Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pleasant With a 70% Chance of Homework

My semester is going remarkably well. This is the first time I have had to balance school and work. It’s important for me to keep busy. The last job I had was over a year ago, and while this is not quite as exciting, I am really enjoying the work. I suppose that there are some similarities between wrangling 15 five-year old and tutoring college papers. For example, you have to be very careful what you say to both parties, or else they are likely to start crying on you. And after you have survived the massive tantrums of some of New York’s richest children, college students don’t really scare you anymore.

I must say that my classes have all been harder than in the past. I did not expect Linguistics to be the love child of math and a crossword puzzle, and I did not realize that Marxism was also a field of literary criticism, but these are all reasons why I enjoy learning so much. It is difficult and, after a lot of work, it is rewarding. I’m getting into more upper division classes related to my major and away from a lot of the generals that I have been spending a lot of time taking. I think that I have one or two more odd classes to get out of the way before all of my generals are taken care of, but this semester is mostly dedicated to getting into classes that are more relevant to my major.

This is the first semester where I really feel like I am a part of the college that I go to. I feel that Weber State can be a difficult place to feel involved and connected, but for the first time I feel like I’m surrounded by the right people. What a luxury it is to enjoy the people that you work and study with. I’m very blessed and very grateful. 

Close Enough.

The closest class I have had to a college composition class was AP Literature and Language in high school. She had us writing timed essays almost every day. She also graded our papers pretty hard as well. She used the grading scale for the AP test and gave us feedback to help us pinpoint where we could improve.

The reading in the class was structured very well. The teacher gave us a selection of books with similar themes that we could possibly be writing on for the test and allowed us to choose between them which ones we wanted to read. I quite enjoyed this because that meant I could bypass all the stuff I didn't want to be exposed to. We were put into discussions groups based on books and went through and talked about all the different themes and patterns we noticed throughout the novel.

We also took loads of practice tests. They were all based on the grading scale of the AP test, and from what I remember (I'm not sure if I'm making this up or not) the lessons we had in classes were all based on the things that we struggled with on our practice tests and essays. She taught us ways not to start an essay, ways to help keep bull crap out of essays and replace it with supportable evidence and thought.

I really enjoyed that class a ton because it brought my writing and English comprehension up several notches.  Because of that class, I was adequately prepared for college. The only piece of the puzzle that was left was adapting to the different desires of each professor I wrote for, and lucky for me that didn't take a super long time to figure out.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

English 2010

When I was registering for my first semester of college, my academic adviser told me that I needed to take English 2010 here at Weber State. I had successfully passed both the AP LIT and AP LANG tests, so I found it weird that I had to take it again. I later found out that the academic adviser was wrong, and that I didn't have to take 2010 again, but I am glad that I had the experience of taking an English class outside of high school.

My professor for 2010 was an adjunct professor who primarily teaches ESL, so my class had a lot of ESL students in it. For the first few weeks of my class I felt like we reviewed a lot of very basic English concepts, and I remember deliberately thinking how weird it was that my AP classes seemed harder than what I was doing in college.

The structure of my 2010 class was that we had to write a reading response paper at least once a week, as well as three major essays throughout the course of the semester. We used They Say I Say as the primary text book, and our reading responses were based on its articles. The reading responses consisted of three parts: a summary, an evaluation of the piece, and connections to other readings. I never did an assignment like this in my AP courses, but I feel like learning how to complete the three sections of a reading response really improved my ability to analyze and evaluate articles.

Our three major essays for the class were mostly just a step up from the reading responses. The topics for the essays were two of the main ideas talked about in They Say I Say, obesity and technology, and the third essay we got to choose our own topic. We could use the articles from the book as support, so the first two essays were very simple. The last essay had to be 7-10 pages long, and having to gather our own research for a change was hard for a lot of my class members.

The most frustrating part of my 2010 course was the complete lack of feedback I got on my writing. My professor never gave me anything less than a 95 on assignments, and her commentary was limited to a few small comments to the side of my text that said generic things like "Great" and "Nice job." This lack of criticism towards my writing prohibited me from really growing as a writer, as I never knew what aspect of my writing was earning me praise and what aspects needed to be improved.

The day to day experience in my class consisted primarily of discussion about the readings in They Say I Say. My professor would mediate and direct this discussion, but for the most part the students were great at contributing their thoughts and analysis of the articles. When I think about why my teacher ran our class this way, I believe that her goal was to teach people how to formulate and state opinions. Many students in my class were just coming out of ESL, so listening to others speak English and having to state their own ideas in English was really beneficial to them. I also think that she didn't want us to have to interpret and analyze the articles all by ourselves, and she thought discussing as a group would help us to write better papers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I took 1010 and 2010 and all I have to say is: UNIVERSITY STUDENTS UNITE! FREE YOURSELVES FROM OPPRESSION! FREE YOURSELVES FROM --- [gasp, choke, gurgling noise…] I didn’t like 1010/2010. I remember being bored, not understanding why we were doing the writing we were doing, and having no idea what the purpose of these classes was. That said, I liked that they were easy classes for me. I don’t remember my 1010 paper, although I do remember doing peer reviews and thinking that it was pointless because there was nothing the other students said that seemed to be productive (mandatory comments like, “Yeah, I think that’s what the professor want on the works cited page,” and “Dude, I forgot we had to put a source in there—glad you remembered.”) I remember my 2010 paper being really long and I didn’t understand why I had to take up “X” number of pages when I could say just as much in “x” fewer pages. I was annoyed by having to fill space and saw it as busy work. From talking with 1010 and 2010 students, I think most of them tend to look at these classes as the dreaded required classes that have to be taken and gotten out of the way so that they can move on to bigger and better things. I never get a sense that students understand why or how these classes can be beneficial. Sometimes I wonder if the professors understand why the course is taught the way that it is, especially in those required classes where they need to be structured and in close collaboration with other professors. I didn’t understand why the courses were taught the way that they are and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask. Even now, there’s a lot I don’t understand about it. On the other hand, I see how the new 1010 style with readings and lots of writing can engage students in a variety of ideas and display a broad foundation for academic thought and writing. I like that students are reading a variety of texts and looking at each individually and responding to each as an individual—then as a group. Composition courses have the opportunity to introduce students to the academic world and prepare them for a range of reading and writing they will experience in their college careers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I hope this pertains...

The closest thing to a composition course that I have taken at a university level would be my Introduction to Literature class or my Introduction to Fiction course. I’m not entirely sure if this counts as a course to respond to this topic with, but I really don’t know much about English 1010 or 2010, so I can’t really base my answer on those classes.

My introduction courses mostly consisted of reading short stories or books, writing responses on these, and then discussing what we read in class. I absolutely loved this way of teaching. I loved being able to read and write what I felt about each particular reading and then come to class to hear what others had to say about the same assigned text. Sometimes I would read a story and have an idea of what it was about and then come in to class to find myself completely mistaken in my response. I learned so much from the students that I was around and I was able to grow in my ability to critically think about these texts.

I just finished my response to Paulo Freire’s The Banking Concept of Education, and I can honestly see that his concept of problem posing form of education was implemented into my introduction courses. I’m not sure if this was a conscious effort made by my professors, but being allowed to question what I was reading made me feel that I was an integral part of my education. I loved being able to discuss the problems I found with my professor(s) and my peers regarding each piece of writing we were asked to read. This form of learning helped me to feel in control of my education and helped me feel that I could eventually analyze texts myself if I were ever asked to do so.

This form of teaching also made me feel open to being wrong about my notions of a text because it would help me learn more about the writing and the author. I wasn’t upset by another student’s opposing views because it helped strengthen my own ideas. I feel that my professors were very skilled in leading class discussions in a way that did not leave us feeling like students that were being filled with the professor’s knowledge. Instead, we left class feeling that we had contributed to each discussion and had gained from the opinions of others.

I really hope that my topic pertains to this prompt. I’m not entirely sure that I answered the question as you were looking for, but I do believe that this class was set up in a way to help the students learn as much as possible about each text through discussion and through an encouragement to question every text.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Your Composition Experience?

If you took a Composition course (ENGL 1010 or 2010 or whatever), what was it like?  What kinds of papers did you write?  What was the day-to-day classroom experience like?  If you didn't take Composition, what have you heard about the course?

More importantly, why do you think the course was taught the way it was?

Breaking (Some of) the Rules

I don’t know if any of the following count as “wacky,” or if even some of them are technically grammar rules so much as styles of writing. It wasn’t until I arrived at college, specifically my undergraduate at Utah Valley University, that I learned that many of the grammar rules I knew were based on the idea that English was a “vulgar” language, and to clean it up several stuff shirts decided to introduce Latin grammar rules.

Thus, I avoided ending a sentence in a preposition like the plague. It was a while before I learned that it is okay to end a sentence in a preposition to avoid an awkward sounding sentence, and longer still before I ran across the brilliant quote in that regard that Churchill may or may not have said (my favorite version of such being “This is the kind of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.”). I suppose the opposite of this is starting sentences with a conjunction, and there’s always the fun split infinitive that makes traditional grammarians weep.

Unfortunately, although I know most of these rules are utter nonsense, I still struggle to break some of them, even if the occasion calls for it. I cannot bring myself to start a sentence with “and,” and I twitch whenever I try “to boldly go” anywhere except Revision Town. I don’t even recall when or how or from whom I learned these rules, but the lessons are deeply ingrained.

Still, it isn’t all bad news. I have made progress on some of them. I slowly started using the first person in academic papers around the middle of my undergraduate career. My father taught me that rule, so it’s potentially even more foundational than the rest. However, I had a progressive teacher for English 3090, Academic Writing, who thought the idea of pretending that there wasn’t an actual person writing a paper and that it was somehow “objective” and free of bias was patently absurd, and he pointed out that many of the authors of the essays we read for the class didn’t hesitate to use the first person. There was some trepidation, but most of the class came around.

Oddly enough, I actually wish I had been taught more grammar rules. I avoided using semicolons and colons frequently simply because I had no clue how to use them. There are many grammatical terms for which I couldn’t possible suggest meanings. Despite the fact that most grammar rules turn out to be wrong, especially at the secondary education level, I’d rather have a list of “wacky” rules to use as a foundation for learning the correct ones. I tend to remember lessons better when they’re taught to correct an errant notion (usually because anger over being lied to and wrong is involved, but still). At least I would have a lexicon to work with rather than luck and instinct resulting in mostly correct writing as it did with my comma placement. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy working in the Writing Center because I’m forced to research terms to use to explain why sentences look “wonky.”

Rule #1: You don't matter.

What kind of wacky grammar rules have I been taught?

My favorite aspect of the "wacky grammar rules" question is not the grammar rules themselves, but the insistence of those who teach them.  It's one thing to say, "Avoid contractions in formal writing," or, "Don't end a sentence with a preposition."  It's another to say, "NO CONTRACTIONS, EEEVVVEEEERRRR!!!!  That's a nice abbreviation, though."

So I suppose what I was taught was to see these grammar guidelines as grammar rules.  I've learned after some years writing academically and not-so-academically that this perspective is false.

One of my favorite "rules" is to never refer to yourself or the reader.  In a cold, bland science paper, I can understand why this would be the case (or in a warm, yummy science paper, for that matter!).  But one of the best things about writing for the philosophy department is that they love it when you mention yourself in your paper and take direct responsibility for your inductive positions.  Or maybe they're just tolerant of my "me first!" writing style. . .

Seriously, though, this is an important point for me: Writers new to academia are trained to remove themselves from their papers.  This is probably to help them avoid opinion-mongering, which, as Dr. Rogers has pointed out, is quite common in the students entering academia these days.  At some point, however, once we've drilled into them the need for evidence and sound argumentation, our writers need to be permitted to bring themselves back into their papers.  After all, sometimes interpretive work depends on arguments that hang on the inductive periphery.  As we say in so many philosophy papers, "For the purposes of this paper, I will take it as a given that. . ."  And we move on from there.  We give the reader a heads-up that we're making a few assumptions, and that they are free to call us out on them.  Using first-person (plural or singular) and the occasional second-person can help create directness in our papers and allows us to take responsibility for those little wandering thoughts that deserve attention as part of our work but that are nevertheless incomplete.