Thursday, January 31, 2008

Peer Review

Yesterday's peer review session was very helpful. It is nice to be in a class where people actually tell you what they like and don't like about your paper instead of just saying, "good job." I got a lot of feedback that I will be able to put to good use once I bring myself to look at my paper again (after staying up all night to write it, I don't want to see it until at least Sunday). My only complaint is that we have to answer specific questions during peer review. I think it is nice to have a few general questions to guide readers into making helpful comments, but I would have liked it better if we had more time to focus on what needs help the most instead of answering questions. There were specific things that I wanted to talk about during peer review that I ran out of time for. However, in most situations I guess questions are what lead people away from saying "good job" and stopping there. Anyways I found the overall session very helpful. Now if only I could find someone to help me type my paper, then I'd be golden.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Grammar Snobs

I personally like this book a lot. I think it has a lot of useful information in it, and it is fun to read (and I do not use that phrase often). I could see how Jane Casagrande can be seen as a Grammar Snob herself, but at least she has a sense of humor about it. I also like the fact that she uses funny stories to teach the lessons. The only real problem I have with it is that the actual grammar part isn't really marked, so if I were to look something up it might take a while (though dog-earring the pages has pretty much fixed this issue).

After reading this some of this book and talking about grammar in class today, I realized that I actually don't hate grammar as much as I thought I did. I don't think that I will ever memorize all of the rules (or even half of the rules), and I don't think that if I teach my main focus is going to be how grammatically correct a paper is. However, I do think that knowing a little grammar comes in handy every now and then. For example, I think that it was easier for me to learn German because I knew English grammar. I knew what the direct object was versus the indirect object, so I knew when to change the article accordingly. I also find it helpful to discuss ESL. Actually, as I am writing this, I am beginning to rethink my "useful grammar" statement. Other than learning a foreign language and helping ESL students, I can't really remember the last time I used a grammar lesson. I think it's kind of odd that the only things I really focused on English grammar for are those instances involving a language other than English. Huh. Well now I don't know what I think. Either way, I still like the book so far, and I guess I will have to figure out whether I like grammar in general at a later point.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Recap on Rhetoric

To be totally honest, sometimes I feel like I should not be an English major. For starters I don't enjoy reading. I am starting to like it more than I used to, but it still isn't my cup of tea. Also, I can't spell to save my life. Until last year I actually thought the popular phrase "for granted" was spelled (and said for that matter) "for granit." In addition, I don't have an incredibly insightful vocabulary, and I usually forget impressive words after I hear them. But to top it all off, despite the fact that I am majoring in composition and rhetoric (and I like it, I really do), yesterday in class was the first time I have ever come across the Rhetorical Triangle. I know, right?! But here's what I think, take it or leave it: I think that English needs people like me (conceded I know). I think that while every discipline has people with natural talent, people who are good at what they do because God liked them better, I also think that every discipline needs people like me that are intrigued and fascinated with the things they didn't know. People who not only want to become better, but they can't wait to share that knowledge with other people. They can't wait to start helping other people see literature and English in a new light and express themselves in ways they had never came across before. Because I don't have the vocabulary or the reading background, I think I can approach topics with somewhat of an innocence, the freedom from preconceptions. I am not merely a compolation of somebody else's ideas and theories, but I am learning those theories for the first time and manipulating them to fit my world.

Ok well now that I got that off my chest, let me quickly say what I thought about this Rhetorical Triangle. I think that audience is very important to any writer/communicator. The professor I interviewed said that we couldn't have "good writing" if the audience wasn't moved to read it; our "good writing" would fall on deaf ears. With that said, as I consider the rhetoric of the essay our class is about to write, I want to maintain a close relationship with my audience. I want to appear a reliable source as I detail the opinions of my professor, but I also want my audience to know that I too am still analyzing my results. We tutors are in a sense in this together (to be as cliche as possible), deciding what works, what does not, and why in order to help our future students in the most effective way possible. I want to lead my audience toward an opinion, but I will try to remain open-minded as I construct my thoughts.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

MP Chapters 8-10

I just finished reading section 2 in Pipher's book (more than a few hours in advance...a huge accomplishment on my part), and I am working on digesting everything she said. She certainly throws out a lot of advice in these chapters, most of which I think is common sense, but there were a few points she made that I have never really taken into consideration.

Point 1: Keep old journals and writing
I was always one of those little girls that liked to pick out cool-looking journals, write in them twice, and loose them somewhere under my bed or in a closet. On top of that, on the rare occasion that I did manage to write something meaningful in them, I would usually get the thought out of my system then crumple it up and throw it away. I found this more satisfying than reading about a hard experience later. However, it recently occurred to me that someday I am going to have children, and God forbid I have a girl who thinks like I do sometimes. She is going to want to know what I was like as a young adult, what kind of relationship problems or philosophical moments I had, and I won't have anything to tell her because my memories will be newly recycled paper by that point. When I read in Pipher's book that she often reads her own journals as a way to see how she thought about certain issues in the past and sometimes uses them during the writing process, I became even more convinced that I should go buy one more pretty journal and try again. In addition, Pipher talks about keeping old papers/poetry that can help you reflect back on situations you may have experienced. I always keep my old papers, but rarely ever do I actually read them. Perhaps in the near future I will set aside time to do that.

Point 2: Point of View
Pipher offers a lot of advise about this topic that I find helpful. I won't go into detail because if you are reading this then you have probably read the section and know what was in it. However I will say that I never really pay attention to my use of pronouns in terms of saying "we" vs. "you," and after reading her section on pronouns, I think I probably should.

Point 3: Constraints
This wasn't one of Pipher's main points, but it is the one that I liked the best in this section. She says, "We all work within constraints that define us, hinder us, and teach us what we need to know" (162). I just thought this was a comforting way to think of problems that occur during life. Basically that there is something that you personally need to learn,and the problems in your life are designed to teach you that lesson. I'm not sure I agree all the time, but it's a nice thought nonetheless.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. day. That means a day off of school, a day without mail, a day when the bank is closed, and my deposit shows up late. These are the things I am usually thinking about while I'm enjoying the 3-day weekend. I'm afraid this is what most national holidays amount to in the end. For extra credit I read "The Letter from Birmingham Jail," and I kinda feel bad about planning to sleep in tomorrow morning. I have never read the letter before (I made it a point not to read much of anything for the majority of my life... I'm working on it though), and I'm sorry that I waited until today.

Martin Luther King Jr. obviously did a lot of great things in his lifetime, but what I like about him most is his sense of how to bring about change. In the letter, he mentioned an idea that Pipher has been talking about in her book on writing. The idea was that you can't sit around waiting for some magical solution to present itself. As King suggested, "[one] cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham...Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea" (par. 5). In other words, if you want to make a change in the world, you have to enact a call for action. Whether you do so in writing by sharing someone's story, or in person by presenting the issues through a demonstration, you have to make solutions happen or you are nothing but part of the problem. I know this idea sounds cliche', but I have never found it as true as I did today.

Martin Luther King Jr. not only dedicated his life to making changes in our country, but he also left behind a legacy that shows each and every person the most effective way to make a change. He was not afraid to speak his mind, sharing stories and ideas that inspired our nation to see things differently. He then took responsibility for the responses, both positive and negative, to those ideas. So tomorrow when I wake up an hour later than I should and enjoy the extra day without class, I will try to remember the man and the ideals that are being honored. I sincerely hope you do the same.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Oh Mary

While reading Mary Pipher's book about writing, I have been trying to consciously underline and comment on the sections that I find most useful/inspiring (I'm usually a pretty awful at this, but I'm working on it). I have to say that in general, I think she makes some insightful and true comments about writing; however, I am not entirely attached to this book. Overall, I sometimes find her distant or somewhat fake (or at least not as genuine as I expected), but I think when she looses herself in a thought and becomes grounded she can make some very good points.
One such point is made right in the introduction. I like how she says that in much earlier times, "The problems that arose often were not solvable. But they were nearby" (9). She goes on to talk about how there are people out there who want to make world problems as important and real as local issues, but they are unsure how. Her answer is to write. Write and create empathy. She says to share people's stories in order to bring out the human aspect of problems, thus bringing them into perspective. I agree with this idea completely, and it is one of my favorite aspects of writing.
Another one of my favorite points (and probably the last I will discuss because this is getting long) is the part of the book where she talks about how hard it is to start writing. I often find myself dreading writing, which I just assumed was some unnatural quark I alone possessed (one that makes me rethink my major at times). However, after reading Pipher's section about diving-in and her own fears when writing, I felt better. My favorite quote this far in the whole book is from Thomas Mann saying, "A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than for others." (76).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Thinking about Monday

I thought the class discussion on Monday (looking at assignments and determining what theory they fit) was pretty interesting. The rhetoric major in me likes to analyze a lot of different things, but I can honestly say I never thought to pick apart an assignment sheet before. Though after doing so,  it occurred to me that I don't think teachers themselves always know which theory they like/use the most. For example, I've had high school teachers and professors that assign a paper similar to an expressivist/ social constructionist essay, only to grade the essay according to current tradition rules. It seems to me that students and teachers alike can confuse what the most important aspects of what "good" writing are. I always thought good writing was writing that made an impact (whether it was personal or on another person), but since the strength of that impact depends on the standards the writing is held to, how do you choose the standards that will effectively impact the most people?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Wonderful World of Whaling from a Social Constructionist

If I were to respond from a Social Constructionism point of view to the student that "wrote" the essay on whaling , I would say something like the following: 

Joe Shmoe,
I received your essay today, and there are a few issues that I wanted to address. I think that you have taken an interesting approach to this assignment, and I would like to help you improve the rhetorical value of your essay. 
First of all, it seems to me that this essay makes an attempt to give readers two perspectives on whaling:
1. It can be easily overdone and thus harmful.
2. When a tradition in a culture, whaling can become necessary. 
Although I can find these ideas in your essay, separating these viewpoints into different paragraphs will help your audience to locate them much more efficiently. 
Speaking of audience, knowing who your readers are will also improve your essay. For example, your essay begins, "Did you know..." but who is you? This paper presents multiple perspectives on whaling, but it is unclear exactly who you are targeting. Is this essay meant for someone against whaling, or is it pointed at someone that has no opinion yet? If it is directed towards one side more than the other, what is the purpose of this essay? In other words, by the end of your essay, if I ask myself, "Why should I care" or "Why is this important," then I should be able to look back at your essay and discover the answer. 
I hope you will pass these comments on to your partner as she uses your essay to prepare a second draft of the collaborative paper. Good luck!!
-Ms. Teacher

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Myself as a Writer

Although I enjoy writing very much, I have never actually deemed myself a writer; therefore thinking about myself as such is a change of pace. I suppose when it comes down to it, I write not only to express myself, but also to arrange my thoughts and ideas about different moments, events, subjects, etc. Mostly I do this through poetry. I don't usually sit down with an idea or experience in my mind, rather they come to me sporadically (often in the middle of class or at night when it is most inconvenient). The end result is usually a stream of consciousness piece that I slowly craft into a poem, later structuring and making sense of the words on the page. Although I have the strongest passion for poetry, I do enjoy analytical essays of almost any kind. I used to be strongly opposed to picking works apart and rearranging their elements to bring forth some magical hidden meaning, for I believed real authors did not have as many secret intentions as educators believed. However, one of my english professors changed my mind. She related writing to clothing by saying that like it or not, the clothes we choose to wear say something about who we are as people; writing is the same way. Although an author does not always intend to use a symbol or illustrate a deeper meaning, it does not mean that a reader cannot find one; interpretation is in the eyes of the interpreter. It is for this reason that I began to cherish analysis because it opens up new possibilities for works. I suppose my ambition for my writing is that each reader can relate to my work and draw from it the meaning he/she wishes it to hold. I try to make this a strength of my writing, making strong arguments or suggestions while allowing room for a reader to take his/her own point of view. In addition, I try to bring original interpretations of my topics to light, something that will make the reader ask questions. This strength, however, can often lead to my main weakness which is getting too involved in a particular topic. Often times I find myself diving into more research than necessary or writing papers well over the page limitations of the assignment. I like to think this weakness is caused by an admirable passion, but in reality it is most likely a case of wordiness. Nevertheless as I learn to evaluate myself as a writer, I find that much of my ability can be credited to a kind of selfishness as I indulge myself in my own love of expression and exploration.