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Thrown a Rope at Wits End »

As of the beginning of this week, I had just about had it with the majority of my students. I was just about to give up on them. Why? Well, it has to do with personality. Since I haven’t discussed these students before, let me give you a brief portrait of the things that I’m dealing with.

For starters, in addition to the 30 students originally enrolled in my class, I was given 6 additional students when the two classes I’m teaching were collapsed with another two sections. Then, as though 36 is not already a few too many for a class that requires so much one-on-one, an International English class created to aid new international students in preparing to meet the standards necessary to enter Basic Writing was cancelled, and three of these students somehow managed to miss filtering and become part of my class.

So, as day three of my classes began, I had a rather motley collection of students ranging from homeschooled students who didn’t get “around” to taking the state test that would evaluate their writing–this group feels that they don’t “need” the class–to students who have no English skills whatsoever–I have one in this group who cannot even seem to communicate questions with me, but instead can only gesture at her computer screen. The class discussions have been lively; you don’t have to write well to engage in the discourse. Still, I’ve wondered if they were “getting” anything.

I was spending half an hour after class summarizing the lecture for my Nigerian, who can read and write English, but apparently cannot comprehend spoken English. She’s also prone to losing things. Just the other day she wanted to me to write down what goes in the learning logs I’m requiring this semester, I explained that this was on a handout and she just looked at me dumbfounded when I provided her with another handout instead of physically writing down each component of the assignment.

Then I have the mouth and the mutterer. Mouth tries to focus the entirety of the class period on her while mutterer is really using this class as a place to pick up women. Seriously, he sits by a new girl each time and spends the class period muttering to her just loud enough that I can hear him.

Oh, and I have several of my “I don’t need this class” students who have decided that this is not a class, but is study hall. So, they bring their homework to class and work dutifully on it while in class. I don’t think those around them have noticed; they’re too busy MySpacing.

In previous semesters, this last group of students would have been ejected from class after being given a verbal warning. However, with the new rules in our department, I can’t do it. So, I’ve just taken to not mentioning it, acting as though I’m oblivious and then deciding to add a participation grade to the gradebook.

And none of this is new to my classroom; I’m used to all of this crap happening in the classroom–just not at the same time. And, I certainly wasn’t expecting this from students who need this class more than anything.

So, by the time week four rolled around and they were to turn in their first mini-assignment, many of them were so confused (due to serious lack of reading the handouts) as to what was to be turned in that they had to ask for an extension. Week four ended with their first writing assignment being turned in. As the culmination of week four, we spent an entire class period discussing the writing assignment before the class turned in their work. I received work from 2/3 of my students. Yet, yesterday, I had a student ask for clarification on an assignment related to their revisions (from WA1). When I told her that this was a sheet that would have been returned with her first essay she started acting like she didn’t know anything about the assignment (the one that we had been working on in class for two weeks). Then, she begged to know if she could turn it in late (I don’t take late work). At this point, the discussion went something like this:

She: “But, I didn’t know we had to turn it in.”

I: “You were part of the roundtable last Wednesday. Remember when it was over and I asked you to turn in your paragraph and *Sarah* asked for clarification on which one.”

She: “Yes.”

I: “So you knew you had to turn it in.”

She: “I didn’t think you meant right then. So, it was due right then.”

I: “Yes. It was.”

She: “And you don’t take no late work does you.” (I swear, that’s exactly what she said. I will never forget that line.)

I: “No, I don’t take late work.”

She: “So can I turn it in on Friday?”

Now, this discussion continues for several more minutes before she realized that I wasn’t going to take her work.

So here I was, at my wits end with these students. It was Monday, I had the beginnings of a bad migraine, and I was ready to fling myself into a brick wall just to get them to understand.

And then came Wednesday

Wednesday, with a migraine and the beginning of what has proven to be the flu, I trudged in to work. I am so glad that I did. In my first class of the day, I watched a lightbulb go on with one of my students. She had finally connected Generative Grammar to not only a homework assignment that I forced them to turn in, but also to a good strategy to writing her own paragraphs. Yeah! Then, in my next class, I had a student stop me after class and ask me if we could sit down and talk sometime because she’s learning a lot in the class, but doesn’t know how to incorporate this into her other classes.

So, I guess the moral of the story is that we should always wait until week six before giving up hope on a class. But, I think that once we reach week six, we should wait two more weeks just to be sure. Just when you’re at your wits end, some good student will throw you a rope. We just have to wait and see if they are going to pull us up or if we have to do it ourselves.

Wendy Chun-Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics–A Chapter by Chapter Summary »


Chun’s introduction focuses on the ideas of control and power as they apply to the Internet. Examining Deleuze’s and Foucault’s ideas of control societies and the differences between control societies and disciplinary societies. Chun looks at the ways in which control and power, in the terms of the Internet, always relate to ideas of sexuality and how these relationships led to the early means in which censors sought to quash the Internet and how early examinations of MUDs and MOOs clenched Foucault’s argument on discursive sexuality. As she wraps up the examination of the friction that exists among forms of Internet control and power, Chun concludes that these two ideals are not opposites, but are, in fact opposite sides of the same coin.

Read the rest

Early Research Plans! »

So, I just got my paper back from my Composition Strategies class. I was thrilled to read through the comments, and had to take a moment to gloat when I reached the end. My professor had left this comment at the end of the paper:

After reading your paper I’ve decided to make more use of blogs in my face to face advanced writing class in the fall. One problem with such set-ups, though, is that the class contributions and documents are all public. How do you contend with that?

Now, I wasn’t just gloating over the fact that I’ve influenced a professor (and me, a lowly PhD student). I was also gloating over the fact that I had an answer and had already been contemplating addressing this issue in a paper/presentation that I want to get a jump start on. Damn, I’m good! Look for more on this current question as time progresses.

Making A Draft–Final Prompt One »

Today’s college composition instructors are frustrated with the knowledge students enter into college not knowing. Current trends in high school education have entering into college knowing how to write for a standardized test, believing that the five paragraph essay is all they will need to use in their future, and feeling that every essay they write is written for an instructor. For many college instructors, this lack of in-depth writing instruction in high school means either lowering their standards for college writing or that they must rush to teach new principles and hope students will someday internalize these principles. If rhetoric became a more stable facet of both secondary and post-secondary education, college curriculums could further the education of the college writer instead of having to begin anew with instructors begrudgingly rushing through important principles. Read the rest

Using Roman Rhetoric to Teach Style »

Focus of the Lessons–Style
kinds of style

  • grand style
    • smooth and ornate arrangements of impressive words
  • middle style
    • lower yet not the lowest and most colloquial class of words
  • plain style
    • brought down to the most current idiom of standard speech

Virtues of Speech


  • Quality of style by which one speaks or writes in a manner consistent with a given language’s norms


  • Clarity is measured in terms of how clear our speech seems to our audience or how well it appeals logically to the understanding (logos).


  • Evidence measures how well language reaches the emotions through vivid depiction. (pathos)


A central rhetorical principle requiring one’s words and subject matter be aptly fit to each other, to the circumstances and occasion (kairos), the audience, and the speaker.

Ornateness aims at producing delight or admiration in the audience, and may thereby jeopardize clarity.

Like clarity, ornateness is a quality of both single words and groups of words, and some of the same choices that might threaten clarity may improve ornateness—for example, the use of old, coined, or metaphorical words.

Scope of the Lesson

Demonstrate to students how to write in each of the three styles. Demonstrate the nuances that vary between each of the styles and how to focus on the virtues of speech in each of these styles and how the virtues change for each of the styles.

This lesson should come early in the semester-either preparing students for their first essay or culminating in their first essay, depending on the class. This way, students become more aware of audience influence on style at a much earlier time than they often do.

Lesson Design

Lesson One-Writing in the Plain Style

  • Students draft an email on why the cafeteria food needs to be improved.
  • For this email they are told that they are writing this letter to a close friend attending another university.


Many students feel that writing is something they can’t do well. They see writing as a task to be completed within a classroom setting. To begin an assignment by going over all of the technical terms and then asking them to write while keeping all the rules and guidelines in mind can overwhelm students. Therefore, to open a class by asking them to write an email assuages some of their fear since they are already familiar with this medium of writing.

  • Discuss the attributes of the plain style. Place the emphasis on the style being the one we use most often without thinking about it. The goal here is to prove to students that they can write in the plain style.


To discuss the attributes of the style after students have written an essay in that style allows them to see their writing as belonging to the style, instead of something they must work to create so that it fits the style. This way, students feel they have an advantage when working with styles; since they already use one of these styles, they feel more comfortable writing in the other styles.

  • In class, examine a sample email for the virtues of style. As this email is discussed and color coded in the class exercise, answers to the questions would be discussed so that students have a better idea of how to look for these virtues in their own writing. During this time we would discuss why each of the selected passages are attributed to each virtue and how some, though they work in multiple places fit better into one specific virtue for a certain reason.
    • Correctness
      • How is this email a sample of how you write your friends on a regular basis?
      • What traits distinguish this email as one written to a friend?
      • Look closely at your arrangement, content and word choice
      • Mark these places by changing the font color to green
    • Clarity
      • How well will the recipient understand the reasons cafeteria food should be improved?
      • Will the recipient see the logic in your argument? How specifically will they see this?
        • Mark these places by changing the font color to red
    • Evidence
      • What emotions are you appealing to in the email?
      • How have you conveyed this plea in your email?
        • Mark these places by changing the font color to blue
    • Decorum
      • What words have you used that you would not use when speaking to a stranger?
      • What evidence is contained in your word choice that acknowledges you are writing to a friend?
      • How can we tell that this is a casual email sent to a friend?
        • Mark these places by changing the font color to purple
    • Ornateness
      • Are you using clichĂ©s?
      • Do you use metaphors that only your friend will understand?
        • Mark these places by changing the font color to pink

At this point, a sample email would likely look like this

OMG! I just came back from the cafeteria and there was nothing to eat! They have hamburgers there that are greasier than Jack Walker’s hair was! The salad bar had the limpest, brownest lettuce I have ever seen. They definitely need to fix this food.
Seriously, I am paying so much for food that I don’t eat here. If I could save that money I could buy a new pair of shoes every month. But no, they have to make us get this retarded meal plan and we have to eat on campus whenever we’re hungry. Yuck! The apple I tried to eat actually had a worm in it! I have never eaten such crappy food. Can you imagine? How’s the food at A&M? Do you have good food? Maybe I should transfer in the spring.

As with discussing the attributes to the plain style after asking students to create the email, discussing the virtues of the style after students have seen how these are already present in their own writing aids students in seeing what they already know about writing in the plain style. Words like decorum and ornateness can intimidate students when they are attached to somewhat ambiguous rules that students feel they don’t comprehend. Yet attaching these words and rules to tangible areas in a student’s writing helps them to understand the rules by making them more coherent to the student.

Homework Day One

Rewrite the email as a letter to the student body that will be published in the school newspaper.


Asking students to write to a community they belong to makes them consider their audience carefully while also helping them to continue to feel comfortable in their writing. Again, the audience provides little pressure and though students are aware how this fits in with the lesson, the familiar audience aids in continuing to take a good bit of the pressure off the writing anxiety.

Lesson Two–Middle Style

  • Discuss the attributes of the middle style. Place the emphasis on this style being used occasionally in our life writing. This forum can allow students to come up with various ways they would use the middle style (i.e. emails to their parents, emails to professors to ask a question, letters to the newspaper). The goal here is to prove to students that they can write in the middle style just by paying some attention to the virtues of this style.


As with the discussion after the email on day one, this discussion serves as a means of proving to students that they are capable of writing in the middle style. This continues to build their confidence in their writing ability, which makes preparation for the final stage of this group of lessons more effective.

  • In class we examine a student’s letter for the virtues of style. As this letter is discussed and students color code their own homework, answers to the same questions posed on the first assignment are reassessed. Questions would be discussed so that students have a better idea of how to look for these virtues in their own writing. During this time we would discuss why each of the selected passages are attributed to each virtue and how some, though they work in multiple places fit better into one specific virtue for a certain reason.
  • Once the essay is color coded and the virtues have been reiterated, the remainder of the class period is spent discussing the differences in the two writing styles. During this session questions are directed to aid students in seeing the differences between the plain style and the medium style. This should aid in their comprehension of not only the two styles, but also how they vary their writing to fit each of these styles.
    • Correctness
      • How did you write the letter differently than the email?
      • What aspects of arrangement, content and word choice changed?
      • How did these aspects change?
      • What sets the letter apart, in general, from the email?
      • How did constructing the letter differ from constructing the email?
      • What traits distinguish this as the medium style?
      • Did you spell check this letter more?
      • Did you grammar check this letter?
    • Clarity
      • Did you add additional information that other students would relate to?
      • Did you add information that only your fellow students would comprehend?
    • Evidence
      • What emotions are you appealing to in the letter?
      • Have these emotions changed from those in the email?
      • Do you use different methods of pathos to create your appeals?
    • Decorum
      • What effect did the audience have on your word choice?
      • How did you choose specific words for this letter?
      • Why did you choose to use these words here but not in your email?
      • What evidence is contained in your word choice that acknowledges you are writing to the student body?
    • Ornateness
      • Do you use more educated metaphors?
      • Why did you choose to use the metaphors you used this time as opposed to those in your email?


With the discussion of variations of the virtues of style between the plain and medium style, students have the chance to begin making connections between audience and style that will apply to future writings. This discussion also aids students in inferring the specific rules that accompany the virtues of style.

Homework Day Two
Rewrite the letter. This time you will want to address the letter to the President of the college. Remember to follow the style virtues carefully.


This homework assignment, coupled with the subsequent lecture, demonstrates to students the need to write more eloquently for a more formal audience. Generally, students are asked to write essays with no guide as to the audience. Therefore, the students tend to write essays in the middle style and address these specifically to their instructors. Since they are familiar with this audience, they feel the middle style is appropriate. However, this assignment forces students to think about how they would write to a more sophisticated, unfamiliar audience. When discussed during the Lesson Three lecture, this allows for a further discussion of the grand style in a manner that students can relate to.

Lesson Three–Grand Style

  • Discuss the attributes of the grand style. Place the emphasis on this style being used for all formal writing and make sure students understand that this style is the most difficult to write.


This forum can allow students to come up with various ways they would use the grand style so they have concrete audiences for each of the three styles. The goal here is to demonstrate to students that they need to be fully aware of how to write in the grand style so that they are prepared for the majority of their college career and their future in the workforce.

  • In class we examine a different student’s letter for the virtues of style. As this letter is discussed and students color code their own homework, answers to the same questions posed on the first assignments are reassessed and students return to the comparison created in the previous class, only this time they compare the medium and grand styles.


As with the comparison between the plain and the medium style, this comparison allows students to see the nature of the differences while also demonstrating that as long as students take care in their writing, there is not much that differs between the medium and the grand style.

  • Now that student have had a chance to look specifically at each of the styles and have been provided with a chance to write in each of the styles, they are more familiar with the audience’s impact on the style used. Now, in my opinion, is the best time to provide them with the more concrete rules for the lesson. The best way to do this, however is not to actually provide them with the rules for each style, but to create a chart that exemplifies this.


Asking students to aid in the creation of the chart allows for a chance to gauge the students’ individual knowledge of the rules. This also aids students in their own realization that they can distinguish between the three styles and that they do know the virtues that go along with these styles. Also, creating the chart in class, through the use of a Word table projected on an overhead allows students to see the chart being created and allows the instructor to post this chart to the course webpage once it has been completed. By waiting until the end of the unit to establish the rules for the styles, students have had a chance to become accustomed with writing in the styles without feeling overwhelmed by the rules associated with the style and, therefore, not creating assignments that will aid in their understanding of these styles.

Homework Day Three

Begin Revisions to your letters, making sure that both letters adhere specifically to the virtues of their specific style.


Asking students to revise the two letters while paying attention to the virtues should finally solidify any ambiguity between style differences. Additionally, this assignment asks students to look at the styles in relation to their virtues as they complete the revisions. Therefore, the specific virtues associated with each style are internalized as students continue to connect the virtues with traits of their own writing.