Class Report: ENGL 062, 9 August 2018

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting and before, discussion turned to paraphrase and summary before responding to student questions about orthography. In-class practice was offered, and time was allotted for student work.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 13 August 2018
  • Homework: Summary and Response, due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 13 August 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Paraphrasing and Summarizing Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 13 August 2018
  • One selection from My Reading Lab: Next Reading (in the Reading Level part of My Reading Lab; requires the Lexile Locator [which will be unscored]), due online before 0059 on 13 August 2018

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed two students enrolled, unchanged from last week; one attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. No students attended the most recent office hour.

A Rumination on Commas

Standout Comma
I recently came across Chris Stokel-Walker’s 23 July 2018 BBC.com piece, “The Commas That Cost Companies Millions.” In the piece, Stokel-Walker details several legal cases where the presence and placement of commas matters, whether to the tune of millions of dollars (as in the Oakhurst Dairy case), in a Texas Supreme Court insurance case, an old tariff law, or a vendor contract, or in a capital case, as in 1916. Stokel-Walker along the way also reports on the need for linguistic ambiguity in some diplomatic contexts, and the article closes with a commendation to review documents carefully and hash out their meaning–adjusting the affecting punctuation–before agreeing to them.

As someone who remains involved in teaching writing, and doing so in accord with particular style guides (which have stated opinions about comma use), I am engaged in issues Stokel-Walker addresses in the article. Indeed, as was true of the Oakhurst Dairy case before, Stokel-Walker’s piece is a boon for those in my position. No few students have, in my experience, bemoaned attention to small details such as comma use (and commas are frequently an issue demanding attention in their writing); having a piece ready to hand that notes ways in which different punctuation results in different meanings–some of them quite costly–helps to make the real-world connections that are not always evident to those enrolled in required writing classes. And even if the use of particular style manuals can be problematic–as I acknowledge they can well be–they do speak to audience expectations, which must be addressed in any writing that would succeed at reaching any particular group of people.

That younger students I’ve taught, both at the secondary and undergraduate levels, would balk at having to pay such detailed attention is not a surprise. Being young, they tend to act as youths, and youth is not much associated with patience. Too, being young, they are newer to having to do anything, including to attend to details; they will necessarily be less practiced at it, and will therefore likely do less well at it–and I know of few who enjoy having it pointed out to them that they do not do a thing well. (They may appreciate knowing where they need to improve, but that is not the same thing as enjoying it, to be sure.) But I am surprised that the same attitude prevails among the older students I currently teach–people who, having been in the workforce and, in many cases, the military, are acquainted with the idea that small details matter. And I am surprised that those enrolled in the business- and technology-heavy programs offered where I continue to teach balk at such things, given the damage done by a misplaced decimal point on an accounting spreadsheet or by a single mis-typed character in a long string of code.

I suppose the matter is one of looking at standardized spelling and punctuation–whatever standard is applied–reads as a matter of being persnickety, as one that doesn’t affect anything “real.” Some of that, I’m sure, is an attitude held over from bad earlier teaching (not that I necessarily teach well; I’ve read the comments students have written of me, and they are not always compliments). That is, part comes from an issue I address in another essay, and part comes from teachers using “grammar” as a “gotcha” mechanism. Some, too, is the same unfamiliarity present among younger students; those I teach now have generally been away from formal schooling for a while, and the lack of exposure is not always helpful. But whatever the reason, I think it will be helpful to add Stokel-Walker’s recent piece to my teaching materials; while the details can differ, they do matter, and students–indeed, all of us–benefit from attending to them.

Care to help me fund my further comma use?

Another Rumination on an Online Course

A week ago, I commented on a training course I took to help myself and my major employer against disaster-readiness requirements, in which comments I made a note about my old study habits:

I looked at relevant texts–in this case, printed transcripts of the lessons [associated with the training course]–and annotated them before sitting for the actual lessons, and I followed along with the lessons as I could with the annotated texts in hand, making adjustments to my own notes along the way. Consequently, I had little difficulty in passing off the in-lesson assessments, and, when it came time to sit for the exam that would solemnize my completion of the course (and offer me continuing education units, which offer was not unwelcome), I passed it off with little difficulty.

Aside from coming off as more than a little arrogant–which I know it does, thank you–it suggested itself to me as a point of departure for more discussion. Indeed, I note that my study habits “might become [what I want to make a point of] in another blog post”–and so I offer this one.

First, I know that the methods I use may not be useful for every student in every subject. I’m trained as a reader and annotator, and I know not everybody is–and not all areas of inquiry and practice admit of annotation. The martial arts I have studied at times in the past are such disciplines; while judo may admit to it to some degree, what with certifications involved in refereeing and serving as a technical official, the performance of the art is a thing that must be done to be understood–and Aikikai aikido even more so. I hardly hold such practices in disdain–and many of the folks I esteem greatly are not “readers,” as such.

Second, I’m trained as a reader. Seriously. I’ve been damned lucky in being able to access and undertake such training, as I know many are not and have not. And I’m luckier in that I have a main job that still allows me to keep a toe in academe and run side-hustles that let me use that training to advantage. It’s a position of privilege I occupy, and I do not discount that. But neither this point nor the previous mean that what I do cannot be of some help to others, which is why I make a point of it now.

So, as I note above, I tend to print texts out (or buy them, when I have the money and I must or can) in large part because I find the physical media easier to use. I can page through books faster than I can scroll through screens, and while I can use a search function faster than that, I cannot always remember the best search terms–but I can glance across pages and remember what it was that I was supposed to be looking for. And I make marks on the physical pages for my convenience, in part to make later references easier–the marks stand out, being different from the printing on the pages–and in part to keep my notes about things with the things they are about. The things themselves need annotation, or I need them to have it, else I’d not make it–but the notes make no sense without reference to what they are notes about. I have a box full of notes taken on legal pads and other assorted papers, and when I look through them, I have no idea anymore what’s going on with them–but where I’ve marked my texts themselves, I’ve had no such problems at all, even a decade or more after the fact.

20180726_095727
One page of many.
The picture is mine. So is the handwriting.

To be sure, it’s no miracle method I use, nor is it anything necessarily special. For me, it works. I can hope it will for others, too.

Care to help me find and discuss yet better ways?

Class Report: ENGL 062, 2 August 2018

After a note about the abortive class meeting of the previous week, discussion turned towards the needs of introductions and conclusions before moving on to revision strategies. In-class practice with selected revision techniques was offered, and time was allotted for student work.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 6 August 2018
  • Homework: Essay 1, Final Draft, due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 6 August 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Implied Main Ideas Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 6 August 2018
  • One selection from My Reading Lab: Next Reading (in the Reading Level part of My Reading Lab; requires the Lexile Locator [which will be unscored]), due online before 0059 on 6 August 2018

Class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus. The class roster listed two students enrolled, unchanged from last week; one attended, assessed informally. Student participation was good. The most recent office hour was canceled due to another obligation on the instructor’s part.