“Mention,” a Favorite Verb of Student Writers

I’d just like to mention that student writers love to use the verb “mention.” This writer mentions this and that writer mentions that.

But Herman Melville did not mention a white whale in his novel; he wrote a 704 page book about it. William Shakespeare did not mention the prince of Denmark; he wrote his longest play about this conflicted gentleman. Homer did not mention the Trojan war; he wrote a 15,693 line poem exploring only the later part of the conflict. Edward Gibbon did not mention the fall of the Roman Empire; he penned a six volume work on the subject. Obviously, these are extreme examples, but students do tend to use the verb a lot!

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The Electric Word: A Hybrid Second-Year Composition Course

English 214: Second Year Written Composition

Instructor: Ronald B. Richardson

The Electric Word: Class Blog

Descriptions of and Links to Student Blogs

Course Description

Welcome to the Electric Word: Second Year Composition! I look forward to the exchange of ideas with all of you as we explore reading, research, critical thinking, and writing in primarily digital environments.

A Hybrid Course: Half of the classes for this course will be face to face in a traditional classroom; for the other half, we will meet asynchronously online through iLearn, the course management system at SFSU. We will meet physically every Monday and half of the Wednesdays (see the course schedule). The other half of the Wednesdays and all Fridays will be online. When classes are online, students may complete the class work any time that day or earlier. Because of the hybrid nature of this course, students should be self-motivated and good at time management.

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Language, Education and Identity: Writing Assignment for Pre-Transfer Level

Background: We spent the first half of the semester exploring our “hidden intellectualism,” the academic skills we use in non-academic pursuits, then turned to questions of language and identity. We have explored the various forms of English we use with different people in different settings, recognizing that one version is not necessarily better, but certain forms are more appropriate in certain settings. For example, so-called “standard” English is most appropriate in academic and professional settings, but learning how to use it correctly does not mean you must set aside your identity. Also, we have been reading from the book “They Say / I Say,” which explains that academic conversation happens when we put our ideas in conversation with the ideas of others. Now we are going to practice balancing multiple viewpoints in discussions of language and identity.

Goal: To respond to one or more of the readings from this unit in three ways by agreeing, disagreeing, and balancing opposing viewpoints.

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Intensity and Sophistication: Basic Skills versus Transfer Level Composition

Students in pre-transfer and transfer-level classes need to develop similar skills: studying, reading, thinking, and writing. The principal distinctions are intensity and sophistication.

Basic skills students need training in how to be college students. To keep them in school, teachers should ask them to consider their motives, discuss reasons students drop out, familiarize them with support services, and require investigation of educational resources. Instructors need to teach how to stage tasks and manage time, working these guidelines into assignments. Transfer level students need the same, but instructors can spend less time on learner training and more on content.

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“You’re Sick!” Says the Diagnostic Essay

“You’re sick!” says the diagnostic essay, and students hear the message plainly enough. In classes on connotation, I ask students what the associations of “diagnostic” are. Normally, I don’t need to prod students, but if I do two questions will suffice: “What is a diagnosis?” “Who gives a diagnosis?” A doctor diagnoses a patient with an illness, so a “diagnostic” essay turns students into unhealthy patients and teachers into medical practitioners whose primary job it is to determine what is wrong with the student.

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Composing a Class for Freshmen (Rather Than the Teacher)

These main principles are fundamental to the Freshman Composition course I teach: learner-centeredness, high expectations, flexibility, and, most importantly, authentic audience and purpose. Learner-centeredness is an idea that made immediate sense to me when I was getting a certificate to teach English as a Second Language. If learning is to happen, then the student must be an active participant. Throughout the years, I have seen the effectiveness of this approach. In the composition classroom, the learner centered approach is realized in community building and warm-up exercises, frequent pair and group work, classroom activities, peer review sessions, and the Socratic method of teaching through questioning.

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The Draft is Obsolete: The Word Processor and the Writing Process

The concept of the draft is obsolete, in both academic and creative writing, if drafting is a process of rewriting a work anew, recreating and reforming what has already been written in a wholly new text. A “draft” these days is one point at which writing is saved or printed out. Writing now consists of changing a single, fluid text that grows, contracts and changes (as is happening to this post even now, if you could only see it happening as I do). Writing classes that teach first draft, second draft and final draft and do not show students how to use the word processor to revise a text are outdated.

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Express Yourself . . . in a Composition Class?

At the beginning of each semester, I give my students a questionnaire, asking them, among other things, what they like and dislike about writing. About 70% respond that they like writing because they can express themselves, their ideas, their opinions, and their feelings. About 40%, however, say that they don’t like writing about topics that don’t interest them. One student wrote, “I like writing when it’s not boring or on a boring topic. I don’t like writing long essays on a random book or a topic not interesting. I have to be interested in my writing and reading.”

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Writing Assignment: Issues of Language and Education

Background: As a class, we have examined issues involving language and education, including the effects of education on family life, motivation of students with non-academic interests, cultural literacy, national curriculum, agency within one’s inherited narratives, ethnic chauvinism, gender hierarchies in the classroom, the effects of new media on literacy, and grade inflation. We have read and discussed the importance of starting with inquiry, integrating reading and writing, identifying claims, analyzing arguments, identifying issues, forming questions, summarizing and synthesizing. Now we are going to use these academic skills to address an issue of language and identity in an argumentative essay.

Goal: To practice typical essay format, argumentation, support, summary, paraphrase, quotation, citation, analysis of claims, synthesis, grammar, punctuation, and writing skills.

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say something say something
cram my mouth with crumpled words
stuff my chest cavity with paper
anything to fill me up give me shape
ever since I pulled the gods
from my belly my hide’s begun to sag

say something say something
any answer as long as it is broad
enough to fill the gap between stars
strong enough to bridge the space
between a nucleus and electron
an open question is the mouth of death
any answer to stop the asking