Archive for November, 2009

One of the blogs I follow, The Journal of Education Controversy blog, has an interesting YouTube on the state of discipline in schools and how special populations are being removed from the school system and into the juvenile detention/prison system:

This new national trend reflects racial biases, new zero-tolrance rules about disciplinary problems in schools, and may reflect a trend in removing students who perform poorly on standardized test in the era of high-stakes testing.

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While my understanding from reading your blog posts and talking with attendees is that Rafe Esquith’s presentation on Monday night was great, I also heard about part of his presentation that troubled me.

Apparently, Esquith relates a story about bringing the Hobart Shakespeareans to the Empire State Building, and he leaves the group alone to do some task. He has cultivated politeness in his students, so they stand off to the side being well-behaved when they are approached by the ticket-taker who questions the children about their quietness and asks them what kinds of video games they like to play and the like.

The students respond that they don’t play video games, and the ticket-taker tells them they need to behave more like children, or something to that effect. Esquith, meanwhile, has overheard the conversation, and it gives him pause. He asks the students what they prefer: to play and behave like children or to behave politely as he instructs them, making sacrifices to do the things they do.

One of the students responds that they are happy to do what they do, and after all, that person was only a ticket-taker, and they did not want to end up like that.

When I heard this anecdote, I was admittedly shocked by the elitism cultivated in Esquith’s student(s). While I think Esquith’s achievements are grand, I also believe in the value of “regular” jobs, and don’t really buy into the prestige value of one job over another. That is to say, I’ve known restaurant bussers and dishwashers who work just as hard as, say, the president of the United States or teachers who work just as hard as, say, an NFL quarterback. The celebrity or salary of one versus another really doesn’t mean anything to me. In the scheme of things, each person might be said to fill their role equally well. I would never consciously cultivate that kind of attitude in students, especially if I knew they were “watching me all the time and needed a model.”

I’ve worked in plenty of low-status jobs in the retail and service sectors, and plenty of people have treated me (I hope unwittingly, but often suspected otherwise) like dirt. “He’s just a waiter,” they would say.  Or worse, they would try to take advantage of the server-customer social contract, complaining to take advantage of me because “the customer is always right,” expecting servers to be too stupid to see through their schemes and deceptions.

Too, despite our country’s alleged high valuation for education, there is also the adage “those who can’t do, teach,” implying, of course, that if teachers could do anything deemed valuable by US society (i.e. make money, accrue power, and buy stuff), then we would give up teaching to do it in a heartbeat. To me, this reveals a not-so-subtle conflict of interest between what we say we value and what we practice in truth.

This conflict of interest is not dissimilar from the attitude Esquith seems to be cultivating in his students and himself. He seems, in videos I’ve seen, to portray himself as a humble everyman, but egotistically tout every accomplishment and award. I’m not sure that dismissing the ticket-taker is reflective of the kind of values teachers should inspire in students, no matter how high their students’ test scores are or how brilliantly they can capture the emotions of MacBeth on the stage.

Did anyone else who attend take issue with this anecdote?

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Directions: Copy and paste this questionnaire into a new Word document or blog post.  Please answer the following questions as honestly and in as much detail as possible.  Your thoughts and suggestions will aid me as I revise the course to teach it again.

1)      What was your favorite project?  Explain why.

2)      What was your least favorite project?  Explain why.

3)      Do you have any suggestions regarding peer response?  Would you change anything about peer response?

4)      Do you feel like you were given too much time to work on projects?  Too little time? Explain your answer.

5)      What are your thoughts about breaking each project up into multiple drafts or phases?  Did it help to have drafts or would you just have preferred to turn in one draft – the final-for-now?

6)      What are your thoughts about the pacing of the semester?  Were there any projects that felt too short?  Too long?

7)      Do you think you were given enough time to work on your final portfolio? Explain.

8)      Do you feel like I provided too many comments on drafts or not enough comments?   Were my comments helpful? Why or why not?

9)      What about the course would you change?  Do you have any suggestions for change as I revise the course to teach it again?

10)    Do you feel like this class helped you to be better able to read and compose texts, both in college and in the real world? Explain your answer.

11)   Please offer some advice or helpful hints for students taking this course in the future.


I often use writing samples from past students as models in my classroom.  Please check one of the boxes and type in your name and today’s date below:

__ I give you permission to use writing samples from my English 101 portfolio

__  I do not give you permission to use writing samples from my English 101 portfolio

Print Name:­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­                                                                                                                       Date:


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Read the NYT article.

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Rafe Esquith, a noted teacher and author of Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire, will be speaking on Monday, November 16, 2009 at 7 pm in Braden Auditorium.

I have class on Monday evening and will be unable to attend, but I am willing to offer a five-blog posting make up (in other words, this one post will count for five that you may have missed) for attending and writing up a good, 300-500 word reflection on Esquith’s talk. I basically want to attend vicariously through all of you…

Some Rafe Esquith links:

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I want to clarify a question I’ve been getting about the portfolio. The synthesis revision should be included in the multigenre remix. You can also include earlier versions of either project 1 or project 2 or both, if you feel they are your best work.

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When reviewing, examining and assessing a portfolio, specifically a multigenre portfolio including meta-writing, I find it useful to use the following criteria, so I thought I would include some of the questions I ask myself when assessing texts as published products:

  • Conceptual Core: What is at the center of your writing and your portfolio? What is the essence of the work you’ve done? What is the topic and purpose?
  • Specificity/Creativity/Originality: What makes your writing unique and uniquely yours? Are you specific?
  • Completeness/Cleanliness/Attention to Detail: Does your portfolio fulfill the requirements of the assignment? Is your portfolio manuscript clean and neatly produced? Does the manuscript “sweat the details” and take care of the little things?
  • Audience: In your estimation, who is your writing for, both real and imaginary groups? Who is your ideal reader, the single person who may be the perfect person to read your work? Why?
  • Research/Credibility: How well have you supplemented your work with research (I consider research to mean not only supplementing your work with the facts and quotes of others but also having self-awareness and doing reflective thinking)?
  • Genre(s): How does your writing fit with conventions of the genre(s) you write in?
  • Arrangement (form/content): What arrangement method(s) did you use? How does the arrangement enhance the conceptual core and purpose of your portfolio?
  • Forum: How have you chosen to present the work to the reader and why did you choose this method? For example, did you print out a manuscript in MS Word? Did you create a book, chapbook, or fascicle? Did you publish your work as a blog? Did you take a risk and make something outside the box like an audio recording? A video?
  • Context: What kinds of relevant experiences and encounters with people and texts influenced your collection, either positively or negatively (i.e. what’s going on in your life, either locally or globally, that you feel affected this collection during its creation or over the course of the semester)?
  • Revision/Changes: What texts have changed? How have they changed? Why did you revise them in the manner you did?
  • Acknowledgements: Did anyone play a role in creating your collection that needs mentioning?

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Arrangement is one of the five tradition canons of classical rhetorical training, and it is important to think about once you begin to assemble a body of works. How will this group of texts communicate with each other?

While brainstorming, I came up with a number of ways that I think about arranging a body of works, a taxonomy of arrangement techniques. I categorize the arrangment strategies as either pragmatic or aesthetic, although there may be other categories that can be separated out from these. These arrangement styles can be involved in any arrangement of texts by single authors or multiple authors: books, periodicals, blogs, films, portfolios, etc.


  • alphabetic: arrangement by name, typically the author’s
  • genre: in a multigenre work, things may be arranged by the genre classification
  • rank/cachet: by perceived importance
  • chronological: arranged by date order
  • historical/periodical: grouping works together by literary period or school i.e. Victorian, Postmodern
  • geographic: by location
  • race
  • class
  • gender
  • sexuality
  • ability
  • age
  • mode/media: technological mode of production used to arrange i.e. oral traditions separated from printed separated from hypertextual, etc.
  • stylistic: the ways an author or authors use language


  • melodic: a musical grouping intending to achieve beauty
  • communicative: a grouping devised so that the pieces speak to one another (also: conversational, dialogic)
  • juxtapositional: a grouping strategy that puts unlike pieces together to create a jarring, surprising effect (also: dialectical arrangement)
  • rhetorical: uses pieces in a tactical way to make a larger argument or persuade
  • harmonic: uses pieces in unison like a chord blends notes on a piano or guitar
  • dissonant: uses pieces in unresolved, indeterminate, or discordant ways to create an effect, often confusion or displeasure
  • collagic: applies the tenets of collage or cut-up; often shows the rough edges and “tape” between pieces in an arrangement
  • narrative (master/meta): using small pieces to tell a larger story, think chapters in a book or sections in a longer poem or interrelated short stories or poems in a collection or journal
  • confrontational: an arrangement in which the pieces are at war with one another or the audience
  • hybrid: an arrangement based on blending, either of different genres or of different arrangement styles
  • interactive/hypertextual: an arrangement style that allows the audience freedom when interacting with the work (difficult to do in print medium although not impossible)
  • logical/mathematical: using classical logic or numerical formulas to dictate arrangements of works e.g. Fibonacci sequences, if/then, syllogisms, etc.
  • chance/indeterminate/constraint-based: using a devised process of operations to dictate arrangement e.g. dice, I Ching hexagrams, coins, Tarot cards, etc.

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Revision occurs all around us in the world, yet do we really understand it in texts? As you’ll recall, revision can be divided into two main subcategories: local and global.

Local Revision

Local revision deals with surfaces and appearances. In the world, an example of local revision would be painting a room of your house. The room is essentially the same: the same walls, function, space and flooring, but the surface of the walls has been changed. Another example can be seen in graffiti. Graffiti revises the surface it is affixed to, whether train car or wall. Cleaning up or painting over graffiti is another local revision.

In composing texts, we also deal with surfaces. Change a word in an alphabetic text, and you’ve changed the surface appearance: Suzy ran to the store. Suzy sprinted to the store. The same action is taking place, but the verb “sprinted” clarifies the running action. Sprinting connotes more urgency than just running. How would jogging change the same sentence? These are word-level issues we can choose to pay attention to in our writing.

Here are some things to keep in mind for local revision:

  • Read the text aloud or have someone read it to you! You process information differently when you read to yourself and when you read aloud. You will often “hear” errors through stumbles in speaking. Reading silently is more like writing, and your brain will often not “see” errors just like when you composed them.
  • Polish the surface of the text you are working on
  • Spelling/Grammar/Punctuation
  • Usage: Are you using the right word for the right circumstance?
  • Paragraph Unity: is your paragraph a coherent structure? Does it have random sentences that should not be there?
  • Transitions: between paragraphs and between points within paragraphs
  • Is your paper properly formatted? Font, spacing, page numbers, heading, citations, works cited, etc.
  • Thesis Statement
  • Topic Sentences
  • Introduction/Conclusion
  • Fulfill PURPOSE of assignment

Global Revision

If local revision deals with surface, then Global Revision concerns substance. To reuse the previous metaphor: now we are remodeling the entire house, rather than painting a room. We knock down walls, put in new toilets and granite countertops, etc. You are literally making what you had new and, hopefully, better than it was before. We will talk about several strategies and examples.


This revision strategy literally means what you think. You have a base text, and you improve it by adding more information and expanding.

Example: The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever”

Think about peer reviews and teacher comments where it seems like your reader needed or wanted more information. Pay attention to moments in the text where you were tired, like the end paragraphs or conclusion. The conclusion is an especially rich place to locate possible additions because the text, for you at that point, is essentially finished, and the pressure of making the text is lifted in favor of closing up points and restating ideas. This is often where what you really want to write about emerges. Keep this in mind for later.


The opposite of addition. Keep what you need and cut out what doesn’t make sense or is irrelevant.

Example: Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane”

Pay close attention to paragraphs or sentences that do not relate to the topic at hand and either cut them or rewrite them to make them fit.


Changing the order of things to suit your needs better.

Example: The Beatles, “Strawberry Fields Forever” (lyrics)

Transposition will be especially important for you if you feel like you make a mess first and clean it up later. If you are truly freewriting and not editing yourself as the words come out, you often give up the ordering, controlling part of your brain in order to get things on paper. In American writing, we prize a linear order in writing and public speaking (Write what you are going to write about, write about it, write what you just wrote about), but not everyone’s mind works that way on first composition and in fact, other cultures’ writing is much different, circling a point or going into narratives, tangents and explanations before getting to the point. Many of you will find your work has most of the main points you need, but they might not be in the right order.

Synthesis and Remix

Blending together texts to make a new document.

Example: Girl Talk, Feed the Animals

When synthesizing or remixing texts, you are combining two or more texts to create a new document. An example of this is creating a custom playlist in iTunes or another music program. You are pulling music out of its original context and placing it alongside other songs it was not necessarily written to be heard with. Girl Talk does this, but his remixes interweave other artists songs to make something new and totally different from the original. This is one of the goals of researched academic writing, to use the research and inquiry of other scholars who come before us and to synthesize their quotations and ideas with our argument.


This is not what you think—writing in another language. In composition, we can translate our texts by changing rhetorical situations.  An easy example of translation, in the sense I’m using it, is J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. All of these have been translated into movies. People usually fight over which version they like better, but the truth is each genre has its own conventions that need to be looked at on their own terms. For example, the book provides more space for vivid description through writing, while the movie is often forced to condense a paragraph or even a chapter to a few minutes, whereas we might take an hour to read it.

Example: Buffalo Springfield “For What It’s Worth”/Public Enemy “He Got Game”

In this class we have worked in several modes, genres and forums, and sometimes what we composed could be better composed in a new genre. For example, a paper might be better as a series of visuals or vice versa. The best practical way to translate what you’ve done is to rewrite an existing text in a new way by changing the rhetorical situation, especially the ones listed above. When you translate, there are always things that are untranslatable, which is why there is no English word for schadenfreude and why we have the expression lost in translation.


Sometimes when you re-approach an older text, you have changed or your beliefs about your text have changed to the point where you disagree with what you’ve done. Maybe small parts or fragments still ring true for you, but you mostly need to rewrite the entire thing.

Example: Led Zeppelin “The Ocean”/ Beastie Boys “She’s Crafty”

As intimidating as it sounds, this is the revision strategy I use most often. For me, the impulse to create a certain text in a certain way does not remain over a long period of time. I change, learn more, and my skills as a thinker and writer improve, and I suddenly need a new text based on the old, ineffectual text.

Sometimes glimmers of what you really want to write show up in a text you are not satisfied with, and you can reinvent the old text, making something completely different and new. Freewriting while holding the old text in mind can be an effective strategy to begin reinvention.

As with the example, reinvented texts often begin with someone’s else thought or something you learn or run across that catches you attention. Train yourself to be aware of those inspiring moments because they can lead to texts that satisfy you personally, which many people say is when they like writing best.

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