UWT #3 – And This One’s Important!

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It’s been far too long since I provided my half-dozen readers (exaggerated for obvious reasons) with a fresh Unsolicited Writing Tip.  This is #3.  To find the first two, you will have to do some deep, Other-Net surfing.  Or click below.  It might come up automatically.

Today, a student cornered me (I really must stop exaggerating) after class and asked if beginning a sentence with the word “And” was acceptable.  I immediately thought of Mrs. Thompson, my fifth grade teacher.  She fit whatever you picture in your head to be the classic grammarian schoolteacher.   Mrs. Thompson also despised what she called “prison talk” among the boys at recess.  In those days, we were entrenched in insulting one another by lassoing one another’s maternal caretaker in a buffet of situations and twisted imagery.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the movie Finding Forrester (starring James Bond), here’s my very similar take:

Starting with any coordinating conjunction [and, but, or, for, nor, yet, so] is, from a technical view of writing, impossible.  One cannot “coordinate” anything if the first part isn’t there. You can’t plug your phone into a steel wall.

Yet, our language is far from a stagnant one, right?  For God’s sake, “howbowdah” is (probably) going to make it into Webster’s online dictionary next week.   Things change.  Language evolves right along with the species.

The point the young writer makes in the movie when told by Connery’s character that he’s breaking a firm rule is this:  Starting a thought with a conjunction can intentionally bring attention to it and thus impact him to the point of an awakening.  In street terms, your reader will get “woke” (I know I’m probably not using that right.  And I also know that a vast majority of you have ceased reading.)  The key–Rob Brown’s character and I agree–is that it should be used sparingly at most.

When I taught younger students, I discouraged the use of this technique, though it rarely arose in student writing.  As writers develop their voice into- and throughout adulthood, however, I think it’s proper to encourage experimentation and a general toying with our gorgeous language.

But it needs to stay within reason.  Students should still exhibit Standard English in their major works.  Perhaps more leeway would be afforded in a creative writing course.  And some professors have probably stopped caring about those types of rules by now.

Professional authors in multiple genres do it, so wouldn’t it be a bit hypocritical of us to suggest that it’s never to be done?   I think we can ease up on this one with the caveat that doing so cannot become a regular act.  And it must have impact.  So, try it out once or twice in a rough draft.  But no more than once in a final draft.  I hope you don’t get my fifth grade teacher, though.

There you have it.  If you have found this commentary useless, I’ll end with this tip:

 

So is your mom.

 

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Canvas – A new LMS at Ivy Tech Community College

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This will be brief, and it’s really intended for a very specific audience out there.  I am one of about 80-100 full-time faculty members from Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana who will be asked to lead training seminars with other faculty and staff throughout the state.  We are a state-wide college with campuses in over a dozen main campuses around the state.

Our college is switching from BlackBoard to Canvas in the coming months.  If anyone out there has college/university experience with Canvas and would like to offer information that might be useful for me, my department and other colleagues, I would greatly appreciate it.

Specifically, I would like to hear what students and faculty (adjunct or full-time) like and dislike about Canvas.  Feel free to post comments below or send me an email.

Teachers: Discourage White Letters!

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Teachers: I was just reminded of something I recently learned from one of my college freshmen: Students have been (and will continue to do so) writing X amount of nonsense words at the end of an essay, then change the font color to white. This means the word count you see (grade?) will be larger than what they actually constructed.

Of course this is ridiculous, but then again, so is assigning a word-count minimum (in my opinion).

We need to stop the “easy-to-grade/penalize” mentality of counting words, correcting spelling, and writing in missing commas. Instead, work with young people to develop their thoughts in a clear and organized manner.

If you are reading this and you plan to use this in a future paper or assignment, please re-consider.  Your teacher may dock you for not meeting some arbitrary number he/she established, but you can continue in life knowing that not every one of your readers will concern himself/herself with how many words you can write.

When it comes to your words, quality will always outweigh quantity.