Stefano Morello

  • Hi Sarah – this week’s readings got me thinking, again, about the difference between writing/composition here and in Europe.

    A couple of weeks ago you mentioned that “the essay, from a young age is taught as thesis-antithesis-synthesis”, making it a discursive rather than persuasive format. Instead of focusing on the dialectics/the structure…[Read more]

  • A few weeks ago I raised the question of whether the institutions could work together to improve the synergy between English departments in college and secondary education. Even though this week’s readings were s […]

    • I had a similar experience as you in the honors program here at Queens, where I was given freedom to choose my project and complete it how I saw fit. Never before had I been so engaged in my academic writing; in fact, before that, I can’t think of a single essay I wrote that I actually cared about… All I wanted was my A and to move on to the next class. I didn’t care about writing what a professor wanted to see, I wanted to write about what interested me. I think this speaks to the divide between faculty and students that you touch on in your last paragraph.

      Looking through the goals for student writing, I can’t help but wonder if we are speaking to the students, or speaking to ourselves… the goals sound straightforward enough to me now as a grad student, but I can imagine a freshman undergrad (especially those not planning on majoring in English) looking at those goals and going all glassy-eyed as they skim over it and retain nothing. Perhaps we need to rethink our learning goals in order to speak to the students–why should an economics major care about “becoming fluent with the elements of academic writing, including thesis, motive, evidence, analysis, and style?” Of course we know why that’s important, but we need to communicate that in a way that makes sense to each particular student as well. Otherwise yeah, most students are simply going to think that writing is a boring thing that they have to do in order to pass, rather than an essential skill that can aid them in many areas of life.

    • First, sorry for the late/scattered post! Second, I wanted to respond to the apprehension of student writers in the Addison and McGee article and to the idea that the writing goals are daunting to students and note that as the instructor, I saw those goals as daunting as well, and felt tremendous apprehension at being responsible for communicating those goals and translating them into classroom practices. I’m thinking that “framing writing as the final stage of a tangible process” of active/critical thinking could indeed make writing less intimidating for our students, but also for me as the instructor. Thinking of writing as the final stage of a process, or the natural extension of a process of critical thinking would potentially make writing seem more achievable to students, because rather than an entirely new skill, it would be simply a translation of a skill they’re already working hard to develop regardless of their major (I think). And it feels like it would make it more achievable to teach because it would be easier to translate, and because potentially, or ideally, students would be less resistant/apprehensive. I’ve been trying to hammer in the idea of writing as a process, but perhaps if students are thinking of critical thinking and writing as two separate processes, they’re less willing to engage fully in those processes, but thinking of those as parts of a single process might allow for more willing and devoted engagement.

  • Lots on our plate – having majored in IT in High School (yes, we pick a specialization when we are fourteen in Italy) this week’s topics particularly resonated with me.

    Let me begin by expressing my sur […]

    • Hi Stefano,
      You’ve certainly covered a lot of ground, so I’ll try to respond to a few pieces and also present a response to Gee in the form of questions–it seems like the densest and potentially most controversial reading of the week, so it makes sense to open it for more discussion.

      I, too, have struggled with blogs–this semester and other times in the past, both graded an ungraded. They seem to add a lot of unnecessary record-keeping labor rather than evaluative labor that helps students. In thinking about my syllabus for the coming semester, I’ve been considering the helpfulness of them. Reading the “samplereality” piece, I found myself agreeing that those assignments that aren’t graded are not taken seriously. (Many of my scaffolded assignments, including first drafts, are being ignored by at least 1/3 of the class.) However, this undermines my desire to have low-stakes writing in the class. I’ve certainly been pondering ways of doing both.

      I think both Selsberg and “samplereality” (I’ve printed it in such a way that there’s no author on my printout… sorry!) point to tackling different formats as a way to engage students, as you allude to in your anecdote about tweeting for class. I certainly thought the idea of writing an Amazon review—engaging the kinds of texts that students are seeing everyday, rather than just a response paper—was a great idea. That said, I have some question as to how some of these ideas are suited to 110. Perhaps the Amazon review or the rant against a character or something would be best in a literature class or creative writing. I intend to use different formats with different rhetorical strategies, just making the point about the specific suggestions from the reading.

      This leads me to a few questions I think worth discussing with regards to James Gee. If we are to understand writing, say for 110, as a semiotic domain, how helpful is it to think of rules, etc.? IT seems that that’s how the courses are already structured but some people have been struggling with that given the readings around literacy and access…. Also, something I’m interested in is the idea of the internalization of the design grammar – the thinking, acting, interacting, and valuing necessary to a domain. If we are trying to teach writing, what are these things? If we are teaching writing IN THE UNIVERSITY, does this change? How does this complicate the push to make room for other literacies, etc.? I guess I’m building on the conversation from two weeks ago…

    • Stefano, I love the idea of moving to a twitter platform for low stakes digital writing. My experience this semester has been that my students have not seen writing on their blogs as being less difficult or more relatable. I have had very little work posted on those blogs that was what I imagined: paragraph-length open reflections like the ones we are posting here. My students are either posting very brief thoughts or they are going far beyond the expectations of the blog assignment by posting almost essay-length reflections, something that is actually causing me quite a bit of stress because I think that weekly practice seems like a totally unreasonable allocation of time. My suspicion is that this is because the blog post is not actually a familiar kind of writing for these students at all: the kinds of digital writing that most people do on a regular basis includes very short, pity text, and the only other model that my students know how to access is the formal academic assignment. I would love to move to a twitter platform for all the reasons you mention, but also because I think it sounds like a fantastic way for me to focus on some sentence-level concerns throughout the semester: I would love a way to focus in on the efficiency and power of language in that isolated way. I also think it would help my students access the special attention to language they already pay when speaking in social forums (or, that I assume they must pay…I know that every time I post something online, even the smallest phrase, I go through several drafts and revisions) and transfer those skills to the writing they do for me. I’d love to talk more in practicum or outside about how that twitter project worked when you did it at the GC.

    • Hey Stefano,

      Like everyone else, I have really struggled with the blogs. One, the students struggled SO much with signing up for them in the beginning, that I feel like they have struggled to find it as a “friendly” space. I hoped that they would use the space to facilitate conversations amongst themselves, allowing us to have more fruitful conversations in class. However, if they don’t forget ot post, they don’t remember to comment. Then, it becomes a hassle to go through and grade/check for each person’s comments. I like the suggestion of Twitter a lot better. I think they might be more willing to use Twitter over the blogs, since it is a social media platform that they might be more familiar with. It could also be a great place to give feedback during class presentations/FYI activities/things of that nature. Having it be part of the class would also force students to acknowledge the importance of a more professionalized social media presence as they proceed. I wonder if there’s a way to incorporate other social media outlets into the classroom. Instagram could work really well for visual world classes, or anything image based. Maybe have a final assignment including YouTube? Something with Tumblr?

    • Picking up the thread of difficulty/confusion with blogs, I wanted to think about Mark Sample (samplereality) for a minute. My struggle with the blogs is that I’m not sure students see any connection between the work on the blogs to the work of formal assignments, and that’s definitely on me for not knowing how to articulate the connection or maybe for not building enough of a connection into the blog as an assignment. Most of them are doing the blog posts–and like Alison said, they’re either really insufficient or really really long, because it’s seemingly a foreign and strange format/genre to work in for students–but still come into class and ask “was my blog post okay?” I like the idea at the end of Sample’s post about a meta-blogging blog response, where students re-read their responses and respond to them (wow, that sentence). I really like that assignment and I’d like to integrate it into my own class blog. Maybe the problem is I didn’t fully articulate a specific pedagogical purpose for the blogs before I asked students to write them, I’m just figuring it out really slowly along the way.

  • Frankie – some comments on patch-writing:
    I do agree with Rob Jenkins’s two main points: 1) being a plagiarism detective takes away considerable time from us that could be used to improve students’ writing in more productive ways. I may have been lucky, but in neither of my classes have I yet suspected that my students were guilty of other t…[Read more]

  • Hi Nick – I agree with you – I also thought the the analogy between plagiarism and illegal file sharing was absolutely misleading. There is a huge difference between ACCESSING a text without paying for intellectual property (and the industry that sustains it) and APPROPRIATING someone else’s work – and I am sure most of us (on this side of the d…[Read more]

  • Since I began my career as a doctoral student at CUNY I have learned extensively on the history and the current state of higher education in the United States and its many contradictions. Yet, I still find it […]

    • Hey Stefano,

      You raised a lot of really great points in response to “Risky Business,” as well as some really difficult questions. While I don’t even know where to begin trying to answer those in a short blog post, I will agree with your point on the importance of reading books like The Uncommons and The Reorder of Things. On top of that, I believe it’s extremely important to integrate books (and secodnary sources) by women, people of color, and disability throughout the semester. I know from previous classes I’ve taken, often syllabi have a pretty white male focus and then at the very end have one or two token texts that are inserted for a “diverse” syllabus. I think we also need to consider what we mean by “diverse.” Often times, white women and African Americans are included on syllabi, but women of color and large groups of minorities (Asian and Native American are the first two most prominent groups of writers that come to mind) are left off. Would it be beneficial to require one class a semester that refuses to teach white male texts? Would it be important to have syllabi that are forced to include a disability perspective even if the class isn’t on disability?

      On a side note, I was also struck by “Where We Are: Disability and Accessibility” when the question was raised beyond the syllabus, and how faculty are supposed to integrate multiple perspectives beyond our own into the classroom (whether through assignments, readings, and class discussion). The article suggested some great ideas for inclusion of disability, but I wonder how we can translate that beyond disability and use it for the inclusion of multiple social and economic dynamics into the classroom.

    • I think, Stefano, that you raise a really important issue in your post about “Risky Business.” I have spent a lot of time since beginning the PhD process considering how to position myself within the English discipline and within and in relation to the increasingly corporate structures of “Western” universities. However, I also struggle with the idea of dismantling or “burning everything down,” as the radical in me once said and sometimes says. I struggle because sometimes, as the Gibson, et al and key sections of “The Risky Business” point out, it is dangerous for certain bodies to even be in the space of the university.

      While I am wary of addressing the personal, as I think discussions about diversity can bring out the marginalizing identifications in everyone in a way that defeats the purpose of the discussion, I struggled in a new way reading the two articles mentioned above. In reading the intensely personal accounts, I felt both admiration for the way in which queer women and women of color were willing to shirk conventions to invest in the imagined alternative and a kind of revulsion from certain saccharin elements in the Gibson, et al explorations of queer women’s identity in the academy. What this highlighted for me was the way in which I have very often stripped myself of identity (to the extent to which this is possible and with the acknowledgement that passing is itself a kind of oppressive privilege) before entering the classroom. That sometimes to make it as an other actually demands the over-investment in the system. To not do so is to risk accusations such as those depicted in “Risky Business.” To not do so is also to put one’s person in every sense in jeopardy of direct violence of all kinds, beyond those encountered in reading a racist or homophobic assignment. While the readings seem to address identity as an unavoidable partner in the room, there is also a sense in which it is mute. Not closeted and covered but stripped and removed—the classroom asks that it is forgotten to the point that personable chit chat with students cannot happen for fear of a slip of the tongue that opens oneself up to violence and blocks the students’ ears from what you have to teach.

  • Hi Kristi –

    I have not always been a good student, I failed the seventh grade in Junior High and up until my experience as an exchange student in the United States I had no intention whatsoever of going to college – no one among my brothers nor my twenty-five cousins had graduate college, so the thought didn’t even cross my mind until then.…[Read more]

  • Hi Sarah – I find myself on the same boat as you. We spent an entire class session doing peer review under my supervision and I invested an entire day going through their drafts one more time and providing them individualized feedback. In one of my classes, the majority of the students did not take my feedback (nor that of their peers) as s…[Read more]

  • I am a fan of having students practice both structured (or narrowed) and free-writing – the way I implemented this in my pedagogy this year is by swapping some of the required formal responses with blogposts and weekly comments on the syllabus I inherited from the English110 archive. They are required to post on the blog once per semester, and…[Read more]