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.