Assessing Sophistication

I am on a team of judges for an essay contest. There are around fifty entries in the contest, so I decided to make my selections in a series of cuts. I recently did a first pass over all of them, choosing some to advance to the next round. As I was making the cuts, I wrote down the reasons for the first few decisions I made, then used those criteria to assess the rest. I figured I'd post the criteria here both to get feedback on them and to save them for future retrieval.

I made my decisions primarily using the criterion of general sophistication, but what does that mean? Here's a more specific idea:

  • Choice of topic -- while it may be true that some of these topics were suggested by an instructor, I tend to assume that the student has final say in the decision of what to write about, and I chose papers with thoughtful, fresh, unusual topics. While students certainly can do something different with a topic such as underage drinking, it doesn't usually work out that way in practice. I tended to award more cachet to a paper with a topic such as "public education's use of for-profit consulting corporations" than a topic such as "doing drugs while pregnant." By the way, in writing studies, there's a term for that: a "cheerleader paper," an argument no one would possibly argue against. What reasonable person would argue that a woman *should* do illegal recreational drugs while pregnant?
  • Command of material -- some of the papers read like they were parroting the investigative style of television news of the 20/20, Today Show, or Dateline NBC variety.* That is to say, they read more like a recital than an argument, they oversimplified the topic, and they repeated banal messages (eat more fruits and vegetables, and do thirty minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day). The papers I chose to go to the next round had more of an authorial presence -- there's an author in these papers who is clearly in control of the subject matter. Some of the papers I chose also used personal experience and/or vivid physical description (pragmatographia) in interesting and effective ways to bring the material to life.
  • Marshaling of evidence -- this is related to "command of material." In the papers I chose, there seems to be evidence which is deliberately chosen (not just a data dump) and arranged in order to make specific points. In the marshaling of evidence, these writers seem to have an awareness of the credibility of sources. These papers' writers were also better at integrating source material into their own arguments.
  • Looking beyond the obvious -- this is related to "command of material" as well insofar as the stating-the-obvious papers were the more recital-esque ones. The writers of the more sophisticated papers seemed thoughtful enough, for example, to recognize when an argument was facile, when a representation was stereotypical, or why a proposed plan to address an issue wouldn't work. They also demonstrated their understanding and consideration of differing views.
  • Bibliography -- the papers I chose tended to cite more, and more credible, sources. By the way, all the entries are research-paper type essays.

* Imitation is fine, actually; I understand the impulse to try on various authoritative voices. In fact, it's a good rhetorical strategy. My disappointment with the 20/20 papers has much to do with mass media discourse, and again, I don't know much about the context -- they could have had teachers who assigned 20/20 in class, for all I know. I contend, however, that more sophisticated readers and writers can recognize the canned quality of that style and try to avoid it.

Another post about moving

Like New Kid, I'm thinking a lot about moving lately. There are so many little things to do, phone calls to make, etc., and I'm trying to keep track of everything. I'm also constantly mentally sorting our inventory of stuff to think about what we can use, recycle, or give away.

I realized a little while ago that I have not bought any shower gel in the year 2007. This is remarkable for two reasons: first, I haven't bought any shower gel in six months (though there were big hauls in June and December of 2006); and second, we have had a well over six-month supply of shower gel in the bathroom closet. We have the equivalent of two eight-ounce bottles left, so we won't be buying any more until we've relocated, nor will we be buying any hair care products.

Jonathan says that bath products are a big part of my consumer identity, which is an understatement. Still, I think about how much money we would save just buying Suave or store brand shower gel. I would like to turn over a new leaf once we get to Louisiana and spend less on bath stuff. I have a boatload of perfumes and lotions anyway, so I'll smell expensive for many years to come. Will I be able to do it?

Also, Jonathan had a brilliant idea last night. He has wanted to sort our books according to the Library of Congress classification system, as we have a lot, but so far in our moves, we've been too anxious to unpack and just put books on shelves. Plus we didn't want to reshelve if our predictions about quantity of each classification were wrong. But Jonathan is now planning to sort our books (or maybe only his books, we'll see) as he packs them. The great leap forward.

Fruity Chemicals: Do Want

I sure would like to have this:

BUT, we're moving in a few weeks, so we are buying NOTHING until we get to Lafayette. In fact, we need to use up all the stuff we already have that can be used up, and give away some other stuff.

On a related note, I've been cooking up a storm lately so that we eat all the food in our pantry before the move: biscuits to use up flour, butter, and sour cream (that's my biscuit recipe); deviled eggs to use up eggs, mustard, celery, and onion; a beans/rice concoction; and peanut butter balls, to use up peanut butter, honey, dry milk powder*, and wheat germ. That's just a sampling of the food we have.

* We have so much dry milk powder that I've been adding it to all kinds of stuff, like instant oatmeal, which we also have a lot of to eat. Turns out that adding dry milk powder to stuff is a good and unobtrusive way to add protein and calcium to a dish, so that's a bonus. The reason we have dry milk powder in the first place is that I hate milk, and Jonathan's indifferent to it, so we can never use even a pint of milk by the expiration date. So for any recipe that calls for milk, I just mix up a little from the powder.

Practicum Bibliography

I got some very helpful comments on the last post about the practicum I'll be teaching this fall. Now I want to get some feedback about readings I'm thinking about assigning. I should say first that at ULL, graduate students take a practicum and a separate composition theory course, which I'll be teaching in the spring. I think this sequence is good; graduate students get the bulk of their exposure to theory after they've had a semester of teaching experience and can perhaps do a better job seeing how the theory can be applied to practice. This way, I'm not dealing with a roomful of graduate students who are starved for practical knowledge about managing the day-to-day tasks involved in teaching a writing course and trying to deflect their needs and redirect them toward composition theory.

Truth be told, I've never thought that theory-precedes-practice approach was very productive. I was in a similar situation in my M.A. program, and while the professor was excellent, most of the students were desperate to talk about specific problems they were having in class, and it frustrated them to have those discussions pushed aside to talk about George Kennedy's "A Hoot in the Dark: The Evolution of General Rhetoric," Bitzer and Vatz, or even Ede and Lunsford's "Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked" -- though I myself am grateful to have been assigned these. I really think that the struggle to make the pedagogy course an introduction to the field of composition studies increases hostility toward composition studies. Sure, some people aren't going to take composition seriously anyway, but it's still nice not to have to do everything all in one course.

The readings for the practicum, then, are going to be nuts-and-bolts practical. We only meet for one hour once a week, and I expect that for some meetings, we won't have readings at all but will have presentations or discussions of classroom experiences instead. I'm pretty sure I'm going to order The St. Martin's Guide to Teaching Writing and supplement it with a few other readings. If you can think of a better book, please let me know, but I actually really like the St. Martin's Guide.

"Why I (Used to) Hate to Give Grades" by Lynn Bloom

Responding to Student Writing
Straub, Richard. “The Concept of Control in Teacher Response: Defining the Varieties of ‘Directive’ and ‘Facilitative’ Commentary.” College Composition and Communication 47 (May 1996): 223-51.

excerpt from Errors and Expectations, Mina Shaughnessy
Robert J. Connors and Andrea A. Lunsford, "Frequency of Formal Errors in Current College Writing, or Ma and Pa Kettle Do Research"

Designing Writing Assignments
Chapter 13, Developing Writing Assignments, from A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers, Erika Lindemann and Daniel Anderson

Syllabus and Course Design
Chapter 15, Designing Writing Courses, from from A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers, Erika Lindemann and Daniel Anderson

I need the most help with the following, though I'd like suggestions for all of the topics:

Plagiarism, Citation, and Authorship (there's so much to choose from here)

Teaching Philosophy (there's got to be a good essay about developing a teaching philosophy and articulating it in a statement)

Teaching Portfolios (see above -- is there anything in our field about this?)

Classroom Management, Teaching Persona, Authority (i.e., ethos, performance)

Wait, do we like this? No? Okay, never mind.

Most of the time I'm afraid to say what it is I really like in terms of art, music, architecture, interior decoration, and even literature, lest the higher connoisseurs reprove me. In matters of taste, there are certain friends and family members of mine who have made me feel ashamed when I said I liked something, and they were horrified and quick to correct me.

Bleh. I guess I'm just a rustic. One impulse I've had to this is never to say when I do like something, only when I don't. It's usually safe not to like something. Another possible response is only to choose things which are unambiguously, assiduously kitschy (and appreciate them ironically, of course). If this post were a meme, I'd tag Laura, who actually has unfailingly good taste and doesn't seem to have my confidence issues when it comes to that, to see what her thoughts were. I've loved her posts on house decoration and seeing the often kitschy items she gets on eBay, which I sincerely like.

But it's not a meme, not yet, anyway. Anyway, another possible response is to outsource taste by hiring decorators so that you don't have to be accountable. Maybe I can psych people out, make them doubt themselves, by feigning horror at what they like. Nah, that's too mean. I guess I'll apologize for my sometimes erring taste by calling it eclectic. I will say this: I like sparseness, but with a lot of whimsy.

Ah well, that was a preambulatory rant. The whole point of this post is to say how much I love this crib bedding:

All that stuff on the wall would have to go (too busy), and probably the bows and the lamp too, but I love the black and white toile. I guess it's way too soon to go ahead and order it...

Brilliant from start to finish

Read Mandolin's mashup poem based on pro-life rhetoric from some threads on Alas.

Review: Documentary about Judith Butler

The great folks at First Run Icarus Films sent me a DVD of the excellent Judith Butler: Philosophical Encounters of the Third Kind several months ago. I watched the film recently, and I'm finally getting around to writing a brief review of it.

High points: Butler walks through an art gallery discussing photographs by Cindy Sherman, who is one of my favorite photographers. She points out how Sherman's images critique gender categories and norms, and her comments are illuminative.

Butler also talks about violence and hate crimes, and while I was always convinced that the whole "Judith Butler doesn't pay enough attention to what's happening on the ground" argument was misguided and inaccurate, I think anyone who sees this film would recognize that Butler cares very much about real, material bodies and what happens to them.

One point of criticism, though. This has nothing to do with the content of the film, but rather the copyright policy (my emphasis):

We send review copies of First Run/Icarus Films releases with the understanding that if a review is published or posted (on-line), the reviewer may then retain the review copy sent for his or her own personal (but not classroom) use.

It's too bad that classroom use -- even, it seems, just showing a clip of it in class -- is prohibited. I had considered ripping a short clip as a sample so as to help sell the film, but I don't want to get a cease-and-desist letter from an attorney.

Bottom line, I would recommend that research libraries purchase the documentary. At $390 for the DVD, it might be a tad expensive for individuals, but if you're doing work on Butler, it might be worth it, especially if you have some grant funding.

My Not-So-Killer GTD Setup

I was tagged a while back for a meme, but it's been difficult for me to respond. What with finding housing in Lafayette and gearing up for the move, car trouble, and other minor setbacks, this has been a most unproductive summer so far. I hope to turn it around, though.

Anyway, here's what I generally do to Get Things Done:

  • Use Nozbe to keep track of my active projects
  • Use a Post-it Weekly Planner:

    to see what the week ahead looks like

  • Carry around a small notebook, about 5"x7", to record any thoughts I have

and that's it. The notebook is small enough to fit in my purse, and I write down a little bit of EVERYTHING in there -- lists of what I eat, what kinds of exercise I do, phone numbers and other bits of data I need to remember, and day-to-day to-do lists. I give myself permission to make that notebook a catchall, and I don't organize it any particular way. I do date everything I write in there, as many GTD-ers recommend. These notebooks are a complete brain dump, and I go through them pretty quickly. I save them, but I think I'll implement a policy similar to student papers: save them for a year, then recycle them.

I have tried a tickler file before, but it didn't turn out to be all that useful, not that I wouldn't try it again, especially given the new administrative position I'll be starting in the fall. I've also used a Hipster PDA, and I still have it, but I don't tend to use it as often as the other things I mentioned.

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