Friday, December 16, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Great Post on "Scarecrow" Cover Letters

I'm going to have my business writing students read this one next semester. This past semester, even though I tried to emphasize the very same things this post does, I still got a handful of "Pursuant to ..." cover letters. Argh!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Professional Writing

I'll be teaching another course in professional writing next semester. The one I'm teaching now hasn't gone quite as planned (do they ever?). I recently found the Work Goes Strong blog, and I know I'll be using it as a resource when I teach professional writing again.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Should Christians Be Vegetarians?

Here's an article that can be used when discussing the importance of anticipating the opposition. (I think author Michael Gilmour overdoes it a bit, to be honest, but at least he's thorough.) It's also an argument that might rile up some of my students here in this Bible-Belt town.

Monday, October 10, 2011

CT2.0 Blog

Here's a blog on critical thinking that I recently learned about.

Creative Blocks and How to Fix Them

I'll be teaching creative writing in the spring, so I'm going to start collecting articles and such that I might want to share with my class.

Here's one from 99% on creative blocks.

Super People

From publishing exec James Atlas:

"In the end, the whole idea of Super Person is kind of exhausting to contemplate. All that striving, working, doing. A line of Whitman’s ... has stayed with me: 'I loaf and invite my soul.'      

Isn’t that where the real work gets done?"   

I think I am one of these "super people" by nature, and I hate it. I sure as hell don't want my child to be one of these, though she just might have it in her genes, too.

To be honest, I'm just about ready to jump off the overachieving treadmill madness, salary and accomplishments and honors and intellectual fun be damned. I want to "loaf and invite my soul." It's been a long, long time since I've done that. I hardly know myself anymore.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Argument: Fast Food Is Not Cheaper

My students are working on illustration essays right now, and many of them have opted to use the suggested topic of "Home cooking always wins over fast food (or vice-versa)." Although these are illustration essays, many of them have elements of argument. When we discuss argument later in the semester, I might have my students read this article by Mark Bittman. Not only is it a topic that students are interested in, but it is a great example of using counterarguments.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Good Examples of Use of Examples

"For modern adventurers, the blissful disconnectedness from the rest of the world ... may be gone for good. It’s harder than ever to get truly out there."

In "Exploits, Now Not So Daring," author and adventurer David Roberts argues that technology is robbing us of the opportunity to be "out there"--"near the limits of what is humanly possible, out there where nobody can save you."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Good Advice for Writing Teachers

I like this advice from the Two Writing Teachers blog:
If you are looking to lift the level of your writing instruction, then I invite you to write. Start a notebook (or dust off an old one), play with words, try your hand at the current writing project your students are working on, just write. Then make a little list of the things you notice about your own writing process.
With all the grading I have to do, I don't know if I'd have time to write essays along with my students, but I've written enough of those essays (mostly for fun, though occasionally for publication) that I can share first-hand my knowledge that the writing process truly does become more fluid as you mature as a writer.

I do hope I can find some time to work on a few essays this semester, though. "Having to do it for a class"--even though it's the class I'm teaching--seems like a good enough excuse!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Argument for Teaching Applied Math in Schools

No time to expand on this now, but I want to post it so I didn't lose it. Sol Garfunkel argues in favor of teaching applied mathematics over the more abstract stuff in schools.

He mentions traditionalists who once(?) argued that we should teach Latin.

(I think I'm one of those traditionalists.)

The many comments at the end of the article are worth reading, too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Halfway Through Week Two

I’m halfway through the second week of school, and I feel … calm. Balanced. Content.
The realist in me knows this can’t last, but the optimist in me (admittedly a very small part of my personality) is hoping it will.
Work is going well, and school is going well. At work, I’ve put together the development-season schedule for documentation, and I’ve begun working on some of the preliminary “what’s-new-this-year” documents that we’ll eventually supply to our Education and Support departments. Most of my job lately, however, has been a hodgepodge of smaller projects: editing some internal procedures, building a software patch or two, updating our intranet, editing articles for the company blog, etc. It’s been busy, but not overwhelmingly so. And that’s been nice. I like when work is this way.
School is going well, too; of course, I haven’t had to grade any major assignments yet. The stress will escalate pretty quickly when I the first drafts come in after Labor Day. I’m not looking forward to that; I have no contingency plans. My plan is to take everything one day at a time, and, if I have to pay the babysitter overtime and make the day last 18 hours so I can get all the grading done, then that’s just what I’ll have to do.
Something tells me that, by the end of this semester, I will be an expert in speed-grading of essays. Maybe. I can’t imagine grading a three-page essay in less than 20 minutes, but maybe I’ll work my way down to 15 minutes per essay. I’ll need to, or I’ll never sleep.
I’ve been making notes to myself after each class session this semester. So far, classes seem to be going really well, though they’ve turned out to be more teacher-centric and lecture-heavy than I want them to be. I want students writing and discussing and learning; I hate to stand in front of the room, flapping my mouth.
I’ve made an effort these last few days to talk less and have students contribute more. I think we’ll get more into that style of class as the semester progresses; at this point, we’re covering a lot of introductory information—what is a thesis statement, how revising is different from proofreading, etc.—so I’m explaining basic terms more than I’ll need to in the future.
So that’s my little update on life as a hack and a grunt.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Why the Japanese Surrendered

Here's an article from the Boston Globe about a theory of why the Japanese really surrendered to the U.S. in 1945. Historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa of U.C.-Santa Barbara believes it was the Soviet Union's entry into the war in the Pacific that precipitated the surrender--not the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as many believe.

It's a good cause-and-effect article, particularly because it shows that determining cause and effect can be a messy undertaking, and that even long-accepted conclusions can be open to debate. The article also goes into cause and effect on another level: "If the atomic bomb alone could not compel the Japanese to submit," writes Gareth Cook, "then perhaps the nuclear deterrent is not as strong as it seems"--and perhaps we should re-think our conviction that the atomic bomb, horrific as it was, was a necessary means to an end.

I think this article could yield good discussion from both a historian's perspective and a moral perspective.


Interesting Slate article by William Saletan on many pro-choicers' ethical uneasiness with "half-abortions," in which one twin is aborted and the other is spared.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Stoop Sales

The NYT Op-Ed page is hopping with good stuff today. Here's a column by Abby Sher on stoop sales, and family, and loss.

A Story of Ghosts

"In those days, before we surrounded ourselves only with those who already agreed with us, my parents delighted in assembling people of divergent opinions over our dining-room table to argue about the Equal Rights Amendment or the Gary Hart campaign. At a certain point, my father would ding his fork against the side of his glass and command everyone present to begin arguing 'the reverse of their earlier position.'"       

I found this column by Jennifer Finney Boylan very moving. I'm not sure how I would use it in class, but I would use it. I will use it. Not only is it beautifully written, but it offers wisdom that most of us would benefit from hearing from time to time.

Friday, August 5, 2011

My Fall Schedule

I'll be working 30 hours a week as a technical writer, and roughly 25 hours a week as an English instructor. I have a huge spreadsheet that combines my work deadlines, my students' essay deadlines (thus my "grading days"), etc., to make sure I can orchestrate all this.

It's going to be crazy.

I'll be teaching three classes at the community college: two sections of English 101 (Freshman Composition), and one of English 105 (Business Writing).

It should be an adventure. Now, if I could just find time to blog about this adventure while I'm on it ...

Interviewing SMEs

Here's an article by Cheryl Goldberg of Pragmatic Marketing on how to interview subject matter experts. The advice can be applied to tech writers as well, and some of it might well have a place in a business/technical writing course.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Interesting Cause/Effect Situation

Several days ago, a big story hit the news, and everyone was talking about it:

Internet Explorer users are dumber than users of other browsers.

I first heard the story at my hack job, in a meeting at work. We were talking about the need to test our software using various browsers, and the subject came up of the difficulty of certain IE browsers.

"You know," said one of my colleagues, "A study just came out that said IE users have a lower IQ than Firefox users."

Several people whooped and cheered, and we all joked about which ones of us were smarter than the others. (I was a dummy at work, and a smartie on my home computer.)

The next day, my colleague who'd first mentioned the study sent us all an e-mail in which he sheepishly told us that he'd unknowingly perpetuated a hoax. The study had apparently been done by a bogus company with a bogus website.

The person behind the hoax came clean, as I read today. As I read his "confession," along with his list of reasons he thought the hoax would be discovered before it went viral, I marveled that the journalists of CNN and other mainstream news organizations hadn't checked their sources before publishing the "findings." (Perhaps they are simply IE users?)

Anyway, the reason I'm posting all of this is to point to this post by Christopher Budd, which looks at the various reason the hoax--unlike the thousands of other hoaxes out there--took off like wildfire.

I thought this whole thing, and Budd's post in particular, might be useful for discussion in a unit on cause and effect.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tea Partiers-Scary Monsters Analogy?

When I first started reading this editorial by Maureen Dowd, I thought it might be a good example of analogy to share with classes when covering the "analogy" portion of a cause-and-effect unit.

As I continued reading, the article got weirder and weirder. I totally don't get the last line.

So, this one might still be worth sharing with a class ... more for the entertainment value, though, than as an example of a good analogy.

Update: Here's a response to Dowd's weird article in which the author, Charlie Cooke, takes issue with her analogies.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011

Improving on "Chalk and Talk"

Food for thought from The Economist.

I can lecture when I need to, but I prefer to have students actively learning in the classroom—thinking, discussing, working on problems, either in small groups or as a class. When I taught high school, I learned that this was also the best way to minimize behavior problems. Students seem to enjoy it, too.

So I’m glad to read this article, which has some good things to say about the methods of the “educational hippies” out there.

HT: Mental Multivitamin

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Pains of Originality

Author John Barth writes in The Atlantic about a problem that has, apparently, plagued writers since the rosy-fingered dawn of time. He includes a lovely quote by Gide: “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”

Words to live--and write--by!

Taxing Unhealthy Foods?

An argument by Mark Bittman to tax unhealthy foods ... and a few responses to his article.

Example of Tu Quoque

People with poor track records in the heterosexual marriage department really shouldn't join the fight against gay marriage.

(I must admit, I get annoyed with evangelical activists myself, but that's another story ...)

"... America has grown a bit less tame."

I'm not sure why I loved this editorial by David Barin, but I did. There's something frightening yet comforting about knowing we're not at the top of the food chain. I feel the same way when I'm backpacking in bear country. Like life is real, for once.

Friday, July 15, 2011

On the Joy of Reading ... and Writing

From Rick Gekoski, a man "pickled in the brine of literature":
"For me, reading needs to be justified not in terms of some notional moral benefit but – that more dangerous and enticing category – pleasure. I read because I love to read, because, in the company of a book, I am happy, engaged, and inexorable. This may well be bad for me, as selfish pursuits often are: taking me out of contact with my nearest and dearest, making me shirk obligations from washing up to keeping up. "I am reading! Leave me alone!" is the mantra of every true reader."

Stephen Fry on Language

A friend sent me this YouTube video. I like it, but I had to close my eyes because the kinetic typography gives me a headache.

An Ode to English Plurals

This one's been floating around the Internet for a while. It's a humorous little poem. Always on the lookout for fun activities for students, I thought this might serve as an "extra-credit" tool for deserving students who want to try for a few more points. The assignment? Read the poem, and then research the reasons why the words mentioned don't "plurally" conform to the words they're compared to.

Some students might see that as drudgery, but I think some would really enjoy the challenge.

An Ode to English Plurals

We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Let’s face it – English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren’t invented in England .
We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes,
we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square,
and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing,
grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham?
Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend.
If you have a bunch of odds and ends and
get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English
should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship.
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
in which your house can burn up as it burns down,
in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and
in which an alarm goes off by going on.

And in closing, if Father is Pop, how come Mother’s not Mop?

Food for Thought

Gregory Rodriguez on the (not always unspoken) demand that everyone have an opinion on everything. It's food for thought for those of us who encourage our students to take a stand, make an argument, write with conviction, etc. From the article:
"We seem to be obsessed with opinions because we take them to be a marker of individual independence, distinctiveness and reasoned intelligence. Expressing opinions is how we also express our freedom of conscience and flex our political rights. But when we're obliged to have an opinion on everything, all the time, our expressions of conscience are less about independent thinking than about making stuff up."

Good "Argument Essay"

In this article from the L.A. Times, Science Writer Deborah Blum seeks to "defend and even praise the fascinating, sometimes beautiful and environmentally essential poison ivy plant." I thought it might be a good article to share with a composition class in preparation for an argument/persuasion unit.

Don't We All Love a Good Story?

Meghan Daum on how the media spins real people's tragedies into stories we love:
"[Jaycee] Dugard and [Elizabeth] Smart seem to have successfully made the transition to survivor, but to turn them into generic symbols of hope or, worse, to saddle them with the job of being publicly loving, forgiving and grateful despite what they endured minimizes their trauma and panders to audiences by creating a false sense of closure."
I've made this observation to myself before. It always makes me feel a little queasy when victims of horrific crimes are paraded in front of us masses for our entertainment and edification ... even though those victims seem perfectly willing themselves to undergo all the exposure.

Facing Death is Not Dull

Dudley Clendinen on how we think about death:

" . . . we don’t talk about how to die. We act as if facing death weren’t one of life’s greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges. Believe me, it is. This is not dull. But we have to be able to see doctors and machines, medical and insurance systems, family and friends and religions as informative — not governing — in order to be free."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"You Are What You're Not"

Frank Bruni on opting out of "mass-market crazes":

The fervor with which others latch onto a new enthusiasm makes you triply conscious of your own decision not to, so that even if your choice reflects only the limits of time, budget or energy, you treat it as a declaration of independence. You are what you’re not.

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Both fairy tales and medical charts chronicle the bizarre, the unfair, the tragic. "

From "Practicing Medicine Can Be Grimm Work," an op-ed by Valerie Gribben, an English major and fairy-tale enthusiast who is now a fourth-year medical student:

"Healing, I’m learning, begins with kindness, and most fairy tales teach us to show kindness wherever we can, to the stooped little beggar and the highest nobleman. In another year, I’ll be among the new doctors reporting to residency training. And the Brothers Grimm will be with me."

"It's not enough these days to question authority ... you gotta speak with it, too."

Poet Taylor Mali:

"That's why we need books ..."

Johann Hari in The Independent:

"That's why we need books, and why I believe they will survive. Because most humans have a desire to engage in deep thought and deep concentration. Those muscles are necessary for deep feeling and deep engagement. Most humans don't just want mental snacks forever; they also want meals."

Friday, June 24, 2011

One Summer Class Down, One to Go

My five-week English 101 class ended on Tuesday of this week. The pace was so fast that I never really stopped to think about what a good class it really was. We had some good writers in there, and a higher-than-expected percentage of students who worked really hard (read: not many lazies this time!). Also, I saw some improvement in my students’ writing. (Yay!) Honestly, I didn’t know what kind of improvement I’d see (if any); five weeks is not a lot of time.

My five-week English 102 class started on Wednesday, just a few hours after I turned in my final grades for English 101. My head is spinning from the shift. This new class is about half the size of my old one, and I think it’s going to be good; as with 101, I have some smart students, and most of them participate enthusiastically in class discussion—which I particularly appreciate, since it’s a small class.

The biggest challenge for me (so far) has been the syllabus: How do you fit a class on writing about short fiction, poetry, and drama, all into five weeks?

The instructor who taught this class last year did it by leaving out poetry.

I couldn’t do that. Could. Not. Do. It.

So we’re spending 50% of our time on short fiction, 40% of our time on poetry, and 10% of our time on drama—watching and discussing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and then reading passages from the text after watching the movie that came out a few years ago.

I hate that we have to give Shakespeare the short shrift. At least we'll look at a few sonnets in the poetry unit.

This weekend will be a busy one of lesson-planning and grading a few homework assignments. The lesson-planning will take time. Happily, I get to re-read two of my favorite short stories as part of my class prep: Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" and Welty's "A Worn Path"!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Penultimate Day of English 101

Today was our penultimate day of English 101. Students’ argument/persuasion essays are due tomorrow, and they turned in their required outlines at the end of last week. I really wanted to do something fun yet instructional today, so I had them read “A Modest Proposal” over the weekend. For the first hour of class, we walked through the essay, looking at its structure, how he presents his “counterargument,” how he reels the reader in by convincing them of his reasonableness before introducing his shocking solution in paragraph 9.

It was a good class. Of course, we spent a lot of time discussing his use of irony and the use of satire to make a point or an argument. We also stopped here and there so I could answer a student’s question about the meaning of a word, or about certain unclear parts, such as why “getting rid of the Papists” would be considered a benefit of the proposal.

For the second half of class, I passed out a sheet of paper with bits and pieces of students’ outlines—their thesis statements, some topic sentences, and some examples of evidence that they’d planned to use. As a class, we looked at each item and discussed whether it “worked” as a thesis statement, a topic sentence, or evidence—whichever it was purported to be. In the outlines I reviewed over the weekend, students seemed to have trouble differentiating between “evidence” and “opinion,” and I think we cleared that up by looking at the actual student examples.

Tomorrow is the last day of class. I’m going to have them fill out a class evaluation, which I’m crafting now. This class has been a good one; the students were engaged and enthusiastic, and there were several writers with promise.

I’m excited about not having to plan any lessons tonight. I’ll spend some time polishing my syllabus for English 102 (which begins Wednesday). If I have time, I’ll whip up a batch of cookies for my English 101 students.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Some Initial Thoughts

Five weeks ago, I walked into a community college classroom and greeted the class: "Welcome to English 101, Expository Writing." I was the teacher. The students, ranging in age from 17 to mid-50s, looked at me uncertainly.

Most of us hadn't been in a classroom in years.

Several weeks before, I'd been hired to teach English composition for two compressed summer sessions: five weeks of English 101, and five weeks of English 102 (Writing about Literature). Two full-semester courses, squeezed into five weeks each. It seemed crazy, I know.

It seemed even crazier that the school had hired me so quickly, with so few questions. The administration was desperate for a warm body that had an M.A. and could teach these classes. As an M.A. whose time in grad school included more rhet/comp than lit classes, I guess I was a good candidate. In addition, I was burned out on my corporate career as a technical writer, and I was desperate for a break.

So, that morning in mid-May, I found myself standing in front of a classroom of future dental assistants, air conditioner repairmen, nurses, X-ray technicians, and EMTs, along with a couple of college-bound teens and twentysomethings. Among them (I learned later) were at least two convicted felons.

That afternoon, I did as I would every afternoon for the next five weeks: I drove to my tech writing job and put in five or six hours of software documentation, Sharepoint spin-up, and standards planning.

That night, I worked on my lesson plan for the next day. On nights to follow, I crafted more lesson plans and graded drafts or revisions, complete with copious helpful comments, for 20 students.

Some mornings, I was up at 5:00 to finish planning the two hours of class I'd teach that day.

Those five weeks are almost up, and I'm tired but very, very happy with life right now. I have two busy jobs, but I don't spend enough time at either to get burned out. It's been good.

The second five-week class--Writing About Literature--begins soon. I'll be working on the syllabus for that this weekend when I'm not grading and making comments on my English 101 students' argument essay outlines.

I'm kind of excited about all that. I'll try to post more about the new class--and my reflections on English 101, once it's over--next week.

That brings me to a question: Why this blog? Glad you asked. I hope to post my thoughts on my life as a hack and a grunt here, obviously. I also want to use this blog as a place where I can "store" links to different resources for teaching composition--anything from lesson plan ideas to examples of different types of essays to real-life illustrations of logical fallacies in action.

Although I imagine I'll focus on my "grunt" life more than my "hack" life, I do plan to write occasionally about life as a technical writer. As a Keats-obsessed English major years ago, I never dreamed I would become a technical writer, much less like being one. But I do, for the most part. And that's that.

I hope this blog will be a helpful resource to other grunts and hacks out there, as well as those aspiring to one or both careers. It's a pretty good life.