For next week (March 9 and 12)


Please read the excerpt from Voices of the Self  (below.) Please note that Gilyard is now a highly esteemed professor at Penn State. This excerpt comes from a book in which every other chapter is a narrative account of his educational experiences (as this is.) The alternating chapters are scholarly writing about literacy education for African American students, using his own experience as example.

If you have not read it yet, please take a look at “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan HERE

Before next week’s meeting, please also post your end comment on the student essay we reviewed in class as a comment on this post (just click “comment.”) Remember that in Minimal Marking, we usually keep it to 1-2 paragraphs. We write first what the student is doing well, and then we write what we (as a reader) feel like the essay is lacking– where could they improve– in this case, focus on a larger, global concern like organization or providing evidence. Finally, you can choose ONE (at most two) sentence-level concerns you’d like the student to focus on.  Make sure you provide them resources to research this concern on their own! 

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10 thoughts on “For next week (March 9 and 12)

  1. Josh Borja

    Hi Auhsoj,

    Thank you for sharing your draft! From the very beginning of the essay, you create specific, vivid images and situations for the reader to follow. I felt also that you (the writer and the narrator) wrote to the reader with a powerful, compelling tone. For example, I was surprised and engaged by your use of the second person, which you use to acknowledge and even suspect the reader in an effective way (“You’re probably wondering if my brother’s experiences influenced me to be in the streets.”) From this opening, I learn that you would like the reader to understand something but that you suspect they might be coming in with misunderstandings or misconceptions.

    As you move forward with the draft, I recommend that you explain what you would really like the reader to learn from all these vivid details. Though the details are specific, I wasn’t confident that I understood what your most important point or reason was for writing this text. Perhaps linger on each moment in your draft and ask yourself, “What does this moment tell the reader about my own experience or about my discourse community?” By asking this, you’re challenging yourself to expand the paper, to tell the reader how each detail contributes to one bigger picture, and perhaps even to reorganize the information into several paragraphs.

    I hope this helps!
    Professor Josh

    1. Carrie Hall Post author

      Josh, this is really good. The only thing I might add is a LITTLE bit more direction of how the writer could focus their writing– it’s likely he doesn’t know how to do that. I might say something like: “You talk a lot about the danger of the streets, even just in passing, and the strengths and costs that come from this fight for survival really stand out to me as I read this. I think you can bring this to the forefront of your story, not necessarily by making absolute statements about violence (there is strength in your understatement of the threats surrounding you) but by organizing your paragraphs more. I’m not insisting you write about survival here, but suggesting that you find some more focus– who do you want your audience to be– and what do you want them to know?”

      I do think you might also send the writer somewhere (the Purdue OWL, Sherman Alexie’s writing on paragraphs) to learn HOW to separate into paragraphs. I don’t think we can assume he knows how.

  2. Julia Ait-ziane

    There were several things that stood out to me as I read this working draft. Your three sentences “I’m at a family function….could always be worse” set the table for me, so to speak. I started off in a specific place with you and specific people. I could imagine that I was part of the conversation. There were places where you wrote a long sentence, followed by a short sentence. It was as if you wanted the reader to pay more attention to the short sentence. I’ve marked a few on your paper. Those places really stood out to me. I liked the conversational tone of the piece. It was intimate. Finally, you mention the word “three” a few times. I felt like it meant something to you, so it meant something to me.
    As far as where to go with this essay next, I would encourage you to think about the fact that the reader might need a break, so to speak, from the blocks of text that are on the page. It seems like there is a break before the line about leaving the building. Perhaps the breaks need to move geographically with you: I’m at the table with my family, I’m leaving the apartment, etc. That’s one possible way to break up this essay. You could also try to group like things together: the grade school stuff is one block, your family background is another. I encourage you to use that great technique used at the beginning of the essay or check out the Writer Center page at Hunter College for other suggestions. This was really good work. Overall, it communicated ideas and provoked an emotional response in me.

  3. Amity Nathaniel

    Hi [Student],

    This is a very powerful essay with very vivid images. Not only could I sense the emotion that your words are portraying, but I can also visualize the neighborhood that you are describing. I truly enjoyed reading this piece because of my own experiences of growing up in the hood, so your reflections really impacted me because of how familiar they are. For readers who do not have our same experiences, though, this could be slightly confusing. Understanding your reading audience is an important aspect of writing. For this essay, I’m your primary audience (since you will be submitting a final draft to me for a grade), so I genuinely appreciate and understand your message. For future writing assignments, however, I do want you to be mindful of who’s reading your work and whether or not you’ll have to be extremely clear in describing your experiences. For me, though, the content of your writing is perfect and I respect your brutal honesty about growing up in the Brooklyn streets.

    For your revision, I want you to focus on organization. You have so many incredible ideas and they should be grouped together by separate paragraphs in order to make your essay flow a little bit smoother. For example, you could have one paragraph that focuses strictly on your family dynamic (and your brothers), another that focuses strictly on your educational experiences, and another that focuses on your actual neighborhood and its residents (the Haitian and Jamaican blend)…and you can have a concluding paragraph that sums up everything you’ve learn through these experiences. We have a meeting in two weeks, so I’ll break this down a little more for you and give you some resources if you have questions. Overall, good job. Looking forward to reading your next draft!

    1. Alison Lowenstein-Isaacs

      Hi Student,

      I love how you hook the reader in with your three tips on how to survive in the five boroughs and I think you should use that advice to structure your essay. You can organize the essay by taking the reader on a journey where you give an example of each piece of advice and how you developed this advice and also how it shaped you as a person.

      I also like the energy of this piece and the way you painted a picture of survival in New York City. Although the essay was well paced, your paragraphs need to be trimmed. I’ve pointed out a suggested paragraph break in the first paragraph, so you can see how you can edit the remainder of the essay. A good way to trim a paragraph is by reading every sentence aloud and asking yourself if the sentences are all connected to one thought. If a sentence doesn’t fit, you can either remove it or find a new place for it in another paragraph.

      In addition, I like the way you described your Haitian identity as a grounding force throughout your life. I think you should add a few more sentences exploring what cultural identity means to you, because it will strengthen the essay.. One last comment, try avoid using generalizations. I’ve pointed out a few within the paper. Give a personal example rather than stating “A lot of kids…” This helps the reader to better connect with the piece.

      To sum it up, in the next edit you should narrow your focus which will help organize the piece and trim your paragraphs. Good luck with the rewrite and always feel free to reach out if you have any questions about your next draft. I look forward to reading it!

      Professor …

  4. Patrick Redmond

    Hey [Student],

    Thank you for sharing this with me. The vivid descriptions of your personal life and the energy that you put into each sentence make the narrative very compelling. Because the narrative is so compelling, I think you can make it even stronger by developing and explaining some parts more thoroughly. For example, when you write, “Growing up in Flatbush, you see a lot of behavior which we would describe it as “snake” or “shyste”, I would like to see you define these words. Remember, not all of your audience will know what you are talking about, so giving them more definitions will make this part stronger.

    For your revision, I would like you to focus on developing other parts that you feel are the strongest. When you feel content with those developments, I then would like you to focus on organization. Purdue OWL has a good handout on organization which you can find here:
    Walk through the questions they provide for you and it will help you to organize your paper. If you have any questions let me know! I’d be happy to meet with you as you revise.

    Professor Redmond

  5. James Wu

    Good. You have something to say, and it comes across. Your narrative is lively and energetic. Now, as you review it, re-read and reflect, how do you think you could make it better? Is there a main event you want to focus in on? Can you perhaps divide into paragraphs to create a sense of climax and focus? Perhaps there are places where you can inject a variation of distance to create depth? Ask yourself, does your reader get the emotion you want to convey?

  6. DPP

    This essay was very engaging to read. The imagery brought many of your experiences in your community to life. I especially liked the glimpses into what experiences shaped you and how they influenced your views of things many other people may value specifically because they did not have the type of upbringing you had. One area you could work on is perhaps organization of ideas and essay structure. At times the paper reads quite choppy and points are not necessarily connected to the next. Also, some paragraphs could be better developed to demonstrate how they relate back to the main focus of your essay. One point that I wanted to see developed further is when you discuss that parents from your cultural background highly value traditional education–how does this impact how you view academic success and its relationship with your outside experience/education?

  7. Jessica Penner

    Your word choice is strong throughout this piece. I especially liked when you wrote about how you “always have my head on a swivel.” I kept going back to that line, imagining how that would be. You also have strong details about your family and yourself. I found the thought at the end was honest and vulnerable: What would the world be like if I weren’t here?

    Some questions: If I asked you to explain your piece in one (maybe two) sentences, what would that sentence look like? Then, if I asked you to outline or map out this piece, what would that look like? Would every thought support that sentence you created? I’ve enjoyed all you’ve written, but I’m wondering if it could be stronger if it was organized differently.

  8. jaccileslie

    This is a great draft! I’m impressed.
    Next draft, let’s focus on organizing your thoughts…an outline would help to expand your points and develop paragraphs.
    You make many salient points, but I’m not sure which one you would like to develop.
    My favorite parts are the connection between being raised in a Caribbean household in America; and having three (3) scenarios without education.

    Last, have you read Richard Wright? John Oliver Killens? or China Achebe?

    Overall, good work.

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