Monthly Archives: December 2006

Warming Up

I’ve been bad, but I’ve really enjoyed my vacation..

I’ve not really given any thought to work related concerns.  Classes begin on the 8th, and I’ve barely even cracked open the text for the composition course.  I have no idea where I’m going to start.

I’m not OVERLY concerned about it.  I’ve taken a ton of writing courses and I finished my internship under a premier writing instructor; I’m not worried about not knowing how to teach this course.  I really do feel as though I should plan out at least a few weeks’ worth of classes before we begin, though.

It’s Sunday, though, and the football game is on.  I’ll think about it tomorrow…

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Grammar Wednesday!

This week’s offering? Frequently misused words!

imply / infer: imply means to throw out a hint or suggestion and infer means to take that hint or suggestion:

Am I to infer from your comments that you’re implying that I’m gaining weight?

fewer / less: If you have a countable noun, use fewer; if you have a noncountable noun, use less:

This aisle is for ten items or fewer.

We got less snow this winter than we did last year.

breath / breathe: breath is a noun; breathe is a verb:

Take a deep breath and count to ten, then tell me what happened.

Until the ban on smoking took effect, it was difficult to breathe in the bar.

elicit / illicit: Elicit is always a verb that means to draw out. Illicit is always an adjective that means unlawful:

The comment was meant to elicit an uproar against the management.

The mob boss was involved in racketeering, prostitituion, and other illicit activities.

(I always remember this one as “e – elicit – excite; i – illicit – illegal”)

it’s / its: It’s is a contraction that means “it is” “or “it has.” Its (no appostrophe) is possessive:

It’s been while, but I think I can still ice skate. (it has)

Please bring the book; it’s on the second shelf on the left. (it is)

The cat, having finished its dinner of leftover turkey and a little cream, promptly found a warm spot and fell asleep.

I’ll take suggestions if anyone has any words that always trip them up….

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Grammar Wednesday!

Today’s topic comes to us via request from Derek: the proper use of colons and semicolons! (aren’t you excited!?)

Semicolons are most often used to connect two closely related independent clauses:

I could have gone on and on about the fund raiser; the charity it benefits is near and dear to my heart.

It’s too late to back out now; I’ve already given my promise that I’d be there.

In both cases, one can put a period where the semicolon resides. Using the semicolon, though, helps to reinforce that the two ideas connected by it are very closely related.

The other use of the semicolon -though one I admit to not using very often- is to separate related thoughts in a series when one or more of those thoughts contains an internal comma:

There are several reasons why Jess should go back to college: she’s gone as far as she can go in her current job; because of her experience in the business world, she’s already got a lot of good time management skills; and, at thirty five, she knows what she really wants to be when she grows up.

The colon, on the other hand, is used in several different ways:

To introduce items in a list – note that the words that come before the colon must be a complete sentence:

The songs sung by the choir were varied: Christmas carols, show tunes, and commercial jingles.

To introduce a quotation if it follows a complete sentence:

My grandmother had a favorite saying when my mother complained about my father: You get what you settle for.

To introduce an appositive at the end of a sentence (though I almost never use this, myself):

I opened it: my finger! (nods to Carol Burnett here…)

Of course, to separate a title from a subtitle and to separate hours from minutes in expressions of time:

When Beanie wrinkles her nose, she looks like Kira from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

My brother-in-law’s flight lands today at 5:05.

Make sense? Let me know if you’ve got any questions; this one stymies a lot of people: myself included!

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Winter Break

I’m going to take a small break from posting here – but probably no more than a few days, though.  Classes are over for the term, grades have been submitted, and all’s quiet on the work front, at least for the moment.  I’ll come back in a few days to really start planning my classes, and to resume the inane musings you’ve come to expect here.

I’ll keep posting at Blue Door, because most of the things I have to say right now belong on the personal blog.

Keep checking in.  Until then, class dismissed…

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Writers on Writing

I loved NaBloPoMo. Not only did it get me into the habit of writing every day, but it also exposed me to a number of new bloggers – some of whom I can see becoming good friends.

Yesterday, Meg wrote a beautiful piece about how she sees herself as a writer, and about trying to explain what that means to elementary school children. I wrote to ask her permission to use the piece in my writing classes because I think she not only hit upon the essense of what it means to be a writer, but explained it in such clear and compelling ways because she was framing her thinking in terms of elementary school students. And, really – couldn’t we all stand to have things explained to us in simple terms once in a while?

One of the reasons I love the entry is because she goes a long way to demystifying writing. It’s being observant and paying attention to details. It’s taking joy and appreciation in the every day happenings and surroundings of our lives. It’s the desire to express experiences to others – the desire to share in real and expressible ways. It’s as simple and natural as that. I love that sentiment.

I spend a fair bit of spare brain space thinking about what my writing students will be like, and what fears, roadblocks, and talents they’ll bring to the classroom. I’m trying to plan for as many contingencies as I can to address the different experiences that my students will have had, and wondering how best to lead them to the understanding that they can all write, and write well.

I want to make sure I don’t instill in my kids a belief that writing is something that only a few “smart” people can manage, or that all the great writing has already been written – I’ve had professors who have believed just that, and it made me wonder why anyone would bother to write anymore, much less teach writing, if nothing of value could be expected of the effort. I want them to see writing as a human birthright; something we can all do in our own ways and, perhaps more importantly, something we can all use to share and learn and grow. It’s community building. It’s reaching out and making connections. After all, isn’t that what we, as humans, are really here to do?

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Scheduling Changes

No big surprise, but my schedule for next term has been altered a bit.

Instead of teaching three composition courses, I’ll be teaching two – one face-to-face and one hybrid class – and one section of public speaking.

It turned out that there was a scheduling conflict, and Joe was able to remedy it by giving one of my composition courses to Organic Mama and giving me the class he was going to give to her, but which conflicted with the grammar courses she was already scheduled for.  There was a bit of wrangling on Joe’s part, but it turned out that he could make it work with the staff he already has – he told me that he has a fallback person if he really needed it, but was glad that he didn’t have to add another person to the staff to cover all the classes.

I’m actually rather glad of the changes, though I am sort of wishing that the hybrid had been the one to be sacrificed in the switch.  There was going to be a stupid amount of reading on my part once the kids got into the groove of writing, and I have to admit to being a tiny bit concerned about that.  I just finished teaching a public speaking class and am glad of the opportunity to teach another one on its heels; I can try out all the changes that I decided to make as a consequence of having taught this last class.

The changes also mean that I don’t have to give up teaching my Wednesday morning step class at the health club, which can ONLY be a good thing because, as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes the only exercise I get is in classes I’m being paid to teach.

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Grammar Wednesday

Today’s topic: subject-verb agreement!

I’ve ranted about this before, but it keeps coming up so I’m going to go over it for my own edification. I was inspired to address subject-verb agreement while waiting at a red light yesterday, listening to some interviewee on NPR fail to equate his subject and verb not once, but at least three times (I stopped listening after that. The guy being interviewed was supposedly a stand up comic, but he was DREADFUL. It was, literally, the first time I’ve ever tuned away from NPR…)

So, here’s the scoop: if you’ve got a singular subject (who or what the sentence is about), then you need a singular verb and, obviously, vice-versa. Most of the time, this is pretty straight forward:

Beanie prefers peanut butter to tuna sandwiches. – single subject “Beanie,” singular verb “prefers.”

The salespeople in the Mega-Mart communicate with Dora the Explorer walkie-talkies. – plural subject “salespeople,” plural verb form “communicate.”

It gets a little more complicated when there are multiple subjects. In this case, look to the conjunction to see who you’re actually talking about; and generally means a plural subject – or means singular:

Steve, Kyle and I meet every Thursday at the local karaoke bar to discuss pork belly futures. (Here, we’re talking about three people – “all of us” meet. But…)

Either Lisa, Haley or Kim works the closing shift at the pool hall. (Here, we’re talking about only one of them – they don’t ALL work the closing shift – it’s a choice among the three.)

This gets trickier, though, when the last item in your subject series is plural. In that case, your verb will also be plural:

Whenever we go out to eat, either Mike, Jen, or the twins pick up the tab.

There’s still a lot of confusion going around about whether some nouns are plural or not. Collective nouns, in particular, give people headaches – “team,” “committee,” “family,” and the like. Again, the verb one uses will depend on what one is trying to say:

If the noun is treated as a single entity, it uses a singular verb:

The choir sings every Friday and Saturday night through the month of December. (all of them sing together)

The second grade class eats lunch at 11:40. (all of them eat lunch as a group)

If the members that make up that collective noun are treated individually, though, the verb takes a plural form:

The choir were informed of their singing parts at least a month in advance. (each member got his or her own singing assignment as individuals)

The second grade class were given achievement tests last month. (each kid took his or her own test)

This is often where trouble happens. Try replacing whatever collective noun you have with either “it” or “they” and use whatever verb form works:

It (the choir) sings every Friday

They (the students of the second grade class) took the test.
There is enough material in subject-verb agreement to go on for quite a while, but the last bit I’m going to say is about adding expressive quantity to a thing. I can’t tell you how many times I YELL at the television or the radio when someone says “there’s a million reasons…” or “There’s a lot of politicians who…” or something like that. The subjects of those clauses are not “a million” or “a lot,” but, rather, “reasons” and “politicians.” Notice the ‘s’ on the ends? They’re plural, and as such, the sentences should read “there ARE a million reasons” and “there ARE a lot of politicians.”

Don’t even get me started about how only one in three kids get enough of anything. ONE kid, PEOPLE! ONE kid GETS!

Get it?

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Adventures in Engrish

I thought we could use a little chuckle today…

About five years ago, MeadMaker gave me a toy for Christmas, which I found again while unpacking things we’d stored in the basement while we had our addtition built. Anyway, he didn’t give me the toy for the toy, so much as he gave me the toy for the instructions that came with it. Seriously, the instructions alone are worth whatever he paid for the thing. Here, transcribed exactly, is the insert that came with the toy:

Roller Ball (Operating Instruction)

Roller Ball can increase your wrist strength by playing for fun purpose. It is popular amusing exercise equipment. For the user in the beginning, practice it at different high speed revolving. After you are skillful, you might grasp the secret to let the ball send out the sound of Bon…At that time, the speed will reach to the speed of 8 cycles per second. You may have a new experience about Roller Ball.

*Cautions for use.

1. Be sure that don’t touch to the ball body when it is at high-speed revolving.

2. Keep clean inside of ball and avoid any minor articles.

3. Keep away from moist and watered places.

4. As it is precisely produced, never fall on hard surface.

Isn’t that just GREAT!? I do have to say that I’m impressed with the proper placement of commas, though I wonder what the “sound of Bon” is, and why it’s something to strive for….

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Last Day

Today is the last meeting of my Public Speaking class.

I’ve lost two students from the class in the last week. One student really should have been dropped from the course; if he showed up, he sat in the back, contributed nothing to the class and never turned in any of the work. I was a little surprised at this, I have to say, because my class was his second crack at a passing p/s grade – he’d failed the course when it was offered over the summer.

The other student who was dropped is a different story, though I’m not 100% sure of what, exactly, his story is. Unlike my other boy, when he was in the class, he was in the class, but he was absent a lot. I don’t know whether his absences were for health reasons, but I do know that, early in the semester, his grandmother suffered a massive stroke and he went home to Michigan to be with his family. He was gone for a couple of weeks, and I’m not sure he felt as though he could recover from that extended leave, even though I assured him that I’d grant him an extension for the course. I’m a little sad to see him go, but I’m absolutely behind cutting the first boy loose.

Today’s class will be the presentation of the students’ final speeches. My group is down to ten (eleven, really, but one girl is pregnant and on bed rest and likely won’t show up today). If I’m doing the math correctly (and, really, that’s never a safe assumption), it should take us about an hour to get through everyone’s speeches. I’ve invited some smart people to come and see the students’ speeches and I wrote a rubric for them the uses as they watch the kids speak. I’m looking forward to seeing how closely my evaluations of the students’ work match with the impartial outsiders’ observations.

I’m hoping for, but not expecting, a pile of papers to bring home this afternoon. I caved a bit and allowed a couple of the students to hand in some of their work today because I really want them to pass the course. I’m hoping they see the opportunity for what it is and take advantage of it, because that door slams shut at 1:00 p.m. today.

I’ve had a great term. It’s been quite a ride, and I’m going to miss some of these kids. I wonder how many of them feel the same….

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Same Question, Different Forum

A while ago, I started a conversation in the “old room” about what I’m going to have my composition students read next term. I’m determined that they’re going to read – a lot – and I’m looking for suggestions from you, Loyal Readers, about what I should send their way.

My main motivation for asking you this is purely selfish. I’ve got PLENTY of reading material I could give my students – I’ve bookshelves full of anthologies and short story collections and poetry – but I want to do something different. I want to read stuff I’ve never read before; I want to learn something new.

Now, I’m not even going to PRETEND that I’ve read everything in the books on my shelves; if I could live to 125 and devote the rest of that life to reading, I’m not sure I’d get to everything in my bookshelves. What I AM saying is that I, like most humans, am a creature of habit. I go back to the comfortable and familiar. If left to my own devices, I’d give them the stuff *I* know and love – Hawthorne, Frost, Rilke, Shelley (Frankenstein is my ALL time favorite) and the like. By asking you to make suggestions, I get to share in your reading experience and expand my own horizons. Bringing new material into the classroom also affords me one of my favorite teaching techniques. I love to teach by modeling.

I think that a lot of students come to the classroom under the assumption – conscious or otherwise – that the teacher knows everything. I find that some of my best teaching has come when I’ve been exploring the material right along with my students. Admitting to them that I have no experience with the text we’re working with, and then showing them how I approach new learning experiences and working with them to come to some sort of understanding about it gives them insight into how teachers learn. We may have control of the chalkboard and we may have fancy-sounding degrees, but we teachers are always still learning. Showing students how scholars learn, rather than standing at the front of the class and lecturing about a topic is, perhaps, one of the most important lessons we can teach.

So! I’m opening this question back up in THIS space. I’m looking for suggestions for short pieces that I can give to my composition students starting in January. No novels, please, but short stories, articles, blog entries, poetry, essays, op-ed pieces, songs, news stories – pretty much anything that tops out under four pages is game. What have you read that’s impressed, challenged or changed you? Where have you encountered a turn of phrase so perfect as to be sublime? What’s made you laugh, infuriated you, or brought you to tears? What do you think writing students should read?

(I also want suggestions for audio/visual materials. Art. Movie clips. NPR stories (StoryCorps or This I Believe. I did my Master’s thesis on using film in the classroom and recognize the power that audio/visual media has in inspiring writing, so I’m not limiting my students’ experiences to the written word. I’m taking any and all suggestions, so let ‘er rip!)

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