minds before writing. This idea is one that might work for some people, might not work for others, should probably be taught as one way to prepare for writing, but not the method for preparation to write. Personally, I find that brainstorming works comfortably for me.

I think the real usefulness of this article is that students can help themselves to write by thinking about and reflecting on what they plan to write in their minds before writing
. RayS.

This blog, English Education Archives, reviews articles of contemporary interest from past English education journals.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Topic: Previews of Short Stories

10-second review: Suggests providing previews of reading assignments for English-language learning (ELL’s) students to help them with challenging material.

Title: “Previewing Challenging Reading Selections for ESL (English as a Second Language) students.” HS Chew and MF Graves. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (April 1998), 570-571. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: The teacher writes out the preview. Includes statements and questions to gain the reader’s interest. Relates to that which is familiar to the students. Questions to involve student participation. Overview of the selection, including title, characters, plot up to the climax. Directions for reading. The authors provide a sample preview for O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi.”

Comment: The problem I am having with this idea is that the preview is written out—teacher time—is quite lengthy and will be almost as difficult for the English language learning students to read as the story itself. Some suggestions: read aloud the preview with the students as they read along. Pre-teach vocabulary—if not in the written preview, at least orally.

My second concern is that the authors view the preview as only a prop (a “scaffold”) that should later not be needed. I believe that all students should learn how to preview by themselves when they are asked to read anything that is challenging. “The Gift of the Magi” is a short story. I have developed a technique for previewing a short story.

1. Read the title. Ask students to reflect on the meaning of the title. The students raise questions.

2. Students read one sentence a column or page. Students tell what they have learned about the story. They raise questions

3. Read one paragraph a column or page. Students tell what they have learned. They then raise questions and cancel out previous questions that have now been answered by reading one paragraph a column or page.

4. Organize the questions raised by the students and they then read to answer the questions.

5. Discuss their answers to the questions

This type of preview does not require the teacher to spend valuable time writing out the preview. The students raise their own questions and read to answer their own questions. The teacher adds questions if the students have missed something important. This preview of short stories worked very well for my students in a community college literature and writing course. Most important, this type of preview enables students to preview all other short stories that they will read.

I’m not suggesting an either/or situation here. Both methods are useful. The written preview can lead to the independent use of my suggested preview. RayS.

This blog, English Education Archives, reviews articles of contemporary interest from past English education journals.