Category Archives: about writing

I’m Taking Bets

How well do you think students will be able to follow these directions?  This is what they’ll find on their Blackboard pages while I’m away in DC next week:

There’s a lot here; please read it all carefully.

For your final paper, you’ll produce a researched essay in which you state and support a position on an issue of your choosing.

I would suggest (strongly) that you craft your position around the issue that you researched for the analysis paper, since most of your research for that topic is already done.  If you decide that you want to veer off in a different direction or go in-depth with an aspect of your analysis that you didn’t have time or evidence to pursue in your last paper, however, you’re more than welcomed to do that.

As part of your pre-writing work, please read ALL of the “Debate about Animal Rights” and the “Debate about the Death Penalty” essays in your text (4 essays, pgs. 422-454).  Please note the organization of these essays, the ways in which the authors emphasize and support their main points, the way the opposition is addressed, and how the essays conclude.  Work on identifying not only topic/purpose/audience, but also strategy; HOW does the author craft his or her essay to achieve the desired effect on the reader (what IS the desired effect on the reader)?  How are the essays similar, and how are they different?  Which essays were most compelling to you, and why?  BE SPECIFIC; point out passages or strategies that you found especially effective and articulate the differences and similarities you find in the essays.

Please note, also, the language that each of the authors employs; what is the general tone of each of the essays?  I have noticed that our class is still struggling to find a professional tone; I’m not asking you to become someone you’re not – to change your voice entirely while you’re writing – but I do expect you to know – and to be able to employ – a professional, academic tone when such is required.  That means using the correct words in the correct ways, crafting complete, complex, and coherent sentences and paragraphs, and being able to organize your thinking into a sustained and thoughtful essay that is easy to read and understand.

That means drafting.  At some point during the week, you need to connect with AT LEAST TWO of your classmates to workshop your first draft of this essay.  Please come to class on the Tuesday we return (the 29th) with a complete SECOND draft – along with the notes and feedback from your classmates – you will be graded on this – and be ready to workshop.  Note the attachments above; use them to help you give thoughtful, careful, and meaningful feedback to your peers (author’s note; here, I attached three PDFs; one that articulate the purpose of peer review and two that offer different strategies for both giving and receiving (and using) feedback).

Please also continue to read and critique opinion pieces from the newspaper, and to listen to analysis from NPR.  Listen to the strategies, notice the language, and pay particular attention to introductions, support, and conclusions.  Providing evidence of these pre-writing exercises will count toward your crafting grade (see below) and will help to make your writing stronger.

 

Come to class on the 29th with all of your pre-writing (including your first draft and all your revisions) and a complete, printed copy of your second draft.

 

These papers will be graded on three components:

Craft  20/100 – the paper shows strong evidence of a command of writing as a PROCESS.  The writer provides plentiful evidence of “behind the scenes” work by articulating a clear topic/purpose/audience, showing evidence of careful and engaged pre-writing activities – including significant exposure to professional examples of the genre – and engaging in a vigorous and attentive workshop and revision practice.  Significant and substantial revisions are evident from first to final draft, and the author is able to both offer feedback to others and engage critically with his or her own work using peer feedback and employing critical reading skills to his or her own writing.

 

Content 60/100 – the paper is well written and complete.  The introduction is engaging and thorough.  The organizational structure establishes relationships between and among ideas and events, presents a logical progression of ideas, and is unified and complete: the paper maintains a consistent focus on the topic.  Credible, relevant evidence is provided to back up the author’s claims, and the opposition’s best counterpoint is addressed clearly, accurately, and fairly.  The author provides sufficient background for the reader to understand the “so what” questions and does not assume facts not in evidence.  The author demonstrates a solid grasp of the complexities of the issue, and is able to present a logical, defensible position to a neutral reader.  The conclusion is logical, reasonable, and satisfying.

 

Style 20/100 – the paper is written in a consistent, accurate academic voice, and sustained awareness of audience is evident throughout the paper.  The author is in control of the vocabulary of the paper; all of the words mean what the author intends, and word choice is precise, artful, and appropriate to the writing task.  All sentences are complete, and all paragraphs are cohesive (one idea per paragraph).   Sentence structure varies according to the writer’s need and are consistently clear, logical, and enjoyable to read.  Evidence is cited in proper MLA format, and the Works Cited page is formatted correctly.  The author does not employ rhetorical questions, personal pronouns, or faulty logic.

Leave a comment

Filed under about writing, concerns, lesson planning, Teaching, writing

Monday Musing

(this is a re-post of what’s at The Blue Door today, so don’t worry if you think you’re seeing double.  I’m going to try to get more conscientious about posting here more regularly now that I’m back in the classroom.  Give me a little bit to get my rhythm, though; I still don’t feel like I’ve got control of it just yet…).

 

Every once in a while, I’m dumbstruck with wonder by the sheer, improbable miracle of it all.

I was talking to some of my basic writing kids this morning about the point of writing.  I’m trying to get them out of the mindset that writing is only something you do because you have to, and that writing’s only purpose is a grade at the end of the class.

I told them the story about Punk coming to me one afternoon many years ago and complaining that there’s no magic in the world.  She’d been reading Harry Potter and was feeling cheated that our everyday didn’t include wondrous things conjured at the end of a wand.  It didn’t take much for me to change her mind, though – I brought her to a switch that gave us light; to the television that brought us images from places we’d never be and ideas from people we’d never meet; to the faucet where clean water (and hot, if we wish) poured out; and to the car, where I can twist a key and go nearly anywhere I want or need to go.  I explained that even though we understand how to make these things happen consistently and reliably, our understanding of them makes them no less miraculous.

Then I talked about ideas.  The point of writing, I contend, is to communicate (which, I also contend, is one of our most basic human needs).  Think about it for a second; that I can get an idea out of my head and into yours – and in a way that is satisfying to both of us – is nothing short of magic.  That we can share feelings and tell stories and learn the answers to our questions and explore ideas that we never would have come to but for our interaction with each other is, I think, approaching the pinnacle of human experience.  Writing is a part of that, and it should be approached with excitement and wonder befitting the amazing place it holds in our collective experience.

I think I got some kids thinking a little differently about writing this morning; I know that I left the classroom excited about what I do.

2 Comments

Filed under about writing, critical thinking, I can't make this shit up..., Mrs. Chili as Student, out in the real world, self-analysis, success!, Teaching

The Post I’ve Been Promising

So!  I promised you all a post that recounted my experiences at Classical Private School.  I’m sorry I’m only getting to it now; I’ve been preoccupied with the (soul-sucking) job hunt and have kind of been avoiding thinking about CPS a whole lot.

The last thing I wrote about, if memory serves, is that I’d agreed to teach a writing workshop as a volunteer for six weeks.  After a heart-to-heart with Dr. Wong, I discovered that CPS had no budget and couldn’t pay me (or, Dr. Wong assured me, she’d have hired me by that point).  She gave me the impression that she was fairly confident that their budget for the 13-14 school year would be sufficient to bring me on board, though, so that was encouraging.

In any event, I taught the writing workshop for the six weeks.  It was a little bumpy because the kids weren’t sure what the expectations were; some of them were under the impression that it was a required course while others were sure it was a volunteer deal, so I didn’t get consistent attendance.  Two of the kids were convinced that they didn’t NEED any writing instruction (though Dr. Wong made a point of assuring them that they did) and one boy spent most of the time goofing off (there’s always one!), but the rest of the group did really well.  Once they were reassured that I wasn’t teaching grammar, they kind of got into it (the adults in the school kept insisting on calling it a “grammar class” until I corrected them in front of the students – yes; I’d be teaching grammar, but it was a writing workshop.  The focus was on the writing process, not on grammar, per se).

I pulled out some of my more successful lesson plans for the course; we did a unit about the basics of the writing process (topic, purpose, audience!) and about the different rhetorical situations one encounters (you need to know topic, purpose, audience before you start writing so you can be sure you’re addressing yourself properly to the situation and the reader).  We reviewed some of my more stunningly awful emails (that’s ALWAYS a popular lesson).  We played the synonym game.

After I got them used to the idea that writing is a process and that it’s okay (good, even!) to start out really, really badly, we wrote.  I had them write personal narratives (tell me the story of your name) and, I think, it went very well.  The kids work-shopped their papers with each other (using some very clear and specific guidelines I supplied for them; workshops are only effective if you know how to do them, and they had never done them before meeting me) and ran through several drafts of their papers.  What was most fun was that a bunch of them didn’t really know their name story, so they had to go home and ask about it.  When I came back after we’d started these papers, a couple of kids were excited about the things they’d learned, and they reported that they really enjoyed the writing once they felt they had a good handle on what they wanted to say.

The one big hiccup was that, one afternoon, I was completely usurped in a really disrespectful and inconsiderate way.  I drove an hour each way to get to this place.  Keep in mind, as well, that I was doing this as a volunteer.  Well, one afternoon, I arrived and was asked if I would mind if Dr. Palmer interrupted my class for a few minutes to let the kids know about an elective he was going to be launching in the coming weeks.  Of course I don’t mind, so I say so.  Well, Dr. Palmer walks in five minutes into my class (we’d barely gotten started) and proceeds to take up more than my hour talking about the course he was designing around the acoustics of electric guitars.

Seriously.  I sat there waiting for him to finish, and I ended up having to leave well before he was done.  I was furious.

Beyond that, though, it went well.  The kids reported, in their evaluations, that they learned quite a lot about their own writing process in the short time we spent together.  They offered suggestions for what they’d like to know more about (were we able to spend more time) and expressed some satisfaction that they were noticing that writing felt a little less ominous to them for our having worked together.

I was sent off after my last class with a small offering to help offset my gas expenses, a coffee mug, and a CPS mouse pad.  Though Dr. Wong was not in the building that day, the Dean of Students offered me what I thought were heartfelt thanks and an eagerness that we maintain communications.  I left feeling pretty confident that someone would be in touch to offer me a position in the fall.

I haven’t heard a thing from any of them since.

Seriously.  Crickets.  No calls, no emails, nothing.

I’m not going to call them.  At this point, I’m reasonably sure that if they could have hired me, they would have, and I’m not in a position to accept a long-distance volunteer teaching gig.  I’m disappointed, though; CPS wouldn’t have been a perfect fit for me, but I think that I could have done some pretty significant good there.

I wish them all the best going forward.  Maybe our paths will cross again sometime.

4 Comments

Filed under about writing, analysis, colleagues, composition, critical thinking, failure, I love my job, Learning, lesson planning, rhetoric, Teaching, Teaching Writing Seminar, The Job, writing, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

Not Quite What I was Expecting

I spent part of this morning at CPS.  I was invited to today’s all-day meeting earlier in the week, but I wrote to Dr. Wong and told her that a) I wouldn’t be able to stay the whole day and b) I wasn’t sure, given the ambiguity of our relationship, whether it would be appropriate for me to be a part of those meetings in the first place.  We decided to split the difference by having me come in for an hour or so this morning, and Dr. Wong and I got a chance to sit down and talk specifics.

It turns out that they have no money to pay me, or, Dr. Wong said, they’d have formally hired me by now.  She seems genuinely interested in having me as part of her team; she told me that the dean who sat in on the workshop I ran last week had nothing but “glowing” things to say about me, and she recognizes that my particular discipline concentrations are decidedly lacking in her current staff.  She really wants me to get a feel for the school and the kids and the community – despite the fact that she can’t formally offer me a job – so she invited me to come and teach a writing workshop two days a week on a volunteer basis.  That would give me a time to see whether and how I would fit in with the place, and would give them a sense of what I can do with students.  I agreed to a six-week trial; we’ll reassess the relationship after that time.

Dr. Wong seemed really confident that there would be a position available for me in September, but a lot depends, of course, on the money situation.  The school will be more than doubling its enrollment in the fall, they’ve decided not to expand into the building in which they currently reside (they were thinking of breaking through a wall and taking over more square footage, but they’ve put that plan on ice for now), and the expectation is that there will be money in the budget for me.  I won’t know that for a while, though, so for now, I’m going to do the volunteer gig and see what happens.

It’s not an ideal situation.  I would really like to be paid for my time (especially given that I get to tack two travel hours to every trip I make out there).  This gets me in front of a classroom, though, working with kids, doing what I love, and making an impression that may well secure me employment for the next school year.  It’s not perfect, but it’s something I can live with… at least for six weeks.

3 Comments

Filed under about writing, colleagues, frustrations, Grammar, job hunting, Teaching, winging it

Improving My Argument

*A continuation of the Counting My Chickens series*

I’m soliciting advice on how to present a particular argument.  Your input would be most appreciated.

improve your argumentimage credit

I am prepping to give a writing workshop at CPS on Friday, and I was going through the folder of information Dr. Wong gave me a few weeks ago when I first visited the school.  In it are fliers about the grading system, the dress code, tuition, things like that.  Included in the packet is the school’s handbook, and in that handbook is a whole section about “Respectful Language.”

Oh, boy; here we go….

I’ve written about how I feel about “colorful language” a number of times (notably here. There are other posts, too, I’m sure, but I don’t have the patience to look them up right now).  I feel – and have always felt – as though it’s my job as a teacher to give kids a strong command of their language – ALL of their language – and to teach them when it’s appropriate to use which rhetorical strategies.  Sometimes, and particularly when we’re engaging in creative endeavors, a particular of class of words is required to get across the true tenor of one’s meaning.  Those words exist for a reason, and part of my job is to make sure my students understand both when they need to employ them and when the rhetorical situation allows for it.

Like a fucking lady

image credit

The upshot of the section in the handbook is that if you have a strong enough vocabulary, you don’t need to utter imprecations.  I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy that, and I’m trying to figure out a way to present that case in a way that is clear, logical, and defensible.  If I’m going to be asked to join this staff, I cannot have a limitation placed on what I can and cannot accept from students in terms of their own self-expression (and, not for nothing, “blasphemy” is listed as a no-no, as well.  Insert derisive snort here).
I have success with my students because I work hard to build an environment where they know they’re safe to explore what they really think and feel, not just what they think they’re expected to think and feel.  I work hard to create a truly judgment-neutral zone in the classroom so that kids can dismiss their inner critics and stroll out on limbs of thinking they’re not certain will support their weight.  I want them to dig under their proverbial beds, to open their proverbial closet doors, and to peek at their proverbial boogeymen, and to trust that I’m going to be there to help them find a way to get those ideas out of their heads in satisfying ways;  the only way I can do that is if I let them know that – at least in this class – they’re free to express themselves as authentically and as openly as they’re able to.  Sometimes (often, in fact), that expression is raw and painful and ugly, and that HAS TO BE OKAY.  Sometimes, the only way into a really great idea or a profound self-discovery is through the fucking wars, and that HAS TO BE OKAY.

If I’m going to be asked to teach anything beyond the basics of grammar and business writing etiquette (I can NEVER spell that word right the first time!), I’m going to require that there be nothing off limits for my students to write or say within the walls of our classroom.  I will make certain that they have a very clear and firm understanding of social contracts, and I will continue to reinforce the concept of rhetorical situations and the importance of tailoring one’s message to one’s audience, but I can’t function if I’m to treat an entire mode of expression as taboo.

6 Comments

Filed under about writing, concerns, critical thinking, ethics, frustrations, General Griping, great writing, job hunting, lesson planning, politics, rhetoric, speaking, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

Quick Hit: DONE!

The Paper is finally, final-draft done.

Including the citations, it’s nearly 40 pages.  It’s printing as I write this.

I am proud of it; I think it’s well done and I expect that it will be positively received by my professor.

I’m looking forward to a little down-brain time.

3 Comments

Filed under about writing, Local U., Mrs. Chili as Student

First Draft Friday

I love alliteration!

SO!  The first draft of The Paper is done!  It clocks in at 22 pages (plus 5 pages of sources), the conclusion is pathetic, and I still have to go back through and cite some sections, but it is a complete draft.

Who wants to read it?  Email me at mrschili at comcast dot net and I’ll send you a copy.  Be forewarned; I want good, constructive feedback on this bad boy; if you’re going to read this (and I’ll be very grateful if you do), I’m going to ask that you be clear and specific about what I need to do to make it better.

My goal is to have it in front of my professor in second-draft form sometime early to mid next week (I’m aiming for Wednesday, but since she hasn’t given me a deadline, I’ve got some flexibility).  The final is due on the 15th (my deadline, not hers; I think she gave me through the 18th, but I’d rather put it to bed sooner rather than later).

Leave a comment

Filed under about writing, analysis, colleagues, composition, critical thinking, doing my own homework, GLBTQ issues, Local U., Mrs. Chili as Student, politics, self-analysis, writing

I… I Just… I Have No Words

I received this email from a student in the class I’m taking.  I present it to you completely unedited:

yeahh i can deff meet up this thursday after 6 if that works for everyone else so we can just get it done?? and lets come prepared with facts and current events. I have already started doing some thing but not a whole lot. Also i do not have the current version of ferg so i only have stuff from ore on our topic so bring that book if any of you guys have it!!

Please bear in mind when reading this that this young woman is a SENIOR IN COLLEGE.  Let that sink in for a second; she’s a SENIOR.  It kind of makes one wonder how she managed to get that far, doesn’t it?  It also makes me wonder where she expects to go from here.

I am both sorry for the professor (who’s going to have to read this girl’s paper and many, many like it) and SO glad that I’m taking the class as an independent study.

7 Comments

Filed under about writing, bad grammar, concerns, dumbassery, failure, frustrations, I can't make this shit up..., Local U., Mrs. Chili as Student, really?!, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

Angry Love Letter

I subscribe to Letters of Note.  You should, too.

This was today’s offering.  It’s a letter from Pat Conroy, the author of, among other things, The Prince of Tides, in response to hearing that a school board in West Virginia had challenged the inclusion of that novel and another of his works, Beach Music.  The letter was published in the local newspaper, and the challenges later failed.

Letters like this make my proud to do what I do.
To the Editor of the Charleston Gazette:

I received an urgent e-mail from a high school student named Makenzie Hatfield of Charleston, West Virginia. She informed me of a group of parents who were attempting to suppress the teaching of two of my novels, The Prince of Tides and Beach Music. I heard rumors of this controversy as I was completing my latest filthy, vomit-inducing work. These controversies are so commonplace in my life that I no longer get involved. But my knowledge of mountain lore is strong enough to know the dangers of refusing to help a Hatfield of West Virginia. I also do not mess with McCoys.

I’ve enjoyed a lifetime love affair with English teachers, just like the ones who are being abused in Charleston, West Virginia, today. My English teachers pushed me to be smart and inquisitive, and they taught me the great books of the world with passion and cunning and love. Like your English teachers, they didn’t have any money either, but they lived in the bright fires of their imaginations, and they taught because they were born to teach the prettiest language in the world. I have yet to meet an English teacher who assigned a book to damage a kid. They take an unutterable joy in opening up the known world to their students, but they are dishonored and unpraised because of the scandalous paychecks they receive. In my travels around this country, I have discovered that America hates its teachers, and I could not tell you why. Charleston, West Virginia, is showing clear signs of really hurting theirs, and I would be cautious about the word getting out.

In 1961, I entered the classroom of the great Eugene Norris, who set about in a thousand ways to change my life. It was the year I read The Catcher in the Rye, under Gene’s careful tutelage, and I adore that book to this very day. Later, a parent complained to the school board, and Gene Norris was called before the board to defend his teaching of this book. He asked me to write an essay describing the book’s galvanic effect on me, which I did. But Gene’s defense of The Catcher in the Rye was so brilliant and convincing in its sheer power that it carried the day. I stayed close to Gene Norris till the day he died. I delivered a eulogy at his memorial service and was one of the executors of his will. Few in the world have ever loved English teachers as I have, and I loathe it when they are bullied by know-nothing parents or cowardly school boards.

About the novels your county just censored: The Prince of Tides and Beach Music are two of my darlings which I would place before the altar of God and say, “Lord, this is how I found the world you made.” They contain scenes of violence, but I was the son of a Marine Corps fighter pilot who killed hundreds of men in Korea, beat my mother and his seven kids whenever he felt like it, and fought in three wars. My youngest brother, Tom, committed suicide by jumping off a fourteen-story building; my French teacher ended her life with a pistol; my aunt was brutally raped in Atlanta; eight of my classmates at The Citadel were killed in Vietnam; and my best friend was killed in a car wreck in Mississippi last summer. Violence has always been a part of my world. I write about it in my books and make no apology to anyone. In Beach Music, I wrote about the Holocaust and lack the literary powers to make that historical event anything other than grotesque.

People cuss in my books. People cuss in my real life. I cuss, especially at Citadel basketball games. I’m perfectly sure that Steve Shamblin and other teachers prepared their students well for any encounters with violence or profanity in my books just as Gene Norris prepared me for the profane language in The Catcher in the Rye forty-eight years ago.

The world of literature has everything in it, and it refuses to leave anything out. I have read like a man on fire my whole life because the genius of English teachers touched me with the dazzling beauty of language. Because of them I rode with Don Quixote and danced with Anna Karenina at a ball in St. Petersburg and lassoed a steer in Lonesome Dove and had nightmares about slavery in Beloved and walked the streets of Dublin in Ulysses and made up a hundred stories in The Arabian Nights and saw my mother killed by a baseball in A Prayer for Owen Meany. I’ve been in ten thousand cities and have introduced myself to a hundred thousand strangers in my exuberant reading career, all because I listened to my fabulous English teachers and soaked up every single thing those magnificent men and women had to give. I cherish and praise them and thank them for finding me when I was a boy and presenting me with the precious gift of the English language.

The school board of Charleston, West Virginia, has sullied that gift and shamed themselves and their community. You’ve now entered the ranks of censors, book-banners, and teacher-haters, and the word will spread. Good teachers will avoid you as though you had cholera. But here is my favorite thing: Because you banned my books, every kid in that county will read them, every single one of them. Because book-banners are invariably idiots, they don’t know how the world works—but writers and English teachers do.

I salute the English teachers of Charleston, West Virginia, and send my affection to their students. West Virginians, you’ve just done what history warned you against—you’ve riled a Hatfield.

Sincerely,

Pat Conroy

5 Comments

Filed under about writing, admiration, book geek, Civics and Citizenship, compassion and cooperation, critical thinking, ethics, great writing, I love my job, Literature, out in the real world, parental units, politics, really?!, Teaching, writing

Why English Class Matters

My younger daughter is on the middle school field hockey team.  One of her teammates has a mom who took it upon herself to look up some information about warm-up jackets for the girls.

I think this is a lovely gesture and I fully intend on purchasing a jacket for Bean.  I have been routinely horrified, however, by this mom’s abysmal writing skills.  Unless she’s not a native speaker, there’s really no need for this:

At long last I have the data on jackets. We will order from Collins sport In Randolph the cost is about 48 dollars to be finalized when we give a count. I have printed off photos of the two choices women’s cut and men’s cut either can be ordered we do not all need to get the same. We will have  Field Hockey embroidered on back , name on sleeve and school field hockey logo on chest or a generic one if he cannot find a specific fern wave one. The link to the pictures are in the email. Also we need to pay up front. I have typed out a flyer/ order form and checks need to go to Collins sports no cash please. I would assume if you want to pay with credit card you can call them as they are local just let us get the order organized. Look for the pictures and form and info letter tomorrow with the girls.

(for the record, I have no idea what a ‘fern wave’ would look like)

This email went out to 35 families and the coaches.  It was followed up this afternoon with this literary gem:

A reminder that we will be placing the order for the jackets this week so please have your order information and check or payment information in by Tuesday or at least make contact by then . Thanks so much . We fad a good response so far the girls will look wonderful in then. Most are buying big to last a few years . We are only referencing town not middle school so they won’t outgrow them!!

I… I just… I have no words…

4 Comments

Filed under about writing, concerns, failure, I can't make this shit up..., out in the real world, parental units, really?!, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?