Monthly Archives: April 2019

The Wormhole

So, the main thing on my mind recently has been reading and research and how students aren’t really doing it. Like I said, I gave reading quizzes in 1101, which increased the amount of reading students were doing (I asked.) But it also increased the amount of resentment the students felt toward that reading (I asked that question too.)

I asked them what they like to read. They said, “things that are interesting.” I said, “what’s interesting?” They said, “things that aren’t boring.” I said, “what’s not boring?” They said, “things that are interesting.” I told them that studies have been done and only two things are universally interesting: murder and sex. But other than that, “interest” is in the eye of the beholder. But, when pressed, they finally told me that almost down the line they were ALL interested, not by topic, but by writers they felt were talking TO them. Writers who, we might say, are writing in the vernacular.

What in the hell does this have to do with units two and three? Well, I think the key to how to teach these units and how to answer the reading question (and how to answer the problem of surface research) are perhaps all linked, but I haven’t been able to fully flesh it out yet. That is this:

Unit One would be a literacy narrative as I taught it in 1121 this semester. That is, they write their education narratives, but they follow them up with group projects in which they research some issue that affects everyone in their group (how do family problems affect school learning? how does education differ for second language learners? how does high stakes testing impact learning?)  This way, research is seen as personal and social. And reading is not a chore so much as a way of finding things out.

Unit Two (and here I flounder) is a unit in which students find a topic about which they are curious. Something they’re dying to know. How do I get them to that question? (That’s my question. And my brain isn’t quite there yet. I’m sorry.) But I see the culminating project of unit two as sort of a lit review, but more than that– that is, an evaluation and accumulation of sources. Perhaps it includes: an interview, an evaluation of a scholarly source, an evaluation of a popular source (formal– like the NYT) and a popular source (informal– like youtube). I’m not sure if this is enough though. I want them to TRAVEL DOWN A RESEARCH WORMHOLE.

Honestly, maybe this is a project that begins with Wikipedia and travels down a wormhole. Like, start with Wikipedia, link to another article, do an interview, find a comic, find a scholarly article. The final product for this unit is an informational booklet or a website– just evaluating these sources. The Wikipedia Wormhole Project. 

Unit Three: Still noodling on this, and honestly I probably will not be able to think it through by tomorrow because I have a big meeting with my chair and these ideas about research and literacy are THE BIGGEST THINGS ON MY MIND but the plan is that they take all those sources and that information and they make something with it. But what? But how?

Thank you for your time and attention.

Penn State Learning and Tutoring

Feel free to delete this post, cohort, but I find myself with access to some nifty tutoring and writing resources at Penn State University. I am here for Spring Break, but PSU is in finals, and these joints are hopping. So just briefly, travel around with me! I am on my cell phone and want to share my geeky foray:

During high stress times, the Library offers tutoring services in spare rooms. This one was a “write in” event and came fully catered.

Tutors sit at informal stations, and there is room for people to work in a quiet group space on their own/while they are waiting.

Better, still, are the stand-alone centers. This is PSL (Penn State Learning), one of the three walk-in tutoring facilities on campus.

Kids sign in by computer and enter the class assiciated with the tutoring they want to receive.

They enter an area with cushy couches and small tables with signs saying things like “Japanese Tutoring” as though they were at a self-service restaurant. There are lots of electrical outlets for computer charging while kids wait for their tutor to be free. Clusters of kids form around a peer tutor, “Meetup” style, and the group shares q and a. 

A central hub area with a sleepy workstudy student keeps students directed to where to sit/wait. A screen displays how long a wait there is for a tutor listed by subject area. 

Vibe: Freeform energy within controlled, respectful, clean environment (well controlled chaos).

Like a hushed restaurant where the “service” is tutoring and the “menu” is academic subjects. 

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In Praise of the Unheralded

Too much of what goes on around the teaching profession these days seems designed to undermine the confidence and effectiveness of teachers. I know, it’s not meant that way, not really. But low pay, false narratives about “failing” schools, imposed methodologies and mythical “outcomes,” the quantification of assessment, and the fallacious idea that “anyone can do it” (backed by training programs claiming a few weeks preparation is enough before entering the classroom) tell us otherwise.

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6th PD Seminar Agenda & Homework for 7th Meeting


Thanks everyone for another productive meeting yesterday! I have grown very fond of our group! Please post reflections on yesterday’s meeting in the comments section to this post.

Next Meeting

Please write a new post where you sketch out how you might approach teaching a Rhetorical Genre Analysis unit and the third project, the Genre Project or the Multigenre project. We’ll discuss these when we reconvene. Use the links below for help.


  1. Discuss information sessions / email to part-timers
  2. Montclair State visit May 3 or 6
  3. Textbooks/OER
  4. Potential list of faculty.
  5. What’s on your mind. Round Robin.
  6. Discussion
  7. If we begin with comp 1 as having three major project, the Lit Narrative, the Rhetorical Genre Analysis, and the Genre Project or the multi genre project.

RGA Sample Assignments

  1. Genre and Music
  2. Discipline Specific RGA

Multigenre Project/Genre project Samples

  1. Multigenre Template
  2. Multigenre Research Project overview

Sample Student Products

  1. Prezi RGA

Ellen Carillo links

Since we all seem to be talking about reading in general, and Ellen Carillo in particular, I found the links to pdfs of two of her things: A Writer’s Guide to Mindful Reading (book) and “Creating Mindful Readers” (article).

Update: This is Robert hijacking Jackie’s post (you can do this as admin!!). Let me also add Carillo’s “Navigating the Storm,” a piece about reading in the age of fake news.


Apollo 13 Service Module

Are We Spiraling Away?

“Houston, we have a problem.”

And I don’t think it can be solved by improvisation or instruction from base.

The students coming into City Tech (and, I am sure, most other American colleges) have been ill-used by a secondary-education structure and by a society that cares for surfaces, not depth–and they have been overwhelmed by information technologies that make command of even a simple issue complex. Their response (a learned response, fostered by formula writing and high-stakes tests) has been to narrow their focus, to write by rote, imitation and routinized incorporation of external information. Their response has been to prepare for writing by skimming, by glancing through pages of links to information and then scanning one or two for something they could pull out and into their papers.

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My Teaching, in the Form of an Annotated Bibliography

To preface this post with some explanation, this term I have tried out an Annotated Bibliography assignment that I got from a colleague at Baruch who adapted this from an assignment at John Jay. When I get back to my computer, I’ll try to upload/paste in the example “RefAnnBib.”


It’s merely an example, with no explanation, but my students have largely been massively successful with actually using it to look at how they might use a particular source in building their arguments. It’s a funny academic process genre (and very similar Jackie I think to your source rhetorical analysis!) but I’m proposing that the audience is their fellow group members and today, students’  Annotated Bibliographies (of just two entries each) became the basis for some really good group discussions about ideas.

I was having a kind of “dark night of my soul” week or two of teaching, so I’m celebrating by putting my thoughts into the form of a “RefAnnBib.” Thanks for humoring me!

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The Terrible, Horrible, No Good….

This has been one tough semester for a couple of teaching reasons. One is just my 1101 class itself; I’ve complained enough about them but Robert suggested I find some of the work people are doing about the rhetoric of silence, which has now become my favorite new feminist schtick — how to turn passive-aggressive into transgressive.

But that’s a digression. The students have actually begun to do some good work on their Inquiry projects. Their Literature Reviews are due Friday: citation plus mini-rhetorical analysis on their most interesting sources, which was a compromise on my part — I wanted a list of everything they looked at, cited or not, along with a brief rhetorical analysis so they (and I) could analyze them as a whole. Yes, that sounds like an annotated bibliography, but it’s done with a set of questions about rhetorical situational analysis. While my students are still a bit befuddled with the “don’t give me a book report” approach of “Start with questions, not with answers that you’re trying to defend,” some of what they’re turning up has been surprising them, especially since a rhetorical analysis requires them to think specifically about who the rhetor is and what the larger context is, something most of them have been able to avoid so far in “research papers.” So I consider that a win on a lot of levels.

The other issue I’ve had is that, like Carrie, I’m tackling 1101 and not 1121 (although she has both), so I’ve had to try to filter the assignments through a first-term lens. My students are with a couple of exceptions very young, right out of high school, and stuck in that liminal space between two modes of existence. Liminality is, in my opinion, usually a good thing because it means anything goes, at least to a certain extent, but it can be terribly confusing. [In a way, I think we’re all in a bit of a liminal space as we go through this “experimental” experience, examining the old assignments and activities and approaches in light of wanting to teach more for transfer and about writing.]

So in some ways,  I feel like the first half of the course was, if not wasted, then at least a churning mess with silent students not giving me any feedback (and my having to drag work out of them) and me tap dancing around the course materials. Early this week I was, in fact, questioning both my own sanity and my ability to teach (which seems to happen every term for the past however-many-years I’ve been teaching). But after a couple of conversations, I feel like I may have finally gotten a handle on at least the inquiry/genre assignment, as I mentioned above. And, of course, that’s as we’re now going to be re-arranging things in both 1101 and 1121 for the Fall, which is typical, I suppose.

At any rate, I’ve requested an 1121 class for the Fall to go along with my Learning Community 1101 (which is a whole other issue: how do we do our new curriculum and still do what we’re expected to do for FYLC?), so I’m hoping to get more clarity as we go toward the end of this PD and set up for next year. My real bottom line is that I feel supported in my quest to teach a composition class that’s actually about writing, something I’ve generally had to do under the radar up to now, and that’s a wonderful feeling, liminal dislocation and all.

Where we are….

I think what has worked well so far is my consistently reminding myself and students that we are part of an experiment or even, perhaps, a kind of a “work in progress”.  Also, I must say, students seem to like this because they feel as though our shared experience is going to matter for others in the future too–that truly feels awesome in many ways!  I guess this is comforting when I feel as though I have to “re-do”, adjust, re-invision, re-organize, etc, etc, more than I normally do in my classes.  Of course there is always some of that in all teaching, but often I already know where I am so to speak or at least, have swam those waters more times, all having been mapped out many times… whereas here, I knew that I would be changing, shifting, etc., as we go and of course, this can feel a bit dizzying at times.  So, I think it has helped me to remember that this is all part of the process of piloting anything….

The same “things” work that always work–meaning that how to have students feel invested, find their openings so to speak, get involved, move somewhere, is not so greatly different.  I think the challenge is for me to have had time to first really slowly think through some of the larger assignments–genre/inquiry assignment for example.  I think that was the most challenging, to feel as though there wasn’t enough time for me to really work through some of these unit goals before putting them into practice….  I am happy to find though that students are excited to work on genres that they are interested in—that they can go into so many spaces is what I think is, so far, making the genre project feel positive–I was worried for some reason that it would seem overwhelming–I guess I had been projecting–but, instead, this unit is really allowing students to think about and research ideas, works, etc., that they might normally have not had the opportunity to do.  Thanks to Robert for his help here–that too is another fun part of all of this and one that we are not normally doing quite so much, simply due to lack of time I suppose—the collaborative work here I think is lucky and I appreciate not feeling as though (sometimes) we are just teaching in our bubbles…

Another thing that I do feel is working well are the meta moments–these writing reflections so far are really great–I just have to also be sure to find a way to bring those reflections into reading moments–because I do feel it is important to think about how our reading is also a part of all of this–so, point being, I think I would like to include some reflections on what happens when we read different genres etc, linking this too to rhetorical appeals/rhetorical situation….So, I would like to be able to bring in their reading too or more somehow–this also is crucial I think (thinking too about Carillo’s talk) because many struggle with how to read closely, carefully, and some resist the importance of annotation….I will think more about this as I have them reflect after various steps in the genre project….


So far, so…good

I’m more pleased than I was in, say, February. I know that I am struggling, but I also “get” the whole Rhet Comp approach way more than I did, which is to say, not a ton, but more, and I am liking what I am learning. Now, I see everything as rhetorical. It’s freaky, actually.

Genre has been interesting and has yielded some Good Writing. Nuts sitting in the back of the room in one of my sections have started to crack. A couple of audible gasps were emitted at various points when we read something so seamless we couldn’t tell “real” from “Memorex.” I feel the semester dribbling away time wise, though. My own learning curve happens along with theirs, and if I am to budget time well I need to be ahead of them, not with them. Translation: No time to finish genre analysis properly — heck, I did the thing backwards, making them write first and analyze second. I am now using the genre as a natural stepping stone to Inquiry. So far, it’s working. I am using a Graff, TheySay/ISay kind of approach. I have budgeted almost no time for multi modal. And, um, I am not sure how to explain to them exactly what goes into Unit 5.

Now that I write this, I guess things are pretty haywire. But.

On various micro levels, during those quick-to-pass discussion moments, metacognition and writing-as-process and writing we are doing about writing are fusing and the class jumps to a Level of Awareness way higher than you would expect from Comp 1. So hey  ILive in the moment. And I feel that we are all doing something right.

I’m learning a lot from the example assignments you are all giving sharing during our PD and I thank you. I am a quick and early adopter.

I am also using some of the Reading awareness (reading as “invisible,” making it visible) I gleaned from Eileen Carillo (from the Summit last week). I am trying to make more transparent why I am assigning a reading.

Overall I still struggle with Reward — how to reward the students for making the kinds of linguistic moves I think are productive and trying to square that with what I think my Dept is expecting me to reward. But now maybe less so.