Class Report: ENGL 062, 4 February 2019

After addressing questions from the previous week and before, discussion turned to concerns of paraphrase and summary. The latter received particular attention, as it comes up in several future classes. Time was given to mechanical concerns, as well.

The class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster showed three students enrolled, unchanged from last week. One attended; student participation was excellent.

An online office hour was held on Thursday, 31 January 2019, at 1800. None attended. The office hour that would normally take place on 7 February 2019 is cancelled; students needing assistance are encouraged to email the instructor.

Students are reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Standard Time) on 10 February 2019:

  • Discussion Threads: Summary Writing and Paraphrases & Parenthetical Citations (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Week 5 Quiz (online)
  • Summary and Response (due online as a Word document)

This is evidently the 700th post to this webspace. Huzzah!

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Something Else That Would Have Been a Sample Assignment Response

Earlier in the session, I found myself thwarted in my attempt to provide a sample assignment response when the first week’s assignments were quizzes alone. As I sat down to draft a response for the fifth week’s assignment, though, I found myself having the opposite problem. Instead of encountering an assignment I could not meaningfully or ethically exemplify for my students, I encountered one I have already abundantly exemplified for them. Instead of having no work that could be done, I had ample work that had already been done–which is a much better situation to be in than that I had had before

Seems apt.
Image from the Harvard Business Review.

What the students are asked to do in my class this week is read an article, write a summary of it, and write a response to it. I have no shortage of such things already available, in this webspace and elsewhere, even if they are not necessarily in the APA format requested by the institution. But I’ve practiced that format enough with my current students that I do not know that I need to give it them again, so, instead of making an offhand reference to where they can find examples in this webspace, I’ll give a list of a few of them that seem to have attracted most attention:

I hope they provide useful models of content for my students and for others to follow.

Help fund more quality instructional materials, please!

A Rumination on a Teaching Practice Borrowed from Tabletop Gaming

In a post I recently made to my personal blog, I make reference to some of the teaching and gaming I did as a graduate student. I remember both fondly, at least at this point, and I have done what I can to take the best parts from both into future iterations of my work in the classroom and at the table; I’ve had less success than I might hope, to be sure, but I have still had some success. And some of that success has focused on a single practice that came from the tabletop gaming I administered into some of the teaching I’ve done. It doesn’t always translate into a given class, of course; different courses call for different assignments and different techniques. But that a tool is not universally applicable does not mean it is of no value, and because I think there is some value in the practice–having students overtly commend one another in private reports to the instructor–I think it fitting to spend some time discussing it more formally than my personal blog admits.

Related image
Not atypical, this…
Image from Wikipedia, which I’d not normally use.

To explain the activity a bit: When I was in graduate school, I ran a large tabletop roleplaying game. Normally, such games will have a referee and four to six players; I was the referee, and I had thirteen to fifteen at my table. It was not always a ruly bunch, to be sure; so large a group in which individuals need longish periods of devoted attention tends to go that way. But we got on more or less well, and the players enjoyed what I gave them (I think; please don’t tell me if I’m wrong). And part of that, I think, was that I gave them encouragement to play well–beyond the intrinsic value of participating meaningfully in an ongoing extemporaneous story. For I had each player vote at the end of each gaming session for the player other than themself who had done the best job of playing at the table that night.

By asking them to do so, I encouraged them to more fully inhabit their character and the narrative milieu in which those characters were enmeshed, and to do so in a way that helped the others at the table. And I encouraged them to attend to the performances and participation of others to reward behavior that, through authentically developing and communally-determined practices, was optimal for the group as a whole. In effect, the players came to agree on community standards for behavior and participation, and they looked for ways and reasons to praise one another, rather than make mock of one another as is common at gaming tables and in too many other places in the world.

To apply that idea to classroom practice took a bit of doing. For one, it only works well in group settings, and I tend to shy away from group assignments when I can. My experience, as both student and teacher, has been that one or two group members will do all of the work, while the others coast by on the labors of the diligent. (A rant threatens to emerge; it may do so later.) However, much of the teaching I have done has been of classes that have institutional mandates for group projects (the public speaking class at DeVry was one such; the technical writing class at Oklahoma State University was another).

In the latter, particularly, I had some success with having students report on their group’s and individual group members’ progress in the assigned projects; I made it part of assignment guidelines, requiring them to submit progress reports as daily assignments, so that there was extrinsic motivation to address the tasks. (Most of the students in that course were in another writing class only reluctantly; the extrinsic motivation was needed.) But I noted with some annoyance that, while I would see participation and submission from several group members, I would not see accurate assessment of those participants who weren’t; a few noted to me that they were reluctant to “throw [another student] under the bus,” even when the group’s work as a whole suffered because of such a student.

I understand the impulse, to be certain. I’m not along in having heard that “snitches get stitches and wind up in ditches,” or other words to that effect, and I was not immune to the shame of being a tattle-tale. And, at one level, I was content to let students undercut themselves; if they did not care more about the work and their reward for it, I saw no reason I ought to do so. But, as one of the students who was exploited by group work, I hated the idea of such exploitation continuing even when students had a mechanism to prevent it (part of the students’ grades came from the mutual assessment, so they could have excluded non-participating group members).

When, instead of asking students to identify the group members who had done least, I asked them to identify those who had done most, I saw a much better response rate from them. Additionally, I received much more detailed feedback on student performance from the other students’ perspectives, which was of great help. Some of that did run to specific notes about other students’ non-compliance with the standards of their groups, which also helped me to make the adjustments I needed to make as I oversaw the groups’ work. In essence, it worked in more or less the same way with my students as it had with my players, for which reason I commend the practice to use in other classes.

It is not universally applicable, of course. Not all classes require or admit of group projects, at least not conveniently. And there are courses that operate under stricter institutional mandates, obliging specific assignment sequences and lecture topics. But where it can be deployed, the practice of having students cite and justify each other’s excellence is a useful one.

 Care to send a bit my way?

Class Report: ENGL 062, 28 January 2019

After addressing questions from the previous week and before, discussion turned to introductions and conclusions before moving to address concerns of revision. In-class practice was offered on the latter.

The class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster showed three students enrolled, unchanged from last week. One attended; student participation was excellent.

An online office hour was held on Thursday, 24 January 2019, at 1800. None attended. The next will be online at 1800 on Thursday, 31 January 2019.

Students are reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Standard Time) on 3 February 2019:

  • Discussion Threads: Vocabulary and Revising Essays (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Week 4 Quiz (online)
  • Graded Reading Activity (online)
  • Revised Essay (due online as a Word document)

Sample Assignment Response: A Revised Response Essay for ENGL 062 at DeVry University in San Antonio

To follow up on the work of last week and before, continuing what I’ve found to be a useful pattern, I mean to press on in drafting sample assignments to help my students better understand what they are asked to do for the class. I also press on on in the hope that my efforts will prove to be of both that benefit and others to readers yet unknown to me. In doing so, I narrate my process of composition and present another sample paper near the end of this blog post.

I figured I’d relate it to the previous…
Image from Giphy.com.

For the present assignment, students are asked to revise the drafts they submitted during the previous week in light of instructor comments about them. Submission guidelines remain the same as for the previous piece.

Accordingly, to complete the exercise myself, I opened the editable copy of the paper I had written, saved it under a new filename, and printed it out. When I review my own work, I do so more effectively from paper as a result of years of practice doing so, and I try to cater to my strengths when I do such work. Printed copy in hand, I pored over my earlier work, looking for places I could tighten phrasing–particularly in the long body paragraph of the earlier paper. Where I could, I marked such passages and penned changes between the printed lines. I then transferred the comments back into the editable paper, working from the end of the paper towards the beginning so that the changes I made would not displace other phrases I needed to change.

With that done, I again reviewed the piece for readability by applying the Flesh-Kincaid reading level test. It again returned a result in line with what I had hoped to find. I was thus able to proceed to review style and mechanics in the work. After making the adjustments that needed making, given exercise requirements and ease of reading, I put the document into an accessible format, which I present here in the hopes that it will be of use: G. Elliott Revised Sample Essay.

I can still use more support as I work to support my students more.

A Rumination on Cliché

As I was writing in my journal a few days back, I used a cliché turn of phrase and found myself musing upon it.* I try to avoid cliché in my own writing; years of formal training as a writer and as a teacher of writing have made such avoidance as much as reflexive. When I do invoke one, it is almost always either obliquely or ironically, almost never in the manner intended–if intent can be said to matter in such cases. But, as I’ve looked at it and at the surrounding world, the thought occurred to me that the ingrained avoidance of cliché is not necessarily a good thing. That is, it seems to me to emerge from unpleasant places and to perpetuate unpleasantnesses in ways that should themselves be avoided. And if that is the case, then I am once again complicit in structures of power and oppression that it were better I not partake in.

Source in the image, of course, and used for commentary. Go check it out.

There are some reasons to avoid clichés, of course. Cross-comprehensibility comes to mind as one major example of them. Cliché is dependent on cultural context for its meaning and effect; such phrases as “Pardon my French” only work for communities that associate French with obscenity. No small amount of the writing that gets done is done for an audience that cannot be assumed to share the cultural backgrounds of the writer; certainly, no small amount of the teaching of writing (particularly business and technical writing) is done with an eye towards audiences of differing backgrounds. Reducing the burdens placed upon such readers is cited as desirable, and reducing the presence of cliché in the writing lowers such burdens.

As I think on the matter, however, it seems to me that the push to avoid cliché has substantially classist overtones. That is, the straight-ahead use of cliché tends to be associated with presumably less refined, less educated people; it is associated with lower socioeconomic strata, while its avoidance and rejection are both coupled to formal education and the concomitant association with either wealth or aspirations to wealth. In effect, cliché is a “lower” class thing; its lack is an “upper” class thing. Typical regard bears out the idea; cliché is described in such terms as “phrasing that has been stripped of meaning from overuse,” making it a tired hand-me-down that is ultimately empty. It is decried as intellectual laziness, as trying to sound good without offering substance. And such regard, such construction, such opinion introduces problems to the typical teaching thrust of eliminating clichés, such that noting valid reasons such as cross-comprehensibility read too easily as justification after the fact for oppressive practices.

Cliché becomes particularly fraught when viewed as socioeconomic acculturation. By denying writers the use of cliché, we (however collective the “we” can be) deny them self-identification as members of particular communities (with the communities varying by the cliché used, of course) and insist upon particular markers of identification that may well not be those to which the writers may hold for themselves. They become effacements of smaller cultural groups that are in most cases disadvantaged in one way or another. It is not to be wondered at, then, that people coming from those groups chafe under such restrictions and lash out against those who would impose them–and they are not wrong to do so. Yet, again, there are reasons to avoid cliché, reasons to which instructors have to be able to respond authentically and without the appearance of papering over problems instead of addressing them directly.

How to strike the necessary balance is not at all clear. And I expect that no few will think either that I am overstating the case by linking cliché to cultural practice or that such cultures as are associated with use of or reliance upon cliché deserve to be oppressed, somehow. To the latter, I have nothing to say that I care to put into this piece; I have many words for it, but most of them are more obscene than even French would admit of. To the former, though, I might say that oppression comes in many forms, not all of which are overt; indeed, the smaller, more covert forms are more pervasive, harder to resist because they are less obvious and, in many cases, more deeply ingrained. Years of teaching conducted by many teachers makes it easy to think that “it’s just the way it is,” as has been seen and actively opposed in other cases. Though the way is not clear, it should be opposed in this case, too.

*I find myself in mind of Cathryn Molloy’s 2010 College English article “The Malcliché: An Argument for an Unlikely Episteme.” It’s been a while since I read it, and I’ve not refreshed myself upon it in writing the present piece, but I have the sneaking suspicion that it is relevant. Back to text.

Help me steer clear of what I need to avoid!

Class Report: ENGL 062, 24 January 2019

The regular class meeting for the week was displaced by a holiday, so the class was given a narrated PowerPoint presentation that covered the basics of what would have been the week’s lesson. Office hours were given over to addressing student questions about and engagement with the lesson.

Students are reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Standard Time) on 2& January 2019:

  • Discussion Threads: Generating Ideas and Planning Your Essay (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Week 3 Quiz (online)
  • Homework Submission: Essay Draft (due online as a Word document)
  • Week 3 Pulse Check (online)

Regularly scheduled class meetings and office hours resume 28 January 2019.

Sample Assignment Response: A Response Essay for ENGL 062 at DeVry University in San Antonio

To follow up on the work of last week and continue what I’ve found to be a useful pattern in other classes, I mean to return to drafting sample assignments to help my students better understand what they are asked to do for the class. I also continue to hope that my efforts will prove to be of both that benefit and others to readers yet unknown to me. In doing so, I narrate my process of composition and present the sample paper near the end of this blog post.

Cat videos are internet-appropriate, right
Image from Giphy.com.

For the week’s assignment, students are asked to compile a first draft of an essay that addresses one of two assigned prompts, both of which respond to themes in assigned readings. The essays are asked to be three paragraphs in length–introduction, body, and conclusion–and to come under a cover page in APA formatting. No requirement for outside sourcing is expressed, so no outside sourcing is expected, though there is specific reference to the assigned readings, themselves, so it might be permissible.

To respond to the exercise, I began by setting up an APA-format document in Word. That is, I set up my document in double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman typeface with one-inch margins on letter-sized paper. I also arranged my cover page, running head, and pagination as prescribed by APA style. Given that I did not expect to need to use outside sources, I did not set up a references page.

That done, I settled on a topic to which to respond, whether responses to homeless persons or a central idea around an inspiring person. The second seemed a better fit for the class and the assignment, so I opted for it. With that done, I had to identify a person I find inspiring, and, with the person identified, I had to settle upon a central impression to convey about that person. (I’d done so in an earlier piece, so I had some experience to help me along, even if the subject differed.)

I typed that central idea into my document, then copied and pasted it on the next line of my document and highlighted the second in green. I tend to do so when I compose essays so that I know what thesis I am trying to support; as I draft forward, I do so behind the highlighted thesis, leaving it as an ever-present goal for my essay to achieve.

With a thesis in place, I worked to offer a paragraph of support for it. I try to draft essays thesis first, then body, so that I know where I am going for my introduction and whence I will proceed for my conclusion. The body drafted, I began to work on my conclusion, since I was already at that point in the paper; I rephrased my highlighted thesis, stripping away the highlighting, and wrote a brief note discussing future implications of that thesis.

After I put together a brief conclusion, I returned to the beginning of the paper to lead through an introduction into the thesis I had constructed. Following a common introductory pattern, I offered some context for discussion before moving to narrow my focus and identify my topic. The thesis I already had in place followed, giving me a complete paragraph that already moved into a body of work.

With that done, I reviewed the piece for readability. I once again applied the Flesh-Kincaid reading level test, which again returned a result in line with what I had hoped to find. I was therefore able to proceed thence to review my document for style and mechanics. After making the adjustments that needed making, given exercise requirements and ease of reading, I put the document into an accessible format, which I present here in the hopes that it will be of use: G. Elliott Sample Essay.

I can always use more support as I work to support my students more.

Class Report: ENGL 062, 14 January 2019

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting and offering an administrative note, discussion moved in sequence through concerns of definition, genre, paragraphing, and APA formatting. Time was given to upcoming assignments, and students were afforded time to work on their own responses to those assignments.

Students should note that, owing to the MLK holiday, campus will be closed on 21 January 2019. A WebEx meeting will replace the regular office hour at 1800 on 24 January 2019. This schedule supersedes and replaces that announced last week.

The class met as scheduled, at 1800 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster showed three students enrolled, unchanged from last week. All attended; student participation was adequate.

An online office hour was held on Thursday, 10 January 2019, at 1800. None attended. The next will be online at 1800 on Thursday, 17 January 2019

Students are reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Standard Time) on 20 January 2019:

  • Discussion Threads: Trying out Transitions and Practicing Main Ideas (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Week 2 Quiz (online)
  • Graded Reading Activity (online)
  • Homework Submission: Developed Paragraph (due online as a Word document)
  • Week 2 Pulse Check (online)

Sample Assignment Response: A Developed Paragraph for ENGL 062 at DeVry University in San Antonio

While last week may not have seen the kind of assignment for which I can offer a sample to my students, this week does. Accordingly, I will do as I have said I will do and work to offer a sample of the kind of work I would like to see from my students, hoping that having a concrete example will help them to do better work. I also continue to hope that my work will help others outside my classroom, as well.

A common symbol of achievement.
Image from Time.com

The assignment faced by students in the second week of Introduction to Reading and Writing at DeVry University in San Antonio is to draft a solid paragraph on one of four topics: educational reform, gender difference, family, or discrimination. Each is narrowed slightly from the overall topic heading, and responses are expected to consist of at least 100 words in APA format. The paragraph is asked to make a point, provide illustrative evidence, and explain how the evidence functions to bear out the point.

To address the exercise, I began by setting up my APA-style document. That style guide asks for black, double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman with one-inch margins on letter-size paper, with running heads, page numbers, and title page in prescribed places; I set my document to those standards.

That done, I settled quickly on a broad topic, opting to treat class discrimination. The topic had been on my mind as I had been working on other writing, so it was an easy choice to make. Focusing more narrowly was a bit more of a challenge; a paragraph will admit of but one instance, and there are entirely too many instances of class discrimination. I opted to take what I think is an unusual approach; most pieces on discrimination treat the discrimination against those in perceived lower positions by those in higher, but there is discrimination by the perceived lower against the higher, as well–or, rather, concerns not unlike covert prestige apply. That is, eminence in areas other than are commonly recognized as conferring eminence are prized, and the commonly prized derided. Again, such matters had been on my mind already, so arriving at an example to treat was easy.

Having made the decision about the topic, I began to draft my paragraph, opening with context to aid readers in understanding my approach. From context, I moved to pivot into my specific topic, an instance of discrimination leveled at me, presenting it as the central point of the paragraph. I then moved to offer specific illustrative examples to support that point. Those provided, I connected the information I had offered back to the central point I meant to make in the paragraph, and I then offered a concluding sentence to wrap things up.

With that done, I reviewed the paragraph for readability. Applying a fairly common test, the Flesh-Kincaid, returned a result in line with what I had hoped to find; I know I have a tendency to wax verbose in ways that are not always helpful, and it was a relief to find that I had not done so. I was thus able to proceed thence to review my document for style and mechanics. After making the adjustments that needed making, given exercise requirements and ease of reading, I put the document into an accessible format, which I present here: G. Elliott Sample Developed Paragraph January 2019. May it and its successors prove of benefit now and in time to come!

Care to help me keep it going?