The Transition from High School to University Writing (link/handout)

At the beginning of the semester, in my 105 classes (and sometimes, to a lesser degree, in 106), I make sure to emphasize that the writing expected from students at university level will be substantially different from what they likely were asked to produce in high school. Rather than giving them a long list, I usually introduce the differences piecemeal, in a hopefully organic manner that arises from the subject matter that we are dealing with in class.

However, I have been looking for such a list, to bolster what I mention in class and to serve as a handy reminder. I just came across one on the University of Toronto website here, which hits on virtually everything that I would want it to.  It’s also available as a printable PDF and free to print and distribute, according to their Fair-Use policy.

Hopefully other people will find it useful too.

(Pedantic) Question of the day – Singular “they”

Michael Laser recently emailed me the following:

“A student pointed out to me that “they” is now considered acceptable as a singular pronoun. (“Someone left their glove in my car.”) I was skeptical, so I checked it out, and found the attached article. My guess is, my generation will have to die off before this is universally accepted.

If you think people would benefit from reading the article, please either email to FYW teachers or post via the blog.

“Sorry, grammar nerds. The singular ‘they’ has been declared Word of the Year.” – The Washington Post

So, here’s the question – do you allow students to use the singular “they” in your classes?

Personally, I do, primarily because it is more gender-inclusive and provides more options. Plus I’m just not that picky and have a lot of larger issues to focus on.



A New Tool for Learning: Patience

By Kathy Curto

It’s the morning rush hour and I’m on the 6 train heading to Union Square. A young woman pushes her way through the doors of the subway car and plops into the seat across from me.  I’m charmed instantly—gold metallic eye shadow, velvet burgundy bellbottoms and a black wool beret that has not one speck of lint on it. She takes out a little book with turquoise swirls and stars that speckle the outside cover which is also gold and shiny. I think it’s Rumi but I’m not sure. Either Rumi or Neruda.

I smile and my thoughts move in two distinct but parallel directions:  to the power of patience as a tool for learning and to Kate, a classmate of mine back in graduate school.

Kate was also someone who could pull off metallic eye shadow and who I could count on to walk into class wearing outfits that sang songs of freedom, risk and liveliness, somehow making me feel nostalgic, refreshed and proud to have grown up in the 70s all at the same time. I suppose this is what happens when you go back to earn an MFA at forty- three years old while holding down a teaching job and answering to four people who call you Mom. I was exhausted and my “Small Coffee:  Black” habit and drinking in of Kate’s whimsical combinations of textures, prints and solids was all I had to stay afloat on some days.

Kate’s creativity, her charisma and her good instincts extended way beyond mustard-colored cardigans and matte lipstick that might make Bardot jealous. She was a gifted writer and a classmate who took her time:  in her writing, her speaking and her critical analysis. Her style and approach to the work were mature beyond her years and I marveled at what her smooth, unaccelerated pace seemed to produce:  clear, deep, searing feedback about the readings. Continue reading

Understanding Beginner’s Anxiety, or Why My Neighbors Hate Me Now

by Carrie Lee O’Dell

Every Wednesday night for the past seven weeks, I’ve gone to a small studio space in a repurposed warehouse close to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for group violin lessons. Along with eight other people, I try to coax sounds out of my instrument without calling to mind the sound of a disgruntled cat. Sometimes, I’m successful. Often I’m not. This is, of course, frustrating. It’s also fun and challenging. It makes me use parts of my brain that haven’t gotten much exercise in recent years. When I manage to drag my bow across a string with just the right pressure, it sounds beautiful, which is immensely satisfying. I’ve learned more than just some scales and a short simple song in this class, though. It’s reminded me of the experience of being a student, of learning something from scratch. When you teach something you’ve always been fairly confident doing, it’s important to have the occasional reminder of what it’s like to not know.

Of course, my experience of choosing to take a group music class is hardly a perfect allegory for my students’ experiences in college writing. I sought this class out; many college students look for ways to avoid freshman comp. The stakes are low if I don’t do well—failure to master an instrument that by all accounts I’m picking up nearly forty years too late will not keep me from getting into my desired course of study or prevent me from graduating. I’m not being presented with new rules and restrictions on something I thought I’d already learned. The worst thing that can happen to me is public embarrassment at the recital. The recital that’s open to the public, is a few days away, and will be filmed for Bantam Studios archives. The recital that I’ve invited friends, some of them audio professionals, to attend.

Just a moment. I have to take some really deep breaths. Continue reading

The Acrimonious Acronyms of Education

by Patricia Haefeli

It’s a peculiar time to be a public school teacher. I have just spent the better part of the last ten months “teaching to the test” as they say (all the while encouraging us not to say it) because I had no other sane choice.

In April, I paced fretfully as my ELA classes sat for the LAL section of the Big, Bad NJ ASK state test. My colleagues and I feel enormous pressure to ensure that our (read: our student’s) scores make AYP so that the DOE lifts the “Focus School” designation, which will force a hasty retreat by the ever-present RAC team.

Then, just as we all heaved a sigh of relief at having that behind us, we were reminded that our students still had to take a combination of four MCU tests; one covering the final unit, and the other three representing a “post-test” administered to see if we (teachers) met our SGO’s this year. Tiered with a variety of growth percentages associated with the myriad ability levels in a single classroom (thank you, NCLB), the final Excel spreadsheet analysis requires a level of mathematical wizardry that make my English teacher’s eyes twitch with anxiety. The final numbers will inform our SGPs, which are linked to our educator codes, which become part of our final evaluations, which tie directly to our continued enjoyment of gainful employment.

Continue reading

Multimodal Composition Assignments (Jason Palmeri)

In Fall 2015, Jason Palmeri (Director of Composition, Miami U) led a Professional Development workshop for us on “Moving Beyond the Page: Designing and Assessing Multimodal Composition Assignments.”

For those who could not attend, Jason has kindly shared the presentation that he used, which is available here:

There are other useful materials at the site, including samples of student work and links to tech resources.

Thanks, Jason!

The Grade Complaint: Striking a Balance

I’m going to sound like an old lady here, but when I was in college, I never would have dreamed of complaining about my essay grades the way some of my students do. The other day, a student told me that I am “unfair” and that she disagrees with the way I saw her paper. She didn’t feel that a certain part of the essay I pointed out weakened her paper and she wanted to “work something out.” I was left wondering how on earth to respond to such an entitled complaint – a complaint that seemingly implies that she knows as much about grading essays as I do and that a grade that I have assigned can be negotiated like the price of a used car or a flea market necklace.


It’s difficult not to go on the defensive when such emails arrive in one’s inbox.  We are clearly educated and trained to grade these essays and our Program works hard to make sure we are all on the same page where grading is concerned. I try very hard to be nice about it; there is a lot of “I understand your concern but…” and “Your disappointment in your grade is not uncommon…” I want students to know that I understand their frustration.

On the other hand, I do not owe you anything. The world does not owe you anything. You earn the grade that you earn, not the grade you negotiate when you are disappointed with the grade that you earn. Continue reading