September 2008 Archives

Upload your revision to  (The slot is labeled 5am, near where the rough draft assignment was. The slot won't be at the bottom of the list, where the new assignments usually appear.)

Print out a copy of your marked rough draft, with my notes attached to it, from the website.

Hand in this printout at the end of class today.  I will need the printout of your marked rough draft, in order to evaluate your revision.
In-class Activity

Ex 2-1: Explain (for a novice)

Assigned Text:

SFW 10b: Reduce Wordiness

Due Today:

ILP2: Checkpoint

What progress have you made towards reaching your goals? Write a half-page reflection statement. Be prepared to illustrate your points with evidence.


In-class Activity

Ex 2-0: College So Far

Write a paragraph that would be suitable for publication in your high school newspaper, for readers who are planning on going to college next year.
Assigned Text:

SFW 10a: Active Sentences


Portfolio 1

Rescheduled from the 16th.

For your portfolio (due Oct 2), use evidence from your written work, and the comments I write on your submissions, to assess your progress so far. 


1) Printouts of the comments I left on selected papers that I have returned to you through (You can just print these pages within  Try to do so in class and see how it turns out.)
  • Two paragraphs (your choice)
  • Your submissions for ILP 1 and ILP2
2) For the above assignments, handwritten replies, written in the margins or between the lines of your papers, responding to some of the questions I asked and/or suggestions I made on these returned assignments. (Which suggestions did you find particularly helpful? Which would you like me to explain in more detail? Which did you reject because I misunderstood or misread you? I don't expect every suggestion I make to be perfect, so I welcome this kind of feedback.)  You can also ask me additional questions, or say whatever you want about the submission.  You don't have to reply in depth to every single comment, but do demonstrate your willingness to engage intellectually with my feedback.

3) A printout of ILP3, with all the changes from ILP2 highlighted, and reasons for the change briefly noted in the margins. (Examples of such comments might be - "Revised for clarity" or "Trimmed wordiness" or "New example proves point more effectively.")  I will be looking for big-picture changes -- not just moving commas, supplying missing words, and correcting typos.  What new work demonstrates that you have thought seriously about your ILP, that you are taking seriously your opportunity to design a study plan to help you meet your goals, and that you are making progress towards those goals? HIghlight those additions/changes.  Even with the additions and changes, your papers should be 2-3 pages long, so you'll probably need to cut the less-useful stuf to make room for the better.  Highlight the surface-level proofreading changes in one color, and highlight substantial revision in another. (Or you can  underline one and circle the other, or whatever... just demonstrate that you know the difference, and that you are taking full advantage of your opportunity to revise.)

4) A brief reflective statement, about 100 words,.which can be informal and can use "I", in which you describe your progress so far, pointing to specific evidence to back up your claim. (We can talk more about what that evidence might be.)

Assigned Text:

SFW 8: Language Choices

SHOW me a series of events that reveal a secret about you, in such a way that the conclusion surprises me. (This is not the same thing as TELLING me about a time when you were surprised.)
Your assignment is to submit a thorough overhaul of Ex 1-0, demonstrating your ability to apply what you have learned so far. Find mistakes to correct, deadwood to cut, and strengths to build on.
For today's class, you will need a printout of Ex 1-0, including my comments.

ILP Workshop

In class, begin exercises on verb voice, usage, and other trouble spots.

Check the "To Do" section of MyComp lab for these exercises.  I've selected them based on issues I find most students in the class could use.  (This item has been rescheduled from the 16th.)
Update, Sep 14:

In this class, you should always assume that I will always want your assignment uploaded to, and you can also assume that I don't need a printout (unless I tell you otherwise).

If you're ready to submit your paper and there doesn't seem to be a slot on, just post a comment on the blog or send me an e-mail and I'll look into it.
In-class Activity

Writing Center Visit

The class will visit the writing center from 11-11:30.  Meet on the 5th floor of Admin.
One paragraph, 200 words, formatted according to MLA style (see your SF Writer text). Choose one specific incident that SHOWS the reader an unexpected detail about your life or personality.

So far, I've asked you to write paragraphs that demonstrate your ability to focus on one topic (Ex 1-0), to show with vivid, specific details (Ex 1-1), and to use evidence to support your main idea (Ex 1-2). 

The next step is to retain your ability to focus, show, and support, while developing a new strength -- the ability to surprise the reader.

As before, avoid coming right out and TELLING the reader that "My secret is..." or "Nobody knows this about me, but..." or "I try to hide this from my family and friends, but..."

I remember many years ago watching the opening episode of a new cop show. I have no idea what the name of the show was, but it seemed like a typical show, with a hard-edged police captain dealing with infighting among the officers, nosy reporters, greedy politicians, and of course the death and destruction he faces everywhere he looks. At the end of the episode, this gravel-voiced action hero strides into a wing of the hospital, where he is apparently a regular visitor because the nurses greet him by name.  He sits in a rocking chair, and the nurses hand him two tiny newborn babies, as the closing credits roll, he rocks them to sleep, singing a lullaby:
On the day that I was born, said my father said he
I've an elegant legacy waiting for ye.
'Tis a rhyme for your lips and a song for your heart
To sing it whenever the world falls apart.
The message I got from that scene was something like this: "This tough cop deals with death on a daily basis, and the only thing keeping him going is the time he spends cuddling these newborn babies, so that he can remind himself that the world isn't only full of death and destruction and the world falling apart -- that it is also full of fragile beauty, and that's why he puts on a badge and faces the tough streets every day."

The scene not only SHOWED a silent side of this guy's character (nobody else on the show seems to know about his volunteering), it was also unexpected (popular culture doesn't often depict men as nurturing, particularly in cop shows).

My wife's grandmother was a long-time fan of the World Wrestling Federation, and watched the show every week well into her 80s.  (I still don't know whether she thought it was all real, or whether she just pretended to believe it for my wife's sake.)

Why Practice Surprising the Reader?
A 200-word paragraph that SHOWS your strength, without simply coming out and TELLING the reader "My strength is..." or "If I had to choose one thing that I could do better than anyone else, it would be..."

Rather than list many occasions on which you have demonstrated your strength, choose one specific incident when you demonstrated your strength, and make me feel like I am there with you, experiencing that event through your senses.

Showing is not about using lots of adjectives, or fancy words, or quoting the words of other people who do the TELLING for you (such as "Jimmy, you're an amazing trombone player!")

Yesterday I had a conversation with my colleague, Laura Patterson, who said she had a breakthrough while trying to explain to a student how literary authors will write about one thing, while they are really making a point about something else.

As I try to encourage my freshman writing students to avoid coming right out and stating the emotions they want to express, it occurred to me that Dr. Patterson's solution might work.

She asked her students to think of a literary work as a piece of subliminal advertising, and the act of interpreting a work of literature is like trying to find the messages that were placed there deliberately by the authors, but not on the surface, in an obvious position.

For a recent "My Passion" paragraph, instead of writing something direct like "My passion is.." or "I am so obsessed about X that I can't think of anything else," I want students to SHOW that obsession through actions.
A sign on the "Country Time Fruit Stand" advertises apples that are "unbelievably sweat." them's fighting words. I don't want any fruit, but I find myself slowing down enogh to notice that the "a" in sweat is pencilled in as an afterthought. That's the last straw. In a heartbeat, I've unholstered my pen, and I'm blazing a trail of marked-up signs for "hole potatoes" and "fresh cabigge," neither of which are even fruits, so what the hell are they doing at the "Country Time Fruit Stand?"
I didn't come right out and say "I can hardly think about anything but proper English."  Instead, I wrote a passage that SHOWS the depth of that obsession. I don't say "I'm like a sherrif from the Old West, and my pen is like my gun, spraying ink on lawless, no-good signs."  But I carefully choose words and incidents in order to convey that impression.

So... what is the subliminal message that you want to get across? How can you arrange the sequence of words and actions in order to convey that message without simply announcing it?
In class on Tuesday I said that I will mark all assignments on a four-point scale, with a 3 out of 4 being a B.

On reflection, I realized that, because I included a different grading scale in the syllabus, I really should stick to that grading scale, since it's the same one other LA100 teachers use.

Honestly, I don't feel that it will make a difference, because if you submit B papers, at the end of the semester you'll get a B, regardless of whether your B appears in my gradebook as a 3.0 out of a possible 4, or 85%.  But I thought it was worth explaining. 
Today we'll talk about your first full paper (2-3 pages), I'll briefly touch on material that's contained in pages that I've linked to here.

A "narrative" is simply a story. I'm asking you to write a personal essay in the form of a story based on your own experience.  I want a true story, not a work of fiction, but I'm asking you to describe your experiences as if you were writing a very short story (with a protagonist with a clear goal, who struggles to overcome obstacles, and in the process goes through a meaningful change.)

Requirements for P1:
  • Demonstrate your ability to punctuate quoted speech correctly.
  • Rather than simply describing the big game, or a scary car crash or the loss of a loved one, present a story that SHOWS the consequences of an escalating series of moral choices.
    • Example... in high school, a kid I didn't know accidentally threw food at me in the cafeteria one day. I ignored it. The next day, he did it again on purpose, and my friends told me he was laughing at me behind my back. I could have ignored it again, but I told my friends, "If he does it again, I'll throw my chocolate milk all over him."  I was just blustering to save face with my friends -- my plan was to drink my milk really quickly and then leave, but the kid threw a donut at me immediately.  I had another choice... ignore him again, back down in front of my friends, or throw the milk in his face.
    • I've stopped this example at the CLIMAX -- the moment when my own moral choice -- the decision to bluff in front of my friends -- forced me to make another, more significant, choice. In order for the story to work, I'd need to introduce some context -- why was it so important to me to bluff in front of my friend, what the consequences were likely to be (the kid who was picking on me was a wrestler). My story would eventually get to the food fight (that's right, I threw the milk in his face), but the reader needs at least a glimpse of what the "normal" routine is, before something happens that makes this particlar day worth writing about.
    • Note that a CRISIS is simply an exciting emergency -- a car crash, a wave sweeping somebody overboard, a crowd of bullies threatening to beat you up. A story needs CONFLICT.  In this case, I wouldn't make my adversary into a fully-fleshed out opponent (with his own set of motivations and values).  I'd keep him a background figure, just a prop, something that helps me SHOW a conflict between opposing moral systems (turn the other cheek, even if it means getting beaten up? Keep the respect of your friends, even if you're still gonna get beaten up and get sent to the principal's office?).
Due Today:

ILP1: Prewriting

This assignment is advance work on your "Individual Learning Plan" (ILP).  Bring an electronic copy of this document to class Tuesday. You will share it with your peers, and I will circulate through the room and discuss them with you. 

At the moment, there is no slot for this assignment. (I will create one after we've had a chance to discuss your progress in class on Tuesday.)

Below you will find questions that are designed to get you thinking about the issues that will be important to your ILP.  Please note that your "Individual Learning Plan" is not simply answers to a series of questions. Your ILP, when fully developed, will be a brief essay, that includes your goals, evidence to provide justification for your goals, and promises (to yourself) about what you will do this term to reach those goals.

I resist showing you a model ILP, because I don't want you to think that your job is to duplicate the model.  Instead, I want to work closely with you, so that you develop an ILP that is meaningful to you. 

Context for the Assignment -- the ILP

We will work our way gradually towards composing a full ILP.  We're not ready to write one yet, but when you are ready to write it, the shape will look something like this:

  • A brief introduction, articulating your goals in this class (beyond "getting a good grade" or "doing it because I have to").
  • A brief explanation of your strengths as a writer (statements supported by evidence, in the form of examples, your MyCompLab pre-test scores, comments from me or other teachers, motivation in the form of career goals or work experience, and/or guidelines you find in the textbook).
  • A brief list of the major weaknesses you want to work on this term.  This list must include some major grammar issues (as identifed by your MyCompLab pre-test), but may also include other issues such as time-management, or personal attitude towards writing.   (Thus, you would say "I want to work on A, B, and C.")
  • A longer section that includes examples of your own writing (or anecdotes about the process of writing) that illustrate the weaknesses you want to improve, along with a plan that incorporates your understanding of all the resources available to you (including office visits with me, visits to the writing center, MyCompLab exercises, and your textbook).  (Thus, you would have a section that includes examples of your struggle with topic A, and resources that will help you with topic A. Then  you would move on to topic B, and give resources that will help you with topic B, and so on.)
  • A general section, in which you make promises that will help you to meet your goals. This section must include a statement about how many MyCompLab exercises you plan to complete each week.  In the past, students have used this section to make promises such as "Attend every class" or "submit every assignment on time" or "spend at least 3 hours studying the night before each class" or "make appointment to talk with professor once a month" or "bring rough drafts of every assignment to the writing center.

In-class Activity

Grammar Pretest (MyCompLab)

This test will earn you a full 5 marks (out of 100), just for taking it. This is the "before" test; at the end of the term you'll take another test, and you'll see how far you've come.
What are you good at? Write a paragraph that focuses in detail on one specific incident that illustrates your strength ("The pitiful meowing woke me in the middle of the night. Mrs. McMurphy's cat was stuck in the tree again. I already had my shoes on whe
Assigned Text:

SFW 3-4

Due Today:

Ex 1-1: Prewriting

Bring a printed half-page of brainstorming or a full draft of Ex 1-1 to class.

You will hand the printout to me before you start taking the pretest, and I will return it at the end of the testing period, with feedback on "focus" and "showing".

(I probably won't be able to provide detailed edits.
We will discuss the Individual Learning Plan (ILP), an important multi-stage assignment that is responsible for 15% of your grade, and helps lay the groundwork for the final self-assessment paper, which is worth another 10%.

Recent Comments

Dennis G. Jerz on Ex 2-4: Explain a Position: You can think of this as the "pro" side of an argu
Elyse Grogan on Ex 2-4: Explain a Position: i am not sure that i understand this assignment co
Dennis G. Jerz on Ex 2-1: Explain (for a novice): Amanda, thanks for letting me know you are interst
Amanda Casper on Ex 2-1: Explain (for a novice): Dr. Jerz, could you please add some basic informat
Candis Bostic on P1: Narrative Essay Revision: Would I be able to resubmit my revision of my narr
Candis Bostic on Ex 1-0: I, Writer: I handed in the wrong paper on for th
Dennis G. Jerz on Portfolio Workshop: Elyse, yes, that's perfectly fine. Sometimes that'
Elyse Grogan on Portfolio Workshop: i had to change my narrative essay because my othe
Dennis G. Jerz on Writing Center Visit: I learned that no matter where you are in the writ
Dennis G. Jerz on ILP Workshop: Glad to hear it, Brittany.
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