Monthly Archives: January 2009



I got my students’ inaugural essays on Monday and have been trying to slog my way through them all week.  I’ve only got 17 kids in the class, and only 12 of them turned work in, so you wouldn’t think it’d be that big a deal, right?

Well, you’d be wrong.

For starters, most students – all, in fact, so far – don’t understand the difference between analysis and review.  This really isn’t that much of a surprise because I wasn’t expecting greatness here, but at least an ATTEMPT to scratch the surface would have been appreciated.  One or two students made halfhearted attempts at analysis – and my glee at these efforts is, I think, far more than they actually deserve but hey; a candle in the dark may as well be the sun, right? –  but most of them stuck with “this is what this guy said, and this is what that guy said, and they basically said the same thing.”

One student in particular stands out in the crowd, and not for any good reason, either.  Exactly what am I supposed to do with this?:

Mine open statement and studies on a matter of belief this may or may not be the best paper to cross the desk.  I did not vote for this election due to my own politics harming graphic design work last term, no time was taken for me to make a smart vote.  The battle of bullshit is were we all make a design “who does this?” where are facts on others demands,” these statements and view may never craved cement for our nations positive step forward….It’s not just about guys in stiff suits and their views in hand with hurtful, unclean lobbies.  We as society are so clouded with what goes on from global warming to relationship issues….Obama is clear concerned roomful speaker…deliver message must be consider to us even thaw war is somewhere.  WHY?…Were the action of therapy behavior of caring for you fellow man and woman….

It goes on and on in one single paragraph for two and a half pages.

(does anyone remember the Gone Quiet West Wing episode where the Majority Leader “got the question” and CJ’s secretary, Carol, when asked about it, said, “ was a train wreck.  I recognized all the words, but…”  THAT’S how I feel about this.)

The conflict alluded to in this post’s title is this: part of me – a HUGE part of me – wants to just toss this aside and say “you know what, kid?  If you can’t even manage to write in language that even approaches coherency, then you really don’t belong in my class.  How did you GET this far, anyway?!”  He didn’t follow the assignment (he failed to investigate another president’s inaugural address and instead – as best I can tell – looked at a speech delivered by Spiro Agnew sometime in the Nixon administration).  There’s no structure to his writing, or his thinking, for that matter.  This is Carol’s train wreck, and I can’t even begin to tease out what he was trying to say because I’m fairly certain even HE has no idea what that might be.

On the other hand, though, he put out the effort.  He was one of the 12 who turned at least something in.  I have little doubt that he actually watched Obama’s speech – he managed to slip a quote in about halfway down the first page – which is more than some of his peers did.

I don’t get the impression that this kid is a “problem child.”  He participates to the extent that he’s able (though I have noticed that I often don’t understand what point he’s trying to make when he’s speaking, either), and he’s not belligerent or attitudinal at all.  He may be someone I can reach.

I went to TCC this morning and spoke with the Dean about this kid, then I started the paperwork going to cover my little ass further down the road.  The Dean got a copy of a progress report expressing my concern for this student’s future in my class, as well as a couple of photocopies of the essay that sparked that concern.  I’m hoping that the boy will seek out tutoring and extra help because, if he keeps handing in work like this, there’s no way he’ll be able to meet the standards I’ve established for passing this course.


Filed under analysis, concerns, failure, frustrations, General Griping, politics, Teaching, Yikes!

Grammar Wednesday

We’re back with another installment of Grammar Wednesday! (and you thought I’d forgotten!)

This week’s offering is brought to you by California Teacher Guy, who is in the midst of picking himself up and dusting himself off, but who still found the time to email me with a grammar glitch he found in a major newspaper’s site:


From a story in the LA Times about a murder-suicide:

“Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the city and county have hotlines available people in desperate straights, including job centers, counselors and suicide hotline workers.”

Ah, don’t you just love those homophone goblins?


This is one of a few homophones that always trip up my students.  Let’s go over a couple, shall we?

The word the author of the LA Times piece was looking for is straits, which is a noun that means a position of difficulty, stress, or need. Think “Dire Straits” – both the term and the rock band – and the Straits of Gibraltar and you’ll get this one right more often.

My students also get caught writing about something that “peeked” their interest.  The correct word for that application is piqued, which is a verb meaning, among other things, to excite the curiosity.

Another one that gets them a lot is “slight of hand” (it’s funny how often they mess up when they try to use idioms that aren’t part of their everyday speech).  The word they want is sleight, which is a noun that means a cunning, artifice, or skill.

There are a bunch of other homophones that I see used incorrectly a lot – the big winners are to, too, and two; whether and weather; cite, sight, and site; and dew, do, and due.  Really, the only way I know to get these things right consistently is practice.

Happy Wednesday, Everyone!!


Filed under Blogroll, Grammar

Twice in One Day

We never really know, as teachers, how much of an effect we have on our students, though sometimes they give us hints about how much we meant to them.

I heard from two students from last term at Local U. yesterday – and each of them was from a different class.  Evan sent me a text message that went like this:

Chili!  I’m studying rhetoric.

Ooooh!  One of my favorite topics!  Spill!

Um, I’m taking persuasive writing and I’m reading a book on rhetoric but it’s tough reading, haha

Oh, I bet.  Can I help?

Prob not at the moment, but I’m sure that later in the semester.  I thought you’d like to hear I’m taking the class, though.

I’m jazzed by it, Evan.  Keep me in mind if I can help!

How cool is that?  I was touched that he thought to tell me – to brag, actually – that he’s engaged in “my” field.  What fun!

I also got an email from Lia last night.  She chimed in to warn me about a virus that’s designed to infect Macs.  Lia regularly gave me a hard time in class about being a “crunchy Mac person,” to which I responded that I was okay with that label, not only because it was true – well, not the “crunchy” part, but the Mac person part – and that we Mac people don’t suffer the same virus attacks as PC people do.  She was emailing to set me straight.  How did she sign her letter?  “Love, Lia – your favorite pain in the ass”

Goddess, I love my job!


Filed under fun, funniness, I love my job, Local U., success!


Here’s one of those things that, if it hadn’t actually happened to me, I wouldn’t have believed it.

I received this email from one of my students on Monday:

I have to work tomorrow night and I will not be able to watch the Inaugural Speech and I don’t know anyone that has access of taping it or anything. Do you have any suggestions on how I can still get the assignment done? If you could get back to me as soon as possible I appreciate it 🙂 Thank You, Carl.

Obama Inauguration

image credit

Carl, REALLY?!  Are you SERIOUS?  First of all, Carl, the address was delivered around lunch time; if you didn’t have to work until the evening, you should have been able to see the damned thing on – oh, I don’t know –  EVERY SINGLE CHANNEL.  The fact that you’re emailing me would indicate that you have, you know, ELECTRICITY – internet, even.  I’m certain that, with a minimum of effort, you can find Obama’s speech.  Hell, I picked up a copy of the free town newspaper, and they’ve got a full-page spread of the text of the address.  Did you try YouTube?  How about  OH!  I KNOW!  The White House web page.  American Rhetoric?  Have I offered you enough choices?

I sent him back a terse and no-so-polite email basically telling him that I was going to offer him the opportunity to figure this one out on his own and that, if he got REALLY stuck, he should email me back.


Filed under Civics and Citizenship, critical thinking, dumbassery, failure, frustrations, funniness, out in the real world, politics, That's your EXCUSE?!, Yikes!

I’m Still Here!

I’m sorry – I know I promised to write more regularly here, but I’ve been busy the last week or so.  We just returned last night from a trip to DC to witness the inauguration of President Obama (YAY!), and much of my time has been otherwise engaged.  You can go here for posts about that adventure; I’ll be back to posting here in a couple of days.


Filed under little bits of nothingness, That's your EXCUSE?!

Rubric for the Inaugural Assignment

I’m putting this assignment in writing for my class; I’ve essentially cut-and-pasted the assignment as I wrote it in the previous entry.  To be fair, though, I added a bit about how, regardless of what we may think of his politics, Obama is considered by many to be an outstanding and charismatic public speaker.  Dudley made a good point in his comment to the assignment post – about how students might tailor their essays to align with what they perceive my politics to be – and I will make a big deal out of letting my students know that I do not expect them to parrot to me the things they think I want to hear.  I’ll get into a post about how much I really DO welcome contrary voices, but now is not the time.  Watch this space.

ANYWAY, here’s what I’ve come up with as a basic rubric for this assignment.  I’ve gotten away from the rubrics; I’m not sure that I want to get into all the picky details.  These kids are in college; they should have a pretty good understanding of what makes a good essay, and this was the type of rubric I used at Local U. with quite satisfactory results.  Here, then, are my criteria for an A paper for this assignment:

Analysis  50%:

The essay is clear and concise.  The writer is able to discern the main points of the speeches and has a clear understanding of the subtleties of tone and inflection (where applicable).  The writer is able to support his or her assertions with text from the speeches and is able to make both general and specific statements about the messages of the speaker.  Relevant details give the reader important information that goes beyond the obvious or predictable, and those details are placed in a logical order.

Grammar and style  30%:

The language of the essay is appropriate for a work of scholarly inquiry.  There are no punctuation or spelling errors, and all words are used correctly.  Sentences sound natural  and flow well when read aloud, and each has an obvious emphasis.  Transitions are varied, smooth and logical, and the introduction and conclusion are both adequate and effective.

Format  20%:

The essay is typed in 12-point font on plain paper.  All pages are stapled.  All references are properly cited in MLA format.  Texts of both speeches are included with the essay, as well as any notes or drafts the author produced in the writing process.


Filed under about writing, analysis, Civics and Citizenship, composition, critical thinking, politics, rhetoric, writing

The Inaugural Assignment

My students are going to have week three of eleven weeks completely off from our class.  Monday the 19th is the Martin Luther King holiday and, on Wednesday, I’ll be coming home from DC with my family after having (hopefully) witnessed the inauguration ceremonies in person (I know, I know… us and five million other people).

I’ve decided, though, that we’ve got too little time together to give my students the week “off” – especially with the weather in the winter cutting into class meetings – so I’ve been thinking of a meaningful and relevant assignment for them to complete in my absence.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

An important component of this class is comprehension; you’re not here just to learn how to speak in public settings, but also to understand more completely what’s being said to you.  Being able to analyze incoming messages, and to make connections to new information and your own life, is a skill that will serve you well regardless of your career path.

The U.S. is getting ready to inaugurate its 44th president.  Without getting into the fact that a peaceful handover of governmental power every four to eight years is remarkable in and of itself, I want to call your attention to the fact that President-Elect Obama is a particularly articulate man and quite a remarkable rhetorician (look it up).


Your assignment for week three has three parts.  First, you will conduct a thoughtful and comprehensive analysis of President Obama’s inaugural address.  Start with an overview of what he said, move on to consider how he said it, and investigate the speech for any underlying implications or ideas that struck you as particularly meaningful or important.  That’s part one.

Once you’ve taken a good look at Obama’s speech, find the inaugural address of any other American president you choose. is an excellent resource for finding speeches, but I’m certain that a Google search with your president’s name and “inaugural address” will yield some useful results, as well.  Conduct a similar analysis of this president’s speech, (that’s part two) and then compare the two (that’s part three).  What similarities can you draw?  What do you know about the historical, political, and social conditions of the time that influenced what your president had to say to the people of the country?  Which president’s speech seemed more effective to you and why?

These are to be written in a single, cohesive essay (be mindful of your transitions), typed and proofread, and handed in during class on Monday, January 22nd.  The essay will count as a test grade, so please put a genuine and focused effort into this work.  As always, contact me if you have any questions or problems, or if you need some guidance in essay writing.

My objectives for this assignment are to get my students writing (I’m not yet familiar with their writing voices), to see how well they are attuned to the subtlety of language, and to assess their ability at close reading.  Since comprehension is such a big component in the objectives of the course, I would like to get a baseline for how well they can do analysis on their own.

This is just a first draft of the assignment idea.  I’m completely open to any suggestions that any of you might have to offer.


Filed under analysis, Civics and Citizenship, critical thinking, out in the real world, politics, rhetoric