Audience Awareness & the Oxford Comma–Parents furious about “Strippers, JFK, and Stalin” Meme

Methinks this teacher stumbled into a lesson about the importance of considering your audience, as well as your audience’s parents.

From the article “Teacher turns JFK and Stalin into strippers in comma lesson“:

“It’s a little inappropriate,” Paul Harris said. “But I don’t know, whatever these kids need today. You got to catch their attention on something.”

For more fun Oxford Comma memes, check out “The Oxford Comma – What bananas you say?!” On the EnglishClub website.

Rabbits and Ducks Have Different Points-of-View

I’m no artist, but this rabbit/duck thing may be the first manageable metaphor I could recreate in a classroom for teaching POV. How much fun would it be to get students to brainstorm all the ways a rabbit might act and react differently than a duck?

And then, how easy would it be to confuse my reader if, while in the middle of writing an essay from the POV of a duck, I randomly switched to the POV of a rabbit? I feel the force is strong with this silly example of how important consistency can be to keeping your readers (and teachers) happy.


source: Rabbit/Duck Graph

The Value of Creative Writing Workshop

Today I am thinking about peer critiquing in the creative writing classroom.  One of my former students has generously given me permission to use his work as a sample for future students. I am planning to draft a sample “student” critique to share with this semester’s students as a model for the type of feedback they should provide to one another. To focus myself, I went back to The Practice of Creative Writing to skim the chapter called “Reading to Write.” That’s when I stumbled into this quote:

“Many, many famous writers have said they learned to write creatively not by attending classes, but by reading.” (27)

I have heard this type of statement before, and I always find it frustrating. While I probably learned to write creatively as a child from my avid reading habit, I would be nowhere without all of the teachers I have worked with at various points in my life. Attending creative writing classes has been a source of focus and discipline for me that I could not provide for myself.

When I read work that I enjoy, I lose all sense of time and space inside the pages of the book or manuscript. Great writing does not automatically or easily stimulate my analytical brain, my learning brain.  Great writing, for me, is an escape: the original “staycation.”

Actually, when I read writing that I find disagreeable for some reason, then I begin to learn about what works and what does not. Theoretically, I could sit around studying books I do not like and learn a ton all by myself. But I really don’t like to read books that I don’t like. If I don’t have to read them, I just stop. And, for some reason, I rarely analyze readings and apply critical thinking when I am not asked to.

For this reason, I have always found writing workshops to be invaluable. In the workshop, I don’t have the option to ignore writing that doesn’t appeal to me. And, when reading wrioting I really enjoy, I read more thoughtfully and I reread multiple times to develop my understanding of it better.

While some writers may be able to  teach themselves everything they need to know from reading, it is perfectly fine for others to join the workshop and learn through analysis and discussion of published works–especially really hard ones–and the (developing) works of others in the group.

I am looking forward to teaching creative writing this semester!

Is Revision Different for Creative Writing?

In the creative writing textbook I will be using this fall, The Practice of Creative Writing, by Heather Sellers, I find so many craft related points that would work for Composition just as well as creative writing. However, this one leaves me in a state of wonder:

“The Goal of revision: intensify the work so it makes a moving picture inside the reader’s mind. Your trick, what you are trying to pull off: The reader forgets she is reading at all–she has an experience.” (361)

And this completely confirms why I have enjoyed all the novels I’ve read recently–they have been truly immersive. I read them, aware that I was looking at a page and actively READING… Yet, I felt myself in a 3-dimensional world that I could see, hear, feel, etc simultaneously. Amazing novels make it possible to trek the Himalayas while lying still.

What parallel statement could I create for the goal of revision of an academic essay?

Inspiration from Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

I am listening to this audiobook, and Prose has just brought up Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things They Carried, which I discovered when teaching developmental reading at NOVA’s Loudoun campus several years ago. In the same period of teaching, I also had my English 111 students read John Hersey’s Hiroshima. Several of my students in both classes told me they had already read these books in high school, and I started to question  how I should be choosing book length works for my community college freshman composition students. I have read arguments that it is more pedagogically sound to stick to shorter works; I have also read points in favor of longer readings. As much as I enjoy teaching the long works, I eventually took a break and shifted over to shorter pieces from anthologies. 

Now, though, I am thinking carefully about how to introduce grammar in such a way that is appropriate for college level students. I do not like teaching the basics of grammar because not all students need it, and these lessons take a precious time from activities that promote much higher order thinking. Now, listening to Prose’s book, I think it might actually be the right thing to have college freshman reread texts they may have already been exposed to in high school. This way, their experience will be more ripe for critical thinking, and it will not seem like a waste of time to go in depth on matters of style, diction, sentence construction, etc. if students are already largely familiar with the content of what they are reading, then we can actually study how the writing works.

Acquiring Empathy through Essays

“I know, I know. I’ve probably lost you. Everyone hates essays” writes William Bradley in Utne Reader piece “Acquiring Empathy Through Essays.”
But just look at the title!  Don’t we all need a little help in the empathy department?  Would it help motivate student writers to create clearer, more precisely details works if they knew it would generate increased understanding of their position on subjects they care about from people they wish really cared?  Yet another reason to revise the curriculum for “real life writing.”