So I am trying to pare down my papers, my frenetic activity, and anything that takes me too far out of the zone I wish to be in.  In other words, simplify.  I am rereading some of my older blog entries and re shared this one because I like the concept of capturing original work by students.  Whenever something is simple and feasible, I try to keep it and let the other nonsense go.  Sometimes it helps to see what you have in hand.  I freaked out this morning because I thought I lost my flash drive with all my power points on it …only to find it in my canister holding all my flash drives.  Sometimes, I just need to breathe and focus on one thing at a time.

I am doing things a little bit differently this semester. This is my second semester teaching Academic Writing I, II so when I find an idea which works, I keep it around. One idea which I will keep was implemented from reading about another instructor’s style regarding plagiarism. I borrowed this instructor’s teaching strategy which is to have the students write in class for a diagnostic exam and then I take the paper and tell them to finish the story at home. I like having them write it out by hand or if it is on the laptop, they must forward it to me before leaving class. It is very important for all students to know how to paraphrase other writers and express their point of view successfully. Last semester, I was concerned about some student’s papers which were above a freshman level. Now, I am also delighted if they are a better writer than me but I had one student who turned in beautifully written with no errors on a graduate level and yet did little to no writing in class. I find this is a good check for consistency.

There were classes for Labor Day at Saint Leo, so I prepared a lesson plan about dangling modifiers. Before continuing with grammar, I shared with them another writer’s style from a blog. The article “I was the worst High School quarterback ever” was written by Josh Keefe. It was very well written and what was unusual was the writer stated he was proud of all the losing he did as a quarterback. I thought it was a very concrete example of good narrative writing using dialogue, good paragraphing and the ideas he presented was just controversial enough to get them speaking to one another. Keefe states, “As a culture, we try to make every kid feel like a winner. Maybe we should also give every child a task that he will fail at again and again, along with teammates to fail with.” He continues with “He might learn that trying and failing to achieve a long-shot dream is better than settling for a passionless life. He might learn how to lose, which is a valuable skill that this life provides no shortage of opportunities to put into practice, and yet shockingly few people know how to do well.” And it did start them talking with one another. I had some very interesting responses from the student from France, the athletes (some of whom were on scholarship), but not enough of a response from my Arabic speakers.

I am not sure whether it is cultural or language based but they are not comfortable sharing about their culture with other students from a very diverse base. I have noticed we have students from every state and every country, almost every country. In fact, in the student center, there is an enormous map with push pins noting the students attending from other countries. Almost every country is pinned. They weren’t as shy sharing in my Reading Class when it was mostly Arabic speakers with the Bridge Program. I am hoping as the year continues that the class interaction will become less strained and more natural. But for now, I call on some of them to contribute. I encourage the mixing of native speakers and speakers whose first language is not English as pairs. Some of the athletes need no reassurance. Many agree with the article and then there are a couple of athletes on scholarship who can’t imagine how losing is a good thing. I smile and tell them, in their life, they may have 10 different jobs, maybe change careers 3 or 4 times. I ask them to critically look at the article and using some critical review questions and recognize any assumptions that they hold that may influence their reasoning?
Have they examined all sides of the issue giving equal say to each?
How about their personal prejudices and goals….are they looking objectively at the article? And more importantly, I wonder to myself, if their point of view will change 5 years from now.

When they share with some of their classmates, they begin to more critically examine some of the writing and the examples the writer uses. He wonders: “How does losing every game teach you anything that going 2-7 doesn’t?’’ I feign ignorance of sports and they coach me. One student bluntly and with some good insight states, “You lose, and you win sometime. I don’t understand this.” We continue reading and another student points out that hitting rock bottom was what the writer has in mind as the answer when he continues with his journey writing of “sometimes being penniless, working terrible jobs, getting rejection letters, etc. to learn the “life lesson” that parents and coaches insisted he learn.” In the last class, I don’t get to the instruction about dangling modifiers because the class continues with a debate and I let it continue. Their first assignment is to write a narrative essay about their life. I am hoping that the sample of the blog gave them some direction and understanding of what I will be looking for.

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