Tagged: first-year composition

N is for New Bloggers, New Readers #AtoZChallenge

Item #1: New Bloggers

Three out of my five classes did their blog wrap-ups today, and at least a handful said that they were going to keep blogging. Some said they had always wanted/meant to start a blog. One even said she thought you had to be interesting to blog but now she knows better. (And no, she didn’t read my blog to come to that conclusion. 😂)  And another student is excited class is over so she can focus her blog on her favorite interest–something she’s always wanted to do.

So, basically, blogging in class gave some of my students the confidence to start their own blogs because they got to play around with the platform in a safe space with a safe audience.

Item #2: New Readers

Forcing my students to read (at least for those three classes) was a success. Almost all of them said they were glad to do it since it got them to read books they always meant to read but hadn’t gotten a chance to. Or they were glad (for 1102) that we read off the banned books list because it introduced them to books they may not have read otherwise.

I told two students about the Serial Reader app and they downloaded it. Oh, and one student told me he was going to keep reading to which I said “Yay!” but he quickly said, “NOT THAT MUCH.” Students: they giveth and taketh away.

Okay, but here is the best comment a student made: Reading off the banned books list made it easier for her to do her reading for other classes, including the textbooks.

READING FOR THE WIN. ALWAYS.

Item #3: Blogging Book Reviews

Forcing them to write reviews on their blog was also a success, especially for my creative writing students. They really did think more critically about the books they were reading when they had to explain why they liked them or not. One student said that the only reviews he ever read were from old people (professional book reviewers) and this was the first time he’d read reviews from his peers, which he really appreciated since people from his age group bring a different perspective. Another student said he never talked about the books he read before and was glad he got a chance to share his reading with people.

My favorite, though, is that one of my students has already positioned herself as a book blogger. Her about page says that she is accepting ARCs. 😍

So, yes. I wasn’t planning for this to be a reflection on using blogging in my classes. I just wanted to point out that some of my students are excited about blogging, which is great, and that most of them are now reading, which of course makes me the happiest.

Blogging from A to Z is a challenge that runs through the month of April.

For the Blogging from A to Z Challenge this year, my theme is gratitude. Every day, I am going to post about something I am grateful for. Tune in tomorrow to see what I pick for O.

On Processing This Election as a Black Woman

Election Night

I posted this to Facebook after it was clear where the election was headed (@ 2:06 a.m.):

I have been trying to sleep since 10:30 and can’t.

All I can think about is how over 400 years, this country has used and abused us and made it clear over and over how much they hate us. And over 400 years we haven’t let them take our humanity or our souls. And how we have so much now that our ancestors couldn’t even begin to wish and hope for. And what it must have been like for them to see this same abuse, this same denial of their humanity denied over and over and over again.

I am living that latter experience in a very real way. But I feel good knowing that I did what they couldn’t and wanted to do, which was vote. And I feel good about the candidate I voted for.

Continue reading

A Practice of Gratitude: Three Things Thursday

I saw this link up posted in one of the comments on a post of Ally’s, and since I was on my third mini-breakdown of the week that day, I figured it might be a good thing for me to participate.

Three Things Thursday

More info at Nerd in the Brain

Here are three things I’m grateful for this week, all work-related:

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M is for Mulan

How do academics show how much they love stuff? They either write papers/articles about the things they love or create assignments about the things they love. One of my best assignments is probably my Mulan definition argument essay. It is brilliant, if I do say so myself.

 

Get it? Because I bow down to Mulan but the assignment is so brilliant the world bows down to me?

Anyway, the assignment was perfect for a summer class. Basically, I had my students watch the movie, and then they wrote an essay arguing that Mulan deserved a soldier’s pension even though she broke the law.

I’m putting the assignment overview and guidelines below. To prep for the assignment, we read a definition argument in their textbook and MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and talked a lot a lot a lot about addressing a hostile audience, which is why King’s letter is so crucial.

Assignment Overview

Your assignment, then, is to take on the persona of one of the soldiers and argue that Fa Mulan fits the definition of a soldier because she exhibited the characteristics of a man suited for the rage of war as put forth by the Chinese army and deserves the bonus and the lifetime pension.

Assignment Guidelines

Your audience for the paper is the Emperor’s council, and your paper must explain how Mulan fits all of the criteria for being a soldier because she proved herself to be a man suited for the rage of war. You must provide examples of how she fits each criterion outlined on the previous page as well as anticipate and refute any objections the council may have. In order to be successful, you have to establish your credibility and authority to determine whether or not Mulan is qualified to be considered a soldier and use a tone appropriate for the audience. The council must be thoroughly convinced that Mulan deserves the bonus plus lifetime pension.

If anyone wants more details or the full assignment, please email me: theenglishist[at]gmail.com.

A to Z 2016

For the A to Z challenge, I’m blogging about fannish pursuits (aka things I’m a fan of or have strong feelings about). Tune in tomorrow to see what I picked for N!

Grading.

My goal has been to post once a week since I require my students to do so. And I have been doing really well! And then…grading. Sooo much grading. In fact, I have entered what I like to call grading hell. Grading hell is that point when there is nothing to do but grade. I mean, yes, there are other things to do, but the grading that isn’t being done is all-consuming.

This is what grading hell looks like.

This is what grading hell looks like.

 

The grading becomes ever more all-consuming when other things are going on that make it hard to get to grading. Things like my kid having activities. Or having to do lesson planning/class prep. Or standing committee meetings–that require their own prep. Or other commitments that I made before realizing that I would be in grading hell.

So life, basically.

I have a rule that I don’t grade on weekends, but I had to break that rule last weekend. I also broke it this weekend. I had a three-day weekend and spent basically all day Friday grading. Because I know how to have fun.

The good news is that I made a very significant dent in the grading. The bad news is that I am still not done.

Still. Not. Done.  The stack on the right is what I finished. The stack on the left is what I still have left to do.

Still. Not. Done.
The stack on the right is what I finished. The stack on the left is what I still have left to do.

Anyway, I’m taking Saturday and Sunday off from grading and hoping, hoping, hoping that next week will be more conducive to making even more of a dent in that left pile. The dream is that I’ll be finished with it completely by Friday. (That is the dream.)

We’ll see how it goes. I mean, I would really love to be able to watch some TV shows as they air this week. Or even one! That would be nice.

So, this still counts as a post for the week, even if it is slightly off-topic.

Reboot

I have been largely MIA this summer because…summer, you know. Anyway, I require my composition students to keep weekly blogs throughout the semester, so I figure I should do the same.

Their first assignment is to introduce themselves, but this blog is pretty established, so instead I’m going to talk about some of the things I plan to do during the next sixteen weeks. In my first post of the year, I said I wanted to vary my book reviews and try to get excited about blogging again, so I have listed a few ideas that should help me do just that.

1. Recommendation Wednesday – a few months ago (March? April?) on Twitter, Sarah from Clear Eyes, Full Shelves put on her tiara and declared Recommendation Tuesday a thing. I said it was brilliant, and I wanted to do the same, but I never did. (She, of course, has posted tons of recommendations since then.) I’m doing mine on Wednesday since I often participate in Top Ten Tuesday and don’t want to over-commit my days. #bloggerproblems

2. Movies Based On Books – I watch a lot of movies based on books. I have thoughts about them. Sometimes I have seen the books; sometimes I haven’t. Either way, they fit the whole book blogger deal.

3. Teaching Thursday – I recently combined this blog with my teaching blog and want to expand beyond my Lesson Plan Friday posts. So Teaching Thursday will be a place for me to talk about teaching stuff that’s not related to lesson planning, basically.

4. Mini reviews/reading round ups – Longform reviews are too much pressure (even if it is pressure I put on myself). (Another candidate for #bloggerproblems). Not that I will never do longer reviews, but I will definitely be doing more mini reviews.

5. Pet peeves/opinion/discussion posts – I have lots of opinions about a lot of things related to books. Probably I should start talking about them here.

Oh, and it’s possible I may post about TV sometimes. Maybe. I haven’t decided yet.

So, yes. Those are my ideas. I’m posting them to help hold myself accountable. And to show my students that it’s possible to write 300 words (with links) about something you care about–or have to do for an assignment.

Word count: 370

Lesson Plan Friday: The Power of Poetry

Lesson Plan Friday @ The EnglishistI have a confession. I was terrified to teach poetry. As part of the Writing about Literature course at my school, there are three units: fiction, drama, and poetry. I have a creative writing degree…in fiction. I have taken screenwriting/drama classes. But poetry? Of course, I’ve encountered poetry throughout all of my many, many years of schooling. But I’m not a poetry expert, you know?

So my first time out, I thought for sure it would be a disaster.

Add to that the fact that most of my students also have an aversion to poetry. They don’t understand it, they think it’s stupid, and, of course, most of their experience with poetry was how it means something besides what they think it means.

However, in terms of student engagement, student response, and student interest, the poetry unit has wound up being the best.

I think the main reason the unit works so well is that poetry isn’t a trick: it’s all about word choice and word order.

I cannot tell you how many of my students feel super smart because they can explain a poem, and it’s all based on “Well, in line 4, the author uses ‘x word’ which means ‘this,’ so the poem is about ‘y.’”

Poetry solved!

The other thing that helps is our final poetry assignment***. My students have to write their own poems and then explain their choices. And then we have a poetry slam where they read their poems aloud.

The effect of that assignment?

  • I had a student who “didn’t read” before my class and was a math/engineering guy so was only taking the class because it’s required. He wrote so many poems that he didn’t know which one to choose for his final paper. He worked in retail and would write poems on the back of receipt paper at work. Any chance he got, he was scribbling poems.
  • They come to office hours because they have too many ideas and don’t know which one to pick.
  • They figure out inventive ways to do picture poems (one in the form of a broken heart, another in the form of a dancer, yet another in the form of a quadratic equation).
  • This past semester, my students were so proud of their poems that they told me I should make future classes analyze their poems like we did to the ones in the books.

This is huge. My students tend to have notoriously low confidence in their writing. But they recognized and felt that their poetry was as worthy of being analyzed as the poetry in the textbook.

Poems aside, their explanations*** (which is what they’re really graded on) are fantastic. They know and understand the terminology; they know and understand the inspiration poems or poetic forms. Their papers are a joy to read.

THEIR PAPERS ARE A JOY TO READ. (!!!!!)

So, yes. Poetry. It’s amazing.

***Here’s the assignment:

Part I: The Paper

Length: no word count (poem) / 500-750 words (explanation)

You have two options for this paper.

Option 1: Write a poem that imitates or is inspired by a poem that appears in any of the assigned reading on our syllabus. Then, explain the choices you made writing your poem, focusing on how it matches the original. Use the correct vocabulary when explaining the poems and their similarities.

You are using the original poem as inspiration, which means you can write a parody (humorous imitation) or something more serious on whatever topic you wish.

Option 2: Write a fixed form poem (sonnet, villanelle, sestina, limerick, or haiku) on the topic of your choice. Then, explain the choices you made while writing your poem, focusing on how it fits the chosen form and why you chose that particular form. Use the correct vocabulary when explaining your choices.

In order to successfully complete this paper, you must first understand the features of the poetic form and how to properly implement them. Only then will you be able to craft your poem.

Part II: The Final

Our poetry final will be an in-class poetry slam held during the assigned finals time. You will read/recite your poem to the class.

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This work by Akilah @ The Englishist is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Lesson Plan Friday: Identifying Character Traits

Lesson Plan Friday @ The EnglishistI actually got the idea for this activity from The Bedford Introduction to Literature (10th edition) edited by Michael Meyer. One of the creative response assignment suggestions is to have students write an obituary for the character of Penny from the play Dead Right by Elaine Jarvik.

In order to have students complete the obituary and to understand both characters, I had them do this little activity, which I think I’m going to use to introduce/explore characterization from now on. This activity is much more effective than asking the students to “characterize” a specific character or to describe the character’s traits. It teaches them how, exactly, to do that and where they get the information to characterize the characters.

In the book, Dead Right is a short play that covers four pages. I assigned the students one of the four pages to read. I then broke down the activity in the following steps.

1. Write down the facts the audience is given about Penny and the facts the audience is given about Bill. (I remind them that facts cannot be argued. Some of my students also think that they can remember everything they read, so I tell them that they have to actually write the facts down.)

2. Now, write down how you would describe each of their personalities (in other words,  their character traits) and what words/quotes from the play help you characterize them that way.

3. Then, we went over the facts and character traits, starting with the facts about a character before moving onto their traits. I put the lists up on the projector. This was an excellent way to reinforce the difference between facts (or details) and character traits. While doing the facts, students would sometimes say that a character was, say, “self-centered” or “rude” and I was able to say, “Well, that can be argued, so you’re moving into character traits. We’re doing facts now. Hold onto that for a minute.”

4. During the character traits discussion, I would always ask what made them describe the character that particular way and, most of the time, they referred back to the facts on the board or details from their assigned page.

5. Once our discussion was over, they were assigned to write Penny’s obituary as she herself would write it or as her husband Bill would write it. (I assigned them to either Penny or Bill.)

That last bit is also a little bit of a test in reading comprehension since Penny says exactly how she wants her obituary written. I always ask my students to share if they’re willing. If they’re not, I ask them what they did, so we can discuss their choices and why they made those particular choices. Students usually think they just come up with details in their writing out of their heads, so I use those moments as an opportunity to show them how they use details from the text in their own writing or how the details from the text inform their writing.

As I said, though, this can be easily adapted for another play or with different characters. My plan is to use this activity (minus the obituary) with a short story. That should be particularly interesting because that story is told with a first-person narrator. We’ll see how it goes.

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This work by Akilah @ The Englishist is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Lesson Plan Friday: Works Cited Page

Lesson Plan FridayI don’t know about anybody else, but teaching my students how to do a Works Cited page can be tedious at best. If I go over it in class, it’s like they don’t hear me. I tell them where to find the information in their book to make sure they’re doing it right–they do what they want.

Worst of all, they want to use citation websites like EasyBib and Citation Machine.

I don’t have a problem with those sites in general. My issue is that the sites always miss information or put the information in the wrong place. I tell my students if they use the sites to still double check because the citations might be wrong.

They don’t.

So! This semester I decided to do a different type of citation activity. I took them to the campus computer lab and gave them the following activity. This activity concentrates on formatting the works cited page as well as finding information of web sources to do citations.

From working with my students and my work in the Writing Lab, I’ve learned that a lot of times, students’ citations are incomplete because they don’t know where to look for the information to complete their citations, so they don’t take the time to do so.

For this assignment, students need computers with internet access. They also need their assigned handbook. My class used The Bedford Handbook (8th Edition), so any page numbers referenced are from that. The Practical Argument referenced is the 2nd edition. (Again, whichever book they use is fine. It should just have a sample works cited page and a section on how to do citations.) I always have students who come unprepared to class, so I also used The Purdue Owl.

The sites below were all chosen randomly. I tried to get a good mix of blogs, news sites, and sites with no author since my students could use a small number of non-scholarly internet sources for their forthcoming paper. I present the links as numbers because I didn’t want to give them any information about the sites. I wanted them to find all the information on their own.

I start with explicit formatting instructions because Microsoft Word has that new default that automatically adds space when you hit enter, even if a document is single-spaced.

Our lab has all Windows computers that run Office 2013.

Directions for the activity:

  1. Open Microsoft Word.
  2. Click on the Page Layout tab. Click on Margins. Select Normal.
  3. Click on the Home tab. Change the font to Times New Roman and the font size to 12.
  4. Click on the Home tab, go to Paragraph and click the little arrow in the bottom right corner. Under Spacing, set the After to 0 pt.
  5. Put a heading on your paper. Hit enter.
  6. Press Ctrl + E.
  7. Type Works Cited in plain text (do not bold or italicize or make larger). Press enter.
  8. Press Ctrl + L.
  9. Save your document to the desktop or to your flash/jump drive.

For this assignment, you will type up citations for the links given below.

On pg. 550 of the Bedford Handbook is a sample web page with information on how to find the information needed for an online citation. Refer to that as you complete your assignment. You should also refer to pgs. 548-557 for how to cite the various types of online sources you may encounter.

If you do not have your handbook, you should refer to pgs. 338-341 in Practical Argument.

If you do not have either book, go here.

 

Use the following links to complete your citations and SAVE YOUR WORK OFTEN as you go:

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Now that you have finished typing up your citations, you need to properly format your document.

  1. Put the list in alphabetical order (see pg. 572 in BH and pg. 530 in PA for directions).
  2. Properly indent your citations.
    1. In Microsoft Word, click on the Home tab, go to Paragraph and click the little arrow in the bottom right corner.
    2. Under Indentation, set the Special dropdown to Hanging.
  3. Double space your document.
    1. Press Ctrl + A to highlight the entire document.
    2. Click on the Home tab, go to Paragraph and click the little arrow in the bottom right corner.
    3. Under Spacing, set the Line Spacing dropdown to Double.
  4. Check that your list of citations looks like the sample on pg. 588 in BH, pg. 349 in PA, or this one.
  5. Double check your citations to make sure they are complete.
  6. Submit your assignment to Canvas. You may work quietly on other assignments until you are given further instruction.

And that’s it!

As a follow up, I tell them that they are allowed to use the citation generators (because they will anyway) but that they need to make sure to refer to their book or The Owl to make sure the citations are complete and correctly formatted. And since they have to do that anyway, they may as well just type up the citations themselves since I think it’s faster and less work. But, you know, do what you want, I say.

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Lesson Plan Friday: Clothes and Character

Or costumes and character. Whichever is your pleasure.

Welcome to my new feature! I’m going to start blogging about teaching here since (a) I hate having two blogs and (b) academia is part of what makes me an Englishist. My plan is to post a lesson plan or assignment idea every other week.

I used this particular activity in my Writing about Literature class the Friday before spring break. My students and I didn’t feel like doing much work, so they (of course) opted for watching something. I told them we don’t just watch stuff for funsies. If we were going to watch something, they had to do some work. This activity could also easily be turned into a paper or short assignment to further explore character or used to discuss visual argument in a non-literature course.

I used the television show Parks & Recreation for this activity, but any TV show or movie will do. Our class meets for 50 minutes, so a 22-minute episode was the perfect length for watching and discussing. 

I have three lit classes, so I chose three different episodes of the show (one for each class). I used:

  • “Greg Pikitis” (Season 2, Episode 7)
  • “Ron & Tammy: Part Two” (Season 3, Episode 4)
  • “The Fight” (Season 3, Episode 13)

In order to do this lesson, students should already have a firm grasp on the literary elements, particularly plot, character, and setting. A familiarity with irony is also important.

Before watching the episode, I went over the purpose of costumes in drama. Students were then instructed to watch the episode, paying special attention to the characters’ clothing.

During our discussion we talked about how clothing related to character traits. Since the “Greg Pikitis” episode takes place on Halloween, we were also able to discuss what the Halloween costumes revealed about the characters.

Since Parks & Recreation mostly takes place in an office, we discussed how the characters felt about their jobs, what their duties might be, and how seriously they took their jobs based on their clothing. We were also able to explore what the clothing revealed about a character’s economic status.

We also talked about how clothing was related to the action of the plot (this can be done using the plot pyramid) and to the conflict. 

If I do the activity again, I will probably assign students to track a specific character throughout the episode to better focus their analysis. Since some characters feature more prominently than others, assigning specific characters will give students a chance to pay attention to the minor characters as well as the main characters.

A good companion activity would be for students to then take a character from a play and decide on a costume for him or her based on the text.

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This work by Akilah @ The Englishist is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.