Author Archives: Carrie Hall

Unit Three

(My students made that.)

Okay, just to clarify: in the second assignment, I want students to identify a problem that really bothers them—that they are truly perplexed and troubled by—what to do, for example, when a loved one becomes addicted to drugs, or—what to do about rising rents in NYC. I think I will steal a little from Kynard here and lead them toward questions that have both personal and public significance (while, of course clarifying that they need not share anything they are not comfortable sharing about their own lives.)

ASSIGNMENT TWO will be research investigating this question or problem. I do think I will have them begin with Wikipedia, as I mentioned, but the finished product will be something along the lines of a “research booklet” either physical or online, in which they analyze sources, both rhetorically and in content about this topic. They will need to have at least five sources, analyzed in depth—one of which will be an interview, one of which will be imaginative, one of which will be scholarly (and none of which will be Wikipedia.) The “audience imagined” for this assignment would be something along the lines of a “Think Tank” working on the problem. The purpose of the document is to gather and process information—and to do so, we must also assess the credibility and original purpose of our documents (which rhetorical analysis will help with.)

ASSIGNMENT THREE will USE the information gathered in assignment two. That is, students will produce a written document (video essays count) in the genre of their choosing, that they think will begin to take positive impact on this issue or problem. You’ve done the research—now, how can you best use it to inform or impact your audience to change their thoughts or behavior on the problem you’ve investigated?

We will discuss what this means—you are not going to, say, solve drug addiction. But perhaps a well-informed article that explains some early childhood factors that are correlated with drug addiction, or a video essay addressing what resources best serve those afflicted (and the lack of those resources) might be a good first step.

I do have some issues regarding genre, however. This semester, I took an “anything goes” tack with genre in 1121, and a couple of students kind of used this as a way to not write much at all. So I think there will need to be some sort of word count involved here (with recorded words counting as well.)

Final projects will need both words and images, working together in some way, which we will discuss in class.

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.

It’s that time.

Well, I’m at that time in the semester where I’ve decided that I don’t know how to teach, I’m messing my students up and I’ve done everything wrong. In my decade of teaching, I’ve never had a semester where I didn’t feel this way at this point, so that’s a good thing to remember. I got some fairly amazing papers for the Beyonce assignment (which I didn’t teach particularly well, for reasons I’ll describe later) but nobody remembered how to cite or really quote properly. This is probably because citation is approximately the least interesting thing in the world to me– I’m more focused on the students’ ideas (also their interaction with other ideas, yes) but I am still somewhat nervous about it, especially since my class getting assessed at the college-wide (or even CUNY-wide?) level, which I’m not really in the mood for, as I’m just figuring things out.

Here is where the Beyonce assignment fell a bit short: there were too many options. Honestly, I should’ve said: essay or video essay. There are plenty of genres to choose from with those limitations, but I kind of said “hey man, you can do anything.” In this case, I had students drawing pictures and writing about them. This COULD have been fine, but the students who chose to do that did not pay much attention to the explanation of what an artist statement is– that is, many of them didn’t refer to their own artwork in the artist statement at all, which means I have to have them all rewrite their artists’ statements. Honestly, the students for whom this was a problem were the students who were already looking for the easiest way out. But the way I structured the assignment, I had half of the class doing “creative work,” and the other half doing essays. This was a bad divide, and it split my attention in a way that wasn’t productive. That said, I had some great work, especially from some surprising students who seemed to really thrive on writing about music, and who hadn’t been doing too well before. See:

One thing I really want to focus on in my teaching going forward is research– research all the way through. Mini- research projects in class (students research and present on grammar/ syntax issues; students research little side mentions in the things they read and watch. In my 1101, it turned out none of them had heard of Abu Ghraib) and also big research on issues they are curious about. I’m not good enough at teaching research yet. The community problems unit has been a good start, because the students are engaged with these particular issues: gentrification, homelessness, etc… Sometimes I overhear a “you won’t believe what I just found!” And that’s what I want. Excitement about information!

My 1101, by the way, is kind of stuck. I have been giving them reading quizzes, something I never do, and I think that’s kind of messed with the class culture, to be honest. This is something I struggle with because also– I want them to read, and if I don’t quiz them, they often just… don’t. They’re just really quiet and it’s hard to get them to engage. None of my regular tricks work!


Commenting on papers: some thoughts

So, I’m at the tail end of a grading marathon, and I’ve been thinking anew about my philosophy of commenting, especially since I have to give a talk on Integrated Reading and Writing later this month. We talk a lot about minimal marking, and that’s important, and I’m not always as good at that as I should be, but I also don’t think I need to talk about it too much here, except to reiterate, students can only take in so much at once– if they get a paper covered in red, they’re going to think “I’m a shitty writer, just as I suspected,” and shut down. And I’ve talked to a number of students who’ve had that experience.

But one thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is– how do I comment AS A READER (while not pretending that I’m not the one giving a grade) and also respecting the students AS WRITERS. In other words, as much as I can, I want my comments to be less about “master/ novice” “right/wrong” dynamic and more about a “reader/writer” dynamic– or sometimes a “writer to writer” dynamic. So I try to say things like “As a reader, I feel like you set up a promise for me in the introduction that never gets fulfilled, and I’m kind of bummed because I want to know what happened to that bunny!” or “I honestly am pretty confused with this sentence, and can’t figure out what you’re trying to say” or “as a writer, I find it sometimes gets the point across more clearly if I…” That said, if there’s something I NEED the students to do for a grade, like introduce/ summarize and analyze quotes (this is something I’m really drilling in 1101) I will make that clear. “As the assignment says, part of your grade is on integrating quotes, as in the handouts. If you’re having a hard time with this, please come see me.” This dichotomy: I’m just another writer like you, and also I’m your teacher giving you a grade is, at times, annoying, I know. But I think it’s still useful to write to them as writers and to ASK them– “why did you make this choice in your writing?” instead of saying “this is wrong,” even though sometimes they may not be aware of having made a choice at all.

On grammar: I pick one issue per student per paper, whatever I think most impedes comprehension, I mark the first few instances of that issue, and then I ask them to look it up on the OWL– unless that issue is “sentence focus,” in which case, I make them come talk to me. If it’s subject/ verb agreement, verb tense or articles, I would normally send them to the tutoring lab to work on that one issue only (because those issues are very difficult to handle on your own) but with the ALC issues, and because I can make the time, I ask students to come see me about those issues too. If an issue affects nearly half the class, I have a mini-lesson on it for the whole class. All of this said, I tell the class repeatedly what the research shows: the best (and honestly, basically only) way to learn grammar is by reading (and to some extent writing.)

The ideology of language

Well, I began my day by spilling some coffee all over my computer. It now sits at home, drying out (hopefully) so I’m a little late to this. And a little grumpy.

I did agree with Aaron’s complaints about Berlin’s tone, and posted a few notes about them on Aaron’s post. That said, I do think the ideas here are important to remind ourselves of (and warn ourselves of.) Of course, it’s important to ask ourselves what ideologies our pedagogies are promoting and whether that promotion is ethical (is it, for example, ethical to promote a particular political ideology? Even if it’s the “right” one? Is that what writing class is for?) But I also think it’s important to remember the ideology behind language systems, as Therborn claims. (“ideology is transmitted through language practices that are always the center of conflict and contest” (478)). In other words, as most of us would agree (but as some other faculty may not) there is no “correct” or “incorrect” language, but a battle over language practices based on ideology and power. I’ve found when I have discussions about this with students, they really engage. Berlin goes on to explain that “ideology carries with it strong social endorsement, so that what we take to exist, to have value, and to be possible seems…inevitable” (479). Again, I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but I like the way he phrases this: we don’t notice the air we breathe.

The discussion of cognitivism is interesting, though somewhat dated. I have a strong interest in the intersection between science and the humanities, and I hope that, what I see as the false divide is somewhat lessened from what it was when this was written.  I don’t think that it’s entirely negative that cognitivism seems kinda “sciency,” as Berlin seems to intimate. I don’t have a negative feeling toward science, though I do have a negative feeling toward science-as-pinnacle-of-human-knowledge, and I think current cognitivists worth their salt don’t buy into the science/ humanities divide. I mean, I don’t actually believe in absolute static “facts,” but neither do most scientists. Again, I think this false dichotomy was kind of big (on both sides) at the time, but I don’t think it serves anyone. I certainly don’t think anyone who’s not insane– or at least anyone who doesn’t have an understanding of SOCIAL FREAKING FACTORS, FOR EXAMPLE, would claim that psychologists can, as Berlin claims (483) isolate the environmental features of children who will get good grades, make big money and get good SAT scores. I would hope, at least, that this discussion has been reframed to a discussion about how the system is set up to favor certain people over others, as opposed to having to do with anyone’s cognitive skill.

I mean, I guess this is what Berlin is getting at with his social-epistemic rhetoric, but I wonder about this a bit too. He seems to argue for Shor’s pedagogy that “students must be taught to identify the ways in which control over their own lives has been denied them…” (490). Okay, sure. But… again, this is maybe our era, but, perhaps students can also explore ways in which they’re complicit in a system? This seems like it’s set up to paint students as victims– and if this is the case, what is the role of the teacher? Savior again?


Reflection on Reflection

So, in my 1101 today I had students reflect on their first essays. I usually am kind of disappointed in reflections, as they often seem pretty phoned in, so I decided to do something a bit different, and it seems to potentially have been helpful.

First, I had students write one thing they learned about themselves as a writer, or that they learned about their writing process.

Second, I had them write about the ONE MAIN THING they struggled with in their writing. This could have been something process-oriented (distraction by phone) or more technical (organization.)

But THEN, we took a break from writing, and I asked them to confer with another student to talk about possible strategies for working with that issue. Then we regrouped as a class to discuss both problems and strategies. The problems really ran the gamut: from procrastination, to wanting to sound academic, to feeling like they were repeating themselves, to problems with organization. Interestingly, I noticed a lot of note-taking (which is not always the case in my classes.)

The third part of the writing task was to have students write down the strategies they want to employ to work on their struggles. I’m not really concerned if they picked the right strategies, or even the right struggles, but this is the most successful reflection I’ve ever had, as far as students actually writing reflections and engaging with the discussion.

1121 is going very well indeed. I’m so glad I decided to do these group presentations, even if they turn out terrible. In part because making the students look for similarities in the group makes them see themselves as a part of a conversation and I think is going to really help when it comes time for revision. Now it is not just ME and MY EDUCATION, but how “my education” fits in to a system of education. I actually had 100% attendance today. And these guys are so engaged I have to keep telling them to PIPE DOWN.

This idea of “it doesn’t matter if the end product is terrible” in both classes is interesting. I feel like in both cases, they are learning from the experience– in 1101 from metacognition, in 1121, from the synthesis of creating scholarship out of their narratives with other narratives and (minimal) research. It’s exciting!! I’m excited! I’d like to milk this a little bit more in 1121 when it comes to revising the class ebook. Can I ask individuals to use their group themes in their revisions? I don’t know where to go with this.

Here is the link to the book, btw. Please don’t share outside of this group:  1121Book

First couple of weeks.

My class seems to be going very well– we’ll see, because they have their “learning narratives” (part one) due on Thursday. Our discussion started with Amy Tan, and the students have talked a lot about their various Englishes. I have a class of largely Carribean students, so there has been a lot of discussion of the similarities and differences of being a “good child” across the various islands. These conversations have been HILARIOUS.

The second thing that we read was an excerpt from Keith Gilyard’s “Voices of the Self.” It’s a very hardcore excerpt where he talks about going from shooting up heroin to getting into college. It’s beautifully written, and I wanted to find something that “puts its money where its mouth is,” so to speak, and uses a variety of Englishes. We also have put a great deal of effort into learning how to draw the reader in with concrete, significant detail, and then back that detail up with reasoned reflection, and Gilyard does this quite well. To some extent, this worked well, but many students then felt like they needed to have some VERY DRAMATIC STORY to tell, which we’ve had to discuss on several occasions– there’s a lot more going on in Gilyard than just arrests and drugs.

One of the things I’ve really noticed about this class is, the details of the assignment aside, it’s important to set up a sense of community– and the students have already talked about that. Because they know their writing is going to be shared with the class, they need to feel comfortable. I do a lot of small group work, I call on people, I have (stealing from Aaron) asked students to help me write the class cell phone policy, which now includes the rule that if your phone goes off, you have to tell a joke to the whole class (I did not write that rule.) Because they are part of the class-building process, they’ve mentioned that it seems like a “pretty chill group” and their nervousness at the beginning has somewhat alleviated– I THINK.

I was also pretty nervous, honestly, about “publishing” all the students’ work, especially personal narratives. I’m very protective of my students– too much so sometimes, and I always want students to find a way to keep their writing private. But I’ve titled my class “Writing for the Public” and writing itself is not private– I mean, some drafting is, but we are writing to be read. I think I have to get over the privacy issue a little bit here– maybe not for lowstakes assignments, but for high stakes ones. If I want to treat my students like writers, then I need to treat them like writers who are going to be read by people other than me.

Websites: Cool Stuff.

I’ve just spent a little while reading through the 1121 (and in Jackie’s case, 1101) websites, and there’s some great stuff on there that I think will be really helpful to all of us as we scramble to “go live.” I really love Jackie’s placeholders for all the blogposts, which are, incidentally great examples of metacognitive assignments on the readings. And I love Sarah’s statement that “you write to become a more effective person– across the board!” A couple of things I loved from Aaron’s website: that you ask not only “who are you writing to?” but also “who is writing to you?” and I love that handout on primary research. Anyway, I know we’re all busting our,um, selves to get ready– but there’s a lot of great stuff up there! See you all soon!


The most important things, I think, about Shipka’s work, are that it asks students to be responsible for their own writing choices, and then to explain those choices. It’s so (bear with me) groundless in some ways for the students that they need to invent a wheel, and then they need to say “okay, this is why I built this particular wheel.” By groundless, I mean that she leaves very very much of it up to the students, and while mine is a pedagogy of student choice, the assignments of hers I’ve seen seem to be less scaffolded than I’ve ever been able to pull off.

I’ve always found her work both inspiring and confusing. I’ve done some workshops with her and have always been a little confused about what’s going on. The projects she describes here sound pretty cool, but I can also see some students getting lost in the shuffle because, in some ways, she seems to rely on a LACK of scaffolding (and pedagogically, I understand why she does.) Hers is a pedagogy that necessitates a moment of frustration, one which students must get over to make projects which are often very cool. I wonder if this works with all student populations, though.

It would be difficult to argue against multimodality in her work, though (although I’ve certainly heard people do it.) The metacognitive reflection of the “heads up” statement shows students working through the decision making of writing in the way of true practitioners—and the examples she uses are interesting, engaged, contemporary examples that explore language. The fact is, students are using these types of writing already (or they are interested in doing so) and her assignments, lack of scaffolding and all, help them see writing as a process of invention rather than an act of following someone else’s inscrutable rules.

Well, it’s late.

I think she’s making this too complex. We know what genre is when we see it. As she herself mentions, when you pick up the mail and see a letter from a friend, you respond differently than you do to an advertising flyer. She says we respond to much more than the textual features and formal conventions of these items of mail, but… what are we responding to besides these things? (I mean, also graphics, paper quality, the way the paper is folded, font, etc, I suppose.) But most importantly: why is pinning down a definition of “genre” important? Or does she have another project here that I am missing?

She does mention something that I think is important: she says that, though the assignment is a letter to the editor, “if you begin with an inverted triangle” (???) the audience is really the professor. I think she refers to a description of the rhetorical situation here. However, this makes me think about the idea that if you ASSIGN a letter to the editor, the assignment is really a paper for class. How do we make the genre NOT a college essay when the assessment procedure is a letter grade given by an English professor? It’s hard to shake.