DW: The First Daily Writing

The second day of class I had students write about their own experiences with writing. For this particular daily writing, I took about ten minutes.

boy surrounded by question marksQuestions
What kinds of writing have you done? What kind was most enjoyable?

What habits of writing do you have? A trick? A place? A medium (pen or computer)? Background music? Time?

What scares you most about writing?

What (potential) benefits do you see to writing?

Verbal Interpolations
For the first question, I mention that most enjoyable could be interpreted as least unpleasant.

For the second question, I ask them if they use a particular motivator or gimmick to get started,for instance. Do they always write just before the paper is due? Do they begin with the “I don’t have anything to say” answer to writer’s block?

High School student at deskAfter Life
Though usually I simply take up the Daily Writing and go on, for this day, I tell the students to meet the folks around them–exchanging names and introducing themselves– and share their answers. (Two of the classes meet in a classroom that I set up into table groupings, so they have 3-5 people at a table.)

I gave the students in my Tuesday-Thursday classes 15 minutes to talk about their answers with each other.

Then, just before I took up the papers, I called for silence and asked the students to write the names of the other people at their table on the bottoms of their papers.

🙂 Having already told students that I know a big part of college is getting to know people and that their fyc colleagues have great networking potential, as most will not be rivals for the jobs they want to pursue in the future, this little “pop Quiz” helps them see that I am serious about having them get to know each others’ names.

(FYI I also give a naming quiz, after putting pictures into a video for the students to review first. This usually takes place during the third week of class.)

Beginning Class with Writing

One of the things I like to do in my writing classes is have the students start each day with writing. I usually assign a topic, but say they can write about other things if they wish. Then I set the timer on my phone and let them write for four minutes.

This exercise does several very helpful things. These are in no particular order.

Benefits
1. For this generation, who are unused to handwriting, it helps them to build physical muscles for intense writing–which is required during the final exam.

2. It encourages students to arrive on time.

3. It gives them an opportunity, albeit in short bursts, to reflect on their lives at college.

4. It lets me continue to access their writing. (I don’t always attempt to do this, but it does let me know if students are able to consistently write.)

5. It gives a daily grade that encourages attendance.

6. It starts class out with the focus for the class.

7. Late students are far less disruptive, as they attempt to get enough writing done to qualify for the daily grade.

I keep these together in a folder and about once a week I go through them all putting them in alphabetical order and then recording the grades.

At the end of the semester, I hand all the papers back to the individual students. I encourage them to hold on to them, to give them to a parent or put them in the attic (or some equivalent), explaining that they are a small “slice of life” picture that will help remind them of their freshman year at college in some distant future, which is another benefit.

41 Must Read Books on Story, Play, and Design

from Culture Hacker

I was particularly interested in this because of Daniel Pink’s “Conceptual Age” idea, as posted here on TCE.

These sound very interesting:
Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries – Peter Sims

A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling: How to Captivate and Engage Audiences Across Multiple Platforms – Andrea Phillips

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction – Jeff VanderMeer

Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction – Nathan Shedroff

Tinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques – Michael Michalko

The only book I have read on the list is Jesse Schell’s, but I have listened to Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk.

HOF: How to Straighten Out a Thesis–Less Hand, More Moon

Here is the thesis statement of his paper about “Pride and Prejudice”. He examines Darcy’s letter to Daisy (yes, he calls Lizzy Bennet “Daisy” for no known reason):

“Darcy’s character, simply put, is a still an a**hole , but an a**hole with who is trying to overcome his faults .”

Can anyone give me any suggestions as to what to say to him? My impulse is to go all prim and school-marmish on him, but perhaps another approach might work.

Thank you.

My own approach would be a bit different from what’s been suggested here. I’m less inclined to think that appealing to his sense of future professionalism would really be a successful motivator.

Jan van Eyck hands w bookInstead, I’d call him out on the subtext of what he’s doing:

“There is an old Buddhist quote which, when adapted to teaching (as often happens), goes something like this: The best teachers point to the moon and say, ‘Look! See the moon.’ The less-good teachers do the same, but say, ‘Look! See my hand, pointing at the moon.’ Those teachers are more interested in students seeing *them* rather than the moon: they instruct, yes, but we are always aware that they are interested in showing students their cleverness first, and the moon second. When you use language like ‘Darcy is still an a**hole,’ you are drawing the reader’s attention to you, not to the text. This is not something to aspire to in teaching, and definitely not something to aspire to in papers. Always show us less hand, more moon; less [studentlastname], more Austen.”

from voxprincipalis

HOF: The lightbulb has to want to change.

No matter how stellar the course design is, no matter how pedagogically brilliant the in- or out-of-class assignments are, no matter how well your carrots and sticks are set up to reward or discourage given behaviors, in the end you are still ultimately powerless to make change happen. There is no magic assignment structure, no perfect metaphor (and God knows I’ve tried thousands), no enlightenment-guaranteed koan that will make every student go “Oh! NOW I get it!”

lightbulb-smThe lightbulb has to want to change.

… I don’t mean to say that no student will be motivated by your efforts — you will undoubtedly catch the ones who are really genuinely interested in learning. But it’s important to accept that there is no way to craft a net that will catch 100% of the fish. They are more interested in escaping than you ever could be in catching them.

From voxprincipalis

HOF: What to Remember about the Semester

from mended_drum

one of the most wonderful parts of our job is that we get to keep starting over fresh. Every semester is a new semester with a chance to do (nearly) everything right this time. Even at an SLAC like mine, student memory is brief, and you can reinvent your class, your pedagogy and yourself as often as you need to. In other words, if you think you made some mistakes or there’s something you need to add to your syllabi, make a note of it, and then remember: next semester everything is new again.

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

Plagiarism sources

The first one I found referenced on the CHE fora is a flowchart of levels of plagiarism–though not all the academics agree it is accurate. I linked it because it is a place to start talking.

The second one is an online test for recognizing plagiarism from Indiana U.

Another plagiarism source–which I cannot watch because my flash is out of date–was recommended to me. It is at Northern Arizona U.

SCMLA: Tech Questions 2

Where did you learn this stuff? Take courses?
Get the software and play with it.
OpenCourseWare—MIT, Columbia
LYNDA—database that teaches
YouTube—for information

Nuts and bolts: Where in the semester?
Write every day, 2.5% of total grade
Led to a major assignment that I had not planned.

Do you ask for attribution in the digital compositions?
Talk about it, but we don’t require.

Incoming college students? –what are they good at? What skills are they lacking? What do you try to break them of?
Most interested in bringing students into close reading and argumentative writing. Officially prerequisite.
Problems we see students want to go straight to theme or hunt and peck for symbols.
In writing skills, we are interested in seeing students who can justify arguments.

My biggest pet peeve is that they have turned writing into a formula that produces only one document. I teach it as a set of skills.

University of Kansas—research based this and that…

Mine are having trouble with… they can find a source but can’t synthesize it.

Writing as punishment, writing as school, writing as something I can’t do. How many of you wrote in the last week? How many of you read something not in school?

How integrate simple tech?
Rural NE Texas, no digital natives. Internet access doesn’t exist for many of them at home.

Have students working on Wikipedia and how it works and why it’s not an academic source. It’s very useful.
Write an article and try to make it stick. EC at end of semester if it still exists.
?