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).
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.
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 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
For Wednesday’s class, continue to review the syllabus and make note of any questions you have.
In his recent essay “Scrolling,” physician and writer Gavin Francis recounts a visit to the woods near Concord, Massachusetts, where Henry David Thoreau built his cabin and wrote Walden. Although Francis anticipated that the area—now a tourist site—would be busy, what he didn’t expect “was the forest of arms holding smartphones, taking selfies, engaging in video calls.” Francis opens his essay with that anecdote about his visit to Thoreau’s woods to emphasize the pervasiveness of digital devices in our lives. Not even at a place synonymous with the retreat from daily distractions can we turn away from our phones. Francis observes one of Walden’s visitors, a student perched on a rock, “arms outstretched, angling his phone while shouting out to his retreating companions: ‘I don’t think you guys realize how much this place means to me, I mean privately.’”
Disentangling from our distractions is particularly problematic for those of us who teach, whose role in our students’ lives involves cultivating the undivided attention essential to learning. Seeking a balance between screen time and time away from it is an ongoing process, one that has taken on new importance in the last year and a half, since the onset of COVID-19. Even as the pandemic has required us to spend more hours in front of our screens, we have witnessed the critical need to turn away from them.
That ability to turn away from the screen has substantial benefits for us when we write. In their textbook, Writing Analytically, David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen detail the problems that present themselves when we begin the process with our fingers on the keyboard:
Perhaps the most common problem with writing on a computer is that this practice can lock you into a draft or a particular idea too soon. Words that come up on a screen look more like finished text than handwritten words in a notebook, and so, the problem of trying to draft and edit at the same time is more likely to arise, as is the likelihood that you will close off fruitful options too soon by prematurely hitting the delete button. And then there is what we might call the low-hanging fruit problem: the temptation to keep interrupting ourselves to chase links to other people’s thinking (and any number of funny pet pictures) online. (125)
Rosenwasser and Stephen, professors emeriti at Muhlenberg College, note that “[w]riters tend to be more than a little divided” regarding writing on computers versus writing on paper, and they acknowledge that they “have had students who manage to capture their best ideas by jotting them down on their cell phones” (124). Still, they recommend that “at earlier stages in the writing process, and also, perhaps, in trying to work through a difficult revision, taking pen to paper might be the better tactic” (125).
Though many teachers have moved to all-digital assignments, I still require my students to draft longhand and move to the keyboard during the revision process. My initial reason for continuing that practice was the benefits it offers us as writers, including the ones cited by Rosenwasser and Stephen. Now I realize that the benefits extend beyond writing. Putting pen to paper means less time in front of the screen. That said, drafting longhand doesn’t eliminate digital distractions for writers; it simply delays them. But the deferral alone is a plus. Even as I wrote these words that you are reading, I struggled to maintain my focus. I found myself returning to pen and paper to develop my ideas, ones that were too easily cut short when I hit the delete key.
Along with drafting handwritten assignments, my students play Scrabble once a week. Initially those weekly games served primarily as companions to their writing, exercises in word building and analysis on a smaller scale. But like writing longhand itself, Scrabble presented another opportunity to turn away from our screens.
In the process of writing this paper, I found minimal research on Scrabble. Notably, the one article that focused on Scrabble in the college classroom mentioned that “[t]abletop games appeared to receive less attention from game researchers than video games, particularly within the postsecondary context” (289). The author of that study, Mark Hayse, co-director of the Center for Games and Learning at MidAmerican Nazarene University, drew his findings from the reports of three of his colleagues who incorporated tabletop games into their classes in Christian leadership, theology, and history. The professors’ focused their attention on the possible connections between gameplay and twenty-first century “learning and innovation skills,” also known as the “4Cs”: critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation, communication, and collaboration (290).
The MNU professors’ primary research question was, “Does tabletop gameplay require the practice of 21st century skills?” (290). Their secondary question was, “What initial links might be drawn between tabletop gameplay, 21st century skill practice, and undergraduate learning?” They found that two of the four Cs, communication and collaboration, figured prominently, and the students themselves identified collaboration as the primary component of their gameplay. All three professors reported “that tabletop gameplay helped students move from classroom passivity to classroom ‘engagement’” (298). In my own classroom, I have observed the same movement from passive learning to active learning when my students play Scrabble. Sometimes they are so absorbed in their games, they are surprised to hear me announce that it’s time for their five-minute break. I also shared the MNU professors’ observation that “[e]ven though tabletop gameplay technically was coursework . . . the nontraditional nature of it seemed to render it as play more than work” (298). Even though some students don’t like the particulars of the game—such as the rule that prohibits proper nouns, acronyms, and hyphenated words—most of the students enjoy the time collaborating with their classmates on an activity that doesn’t seem like a compulsory task.
Describing the process of gameplay, one student in the MNU study said, “There were those intense suspense moments, but there was also this ‘Oh yeah, we got this’ when we were strategizing [together]” (299). Those intense moments of suspense occur in my classes during Scrabble games when a team challenges a word and waits for me to find it in the dictionary or deem it unplayable (because it isn’t there). And there are frequent we-got-this moments when a team suddenly sees a possibility that wasn’t apparent to them before; for example: a square between two vowels where they can form two, two-letter words by playing one of seven consonants on their rack. Determining how to move forward with of only consonants or only vowels—or nearly all consonants and vowels—serve as some of Scrabble’s best opportunities for creative problem solving.
The findings of the MNU professors are markedly similar to my own classroom observations. And although adding Scrabble to the English 1103 curriculum has not been a subject of research for me, the process of writing this paper has prompted my interest in building on the study of MNU’s Professor Mark Hayse, perhaps with a project that explores the links between the problem-solving aspects of Scrabble and the writing process.
As I continue to reflect on writing longhand and playing Scrabble and how they figure in my classes, I am grateful that those practices—ones that I chose for skill development—have taken on greater importance as endeavors that lead us away from our screens.
The challenge of turning away from the digital devices that consume more and more of our lives isn’t simply a good habit to aspire to—a mere item on a list of New Year’s resolutions—instead it’s a critical need. Recent revelations regarding Facebook’s own internal research underscore the platform’s harmful effects, ones to which young people are particularly vulnerable. One of Facebook’s research reports found that “social comparison is worse on Instagram” and that the app’s Explore page, “which serves users photos and videos curated by an algorithm, can send users deep into content that can be harmful” (ctd. in Horwitz et al.).
Riana Elyse Anderson, an assistant professor of health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan, observes that “we’re watching college students really get impacted by the comparison that they’re seeing in their classmates online, in social media. They’re using comparison and they’re feeling particularly anxious about it for themselves” (qtd. In Yang).
While Anderson notes that she’s heartened by Gen Z students’ willingness to seek mental health resources, “[i]t’s another thing, though, when . . . professors like myself are now saying, what do we do? How do we contend with teaching, with meeting, with doing the things we have to do for school” (qtd. In Yang). Many of us who teach college students find ourselves asking the same questions in the face of both our own anecdotal evidence and the reports of mental health crises on college campuses.
Less than a month after The Wall Street Journal reported the findings of Facebook’s internal research, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill canceled classes after student leaders demanded a mental wellness day following the suicides of two students—and the hospitalization of another student after a suicide attempt. A 2021 study conducted by the American College Health Association “found that 48 percent of college students reported moderate or severe psychological distress, 53 percent reported being lonely, and one in four had considered suicide” (ctd. in Yang).
Facebook’s internal research includes an Instagram research manager’s report of teenagers “wanting to spend less time on Instagram . . . but lack[ing] the self-control to do so” (ctd. In Horwitz et al.). I observe that same lack of self-control in some of my students. And to help them overcome it, I follow a variation on a piece of advice from journalist and technologist William Powers. In his book Hamlet’s Blackberry, he recommends that “[e]very home could have at least one Walden Zone, a room where no screens of any kind are allowed” (191). When my students put words on paper and form words on a Scrabble gameboard, they are in the Walden Zone that I have created in the classroom, a place where we become temporarily free of the screens that occupy so many moments of our lives. In his conclusion to Walden, Thoreau remarks on “how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route” (990). The one that leads us to our screens again and again cannot be abandoned, nor should it be, but the Walden zones we can strive to maintain offer a much-needed detour.
Last Wednesday in class, we examined Ian Falconer’s The Competition, and you read two possible interpretations that the authors of Writing Analytically offer. As a group exercise in moving from observation to implication, you collaboratively composed a statement that included a detail that led you to find the first or second possibility more plausible.
Here are sample claims for each of the two interpretations:
The contrast between the raven hair and eyes of Miss New York and the platinum-blonde and pale-eyed contestants from Georgia, California, and Florida in The New Yorker cover The Competition by Ian Falconer suggests what the authors of Writing Analytically present as the first of two possible interpretations: The cover “speak[s] to American history, in which New York has been the point of entry for generations of immigrants, the ‘dark’ (literally and figuratively) in the face of America’s blonde European legacy” (Rosenwasser and Stephen 89).
The self-satisfied expression of Miss New York in The New Yorker cover The Competition by Ian Falconer suggests what the authors of Writing Analytically present as the second of two possible interpretations: “[T]he magazine is . . . admitting , yes America, we do think that we’re cooloer and more individual and less plastic than the rest of you, but we also know that we shouldn’t be so smug about it” (Rosenwasser and Stephen 89).
This semester, as you continue to practice moving from observation to implication, review these samples as models. Also note that each one is a statement that presents a quotation as an appostive, which is a word or group of words that explains the noun it follows. In each case, the noun is “interpretation” and what follows is the specific interpretation itself.
Rosenwasser, David and Jill Stephen. Chapter 3: “Interpretation: Moving from Observation to Implication.” Writing Analytically, 8th edition. Wadsworth/Cengage, 2019. pp. 70-97.
Check, Please! Lesson Three
In class on Wednesday, September 29, you will submit your completed worksheet for the third lesson in the Check, Please! assignment series. The sample assignment for lesson three that I wrote as a model for you appears below.
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.”
On Monday, as an exercise in developing a thesis or main claim, you and your classmates collaboratively, in groups of four, examined the opening paragraphs of Tom Junod’s Esquire feature “The Falling Man” and crafted a thesis statement. The sample thesis that I wrote in class as a model for you appears below.
Sample Thesis Statement/Main Claim
Esquire writer Tom Junod begins “The Falling Man” with an uncharacteristically long paragraph to recreate on the page the lengthy vertical passage of the 9/11 victim immortalized in Richard Drew’s photograph.
If I were to write an analysis of the opening of “The Falling Man,” I would develop my essay with textual evidence–words and phrases throughout the first paragraph–to illustrate the linear movement of the unidentified man from the beginning of the first paragraph to its conclusion.
The September 2003 issue of Esquire presents the opening paragraph of Junod’s article as two long columns that mirror the Twin Towers in Drew’s photograph on the facing page. (See the image below the title of this post.)
Your Revision in Progress
Today in class you received your handwritten drafts with my notes to you, and you began your revision work on your laptops. As you continue to revise your analysis of “Blogs vs. Term Papers” or “Skim Reading is the New Normal,” keep in mind our textbook authors’ words about effective thesis statements:
“The thesis of an analytical paper is an idea about your subject, a theory that explains what some feature or features of your subject mean. A good thesis comes from carefully examining and questioning your subject in order to arrive at some point about its meaning and significance that would not have been immediately obvious to your readers” (Rosenwasser and Stephen 180).
Also keep in mind our textbook authors’ explanation of the difference between analysis and argument: The claim that an analysis makes is often the answer to the question, what does it mean? The claim that an argument makes “is often an answer to a should question” (Rosenwasser and Stephen 7-8).
More on Tom Junod’s “The Falling Man”
Unless you subscribe to Esquire, the magazine’s paywall will deny you access to the full text of the feature, but you can access it through the HPU Library site by following these steps:
On Wednesday you will submit your worksheet for the second lesson in the Check, Please! course. The assignments that I wrote as models for lessons one and two appear below.
Check, Please! Sample Assignment for Lesson One
In the first lesson of the Check, Please!, Starter Course, Mike Caulfield, author of the course and Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University, introduces the four-step SIFT approach to determining the reliability of a source: (1) “Stop,” (2) “Investigate,” (3) “Find better coverage,” and (4) “Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context.”
One of the most useful practices presented in lesson one is what the author terms the “Wikipedia Trick.” Deleting everything that follows a website’s URL (including the slash), adding a space, typing “Wikipedia,” and hitting “enter” will yield the site’s Wikipedia page. The Wikipedia entry that appears at the top of the screen may indicate thesource’s reliability or lack thereof.
The most memorable segment of lesson one is the short, riveting video “The Miseducation of Dylann Roof,” which begins with the narrator asking the question, “How does a child become a killer?” Produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center, it documents how algorithms can lead unskilled web searchers down paths of disinformation. In the worst cases, such as Roof’s, algorithms can lead searchers to the extremist propaganda of radical conspiracy theorists.
In the second 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 on investigating a source, the second step in the SIFT approach that he introduces in lesson one.
One of the most useful practices presented in lesson two is Caulfield’s follow-up to the Wikipedia strategy that he outlines in the previous lesson. After he reviews that strategy, Caulfield explains how to use the control-f keyboard shortcut (command-f on a Mac). Typing control-f (or command-f) will open a small textbox in the upper right of the screen. Typing a word you are searching for will highlight the first appearance of the word in the text. Hitting return will highlight each subsequent appearance of the word.
Lesson two introduced me to fauxtire, a term for websites such as World News Daily Report, based in Tel Aviv, that present themselves as satirical but in fact serve primarily to perpetuate disinformation.
Perhaps the most memorable portion of lesson two was the side-by-side comparison of the websites for the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Pediatricians. Though at first glance the two appear comparable, using the Wikipedia strategy reveals their profound differences. While AAP is the premiere authority on children’s health and well-being, ACP was founded to protest the adoption of children by single-sex couples and is widely viewed as a single-issue hate organization.
Turning from summary to commentary is a move you made in your Check, Please! worksheets and one that is similar to the move you will make in your analysis.
The authors of your textbook note that “[s]ummary is important to analysis because you can’t analyze a subject without laying out its significant parts for your reader” (6).
Your Check, Please! worksheet assignments require you to begin with a brief summary or presentation of the lesson’s significant parts. Summaries are objective by definition. They present the subject, not the writer’s opinion of it, and they do not include first- or second-person pronouns in singular or plural form (“I,” “me,” “we,” “us,” or “you”).
In the second paragraph of your Check, Please! assignments–and any subsequent paragraphs you include–you turn from summary to commentary. After answering the question, what is it? with your summary, you comment on the lesson with answers to one or more questions, such as these: What was most useful? What was most memorable? What was most instructive?
Rosenwasser, David and Jill Stephen. Writing Analytically, 8th edition. Wadsworth/Cengage, 2019.
And from Summary to Analysis
Similarly, in your analysis you will turn from summary to commentary but your comments will require a more sophisticated move. In your analysis, you will turn from laying out your subject’s significant parts to an analysis, or close study, of how some of those parts contribute to its overall effect. In your eyes, what does it mean, and what evidence can you offer to support your claims?
Backtracking to Notes
To begin the process of developing my analysis, I reread “Blogs vs. Term Papers” to look for patterns. What struck me as I reread Matt Richel’s article was the difference in the amount of the space devoted to old- and new-school writing practices, the contrast in the diction, or word choice, in the passages that addressed the two, and the article’s movement from old to new to old to new again. From there, I developed a tentative thesis that follows the summary in the paragraph below.
Introductory Paragraph Ending with a Thesis
In “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 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 report on 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 Professors Cathy Davidson and Andrea Lundsford.
On Wednesday, you will submit your worksheet for your second Check, Please! lesson and you will begin revising your analysis in class.
Today in class you began planning and drafting your analysis longhand. If you devoted more time to planning than drafting, you are not off track. Both steps are important Your aim was not to reach a conclusion today but rather to begin a process of discovery that will lead you to an analysis, one that you will continue to craft for two more weeks.
Move 2: Define significant parts and how they are related.
Move 3: Make the implicit explicit. Push observations to implications by ASKING ‘SO WHAT?’
Move 4: Look for patterns of repetition and contrast for anomalies (THE METHOD).
Move 5: Keep reformulating questions and explanations” (Rosenwasser and Stephen 16).
Friday marks our third Wordplay Day of the semester. To prepare for class and to up your game, browse the Scrabble site’s Tips and Tools.
Next week you will complete lesson two in the Check, Please! Starter Course and submit your completed worksheet in class on Wednesday, September 15. That due date and the ones for your other Check, Please! lessons are included on the course calendar in the syllabus. If you were absent from class today, you can download and print the worksheet from the link below or from Blackboard.
Today in class we will use the “Notice and Focus” strategy as we examine a page of Art Spiegelman’s graphic memoir Maus. As the authors of your textbook observe, the strategy “help[s] you to stay open longer to what you can notice in your subject matter” (Rosenwasser and Stephen 17).
We will closely examine the page featured above, write what we notice (not what we think or like/dislike about it), and discuss our observations as a way of moving toward analysis.
Afterward, we will study an analysis of the page that I wrote as a model for my students last semester. An MLA style copy of the analysis can be downloaded from the link that follows. The assignments that you submit to Blackboard–your own analysis and your other major assignments for English 1103–should follow the same format.
At the beginning of class on Wednesday, you will submit your completed worksheet for the first lesson in the Check, Please! series. If you did not receive a copy of the worksheet or you have misplaced yours, you can download and print a copy from the link below.
On Wednesday you will also begin drafting your analysis in class. That prelimary draft and the first drafts of all of your papers will be handwritten in class. Be sure to bring loose leaf paper, a pen with dark ink, and your copies of “Blogs vs. Term Papers” and “Skim Reading is the New Normal.”
Rosenwasser, David and Jill Stephen. Writing Analytically, 8th edition. Wadsworth/Cengage, 2019.