• Thanks everyone for your extremely thoughtful comments, and I agree with what everyone seems to agree. We’re expected to do too much for too little pay. And, I appreciate Sophie bringing in gender into the equation because it is an important thing to note.

    I also wonder how much we need to also turn to the students for decreasing our labor.…[Read more]

  • Hey guys,

    You need to have Illuminae finished on Wednesday, so I want you to read at least half of it for Monday.  I’m not going to give you a specific page (but you should read around 150+ minimum).  You don […]

  • Hey guys,

    You need to have Illuminae finished on Wednesday, so I want you to read at least half of it for Monday.  I’m not going to give you a specific page (but you should read around 150+ minimum).  You don […]

  • Hey Sarah,

    I’m really glad you raised the point. These articles work to situate composition in the rich (and sometimes interesting) history of its function in the American university. However, I struggled with these articles in a similar way that you have; while the history can’t be ignored, it can’t be considered accurate for the current…[Read more]

  • Hey Giselle,

    I’m glad you posted about the high school classroom, especially the standardized tests that students have to pass. Reading over the core curriculum, it seems that if students are meeting these writing goals by their senior year, they should be having no issues in freshman composition. As we have talked about throughout the entire…[Read more]

  • After class, I remember a game my friend who teaches high school uses all the time. Kahoot allows you to create an online quiz, and when you hit play, it gives you a code that people can enter to play.  So, th […]

  • 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…[Read more]

  • Plagiarism has been on my mind a lot recently. As I grade, I find that most of my students are plagiarizing, and they don’t even realize they are doing it. Quoting the source isn’t the problem. The problem com […]

    • For me anyway, I find that approaching this topic from the angle of plagiarism and punishment is a bit backwards — not necessarily in a pejorative sense, but in the sense of a reversal. In the same way that we teach methods of constructing an argument as opposed to warning against ineffective structures, or we (hopefully) teach ways to make language clearer and more precise as opposed to harping on what “bad” sentences look like, it seems to me that we should be approaching this topic from the perspective of how academic arguments should be built in the first place, as extensions of other people’s ideas, rather than from a place of assumption that they’ll do it wrong. I know that when I talk to my students, I try to make them see that most arguments are not spinning a whole set of ideas from scratch, but are rather painting a picture of an intellectual pyramid that’s already in place and then placing one or two bricks on top of it. My hope is that this kind of strategy allows them to see that, not only is taking other people’s ideas unacceptable, but, more importantly, it is counterproductive: by leaving out a documentation of the reading they’ve done, they’re shortchanging themselves by making it look as though they aren’t aware of the writing that’s already out there (which they clearly are, because they’re pulling from it). I also hope that it relieves them of some of the pressure of trying to come up with five pages worth of brilliant, original insights, so that they can lean a little more on the work done by others and make one additional point really thoroughly. I also try to have very pragmatic conversations with them about why academics (professors) care so much about citation (because their livelihoods are based in their intellectual property, etc.).

  • I’m glad you posted on Micchie because I really struggled with the idea that rhetorical grammar leads to thinking, and I understand the argument that teaching someone to build the grammar through sentences and paragraphs is similar to teaching them how to build thought. Hower, I struggle with this approach because it’s not how I learned to write…[Read more]

  • 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…[Read more]

  • I struggled with Elbow’s piece because, for me, ranking is necessary in the world we live in. Like Elbow points out, we are expected (at least at Queens) to produce some form of ranked grade at the end of the s […]

    • 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. One year into my undergraduate studies, I had only taken two exams (the equivalent of one class per semester in the U.S. system) and was still what educators like to call a student whose attitude gets in the way of his potential. I opened my comment on an autobiographical (and seemingly unrelated) note just to contextualize how coming from an anti-authoritative position determines how I situate myself in relation to the power that we are accorded simply for being “on the other side of the desk” – the same power that allow us to rank/evaluate. What was particularly surprising for my teachers, especially in high school, was how, despite my negative attitude, I would be succeeding/failing in subjects belonging to the same realm (literature/history, chemistry/physics). What often determined my successes/failures was indeed how I felt treated by the human being on the other of the desk. For most of my career as a student (twenty-two years… have I really been in school for that long already?) I have tended to work better with teachers and professors who expected me to succeed, rather than fail. They would pass this up not only in their attitude towards me in class (yes, I was a punk and a brat), but also in the way they graded my work – after receiving a good grade, I would give the subject and my assignments more consideration, because I did not want to let the professor/teacher down nor prove him wrong. In reading Elbow’s essay, I was reminded of all this and more. The first time I read the article I thought I kind of lost him in his reasoning for “liking”, but upon a re-read with my own experience in mind it all made perfect sense.

      Furthermore, we should keep in mind the peculiarity of the subject we are teaching – as much as academic writing is a more regulated form of writing, our students’ different backgrounds, experiences and sensibilities still have a huge impact on their performances on paper, and cannot expect cookie-cutter work from them. There are some technical aspects of their writing that we can (almost) be objectively evaluate as right/wrong (e.g. tone, style, how a quote should be selected/introduced, how to mention sources according to MLA, etc.), but there are also so many other aspects upon which we can only assert relative influence in the short time they are exposed to our teachings. Some of the most brilliant ideas that emerge during class discussion come from students who are not able to express them with the same eloquence on paper – and yes, it is our job to give them the tool to improve, but my impression is that there is only so much we can do in a semester – and what we can actually do (providing them the tool) represents only the first step towards a wiring/re-wiring of the synapses that are impacted during the act of writing, a perpetual and lifelong process for every writer.

      In terms of grade inflation – I plead guilty, but at the same time I justify myself with the same criteria that Elbow uses (and have done so since the beginning of the term, before I read his article). I also have a contract with my students – as long as they do the work and show their involvement in the work we do in class and that they do at home, they will pass my class with a grade of C (most likely B, actually) or above. I only gave a few Cs in each of my classes so far, and it was mostly students who did NOT revise a single word in their essays even though they received peer review and detailed comments from me – and even in those cases, I have to admit that I was probably influenced by hearing so much about “grade inflation” from fellow instructors – reading Elbow’s essay makes me feel more confident in my position towards grading.

  • I agree with Alison; asking students to throw something out completely is idealistic on our part. They’re never going to do it, and I feel like telling them to would overwhelm them. Because they are so new to writing, having them throw something out that they worked hard on would break their confidence in themselves. Maybe it would be more…[Read more]

  • I agree. I definitely struggled with the idea of the exceptional student. Take the video we watched. The idea of having them turn in the paper and then a week later make them do in class revisions and have them edit it is great, but super unrealistic. Workshopping is becoming unrealistic for me. I guess after grading my first batch of essays;…[Read more]

  • As I was reading these articles, I really struggled with Bean’s resistance against the “generic” essay topic. In the beginning, Bean claims that “because the traditional term paper assignment does not guide s […]

    • 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 have the chance to select between two prompts when they are posting, but the structure of their entries is completely up to them, and the comments (required once a week, and ought to be at least five sentences long) can engage with the entries in any way.
      The reason I came up with this is to sort of counterbalance their exposure to overtly-structured writing that characterizes the classroom discourse (such as when we talk about models of argumentation, or when we read texts such as They Say/I Say) and to make them understand that those are just some of the ways in which things can be done, certainly not the only way. I agree with Beams when he claims that writing instructors can influence the way students develop their critical thinking: we certainly do not want our students to develop overtly-rigid pattern of thinking, thus I always make sure to tell my students to be sure to find their own voice and not be restrained by the templates some of the texts suggest or the constraints of the assignments (e.g. the topic of my class is Celebrity Culture, and one of my students decided to write about how his biggest inspiration in life has always come from people in his family, rather than through para-social relationship. The first formal essay required to explain one’s moment of fandom through one of the theories discussed in the previous week, I thus encouraged him to write about how idolizing a family member differs from idolizing a celebrity)

      My bottomline is that templates and narrowed writing assignments are a good jump start for those students whose writing lacks structure and have trouble developing coherent arguments because of that. The idea is “start with this, then as they get more confident and better acquainted with the tools, both the assignments and the structure of their writing can become more unrestrained and leave more room for their creativity.”

    • I tend to agree with you, Kristi, that it’s super important to help students develop the ability to find their own avenues in this kind of writing, and my assignments are usually quite open-ended. I wanted to just write a bit about my experience, this semester, of assigning the most closed essay topic I ever have before. I did this not because I had some revelation about my practice of assigning open-ended papers, but because it was built into the pre-made syllabus I’m using. The first unit of this syllabus is largely about reading/understanding/interrogating difficult texts, and so the first essay asked students to all do the exact same thing: compare the assumptions and motivations behind three different pieces on the concept of “cultural literacy” that we had all read in class.

      In some ways, I really dislike this assignment because of its narrowness. It’s very obvious which of my students find this topic interesting and which don’t, because those who don’t are spitting back rehearsed versions of the kinds of things I was saying to the group over the course of the last few weeks, despite all my attempts to push them past this. However, there were some really great things about it as well. Because we had worked through all of these texts together and had teased out some of their more complex issues, I had some students who pursued much more complex theses than I can usually expect at this point in the semester. Also, though I still feel some resistance toward making students write about a particular set of texts, there was a distinct advantage here in that all of my students have now had the experience of writing on three texts that actually speak to one another. Often, I find that when I assign papers that require a synthesis of texts, my students pick things that either have no conflict among their perspectives, or that aren’t really engaging in the same kind of conversation. Though I do not dismiss either type of research, it’s vital to academic work that the writer knows how to navigate a preexisting dialogue, and I’ve found it difficult in the past to guide students toward these kinds of conversations when they are all pursuing such varied topics. By initiating them with this curated conversation, I think (hope) they’ll be able to take those skills into their own, open-ended research later in the semester. So, I think in that way the narrow assignment provided something I haven’t had before in directing the efforts of this initial attempt. I wouldn’t have a topic so narrow more than once in the semester, but I might think about doing something like this again as an early project.

    • Response to Kristi
      It seems that Kristi prefers a broader approach when assigning writing and reading topics. Perhaps, this is true because of the kind of person (not just teacher) that she is. From her class comments, it is understood that she includes a variety of media in her classes’ studies. Obviously, this shows her versatility. And, yes, this does reflect on her students and their independence and capabilities. Probably, they feel confident to go with their analytic instincts as they write. Still, the value of formative assessment is the opportunity for the teacher to check in that the student is not faltering in his or her process. (This simply can be circulating, as students write / discuss or, less intrusively, trying the exit slip.) When students have trouble, it is important to individualize instruction. This might require helping the student to narrow the scope of the topic and providing additional structure.
      Here, I feel the need to reflect on my own freshman 110, 25 page research paper. Not knowing the direction of my academic life at that time, I still remember my exuberance (and anxiety) at the prospect of such a daunting task. I knew that the controversial issue of abortion interested me. Also, I knew that I wanted to know how the experience of abortion was perceived by a woman. Ultimately, my thesis became something to the effect of some women are minimally or negligibly affected by having an abortion, while others are distressed by the experience. I still marvel at my teacher’s ability to get me through the back and forth process of brainstorming, freewriting, researching, (critically-minded) thesis writing, arguing, outlining, using evidence, drafting, peer-reviewing, and revising. (This is how we teachers scaffold and/ or stagger instruction.) Miraculously, this teacher juggled the balance, allowing my broad search but got me to a place of narrow thesis focus and, subsequent, development.

    • I also feel a bit conflicted with regards to narrow vs broad assignments. In my undergrad career, I encountered mostly structured writing assignments. These assignments definitely helped me to become a better writer, but at the same time, I really didn’t care about most of them. It wasn’t until the honors seminar where I was truly given free reign to choose my topic that I really felt invested in my writing. I agree with Stefano that structured assignments and in-class writing are probably beneficial for newer students at first so they can get their feet under them, and then increasing the flexibility of the assignment as the semester progresses. This also applies to creative writing: for my class I decided to let my students write about whatever they want and in whatever form they want. I feel like creative writing, in particular, calls for more freedom in assigned writing. I do, however, lead lower-stakes in-class writing that is more structured, either around certain themes, or around certain techniques seen in readings. This way they get to practice with a specific goal in mind, which helps students to avoid “writers block.” So, yeah, I agree that broader assignments are the way to go in the end, but structured assignments have their place as well.

    • It seems like Kristi’s post and the comments here, as well as lots of the other conversations on the blog, are getting at the need for balance. There’s a need to balance narrow and open topics, and reflective/personal writing with academic writing. Like others, I’m trying to integrate these things and balance reflective writing with more structured writing, and open topics with narrow ones, by using in-class writing as an opportunity for open freewriting whereas the essays are structured and academic. The essays, which were built into the syllabus I inherited, are formal, academic assignments with varying levels of broadness–none propose a thesis to prove or disprove, but all require students to focus their attention on a particular topic within the readings. I’m not the biggest fan of even that level of narrowed focus and know my students are finding other worthwhile ideas in the readings, but I understand that, especially earlier in the semester, allowing students to come up with their own arguments on a specified, somewhat narrow topic can be valuable for the students who need some kind of structure to work within, and it can also be helpful, like one of the readings suggested (I think Bean? I can’t find it now), for the instructor, who has less pressure to provide super specific, one-on-one attention to 20 different paper topics.

  • Compare and contrast the music video “performances,” especially Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s to the orchestra performance, with an emphasis on the orchestra.  Analyze and argue for a specifc point of view; treat this […]

  • Compare and contrast the music video “performances,” especially Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s to the orchestra performance, with an emphasis on the orchestra.  Analyze and argue for a specifc point of view; treat this […]