Monday, February 28, 2011

Comments on College Writing

Question: How do some college professors feel about the five-paragraph essay and the high school research paper?

Answer: “E[nglish] J[ournal] readers may be interested to learn that not one professor mentioned five-paragraph essays or ‘traditional’ high school research papers in the focus-group discussions as essential in college writing.” [Insert on P. 76 in bold-face print.]

Comment: [The five-paragraph essay] is the NCTE’s persistent and annoying attack on a practice in English teaching, similar to other attacks in the past on grammar [its uselessness in improving writing] and the final product [vs. process] in writing. It’s a valid attack if the teacher of writing does not go beyond the five-paragraph essay as a model for organizing expository writing.

I grow tired of suggesting that the NCTE’s own journals are only expanded examples of the five-paragraph essay, with introductions, statements of the purpose for each article in the beginning of the article, topic sentences for middle paragraphs and a summary conclusion. Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.

THE FIVE-PARAGRAPH ESSAY IS SIMPLY A MODEL FOR ORGANIZING EXPOSITORY WRITING. It is not intended to be the completed form of writing—except in 25-minute SAT essays, which is a matter of survival. RayS.

Title: “What Do Professors Really Say about College Writing?” E Breckman, et al. English Journal (January 2011), 75-81.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Suggested Column on College Writing

Question: What are some useful ideas about college writing to include in a secondary school professional English journal?

Answer: “Create a featured column about college writing. More specifically, we imagine a regular column that would be highly practical, a column that would showcase a specific writing assignment designed by a particular college professor and then include some kind of practical response, perhaps the professor’s commentary about the assignment or a question-and-answer session between the professor and a high school English teacher. Regardless of assignment and response, the column would provide the opportunity for English teachers to read and analyze, over time, dozens of college writing assignments, across disciplines, assignments that would otherwise not be readily accessible.” P. 80-81.

Comment: Such a column would help to close the gap between what high school English teachers do in teaching writing and professors’ expectations with writing assignments. Gives the high school English teacher a better idea of the kinds of writing their students will be expected to produce at the next level. I would welcome some knowledge of what science, history and English teachers, etc., expect in writing in college. I will be very surprised if there is more consistency at the college level than among the high school faculty. RayS.

Title: “What Do Professors Really Say about College Writing?” E Breckman, et al. English Journal (January 2011), 75-81.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Writing Summaries

Question: How do some teachers view writing summaries?

Answer: “Because preservice teachers at our institution sometimes dismiss summary as ‘boring’ a task requiring no creativity and little effort other than regurgitation, we propose here that summary is more accurately characterized as complex, recursive, and even an act of discovery. Indeed, a summary requires a close and accurate reading, including the ability to discern the author’s main point and then to relay that point…to report precisely the author’s content….” P. 77.

Comment: There are summaries and there are summaries, from a single sentence to several paragraphs. However, the authors of this article define summaries as being detailed elaborations of the author’s main idea. Therein lies its complexity. I think what the authors mean by “discovery” is that in writing the summary, the students are forced to compress the authors’ ideas and, therefore, in doing so, to comprehend fully its meaning.

I always require a summary and then a comment on the summary, relating the idea to the course’s objectives, to personal experiences, to questions, etc. RayS,

Title: “What Do Professors Really Say about College Writing?” E Breckman, et al. English Journal (January 2011), 75-81.

Be sure to check out for more ideas on teaching English

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Literary Naturalists

Question: Who are some of the great literary naturalists?

Answer: “The English classroom is home to some of the great classic and contemporary literary naturalists: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Rachel Carson, Edward Abbey, Loren Eiseley, Barry Lopez, Annie Dillard. Theirs is a prose of place, a world of words, an evocation….” P. 62.

Comment: A reminder that these literary naturalists should be part of our literature program. RayS.

Title: “A Walk on the Wilder Side.” ME Dakin,et al. English Journal (January 20011), 62-70.

Be sure to check out for more ideas on teaching English.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Word Search

Question: How can we interest students in words?

Answer: Have students find unusual words in magazines and newspapers. The lessons in language that these words offer are interesting beyond the words themselves. The words the students found were sometimes common words used in an unusual sense: “green” as a metonym for ecology, for example.

Comment: The reason for selecting the word as unusual is as important as the meaning of the word. RayS.

Title: “Sustainability and the Recycling of Words.” DL Miller and AP Nilsen. English Journal (January 2011), 55-61.

Be sure to check out for more ideas on teaching English.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Watson the Computer vs. Jeopardy

Question: In the wake of Watson’s computerized victory over Jennings and Rutter on Jeopardy, do we now have evidence that humans are not as smart as computers?

Answer: Stephen Baker, author of a forthcoming book entitled, Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything, provides this insight into the issue of machine vs. human intelligence:

“Watson is incapable of coming up with fresh ideas, much less creating theories, cracking jokes, telling stories, or carrying on conversations. Its ability is simply to make sense of questions and scour a trove of data for the most likely answers.”

Comment: In other words, Watson, the machine, however skillful at searching data instantly, cannot think or create. This fact says something about the nature of the game of Jeopardy with its human machines. RayS.

“Watson and Its Limitations.” Stephen Baker. The Philadelphia Inquirer (February 18, 2011), Section B, p. A19.