A = Analogies

Analogies are useful for learning because, once we disregard the surface similarities, the shared structures can be illuminating.

Providing two analogies rather than one improves learning (Schwartz, Tsang, and Blair 3). Basically it creates a Venn diagram of the shared ideas that can elucidate the idea/theory/practice we are attempting to focus on.

When I first heard of this, I thought it was a simple and fascinating concept. Just give students random things and they could try and figure out how those things “were like” the topic.

I have done that for a single random item (a bunch of small toys) in an FYC course during the introduction of students, asking them to explain how the toy was like their chosen major. It worked really well and was interesting.

However, for focused learning, I probably can’t throw random physical objects around the room for them to work with/on.

Random Practice Example:
Looking at the table in front of me, how is a bowl like writing? You fill it up with something significant. It is not particularly useful empty. It is designed to hold and transport things (or ideas).

Looking at the table in front of me, how is a cheese stick like writing? It needs to be wrapped up. It needs a particular level of wrapping to be useful. The cheese/writing can go bad if the wrapping/words are less than optimal. You consume it in small bites. You can put it up and eat/read it later.

Looking at those two objects, the ideas/food are what are wrapped/carried in the package or bowl and if the bowl or package is inappropriate (by type or size or whatever), the food/ideas go bad or do not get properly delivered.

That means that how we present our ideas really matters. Certain key concepts (like a thesis, topic sentence, and transitions) help create the correct carrying case for our ideas.

Can the students make that big of a connection? Or could they make better connections?

What if we had two or three students working together? Synergy and collaboration could lead to the sum being greater than its parts.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair

Other Crazy Emails

In my classes, first-year composition and business writing, we talk about appropriate emails. Here are some additional examples I can use to perhaps catch their attention.

Email example 1:
Just got an email from a student at another university asking about graduate school in our department. The email has a range of questions such as:

-Do you like it?
-What’s the department budget?
-What is tuition?
-How do I get funding?

This was sent as a mass email to about half of the department graduate students.

Question: Name two (or five) problems with this email.

Email example 2:
After spending the beginning of two classes teaching and answering questions about citing research sources and providing students with extensive reading suggestions and handouts to help them, I received this message tonight about a major paper due on Tuesday:

[E-mail is prefaced with a note saying student knows the importance of citing information properly. Then…] “I was wondering what format are you looking for? Can I write it like this?

Name of the organization
Name of the person to contact
telephone number

Is that enough? or we need more information?”

Question: What was the student thinking? What is her/his background? Why did he/she write this?

Email example 3:
First day of class, I mention to them that the publisher neglected to include in the new edition of the textbook Chapter 17, on Important Topic, but they should have all noticed that a separate magazine-like thing was shrink-wrapped with their text. This is Chapter 17. Don’t lose it. If you do lose it, it’s available free as a PDF from the textbook’s website. Which has a direct link to it on the course website.

The remainder of the first two weeks, as they get their books, I remind them again.

When we finally get to Important Topic, I remind them yet again.

Tomorrow is the test that covers Important Topic. Guess what I got a voice mail at 8:45 this evening about?

“Uh, hi, Professor Hedgehog, this is Student from your class. Listen, uh, the review sheet said to study from chapters 8, 10, and 17, but in the book there is no 17, so I don’t know how you expect any of us to study something that’s not even there. If you can, give me a call back at 555-555-5555. Thank you.”

At least with voice mail, I can imagine the capitalization and punctuation to be correct.

Other professor’s similar experience
I got a similar email last year, asking how I expect them to do the assignment if the anthology doesn’t even have the full text blah blah blah. The student sent me two or three increasingly frustrated emails, and I still couldn’t understand what her problem was. In the end, I told her to bring her copy of the anthology to class the next day, so she could show me exactly what the problem was. Her last email read:

no. i read the text because i went on line to do so. but i don’t understand how you could possably assign readings that we do not have. the text lines stop at 190. the lines start up again at 703. there is nothing in between to read. so obviously it is not requiered by the school to read or it would b printed in the book. thanks for pointing out my gramor problems though. thats nice to see that when some one trys to tell you somthing you come back with a remark like that

Fast forward to the next class. Before class began, I asked her to show me the problem with her anthology. Since everyone else had the full text, I thought maybe she’d gotten the wrong edition or something. Nope. She didn’t even own a copy of the textbook. Hadn’t bothered to buy it. I guess that would explain why she didn’t have the full text, wouldn’t it?

From the CHE Fora

Introducing Technology

For FYC semester 2, everyone in class writes on the same topic. I was hoping to induce the students to write on technology, which I have seen many good papers on and which is more familiar to the students. Recently I was involved in a discussion on physical manipulation of objects to improve learning so, I thought I would try to make a connection for the students through touch.

As part of the introduction, I brought in everyday objects (including telephones, car keys, and umbrellas) at various tech levels. For example, I brought in a metal car key, a car key with a chip, and a key that doesn’t get pushed into a slot but is only electrical.

I didn’t put the connected ones on the same tables, so folks had to get up and move around. No one could just stay at the table, because they couldn’t collect the various examples of a single type of object. Most of the objects students could figure out the relation. There was an antique lamp lighter and an ultramodern car key that were confusing, so I had to explain what those were.

Then students were invited to talk about the differences in the objects that were related to one another.

It was a fun and interesting day.

The students did not choose to write on technology, though.

This might be a useful exercise to do for some other class. Or I might be able to adapt it to a different lesson.

Maybe if students choose to write on technology I can do this again. Students did enjoy it.

Revision or Editing

Rebecka Scott, Abilene Christian U
“Holistic Revision Instead of Afterthought Editing”

connecting rhetoric, composition, and WC theories to editing and publishing

incorporation of scaffolding and peer review, becoming increasingly aware of writing process

would not recognize term re-writing
instead revision and editing separated in classroom
useful for helping explain: re-envision

creates inconsistencies
also we ignore editing as a recursive process

many comp students do not understand rewriting as a complex stage of writing

initial steps of evaluation

writing considered linear. Writing still linear. Comp studies, though, it is recursive.

Rhetoric for Writing Teachers, Lindemann
Not separate stages. Instead, the writers are prewriting, writing, and editing during the experience.
Defines rewriting as including revising and editing. These tasks are separate but equally relevant for rewriting. (RS includes proofreading)
Wants to draw rewriting back into the end. Revision isn’t the last stage of composing.

Lack of connection between revision and editing. More space given to revision than editing.
Revision supersedes term rewriting.
Editing = final check for formatting

Looked at various freshman composition textbooks on topic.

Rewriting is part of the writing process.

Books don’t show how they are cyclical. Books don’t even use language consistency.

Emphasis of one over the other in classroom can influence students.
Students are most concerned with grammar.
Organization and syntax matter.
Essentially the same act with a different focus.
Limited research on best way to teach these.

Initial steps:
Realign by evaluating language we use
Engage in discussion of recursive
Editing as a purposeful task of rewriting

Evaluate the purpose of rewriting as presented in textbook
Rewriting may be one element of the text that can be supplemented

Being aware of what may be lacking in our textbooks is essential for success.

Have language discussion even if confusing for students.
Part of the recursive writing.

Students are not receiving consistent presentation.

Many profs avoid. Students are unfamiliar with terms and have negative experiences.
These discussions can lead to better understanding.

Give adequate time to editing, revision, and rewriting.
This re-enforces that revising, editing, and proofreading are unimportant and part of the end-process only.

Notes from CCTE 2016: Teaching Strategies

Personal Literacy Digital Narrative

While traditionally literacy has meant reading and writing, we have begun to discuss math literacy, digital literacy, and research literacy.

The first composition in one of the fyc classes I am teaching culminates in a personal literacy digital narrative. Students are allowed to choose to present on anything they remember learning, though I recommend having it be something that they learned vocabulary for as well.

These can be quite well done. I have received excellent videos on such diverse topics as learning to sight-read music and moving to a new country. One student did one on how she learned to enjoy reading and another did one on how to train Pokemon (which you would have to have learned how to do in order to provide an instructional video).

While I had quite an interesting collection of examples to show, I somehow managed to misplace the main USB file the digital narratives were in. Because of that, and time constraints, I only showed three examples before asking the students to think about topics for their own videos. Unfortunately, the topics they have come up with all follow the examples fairly closely. That means they won’t be particularly good or varied, I think.

I am trying to find the other videos and sending emails to last semester’s students, asking if they would mind sharing their videos again.

I am also going to put up a list of potential topics, including the two that I considered for my own video last semester.

Email Etiquette Reminder

Every semester I review email etiquette with my freshmen. Then I require an assignment that has them send me an email and I grade both the assignment and their email etiquette. Throughout the semester I pick at least two other emails to assign grades to regarding email etiquette. (I do more if the students are not doing well with the email etiquette–and I let them know I am going to.)

Here is a review I sent for a student who was not in class for the email etiquette:

1. Pick a good subject title. (Don’t just respond to an email I wrote, usually. When you are asking a question about something specific I wrote in an email, you can respond to that email. Otherwise start a new email.) Something like “topic for 106” or “question on 106 homework” will let me know how important it is to read the email as soon as I see it.

2. Address the email with a salutation. For school, that would mean “Dear Dr. Davis” or “Dear Dr. Lynn.” If you don’t know if a professor has a doctorate, assume they do. No one is insulted by being presumed to have more education than they do.

3. Make sure all the information needed is in your email and write in the best English you can. Don’t use things like u for you or b4 for before.

4. Sign your email with the name you use in class, both your called name and your family/last name.

5. Somewhere make sure you indicate the class you are in (and the time if the professor might have more than one class of that kind). For 106 this semester I only have one class. As long as 106 is in your email, after your name or in the subject line, then you are good. However, last semester I had two 106 classes, so those students had to write either the section number or the time that the class met as well as 106.

These are good tips for writing emails to professors in any department. Using them shows respect for the instructor and the course, which enhances your credibility and lets your discussion with your professor start off well.

DWme: Music

While I like music, I often don’t listen to it.

I haven’t made a whole playlist of songs I enjoy and could just call up on my computer or phone. Perhaps I should. I might enjoy it.

My husband actually has a specific playlist of “happy” songs. He plays it in the morning while he is getting dressed for work and it helps him to start the day off with a positive attitude. I think that is an excellent idea, but I have not gotten around to doing it. At the rate this semester is going, I won’t, either.

Maybe I’ll ask him to create a set for my birthday. Or not. It probably wouldn’t be hard to do it myself.

Yesterday I needed some music while I was grading the fyc papers. So I pulled up my reggae collection and listened to that. I need more reggae, because on my computer I only have one album and that music quickly finished.

Usually when I am driving around in the car I listen to country-western music. However, as I mentioned in class, lately all the songs have been about bars and cheating. I don’t really want that kind of music to get in my head and stay there. I am not an alcoholic and am happily married, but no one needs those ideas in their heads.

I am not as fond of alternative as my husband but I do like rock, so maybe I need to temporarily (at least) reset my radio buttons to rock.

DWme: After the first week of school, I…

I have rearranged my office twice. We got new furniture because D left and C’s desk is now outside in the vestibule, mine is back in my office, and C has D’s nice desk. Her office looks better–even though it looked good and mine looks way better because KC helped me figure out how to rearrange and improve it. I still have to put up the saris for drapes and the picture that fell down, but it is back to being useful, functional, and gorgeous. Always a good thing in an office.

Spending time with my dad and not working at home is cutting into my class preparation and grading time. I will need to be far more careful about getting the work done, even if it means coming back to the office after dinner. I am glad Dad is here and I am glad I have a chance to spend time with him again; I missed those lunch dates these last three and a half years. HCC had me spoiled for that.

I really am enjoying my students and the classes, though just like me some of the students are having trouble getting back into the swing of school. I never like to dock points at the beginning of a course, so I am letting some things still get full credit right now. By next week that will not be happening.

HOF: Not Plagiarizing Metaphors

On quoting folks in conversation:

Here’s how I explain it to my students: if you dress in sweats every day, but suddenly you show up to class in a ball gown, I’m going to notice. Generally speaking, it’s the same with writing.

Love that analogy, Dr_A. May I steal it from you in a non-plagiarising sort of way?

Of course. I prefer to be cited in MLA format, which means you must gently cup your hands to form parentheses as you say my name aloud to your students. I am not paginated.

Just as well you don’t prefer footnotes, or poor Llanfair would have to leap in the air after presenting your analogy, and only reveal your identity once she reached the bottom of the page several paragraphs later.

And I have two left feet, so that leap would be ungainly and possibly result in personal injury. Not to mention that my students would flee the room in terror of this weird woman at the front of their classroom.

From dr_alcott and llanfair

HOF: Limiting Topics Brings Knowledge to Life

Here’s why I and my composition-teaching colleagues do not let students write arguments about certain topics.

First, let’s remember that I’m talking about first-year students who are learning about argument–about logic, fallacies, good evidence, bad evidence, finding common ground with opponents, refutation, and so on–for the very first time in their lives. The three or four short essays that my students have already written for me are the most writing they have ever done in one semester and perhaps more writing than they did in all of high school. Nearly all of my students enter our community college underprepared for high school, much less first-year college work. Many of these students have never used a library and none of them has used a college library.

In the catalog, the title of the course is Composition I. But it could just as well be called “Basic Introduction to College through Writing.”

school_research computer martinI’ll begin with a banned topic that rarely has anything to do with religion: gun control. When I allowed students to write about gun control, those who chose this topic were almost without exception paranoid far-right survivalist/militia fanatics who see New World Order conspiracies everywhere, or the children of such people. It was a self-selecting group: those obsessed with the topic were those who chose to write about it. And to these students, the gun-control argument has two sides: people who love freedom, and people who hate America and want to destroy America and want this to become a land of mindless slaves. A person who wants any sort of gun regulations whatsoever belongs to the second group. A person who’d like to see 30- and 50-round detachable magazine made illegal isn’t merely incorrect; he is an enemy every bit as dangerous as any foreign terrorist.

And to those students, arguments that support regulation of firearms simply don’t exist. Any data used to support arguments for gun regulation are fake–simply made up–or come from some foreign dictatorship where the people are already mindless slaves. It’s not that my no-gun-restrictions students didn’t want to consider other points of view. It’s that they simply denied the legitimacy of those points of view, since the students already knew that such viewpoints are lies concocted by communists or fascists who hate America, and so on and so forth.

My gun-loving students simply couldn’t do real research or construct even part of a proper argument. I think the term is “epistemic closure.” There’s really not an argument to be made when the choices are Good and Absolute Evil, is there? It’s as pointless as explaining why one should prefer Mister Rogers to Hitler. The inevitable poor grade on the assignment merely proved that colleges are controlled by communists or fascists who hate America, and so on and so forth.

The same kind of thing happened when I and my colleagues let students write about abortion, same-sex marriage, or prayer in public schools. With those topics, the self-selecting group consisted of religious fanatics. Please note that I am not saying that all religious people are wild-eyed fire-breathing theocrats. But I live in a part of the country where we have lots and lots of fanatics and more than a few wild-eyed fire-breathing theocrats. Catch John Hagee’s or Rod Parsley’s act on television sometime. To many of my students, that’s what a real Christian looks like. Pope Francis? Not a Christian. Demonic, in fact. I’ve had to shut down such a diatribe this semester.

For the religious fanatics in Comp I, the argument over abortion has two sides: God’s and Satan’s. It ain’t complicated. They don’t write arguments. They write sermons. Other points of view simply do not exist. My students who wrote about abortion always repeated the usual claims: women who have abortions are more likely to get cancer; women who have abortions kill themselves; women who have abortions become sterile. Giving them evidence to the contrary–science-based evidence from good sources–accomplished nothing. The articles are lies; the data are fraudulent; it’s all the work of pagans or atheists who like to kill babies. There is no need to waste time considering the ideas of people who have already proved that they are demonically evil by having such ideas.

Some of our students have been taught to leave a room when ungodly or demonic talk begins. If, say, a beginning-of-class conversation about a science story in the news drifts into mention of evolution or the Big Bang, a student will quietly pack up his or her books and leave, because he or she has been trained to get out of a room when Satan starts talking. It has happened to me and most of my colleagues.

And as with abortion, so with same-sex marriage, prayer in public schools, and other topics with a religious component. The students who write about them will not, can not, consider ideas other than their own because they already know that those other ideas are quite literally lies from Hell. They don’t write arguments. They refuse to. They write bad sermons. And if they get bad grades, they know that the instructor is on Satan’s side.

Again, please note that I am not claiming that all Christians fit a stereotype or caricature. But I live where the stereotypes and caricatures originated. I live where it’s not hard to find ramshackle little churches–old single-wides, as often as not–on back roads, churches that fly the Confederate battle flag next to and sometimes above a cross, and where men go to worship service with their AR-15s slung over their shoulders.

So I proscribe some topics. I try to make students begin arguments and research papers not with an opinion, but with a question about an important topic about which they know little and about which they know that they know very little. Then they need to show me that they have learned to use the college library well enough to find sound evidence that steered them to a point of view on the topic, and that they have examined the evidence for other points of view, and that they can assemble the products of their research into a logical and coherent whole that meets the requirements of the assignment.

It’s easier to accomplish that by proscribing topics that begin and end with Us or Them, Jesus or Satan, Liberty or Slavery. If it’s a topic that sometimes leads to shouting and screaming, pushing and shoving, fisticuffs, or gun play, then maybe it’s a topic that first-year composition students will not handle well.

Then, once a student has constructed a reasonably good written argument, I can say, “See what you did here? This is what grown-up discussion looks like. This–this way of thinking–is how all of should approach everything we think and believe, because everybody believes at least a few things that just aren’t correct. What you did in this assignment is how we can make sure that the things we believe make sense.” And I repeat the old saw: If you never change your mind, what’s the point of having one?

And then, next semester or next year, my composition students can apply their new knowledge in other courses such as sociology and philosophy, and maybe even re-examine some of their own assumptions. My Comp I class, after all, is not the last one in which students will have to make arguments. They’ll have plenty of opportunities to tackle controversies in other courses. My goal is to help them take the very first step in learning how to tackle a controversial topic.

from eumaois