Research Writing Project Brainstorm

Social causes:

Because of my pragmatic philosophy background, I’m swayed this way, even more so when it comes to research writing. I think it’s a topic that’s even better for research writing than short course. The amount library resources and current events have to offer, plus if the focus was put onto social causes in Boston (the homeless issue, gang violence happening near Emerson, etc.)–it’d be a broad scope of what a project like this might be able to offer. I think about the public space of Himmer’s class sample and how that can relate to a social cause. There would be multiple genres available with this theme in mind: a profile of a homeless person; a letter to the state; a report on police changes occurring after the marijuana law passed; a commentary on illegal immigration policies–all of which would necessitate research.

Photoessays:

Right now, my group is brainstorming about photoessays because they can have a broad scope. A student could write about their family, using pictures of their family, and research their ancestry; or a student could take up a social cause by photographing the homeless population. In any case, the focus will still need to be put on the rhetorical situation, the proposition and the reasons, to an extent. I think a photoessay would work really well toward the movement to the final showcase, since it would be very much “seen” by the larger community.

An influential person:

I’ve also been considering with the idea of profiling an influential figure in a student’s life. I know such a project might become very “young,” like a project on heroes. But I think taking that type of inventory can help guide freshman who are currently embarking on their adult lives. Whether its a famous musician or family member, figuring out why someone is influential can help establish a student’s identity and place in the world. This project, too, could take on multiple genres outside of profiling, such as memoir or commentary, or even if they were to write a letter to the person (a letter, again, might be a little “middle schooly” but I think it could still be elevated into the language of the university). I’d offer these students academic articles; I can think of a few philosophers who have discussed influence and recognition, and I can think of famous speeches from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame about a musician’s impact on another; as well as the topic of “Art” itself and the passing down of values and culture (Marshal McLuhan, Hans Aarsleff). I think this topic could suit a college classroom if the readings are academic and research on the subject matter is more than “interviewing my mom.”

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Classroom Observation

Before class time began, the students were quiet. The classroom was small and had eleven students, and the teacher had them form a circle to help bolster discussion. But the students weren’t in favor of discussion. Unless you count the discussion they were having on their phones, they preferred being quiet and sleepy. Sleepy, at four in the afternoon. Perhaps they were feeling down though, about the social scandal that’d recently occurred, how a conservative student, who took a picture with Milo Yiannopoulos, had been cyber-bullied until she fled from school. The teacher asked them about it, and they spoke about the scandal vaguely, as if they didn’t know what had happened, while saying they did in fact know what had happened, maybe because of not wanting to talk about it.

Then the meat of the class began. A student played a song for class, so that they could go over the lyrics. The research class has moved on from research paper writing to writing lyrics, to go over rhetorical situation, code meshing, assumptions, and proposition in a different way; to (as their teacher puts it in the unit III assignment) “make the jump from writing for specific outlets to writing as a creative outlet.” What is the proposition of the song, what is the rhetorical situation? In the song the student chose, the rhetorical situation seemed to be a breakup, how the breakup affected her and she wanted to communicate something. It was about love, some students said, how her ex once had strength and gave her strength, but because he metaphorically “cut his hair” and “literally” left her, they’re both weaker. After this initial discussion, about the song the student picked, they moved onto forming groups for their final projects.

At this point I discovered how freshmen, who although have been in college for several months still can be, at times, timid, when it comes to collaboration, have a way of compromising with their teacher. By compromise, I mean starting at what the teacher would like and slowly communicating their needs until they achieve what they need while not taking away from what their teacher had wanted in the first place. They wanted their teacher to form the groups for them, rather than them going off to discuss the project on a canvas discussion. Their teacher then gave them time to form their groups on their own, because he wanted them to form the groups on their own. But all the students remained quiet, eventually telling him why they’d prefer him to form the groups for them. So he set them into groups, deciding (he told me after class when I asked him why) it was a battle he didn’t really need to win, and if it made it easier for them to handle the final project, so be it.

After groups were formed, they shared the lyrics they’d written for class, which were posted on a discussion forum. What impressed me most was how confident they all suddenly were. Where before they had difficulty sharing their thoughts in discussion or forming groups on their own, here, in a creative mode, they shared extremely personal aspects of their life. The first person to read his song discussed a bad breakup, the next also read their poem about heartbreak. One student discussed her insomnia and read her poem about the psychological inability to sleep and depression it caused.

One student really stood out. English was her second language. It was her turn to read her poem, and she tried to explain herself, “You see. This is maybe better if I sing. Because it’s…you know…the emotion is not in the written… you know what I mean?” She wanted to sing the song because that was how it was set up; it wouldn’t make as much sense to read it word for word. And in that room, an acoustic setting so small her voice surrounded everyone, she demonstrated an incredible, confident talent. Where she was shy speaking English, she was confident singing English, which she’d been classically trained in.

As they work toward the final project, this class, I think, with them sharing their lyrics, opened them up to each other and helped them come to terms with rhetorical situation (why they chose the heartbreak or insomnia to write about) and the different methods of communicating a certain purpose.

 

Reading Student Writing

I’ve read three essays on how to read and correct student writing. The most helpful, in terms of learning how to teach: Rather than “correct” mistakes, diagnose mistakes. Read for the meaning of the essay, and give feedback based on that meaning. Ask the question, what is the author’s intent?

“I read your college application essay. First of all, college has two L’s.”

Bartholomae, The Study of Error. In this essay Bartholomae suggests student error should be diagnosed. For example, a student writes “I had accummate ten dementic and had to…” If a teacher tells the student they’ve misspelled “accumulate” and “demerit” and goes on to teach the proper spelling through repetitive exercises, they’ve only treated the surface level misspelling and failed to get to the root of the problem, especially if they’ve noticed a lot of other spelling errors in the student’s paper. What would be best would be to have the student read the paper out loud and work from there. This particular student, John, the reads the above sentence, “I had accumulated ten demerits and had to…” So what’s really going on here? John has read the current sentence, as it’s written with the misspellings, the correct way because to him the coding on the page has the correct meaning. Rather than considering the sounds of the letters, he’s considered the shape of the words he’d memorized. To him dementic makes the word demerit. To help the student learn the error, a teacher needs to diagnose the problem, and from there teach the student how to edit on their own.

Pal Kei Matsude, Reading an ESL Writer’s Text. In this essay, I learned how to read ESL writers. Primarily, avoid reading ESL essay as deficient because it doesn’t comply to the norms of English. What’s most important when reading these essays: If I see many errors on the sentence level (such as “dementic” or “childrens”), I should figure out the meaning the writer was going for and work from there, instead of dismissing the writing as unsuccessful and uneducated. Often teachers will want this writer to assimilate to English. Tell them what they’ve done is wrong and they need to fix it this way. But that assimilation practice can make the ESL writer consider their native language as inferior, and so they are inferior. Another option is accommodation, where a teacher helps the student learn the proper discourse patterns without forcing them to lose the their linguistic differences. And then there is the separatist approach, where ESL writing is read “generously” and multicultural writing is better appreciated on its own grounds. For me, After reading this essay, I think it’s important to consider any essay in terms of its meaning, and I worry a separatist approach will not delve into the problems of the essay’s communication. Even if the multicultural aspects are appreciated, the student still needs to revise–it would be wrong to assume every error was because of a language problem, because perhaps the essay still wouldn’t have driven home its purpose–That’s why it’s important to listen to the writer and understand where they are coming from, to see if the writing and their goals are linking up, no matter which language they speak.

Nancy Sommers, Responding to Student Writing. In this essay, Sommers goes through possible pitfalls teachers might fall into when commenting on student papers. Often, teachers will edit sentence level issues, such as word choice and commas, and then make broad points about why the entire essay needs to be revised (so then those sentences will likely not be the same sentence in the end anyway). Overall, the types of comments teachers make appropriate the student essay: Rather than students writing for their own intent, they write for the teacher (Whatever the teacher wants the student to do they’ll do). However, often the comments are contradictory. How can I fix this comma and also do more research? Moreover, the comments aren’t specific enough. “Think about your audience more” doesn’t really help a student to revise an essay. It would be better for a teacher to make specific comments about the text, address the logic of the essays crucial points, and ultimately force the student back into the “chaos” of the essay, to get into the fray of the paragraphs and really rewrite for their intent.

 

Excerpt from a short story

The train was perverted. Boarding it was like stepping onto a porno set. The aisle carpet and window curtains were the bright red of cabaret lipstick. The seat upholstery featured key-sized flamingos and peacocks without negative space, entangled in accidental sex positions. Each row, without middle armrests, was in essence a loveseat, bent on forcing strangers closer together. I needed to hold my suitcase in front of me and sideways to fit it down the aisle. Every step it tapped my legs while my briefcase ricocheted off my hip and the sides of seats and its strap weighed a blood-flushed impression onto my shoulder.The cart’s final row had two open seats on my right and a couple of little old ladies on my left. I thought the design team had made a mistake; there was enough space to fit another row and then some. I’d have plenty of legroom, but be missing a lunch tray and seatback pocket and facing a blue wall. The little old ladies had white bouffant hairdos that resembled cotton candy, and they chatted about childcare.

“She will never be allowed to open a preschool: her house is filled with gluten!”

Stowage was a shelf with a metal rail meant to serve as fencing to keep luggage from falling out. I stood on my tiptoes, trying to push my fat suitcase onto the shelf through the gap between the metal rail and ceiling. Behind me this beautiful eccentric chose to wait rather than shimmy passed me. Her irises were the neon green of colored contacts. She wore a spiked dog collar for a headband, clips of skulls and crossbones in her lavender-dye hair that went straight down her back. On her neck was a tattoo of a naked woman wearing a pirate hat, with a sword in her hand, parrot on her shoulder, and sprinkle of gold coins on her boobs.

She cleared her throat in a comically fake way to get my attention.

“Let me give you a hand.”

Why I’ve Created a Twitter Account

In this world, I have Twitter. I didn’t want it for a long time. My account name is @witandsnap because of these children story characters I hope to publish some day. So far on Twitter, I’ve gotten a lot of crazy Trump news and a seen a video of a goose running into the arms of a human friend. My friend Caroline, another writer, advised me to get Twitter, because she says it’s a way to get her voice out there, that when she eventually publishes a book, she’ll have people interested in it. But, for me, I got Twitter for the goose videos.

Happy Tuesday 🙂 From Ashley, Misty, and me.

Intro to a Short Story

After school whoever was supposed to pick up Harrison was late as usual so he played in the spaceship sandbox, bashing mini dump trucks together, shouting, “Boom, boom, boom…”

Kelton brought out a bridge table and a pair of folding chairs. The folding chairs had to go next to each other so both he and Caroline would have clear views of the parking lot, backyard, playground, and Harrison. From Wolterhan Early Childhood Education Center’s back porch, he heard thwacks scaring birds into flight like gunfire and knew what they were. In the morning he’d found a golf ball, this tiny meteor, which had crashed a tiny crater into the earth between the seesaw and the bronze statue of child angels playing flutes. To land there it must’ve flown over the treetops, must’ve been struck hard but sliced or intentionally aimed at them from the elitist country club on the other side of the woods.

“Don’t blame yourself,” Caroline said. “Certain trouble happens at light speed.”

She served loose-leaf tea with a cinnamon stick. As she poured the wash beat the stick against the teacup much like the long piece of model train track Harrison had used that day to bludgeon another student’s arm.

“Two hands, choked up on the bat,” Kelton said. “I should’ve caught him sooner.”

She picked mint leaves from the raised-bed garden outside the window and dropped one each into their teacups. “Shut up and drink, kid. A little caffeine, warmth, that’s what you need.” Seemed like nothing could surprise her. It was his second year working with her. Since he was an assistant teacher he didn’t have to stay late after school keeping her company. The other teachers had left, the administrative workers had left, even their director, Mary Ellen, had left. Caroline was his mentor, friend, superior, and yogi all wrapped into one. In the game for over twenty-five years, a master of childcare, Peter Singer vegetarianism, holistic remedies, patience. Patchouli followed her like a guardian angel.

Harrison tossed a dump truck and as it flipped through the air he wailed an as-seen-on-TV death cry. After it landed on a mound of sand—“Boom”—he bashed it with the other dump truck. “Mwahaha! I have defeated you,” he growled to play the role of the victor, “and now I eat you! Eat you! Eat you!…”

Caroline stirred her tea with the cinnamon stick.

At last Harrison’s mom’s car, its automatic sliding door opening, drove into the gravel parking lot. Turning around quickly to face-out an inch from the entrance, to position herself for the customary getaway, kicked up gravel and dust clouds. Harrison on cue ran behind the royal castle, and Kelton on cue went to corral him. Their routine appeared to be years in the making. Behind the royal castle, Harrison balled up, stretched his shirt over his legs, squeezed the collar shut over his head, hid in plain sight and began their game of “Where’s Harrison?”

“I just don’t know where he could be,” Kelton said, melodically, “but what is this here that I see? Could it be? Could it be?… A teddy bear is what I see.”

Today Harrison’s shirt featured a teddy bear with a bowtie.

“Hello, Mr. Teddy Bear.” Kelton tickled him. “Do you know where I might find Harrison?”

“No, no.” Harrison, laughing, let go of the shirt collar. “I haven’t seen him, I haven’t.” His head came out of his shirt, smiling with those teeth Kelton worried he didn’t brush, both front ones lost, his canines like little Dracula fangs.

Kelton carried him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “Delivery! I’ve got a delivery here!” This carry, and its catchphrase, was a standard he’d used when carrying his younger brother back in the day.

Caroline leaned over the window ledge to talk to Meredith, the mom. As far as Kelton could tell, she constantly had an extra-large thermos in hand and sunglasses on and never stepped foot outside the minivan. Harrison was the youngest of five siblings. His parents had recently divorced. His parents sent Caroline inappropriate, private information about their exes, about universes Harrison existed in only as an object of judicial dispute.

Last night’s email from Paul, the dad, Caroline had forwarded to Kelton: “…Queen Meredith ought to stop inviting every dog in heat stranded at the bar to spend the night …”

Along with Meredith’s email: “…How lovely to have that brainlessdibshit introduce his latest and greatest skankface to my daughter…”

“You must understand,” Meredith said, while Harrison climbed to his safety seat, crawled over food wrappers, knocked empty soda bottles. “My oldest daughter just moved into the basement with her boyfriend.” The automatic door started closing. “They steal food, leave her bras and pipes on the couch—”

“Of course we understand,” Caroline interrupted her. “And you must understand Harrison is at a crucial age and we need—need—to evaluate him this week—this week—either Wednesday or Thursday.”

Kelton had suggested a projective evaluation because he’d found Harrison’s perceptions faulty, his experience of social cues often mistaken. Most of his tantrums committed to a single phrase, unprovoked. Once while they’d played Candy Land, after Kelton had drawn a card and moved to the Peppermint Forest, Harrison had asked him, “Are you mad at me?” latched onto his arm, repeating the question again and again. Another time he started screaming, “Thief! Thief!” as they gave out fresh baked cookies.

“Just email me later.” Meredith’s traditional salutation, she called it out the window while it rolled up. The words caused a familial instinct to seize Kelton. He’d sprint in front of the car, stop them, hop in back and go to their house, cook the family a nice dinner, read Harrison a story or two before bedtime—make sure Harrison brushed his teeth—if it weren’t for Caroline, the gentle hold of his wrist subduing him.

“Maybe they should hire an extra hand,” Kelton said, considering they must be well-off since they sent Harrison to Wolterhan. “I’m sure they’re going through a lot.”

“Have you ever heard of someone going through a little?” She waved pleasantly at the minivan hurrying uphill and turning onto Lakeview Road, which led downtown to the lake harbor with its various tourist attractions, a route Kelton would soon take on his walk to the bus station. “Everyone on the planet is ‘going through a lot.’”

She had told Harrison’s mom what had happened, and she told Kelton what would happen next. Harrison was a detriment to the classroom experience. The girl who Harrison had hit, Liliana, would feel unsafe, as would their other students and the parents of every student, if this assault wasn’t taken seriously.

“It’s early enough. Kid, I’m sorry to say, but we see it already. The best laid plans, the most tactical strategies; every trick in the book will lose to the cards we’re dealt. Better to take care of it before we bury ourselves in sympathy.”

She’d be emailing both those parents the final warning, a promise next time Harrison was violent or overly disruptive he’d be removed from Wolterhan Early Childhood Education Center.

Dissensus and Consensus

I want to discuss dissensus. Trimbur brings up how consensus will, at its best, orchestrate dissensus in the classroom. Create an environment of multiple voices. In a writing classroom, rather than there being some single mind, some Cartesian model of existence, we get many voices from different power structures and different values, coming together to converse–a real conversation of conflict and struggle.

What was most interesting to me in reading the Trimbur and Bruffee was their use of philosophy and philosophers, which helped me understand their work more easily. As someone from a philosophy major, collaboration was the name of the game. Every class was based in discussion. It’s strange–nine people can read the same text and form nine different opinions about it based on our previous biases and value structures. In the end we come away understanding the dialogue, the work itself and our interpretation of it, better, even through the disagreements.

I can especially see where Dewey comes into play with Trimbur. Collaboration and pragmatism in the classroom is crucial in understanding how we can learn–grow and change. Rather than entering an established law and way of thinking, entering the classroom to learn the single-mind, digest it and regurgitate it, the classroom is always changing, as the conversation is always changing, as there is dissensus–useful conflict–and consensus–a certain coming to terms. To put it in perspective, before Dewey much of philosophy was bent on the established order. From Descartes to Kant to Hume to Spinoza, all came into the conversation from the basis of metaphysics–what was in the air, the question of ultimate experience, itself in terms of religion, ideals, the universe versus the self. And Dewey argues they all were really going back to the church in certain respects. The established order of biblical order. For Dewey, he wanted philosophy to ground itself into the practical. How can we use our reasoning capability to consider what a a specific thing, like the classroom, should function. Rather than asking, “What is education?” Dewey asked, “How should we teach the given class, the given students, the given society?”

What language do I speak?

A translingual approach entails respecting multilingual writing, not making foreign languages “secondary,” and ultimately a classroom where difference is respected. Makes sense to me. From what I’ve read on the subject from Trimbur, Lu, Anzaldua, and others, a translingual approach has much to do with the self: students who speak English as a second, or third, language might tend to find their home language less viable academically–Less important. It disadvantages them. While they should be rewarded for speaking multiple languages, instead their identity seems banished from the classroom.

When I was an undergraduate, I was all about English. And not just English–American. A standard for me was to say I spoke American, to scoff at the idea I spoke English. I was, without a doubt, one of those students who saw the foreign language requirement at school to be unnecessary and annoying (Probably because my older brother, Dan, spoke Spanish fluently and went to college for it, and so I distanced myself from that type of study as much as humanly possible; perhaps from a fear of not excelling as well as he did–but this isn’t a psychoanalytical post).

At the same time, I very much relate to the idea that “virtually all students who are monolingual in the sense that they speak only English are nonetheless multilingual in the varieties of English they use and in their ability to adapt English to their needs and desires.”  Because in the end, because of my fast way of speaking, my addiction to old-fashioned comedies and every musician this side of the solar system, I have arrived at my own jumbled language. Particularly in the way I communicate with my friends. Other than a select few, no one else has a clue what I mean by “GG,” “It’s niara,” “oomama,” “Oh my Lantan… Although I don’t think that’s particularly what they were referring to in their paper. Also, coming from a Jewish upbringing, I use boychik, oy gavolt, and have a particular inflection to my accent… Coming from a childcare background, my exclamations have been replaced by poopyhead, fudge, Timbuktu, and I avoid phrases like I hate, I can’t… When something is completed well, I’ll say coo coo cachoo; having been raised with Dan, I’ll say mi madre, instead of my mom, and vamanos when I want things to get a move on…
Do these things belong in Academic writing? The point is, I think, that no one on the planet really speaks one language. Depending on the situation, whether I’m with my friends from elementary school, my college friends, my family, or talking to a strange, I’ll use a different language to serve the situation. And to say my own language isn’t as valuable as Standard English, would be an attack on me personally; just like to say Spanish or French isn’t as valuable is disrespectful.

Climbing Up

Eric is long gone now, but Eddy remains.

Eddy and his friend Eric climbed a hill of wet rocks near the pier. The pier was just a walkway, without amusements or fishing, just benches and a railing going around it. They climbed the rocks and sat at the top overlooking the waves of the ocean thrashing the rocks beneath them. They talked and then roughhoused. Eddy stood up, slipped, and fell, his head first against the rock hill, tumbling into the salt water on the side of the hill opposite the pier.

The waves thrashed Eddy against the rocks, and Eric slid down the other side, scraping the back of his legs and arms and back before landing in the wet sand and then ran toward the lifeguard down the beach, who was running toward him already and a minute or two away. Eric stopped and started screaming and pointing, his feet sinking in the sand as he fell to his knees and pointed, not following or watching the lifeguard running by, the image of Eddy’s face smacking that ridged rock above the waves before entering, splitting his face, comatose body and foaming waves.

Media came.

Eric is long gone now, but Eddy remains. Eric’s parents filed suit in the town, not for money but awareness. They forced a lifeguard station nearer to the pier rather than a football field and sprint away. More people began swimming by the rock hill, which they tapered off and buoyed. Teens made bonfires at night under the pier and dared each other to climb the rock hill. Some did. The town hired a night watchman to keep the teens at bay and alive. They considered loading the rocks away but figured it too expensive, and Eric told them to keep the rock hill as a symbol. To keep it in the town, they put a plaque dedicating Eddy on it. First came food stands on the beach. Couples sat on the benches of the pier overlooking the fatal ocean and listened to the thrashing of waves against rocks. The food stands moved onto the pier. Bikers rode down and back and gave extra landscape and distance to their route. With a connection, Adventure Park Group saw the pier and its location as an untapped resource. With a promise not to remove the rock hill, they built four rides, game stands, and various other carnival stands on the pier. Families there on vacations remember Eddy when the older kids tell the younger ones the ghost story. But Eric is long gone.

Intro to a short story I’m writing

Once upon a New Year’s Eve, he and I were naïve, attractive freshmen at an invitation-only house party. Bouncers guarded the front and back doors. Tuxedoed frat brothers hurried in and out of the kitchen like cocktail waiters, divvying out bottles of champagne and gallon jugs of spiked punch. Blunt roaches, red cups, condoms, and cigarettes bobbed around skinny dippers who cheered for me to loosen up. I undressed to the music of their wolf-whistles. I went cannonball into the suspiciously warm pool. I kept up with their drinking pace, shots served to us from the diving board, unknown flavors I forced down like bad medicine. I stayed in until I was ready to vomit.

With my dress on inside out and soaking up the water that stank of latex, I stumbled to a place where nobody would find me unless they were searching for me. At the edge of the woods in the backyard, behind the broken jacuzzi filled with empty liquor bottles, I was bracing against a tree, calculating the positives and negatives of lying facedown on the ground, when he fell hard nearby. I only heard the collapse and saw the aftermath. He rolled onto his back so that his head rested on one of my tree’s massive roots. He had a pretty boy face made for the silver screen, and the heels of his hands were scraped and dirty. He introduced himself as Don Corleone, questioned my motives, why I hadn’t offered him my friendship or invited him over for coffee, why I dared to disrespect him on his daughter’s wedding. He’d been stalking me, I think, waiting for me to lose track of my friends, like a wolf pouncing on prey separated from its herd.