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Thanks and more thoughts….

Thanks for all of these great ideas Aaron and fascinating about the book Jackie!  Music is so important I think as well to bring into the classroom–I also try to as often as possible.  I was somewhat surprised (or maybe not) to find that most of my students had not seen/heard many speeches by Malcolm X–or only bits and pieces in other documentaries– so we ended up spending time responding to some videos of some of his most well known speeches to accompany reading about his literacy experiences….This became very compelling and we can return to this in our rhetoric discussions later on…..

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.)

Transitioning between Units 1 and 2 and 3…my “shelf” idea

A quick thought here about flow. A number of us commented about the fact that the UNITS lend themselves nicely to transition assignments. Or vice-versa? Anyway, as you know, I think rather physically / kinaesthetically / or just-plain weirdly. For the last week and a half, I have been having the students build a virtual “shelf” of their influences. This shelf/list/whathaveyou is a resource to which they can add, over time. It is visual, or physical, or just written down for now. I hope to use it as a kind of font from which we might draw  topics or arguments to which each student personally relates, and then use them in papers and projects in UNITS 2 and 3.

For instance, here is one of my (personal, I like to model) recent shelves, which I posted to our site:

My shelf of favorite influences, soon to be in bibliographic form.

Here’s an old one, to give you an idea of how I re-jigger them:

What will I do with that first one — with the numbers scrawled on it? Well, I’ve asked Monica and Nora in the Library to use our Library Instruction Session to give us information on how to create citations in MLA format using Zotero or Easybib…how easy it is…how helpful it is to have a clear and clean document. Anyway, soon my photograph/physical shelf  will transform into MLA format. Viola! Magic! It’s a start for de-fanging the dreaded Research Paper, anyway.

If you want to look, on our OpenLab site some of the students have their shelf/lists, but they’re really nascent, in progress.

During UNIT 1, I made a low-stakes small-group discussion activity to watch/read/listen to something from another person’s influences list.

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.

Reflections on 1121 (thus far)


One place that I feel I have to begin is how much this class thus far is in fact forcing me to think about my own identity as a writer and reader. I am struck firstly by how so many of us (the us here including teacher and student, those of us who have long seen ourselves as writers and perhaps those of us who are just beginning to identify as such) struggle with the same obstacles, face the same questions, constraints, and frustrations, regardless of our “proficiency”. Discussing what students found challenging about writing early on this semester reminded me of the universal experiences that we are uncovering here at the same time that we will be tracing and exploring individual or specific experiences of or with writing. I am even reminded of readings I enjoyed about “experiencing language”. Many won’t “like” the source perhaps—it is Heidegger—but I do see a link here—I feel as though there is something taking place akin to “experiencing writing” that I would like to consider more closely going forward.

Without necessarily planning to (somewhat yes), both of my sections have ended up spending a lot of time thinking about the way that literacy can lead to empowerment or even freedom. This came in part from our reading of the Malcolm X text excerpt; I felt it important to watch some clips of his speeches to accompany the text. We have had some fascinating discussions about whether in our 21st Century, highly technological society, we are encouraged to see the way that literacy can indeed lead to empowerment, equality, and change. So, essentially, we seem to be exploring what we feel is or even is not at stake in reading and writing for so many of us. I am noticing that once we start talking about literacy and our experiences of literacy, we already might be talking about society, power, etc., we already are engaging with issues outside of ourselves that are global or even universal. The technological has come up inevitably (links to Aaron’s ideas maybe here) and I think that this can lead us to many places that will be useful to consider throughout the semester. We recently discussed both the pros and cons of technology’s impact or influence on literacy and I think that we are already becoming more and more aware of writing and reading in our everyday lives. My challenge is to be sure to not spend too much time with one of these many interesting questions that arise from each of these units—I can see how one unit alone could, in theory, take us through the entire semester….

Interesting article

Hi all. I found this article in the December issue of TETYC. An instructor interested in Teaching for Transfer and reflection was trying to find a way to build reflection activities into the early parts of her assignments. This details what happened (mostly good) and how she wants to modify it. It might be worth a look. Megan J Bardolf, Modifying Classroom Routines to Provide Reflective Space


One thing I am going to try this semester (I’ve done it before, but not explicitly or comprehensively) is to do what my students do. Maybe a little before, as an example, maybe at the same time. I don’t know how this is going to work with section four but, hey, that could be part of the fun, my own exploration. There are going to have to be limits to this: I don’t think I can effectively participate in in-class exercises, for example, and still provide the assistance (and, yes, oversight) that students often need. But I do think I can complete each of the five major assignments and have them available to the students so that they can look not only at what other students are doing but also at what their teacher is about.


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!

Devitt has a point, but…

Devitt has a point (and I enjoy the way she writes) but I am not seeing more than a blunt instrument here for me to use in my classroom. Help?

She writes, “our theory of genre, therefore, must allow us to see behind particular classifications (which change as our purposes change) and forms (which trace, but do not constitute genre). Genre entails purposes, participants, and themes…” No arguments there. I like it when students make honest “mistakes” in assessing some new situation — if they make those mistakes for really cool reasons, like, for instance, hearing the intent of the speaker, or listening more to what the specific story is here, and its life lesson, rather than being smart and putting things into categories correctly.

She quotes Bakhtin who says, the speaker is, “after all, not the first speaker…”

and later paraphrases Miller, saying genres are “actions.” Well, the way I see it, when I write an art review of a painting, I am participating in a dialogue with a pre-existing narrative — hence, why should I worry? I can jump right in. After all, the visual artist did all the heavy lifting. I am joining in, and maybe diverting and amplifying the energy.

However, Devitt’s assertion that “we can use the new conception of genre to improve our teaching, especially our diagnosis and treatment of students’ problems,” didn’t ring so true to me. I feel like freshmen (well, our freshman) need to be led onto the dance floor, first, and then be told the name of the song.

Kara Taczak & Liane Robertson, Reiterative Reflection in the Twenty-First-Century Writing Classroom

As one might easily surmise reading or having read my posts for this assignment, I claim to have   used reflection in looking back to my training in the teaching of writing as graduate student at Temple University. And I think that many of the topics and strategies advocated in our readings should be begun to be taught in remedial writing or freshman composition, as a fuller and transferable understanding of writing.

The type of reflection theorized by Yancey (1998) and the researchers of How People Learn (Bransford, Pellegrino, and Donovan 2000a, 2000b) thus includes a focus on monitoring each writing context and supporting students’ development of agency as they begin developing expertise by providing them with a robust understanding of their identities as writers.

Recursive reflection could meet rhetorical analysis in their constructing an identity of their instructors and it could be revised throughout the term