Today at the beginning of class I returned your analysis drafts with my comments, and you devoted the class period to working on your revisions. My revision of the analysis that I wrote as a sample for my students last semester appears below.
“On its Face, Who Could Disagree with the Transformation?”: Revisiting Richtel’s Report on the Blog-Term Paper Question
In The New York Times article “Blogs vs. Term Papers,” Matt Richtel reports on the debate in higher education on how best to teach writing in the digital age. While some professors have followed the lead of City University of New York’s Cathy N. Davidson, replacing the traditional term paper with shorter, more frequent blog assignments, their detractors—including Douglas B. Reeves, columnist for The American School Board Journal and William H. Fitzhugh, editor of The Concord Review—argue that blog writing lacks the academic rigor that fosters critical thinking. For Andrea Lunsford, professor of writing at Stanford University, pitting blogs against term papers creates a false opposition. Rather than replacing term papers with blog posts, Lunsford requires students to produce multi-modal assignments: term papers that evolve into blogs, websites, and video presentations. Although Richtel’s article appears to present an objective account of the disagreements among experts, a close examination of the diction and structure of “Blogs vs. Term Papers” reveals a preference for the innovations advocated by Davidson and Lundsford.
The opening paragraph of Richtel’s article focuses on the academic paper as a primary cause of “angst, profanity, and caffeine consumption” among high school and college students. In stark contrast to the images of the term paper-induced misery in his lead, Richtel writes in the second paragraph that students may be “rejoicing” because Cathy Davidson—a professor at Duke when Richtel interviewed her—favors replacing the term paper with the blog. Richtel refers to Davidson as a “champion” for students and outlines her use of a course blog as a practice that has become commonplace in a variety of academic disciplines. Richtel reports that blogs provide students with a “feeling of relevancy” and “instant feedback,” then poses the question: “[W]hy punish with a paper when a blog is, relatively, fun?”
From that question Richtel turns to the argument of defenders of the traditional academic paper, namely that the term paper teaches essential components of writing and thinking that may be absent from blog posts. Yet after letting the advocates of old-school writing have their say, Richtel undercuts their claim with this one-sentence paragraph: “Their reductio ad absurdum: why not just bypass the blog, too, and move on to 140 characters about Shermn’s Mrch?” To assert that defenders of traditional academic writing carry their opponents’ argument to an absurd conclusion presents those advocates of old-school writing as purveyors of the same flawed logic that their own traditional rhetoric supposedly teaches students to avoid.
Notably, the one-sentence paragraph, unlike paragraphs with multiple sentences, places heavy emphasis on a single idea. It says to readers, this is important. By introducing an apparent contradiction in the argument of the advocates of old-school writing, Richtel subverts their claim; and by presenting that incongruity as a one-sentence paragraph, he highlights the issue.
Richtel’s reductio ad absurdum paragraph is one of only two one-sentence paragraphs in his article. The other consists entirely of Professor Davidson’s own words. Speaking of the mechanistic quality of the term paper, she says: “As a writer, it offends me deeply.” In addition to devoting that one-sentence paragraph to Davidson’s negative feelings about term papers, Richtel returns to those feelings of hers at the end of his article and lets Davidson have the last word, literally.
In the final paragraphs of the article, Richtel recounts a tutoring session Davidson conducted with a community college student. Though she frowned on his assignment’s rigid guidelines—including prescribed sentence length—she told the student to follow the rules, knowing that teaching him what she deemed the best practice might have led the student to fail. Reflecting on that moment, Davidson said, “I hated teaching him bad writing,” and with those words of hers, Richtel’s article ends.
Along with giving Davidson the last word, Richtel devotes far more of his article to the new literacies she and Lunsford foster in their students. Arguably, the innovative nature of the work could account for the considerable space that Richtel devotes to it. After all, what readers are familiar with—in this case the traditional term paper—isn’t news. But the preponderance of word choices that place old literacies in a negative light combined with a structure that diminishes the merits of old-school writing reveals Richtel’s implicit preference for Davidson’s and Lundsford’s innovations.
Readers revisiting Richtel’s article now, nearly ten years after he wrote it, may wonder how he would respond to the question he poses about the shift from page to screen: “On its Face, Who Could Disagree with the Transformation?” Richtel wrote “Blogs vs. Term Papers” in 2012, the year deemed the year of the MOOCs (massive open online courses). Once touted as the key to revolutionizing higher education, their success has been hampered by the same issues linked to the learning losses experienced during the pandemic. For the many students who have had little or no face-to-face instruction—writing or otherwise—in recent memory, more technology may not seem like an answer, much less an innovation.
Remember that you have the opportunity to earn five bonus points for your analysis if you consult with a Writing Center tutor.
To schedule an appointment, visit https://highpoint.mywconline.com, email the Writing Center’s director, Justin Cook, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or scan the QR code below. To earn bonus points for your literacy narrative, consult with a writing center tutor no later than Thursday, October 6.
This morning at the beginning of class, I collected your fifth and final Check, Please! worksheets. My version of the assignment appears below.
Check, Please! Lesson Five Assignment
In the fifth lesson of the Check, Please!, Starter Course, Mike Caulfield, author of the course and Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University, covers the final step in the five-step SIFT approach: “Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to Their Original Context.” Caulfield outlines the process of locating the original context as an antidote to the issues of accuracy that occur when information passes through intermediaries.
One of the most instructive portions of lesson five features a passage in which Caulfield cites a study of how stories evolve as gossip through the processes of leveling (stripping details), sharpening (adding or emphasizing details), and assimilating, which combines the two. In the process of assimilation “the details that were omitted and the details that were added or emphasized are chosen because they either fit what the speaker thinks is the main theme of the story, or what the speaker thinks the listener will be most interested in.” Similarly, leveling, sharpening, and assimilating all figure in the altered photographs and memes in lesson four. The abbreviated speech of the NRA’s CEO, Wayne LaPierre, which omits commentary, inaccurately indicates a contradiction in his stance on the presence of guns in schools.
The image of photographer Kawika Singson with flames at his feet serves as an example of leveling. Although the flames are real, they were not caused by the heat of the lava flow where Singson stands with his tripod. Instead, to create the image, a friend of his poured accelerant on the lava before Singson stepped into the frame. The deception wasn’t intentional; Singson simply wanted the image for his Facebook cover photo.
Unlike Singson’s photograph, the altered photograph of the Notorious B.I.G. with Kurt Cobain was created with the intent to deceive. Cropping and merging the two photographs illustrates the assimilation process adopted by Photoshop users to appeal to music fans eager to think that such fictional meetings of icons took place. Krist Novoselic, who founded Nirvana with Cobain, replied to the is-it-real question with his own fake photo, making the claim that the hand holding the cigarettes was Shakur’s, that he had been cropped from the right.
In class today you will plan and draft your analysis, which will focus on one of the articles or essays that we have studied in class: “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” “The Day that Language Came into My Life,” “Back Story” (from The Blind Side), “The Falling Man,” “Skim Reading is the New Normal,” or the essay that I will distribute today, “Scrabble is a Lousy Game.”
Many students find the transition from expressive writing, such as a literacy narrative, to analysis to be a difficult one, but as the authors of your textbook note, “[i]n practice though, the best versions of analysis and expressive writing can overlap a lot” (Rosenwasser and Stephen 7). They go on to observe that “[v]irtually all forms of description are implicitly analytical” (7).
“When you choose to take what you take to be the three most telling details about your subject, you have selected significant parts and used them as a means of getting at what you take to be the character as a whole. This is what analysis does: it goes after an understandingof what something means, its nature, by zeroing in on the function of significant detail.” (7)
As a starting point, you will read some of the passages in Writing Analytically devoted to analysis, including “Analysis Does More than Break a Subject into Its Parts,” 4-5; and “Distinguishing Analysis from Summary, Expressive Writing, and Argument,” 5-8.
After you read the pages in Writing Analytically devoted to analysis, you will review the articles and essays you’ve read, and read “Scrabble is a Lousy Game.” Determine which article or essay appeals to you most as a subject of analysis. Reread that article or essay and identify three or more elements that contribute to its effectiveness. Develop your analysis through a close examination of those elements.
Rosenwasser, David and Jill Stephen. Writing Analytically, 8th edition. Wadsworth/Cengage, 2019.
This morning in class I collected your worksheets for the fourth lesson of Check, Please! The paragraphs that follow are my version of the assignment.
Check, Please! Lesson Four Assignment
In the fourth lesson of the Check, Please!, Starter Course, Mike Caulfield, author of the course and Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University, focuses his instruction on the third step in the four-step SIFT approach to determining the reliability of a source. Lesson four, “Find Trusted Coverage,” addresses these topics: (1) scanning Google News for relevant stories, (2) using known fact-checking sites, and (3) conducting a reverse-image search to find a relevant source for an image.
One of the concepts Caulfield introduces in lesson four is click restraint, which was given its name by Sam Wineberg, Professor of History and Education at Stanford, and Sarah McGrew, Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Maryland. Click Restraint is an activity that fact checkers practice regularly, but average people do not. Fact checkers resist the impulse to click on the first result, opting instead to scan multiple results to find one that combines trustworthiness and relevance.
Caulfield also considers the issue of false frames and offers as an example the miscaptioned photo of a young woman that circulated widely after the 2017 London Bridge attack. In the photo, the woman, who is wearing a hijab, is looking down at her phone as she walks past one of the victims lying by the side of the road, surrounded by members of the rescue team. Because the woman’s face is blurred, viewers of the miscaptioned picture cannot see the look of shock that is visible in her face in another image taken by the same photographer. Subsequently, her apparent lack of concern for the victim seems to confirm the caption in the infamous tweet.
Choosing a general search term over a specific one is a useful and unexpected tip Caulfield includes in his discussion of image searches. He explains that the benefit of such a bland term as “letter” or “photo” will prevent the confirmation bias that can lead to the proliferation of disinformation through false frames.
Wednesday in class you will plan and draft your analysis. Be sure to bring your copy of Writing Analytically to class as well as your pocket portfolio with the articles and essays we have studied in class. You will have the opportunity to devote your analysis to any one of those readings, including “Blogs vs. Term Papers,” “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” “The Day Language Came into My Life,” “Back Story” (from The Blind Side), “The Falling Man,” and “Skim Reading is the New Normal.”
Learning these two-letter words, as well as the others in the alphabet, will enable you to see more options for play and increase the number of points you earn in a single turn.
fa: a tone on the diatonic scale
fe: a Hebrew letter
go: a Japanese board game
ha: used to express surprise
he: a pronoun signifying a male
hi: an expression of greeting
hm: used to express consideration
ho: used to express surprise
id: the least censored part of the three-part psyche
if: a possibility
in: to harvest (a verb, takes -s, -ed, -ing)
is: the third-person singular present form of “to be”
it: a neuter oronoun
jo: a sweetheart
ka: the spiritual self in ancient Egyptian spirituality
ki: the vital life force in Chinese spirituality (also qi)
la: a tone of the diatonic scale
li: a Chinese unit of distance
lo: an expression of surprise
At the beginning of class on Monday, September 19, I will collect the worksheets for your fourth Check, Please! assignment. If you were absent today or misplace the copy you recieved in class, you can download a copy from Blackboard.
Lillian Ellmore, who was an English 1103 student of mine last spring, has been named the national winner of the 2021 Hungry for Education scholarship program sponsored by the restaurant Denny’s. In an article about Ellmore’s achievement, The High Point Enterprise staff reported that Hungry for Education “recognizes and rewards students who show initiative and creativity in helping Denny’s fight childhood hunger.”
In addition to composing an essay for the contest, Ellmore also appeared on Denny’s podcast to be considered for the scholarship.
Ellmore, who is from Lexington, Massachussetts, is a sophomore communications major.
Congratulations, Lillian, on a job well done!
Check, Please! Lesson Three
At the beginning of class on Monday, I collected your Check, Please! worksheets for lesson three. The paragraphs that follow are my version of the assignment.
In the third lesson of the Check, Please!, Starter Course, Mike Caulfield, author of the course and Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University, continues his instruction on the second step in four-step SIFT approach to determining the reliability of a source. Lesson three, “Further Investigation” covers these topics: (1) Just add Wikipedia for names and organizations, (2) Google Scholar searches for verifying expertise, (3) Google News searches for information about organizations and individuals, (4) the nature of state media and how to identify it, and (5) the difference between bias and agenda.
One of the most instructive parts of lesson three focuses on two news stories about MH17, Malyasia Airlines Flight 17, a passenger flight scheduled to land in Kuala Lumpur that was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. While the second story, a television news segment, appears to present detailed investigative reporting challenging the conclusion of the Dutch Safety Board and Dutch-led joint investigation team–the conclusion that Russia was to blame–a quick just-add-Wikipedia check reveals that RT (formerly Russia Today) is a Russian state-controlled international TV network, a government propaganda tool rather than a source of fair and balanced news. The first video, the one produced by Business Insider, a financial and business news site, delivers accurate coverage of MH17.
Another notable segment of “Further Investigation” addresses the important distinction between “bias” and “agenda.” There, Caulfield observes that “[p]ersonal bias has real impacts. But bias isn’t agenda, and it’s agenda that should be your primary concern for quick checks,” adding that “[b]ias is about how people see things; agenda is about what a news or research organization is set up to do.”
The essay that follows is the literacy narrative that I wrote as a model for you.
Another Way with Words
What do a Nazi prison guard, a medieval abbess, a Mexican maid, and a seventy-two-year-old bag lady have in common? They’re all character roles that I’ve played on stage. Though acting is one of my favorite pastimes, each new role is a source of anxiety. I am comfortable on stage, but backstage, as I prepare to enter, is another story. Preparing for my entrances as María, the Mexican maid, in Glorious! were some of the most nerve-wracking moments of my stage career. I remember vividly standing backstage holding a large tray with a tea pot, two teacups, a slice of cake, napkins, and silverware. As I held the tray, my hands began to sweat, and I worried not only that the tray might slip out of my hands but also that the words I was supposed to speak might slip from my mind.
Though the fear of forgetting my lines is always with me backstage, that fear was heightened when I played María because her lines were all in Spanish. The challenge inherent in learning lines was compounded by the cognitive shift required of learning them as a non-native speaker. When I say kitchen, in my mind I see a kitchen, but when I say cocina, I do not. As María, for the first time, I wasn’t visualizing my lines. Instead, I was memorizing a series of unfamiliar sounds. I knew their English translation, but I couldn’t link the signs to the signifiers, not the way I could in English.
Preparing to play María meant increasing the hours I devote to my lines, including the practices of writing my lines on note cards, recording my lines and their cues, and writing my lines over and over in my theatre journal. As one of my first steps in the line-learning process, I type my lines and paste them onto three-by-five note cards. On the back of each note card, I write my cues in pencil. I start by memorizing the lines on the first card, usually four or five. And once I’ve learned those, I memorize the ones on the second card, and so on. Learning my cues as well my lines enables me to follow my partner’s words on stage even if he or she jumps ahead by dropping a line.
In addition to putting my lines and cues on notecards, I record them with a voice recorder app on my phone. Listening to myself as I drive to rehearsal further helps me to learn the words. Along with studying my notecards and listening to my recorded lines, I write my lines over and over in my theatre notebook, the same way that as a student I would recopy my class notes as a way of studying for a test.
Now as I find myself studying lines for yet another play, one staged by Goodly Frame theatre company, I am reminded of the importance of trusting the process. I will not learn my lines as quickly as I would like to, and waiting backstage to say them will always be nerve-wracking, but becoming another person on stage remains pure joy. For me as a writer, acting is another way of working with words, a process of transporting them from the page to the stage and transforming the language into the utterances of a living, breathing character—someone who isn’t me but in whom I can “live truthfully,” as the acting teacher Sanford Meisner would say, “under the given imaginary circumstances.”
In class today we will examine two additional models for your literacy narrative. Unlike Keller’s and Sedaris’ essays, “The Falling Man” and The Blind Side aren’t literacy narratives but Tom Junod‘s and Michel Lewis‘ writing serve as excellent examples for anyone engaged in the craft of writing nonfiction.
Unless you subscribe to Esquire, the magazine’s paywall will deny you access to the full text of “The Falling Man”; but if you’re interested in reading it in full, you can access it through the HPU Library site by following these steps:
Under the heading “Search HPU Libraries . . . ,” click on the “Articles” tab.
Under the “Articles” tab, type Tom Junod “Falling Man” Esquire in the search box and click “search.”
On the next screen, you will see a brief summary of the article. Click “Access Online” to view the full article.
Some of you have asked about paragraphing. As a rule, you should begin a new paragraph whenyou present a new idea or point. If you have an extended idea that spans multiple paragraphs, each new point within that idea should have its own paragraph. But there are exceptions to this. Although the first paragraph of “The Falling Man” could be divided into two or more paragraphs, Lewis chooses to present it as one paragraph of more than four hundred words, more than the minimum length of your entire literacy narrative. Consider why Lewis may have chosen to present the beginning of his essay as one long paragraph rather than two or more shorter ones.
Among the elements of the first paragraph of The Blind Side that I asked you to examine was Michael Lewis’ use of appositives.