More Idle Musing on Recent Writing Work

I‘ve noted, I think, that a fair bit of the freelance work I do involves putting together reading guides and associated lesson plans and instructional materials. I’ve continued to do so, of course, and I’ve worked to do more of it since the shift to full-time self-employment. I’ve commented that, as part of such work, I write a lot of multiple-choice questions. I know there are problems with them, of course; such questions, at best, work in the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, and they more often assess ability to handle multiple-choice questions than to check content knowledge. And I’ve got more experience with them than many, as I’ve commented before; I know, and quite well, some of the ways in which (over-) reliance on such assessment methods can affect students in and after their time in the classroom.

Yes, this kind of thing.
Photo by Andy Barbour on Pexels.com

That said, the work pays, and I need money; I’ve got bills to pay, and not all of my debts are on payment moratoria (#CancelStudentDebt). So I do what I can to use the skills I developed through teaching and practice, and I write multiple choice questions. Because I do as many of them as I do–180 or more at a crack–I’ve worked out ways to make writing them easier on myself; I’ve had to, really, and I don’t think I can be blamed for finding ways to work smarter. The adage, the old wisdom, demands doing such things, doesn’t it?

How I draft multiple-choice questions depends on the content I’m dealing with at the time, namely in terms of whether the question is a stand-alone question or one in a series of related questions. In the former case–something like “Which of the following is the protagonist’s preferred flower?”–I’ll have the correct response and one distractor ready; I’ve noted that one of the distractors, the “wrong” answers, is usually something like a joke or reference I make to amuse myself, and I often pull such references from my own experience, bringing in something from life in the Texas Hill Country. For the example above, the correct answer might be a rose; I’ll include it, of course, and will add a bluebonnet as a distractor, the state flower of Texas being ready to mind.

Most of the time, I have two more answers to develop; I usually get asked to produce a question and a four-response slate, so having two answers ready to go means I have two more I have to write. And those should both look like they could be correct; they have to fit, thematically, with the correct response. When I draft them, I look at word-count, at register, and at language-fit. That is, the distractors should have more or less the same number of words as the correct response, they should be at more or less the same level of formality / politeness as the correct response, and they should look like they come from the same language and background as the correct response. For the above question–“Which of the following is the protagonist’s preferred flower?” “A rose.”–I would need a one-word flower name (easy enough to do, although it excludes such things as “forget-me-not” or “corpse flower”), and I’d need one that’s a relatively simple name for both register and language-fit (so nothing like “delphinium” or “nanohana”). “A violet” or “A lily” would work, really, as might several others. “A tulip,” perhaps.

In the case of questions in a series–something like “Which of the following is Arthur called?” and “Which of the following is Brynhild called?”–I’ll have three (or more) answers already ready. The correct response and the joke are already in place, as noted above. The thing is, if I have a series of questions of similar type, I can use the correct answer to one as a distractor in another. That is, I can use what Brynhild is called as a distractor in for the question of what Arthur is called, and vice-versa. My own experience taking tests suggests that it will often be the case that repeated answers will be regarded as incorrect by those who are responding to the test-as-test, rather than knowing the content. In such thinking, the right answer has to change, so the answers that don’t change have to be wrong. In effect, using such question-series reduce testees’ ability to game the test, and it reduces my question-writing time, as I only need rearrange the order of responses and change one or two words in the question, itself.

As might be imagined, I write a fair number of questions in series. But I can’t always get away with it, so I make sure I can write many of the others, as well. So far, it’s seemed to work well enough.

Could you use some help putting together tests or lesson plans? Let me know; I can help!

Something from Tutoring

I haven’t made a secret of stepping up my freelance work, which has for some years included a fair bit of tutoring. Although I am outside formal teaching structures–for good, this time, I’m pretty sure–I do still very much enjoy working with people who want to learn things as they work through ideas and come to have fuller, better understandings of the world and what people have said about it.

William Shakespeare, associated with John Taylor - NPG 1
Yes, it’s him, shown in the Chandos Portrait at the National Portrait Gallery and used under a Creative Commons license for commentary.

One such tutorial recently saw me working with a high school student in New York City whose teacher had asked for responses in verse to verse. The poem in question when I worked with the student was Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, the one beginning “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” It’s a fairly standard piece for high schoolers to treat, in my experience, and it’s not exactly uncommon in college classrooms, either; I’ve taught it, and more than once, as well as reading it more times than that. So it wasn’t really a hard thing for me to walk the student through a closer reading of the text than they‘d yet done, and it wasn’t much harder to help the student get their work in line with the sonnet, itself, mimicking its form closely to make the response more targeted and emphatic.

It occurred to me that the exercise is a good one–not that I’d ever done such a thing with my students; my pedagogy was…not innovative so much as solid and predictable, but structure’s far from a bad thing in the classroom–and that it might be useful for me to do something like it. I can use the practice, always, and it’s not a bad thing to show what all I can do.

Another fairly common reading in high school and college classrooms is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

As is typical of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, the poem is fourteen lines of iambic pentameter rhyming in three quatrains and a couplet, with a (somewhat shaded) turn into the couplet. There are any number of readings of the poem, of course, ranging from the romantic to the lewd, and I’m happy to get into them–another time. For now, what matters is how to address a response to the poem. The assignment on which my client was working asked for a personal response; as we conferred, the student and I arrived at the idea of answering the poem with another, something like the Marlowe / Raleigh / Donne sequence that receives classroom attention. (It occurs to me that responding to the Donne piece, “The Bait,” would also be a good exercise.) If I follow that model here, I find that I am given three options:

  1. Agree with the poet,
  2. Disagree with the poet, or
  3. Go off in a completely different direction.

Of the three, the first seems…boring. The third is likely not to be productive; I go off on tangents already without doing so on purpose. This leaves the second option, disagreeing with the poet. And that obliges me to have an idea of what the poem is saying. Fortunately, again, there are any number of readings out there, among which are surface-level interpretations–love is only real if it stays in place as it is. It’s an easy enough interpretation to contest; nothing that lives fails to change, and things cannot improve if they remain as they are. If love is a living thing, then, and something that can deepen and be enriched over time–and there are many who argue as much–then “the message of the poem” is wrong; disagreeing is easy enough to do.

Foregrounding that disagreement is also easy enough to do. The poem’s own lines can–and probably should, in the circumstance–be used against it, such that the response opens more or less as the original closes. To wit: “You never writ, nor no man ever loved.” The line makes clear both what it responds to and the thrust of the response, good things to do for such an assignment.

That much set, and knowing that the form of the poem should be mimicked, it stands to reason that the points the poet raises should be taken in order for the succeeding lines of the poem. One result of such taking might well follow:

You never writ, nor no man ever loved,
If love is never love that, finding change,
Stays as it is when it first ever moved
Or strives not living patterns to arrange
In hopes of bringing its love to the mark
That looks on tempests and is not shaken.
No, use will change the shape of every bark
That plies the waves, whatever standard’s taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, oh no, but is its flow’r
And fruit that ripens not all in one go,
But in its season and appointed hour
If tended well, made better, and let grow.
No thing that is made better stays the same,
And stasis gives the lie to goodness’s claim.

It is a rough cut, of course, a first draft of something usefully reworked. I am apt to blot my lines, after all, knowing well that matters can always be made better. But it’s also a good start, and no journey proceeds but that it has a beginning.

I’d be happy to put my talents to work for you; let me know what all you need written or taught, and we’ll talk! Or send me a spot of help here, investing in my future!

An Advertisement

As it happens, I’m working primarily as a freelance writer and tutor at this point, other work not being what I’d thought it would be. Now, those of you who’re looking at this know how I write and what I tend to write about, and those of you who keep coming back seem to like what I do, so I’ll put it to you this way: If you’ve got some writing that needs doing, some writing that needs reviewing, or some literary or writerly thing that seems to be messing with you, or somebody you know does, reach out. My rates are reasonable, and my results speak for themselves.

How can you say “no” to this?
Image is mine, multiple ways.

I work in the following:

  • Literary research
  • General informational/documentary research
  • Proofreading
  • Style editing
  • Grant writing
  • Copywriting
  • Creative writing (especially poetry)
  • Literature and writing tutoring
So, if you or someone you know needs help with any of those, reach out in the comments below. I’ll see them there!

I look forward to hearing from and working with you!

I am happy to accept payment for services here.

About Another Classroom Activity

I have noted my return to teaching and commented upon some of the work I’ve done in the classroom after making that return, I know. The work continues, of course, and that means I’ve gotten to come up with more things for my students to do–and since I teach English, that’s meant I’ve had the opportunity to share my love of reading, and some of the things that I love to read, with my students. Whether or not they like it.

Christopher Marlowe - The Marlowe Society
The man himself
Image from the Marlowe Society, used for commentary.

One such thing was Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” a poem I’ve read repeatedly over the past twenty or so years and that I’d previously taught, along with Raleigh’s “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” and Donne’s “The Bait,” several times during that span. I’ve enjoyed the reading and the teaching pretty much every time, and students usually get into it by the time we get to Donne, catching on to what’s going on in the poems and realizing that we are still doing more or less the same things the three of them do in their poems. When I had the students read and discuss the sequence most recently–a couple of weeks ago, as this emerges into the world–I had much the same experience; I had a good time, and so did the students, with even some of the more reticent getting into discussion.

I say much the same experience because there was one key difference. As it happened, I stumbled into understanding a joke in Marlowe’s poem that I’d not previously recognized–and I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t seen it before, although I must plead that I am not a specialist in early modern English literatures. I mean, yes, I sat for a comprehensive exam in it, but it was not my major or even my secondary area. (My apologies to Prof. Vaught; the fault is entirely mine.)

Anyway, at the beginning of the third stanza, Marlowe’s narrator offers to make for his putative love “beds of roses,” which seems a strange thing to offer someone, especially as a first item to be offered. Now, my students noted, rightly, that offering a bed works as an invitation into bed, and the shepherd is trying to make something of a score–a “goods for services” arrangement, as one student put it, not incorrectly. With the first class I had that day, though, I noted the thorniness of roses and that a bed of them would make for uncomfortable lying down–which the students seemed to understand and agree with.

With the second class I taught that day, though, I had the revelation. A bed of roses, one still having all the thorns, would be a bed upon which the shepherd’s love could expect to be pricked abundantly. It’s the kind of joke I should have pointed out years ago, a little bit of fun embedded in the lines that helps make them continue to merit study–and something that, like a chicken joke in Malory about which I failed to get published, I wouldn’t’ve realized without the help of my students. And it’s the kind of thing that makes teaching continue to be worthwhile.

I can, of course, use more help to keep doing this.

Another Rumination on a Missed Opportunity…That May Not Be Missed Much Longer

A while back, I opined about an assignment sequence I regret not offering when I was teaching college-level writing. At the time, I noted that there were reasons I was thinking about the assignment sequence again, but I declined to go into them; I can safely note now that I had been putting in for teaching positions in anticipation of my wife’s promotion and our relocation, one of which worked out, if not entirely expectedly. And, as it happens, some of the classes I am teaching–on-level high-school senior English, aimed at students not going straight into college–might actually lend themselves to something like that regretted-because-never-given assignment sequence.

#gif loop from CmdrKitten
Yessss….
Image from CmdrKitten, here, used for commentary.

Might.

I am tempted to try it, certainly, for all the reasons I noted earlier; it would be a coherent assignment sequence, and it would allow students practice in the kinds of workplace writing they are apt to encounter in the world outside college. (The job postings I still receive frequently call for high-school graduates and scads of report-writing, among others.) It would also be a different kind of engagement for the students, many of whom chafe at trudging through textbooks’ often-tepid literary selections and milquetoast interpretations of the same. (I don’t blame them, even if I am often frustrated by their intransigence.) And, yes, it would add to my portfolio, which, now that I am teaching again, would be a damned fine thing.

But.

I am teaching in a Texas Hill Country town, and not a large one. (As I write this, Burnet’s still under 10,000 people.) And while not all the stereotypes of such places are true, a fair number of them are; I anticipate that I’d have a fair amount of resistance from some quarters–and their parents. Some folks have never gotten over the Satanic panic, for example, and my own predilections are not likely to help that…

If I retool–maybe not for this year, but possibly for next?–I could make it an option, certainly; as long as it’s an option and not a requirement, I think I can get some grace from my administration. (So far, they’ve treated me well, and I don’t want to abuse that.) But how much will be extended…that’s always a question, and I’ve been…spoken to…about things before.

I guess I’ll have to give it some more thought.

Contribute to my delinquency, er, educational efforts?

About a Classroom Activity

I returned to the classroom last week, coming in a couple of weeks after school got started and falling into a week more abbreviated than had been expected; Labor Day, I knew was coming, but the closures on Tuesday and Wednesday to get some things done were…surprising. I put them to as much good use as I could, however, and, among others, drafted another example of an exercise I’ve used for years: a riddle quiz.

Not one of these, but like them…
Image is of the Exeter Book, from the British Library, used for commentary.

The quizzes follow a simple format. Students are presented with the text of a riddle into which deviations from “standard” orthography (yes, I am aware the phrase sounds tautological; it’s not, as standards vary among communities and smaller groups) are embedded. They are then asked to identify / adjust those deviations, answer the riddle, and explain from the text why the answer they give is an appropriate answer. Now, I’ve published on the topic of the assignment before. And, again, I’ve used it in my classes for years, both as an in-class minor assignment and, with some small adjustment, exam material. I had great success with it at several of the colleges and universities where I taught, even when the students were not necessarily academically prepared, and even when English was not the students’ first, second, third, or even fourth language. As such, I had reason to believe that it’d go over reasonably well with students at high school–which seemed a good thing, since I had to get materials ready in a hurry, and I have a lot of riddles ready to go.

Accordingly, I gave a riddle quiz to my students on the first day I met them. And it caused some consternation–but I expected that; new assignments always do the first time they come out. I expected, too, that the students would get hung up on getting the “right” answer, rather than working on the proofreading and the explanations; years of experience let me know that it would be so, but that the students would eventually tumble to the fact, openly and repeatedly stated in class that I don’t care about the answer, but about how the answer is explained from the text. It is, after all, the core act of English studies to look at a text, interpret the text, and explain how the text generates that interpretation. What I did not expect, however, is that the exercise would baffle my colleagues–yet it did, as they indicated to me. Given that, and given a somewhat belated review of some of the documentation I ought to have looked at sooner–had I but Marvell’s world enough and time!–I figured out that I’d overshot a bit, and I made adjustments to the grading on that particular assignment.

I’m still going to give riddle quizzes in the future, and I’ll be explaining to students the adjustment to the grading made on the first such quiz. The reminder that I have a lot yet to learn is a useful one; I hope, however, that I don’t need to repeat the lesson too often.

Contribute to my classroom conduct?

So, I’m Back in the Classroom Again

It is no secret at this point, as this and this make clear, that I have returned to classroom teaching. I’m still considering how to go about the work again, as I am aware that what I did in the college classroom is not always appropriate for a high school classroom. (Some of it wasn’t appropriate for a college classroom, either, really.) I can’t just translate it directly over, so I have to review practices individually to determine what will work as is, what will work with modifications, and what has to be dropped entirely. At least for now.

Something like this, yeah.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of the things I did while I was teaching college was post class reports in this webspace or its predecessor. I don’t think I’ll be doing that with the high school classes. There’re a few reasons. One is that I think I need to keep some separation between this space, which will follow me if I move again, and my classroom-bound teaching. I mean, yes, I’ll draft materials here that I use there, but direct linking…is probably not advisable.

Another reason is the simple one of overload. I’ll be teaching seven classes this year. It’s a lot. I’ll have all the grading to do, too. Consequently, a lot of my mental energy will be taken up with working on, well, work; it won’t leave quite as much as I would like for classroom reports to populate to this space.

And there is this, too: the school website. I’ll be teaching with resources, and I’ll be putting things into those resources as much as anything else. There may be copies elsewhere–here–that get used as resources for other things, but there’s only so much duplication I can stand to make happen. The class reports for the daily class meetings will be a casualty of that.

I do still mean to compose end-of-year reports, though. Those, I should be able to do…

I remain appreciative of support?

A Rumination on an Opportunity that Never Arose

Around two months ago, I wrote a bit about a missed opportunity in my classroom. I’ve been thinking about such things again recently, not least because I’ve noted a lot of people looking at the syllabus for the hypothetical course on mainstream fantasy literature I developed back when I was actually looking for college–level teaching jobs. In it, I note that

texts included [in the required readings] exist in an uneasy tension. They do contribute to what prevailing understandings of fantasy literature as a genre is, to be sure, and they do try to strike some balance between male and female authorship. But they also fail to reflect the engagement of dominant traditions in the genre with authors of color. It is in part to work against such failure, and the failure of dominant tendencies in fantasy literature to engage with persons of color, that the major assignment sequence in the course is oriented as it is. Further, the specific failures of the required texts to treat and reflect persons of color will comprise a recurring thread in the required online discussions. (2)

Truth.
Image from PHD Comics, here, used for commentary

The problem I do not mention is, of course, that I do not flesh out those assignments. I’d meant to do so, I think; it’s been a while. But after I gave up the search for continuing work, it became less of an issue; I was still teaching, but I was teaching required syllabi, as is common enough. As with many things, returning to the project slipped my mind; perhaps it ought not to have done, and it does not excuse my failure that I am aware of it.

There’s more involved in assignment design than many realize, of course, and more than I can necessarily address in a single post (especially given the other stuff that I have going on in and around composing it; I’m moving, as might’ve been noted, and I continue to freelance and to participate in an NEH institute). But it might be a good starting point to follow up on the suggestion made already; the major assignment sequence in the syllabus, which results in a conference-length paper, (was meant to have) aimed at 1) looking at canon-formation and 2) suggesting what works / authors should be included in a future iteration of such a course. That is, students would have been asked to examine how “standard” bodies of work grow up, identify an author or work that seemed to fit that pattern, and then argue that said author / work should be included in the body of work studied as “standard” for the genre.

Considering the matter further, I am not sure I would still require an annotated bibliography from students. I taught or “taught” the genre at multiple institutions across many years, and it was always a struggle to get students through it; I am not sure it still carries the kind of traditional heft it seemed to when I was going through undergraduate coursework and being taught how to teach college English, although it certainly has come in handy in the years since (and I still work on one, obviously). Nor yet am I sure about all of the details; the summative exam included in the syllabus is a nod to what I’ve seen of institutional requirements, and the minor assignments mentioned are largely preparation for the exam, following my teaching practices at the time. (When I had the “luxury” of writing my own quizzes and tests, I’d pull the tests straight from the quizzes. It seemed to help.) But such things are dreams, really, glimpses of a life that never will be; I have enough to do with the life I do live, and with that, I should be content.

For now.

Care to help underwrite my efforts?

Some More Remarks about My Writing Process

I have commented once or twice before in this webspace about the ways in which I go about writing. As I’ve continued writing–that I have should be clear enough–I’ve made some changes to my processes, at least as pertains to some of the specific writing work that I do. One of the more frequent (and lucrative!) writing tasks to which I attend is drafting month-long lesson plans for various books and other works. It’s taken me a few tries to get a good process down that lets me move swiftly and effectively through the tasks, and because I think it will help, I offer an overview of that process below.

read new york GIF
I can’t pull off such shorts
Image from Giphy.com, here, and used for commentary.

When I accept an assignment–how I decide what I take is a discussion for another time, if ever–the first thing I do is get hold of a copy of the text to discuss. Sometimes, I already own a copy of it; I was an English major and I did teach literature for some years, so I do have a lot of books. Sometimes, I am able to borrow a copy from family or friends; I tend to hang around with literate types. On occasion, I make a quick purchase (business expenses are fun!), but most often, I take a trip down to the local library and borrow what I need. I pay into the public library system, after all, so I should be able to use it, much as I use roads and public utilities. And then I sit down to read.

Time was, of course, that I had time to spend days on end doing nothing but read. I remember those times fondly; I remember feeling myself grow intellectually, and I remember the feeling being exhilarating. No single moment stands out for me, admittedly, as is the case with some of my martial arts studies long ago or my band performances even further back, but it was a more sustained joy for me–and one that current circumstances no longer permit me. I have to work my day-job, after all, and I get to enjoy time with my family that I did not have when the thing I was supposed to do was my book-learnin’.

Now, though, I read in fits and starts. When I am able to devote hours at a stretch to a text, I make good progress through it; I do not read as swiftly as I used to, being somewhat out of practice, but I can still chew through several hundred pages in a day if given otherwise-idle time in which to do it. And I always read the text I’m writing up straight through once, reading as if just to read; doing so builds familiarity with the work, as I told students when I had them, which makes the subsequent work easier to do.

With the first reading done, I stub out the write-up. Again, I’ve gone through a few such write-ups at this point, and experience with them has helped me develop a template from which to work for the work I continue doing. It is set up with common expectations; I alter as needed, based on the work’s own subdivisions, getting the document ready to hold the required numbers of required items. Details of that, I must leave to the imagination; I do have to keep something to myself, after all.

Working The Incredibles GIF
Not that I’m incredible…
Image from Giphy.com, here, and used for commentary.

Once the write-up is stubbed out, I begin reading the assigned text again, using the second reading to draft a summary of the text, section by section, chapter by chapter, passage by passage. The work I do in the Hobb Reread has been useful practice for such activities; it’s part (but only part) of why I keep going with that project. I might occasionally stop the summarizing for a moment to make a note of some comment that will be useful for one of the required items in the write-up, but, for the most part, I plow straight through on the reading-and-summary work as I reread the text for the first time. It is slower going on the second reading, to be sure, as the necessary pauses to type things out mean less focused reading, but the familiarity developed in the first read-through is a help.

The second reread, which I try to start the next day after I complete the summarizing, goes slower yet, and it is because it is on that second rereading that the bulk of the write-up gets done. Attention to the details of the text and its paratext matters; it is from such details that the lesson-planning proceeds. And I have to be judicious in what I select from the details; the lesson plans ostensibly align with Common Core standards, which means they are aimed at use with high school students, and such experience as I have being one and training to teach them tells me that there are some things to which I might attend and which I might well treat with college students that I dare not handle with them. Parents can be…difficult.

The third reading is usually the last for me; I try to have things done with the write-up when I am done with the third reading. The rule of three might be something of a cliché, I admit, but it is something that works in the situation I’m in, and, to borrow another cliché, it ain’t broke, so I ain’t tryin’ to fix it.

I continue to appreciate your support.

A Rumination on a Missed Opportunity in the Classroom

I spent quite a while teaching, as I have noted in this webspace and elsewhere, and no small amount of that teaching was in a class I was never actually trained to teach: Technical Writing. I had no coursework in it as an undergrad or as a graduate student, but got thrust into it while I was completing my doctoral work. Coming up to speed teaching it took a little bit of doing, and, in retrospect, I have pity for those poor students who first suffered through my learning how to teach a course for which I had no preparation; I apologize to you for my inadequacies, whether or not you are reading this.

Yeah, this kind of thing.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As is often the case when something new emerges, I fell back on what I knew to start teaching the course–in this case, roleplaying game materials. I’d done it at other times, as I’ve attested, and, at some points (for example), I used RPG materials in classroom exercises in my technical writing classes–usually as examples of layout and ease-of-use, maybe for interrogation of audience–as in my more “normal” English (i.e., composition, literature) classes. Things may not have always gone over well–some sets of students took better to “nerd” pursuits than others–but they always got across the points I meant to make, and they provided concrete examples to help my students understand what to do and what not to do, both of which are important in fostering learning. So that much was successful in my teaching, and I should be pleased to have had that much success, at least.

But as I have been thinking on the matter, for reasons I’ll not get into here, I have realized I missed out on what would have been one hell of an opportunity to work with the technical writing classes (even if it is something I would’ve gotten…spoken to…about–but I got…spoken to…several times as it was; I might have had a bit more fun with it). I could have had my students design games or gaming modules and playtest them for each other, which would have offered them no small amount of practice in parsing directions, writing directions, testing those directions out, and working through the other kinds of work they were asked to do by curricular dicta.

A fairly common set of assignments in technical writing classes–both from my experience and from the reading I did years ago to try to support my suddenly emerging experience–includes a set of instructions, a project proposal, and a project report. Sandwiched between the latter two would (ideally–but how often we fall short of ideals!) be the execution of the project proposed. To my mind, the instructions could be that project, with the proposal outlining what is to be given instructions and how and the report being made from attempts to execute those instructions. And if those instructions happened to be a RPG or a module for an existing one…

Data rolls natural 20 : combinedgifs
As the saying goes, “trust Data, not Lore.”
Gif from Reddit.com, here, and used for commentary.

The way I’m envisioning it (from the vantage of it having been a while since I’ve had to write a syllabus from scratch–though I’ve done such things several times), students would be asked to complete major assignments as noted above: project proposal, instruction set, and project report. For the proposal, they would have to note whether they would develop a new RPG or a module for an existing RPG (the latter being more likely, the more so for a more compressed class). The instructions would be the actual gameplay; while I follow Mackay in calling RPGs an art, I acknowledge the necessity of rules in them–and what are rules but instruction sets? The report would, as gestured towards, detail play; it would note what led to the proposed project, give a description of the project and the playtest, and discuss results–what went well, what went poorly, and why. Formatting and usage concerns would be assessed as might be expected, with differences chiefly between the instruction set and the other documents; concerns of audience would necessitate dramatically different presentation there. Students would have experience with producing writing to order in genres not necessarily familiar to them, something common to people who try to make their living writing–and I am often told that making classroom activities mimetic of real-life practice is a good thing. Students of such a mind would have a portfolio object. And I might have both samples for future use (always helpful when teaching) and grist for the mill of my own gaming.

Such is not likely to be, of course. I am doubtful that I will be at the front of a technical writing classroom again, after all, or really any. But that does not mean I do not dream–and that working more on developing such a course is not without merit. It might help me get more of the kind of work I still like to do…

Care to put some money towards curriculum development?