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.

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The Side-armer (Another Baseball Analogy)

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sidearm-pitcher

Do you throw this way?  Should anyone, in your opinion?  Imagine being a coach of young players and taking on the challenging task of introducing pitching form to them:  Would you have even considered the notion of showing them this technique (which you know not only exists, but also works with many pitchers) in the early (crucial!) stages of their baseball education?

These are rhetorical questions to which I’m assuming you are saying “No”, “If it works for them”, and “Probably not” respectively.

So, here’s the connection to what I do for a living.  Successful writers understand general sentence structure, paragraphing, and building arguments.  They know about characterization, the impact of dialogue, the necessity of conflict, and even the usefulness of fragments.  Fragments good sometimes.  Not always.

However, for the same reason elementary school teachers do not begin the academic year by exploring the nuances of the subjunctive case or the proper uses of the semicolon, I do not think it wise to discuss various advanced writing methods (in all genres) with 100-level students at the college level.

I believe it’s more beneficial to the student to comprehend and apply a “groundwork” notion of writing before exploring more experimental and non-traditional techniques.  I never truly wish to quash any student’s aspiration to be creative and funky with their writing, but I also subscribe to the notion that creativity is neither natural or taught.  It is, instead, developed.  Over time.

So, frankly, I sincerely hope that my students eventually become successful side-armed pitchers with their writing.  They will have found their voice, the techniques that work for them as individuals, and are satisfactorily communicating their thoughts to a receptive world who appreciates their contributions.

To get to that point, though, I have to instill that my current students first become strong, confident, over-armed pitchers.

 

WRAP Workshop Notes (Days 3) a week late

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The WRAP workshop ended last Thursday (July 30), but I haven’t really had time since to reflect on the value of the whole week.

Wednesday gave us a chance to see some examples of how incorporating multiple texts into a curriculum unit allows us to “cast the widest net” (my term, not theirs) for our upper-level HS students.  The example centered on movie stills and excerpts from To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman.  

We also analyzed some texts from legal scholars’ evaluations of Atticus Finch.  The goal of these various texts is to show how perspectives can change and shift over generations and genres.

Personally, this was the day where I realized how much of my curriculum is “cherry picked” to my liking.  I have always followed the notion that if I’m enthusiastic about a topic or text, the students will be too.  What I have disregarded, however, is that some students may never like what I like and thus feel short-changed.

I remember covering a portion of The Iliad a few years ago.  Homer has never been my guy, but I found that some students were really into the storyline and various characters.  I didn’t fake enthusiasm, but I do recall thinking that this text wasn’t nearly as “bad” as I had set it up to be in my head.

Since then, I have tried to break away from the same texts every year.  While I still have a few staples (Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, Separate Peace, etc.) I have begun including more modern texts.

The next step for me is to pair those novels with non-fiction articles, reviews, and other valuable texts that offer intellectual perspectives.  If our goal is to award diplomas to well-rounded students, we have an obligation to expose them to as much as possible.

Today, there is no excuse not to do just that.