Posted in English 1103, Teaching, Writing

ENG 1103: “On Its Face, Who Could Disgree with the Transformation?” Revisiting Richtel’s Report on the Blog-Term Paper Question

Yesterday in class, we read and discussed the sample analysis of “Blogs vs. Term Papers” that I wrote as a model for you. Afterward in groups of three and four, you collaboratively reviewed the thesis statement and wrote about the strategies I used to develop the essay’s conclusion. An additional copy of my model essay appears below. On Blackboard, I have posted a double-spaced MLA-style Word version of the essay, which you can use as a template for your own analysis. And another copy, a PDF, is included at the end of this blog post.

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.

Work Cited

Richtel, Matt. “Blogs vs. Term Papers,” The New York Times, 20 Jan. 2012,

Posted in English 1103, Scrabble, Teaching

ENG 1103: Two-Letter Words, B-E

The January 21 Scrabble blog post featured the sixteen playable two-letter words beginning with “a.” Learning those two-letter words, as well as the others that follow in the alphabet, will enable you to see more options for play and increase the number of points you earn in a single turn.

Here’s a list of the playable words beginning with “b,” “d,” and “e.”

  • ba: the soul in ancient Egyptian spirituality
  • be: to exist
  • bi: a bisexual
  • bo: a pal
  • by: a side issue
  • de: of; from
  • do: a tone on a scale
  • ed: education
  • ef: the letter f
  • eh: used to express doubt
  • el: an elevated train
  • em: the letter m
  • en: the letter n
  • er: used to express hesitation
  • es: the letter s
  • et: a past tense of eat
  • ex: the letter x

Next Up

This morning in class we will study a sample essay as a model for your analysis, and in groups of three and four you will collaboratively work on an exercise that focuses on the sample essay’s thesis statement and its conclusion.

Posted in English 1103, Teaching, Writing

ENG 1103: Beginning Your Analysis

Rosenwasser, David and Jill Stephen. Chapter 1: “The Five Analytical Moves.” Writing Analytically, 8th edition. Wadsworth/Cengage, 2019. pp. 2-37.

This morning in class you began planning and drafting your analysis. Next Wednesday, I will return your handwritten drafts, and you will have the class period to begin revising your analysis on your laptop. In the meantime, continue to study Matt Richtel’s article “Blogs vs. Term Papers.”

The more you examine Richtel’s words, the more details you will notice about its content and form. What meaning does the article convey,  and how does the writer’s work with words build that meaning?

Keep in mind that your assignment is an analysis, not an argument. Your aim is not to present your stance regarding the benefits of writing term papers or blogs. Instead, your goal is to develop a detailed study of the article that focuses on the elements that interest or intrigue you the most.

The authors of our textbook, Writing Analytically, distinguish analysis from argument this way: “Argument, in which a writer takes a stand on an issue, advocating for or against a policy or attitude, is reader-centered; its goal is to bring about change in its readers’ actions and beliefs. Analytical writing is more concerned with arriving at an understanding of a subject than it is with either self-expression or changing readers’ views” (5).

For more guidance with your analysis, read the section of Chapter 1 under the heading “Analysis Does More Than Break a Subject into Its Parts” (4-5).

Next Up

Friday, January 28, marks our third Wordplay Day of the semester. To prepare for your team Scrabble games, review the Tips and Tools page on the Scrabble site. Also browse my blog posts devoted to Scrabble. To view those posts, click the Scrabble link in the yellow categories square (below the pink pages square) on the right side of the screen.

Work Cited

Rosenwasser, David and Jill Stephen. Chapter 1: “The Five Analytical Moves.” Writing Analytically, 8th edition. Wadsworth/Cengage, 2019. pp. 2-37.

Posted in English 1103, Scrabble, Teaching

ENG 1103: Parallel Play

Parallel play increases your score through the points you earn by spelling more than one word in a single turn. In the first play of the game pictured above, the team scored sixteen points by spelling “enact” with the “t” on the center double word square. With the second turn, the other team took advantage of the opportunity for parallel play. Because the team knew that “aa” is a type of lava, they earned twenty-four points with four words: “whoa,” “he,” “on,” and “aa.”

Two-Letter Words Beginning with A

“Aa” is one of sixteen playable two-letter words beginning with “a.” Learning these two-letter words, as well as the others that follow in the alphabet, will enable you to see more options for play and increase the number of points you earn in a single turn.

  • aa: a type of stony, rough lava
  • ab: an abdominal muscle
  • ad: an advertisement
  • ae: one
  • ag: agriculture
  • ah: an exclamation
  • ai: a three-toed sloth
  • al: a type of East Indian tree
  • am: the first-pesron singular present form of “to be”
  • an: an indefinite article
  • ar: the letter “r”
  • as: similar to
  • at: in the position of
  • aw: an expression of sadness or protest
  • ay: a vote in the affirmative

Next Up

In class on Monday, January 24, you will create your WordPress blog and begin work on your introductory blog post. Bring your laptop to class.

Posted in English 1103, Teaching, Writing

ENG 1103: “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mlk-jail.jpg

In the class blog post for Friday, January 14, I assigned you Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Although I could have asked you to listen to a recording of it, I required you to read it instead. King’s gift for oratory is well known, but for students of writing, closely examining his words on the page is a more pertinent exercise than listening to his voice.

What makes King’s letter an effective piece of writing? With that question in mind, consider these words in the eleventh paragraph: “Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.’” Here King is addressing his initial audience, the eight white Birmingham-area clergymen who criticized his protest as “unwise and untimely.” He suggests to those men that waiting to act isn’t difficult when you yourself aren’t the victim of injustice, when you haven’t, in King’s words, “felt the stinging darts of segregation.” The sentence is notable not only for the contrast it illustrates between King’s reality and the lives of his readers but also for the words that King uses to show that contrast.

Consider King’s sentence and the paraphrase that follows:

  • Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.”
  • Maybe it is simple for people who have not experienced segregation to say, “Wait.”

King’s sentence is stronger than the paraphrase that follows it because of the “stinging darts.” Writing that someone has not “experienced segregation” is abstract. Readers do not feel the general experience in the second sentence, but they feel King’s “stinging darts.” Sensory details strengthen sentences by appealing to readers’ senses, and figurative language invigorates writing by making the unfamiliar familiar. King’s white readers have not been the victims of segregation, but his choice of words makes them feel the sting.

While King’s “stinging darts” sentence—a relatively short one—is laudable, the long, winding sentence that follows is nothing short of staggering.

It starts with these words: “But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim.” King presents those atrocities in an introductory dependent clause, one whose full meaning depends on an independent clause that follows. But rather than immediately turning to an independent clause to complete the thought, King expands the sentence with this series of dependent clauses:

  • [b]ut when you have seen vicious mobs mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at willand drown your brothers and sisters at whim;
  • when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters;
  • when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society;
  • when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people;
  • when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you;
  • when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”;
  • when your first name becomes “n—,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”;
  • when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments;
  • when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–

The independent clause that readers have been waiting for, the statement that completes the thought is this: “then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.” Those words could have immediately followed the first dependent clause, but instead King offers nine more dependent clauses, ten darts that sting his readers.

Ten dependent clauses connected by semicolons followed by a dash and an independent clause, a total of 316 words: That is not a structure I recommend for the sentences you write in English 111, but it’s a valuable model, nevertheless.

Now, only days after the one-year anniversary of the violent insurrection at our nation’s Capitol, King’s message of civil disobedience may be more critical than ever. As a citizen, I hope you will continue to study the words of his letter. As your writing teacher, I hope that you will return to the sentence that I have examined in detail here. Along with showing his readers why his nonviolent protests could not wait, that sentence of King’s demonstrates how to develop a piece of writing through the accumulation of detail—not just the when, but the when and when and when . . . .

King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University

Posted in English 1103, Teaching, Writing

ENG 1103: Scrabble and Writing

Although you may not think of playing Scrabble as an act of writing, when you play the game, you are engaged in the process of composing words. Scrabble not only benefits your writing by building your word power, it also cultivates critical thinking and creative problem solving.

On future Fridays, keep your journal at hand to make note of any details of the game that you may want to address on Monday. You will collaborate again with your Friday group for a short post-game debriefing.

Questions to address in your debriefing include these:

  • Did you learn any new words from your teammate or from your opponent? If so, what were they?
  • What plays involved analyzing multiple options? Did your team opt not to make the highest-scoring play possible in order to either (1) block your opponent, or (2) keep letters that might be enable you to score more points later?
  • Where did creative problem-solving figure in the game? If your team had a rack of all consonants or vowels (or almost all consonants or vowels), how were you able to advance the game by playing only one or two letters?
  • What was the largest number of words formed in a single play and what were they?

You will have the opportunity to draw on the notes that you write during Scrabble games and debriefings when you compose your midterm reflection for the course.

Next Up

For next Wednesday, January 19, read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and write in your journal a one-paragraph summary followed by a one-paragraph response. You do not need to print a copy of King’s essay. I will distribute copies for us to examine in class.

Posted in English 1103, Teaching

ENG 1103: Significant Learning Experiences and Habits of Mind

Today in class, you wrote two paragraphs about a significant learning experience of yours that occurred outside of school. In the first paragraph, you recounted the experience with specific details. In the second one, you addressed the significance of the experience.

After you wrote those paragraphs in your journal, you and three of your classmates collaboratively planned and composed a paragraph that mentioned each specific learning experience and the qualities that they shared.


  • That sequence of two exercises (journal writing followed by group discussion and writing) offered you the opportunity to reflect on both your individual learning and the commonalities among your learning experiences as a group of people with whom you are developing a learning community.
  • Focusing in the classroom on your learning outside of the classroom underscore the differences between the two. We frequently enjoy learning and find it rewarding, but in an institutional setting, it often becomes a chore, a requirement to be endured.
  • Look back on today’s journal writing and group exercise as starting points for thinking of your college classes as opportunities for significant learning experiences rather than drudgery.

Habits of Mind

In the second half of class, you began working on a series of short pieces of writing focusing on four habits of mind cultivated by successful college students: curiosity, openness, engagement, and persistence.*

Next week you will begin working on a series of short pieces of writing focusing on four additional habits of mind cultivated by successful college students: persistence, responsibility, flexibility, and metacognition.

Next Up

Friday, January 14, marks our first Wordplay Day of the semester. To prepare for your team Scrabble games, review the Tips and Tools page on the Scrabble site. Also browse my blog posts devoted to Scrabble. To view those posts, click the Scrabble link in the yellow categories square (below the pink pages square) on the right side of the screen.

*In 2011, the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and the National Writing Project (NWP) identified eight habits of mind that successful college students adopt: curiosity, openness, engagement, creativity, persistence, responsibility, flexibility, and metacognition.

Posted in English 1103, Teaching

ENG 1103: First-Day Follow-Up

This morning in class you worked collaboratively with four of your classmates to find in the syllabus the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the course. Those questions and their answers appear below.

How many major assignments will we write and what are their length requirements?

  • Analytical Essay (750-word minimum)15%
  • Midterm Reflection (750-word minimum)10%
  • Final Essay (1,800-word minimum) 25%
  • Final Reflection & Portfolio (750-word reflection, portfolio length will vary)15%     
  • Creative project, length will vary, minimum TBD 10%           

Where do we post the revisions of our major assignments?

All major assignments will be posted both to Blackboard and to your WordPress blog.

What are Check, Please! and WordPress, and how do they figure in the course?

This course meets face-to-face for the equivalent of a 3-credit course. However, as a 4-credit course, it is designed to require 8 hours of out-of-class preparation, or 2 per credit hour. This means more out-of-class preparation is expected in ENG 1103, and to earn that 4th-hour credit, students will be required to complete the Check, Please! Starter Course, based on Mike Caulfield’s Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers, and create and maintain free WordPress blogs as platforms for sharing information and knowledge.

May we use our phones, tablets, and laptops in the classroom? If so, when?

Occasionally you will have the opportunity to use your tablet or laptop in class, but often your work will require the sustained focus that working online inhibits. Therefore, unless instructed otherwise, please leave your phones, smart watches, laptops, and tablets stored in your backpack or bag.

May we make up short in-class assignments that we miss? How will missing them affect our grade?

If you are absent on the day that such an in-class assignment is graded, you will not be assigned a grade of F (or zero). Instead, the daily assignment average will be based on the in-class assignments that you were present to complete.


If you haven’t already purchased or rented your copy of the textbook, please do so as soon as possible.

Note that different sections of English 1103 require different textbooks. Be sure that the textbook you rent or purchase is Writing Analytically, the required textbook for sections 05 and 21.

Since our screen time in class will be limited, all students in sections 05 and 21 of English 1103 are required to have the paperback edition of the textbook, not the electronic edition. You will frequently use your textbook during Monday and Wednesday classes.

Additional Required Materials

The additional required materials listed in your syllabus (and below) are also featured in the image at the top of this blog post.

  • Writer’s notebook—bring to every class
  • Loose leaf paper (for drafts and short in-class assignments)—bring to Monday and Wednesday classes
  • Pocket portfolio (for class handouts)—bring to every class

Up Next

For Wednesday’s class, continue to review the syllabus and make note of any questions you have.

Posted in English 1103, Teaching

ENG 1103: Portfolio Presentations

Today’s class was devoted to discussing the short portfolio presentation that you will deliver during the exam period and to planning and practicing your presentation.

The assignment requires you to stand in front of the white board with the blog post of your portfolio projected on the screen. You will not log into your WordPress account; you will simply click the link for the site on the class page.


Plan and practice a short, two- to three-minute oral presentation that addresses one or more of your achievements in English 1103. Include in your presentation the following features:

  • An introduction in which you state your first and last names. You are welcome to include additional details, such as your hometown and major, but keep in my mind that your focus is your work in the course.
  • A reading of a specific sentence or short passagein your portfolio and an explanation of what it signifies about your work in the course. You may address more than one passage if time permits.
  • A final statement that gives closure to your presentation. That statement may be one that expresses your thanks to the audience or your appreciation for their time and attention. Another strategy to consider is this: turning from the end of the course to your work as a student after English 1103. You might address how you can apply the skills you have developed in the coming semesters or how one of the pieces of writing you have produced might grow into a larger project for an upper-level course.

Planning an Effective Presentation

  • Time yourself. You only have two to three minutes to speak, so you want to know, as soon as possible, if you are close to that limit.
  • Create effective notes for yourself. Do not write out your entire presentation. If you do, you may be tempted to read directly from your notes instead of making frequent eye contact with your audience. Use an outline or other brief reminders of what you want to say. Think of your notes as points to glance at if you lose your train of thought.
  • Practice often. That may not seem necessary for a brief presentation, but the more you practice your presentation, the more comfortable you will be in front of an audience. Practice in front of a friend or two and ask for their feedback, or record yourself on your phone and listen to the recording critically.

Presenting Effectively

  • Make eye contact with the audience. Your purpose is to communicate with your audience, and people listen more if they feel you are talking directly to them. As you speak, let your eyes settle on one person for several seconds before moving on to someone else. You do not have to make eye contact with everyone, but make sure you connect with all areas of the audience equally.
  • Limit what you read from the screen (and from any notes you have in hand)One of the requirements of your presentation is to point to a specific sentence or short passagein your portfolio, read it, and explain what it signifies about your work in the course. That should be all that you read from the screen. Remember that when you read from the screen, you are not making eye contact with your audience.
  • Avoid filler words, such as um, like, and you know. These are indications that you do not know what to say; you sound uncomfortable, which may make your audience feel uncomfortable as well. Speak slowly enough to collect your thoughts before you move ahead. If you really do not know what to say, pause silently until you do.
  • Avoid nervous or fidgety movements, such as shifting your weight from one foot to the other. If you have a habit of doing that, stand with one foot perpendicular to the other. That will prevent you from shifting your weight from one foot to the other (what’s sometimes called rocking the boat).

Grade criteria for the assignment are included in the assignment file at the top of this post and on Blackboard.

Posted in Scrabble, Teaching, Writing

ENG 1103: Jonathan Kay’s “Scrabble is a Lousy Game”

Yesterday, as exercise in examining a writer’s claim and joining the conversation, you and two or three of your classmates collaboratively composed a paragraph in response to Jonathan Kay’s 2018 Wall Street Journal column “Scrabble is a Lousy Game.” The paragraph that you wrote included the following required elements:

  • the name of the publication
  • the author’s first and last name and credential
  • his explanation for why Scrabble is a lousy game
  • your own thoughts on his explanation (In your opinion, in what ways is Scrabble a lousy game or not?)

Below is a paragraph written by one of the groups. Read it and note what changes, if any, you would recommend.

In a 2018 column in The Wall Street Journal, Jonathan Kay, a senior editor at Quillette, claims that Scrabble “to put it bluntly, is a lousy game because it treats words as a memorization. Athough as Kay observes Scrabble emphasize remembering lists and compares it to a math contest, it provides innovation and creative thinking to formulate words to beat your opponent. We believe that Kay’s criticism is accurate but does not represent the meaning of Scrabble. Through teamwork and communication we concluded that Scrabble has provided a positive impact on English 1103 and growth in the classroom.