Nick Earhart

  • I agree with you about the strange dynamic between gratitude and frustration. It’s been great to learn more about teaching and have a chance to work with students, but it’s troubling to think of the job as symptomatic of the administrative failings in higher education. Your point, Alex, about hourly wages is pretty thought provoking. I imagine if…[Read more]

  • As per Sarah’s comment, I was surprised at how directly the readings spoke to the focus of my response paper. Briefly, I’m considering whether creative writing and composition might offer different, but complementary, insights into our students’ aptitudes, interests, and areas of academic need. I think the idea of “inventing the unive…[Read more]

  • Given the more theoretical discussions we’ve had about orienting students to college-level writing, I appreciate the data-driven analysis in the Addison and McGee article. Still, I had problems with the terms and categories the researchers used to gather their information, specifically the concept of “deep learning.” That seems an extremely…[Read more]

  • I haven’t played video games for years, but I was pretty into them when I was younger. I definitely came up against the “grandpa” effect Gee speaks of: It was a forgone conclusion that video games were a waste of time. As a result, I don’t think I ever really considered their value as a learning tool. I’m sure I wasn’t so analytical as that—I w…[Read more]

  • In the NCTE piece, the writer quotes Michael Day of Northern Illinois University: “Many of our students are first-generation college students and are somewhat clueless about plagiarism and intellectual property i […]

    • 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 desk) are also guilty, for either financial or practical reasons, of the former, if not for leisure material, then for academic texts. (I will post more of my thoughts on this week’s topic under Frankie’s comment, even though some of it is also relevant to your blog post)

    • “For our purposes, such an approach could invite self-reflection about the meaning of intellectual property—what about it we should value and what we should consider with scrutiny”

      I’ve been wondering about this in the context of creative writing as well. Thankfully, there have been no instances of blatant plagiarism in my class, but it’s something I have thought about. In creative writing circles, it’s a bit different than academia in regards to plagiarism. Academia is clear cut–if the words or ideas didn’t originate from you, cite your source. Creative writers, on the other hand, are oftentimes encouraged to “Steal” things from other writers–writing techniques, structure, pov, tone, even the subject matter itself as a jump off point. Beginner writers, in particular, oftentimes need to borrow these elements from established authors in order to get themselves started. Of course we don’t mean to literally steal their work, but even the fact that we phrase it like that at all indicates that the line between stealing and making something your own is blurry at best. At what point does your work become your own if it was inspired by someone else? If we were to give credit to every inspiration for a piece, the works cited would be longer than the work itself.

  • Can writing be taught? It’s a cliché question that comes up often in creative-writing circles. My own answer goes like this: Writing can be caught, insofar as teaching is largely the facilitation of situations in […]

    • Thanks for this post, Nick — these are issues that I spend a lot of time thinking about, and the way you articulated your thought process here was very useful for helping me to better understand my own. Your suggestion that active attention to linguistic phenomena, and the terms we’ve invented to describe them, might be empowering for developing writers in some way is one of the things I was trying to get at in my post last week. Rather than risking a rehash of what I’ve already said, I want to just offer a little insight into the personal experiences I’ve had with that kind of instruction, which are at the root of my insistence on dealing with sentence-level issues when I teach.

      When I think back on my own development as a writer, several phases of my career stand out in my mind as moments of both frustration with issues of grammar and also rapid progress. As a student, I had never been particularly interested in improving my sentence structures because I had the privileged position of coming from a family of lawyers, whose precise, “standard” use of language was a fundamental aspect of their ability to successfully operate in a system built on formal rhetoric. So, my grammar had always been acceptable to my teachers — I was totally comfortable with what I considered my mastery of those structures and was fairly uninterested in looking further at how I was building my sentences on an individual level because of that comfort.

      However, the times when I did pay attention to grammar, I was doing so in an extremely defensive way. I was always totally frustrated when teachers marked grammatical issues in my paper that were more complex than matters of “correct”/”incorrect” usage. So, Nick, I’m glad you brought up the active/passive voice issue. As an undergrad, I was extremely irritated every time a professor marked a use of passive voice on my papers because, according to what I knew about passive structures at the time, there was nothing actually incorrect about them, and no one had taken the time to explain to me the basis of a preference for the active voice — it felt like a totally arbitrary, nitpicky, individual-preference kind of complaint, and I was annoyed that I was being asked to pay attention to it rather than the ideas I was trying to convey. (I was also annoyed in a very nerdy way that I was being deemed deficient for something that no one could tell me was WRONG.) There were several other grammatical points that I had this experience with during my undergrad career, but I’ll limit to this one for our purposes.

      However, during my time in my Master’s program, I had several professors who were quite interested in sentence-level structures, and who took much more time than I had ever experienced before to address them, explain their functions, and enforce our practice of them. I’ve chosen passive/active voice as my example here because it was a sort of maniacal focus of one of these professors. I was prepared to hate that class because of it, and many people did, but my actual experience was much different than I expected. Because this professor had approached his instruction from a rhetorical standpoint (Look how much more clear and impactful this sentence is in the active voice! Look at how I’m forced to choose better verbs! Look at how I’ve cut out all of this empty roundabout language that got in the reader’s way!), I found myself being forced to pay attention to what my sentences were doing in a way that I had never done before. I think this was especially the case because a preference for the active voice is totally about the judgment of effectiveness rather than right/wrong, so I did feel empowered to ask myself critically whether or not I considered my sentences to be as effective as they could be, and to make an informed choice about whether or not a grammatical mutation would help. I don’t think before that time that I’d ever thought of my grammar as a tool for conveying meaning.

      These kinds of experiences opened up a new level of inquiry for me. They helped to move me past a desire to express my thoughts to a deeper consideration of how my thoughts were being conveyed and received, and that questioning in turn forced me to more carefully and recursively consider how I had constructed my thoughts in the first place. I’m aware that this narrative is very particular to someone with a socioeconomically privileged background, but I do think that if we don’t give our students tools to interrogate their sentences with, then we’re depriving them of instruction in an important part of their thinking processes.

    • 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 or how I feel writing should be taught.
      Grammar is a life long struggle, and I think it’s something that you conquer over time. A lot of my students don’t understand some concepts of grammar, but they are still able to have these elevated thoughts, especially in group discussion. And I wonder if we teach them to think and then write, it would be more beneficial. Something I’m trying with a few of my students right now is to have them think because they have great ideas when they’re just talking to me and lose it on paper as they try to write in the proper form. As they’re thinking, they write as they talk and not focus on grammar; then, I want them to go back and try to edit it. It’s really working well for one of my students. She has to do a lot more leg-work, but I don’t think her inability to understand grammar rules is affecting her ability to think. It’s affecting her ability to express her thoughts in the standard way on paper.

      On the hand, I wonder if Micchie is right and if my student had been taught rhetorical grammar early on, if she would struggle less, allowing her to focus more on developing the thought. I see that side of the argument, which is why I try to teach, and comment, on some of the aspects Evans suggests. However, I worry that linking grammar and thinking can be a very exclusive ideology.

    • I think you’ve both identified in yourselves and in a broader context the resistance to grammar instruction or correction, also highlighted in the readings. However, Allison, you make and have been making a really relevant point, that I think Micciche also makes — that teaching grammar and sentence construction is foundation to teaching clarity of logic and thought. While I strongly agree with that point, I’ve struggled to find a way to teach that in a classroom context (as opposed to a conference context). Moreover, I’ve also been fighting the pedantic and sometimes orthodox side of myself that comes out as editor/teacher. (This despite my own play with grammatical structure in my writing, particularly the pointed use of fragments and repetition.) For that reason, I found two things really key this week in the readings: first, the necessity of framing “Standard” English as a dialect no better than others but contextually necessary, and second, the commonplace book exercise in Micciche.

      Beginning in structurally incorrect order, I was drawn to the permission to get personal in the Micciche exercise. This past week, as I introduced the third essay, the research essay, my students were palpably invigorated at being able to choose their own topic. Writing about something one like makes all the difference. Thus, students choosing their own passages seems to somehow cut the dryness of thinking about grammar and rhetorical moves. I am definitely stealing this at some point.

      In terms of the notion of dialect, Allison, you make it really apparent in your post your awareness of your ability as a kind of fluency in a dialect. That is likely to your students’ benefit! That said, I was left wondering after the Blaauw-Hara reading exactly HOW we can go about making that clear. HOW do we continue to contextualize instruction in said dialect rather than just saying it early on in the semester? What tangible exercises can we imagine to work both with a more common vernacular or specific dialects of our students ALONGSIDE the “Standard”? I’d really love to think about this tangibly as we begin to imagine our revisions of our syllabi.

  • I’m a “commenter” not a “poster” this week, but being in an MFA program and having spent the last couple of years off and on thinking about the ethics of “creative writing,” I’d like to address Renee Delong’s […]

    • I took issue with DeLong’s piece. Not because systemic racism can’t or doesn’t affect creative writing, but because she never presents her argument. She says: “At another institution I saw how the energy given to the creative writing program contributed to and stemmed from the race-blindness of the faculty members in the English department,” but she never actually gives any examples. Is the creative writing faculty mostly (or only) white men? Are the readings inappropriate? Or is she arguing that the funds could be better spent (as Nick suggested)?

      I do agree with her comment on race-blindness generally, as it is something I personally have to struggle to overcome (I’m half Latino but don’t look it, so for all intents and purposes I’m a white male). Still, why is creative writing being singled out here? In my experience, creative writing is the closest we come to a level playing field in all of academia. I can’t speak for other schools or programs, but the creative writing program here at QC is about as diverse as it gets (teaching staff, readings, class make-up). Then again, maybe I’m overestimating the inclusivity of the field due to the aforementioned race-blindness.

      I guess my point is that it’s not useful to simply say that there is a problem without delving into what, specifically, the problem is. Obviously DeLong did go into specifics in the actual meeting she had, but we don’t get any of that so I’m not quite sure what to make of it.

  • I’m glad you brought up the money issue, since it seems so significant to the adjunct experience. I’m in grad school and have committed this year to simply learning the ropes, so at the moment I’m fine with putting in extra effort, experimenting trial-and-error on different types of evaluation. However, I can already sense the frustration of the…[Read more]

  • Teaching creative writing, and emphasizing revision, I have also wondered what this process entails. I appreciate your anecdote, Giselle, about your recent poem, because it highlights the quality of chance involved in giving feedback—especially for assignments, as with poems, where the “criteria” is less than clear. This weekend I finally t…[Read more]

  • I’m interested in the idea of “life skills,” especially in terms of how we frame the academic experience. In the case of Gaipa last week, the aim seemed to be to draw students into scholarship—to demonstrate that the classroom is part of the real world and that ideas are interconnected. In Sarah’s post, meanwhile, there’s the question of how t…[Read more]