Friday, May 30, 2008
Topic: Topic Sentences
Title: “A Study of Topic Sentence Use in Academic Writing.” Randall L. Popken. Written Communication 4 (1987): 208-228. Reviewed in College Composition and Communication (October 1988), 328-329. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).
Summary: “Investigates whether ‘topic sentences,’ said by earlier studies to be less frequent in serious popular writing than had been supposed, are much used in academic writing…. Finds that many academic articles do draw, in one way or another, on topic sentences….”
Comments: Here’s what I know about topic sentences: Topic sentences serve to keep writers organized and readers focused on the writer’s meaning. Readers are intimidated by long unbroken paragraphs and writers break paragraphs for no reason except to make them more readable. These paragraphs will probably not have topic sentences. Writers may begin with a topic sentence, but use several subsequent paragraphs to develop the topic sentence, with those paragraphs having no topic sentence.
Recently my nephew completed his PhD dissertation in engineering. While writing it, he told me his great discovery: topic sentence kept him on track through all the profuse verbiage. However, the topic sentences had another value—when it came time for his defense, he simply collected all his topic sentence in order and he was able to encapsulate his ideas for the committee. RayS.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Topic: Writing As A Second Language
Title: Teaching Writing As a Second Language: Studies in Writing and Rhetoric. Alice S. Horning. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987. Reviewed in College Composition and Communication (October 1988), 327. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).
Summary: “Proposes that, especially for basic writers, the written form of English is essentially a ‘second language,’ and that students learn written English as other adults develop second language skills.”
“Highlights the difficulties that writers have with the redundancy of written language.” [I’m assuming that the author means the redundancy that carries over from informal speech to writing. RayS.]
Comments: Interesting comparison. Written language is certainly both the same as, but different from, speech, the first or "native" language. Speech is full of redundancies and verbosity. Modern writing is concise.
I have already discussed my 10-minute essays, writing samples at the beginning of class which I correct that night to show students how to eliminate redundancy and verbosity.
I suggest to students to try three steps to eliminate unnecessarily repeated words; 1. Drop out one of the repeated words. Did you need it? 2. Use a synonym. This technique works sometimes. 3. Rewrite to eliminate the unnecessarily repeated word. The latter step is usually the most effective technique for eliminating redundancy and gaining precision in expression. RayS.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Topic: Writing and Audience
Title: “The Evolving Audience: Alternatives to Audience Accommodation.” Robert G. Roth. College Composition and Communication 38 (1987): 47-55. Reviewed in College Composition and Communication (October 1988), 324. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).
Summary: Found that students’ view of audience evolved as they wrote. Also found that students imagined a variety of audiences as they wrote.
Comment: Peter Elbow (“Closing My Eyes As I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience” College English 49. 1987: 50-69) “…argues for the value of writing carried on without contemplation of an audience. Points out that considering audience can inhibit writing, and that often better writing results if audience is ignored than if it is considered.” I suspect that the role of audience when writing is more complex than it seems.
On the one hand it’s a no-brainer. Writing to respond to someone who disagrees violently with your point of view will affect the way in which you write. On the other hand, when I taught writing, I never paid much attention to audience because I was concentrating on organization of ideas that were owned by the students and I paid attention only to how well they expressed those ideas for themselves, for me and for whoever else would read what they wrote. I should have paid more attention to audience. I think if I were teaching writing today, I would deal with the concept of audience in a unit. RayS.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
The purpose of this blog is to summarize articles on teaching English/language arts, from kindergarten through college, published in English education journals from the past.
Topic: Collaborative Learning
Title: Focus on Collaborative Learning. Ed. Jeff Golub and the NCTE Committee on Classroom Practices. (Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1988, 170 pp. Reviewed by Terry Nienhuis. College Composition and Communication (October 1989), 355-356. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).
Question/Summary: What are some questions concerning collaborative learning in the classroom? The reviewer says, “As many who have tried this pedagogy know, it is not merely a way for teachers to take a vacation. Teachers must design projects that really achieve useful objectives; they must teach students the skill required to work effectively in groups; they must deal with a large number of logistical problems; they must learn how to monitor the group work and mediate effectively; they must deal with the enormous problem of evaluation; and they must even know when collaborative learning must be set aside for more conventional pedagogy.”
Comment: In my book, Teaching Writing, How To…. I describe how, using an article by David M. Litsey, English Journal, 1969, I helped students understand the roles people play in helping or hindering group work. I did not deal with the other problems in collaborative learning discussed by the writers in this book. RayS.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Topic: Final Paragraph
Title: “Some Resources for Conclusions in Student Essays.” Dana C. Elder. College Composition and Communication (October 1987), 350-354.
Summary: The author says right off: “Obviously no sure-fire recipe for conclusions [concluding paragraphs] exists.” But he does offer some options: 1. To dispose the reader favorably towards oneself and unfavorably towards the adversary. 2. To recapitulate. 3. To offer the reader specific suggestions for further action, study or reflection.
Comment: When in doubt, summarize your ideas. RayS.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Title: “Rhetorical Beginnings: Professional and Amateur.” Louise Crew. College Composition and Communication (October 1987), 346-350.
Summary: Compared the beginnings used by professional writers in Psychology Today to those used by her amateur student writers. One finding: 60% of the pro’s began with narratives. 30% of the student writers began with rhetorical questions. The pro’s never do.
Comment; I had students analyze the opening paragraphs of the venerable Reader’s Digest. We made quite a long list of techniques to use in beginning paragraphs. RayS.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Topic: “Basic” Writers
Title: “Develop the Inferential Reasoning of Basic Writers.” Robert Zeller. College Composition and Communication (October 1987), 343-346.
Summary: Do not assume that “basic” writers can’t think. What they can’t do is shape their thoughts in writing.
Comment: I need to remember that piece of advice. RayS.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Topic: Writing Process
Title: “Writing from Artifacts.” Robert Johnson. College Composition and Communication (October 1987), 342-343.
Summary: Saves every scrap of paper he used in writing an article in order to show his students what real writing is like.
Comments: Should help students understand the reality of writing. Students think that the finished product appeared without the messiness that produced it. RayS.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Topic: “Be Specific”
Title: “Specificity in Context: Some Difficulties for the Inexperienced Writer.” College Composition and Communication 37 (1986), 195-203. Reviewed in College Composition and Communication (October 1987), 331.
Summary: “Calls into question the generalized advice to students to ‘be specific,’ noting that the amount of specific detail needed at any point is relative to purpose and audience….”
Comment: So many of our comments on compositions mean nothing to the students: “Awkward” or “Awk.”; “confusing”; “Please clarify”; “Be specific.” Ask the students to explain your comments. What will they do because of the comments? The ineffectiveness of teacher comments on writing is one reason that I use the ten-minute essays in which I actually do on the students’ papers what I expect the students to do. It’s called modeling, showing them how to revise, how to edit, how to clarify, how to smooth expression, how to correct grammatical problems. I’m forced to show students what I tell them to do and in that way students learn how to do what I did, and, as a result, will understand my comments in the future. RayS.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Topic: Speech and Writing
Title: “An Ongian Perspective on the History of Literacy; Psychological Context and Today’s College Student Writer.” Joseph Comprone. Rhetoric Review 4 (1986): 138-148. Reviewed in College Composition and Communication (October 1987), 327. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English.
Summary: Believes that today’s college students are caught between the influence of an oral culture and the required conciseness of writing, “…between the pressure to expand writing…and pressure to be original and to be plain and readable.”
Comment: Students today are influenced by the oral culture. Look at a student’s unedited writing and you will find redundancy and verbosity.
I discovered a method for helping students develop the concise expression needed for acceptable informal and even formal writing: ten minutes a day.
For ten minutes at the beginning of class, students write on a topic of their choice as well as they can.
That night I correct—literally—their redundancies and verbosity and grammatical mistakes and punctuation mistakes and usage mistakes and awkward and confusing expression by rewriting the problem expression in formal English.
Takes time? Yes, but the sample of writing is short, completed in only ten minutes in class—students stop writing at the end of ten minutes, in mid-sentence if they choose. Students compare what they wrote with my changes.
The results? Sometimes in a matter of days, students’ writing tightens and in almost every case, students eventually produce mistake-free writing. The students praise the approach by saying that it gives them confidence in their writing.
If you want more information on the technique, send questions to me. RayS.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Topic: Syntactic Complexity and Writing Quality (Secondary/College)
Title: “Syntactic Complexity and Writing Quality.” Stephen Witte, John A. Daly and Roger D. Cherry. The Territory of Language. Ed. Donald McQuade. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986, 150-164. Reviewed in College Composition and Communication (October 1987), 327. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English.
Summary: “Concludes that no firm connection can be established between syntactic complexity and judgments of writing quality through research yet completed….”
Comments: For the same reason that knowledge of grammar does not show up in measures of writing quality, syntactic complexity will not be related to writing quality. Grammar and syntactic complexity deal with the sentence. Writing quality deals primarily with organization of the whole composition, with paragraphs, transitions, opening and closing paragraphs. Grammar has a role, polishing the text for final publication, but the majority of writing quality deals with the whole composition involving organization and paragraphs. RayS.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Topic: Types of Writing
Title: “Different Products, Different Processes: A Theory abut Writing.” Maxine Hairston. College Composition and Communication 36 (1986), 442-52. Reviewed in College Composition and Communication (October 1987),325. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English.
Summary: Author says that there are three types of writing: routine “message” writing; writing in which most of the substance is known in advance; and reflective writing in which discovery occurs during the act of writing. We should not treat all writing as “discovery” writing.
Comment; Usually we think of writing in modes: exposition, narration, description and argument. This author defines the types of writing as “message,” “thought through ahead of time” and “discovery”; each requires different processes. Interesting point of view. I know that when I write memos (“message”), I can compose at the keyboard with very little revision. On the other hand, if I don’t know what I am going to say (“discovery”), I start with yellow pad and pencil. If I know most of what I am going to say, I would probably start at the keyboard, but I will do a great deal of revising on the way. RayS.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Topic: Introductions to Compositions
Title: “Prologues to What Is Possible: Introductions as Metadiscourse.” Phillip Arrington and Shirley K. Rose. College Composition and Communication (October 1987), 306-318. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English.
Summary: What should an introduction consist of? Get a reader’s attention. Provide background on the subject. State or imply a thesis.
Comment: In the final paragraph of this article the authors suggest that textbook writers in texts for teaching writing believe mistakenly that most writers start with the first paragraph because they already know their purposes and intentions, the context, the readers’ assumptions and knowledge before they write. The real world of writing is not like that.
When I taught writing, the introduction was the last activity before revision and editing—and after (1) brainstorming,(2) the thesis, (3) the topic sentences and details for each middle paragraph and(4) the final, summary paragraph. Strange as it might seem, I have learned that the introduction is actually the last activity [before revision and editing], not the first. RayS.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
The blog is originated by Raymond Stopper, author of Teaching English, How To…., published in July 2004. From the cover of the book: “Raymond Stopper spent 35 years in public education as a secondary English teacher, instructional consultant, director of secondary education and, for 21 years, K-12 language arts supervisor. He has taught or given demonstration lessons at every level from first grade to college. He has specialized in teaching expository writing, developed a K-12 writing program and has conducted teacher workshops on reading, writing, grammar, literature, spelling, the SAT, professional writing, censorship, critical thinking and language exploration, among other topics. As a supervisor, he enjoyed working with teachers to solve problems.”
Mr. Stopper has also published articles in leading English Education journals on encouraging teachers to read professional journals, on demonstrating to parents how teachers teach writing, on how to engage students in reading short stories and on clarifying the guidelines for teaching English developed by the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association.
Each blog will contain the topic, the title and author of the article, the summary and, in most cases, a comment by RayS.
I invite responses from interested readers.