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.