My would-be GraphJam submission

On the candy, of course.


^clicking image goes to larger version. I estimate that I wrote this obtuse little story sometime around third grade.

Teaching 101 This Fall

I've been off-and-on planning my English 101 class this fall. We have just made some biggish changes to our writing curriculum -- different textbooks and somewhat different assignments -- and I wanted to be sure to teach 101 so that I'll get this new curriculum internalized and have a solid understanding of how our students respond to it.

The book I'll be using for 101 is Writing Arguments, you know, the one by Ramage, Bean, and Johnson. I'm trying to decide if I'm going to use anything from Writing Spaces as well, and if so, which essays. I'm thinking about What Is Academic Writing, I Need You to Say “I”: Why First Person is Important in College Writing, and So You've Got a Writing Assignment. Now What?. I also think the one about the writing center looks promising.

Actually, I may assign some of these in my teaching practicum for graduate students...especially the essay about first person. I find that inexperienced teachers often cling to arbitrary rules when grading student writing.

THERE'S the ball!

My little guy:

He loves to tell everyone where the location of a ball is. When I take him to any kind of store, he hollers "THERE'S the ball!" whenever he sees something spherical (fruits in the produce section, Easter eggs, anything!). Here we're pointing to a ball in one of his favorite books, Our Kind of Bird (a Sesame Street title). In that part of the book, a tee-ball game is taking place, and Mr. Snuffleupagus is at bat. Big Bird is cheering him on, and Grover remarks that Big Bird is very kind because he always cheers for his friends.

One Room a Day

I've said this before, but I read a lot of productivity blogs wherein the writers strategize about bringing order to chaos, moving projects forward, that kind of thing. On one of them, I read about a "one room a day" approach to cleaning. The idea is that you do whatever basic subsistence-level cleaning needs to be done (dishes, laundry, cleaning up spills and Goldfish cracker crumbs, etc.), then you focus on deep-cleaning one room for about 15-20 minutes. Here's what we're doing:

Monday, kitchen
Tuesday, bathrooms
Wednesday, bedrooms
Thursday, living room
Friday, garage and cars
Saturday, dining room
Sunday, hallways and laundry room

I'm very happy with how it's working so far; I just hope we can keep it up. I'm much less stressed in a clean house.

Little Sister!

Our son Henry now has a little sister, Clara. Eight pounds zero ounces, nineteen inches, score of nine on both Apgars. Born via scheduled c-section, a decision I may or may not write more about later. And she's wonderful, but of course I would say that! Many adorable pictures here.

Am I an Expressivist?

I've always thought that no, I'm really not an expressivist. I'm much more interested in assigning research-based argument writing in my classes than I am in assigning personal narratives or personal essays. That being said, it isn't as though those genres are mutually exclusive, obviously. Here's where I stand now:

  • In my own experience having written a whole lot of different texts for academic audiences, the response to what I write is overwhelmingly more positive when I make it personal and accessible -- chatty, even -- than when I write a paper that more closely resembles the IMRAD tone and structure. I've also noticed that for academic lectures, not just ones I've given but ones I've attended, audience response is much more positive when a speaker tells stories along with presenting information and argument.

    Everybody wants edutainment. They may deny it, but that is, in fact, exactly what they want, I used to think, with a bit of annoyance. But now I've come to the more charitable view that everybody wants to be delighted while they are instructed.

    I believe that expressive touches (anecdotes, first person, reflective personal response to the subject matter) usually enrich the experience of both writing and reading academic discourse.

  • For teaching, then, that means I want students to feel personally invested in the subject matter of their essays, even though I am requiring them to write arguments supported by evidence from scholarly or high-popular sources in which they must also engage with opposing arguments. I encourage stories of personal encounters with the topic, in the introduction or wherever the student deems appropriate. Conclusions can be reflections on the process of reading a variety of perspectives on the topic and of writing the paper.

So, am I an expressivist?

Thoughts on Basic (and Not-So-Basic) Writing

So far in my graduate course this semester, among other readings, I've assigned Mina Shaughnessy's introduction to Errors and Expectations, an excerpt from Robert Connors' Composition-Rhetoric: Backgrounds, Theory, and Pedagogy, an excerpt from Ken Macrorie's Telling Writing, and David Bartholomae's "Inventing the University." These four I mention are really forming a constellation in my mind about teaching academic writing to beginners, especially the place of grammar, that dude who just will not leave the party.

For one thing -- as I'm pleased the students in class picked up on -- when most people say "grammar," they don't mean only grammar. It's a shorthand, umbrella term for a lot of organizational, rhetorical, and stylistic conventions that the user of the term "grammar" doesn't know how to articulate. Every time I read Bartholomae's essay (PDF), I'm re-impressed with how well he describes and demystifies the gestures and postures in academic writing.

I'm interested in looking at these readings with the question in mind of how basic writing should be taught. The approaches in the article I linked here are categorized well, but I have been thinking of two basic categories:

1. The Sequential Method

This approach has the goal of getting rid of sentence-level errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation (GSP). When the writing is clearer in this regard, the instruction can then proceed to issues of genre, argument, etc. Proponents, at least the ones I've talked to, sometimes make the "you have to learn to crawl before you can learn to walk" comparison, which, by the way, isn't true for babies. Writing assignments may be sentences or paragraphs as well as essays; there's a pretty well-established collection of "paragraphs and essays" writing textbooks, many with GSP worksheets and exercises, tailored for this approach.

2. The Tandem Method

This approach, which seems to be favored in the scholarship I've read, calls for students to learn GSP and conventions of academic writing concurrently, so students would learn about making claims with reasons supported by credible evidence, analyzing audience, academic genres like annotated bibliographies, etc.* while learning GSP, but only the GSP the specific student needs to learn. The student may have subject-verb agreement mastered, so no sense spending time on that, but still need help in semicolon usage, for instance.

*OK, so maybe not a lot of Basic Writing teachers are assigning full-on annotated bibliographies. But still, the tandem method does have students focus on content and organization of whole essays from the beginning of the course.

I have more to say on this topic, but right now I'd rather go to sleep. I'm interested in exploring the possible advantages of each of the two methods. So far I have, for the sequential method: maybe the students whose GSP is improved after a course taught this way (and the research suggests there aren't many of those) are in a better position because some of the teachers they'll have in the future will be more positively predisposed toward them, more willing to believe that these students have intelligence and are not lost causes, and more willing to make the effort to teach the argument, analytical skills, genre conventions, and so forth.

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