Reflective Comments about the Third Year

It has been three years since the first post to this webspace went up, three years that I have been working on Elliott RWI. As I write this, I have made 596 posts to the blogroll (this will be post 597), and I have posted many individual pages, collecting 17,411 views from 5,463 visitors. In the last year, therefore, I have made 121 posts and collected 1,774 views from 1,065 visitors (based on “Reflective Comments about the Second Year”). Performance seems to be down from last year (see the figures below), which I ascribe to teaching less; I have the sense that most of my viewership was students needing homework help, and I don’t have nearly so many of those at this point as I once did. I feel better about the quality of my work, though, so that much is to the good.

Posts per Year 2018
Figure 1: Posts per Year
Views per Year 2018
Figure 2: Views per Year
Visitors per Year 2018
Figure 3: Visitors per Year

My employment situation seems to have stabilized. I still work as contingent faculty, teaching classes at DeVry University in San Antonio as they are offered to me. Most of my working time is spent at the Hill Country Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse, Inc., however, where I am a member of the full-time staff. It is a decent enough job, and one I am fortunate to have; I certainly had to struggle through enough to land it.

I also continue to work on my writing, as this webspace and others attest. Work on the Tales after Tolkien Society blog still presses on, and I get the occasional more formal piece put out where others can see it.

Contributions remain welcome and may be made here.

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Since I Have It to Do Again–For at least One It…

Not too long ago, I made a post to this webspace in which I noted the perils of “If I had it to do again” and laid out what I might do if ever I did. Also not too long ago, I made a post noting that I received another teaching assignment from the small bit of academe in which I remain. As I thought about the latter, the former came to mind, and, since I have it to do again in at least one small area, I figured I ought to give some thought to how I would do it.

Now, for some context: the class that I was assigned is a second-semester composition class. Students enrolled in it are supposed to have completed the first-semester class, so they should have some introduction both to the college environment and to how college-level writing (a term which is nebulous at best) or academic writing works. The second-semester class is supposed to build upon that introduction, traditionally culminating in a conference-length paper (i.e., eight to ten pages of double-spaced, 12-point text, or some 2,600 to 3,250 words, plus references). At the school where I am assigned the class, the paper emerges from a series of assignments that center around a set of general topics from which the students are asked to select one–and therein lies the problem.

The issue is not necessarily in the assignment sequence itself. While it could be improved upon (as everything can), it is reasonable and seems to work decently. What the issue is is the selection of topics. For one, they are too broad, requiring students to do more work to narrow their focus than most who sit for the class are equipped to do–even with explicit, targeted coaching and prompting. For another, they are supposed “high interest” topics such as dieting and gun control, topics which have been exhaustively detailed and on which no real progress in discussion has been made in the United States that I have seen. Worse, they are topics with which most of my students–adults who already have formed and largely set opinions–do not engage with, having little stake in them. They end up parroting media talking points rather than actually generating new thoughts and trying to create new knowledge, largely because they do not feel they are in a position to do so.

Because the topics are promulgated by the school as standards, I shall continue to accept them, of course. I can hardly not. But what I will do, since I do have it to do again, is suggest to my students, strongly, that they take up an alternative topic, one in which they have some investment and engagement–and one with which I have had success with students in the past (such as here). In effect, I will ask my students to look at their curricula, identify one major change that needs to be made, and argue why that change is the change that needs to be made. As such, the students will have a topic with which they have direct involvement, which is a motivating factor; they will have a narrow topic, which allows for detailed work and more sustained argument; and they will have a directly discernible audience, which will allow both for analysis of that audience and more effective address thereof.

I’ll be working up materials in more detail, of course, but I know that the students will have easy recourse to primary source material (their own course catalogs and other schools’), secondary source materials (the contents of ERIC come to mind, as does the Occupational Outlook Handbook, particularly since most or all of my students seek their degrees specifically for job prospects and career advancement), and tertiary/critical sources (namely accreditation requirements and theories of education both academic and popular). And I know that at least one student will argue that the composition course requirements should be lightened or eliminated–there always is at least one–and I have a wealth of information about that particular line of inquiry for reasons that I think are obvious.

Not many people get the chance to do things again, I know. I have been lucky in that I have been given the opportunity, and more than once. (I am less lucky in that I have also blown it more than once, but that’s another matter, entirely.) I mean to seize upon this opportunity; I hope that it will lead to a good end.

Reflective Comments about the Second Year

It has been two years since the first post to this webspace went up, two years that I have been working on Elliott RWI. As I write this, I have made 475 posts to the blogroll (this will be post 476), and I have posted many individual pages, collecting 15637 views from 4398 visitors. In the last year, therefore, I have made 311 posts and collected 3043 views from 1315 visitors (based on “Reflective Comments about the First Year“).

My employment situation continues to be odd. While I still teach, I do much less of it in the classroom now than I have done, and I am working mostly outside academia for reasons I have discussed previously. I do still remain engaged in some scholarship, though, having recently sent off an article for review and pressing on, albeit only haltingly and with difficulty, with the Tales after Tolkien Society.

I have also tried my hand at creative writing, notably in the Points of Departure and Pronghorn Project lines. They seem to have been decently received, but my employment situation has kept me from doing more with them for a while. Whether I’ll return to them or go on to other subjects entirely, I am not sure. Still, the experience has been good; I am glad to have had it.

Donations remain welcome and may be made here.

The State of the Pronghorn Project

At this point, I’ve been working on what I’m calling the Pronghorn Project for about two months, with posts going up at 6 in the morning (my time; I’m in US Central) each weekday. Readership has been fairly decent, although I would, of course, like to have more. As a way to get some of that “more,” as well as to disentangle the Pronghorn postings from some others that I push out each morning from another website, I think I’ll be shifting to having Pronghorn Project Posts pop up at noon, moving them to lunch from breakfast. Some of the social media work I have been doing suggests that that is a better time to have things go up, anyway.

So, starting tomorrow (1 March 2017), Pronghorn Project posts will go up at noon. They will still go up in the accustomed location, so nothing will move other than the time, so far as Asa Pemewan and the folks he interacts with are concerned. I hope you’ll still read along–and tell your friends. I think they’d like it, too!

More about the New Feature

As I note in yesterday’s post, I am looking for ways to supplement my income stream, and since I already do a fair bit of writing, it makes sense that I would try to do so with the writing. I am still looking at Patreon–I am mindful of my good friend’s advice–but, in the meantime, I figure that I can continue to use the donation buttons I have long had (an example of which appears below; contributions are welcome). I know that they work, and I am happy to accept what others offer freely.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

The thing is that I have several ideas for what to address. I can, for example, follow the pattern I have in another webspace I maintain–the one that prompted my friend’s comment–and compose a cycle of poetry in these posts. (Indeed, I have one in progress already that might well serve.) I could also use this space to work on an idea I have long had, one detailing the workings of the large town or small city of Pronghorn.

Other ideas are possible, to be sure, and I have no doubt that I will pursue them now and again. For now, though, I will have to give the matter some more thought…

Comments on “Why All Humanists Should Go to Prison”

Alex Tipei, in a 25 September 2016 Chronicle of Higher Education piece, “Why All Humanists Should Go to Prison,” relates experience as a volunteer instructor in Indiana Women’s Prison. She notes that having done so forced a critical reevaluation of her classroom methods, given both the divergence in physical circumstances between teaching inmates and teaching typical undergraduates and the systematic, structural similarities between the institutions of incarceration and higher education. For her, the experience of teaching in a prison–something she claims ought to be done by far more people than currently do it–helps to reaffirm at least one mission of the liberal arts in the wider world: the development of fuller, better-rounded, more humane people.

The clickbait tile of the piece is somewhat misleading, to be sure. Perhaps I have done too much reading in some less happy parts of the internet or attended too closely to the complaints made by no few people in the broader society of the United States, but the idea of punishing in one way or another those who study the humanities–and by some other means than the already-abundant social disdain and too-low pay–is something that I have seen voiced, and I found myself worried when my Twitter feed (yes, I am on Twitter: @GBElliottPhD) showed me that the Chronicle of Higher Education had run an article with the title. (Indeed, the clickbait worked; a carp, I rose to the bait and was hooked.) I am happy to have followed along, but I could wish not to see such misdirection at work in the publication.

Tipei makes a compelling case for the value of teaching in prisons, although I do have to wonder at the influences of the particular populations taught upon what revelations she distills from her experience. (That circumstances determine much is obvious. What those circumstances are is perhaps less so; I am not expert on the inmate population of the facility discussed, so I cannot speak to them. Perhaps some explication thereof would have helped.) I have to question whether such insights as emerge would have come from different populations–although my own experiences teaching those formerly on the inside says that they might well have, for certain instructors and in certain tenures of instruction. But I do not question the central view of the piece, that reaffirming the value of traditional instructional modes–lecture and discussion–and reminding those of us who teach the academic humanities that our goal is not so much to contribute to the digitally-enhanced (and, yes, I am aware of the irony of making such a comment in a digital medium) career readiness of our students as it is to help them become the kinds of people who can improve the world–empathetic builders of a more just and equitable world than we now have rather than more efficient technicians ready to be replaced by the next set of them to graduate under crushing debt loads, slowly being pushed into some new social stratum that we have yet to fully understand.

I am sure that there are other implications to tease out of Tipei’s piece. I may return to them in time; others might pursue them in the short term. But all of us can take something from the text–and I will see about putting what I get from the piece to use in my own institutions, whatever their sort.

Reflective Comments about the First Year

It has been a year since the first post to this webspace went up, a year that I have been working on Elliott RWI. As I write this, I have made 164 posts to the blogroll (this will be post 165), and I have posted many individual pages, collecting 12594 views from 3083 visitors. I have also gone from having full-time employment at a Big-12 university and other work to searching for regular work while taking care of no few freelance projects. There are developments in that line, so things are proceeding well enough, but I cannot say I would not like to have something a bit more stable than I currently have.

Despite the changes to my professional circumstances, however, I have every intention of continuing my efforts on this website and the projects it represents. The Fedwren Project continues to be of interest to me, as do any number of other endeavors that may well begin to appear in this webspace in the days to come. So do please keep coming back here; the month-long hiatus is done, and I have things to add to this webspace that I think will be worth the attention.

About Writing References for Students

From time to time, students, colleagues, and friends ask me to write them references for one thing or another. In all cases, I find it flattering to be asked, even if I cannot necessarily provide a helpful reference for the person asking (and there have been times I have not felt I could be of service to those who have asked me for recommendation); I consider the request to be a validation of my insight and judgment, and I flatter myself in both regards. A question about my willingness to do so came up in a recent class, and it occurred to me that I had not updated my reference policy towards my students since its appearance some time ago on my older teaching website. Making such an update seems to be in order; a revised statement of my policy on such matters regarding my students appears below. (I treat my colleagues and friends differently, as should be expected.) It still borrows from the stated policies of my long-time adviser, Prof. Chris Healy at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.


I am happy to write recommendations for those students who have done well in my classes, both in terms of their academic performance and of their professionalism. This generally means that students need to have earned a solid B or better (85+) , or an HPR for those students in college-preparatory classes at Technical Career Institutes who may still ask me for letters, in courses taken with me and to have been pleasantly memorable presences in the classroom and during office hours for me to be willing to write recommendations for them.

To write the recommendation, I will need to know whom I will write the recommendation to, as well as what medium the recommendation needs to take (an online form, a printed letter, an Interfolio letter, or some other format). Further, I will need a copy of relevant materials, such as writing samples that the recommendation will accompany; a CV/resume from the requester and a sample of the work done thereby will also be appreciated.

Give me some time to work on the piece. A couple of weeks before I need to send off the recommendation (allowing time for mailing, if that is how it needs to go) will be enough; a couple of days will not likely be. The request for the recommendation should itself be a point in favor of the recommendation, and consideration for the writer conduces to that end.

In asking me to write a letter of recommendation, students are giving me permission to discuss specifics of their performance in my class/es with those to whom I am writing the recommendation. I can hardly do well at the task without providing details, after all.

There may be more to come in this regard; policies need to be ready to change to suit new circumstances that arise.

Welcome, Again, to Elliott RWI!

In my first post to this webspace, I noted a desire for this website to do a number of things: host research projects, connect to writing samples, offer course materials, and maintain a professional portfolio. It is doing that, but I thought I might make it a bit easier to navigate. (There is a navigation menu at the top of the page, but not everyone seems to find it amenable to use.) So, if you are looking for

  • Most recent posts, scroll down
  • Background information on the website, click here
  • Research projects, click here
    • My abstracts, click here
    • The Fedwren Project, click here
  • Writing projects, click here
    • The Pronghorn Project, click here
    • Points of Departure, click here
  • Instructional materials, click here
    • DeVry University materials, click here
    • Previous institutions’ materials, click here
      • Schreiner University materials, click here
      • Northern Oklahoma College, click here
      • Oklahoma State University, click here
    • Sample courses, click here
    • Sample assignment responses, click here
  • Biographical/CV/Resume information, click here

I am sure some updates will occur as matters progress. What appears above should make things easier to handle in the meantime, however.

Elliott RWI Logo 1

Updated 27 October 2017 to reflect current status.

Some Remarks about My Writing Process

Much of the teaching that I do takes place in writing and writing-intensive classes. As much as I am able, I try to structure the assignments in those classes to promote writing as a process, working through cycles of drafting and revision in the hopes that students will benefit from time and attention paid to their work. (The Student’s Own Question assignment for the Spring 2016 Composition II class at Oklahoma State University–working through prewriting, a peer-review version, two instructorreview versions, and a final version–serves as one example.) Because I try to model the behavior I like to see from my students (as exemplified by the sample assignment responses I post), it makes sense to me that I would do something to explicate my own writing processes. Hence the discussion that follows, which works through a treatment of how I set up my writing situation before it looks at my drafting and revision processes. A few concluding comments follow afterward.

Setup

One common piece of advice given to writers is that they should find the circumstances most conducive to their compositional processes and produce them as much as they can when they make to write. It is not always feasible to do so, of course, but it is eminently desirable. When I sit down to write, I prefer to do so with a cup of coffee and music playing. The former is usually provided either by the office in which I work or by a helpful home pot; the latter typically comes from a streaming radio service to which I subscribe and which I have calibrated through long trial and error to give me the kind of music that works well for me. Others’ preferences will vary, and many are discussed in CCC 66.1 and 66.2, but this discussion treats my writing processes; the circumstances described are those I prefer.

Another part of my preferred setup is that it facilitates access to materials. I have written elsewhere about surrounding myself with scholarly apparatus; it is a habit I have not abandoned, despite the mixed valence of that surrounding as a symbol. I subscribe to a number of scholarly journals, and I make no small number of notes in the texts and margins thereof. Having access to them helps me to carry out many of the writing tasks that I do as a matter of course. Also, I still page through printed texts more quickly than I can scroll through electronic ones–and because I do not always remember the exact wording I seek, skimming the texts helps me to find the ideas I need to pull into my work. When I can, I set up my writing situation such that it allows me easy access to those materials; they may not be in arm’s reach, but I try to have them no more than a few steps away from me.

Much of the writing that I do is done in response to a call for papers, a freelance order, or an assignment such as I give to my students. This means that, in most cases, I am addressing a specific prompt, enacting in my professional and academic work much the same kind of thing that I ask my students to do. I am also generally provided with some idea of the writing that needs to be done, which soon leads me to the kind of idea I will pursue. Knowing what kind of idea usually gives me some indication of the structure I need to use to support the idea, and so I will generally set up the kind of writing I need to do by stubbing out sections. Sometimes, as in the composition of this piece or the summaries and commentaries I draft for freelance orders, those sections will take formal headings; how I handled doing so in the former appears below:WritingProcess1

Other writing tasks may not offer the kind of clear idea that allows for a formal outline, or they may not be of the sort that admits of formal section headings. In such cases, I still stub out the basic shape of my paper, usually using phrasing placed into square brackets as informal guideposts for how to move through what I write. Having such a structure in place helps me get through the paper, both in giving me direction and in giving me convenient breaking-points if I need to use them.

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Drafting

Once I have set up my writing situation as best as I am able, including generating the basic idea and stubbing out the structure of the piece, I sit down to write. I rarely compose in a linear fashion; while I typically draft an introduction in at least a working version when I set up my materials, I do not typically move through the first identified section into the second and on through the document. Instead, I jump around, moving from identified section to identified section as ideas come to me. For example, in this very piece, I moved from what is now the first paragraph of the Setup section to drafting this paragraph; the idea for it came to me at that point, and I made sure to set it down on the electronic page before I forgot it. In my freelance summaries and commentaries on popular works, I will usually draft front and back matter before moving through the summaries that occupy the middle of the ordered texts, moving back and forth among points in both. Again, it is a process that works for me and that has emerged across thousands of hours of writing. Others’ results may vary, but I seek in this piece to explicate my own processes.

I confess that I am often distracted in my drafting. The writing I do at home finds itself set aside in favor of family and household concerns; that I do at the office sees (usually welcome) interruptions by colleagues and others. Both sets of distractions do present threats to my compositional process; it is easy to get involved in other things than writing, even that writing done explicitly for pay. And my disordered compositional process is prone to the distraction, as well; returning from interruptions does not always come with a clear indication of what I was doing or where I was going with the paper. Even with such problems, however, I find that my process works reasonably well for me; I am able to get done the writing I need to get done, and in such a way that my freelance clients consistently rate my writing as excellent; my academic endeavors are reasonably successful, as well.

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Revision

I work from an idea of writing as a recusrive process, following training I received as a graduate student in English. This means that not only does my drafting not proceed in a necessarily linear fashion, but also my process of adjusting and correcting the writing proceeds in an other-than-lockstep pattern. At the sentence level, I correct and adjust wording continuously as I move through the writing (something that electronic writing facilitates much better than manuscript, which is one argument in favor of it). It happens frequently, almost with every sentence that I write, and it goes beyond correcting my occasional typographical error to rethinking wording and phrasing as I go about placing ideas on the page.

At the structural level, I find that I sometimes reconsider not only my formal headings but how I will move into and through each. For example, when I initially set up this piece, I had thought I would do a simple three-heading structure. As I have moved forward with it, I have added a formal fourth heading (for the conclusion, below), as well as aligning with prevailing online compositional practice and embedding links into the document to help navigate it. I had not initially thought to include them, but the piece has grown somewhat larger than I had first expected, and adjusting the composition to ease the reader’s burden seems a thing worth doing.

In addition, I realized that I needed to include information about my broader setup practices. Initially, I had thought to begin the Setup section with the paragraph starting “Much of the writing,”but further consideration prompted me to adjust the idea. Similar things often happen while I am amid my writing, and so I make similar revisions, inserting new materials into places that seem to need them. It usually works out well for me, helping me to address my readers more usefully, whether in clarifying materials for my students, satisfying my clients, or explicating materials more fully for fellow scholars.

That I do revise amid composition does not mean I do not revise after generating what I think is an acceptable initial draft; I certainly do so. Often, I do so by printing out a physical copy of the document I am drafting, reviewing in print what I see thereupon. Changes I note to myself as needing to be made are incorporated from the end of the document back; doing so makes it easier for me to find the places in the earlier version of the document I note as needing alteration. I also have at least one other reader look at what I write, usually another person with degrees in English but whose area of expertise is other than mine. Doing so allows me not only to have my basic argumentative or iterative form examined, but also the clarity of my writing–if I am writing clearly enough that a non-specialist can easily understand what I am trying to convey, then I am writing well, indeed.

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Conclusion

There is doubtlessly more I could say about my writing process. The variations of it I deploy to meet specific writing tasks could each be given a section or a whole post to itself, and even for the things I have discussed, there are more details that I could include. What I hope to have given is a useful summary view of my writing process, one that will perhaps be of benefit to my students now and in times to come.

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Edited on 21 March 2016 to account for vanished media.