Friday, January 30, 2009

High School College Topic: Revision

10-second summary: When do people revise what they write?

Title: “Detection, Diagnosis,, and the Strategies of Revision.” L Flower, et al. College Composition and Communication (February 1986), 16-55. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “As Gabriel Della-Piana puts it, ‘revision is not making a poem better, it is making the poem more consonant or congruent with one’s image of what the piece of writing is intended to accomplish.’ ”

Comment: In other words, writers have an image, a conception, of what they want to accomplish in their writing and when the actual writing does not match that image or concept, they change what they have written. I think this is the best definition of revision that I have ever read. RayS.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

High School/College Topic: Teachers' Comments on Student Writing

10-second review: Students have little understanding of teachers’ comments on their writing.

Title: “Detection, Diagnosis, and the Strategies of Revision.” L Flower, et al. College Composition and Communication (February 1986), 16-55. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: “…Knoblauch and Brannon suggest that students have trouble translating teachers’ comments into new strategies: ‘The depressing trouble is, we have scarcely a shred of empirical evidence to show that students typically even comprehend our responses to their writing, let alone use them purposefully to modify their practice.’ ” p. 52.

Comment: I’m as guilty as any other teacher of writing. I never asked the students if they understood what I said in my written responses to their writing. And that’s where I would begin. When I return students’ compositions to them in the future, I will ask students to write on an attached sheet of paper what they understood and what they didn’t about my comments on their papers. Then should follow how I could turn my comments into comprehensible English.

By the way, I found another method to help students understand the changes they need to make in their writing. Most people will think what I am about to say is heresy. But it worked! At the beginning of class, I would ask students to write for ten minutes on any topic they wished. I urged them to write as well as they could. That night I rewrote any mistakes in grammar, style and clarity. The next day, students compared my corrections to their original ten minutes of writing. When they did not understand my changes, they asked. I continued to use comments with major compositions.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

K-12 Topic: Children

10-second review: Story by Robert Coles about an 8-year-old girl who had attended one of the early integrated public schools in the Deep South.

Title: “Women’s Ways of Writing, Or, Images, Self-images and Graven Images.” CJ Swearingen. College Composition and Communication (May 1994), 251-258. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “Working in the Deep South during the early 1950s with grade school children who were among the first to integrate the public schools, [Robert Coles] experienced a conversion of sorts. He came face to face with the power of religious conviction…as he listened to an eight-year-old patient, Laurie:

‘I was all alone, and those people were screaming, and suddenly I saw God smiling, and I smiled…. A woman was standing there [near the school door], and she shouted at me, ‘Hey, you little nigger, what you smiling at?’ I looked right at her face, and I said, ‘At God.’ Then she looked up at the sky, and she looked at me, and she didn’t call me any more names.’ ”

Comment: A quote from James Moffett: “And the time has come for intellectuals to quit confusing spirituality with superstition and sectarianism.” College Composition and Communication (May 1994), p. 261. I’m not sure what this story means to anyone else, but I felt that I needed to repeat it—and Moffett’s distinction between spirituality and superstition. RayS.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

College Topic: Writing and Meditation

10-second review: Although the purpose of meditation in a spiritual sense is to enhance consciousness, meditation could play an important role in preparing for writing, especially for students with writing block.

Title: “Writing to Heal: Using Meditation in the Writing Process.” JoAnn Campbell. College Composition and Communication (May 1994), 246-251. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “In Riding the Ox Home: A History from Shamanism to Science, Willard Johnson argues that ‘meditation has no intrinsic goal or meaning: it is rather a technique, a way of developing consciousness.’ ” p. 246.

Summary/Quote: “…it’s difficult to avoid arguing for the practical benefits of offering meditation—at the very least, to students with writing block.” p. 251.

Comment: Spending five minutes meditating on finding topics or on an assigned topic is a kind of pre-brainstorming activity, a double-warm up for writing. First, meditate. Then brainstorm. Students are doubly prepared for writing. RayS.

Monday, January 26, 2009

College Topic: Writing Assessment

10-second review: Most writing teachers dislike assessment because someone else designed it, they had nothing to do with it, and it is mandated. One reason they resent forced assessment is that it takes time away from teaching. However, teachers become more involved with assessment if they have a part in designing it.

Title: “Adventuring into Writing Assessment.” R Haswell and S Wyche-Smith. College Composition and Communication (May 1994), 220-236. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “…teachers ... have kept their distance from assessment from fear that it will take time from their true work, teaching. In fact, involvement in original assessment projects expands participation in teaching … Our own involvement has given us, for instance, access to conversations from which we otherwise would have been excluded: conversations about general education, upper-division writing courses across the curriculum, and the articulation between our institution, its branch campuses, and regional high schools and community colleges.” p. 234.

Comment: I agree with the authors of this article. My experience with assessment is this: if you do not provide assessment of your course and your teaching, someone else will. And if you expand the assessment project to include different levels of education, you will help clarify issues in teaching writing. Questions will be asked, disagreements will be expressed and some attempt will be made at reaching consensus. You will learn a lot. RayS.

Friday, January 23, 2009

College Topic: Personal vs. Academic Writing

10-second review: In teaching writing an issue has developed between personal essay writing and academic [five-paragraph essay?] writing.

Title: “Writing from the Moon.” J Harris, Editor of College Composition and Communication (May 1994), 161-163. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: An "either" (personal essay writing)/ "or" academic writing (the model of the five-paragraph essay?) issue in teaching college writing. “Indeed the whole argument over whether we should teach personal essays or academic discourse strikes me as misleading and debilitating—since the opposition between the two tends quickly to devolve into a standoff…and thus turns both into something that most students I have met have shown little interest in either reading or writing. I agree with them. I think we need to stop taking sides on this opposition and to try to move beyond it instead.” p. 162-163.

Comment: Most expository writing –introduction, thesis, middle paragraphs with and without topic sentences and final, summarizing paragraph—contains personal experience in support of the writer’s points. End of dichotomy. Why will educators continue to look for either/or issues? To provide publishable articles? RayS.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

College Topic: Narratives and Social Change

10-second review: A summer seminar for working women at Bryn Mawr College from 1921 to 1938 produced women’s autobiographies that gave the students a consciousness of their collective experience.

Title: “Liberating Voices: Autobiographical Writing at the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers, 1921-1938.” Karyn Hollis. College Composition and Communication (February 1994), 31-60. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “This group consciousness is indeed very crucial to women’s empowerment, but I would add that history shows us that unless women and other oppressed groups are provided with the discourse of collective experience, protest and power, they will likely remain in a weakened individualist frame of mind.”

Comment: Using the same model as described in the article, modern students write autobiographies of their experience as students. In one sense, these autobiographies would be a step in developing the class as a community. But look out. Students (an oppressed group?) might begin to seek empowerment as students—as in the model involving women workers in the 1920s and 1930s. RayS.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Topic: Writing vs. Speech

10-second review: Suggests that students not speak but only write in writing class. A way of understanding the significance of writing in an oral culture.

Title: Review of Physical Eloquence and the Biology of Writing. Robert S. Ochsner. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1990, 223 pages. Reviewed in College Composition and Communication (October 1994), p. 404.

Summary/Quote: “…Ochsner models his teaching practices after the methods of second-language acquisition—for example, using writing as the only method of classroom communication…” p. 404.

Comment. Sounds interesting. Would certainly focus on the act of writing and all it implies. encouraging thought before expressing ideas, etc., but would change normal classroom procedure. I’d certainly try it, after involving the students in accepting the technique, together with their evaluation of its effectiveness—action research. I’m intrigued. What do my readers think? A few details of classroom procedure need to be clarified. RayS.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Topic: Basic Writing

10-second review: What is a “basic” writing course? What is its purpose?

Title: “Resisting Privilege: Basic Writing and Foucault’s Author Function.” Gail Stygall. College Composition and Communication (October 1994), 321-341. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “Any article or research report on basic writing has to be read carefully for how its author describes basic writing…. Sometimes [basic writers] are called ‘remedial,’ implying that they are re-taking courses in material that already should have been mastered. Sometimes they are called ‘developmental,’ suggesting a cognitive or psychological problem. At other times and in other places, they may be called ‘Educational Opportunity Students,’ suggesting division by access to education. Or they are just ‘basic,’ requiring foundational or fundamental instruction in writing.” p. 320.

Comment: What do we expect to be accomplished in a “basic,” non-credit course in writing? An understanding and production of the five-paragraph essay? Elimination of such basic problems as run-on sentences and fragments? The ability to use the writing process: brainstorm, thesis, draft, introduction, summary paragraph, revision, editing and final copy? I think goals need to be specified in concrete terms. Starting point for the students will be different, but they need to know the end point. Clearly specifying the goals will help students achieve the goals. RayS.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Topic: Teaching

10-second review: The teacher is both a facilitator and gatekeeper, a coach and a judge. The author recognizes such contraries in teaching and accepts and tries to resolve them.

Title: Review of Embracing Contraries: Explorations in Learning and Teaching. Peter Elbow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, 314 pages). Reviewed by Betsy Hilbert, College Composition and Communication (December 1988),480-481. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Peter Elbow: “ ‘If texts can support multiple and even contradictory interpretations’ then teachers can similarly foster—and practice—a diversity of learning methods. Each of the sections [of the book] on learning, teaching and evaluation analyzes the dualities involved, outlining the issues and offering dialectical methods for approaching solutions.” p. 480.

Comment: The trouble is that educators turn these “dualities” into either/or situations: process vs. product in writing and whole language vs. the basal in beginning reading, for example, wasting much energy, emotion and time on the conflict when both issues can be resolved by combining them. This book and its author, Peter Elbow, offer profound wisdom about the act and art of teaching. Don’t turn the contraries into issues. Accept them and try to resolve them. RayS.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Topic: Assessing Writing Skills

10-second review: “There are only two methods for assessing writing skills: direct (essay testing) and indirect (multiple-choice testing).” p. 478.

Title: Review of Assessing Writing Skill. Hunter Breland, et al. (New York: College Entrance Examination Board, 1987, 128 pages). Reviewed by K L Greenberg, College Composition and Communication (December 1988), 478-480. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Note the publisher. By using statistics and research, seeks to promote indirect assessment (multiple-choice testing) over essay testing. “The authors state over and over again that the reliability of essay test scores is ‘bleak,’ ‘low,’ and a ‘severe problem.’ ” p. 479. (Note: At the time, 1987, most writing assessments by the College Board were indirect, i.e., multiple-choice tests).

Comment: I highlight this review to show how political issues in teaching English can be. I don’t know what the College Board is saying now (2009) that essay testing is a significant part of the SAT Verbal Section. Another approach to writing assessment is the portfolio, but, of course, portfolios don’t lend themselves to the College Board’s quick test and quick-grade methods. Besides, portfolios involve as much instruction as assessment. And what about rubrics in which specific standards are described for good, average and poor writing? RayS.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Topic: Form in Professional Writing

10-second review: Book analyzes the texts in some of the NCTE’s professional journals and concludes that they are conventional.

Title: Review of Knowledge and Reflexivitiy: New Frontiers in the Sociology of Knowledge. Ed. Steve Woolgar. (London and Beverly Hills: Sage. 1988, 214 pages.) Reviewed by Greg Myers. College Composition and Communication (December 1988), 465-474. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: “We specialize in analyzing textual forms, but as far as I can see our own texts in College Composition and Communication, College English, Research in the Teaching of English, and Written Communication are entirely conventional.” p. 473.

Comment: For all those who think the model of the five-paragraph essay that represents the “3T” formula, “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them and tell them what you told them,” is outmoded, NCTE’s professional articles follow the conventional format. They introduce, state their thesis, use topic sentences and summarize what they have said. If you don’t want to call it the five-paragraph essay, then call it, the “ITTS” model: “Intro, Thesis, Topic Sentences and Summary paragraph.” RayS.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Topic: Teacher Comments on Compositions

10-second review: Students collect teacher’s end comments on a sheet of paper attached to the compositions throughout the semester or year.

Title: “Advantages of the Cumulative Comment Sheet in Composition Classes.” PJ McAlexander. College Composition and Communication (December 1988), 463-464. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “The teacher begins by attaching a blank sheet—preferably a bright color for higher visibility—to the first piece of writing the student hands in. After reading and annotating the assignment, the teacher writes the end comment on this sheet and labels it with the assignment number (‘Essay 1’ or ‘Draft 1,’ etc. and the title, subject or thesis. The most useful comments for these sheets include a summary of each essay’s major strengths and weaknesses in grammar, mechanics and content, and personal responses to content…. I encourage students to write responses to my comments if they wish to.” p. 463.

Comment: Through these cumulative teacher comments, students can perceive progress and note recurring problems, inconsistency and strengths. Another idea I wish I had tried when I was teaching writing. RayS.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Topic: Logic and Argument in Composition

10-second review: The author suggests that teaching formal logic does not really help students develop an argumentative position. He suggests another strategy.

Title: “Technical Logic, Comp-Logic, and the Teaching of Writing.” Richard Fulkerson. College Composition and Communication (December 1988), 436-452. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Reduces the argument to a conclusion and the evidence for the conclusion. To prove a case of battery, for instance, the following elements (evidence) must be present:

There must be a touching by the defendant.
The touching must have been either offensive or harmful.
The touching must have been unconsented.
And it must have been intentional rather than accidental. p. 448-449.

Comment: In other words, begin with the conclusion and list the evidence for the conclusion as a pre-writing strategy for an argumentative paper. RayS.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Topic: Grammar Rules

10-second review: Where do grammar rules come from? An exercise that demonstrates how notable writers violate “sacred precepts” about grammar.

Title: “The Tribunal of Use: Agreement in Indefinite constructions.” E S Sklar. College Composition and Communication (December 1988), 410-422. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “One class period in my intermediate-level composition course of which I am particularly fond revolves around what I call a ‘correctness exercise.’ This exercise consists of ten sentences, each containing at least one feature that would be considered erroneous by any American editor or composition teacher. Among these are a sentence using the British convention for punctuating quotations (the inverse of the American practice); a sentence from Shakespeare (modernized) featuring a double negative; and the following sentence from William Penn: ‘Every one in the family should know their duty.’ The point of the exercise is to suggest that many of the rules for ‘correct’ writing are both conventional and mutable, subject to modification over time and place.” p. 410.

Comment: In discussing these “aberrations” in modern grammatical practice, students will be learning the rules of modern practice. The William Penn sentence is an opportunity to teach how to avoid sexist language by using the plural and therefore avoiding the he/she, him/her construction that is so annoying in some of the professional English education journals that I read.

And a warning to students: Break the rules as these notable writers have done and your résumé or letter of application could go into the shredder—as I have observed first hand
. RayS.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Topic: Student Errors in Compositions

10-second review: The authors say that researching the number and types of errors and teacher comments on or ignoring these errors only raised more questions than answers. They found some interesting answers, too.

Title: “Frequency of Formal Errors in Current College Writing….” RJ Connors and AA Lunsford. College Composition and Communication (December 1988), 395-409. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Some Findings:

What is the effect of errors in writing? “As Mina Shaughnessy put it, ‘errors are ‘unintentional and unprofitable intrusions upon the consciousness of the reader…. They demand energy without giving back any return in meaning….’ The world judges a writer by …mastery of conventions, and we all know it.” p. 396.

How do teachers respond to errors? “Some [errors] were annotated marginally until they looked like the Book of Kells, while others merely sported a few scrawled words and a grade.” p. 398.

How thorough are college teachers in marking papers for errors? “On the average, college English teachers mark only 43% of the most serious errors in the papers they evaluate.” p. 402.

What are some problems with marking errors? “The sheer difficulty of explanation presented by some error patterns is another factor. Jotting ‘WW’ in the margin to tip a student off to a diction problem is one thing; explaining a subtle shift in point of view in that same marginal space is quite another.” p. 404.

What are the most frequently marked mistakes? “The its/it’s error and the possessive apostrophe, the highest-marked pattern are also two of the easiest errors to mark. …the errors most marked are those most quickly indicated.” p. 404.

How consistent are student errors over the years? “The numbers of errors made by students in earlier studies and the numbers we found in the 1980s agree remarkably…. …freshmen are still committing approximately the same number of formal errors per 100 words as they were before WWI.” p. 407.

Some questions about error marking: Where do specific notions of error come from? Is there a relationship among error patterns? Are there regional variations in error patterns?

Comment: I’ll add a question. When teachers respond to an error, do students understand the meaning of that comment or symbol? In my experience, students do not understand teacher comments or symbols on their writing. Students need the opportunity to tell teachers whether or not they understand their comments and say whether the comments were helpful. RayS.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Topic: Portfolios and Writing

10-second review: Portfolios combine instruction and evaluation.

Title: Review of Portfolios in the Writing Classroom: An Introduction. Ed. Kathleen Blake Yancey (Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1992, 128 pages). Reviewed by KL Greenberg. College Composition and Communication (May 1993), 266-268. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “Ask a dozen teachers to define ‘writing portfolio’ and you’ll hear twelve different answers. One will say it’s a collection of students’ exemplary work; another might say it’s a repository of drafts, revisions and essays commenting on these drafts and revisions. Some teachers describe portfolio evaluations as simply another method of collecting student writing in a folder for end-term grading. Others offer testimonials about portfolios as a pedagogy that has transformed their teaching and students’ learning. Is portfolio evaluation merely the latest fad in writing assessment or is it a revolutionary strategy for integrating instruction and evaluation?”

Summary/Quote: “The authors of this collection clearly believe the latter—that a writing portfolio is not an assessment tool but rather a pedagogy with the potential to change students’ writing processes and products…. The portfolio…allows students to examine each piece of their writing relative to their other pieces and in relation to their overall development.”

Comment: I think the last sentence in the second quote is an excellent definition of the purpose of portfolios. Finally, a definition that makes sense to me. But a minor word of warning. When our English department collected student writing in portfolios, parents did not see the writing and assumed that writing was not being taught. RayS.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Topic: School Essays

10-second review: What exactly is an “essay” in composition class?

Title: Review of Beyond Outlining: New Approaches to Rhetorical Form. Betty Cain (Lantham, MD: University Press of America, 1992, 218 pages). Reviewed by RM Coe. College Composition and Communication (May 1993), 264-266. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “Like many teachers, Cain uses the term 'essay' as if it referred to a single genre. My own opinion is that school essays are hardly of the same genre as what Montaigne, Carlyle and Orwell wrote or what appears in the New Yorker.”

Comment: As part of teaching students to write, it wouldn’t hurt to analyze well-known and contemporary forms of the essay.

In my opinion, Montaigne organized his essays as his mind moved from thought to thought. On the other hand the essays of Addison and Francis Bacon are organized with a beginning, middle and end.

What exactly is the school “essay”? It is modeled on the five-paragraph essay. It is not limited to five paragraphs. It has an introduction, a thesis, topic sentences and a summary paragraph. It is based on the “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them” formula for effective communication. What would be an accurate label for this type of essay? The “Three T’s Essay”?

Instead of writing in modes (argumentation, narrative, description, etc.), students might write essays in different formats—Montaigne, Bacon, Addison, the New Yorker, Martin Luther King, Jr., Loren Eiseley, Joseph Wood Krutch, etc. RayS.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Professional Issues

10-second review: The purpose of this reviewed book is to pose questions about the topic of collaborative writing.

Title: Review of New Visions of Collaborative Writing. Ed. Janis Forman (Portsmouth, NH: Boynton Cook, 1992, 200 pages). Reviewed by AM Gilliam. College Composition and Communication (May 1993), 258-259. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: “As Forman announces at the outset, ‘This volume poses questions rather than provides answers; its aim is to keep the conversations about collaboration ‘in motion.’ ”

Comment: Refreshing that a book on issues in English education wants to question rather than pontificate. As was the case with "whole language." RayS.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Topic: Unacceptable Compositions

10-second review: What does the teacher do when a student writes an extremely racist paper?

Title: “ ‘So What Do We Do Now?’ Necessary Directionality as the Writing Teacher’s Response to Racist, Sexist, Homophobic Papers.” D Rothgery. College Composition and Communication (May 1993), 241-247. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The standard response to an “unacceptable” composition is either not to accept it or respond as usual to organization, thesis, etc. The author suggests that the teacher posit the truth of the paper and then ask, “What’s next?” In other words, ask the class what happens next if the ideas are true and then discuss it with the class. In short, what are the consequences if the ideas in the paper are true?

Comment: What worries me about following the author’s suggestion is the emotion that might be unleashed and whether I could control it. His suggestion that we consider the consequences of the writer’s ideas is interesting, and I need to think about it. However, I’m not ready to use his suggestion. I worry about singling out the students who wrote the “unacceptable composition,” even if I don’t use their names. And until I am ready, I will simply not accept the paper. RayS.