Monthly Archives: February 2008

The Plague Comes to TCC

I opened my email the other day to find this precious little announcement:

Dear Campus Community:

In light of the tragedy at Northern Illinois University on February 14th, I want to assure you that TCC has an emergency response plan in place to help ensure the safety of our campus. Your safety as well as the safety of our staff and faculty is always a top concern.

We recently discovered a posting on MySpace written by one of our students that contained a threat of violence. The police have been notified, and we are in contact with them. The student will be suspended until further notice, and a security guard was posted on campus first thing on Wednesday morning.

Unfortunately, in the wake of tragedies like those at NIU and Virginia Tech, some individuals with very poor judgment choose to make threats. The school has zero tolerance for communications that are suggestive of a threat of physical violence or abuse, and we take every threat seriously.

We also want to encourage all of you to keep your eyes and ears open, trust your instincts, and let your instructor or a staff member know immediately if you see or hear any suspicious activity. We each play an important role in ensuring everyone’s safety.

We remain committed to protecting the safety of everyone in our campus community.

I arrived at the college this evening to babysit my computer lab and found that the satellite doors have been locked; the only way in was through the main doors. I also found that we’ve hired armed security to be a presence on campus for the foreseeable future. As I was walking through the parking lot to my car, I wondered how much good those measures will do.

Cajunvegan recently experienced an actual shooting at her school. I cannot begin to imagine what that must be like, and I’m hoping to all that is holy that I never have to find out.


Filed under colleagues, compassion and cooperation, concerns, out in the real world, The Job, Yikes!

Getting Serious

Okay, I’m starting to get serious about this Film as Literature course. Here’s what I’m thinking so far.  Keep in mind that I’m still very much in progress and am looking for feedback and suggestions and critique:

For the purposes of this class, literature is defined as the stories we tell to help us define our place / navigate our way in the world. They are the stories we tell to solidify our culture, to express our values and investigate our fears, and to set down our history and to predict our future.

Literature, in this context, has no specific qualifications beyond those definitions – literature can be books or movies, it can be an oral tradition or an interpretive dance (though we’ll likely not get into those last two categories in much detail). What I’m looking for here is to get students to start thinking of literature in broader terms than just canonical books.

I’d like to start the course with a film that WASN’T first a book. I’m considering The Last Samurai or Mississippi Burning, but I’m open to other suggestions – got any? What I envision doing is showing the film almost immediately – before we get too much into the purpose for the course – so that students can get the experience of seeing a film the same way we’d investigate a novel without getting bogged down in technicalities or overly-academic notions. We’ll look at plot and setting, characterization and conflict, motivation and resolution in the film in much the same way we’d look at it if we were reading it; I’d ask the students questions that would encourage them to think about different aspects of the film in ways that they may not have considered if they were watching the movie for entertainment. I’ve not come up with specific questions yet, but I’m not too far away from composing a few targeted inquiries that get at the kind of thinking I’m looking for my students to do.

I would then consider doing a side-by-side comparison of a text and a film. I’m leaning heavily toward a Shakespeare piece – there have been a lot of interpretations of King Lear and a few good ones of Othello, and I really am in love with Hamlet, but I think that’s only because I’ve taught it so much that I’ve developed a real sense for the play- though I’m also strongly considering looking closely at either The Green Mile or A Dry White Season. My intent here is to get the students to form an impression of the story in their minds through the reading, and then to look critically at the film versions of the story not so much as a comparison to the text, but in terms of how well the screenplay echoed the themes of the story as the students understood them. What did the director do well and what did the students think fell short? Why? Does the class agree that this or that was well or poorly done? How does what we, as individuals, bring to a literary experience influence how we judge a piece (or an interpretation of a piece)? How does our collective understanding of stories or storytelling influence how we, as a class, judge that piece? Are our individual judgments different from those of us in our role as members of a society?

There’s a lot more to this, but these are the things that have been foremost in my mind and, consequently, the things I wanted to get out into this forum for discussion, critique, and development.


Filed under compassion and cooperation, film as literature, Learning, Literature, popular culture, Questions, reading, self-analysis, Teaching, The Job, writing

Grammar Wednesday

A few weeks ago, I got this email from Suzanne (sorry it’s taken me so long to get to you, Sooza!):

Okay, I have one for you.  One of my colleagues and I were talking about the difference “fish” and “fishes.”  The rule is that if you are talking about multiple fish of the same species, the plural is “fish.”   When you are speaking about multiple fish of different species, you say “fishes.”   For example;

I caught six salmon last week.  Those fish take up a lot of space in my freezer!

The trawler boat found an area that was teeming with fishes – grouper, moray and sea bass.

I understand this is called an “irregular plural”.  Are there any others like this out there?

Thought this might be grist for your grammar mill.

Hope all is well with you and yours!
Love and blessings,

This was a good question, and it took a fair bit of research to come up with my response.

I think, Sooza, that this answers itself intuitively – your assessment of the words to use to most clearly express an idea (is there one type of fish or more?) is exactly right, and all that I could find on the subject bears you out.  First, go here and see that this site explains the use of the words in almost exactly the way you did:

A group of fish of the same species are called fish. Two or more species of fish are called ‘fishes’.

None (and I mean literally none) of my grammar books addressed this question directly (and I even looked in the Lessons in English text that my mom gave me, which was published in 1880).  If a style guide addressed the pluralization of “fish” at all, it told me that the singular and the plural are the same word, much like deer, sheep, and politics.  I can’t, off the top of my head, come up with any other nouns that can pluralize the same way fish and fishes can, though I’ll keep the question in the back of my mind and update if any come to me.

For myself, I’d use fish and fishes the way you have; if I’m talking about one species of fish in a group, I’d use fish.  If I’m expressing something about a diverse group, I’d use fishes:

The fish in the tank are all guppies.

We saw many different fishes at the aquarium, but no dolphins. 

Thanks, Sooza!

Happy Wednesday, Everyone!


Filed under Grammar, Questions

Whose Job IS It, Really?

For their weekend assignment, my composition class was tasked to read a single chapter in their texts about persuasive writing. In this chapter were brief, yet very clear and easily understandable definitions of common terms and concepts used in debate and persuasion: the straw man, the bandwagon appeal, that sort of thing.

Monday morning, I brought in a pop quiz of sorts – I listed all of the terms and concepts explained in the chapter and asked them to choose four of them to explain as clearly and completely as they could.

Care to guess how that went?

What astounds me is the arrogant outrage that some of them expressed at being asked to demonstrate their knowledge of this material. Many of the students were angry at me for (I suppose) having the nerve to expect them to work – to remember the information they were asked to read and study less than a week ago.

A number of students have complained that they’re not learning anything this term – and not just my students, either. Several of my colleagues have complained to me that that their students are dissatisfied. I had breakfast with a couple of my former students last week, and they spent most of the hour and a half we were together to complain that they felt they’d wasted their time this semester.

I’m not taking responsibility for it this anymore. If my students can’t be bothered to commit the major themes of a week’s assignment to memory – assuming, of course, that they actually read the assignment – then how much more can I be expected to do for them?

I kind of bitched them out after I collected the quizzes (I haven’t had the nerve to look at them yet; I’ll grade them tomorrow afternoon and let you know how it went). I think I impressed upon them that I’m really not asking for much, and that the responsibility for the quality of their education lies a great deal with them.

It’s going to be interesting to see how their persuasive papers turned out…


Filed under about writing, composition, concerns, failure, frustrations, General Griping, hybrids suck, student chutzpah, Yikes!


Okay, Gang – how about this for a set of objectives?  I boosted this directly from this course syllabus – like I said; I’m not interested in reinventing the wheel here, and these objectives feel pretty darned close to what I envision for my own course:

• Students will enhance their ability to understand, appreciate, and discuss works of literature through extensive reading and discussion of short stories, novels and plays.

• Students will analyze works of fiction and drama for plot structure, setting, characterization, theme, and narrative point of view.

• Students will develop an understanding of critical analysis of film through careful examination of cinematic adaptations of literary texts, focusing on character development, dramatic structure, and performance.

• Students will learn and utilize the terminology of film analysis, both those terms shared with literary discussion (character, plot, theme, setting) and those specific to cinema (lighting, montage, special effects, etc.).

• Students will demonstrate an understanding of the possibilities and problems involved in the transposition of literature to film, applying terminology and critical skills acquired during the semester to analyze a cinematic adaptation of a text not discussed in class.

I would add to this an objective about learning to see film as literature in its own right – that a film doesn’t have to be an adaptation of a novel in order to be considered literature.  I suppose I’d have to start with a working definition of what literature is for the purposes of the course, but that’s something I can play with as I go.

Does that help clear up for you all what I’m looking to do here?


Filed under colleagues, film as literature, job hunting, Learning, Literature, popular culture, Questions, reading, self-analysis, Teaching, The Job

Professional Collaboration

Are you up for a little professional collaboration?

I want to put together a 16 week, college-level course in Film as Literature. My vision for this course is that it would be set up in a seminar format – viewing, discussion, writing, discussion, reading, discussion – and would focus almost entirely on film as works of literature. I would want to have at least two – maybe more – crossovers of novels/plays to films (I’m thinking specifically of Hamlet, The Prestige, and To Kill a Mockingbird, but I’m open to other suggestions and am also willing to have the books/plays rotate from semester to semester) so that the students can get used to the idea of seeing the written word and film as separate works of art, even when one is based on the other. I want to include these films in the course:

The Last Samurai
Mississippi Burning
A Dry White Season
Schindler’s List
Dances with Wolves
Willow (or LadyHawke)
The Green Mile
I Robot

I’m sure there are other films I’ll want to investigate, but these are the ones I’ve been itching to do with a class.

What I’m looking for from you, Dear Readers, is both some collaboration and some guidance. Can you all help me put together something that would hold up to the rigor expected in an upper-level course? What kinds of objectives do I need to put on a syllabus for such a class? How do I design the work and the assessments so that the students can demonstrate mastery of those objectives?

My goal is to have a complete packet – syllabus, lesson plans, sample assignments, the whole thing – put together so that when I start interviewing for jobs, I can show them this work. I’m hoping to eventually be able to TEACH this as a special topics class, and I’m really looking to wow my perspective employers with my comprehensive and academically valid course.

So, what do you say? Are you up for doing a little brainstorming with me?


Filed under colleagues, film as literature, job hunting, Learning, Literature, out in the real world, popular culture, Questions, reading, self-analysis, Teaching, The Job, writing

Grammar Wednesday

Sentence Fragments!

I haven’t seen a whole lot of bloggers who suffer from fragmentation – at least, not in their grammar; their lives are another story entirely – and I don’t read fanfic, so I’ve got no references there, but my students? Goodness, but those children can write fragments all day long and never think twice about it!

There are five things that make a sentence complete. When I teach these five things, I give my students the Vulcan salute and hope that the gesture will help them to remember. First, a complete sentence must have a capital letter at the beginning. Second, a complete sentence has to have some form of end punctuation. Next, a complete sentence has both a subject and a verb (though the subject isn’t always a word in the sentence – we’ll get to that in a minute). Finally, a complete sentence must express a complete thought.

Jayson doesn’t like pea soup.


In the first sentence, Jayson (capitalized both because it’s a proper noun and because it appears at the beginning of a sentence) is our subject. Does like is our verb (not is an adverb and is not part of our verb; does is a helping verb that needs, in this case, like to have the sentence make sense). There’s a period at the end of the sentence and, when we’ve reached that period, we know not to put a bowl of pea soup in front of Jayson because he likely won’t eat it; our thought is completely expressed.

The second sentence is, indeed, a complete sentence, even though we’ve only got one word. We’ve got the requisite capital letter at the beginning and punctuation at the end. We’ve got a subject, too, even though it’s not expressed in a word; our subject, in this case, is the “you, understood” that often comes with commands. Our verb is pretty clear, and the thought expressed is likewise complete – you need to get out, and fast!

The problem my students seem to have is with the final requirement for complete sentences. They’re pretty good with capital letters, and most of the time there’s punctuation that indicates the end of a structure. They’ve gotten pretty good at putting subjects and verbs in their sentences, though they continue to have s/v agreement issues. No, their problem comes from not being able to always express complete thoughts. More often than not, I’ll see sentences like:

Because she knew it was wrong.


Even though I did what you asked.

This is why, ladies and gentlemen, I tell my students not to start their sentences with conjunctions. If we take the “because” off of the first sentence, we’ve got a lovely structure; She knew it was wrong. While we don’t know what “it” was, we do know that she knew it was wrong, and really, that’s enough. The “because” complicates things, though; did she do something because she knew it was wrong? Did she choose not to do it because she knew it was wrong? Did she report it? Cover it up? What?

The thing is, there’s a subject (she) and a verb (knew) and a capital letter and end punctuation. The problem comes from the writer assuming we know the rest of the story.

The second sentence is even worse, in my opinion. Even though I did what you asked really only begins to express a thought; what we need is a comma and the rest of that thought:

Even though I did what you asked, you still recorded a failing grade.

Even though I did what you asked, you continue to refuse to take my calls.

Even though I did what you asked, I got in trouble with our boss.

Again, we’ve got a subject (I) and a verb (did), but we’re missing some essential information to help us find out what the consequences were of doing what I asked.

Recognize, please, that this is only something I’m picky about in formal writing. I use sentence fragments all the time in blogging or when I speak – it’s a natural part of conversation, really, because you already have the information necessary to make the fragment make sense. In formal, turn-it-in-for-grades writing, or for formal business writing or for submitting entries to newspapers or magazines, though, every sentence should be complete.

Happy Wednesday, Everyone. Live long, and prosper.



Filed under about writing, frustrations, Grammar, great writing