Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Matt's Textual Analysis: Past, Present and Future

I must sat that writing a textual analysis in stages was harder than I thought it would be. I am a one-drafter, and rarely do more than add a comma or replace periods with semi-colons when I go back over my papers. But, I found myself making massive changes to my paper in order to justify that it was an actual draft, separate from all of the others in the series with actual, visible changes which obviously made the paper better. I felt pressured to show that the paper was not only getting progressively better, but I wanted it darn near perfect since the assignment was a sort of invitation for use in the classroom with my students. I can handle pronoun disagreement when it is just the professor, but if my students saw it and caught it, I would be terribly embarrassed. +I chose to write my analysis on Sean Hannity's "Deliver Us from Evil." It is a subject that I have brought up in my classes several times. I've said that if logical fallacies were puppies, Sean Hannity would step on every single one of them with work boots then pummel the ones he missed with baseball bats while humming Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA." Granted, choosing a writing by Sean Hannity for a textual analysis was almost like opting to play one-on-one basketball with a midget. I did want the students to see that it could be done. I mentioned in an earlier blog that students had asked for a model Analysis, and I'd feel comfortable using this one as an example. Not only is it the length of their assignment with the same format and structure discussed in the classes, I also use a plethora of citation rituals throughout the essay (summary, block quotes, direct quotes, single-word quotes and paraphrase). +I did not get a chance to use this in the classroom, but I'm definitely interested in doing so. I would like to couple my essay with photocopies of pages from Hannity's book in order to show how the analysis relates to the text. I'd also like to couple the analysis with questions like "am I arguing with him?" and "does the bias show?" I have no idea how to do the margin notes I have seen on some of the drafts floating around the GA office, but it seems good to put those sorts of questions on my draft in the margins. I'd like to show my thesis and Hannity's thesis and show how both are needed but function separately. That was a problem for many of the students. Of course, I'd give them copies of my paper for them to look at later. Overhead transparencies of all of the material would make going over the material quick and smooth to point out how analysis differs from argumentation. Has anyone else done something like this or have some pointers for how it worked out in the classroom?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Punishment and Crime

The prompt discusses a situation where more than half of the students will out and out fail an assignment if the teacher sticks to his or her guns. Since a portion of the assignment is missing, the teacher is well within rights to fail the ones who did not comply, but the ultimate decision has to do with where the class is focused: On the punishment or the crime.

The punishment aspect of the class is geared toward the final product. Such classes are structured as a job. Late work carries a heavy price, and you might find yourself giving the, "You know, if you don't turn something in on time, you get fired from your job" speech. Reading quizzes are used to ensure that students read the assignments. If a student fails a reading quiz, he or she will read the assignments in the future. But students need to fail in order to be pushed to succeed. The ultimate goal in this sort of philosophy is that students will do better in a class in order to avoid negative outcomes. The negative outcomes are bad grades. Students learn by failing. They will do better on the next assignment if they fail this assignment.

The crime aspect is the actual act itself. Classes focusing on the crime are all about process. In a way, success and failure go hand in hand. Mistakes are seen in the same light as moments of brilliance. Each are opportunites for learning to take place. Since mistakes are not a negative thing, teachers are more forgiving in this sort of philosophy.

Classes have a subtle mix of the two, but all classes lean to one side or the other. I have aspects of each in my classroom. I have both cruel task-master and understanding coach in my genetic make-up. My father was big into support groups and my mother was a dominatrix, so it all evens out.

Personally, I would give the students a second shot. The students could email me the missing portions of the assignment or leave it in my mailbox by the end of the day or risk a lower grade. It's just the way I am. Now, this does have negative benefits... I could lose credibility in the eyes of the students. They may try and challenge me on future assignments. But, if that many students did nt follow instructions, there are really only two possible conclusions which could be drawn: The instructor did not explain the directions properly or there is a large amount of mercury in the water supply. A possible third option is that the students are banding together in order to see how angry the teacher can get, but sincerely doubt that is the case.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Attendance is Mandatory

Lately, my attendance has been bordering on the comically absurd. In both my ENG 100 and 110 classes, the students have somehow gotten it in their heads that they can go ahead and miss class after class and only show up when a paper is due. I have combatted this problem in the past by using reading quizzes. I've given a reading quiz every day this week and it has not solved the problem as of yet. I'm at wit's end on this one. It is so frustrating when I walk into my ENG 100 class and I see less than ten students in the classroom. Half of those students were not there last time, so they are not prepared to take part in class discussion. Angry... Very Angry.

Discussion does come in to play a lot in my classroom. I am a creative writer, and I was raised on workshopping. Workshopping requires the critical feedback of the students in order to function properly, so I always look for that feedback. I also, as a result of my creative writing background, tend to imagine the author of the text, whether it be Molly Ivins, George W. Bush or Frederick Douglass, as in the room, so I try to stick with constructive criticism. I don't want to hurt their feelings... not even Bush.

I try and keep the students diplomatic as well. With discussion comes disagreement. I try to push that these are just issues. We are not putting anyone down by saying the opinion is wrong. We are not attacking the person; we are attacking the idea or the argument. Yet, some students have a hard time grasping this, and tend to take some argumentation as thinly veiled personal attack rather than logical debate. I don't want anybody to hate anybody else; that's how wars happen. The best kind of debate is when two people can shake hands and part ways without voicing the fact that they both wish death on the other.

I used a coin flip in class twice this week to avoid showing a bias.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


I teach a section of 100 and a section of 110. My 100 students are always more than willing to put their two cents in about an essay we read in class or an upcoming assignment. I am not so lucky with my 110 students. As I stated in an earlier blog, it is something akin to pulling teeth and then forcing them back in without anesthetic. It is not a fun time trying to get them all to speak up and share their thoughts. My usual modus operendi is shame. I tell them that there's no excuse for keeping their mouths shut. Some people say they are quiet because it's Monday, or Friday... or Wednesday. I tell them that if they call me up at 3 a.m. with a question about anything, I will have an opinion on that topic. They all have my cell phone number, so they can feel free to call me on it, but, I assure you, I am not bluffing.

Some of you might remember the debacle last semester when I held a discussion with the Frederick Douglass essay. It did not go well. I ended up defending Martin Luther King jr Day, February and BET all in a golden afternoon. The opposite happened this semester.

Silence. I was going to make a Hamlet joke there, but I decided against it.

I asked what they saw in the essay that jumped out at them. nothing

I asked why he brought up the founding fathers and the Revolutionary War. nothing.

I stood up. Those of you who have seen me teach know I never stand up, putting myself in a seated potition makes the students more relaxed. I drew two people on the board with a line between them. "Communication takes two people... a listener," indicating one of the two stick figures, "And a speaker. These two people are divided by language." I pointed to the line. I then went into a 5-10 minute lecture about how a speaker has to sift through ideas, words, reasoning, argumentation, grammar, punctuation, diction, diplomatic rhetoric, persuasive techniques, pitch and tone in order to adequately communicate their ideas. I explained how this is much the same way they will be writing their argumentative essays in the coming weeks. I sat down.

"So, you see, your ability to communicate your ideas is not merely a biological gift, nor a right endowed to you by the First Ammendment. It makes you a better person. People who can argue adequately and communicate with others are... better... people. So, I ask you, why do you think Frederick Douglass brought up the Founding Fathers?"

It was quiet for a moment then hands started shooting up. They either wanted to prove they were good people or make sure I wasn't going to get even more annoyed. Either way, I think it worked swimmingly.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Silence in the classroom

I wrapped up a short week on Wednesday with MLA documentation. My attendance has almost never been higher as we went over the mechanics of a works cited page and in-text documentation.

This group of students don't ask questions. It's disconcerting at best since they just sit back and soak up the information without revealing any sign whether the information gets jumbled in their heads or whether I'm explaining everything thoroughly enough. After explaining a concept, I'll ask if there are any questions and sit back to regard the class with mild speculation as their eyes trail from one end of the tile floor to another. Some will glance up at me with a scowl. They give me no feedback.

So, I've gotten in the habit of taking feedback from them in the form of worksheets, group activities and the like.On Wednesday, I had them read a page from "The Areas of My Expertise" by John Hodgman. If you pick it up and read a few paragraphs, you will see why I like it so much. I had the students cite different statements from the text and a wonderful thing happened at 1:42. The students started asking questions about in-text citation. Not only that! The students were taking notes about it! We were actually holding a conversation about MLA citation in the classroom. I would tell them how to cite something and a hand would pop up. "Then, how do we..." "In that case, you cite it like this..." Another hand would pop up. "Can we cite it like this?" "No, don't be an idiot. Cite it like this." Okay, I didn't really say that last one. I was just too happy to have my class asking me questions in class about a concept... MLA citation no-less!

The eight minutes just flew by, and before I knew it the class was over. I wanted to shout to them to stay and ask more questions. "I'm a bastion of knowledge, kids! bust me open and soak up the knowledge with a sponge!" But, I did not. They had alcohol to imbibe and dignity to lose. I settled for merely stating how happy I was that they were asking questions.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Don't Tell Them She's Canadian!!!

I went over Margaret Atwood's "Letter to America" on Monday. I usually have them read that for homework, we discuss it for a little bit on Monday, I have them read "When they Learned to Yelp" by Dave Eggers, then have them write a short paper about 9/11. Both pieces have a lot to do with 9/11, so I like to wrap it up with the paper, because I love grading papers.

The class started off with an air of violence in the air. The students in the class were frowning and had looks in their eyes like Sean Hannity did when Romney dropped out of the race. "Alright. Let's start off with general feelings about the piece... what did you see that jumped out at you?"

What came next was a tirade of right-wing propoganda. Not only did they see everything Atwood said as an insult to our country and everything we stand for (freedom, spreading that freedom, being the best country on the planet, being infallable, etc.), Atwood was also Canadian. In the students' eyes, this immediately nixed all authority she had. She had neither the right nor the ability to discuss our mistakes in a public foum. Not only that, Canada's not a great country; it's full of French people (their words, not mine).

I went into a long diatribe about how, in many ways, Canada is doing a lot better than the United States... higher literacy, they aren't in quite as bad of a financial funk since the Iraq war costs us somewhere in the lower billions of dollars each month. I even pointed out that she loves America and says so many times during the piece.

"It's propaganda. This is the sort of stuff that makes people love Barak Obama even though they know nothing about him!" Another student pointed out that everything she says is opinion.

I looked at them for a moment. Yes, they were serious.

I asked the students if this was good advice she was doling out, and they started packing up their things. Every single student was packing up their things to leave the classroom. I looked up at the clock and saw I'd kept them 5 minutes over class time. I'd spent 50 minutes defending a stupid Canadian. Why did Atwood have to be Canadian!? Of all the countries!

Anyway, many of you are familiar with Naomi Shihab Nye's "Letter to a Would-be Terrorist." It has the same reasoning as the Atwood piece, only directed toward terrorists. It got a positive reaction, which punched holes in a lot of their arguments. I felt so good about myself, I bought a candy bar in the check-out line at the grocery store: Snickers. A big one.

I'd earned it.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The assignments came early and often this week. The snow was gone; only the mounds of gray and black piled high near the edges of commercial parking lots stood as a reminder that there was once snow, and a couple of inches of ice, on the ground. It was time for students to come back to class. I started 110 on Monday with a handout detailing every major assignment until the research paper... important information they needed in order to survive the class for the next month. I gave them an assignment on plagiarism. We also had a quiz over the Research paper guidelines. I told the students that it was to make sure they were clear on what was expected of them, but I couldn't lie to myself that it was to reward them for showing up. Seven students showed up.

The textual analyses were due on Wednesday... as were the plagiarism assignments. I reviewed a littla about the important information introduced on Monday and the students brought their Hacker books which I had asked them to bring. I guess I should say that five students brought their Hacker books. I brought a box of magazines, DVDs and books to class. The students were to group up and cite the sources using the Hacker book as their anchor. Sixteen students showed up. Word was out.

On Friday, I had the students tell me about their research paper proposals. A few students chose the Holocaust or Holocaust-esque topics. On student chose Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon... an idea I touched on when we were brainstorming for ideas. They turned in their proposals and reminded them that we would meet in the Library on Monday. 17 students showed up.

Between the quiz, proposal, textual analysis and assignments, about 200 points were garnered this week. The snow is gone, and it is time for the students to stop missing classes. And, I know, it is a cruel tactic to use. It stresses the students and makes those who did not show up to class fall behind. It is cruel, but it is also very effective. Last week, I saw students who I had not seen in weeks. One students turned to another which was prone to absences and asked, "You're still in this class, Shane?" They turned in their textual analyses, and I made it a point of passing back the quizzes they had missed. I could see the fear in their eyes when they started mentally talleying up the points they had lost over the last few weeks. But, I'm fairly certain they will pull their act together. They have the fear, now. And, once they have the fear, they can't shake it.