Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Topic: The "Mysteries" of Writing.

10-second review: “Peter Elbow speaks of ‘three mysteries at the heart of writing’: one, ‘from no words to words’; two, ‘figuring out what we really mean,’ even when we lack the right words to express what we mean; and three, ‘words that give’ meaning to readers more easily than others.” p. 828.

Title: “Perspectives: From Introspection to Action: Connecting Spirituality and Civic Engagement.” Gesa E. Kirsch. College Composition and Communication (June 2009), 827-828. A college publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “They (the class) tell you that they enjoy reading each other’s writing and that you, as the teacher, are ‘the lucky one’ because you get to read all the essays while they only hear a sample during each workshop. And they are right: you can’t wait to read the next set of essays to see what topics they’ve tackled, what inspiration they’ve found, what journeys they’ll take you on.” p. 828.

: The reasons for teaching writing. Ever thought of displaying students’ writing around the room? Students will read other students’ compositions and gain some ideas about writing from them. RayS.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Topic: Creative Writing at the College Level

10-second review: Finds that the current creative writing pedagogy is not productive. Offers alternatives.

Title: “Voice of Authority: Theorizing Creative Writing Pedagogy.” RM Kearns. College Composition and Communication (June 2009), 790-807. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “The typical creative writing curriculum centers on the workshop, in which peers and professors critique students’ work-in-progress. Some enjoy this format and benefit from it. Other writers, however, have described the workshop process as counter productive and alienating.” p. 790.

Quote: “The most basic features of the conventional workshop are as follows: 1) the author is prohibited from speaking during discussion of her or his work (the ‘gag’ rule); 2) discussion focuses (sometimes exclusively) on purported ‘flaws’ in the work….” p. 792.

Inevitable Focus on Flaws

Even when workshop members are required to say what is good about a piece or read a paragraph they like, the discussion almost immediately turns to flaws.

Quote: “The normative workshop discussion focuses on ‘problems’ with a story rather than its strengths.” p. 795.

Alternative Approaches

The author suggests some alternatives to the typical creative writing workshop: view the work as a work in progress; what can be learned from analyzing published works; the author discusses the process used when writing it, including revisions already thought of.

Comment: The same problems and alternatives might be useful for peer response in writing instruction. RayS.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Topic: First-Year Composition (FYC) Courses

Topic: First-Year College Composition Courses

10-second review: First-year college composition courses promise to teach students how to write. It’s a promise that is not fulfilled. The generalized nature of the course does not help students to write for specific disciplines.

Title: “ ‘Mutt Genres’ and the Goal of FYC [First-year composition]: Can We Help Students Write the Genres of the University?” E. Wardle. College Composition And Communication (June 2009), 765-789. A college-level publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Eliminate first-year composition and require the separate disciplines to teach students how to write the genres of each discipline.

Comment: The content usually taught in first-year composition(FYC) includes description, narrative, personal expression, process, cause and effect, classification, illustration, definition, comparison and contrast, analogy and the research paper. In my opinion, these are isolated skills, except for the research paper, out of context of the genres actually required in science, history, sociology, etc.

I propose that students in FYC be taught to write in a variety of genres, especially reports, since reports cross all disciplines and are required in the real world of business and professional writing.

For example, The Business writer’s Handbook [Fourth Revised Edition, CT Brusaw, CJ Alred and WE Olin. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993] provides models for a variety of types of letters, executive summaries, journal articles, minutes of meetings, newsletter articles, news releases, policies and procedures, proposals, annual reports, feasibility reports, formal reports, progress reports, trouble reports.

I suggest that these genres replace the standard first-year college composition program.

One way to teach these genres is to study models and have the students produce a how-to-write publication by analyzing the models. Teachers of other disciplines could give the English department models of the types of writing used in their disciplines. RayS.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Topic: College Dropouts

10-second review: What can we do to prevent college students from dropping out before the conclusion of their freshman writing course?

Title: “Retention and Writing Instruction: Implications for Access and Pedagogy.” PR Powell. College Composition and Communication (June 2009), 664-682. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: College freshman writing instructors may have more contact and insight into students’ personal issues, but even success in the course does not prevent some of them from dropping out. College freshman writing instructors need to pay attention to the research on college retention. They might be able to help, but don’t count on it.

Quote: “I am currently designing a service learning course in which students will study some of the research on retention, with a focus on what middle and high school students need to know about college before they arrive on campus.” p. 678.

Comment: Having successful writing students disappear before the completion of the course has happened to me, causing me to react emotionally. I wish I had been informed of the research on retention. RayS.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Topic: The Role of Speech in Writing Instruction

10-second review: Some ideas on speaking and writing instruction to think about.

Title: “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing.” Cynthia L. Selfe. College Composition and Communication (June 2009), 616-669. A college level quarterly journal of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Our Aural Culture

“Anyone who has spent time on a college or university campus over the past few decades knows how fundamentally important students consider their sonic environments—the songs, music, and podcasts they produce and listen to; the cell phone conversations in which they immerse themselves; the headphones and Nanos that accompany them wherever they go; the thumper cars they use to turn the streets into concert stages; the audio blogs, video soundtracks and mixes they compose and exchange with each other and share with anyone else who will listen.” p. 617.

The Irony of Our Aural Culture When It Comes to Class Discussion

Quote: “Indeed, students’ general penchant for listening to and producing sound can be eloquently ironic for English composition teachers faced with the deafening silence of a class invited to engage in an oral discussion about written text.” p. 617.

Writing as the Primary Mode of Formal Academic Work

Quote: “In sum, the increasingly limited role of aurality within U.S. English and composition programs during the last half of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries was intimately tied to the emerging influence of writing as the primary mode of formal academic works, of commercial exchange and record-keeping and of public and professional expression.” p. 625.

Irony of Using Lectures to Teach Writing

Quote: “…many teachers have continued to impart information through oral lectures, often expending a great deal of time to craft and deliver effective oral texts.” p. 634.

Writing = Intelligence

Quote: “It is an understandable, if unfortunate, fact, as Patricia Dunn argues, that our profession has come to equate writing with intelligence.” p. 644.

Summary: The author has raised some interesting issues about the role of “aurality” in written communication. She seems to think that composition will become more balanced between writing and speaking as students learn to use multimodal communication.

Comment: I’m simply raising some of the author’s issues in the use of speaking and listening in writing instruction. Writing, from my point of view, grows increasingly oral in nature as style becomes more informal. Students repeat words and expressions, over use “it,” “get” “thing,” “there” and fail to relate clearly the demonstrative pronouns, “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those” with their antecedents. I’ve always thought that formal expression increases with conciseness and precision in word choice. Is one mode (informality vs. formality) superior? Depends on the audience and purpose. Students need to be able to switch from one to the other as needed. RayS.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Topic: Parents and First-grade Reading

10-second review: When children don’t learn to read, it’s too easy to blame the parents. This urban teacher investigated and found the parents to be helpful and determined that their children learn to read.

Title: “Listening to Families Over Time: Seven Lessons I Learned about Literacy in Families.” C Compton-Lilly. Language Arts (July 2009), 449-457. Language Arts is the elementary section publication of the National Council of Teachers of English.

Quote: “I found that virtually all parents are concerned about their children and emphatic that their children learn to read. In fact, it was not unusual for me to find that the same parents other teachers complained about were helpful and supportive in our interactions.”

One of the author’s other findings: Parents and children were overly focused on sounding out words.

Comment: Another frequent criticism I have heard when a student has failed to succeed is that the students “are lazy.” When I investigated further, I found that the students had problems, but one of them was not laziness. They really wanted to learn. In fact, one student who had been labeled by his teachers as “lazy” turned out to be prevented from reading successfully because he was too focused on sounding out words, not comprehending. RayS.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Topic: The Importance of Spelling and Grammar

10-second review: Questioner wonders what to do about an ambitious engineer who does not seem concerned about attention to spelling and grammar mistakes.

Title: “Can Poor Spelling Derail a Career?” Toddi Gutner. Wall street Journal (August 31, 2009), Internet.

Summary: The ambitious engineer needs to understand the impact poor spelling will have on his career. Lack of professionalism. May be acceptable in personal e-mails, but still not acceptable in the business world. Shows lack of attention to detail. Demonstrates immaturity and illiteracy. Boss might never get beyond the misspellings to find out that he’s a great engineer. There is a possibility he is dyslexic or has a learning disability in which case corporations are required to make accommodations for his problem.

What to do? He should print out all communications and check carefully for spelling and grammatical mistakes. Have colleague double-check his work. Try a continuing education or community college course.

: The old idea of reading backward from last word to first. He will note the details of every word. When you read from first word to last, your comprehension can pass over the details of every word and you will miss spelling mistakes and typos. Reading from first word to last word, however, is necessary to pick up grammatical mistakes. Note that the Wall Street Journal says that spelling and grammar are important. RayS.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Topic: Business Buzzwords.

10-second review: The most annoying business jargon.

Title: “Why Can’t We Speak Clearly?” Mike Armstrong. The Philadelphia Inquirer (August 31, 2009), p. C1.

Quote: “Let’s start Monday with some business buzzwords: Synergy. Think outside the box. Customer-centric. On the same page.”

Quote: “We hear them 20 times a day. You’ll be happy to know they’re among the most annoying or overused phrases named by 150 senior executives in a poll by temporary staffing service Accountemps.”

Quote: “The phrases are so loathed that Accountemps put them into its Buzzword Hall of Fame with the one that irks me most: solution.”

Comment: My favorite business word that I hate, loathe, despise and abominate is “grow” as in “grow the business.RayS.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Topic: English Language Learners (ELLs) and Writing

10-second review: To improve English Language Learners’ writing, the author engages in dialogue journals where she can model writing in English.

Title: “Inviting Students and Teachers to Connect.” Julie Bader Salcedo. Language Arts (July 2009), 440-448. The Elementary Section publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “Dialogue journals are written exchanges between teacher and student that take place in a designated notebook on a regular basis. The writing is student-generated and the teacher responds as a full participant in a type of written conversation. There is no evaluation, correction of spelling or ‘teacherly’ comments, such as ‘Good Job!’ or ‘Please use proper punctuation.’ ” p. 441.

Quote: “While I started with the intention of connecting to their writing, I ended by connecting to their lives.” p. 448.

Comment: But students are going to insist that they be helped to write correct English. When students say they want to know how to improve their writing, have them write for ten minutes a day on a topic of their choice. That night the teacher corrects their writing by replacing problems with spelling, grammar, punctuation and word choice with the correct spelling, sentence structure, word choice and punctuation. The students then rewrite the corrected copy in order to help them to visualize their writing as correct writing. Completed daily, students will question changes, learn from the teacher’s explanations and will gain confidence in their writing in English. RayS.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Topic: Literacy and Parents

10-second review: Teacher doesn’t tell parents what their children are doing. She shows them. Parents’ response? “I want more of this.”

Title: “ ‘What He Wanted Was Real Stories, But No One would Listen’: A Child’s Literacy. A Mother’s Understandings.” Language Arts (July 2008), 431-439. A publication of the Elementary Section of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “Drawing on information I’d been collecting since early September, I read selections of their children’s dialogue from my observation notes. I played the video tape I’d recorded earlier in the day of their youngsters gathering in the story corner or chatting at the writing center. I displayed photos of the children while they’re at work and play. I offered copies of audio-taped transactions of their children’s comments and questions during story and discussion time.”

Comment: Shows the children at work via a variety of media. Probably the best way to show parents that their children are learning. Another way to demonstrate what the children are learning is to display the paperback booklets the children have written based on the children’s books the teacher has read aloud to them. At the bottom of each page is the text. At the top of each page are their hand-drawn pictures. RayS.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Topic: New Teachers

10-second review: “Berliner (2001) has argued that not until their fifth year of experience do teachers become ‘proficient’ enough to let their knowledge and intuition guide their teaching….”

Title: “A Longitudinal Study of Consequential Transitions in the Teaching of Literature.” GE Newell, L Tallman and M Letcher. Research in the Teaching of English (August 2009), 89-126. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: This article deals with new teachers and the sometimes conflicting forces that cause them to be shaped as a teacher. Education courses, student teaching, cooperating teachers, English department policy, school policy, “expert” teachers, AP program requirements, etc. all bend them in sometimes different directions.

In literature, this teacher came from her education courses believing in encouraging students’ developing and defending their own interpretations and encountered a focus on common interpretations and correct answers.

This article and research show the forces with which she had to contend. Aside from the complexity of these forces and their effects on the new teacher, the article is not much help in showing the new teacher how to deal with the forces and yet retain and work toward achieving her own goals.

Comment: I suggest that new teachers follow the prevailing practice and then begin small experiments that deviate from the prevailing practice and take steps toward applying their own ideas and put together a program that combines both the prevailing practice and the teacher's own ideas.

My experience with elementary teachers’ using the basal readers showed me that following the basals’ directions helped teachers learn how to teach reading in a systematic manner, but teachers began to deviate from the basal practice as they gained experience from working with it. RayS.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Topic: Ugly Sentence

10-second review: Another of my periodic highlighting of extraordinarily ugly examples of jargon in professional publications.

Title: “Ventriloquation in Discussions of Student writing: Examples from a High School English Class.” BL Samuelson. Research in the Teaching of English (August 2009), 52-88. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

The Sentence: “Bakhtin’s applications of voicing and dialogicality to the study of the novel have been widely understood to describe the heteroglossia inherent in all utterances.”

Comments: Can you translate this sentence? I graduated from high school, achieved a degree as an English major in college, earned my master’s degree in literature, and finished three years of doctoral study, after scoring in the 93rd percentile in the Verbal Section of the Graduate Record Exam by ETS, and I couldn’t understand it. Further, when “Ventriloquation” was explained by the author, I couldn’t understand it either, and I couldn’t understand the article because I couldn’t understand“ventriloquation.” This article was a waste of good American trees.

A friend of mine teaching in an urban setting complained that his students couldn’t write a good sentence. Whoever wrote this article probably has her doctorate, and she gives an excellent example of what is not a good sentence. So there is illiteracy, even at the doctoral level. RayS.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Topic: Kindle 2

10-second review: Will the Kindle 2 replace books made of paper pages? No.

Title: “A New Page. Nicholson Baker. The New Yorker (August 3, 2009), 24-3o.

Summary: “Amazon is very good at selling things, but to date it hasn’t been as good at making things.” Problems: The electronic text fades in the sunlight. Many of the author’s favorite books are not available on Kindle. The text-to-speech feature made a number of mistakes, like translating “Miss” into the name of a state. It doesn’t do well with pictures and diagrams, often not including them in the electronic text. And you can’t pass your copy of the book to a friend, because, unlike real books, they are not transferable.

Comment: I’m assuming the reader is acquainted with Amazon’s Kindle 2, an e-book reader. Sounds, from this review, that it is a good idea which is still not ready for prime time. RayS.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Topic: Inservice

10-second review: One of the problems with changing teachers’ behavior is that they return from the workshop to the same setting in which they taught before participating in the workshop. No matter how energized they were in the workshop, their desire to try the new ideas will erode in the same deadening home-school environment.

Title: “Analyzing Voice in the Writing of Chinese Teachers of English.” E Spalding, J Wong, E Lin and G Hu. Research in the Teaching of English (August 2009), 23-51. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The authors tried to develop the concept of voice in writing by emphasizing personal narrative writing. The authors were pleased with the results, but worry that when the participants return to their schools, the atmosphere will deaden their desire to develop the concept of voice with their students.

Quote: “The question remains whether and to what extent, the Chinese English teachers will sustain and further develop their voices when the workshop environment and similar kinds of support are no longer present. No matter how energized teachers become by learning new methods and strategies in professional development settings, they return to the same teaching conditions, with the same colleagues and the same students, in the same schools, and their good intentions are gradually eroded. This is as true in China as it is in the United States, and more research is needed to examine the effect of context on the implementation of language teaching reform.” p. 47.

Comment: Workshop was an Attempt to balance the teaching of expository writing and narrative. This workshop took place in China with Chinese teachers of English. The larger problem is how to insure that workshop participants will sustain the ideas from the workshop in their home schools.

In the U.S. the emphasis on the five-paragraph essay in 25 minutes will stifle the desire to emphasize narrative writing. Part of the workshop has to include fitting the new ideas into the framework of expository writing which is tested in high-stakes tests like the SAT. First, the teachers need to learn to expand the five-paragraph essay with multiple paragraphs in the introduction and within the middle paragraphs. Personal narrative is often used as part of expository writing when illustrating points being made. The emphasis has to be on the use of narratives within the expository framework. The five-paragraph essay in testing is not the same as real-world expository writing in which the five-paragraph essay is a model for organizing expository writing. . RayS.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Topic: Writing Introductions

10-second review: “Make certain that your opening creates questions that can be resolved only by further reading.”

Title: “Keeping Writers Out of the Rejection Pile.” Review of the book Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us: A (Sort Of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing Is Being Rejected. Jessica Page Morrell. Tarcher/Penguin, 268 pages. Paper, $16,75. Reviewed by Melissa Hart. The Writer (September 2009), p. 43. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Comment: Good advice. RayS.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Topic: Nonsexist Writing

10-second review: Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language by Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman. Random House. 288 pages. Hardcover, $22. The authors prefer “he” or “she” in reference to “anyone” as in “Can anyone know what future they will see in 20 years?” The reviewer disagrees, saying “they” is acceptable. I don’t agree with either solution. RayS.

Title: “Experts Dispel Common Usage Myths.” Chuck Leddy. The Writer (September 2009), 42-43. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Quote: “Although O’Conner and Kellerman celebrate flexibility, they do come down on the conservative side of some debates. They disagree with writers who use ‘they’ to serve as both a masculine and feminine pronoun. In the sentence, ‘Can anyone know what future they will see in 20 years?’ the authors might replace ‘they’ with ‘he or she.’ They point out that some authorities accept a singular ‘they,’ but some do not.”

Quote: “ ‘One solution,’ the authors note about the ‘they’ problem, ‘is to refer to the generic person with ‘he’ or ‘him’ or ‘his’ in some places, and with ‘she’ or ‘her’ or ‘hers’ in others. Simply alternate.’ This reviewer would not agree with that approach, preferring to use ‘they’ instead of alternative singular masculine and feminine pronouns. If language is ever-evolving, this usage should work itself out eventually, but I’m on the side of the gender-neutral ‘they.’ ”

Comment: And I disagree with both authors and reviewer.

Probably the most persistent question on sexist language I have been asked is how to deal with this sentence:

Everyone returned to their homes.”

“Everyone” is singular and “their” is plural. Grammatically, they don’t agree. The purist says, “No way.”

The traditional solution, “Everyone returned to his home” is grammatically correct. “Everyone” is singular; “his” is singular. But the sentence is sexist, implying that the whole human race is male. Not acceptable.

Another solution popular in my professional journals is, “ Everyone returned to his or her home.” Awkward. And once you begin the string of “his and her” in following sentences, the language becomes repetitious and ugly.

The best solution is to begin in the plural and to stay there.

“The party goers returned to their homes.”

The subject, “party goers,” is plural and “their” is plural. Grammatically, they agree. Besides “party goers” is more precise than “Everyone.”

Believe me, it will be easier to switch from the subjects, “The student,” and “The child,” to “Students” and “Children” than to have to deal with all the “his and her” phrases that the use of the singular will require.

By the way, one other solution to “Everyone returned to their homes” would be, “Everyone went home.” That solution has the advantage of conciseness.

Also, if you begin in the plural your sentences will read smoothly. Never a hitch or a distraction.

So if you find yourself starting with the singular and wondering what to do about the awkward use of “his and her” and "he and she," just change from singular to plural and everything will follow smoothly.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Topic: Review of a Book of English Usage

10-second review: The title of the book is Origins of the Specious and Misconceptions of the English Language. Patricia T. O’Connor and Stewart Kellerman. Random House. 288 pages. Hardcover $22.

Title: Experts Dispel Common Usage Myths.” Chuck Leddy. The Writer (September 2009), 41. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Quote: “Looking at grammar myths, they say it’s perfectly acceptable to split an infinitive. ‘It’s never been wrong to ‘split’ and infinitive. That bogus rule is the most infamous member of a gang of myths that grammarians have been trying to rub out for a century and a half: Don’t end a sentence with a preposition! Don’t begin one with a conjunction. Don’t use a double negative.’ ”

Comment: My take on these proscriptions. NOT splitting infinitives almost always sounds better and smoother.

But Winston Churchill took care of the preposition rule when he showed its absurdity with this sentence: “That is something up with which I will not put.”

And as for beginning sentences with conjunctions, I do it all the time. It’s a habit, I guess, but I do think I overdo it.

As for the double negatives: They almost always confuse the reader. I say, don’t use them. RayS.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Topic: Nonfiction Book Proposal

10-second review: What to include in a nonfiction book proposal.

Title: “The Motion of A Notion: How I Sold My Nonfiction Book Idea with A Successful Book Proposal.” The Writer (September 2009), 36-37. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: “A nonfiction book proposal is a marketing document that sells a nonfiction book to a publisher: What the book is about. Why an author is qualified to write it. Who the audience is. Where the book fits in the field. How the author will promote it. It also includes a detailed outline and one to three sample chapters…. You usually have to write some of the actual book…. Virtually all nonfiction books are sold by proposal.” p. 37.

Comment: Providing the sample chapters also prevents unscrupulous publishers from stealing your idea and letting someone else write it. You can’t copyright ideas. The sample chapters demonstrate that the book exists in progress. I wish I had gone through those steps before self-publishing my book. I might have found a publisher. RayS.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Topic: Preparing to Write

10-second review: Keep a record of your ideas for articles or books, and then….

Title: “From Idea to Contract.” H Rachelin. The Writer (September 2009), 30-32. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: ….then write down every thing you can think of about your idea. Determine the originality of your idea. Make a file folder for your idea. Gather research materials. Start writing up your idea as a proposal or query. Write an outline.

Comment: I think this is a good sequence of activities to put my ideas in motion. RayS.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Topic: Linked Text Sets

10-second review: A variety of texts, from children’s lit, adolescent lit and the classics, including short stories, essays, films, slide shows and the Internet dealing with a particular theme. In this example, “Who Am I?”

Title: “Scaffolding the English Canon with Linked Text Sets.” L Wold and L Elish-Piper. English Journal.(July 2009), 88-91. A secondary school publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The intent of Linked Text Sets is to use children’s and adolescent literature and non-print media to prepare students for the classics. The Classic dealing with this theme, “Who Am I?” is The Scarlet Letter. Authors give an example of the works leading up to reading The Scarlet Letter.

Comment: Why, oh why, didn’t I think of that?

On the other hand, I’m not quite sure why The Scarlet Letter was chosen as the classic for this theme. Still it’s a good idea—preparing students for the classics. Interesting. RayS.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Topic: End-of-Year Activities

10-second review; Students read aloud their favorite composition for the year. Students submit two pieces to be included in a class anthology.

Title: “Self-Directed Writing: Giving Voice to Student Writers.” K B Lovejoy. English Journal (July 2009), 79-86. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Additional Information: Teacher adds biographical details to the student writing in the class anthology.

Comment: Both ideas are good. RayS.