08 Feb 2010 [ Prev | Next ]

Pre-writing Portfolio 1

First -- I've Posted Feedback on Ex 1 to Turnitin.com

I really enjoyed reading your goals for STW, and have posted my feedback (grades and comments) to the site.   You can find my feedback by clicking on the red apple next to your submission.

Recall that I said I would evaluate Ex 1 based on your ability to write a 200-word paragraph, to cite the sources, and to focus on telling me something I didn't already know.  But my feedback also includes additional notes. 

Comments I left on individual student papers included a reference to the US Government's Plain Language initiative, the difference between "close minded" and "closed-minded," how analytical writing can be creative (and vice-versa), and the value of grabbing the reader's attention with a catchy title.

When you view those marginal notes, think of each one as an invitation to a discussion. Feel free to send me an e-mail, or work a response into your next reflection paper or pre-writing assignment, or come by my office for a visit.

Pre-writing Portfolio 1 is a collection of several short assignments, designed to help you get a good start on Paper 1. Include all the assignments in a single word processor file, and upload the submission to the proper slot in Turnitin.com.

More details appear below, but In brief, the components of the pre-writing portfolio are:

  1. A personal essay that demonstrates your ability to connect all the readings we've done so far in Rereading America
  2. A complete Works Cited list for all the sources your paper uses.
  3. A preliminary thesis for Essay 1
  4. Optional: Your blueprint (supporting points and organizational structure you plan to implement) for your rough draft of Essay 1.

Full details on each component of the portfolio follow.  But first, let's talk a bit more about  Paper 1.

Introduction to Essay 1

This class will use the traditional college essay to evaluate your critical thinking skills.  Plenty of critical thinking goes into analyzing video from last week's game, or choosing how to spend your money.  A college essay is not the ideal measuring stick for evaluating that kind of critical thinking, just as a yardstick can't measure patriotism and a thermometer can't measure trustworthiness.  But progress in freshman writing skills is an important tool for gauging college success, and in Seminar in Thinking and Writing, the academic essay is the gold standard.

A Daisy Chain of Related Assignments

On Feb 22 your final draft of a 3-4 page persuasive academic paper is due.  In order to do a good job on that final draft, you'll need to do a good job on the rough draft -- due Feb 12. And, in order to a good job on that rough draft, you'll need to do some advanced planning.  That advanced planning is this assignment -- Pre-writing Portfolio 1 -- which is due Feb 8.  (More details about that in a bit.)

In order to do the advanced planning, you'll first need a good sense of what you'll be asked to do in Essay 1.

Difference between Personal Essays and Academic Papers

Basic Comp trains you to organize your thoughts and express yourself through writing personal essays.  Your goal in Basic Comp was to put your thoughts into words, by describing or explaining something you knew very well because of your first-hand experience. 

Essay 1 is a different creature.  It asks you to demonstrate your ability to read about experiences and discoveries that happened to somebody else, and to use those written documents as the starting point for your own original explanation of a related topic. 

Our purpose for going to college is to broaden our horizons. Instead of starting with the first-hand experiences that you know well, this paper asks you to start with the experiences that other people wrote down for your benefit.

Think about it.  Rose did not sit in a lecture, listen to a teacher list all the "correct" opinions about education, and then write "I Just Wanna Be Average" in order to prove he could repeat all that he had heard.  Instead, Rose created something new. You can read it, and learn from experiences that you yourself never had. 

Your Goal as an Academic Writer

The first draft of Paper 1 is not due until Friday, but this pre-writing portfolio asks you to do some critical thinking now, so that I can offer you quick feedback, so you'll have a better idea of my expectations.

Pick your metaphor. When you write an academic essay:

  • Your job is to spot interesting threads in the fabric of other people's garments, pull those threads out, and weave them together with your own threads, in order to create your own original garment -- something that has never been created before, and something you couldn't have come up with on your own. Or...

  • Your job is to identify the missing voices, the skipped beats, the screeching dissonance, the chaos that hasn't yet been sorted and organized into identifiable patterns; and where you find disharmony, try to to listen through the ears of each voice in the chorus; and without rejecting any voice simply because it doesn't sound good with the others, try to compose your own over-all theme that draws from the best contributions of each voice. Or...

  • Your job is to find two (or more) people who disagree on an important point, explore the strengths and weaknesses of each position, and convince your reader why one or the other is closer to the truth.

Details on Pre-writing Portfolio 1

The portfolio includes three required parts and one optional part. Submit them all in a single word processor file (and upload it to Turnitin.com).  The parts are:
  1. A personal essay, of about 400 words, that attempts to tie together all the readings we have done so far.  (Demonstrate your ability use quotations efficiently. You do not need to quote from every reading, but do refer meaningfully to Rose, Moore, Malcolm X, Gatto, Tannen, and Anon.  You may refer to them in any order, in any combination.  If you see a way to work in the introduction or my "Integrating Quotations" handout, go for it -- but only the six authors I mention above are required.)  For details of citing in MLA style, see section 27 of the SF Writer.

    Some further notes:
    1. If you have been keeping up with the reflection assignments, you will find this part fairly easy. Feel free to re-use parts of your reflection papers. 
    2. Use brief quotations, emphasizing your own original ideas/observations (the stuff I don't already know) rather than summarizing/regurgitating what I've already read for myself.
    3. This short essay will need a main idea, supporting ideas, and a conclusion that does not simply say "Therefore, this paper has [repeat main idea here.]"  
    4. For inspiration, you may try sorting, organizing, and categorizing. (If I were categorizing a pile of toys on the floor in my living room, I might categorize them as belonging to my son or my daughter; as being store-bought or home-made; as being part of a set, or stand-alone; old or new; educational or a waste of time.  What new connections emerge when you begin sorting and organizing the texts this way?)
    5. For this assignment, you may use "I", you may use personal examples, and you may refer to things we discussed in class.

      "Can you please just tell us what you want?"

      Okay... I want to see evidence that you have read, understood, and connected all the readings we have discussed. You can show me that evidence by making a specific point about education, and using details from the readings to back up that point.

      "And why are we doing this?"

      You are giving me an opportunity to assess your progress, so that you'll know whether you're on the right track for Essay 1.

  2. MLA-style "Works Cited" list for all readings.
    1. Alphabetize by the author's last name.
    2. See page 306 of SF Writer for the proper format for citing an essay in an anthology.
    3. While I'm not requiring you to cite my "Integrating Quotations" handout for your paper, here's the format you should use for a web page:

      Author-last-name, Author-first-name. "Title of Resource, in Quotation Marks."

           Name, In Italics, of Website  on Which Resource Appears. Name of

           Organization Hosting the Website,  [Date document was published]. Web.

           [Date you accessed it.]  <http://www.full-url.com/fulladdress/


      (Note how I broke up the URL at a slash; don't break a URL in the middle and add a hyphen. If the URL has long sequences of numbers and codes in it, it's of no use -- nobody would ever type that URL, so you can safely leave it out.)
  3. Preliminary thesis statement.
    What is the specific, non-obvious, debatable claim you've chosen to write about for Paper 1?

    Make sure  your thesis statement demonstrates your ability to respond to the readings.  (I suggest that your thesis statement actually name one of our authors, so that we can be sure that you are focusing properly on the readings, rather than the general topic of education.)

    You don't need to include the steps I'm about to model -- working my way from a general topic to a specific thesis.  I'm going to show you that process by way of example, but all I need to see is your best thesis statement.

    The following bullet points represent a sample progression from a general topic, to a specific claim that takes a specific stand (your "thesis') on an issue that arises from the assigned readings.

    • Problems in the American education system.
      (Far too general.)
    • Michael Moore has a lot to say about problems in American education.
      (Better, because it mentions a specific author, but "has a lot to say" is too vague. It's not clear that this student has even read the essay -- you could defend this claim based on what you heard during the class discussion.)
    • Michael Moore successfully uses humor to raise questions about the American education system.
      (Better, because it not only mentions Moore, and a specific detail about his writing strategy; it also makes a claim. There is more than one reasonable response to this statement, so it's a step in the right direction.)
    • Michael Moore is a bitter man who attacks what he sees as the failures of others, without offering any real solutions.
      (About as good as the previous one; it's a bit too hostile, phrased like a personal attack rather than an academic argument, but it does take a stand that an author might actually need to explain to someone who has a different opinion on Moore.)
    • Michael Moore's humor successfully calls attention to weaknesses in our education system, by attacking and ridiculing his opponents.  [That's good, but let's  go on.]  Yet Deborah Tannen warns,"When there is a need to make others wrong, the temptation is great to oversimplify at best, and at worst to distort or even misrepresent others' positions" (230).  If we consider Moore's essay as an example of writing that Tannen says "demonstrates originality and independence of thought without requiring true innovation" (231), we can see that Moore's method of attacking his opponents limits the range of solutions he can offer.  
    As you can see, that last example is far more complex than the first few.  It took me about 25 minutes to work through those five examples, so I don't expect you to "get it" right away.

  4. Bonus:  Blueprint.
    Our task in class today will be to determine whether the thesis you propose will sustain a full academic exploration.  This optional bonus question gives you the chance to start doing that exploration sooner.  What are the supporting points that will support your claim? 

    (The last of the Michael Moore thesis examples illustrates one way to move from making a stand-alone thesis, to making a thesis and also offering a blueprint for proving that thesis.  If you would like to get started on that phase, this optional section is your opportunity to get some advanced feedback. For more details, review this handout: "Blueprinting.")
As always, I am happy to answer your questions. I generally do check my e-mail over the weekend, but I can't promise to respond right away to last-minute questions.


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