Friday, March 29, 2013

Conversation: Phones in the Classroom?

I'm young enough that I've had a cell phone my entire adult life and much of my adolescence. Sure, my first one was a Nokia that required Morse-code like skills to send a simple text message and contained only a pixelated Snake game for entertainment, but I still got in the habit of being constantly connected (well, as constantly connected as rural phone service would let my teenage self be). 

Now that I've got a more sophisticated phone, I love the ability to browse the news when I'm stuck in line at the bank, shoot a quick Facebook message to a friend while I'm walking to my car, and map my route home when I take a wrong turn. I am not anti-cell phones.

Assignment: Gaining Perspective

Perspective is a key part of understanding how to write well. As writers, we need to recognize that we approach each assignment with our own unique perspective. We also need to realize that we have the power to change that perspective. In addition, we need to recognize that our readers approach what we write with a perspective of their own, one that might or might not match what we had in mind.

Since perspective is mostly about the way we see things, it makes sense to demonstrate it through visuals. This in-class activity will give you a chance to explore your own perspective in a new way.

Conversation: Accelerated Classes

There are many different approaches to redesigning developmental classes. This article from Academic Impressions explores a few of them, focusing especially on the assisted learning approach (where non-credit bearing classes are eliminated and students are placed into credit-bearing courses with extra support) and accelerated courses (where developmental classes meet for longer class periods over a shorter part of the semester, allowing students to move through them faster).

Assignment: Writing Process Description

Overview- This paper will be a description of your own writing process. Using the terms we’ve talked about in class (prewriting, writing, rewriting, brainstorming, outlining, etc.), describe the writing process you typically use when you write. Once you have your typical writing process down, describe where you think your writing process can be improved.

Assignment: Does Grammar Matter?

Overview- A solid discussion of grammar will often leave students in a space of uncertainty. If we explain that all dialects have grammar and that no grammar is inherently better than any other, we can give them impression that grammar does not matter. At the same time, if we explain that students are held purely to the Standard Academic English grammatical standards, we can give the impression that grammar is the only thing that matters.

This in-class activity is designed to explore that tension.

Monday, March 11, 2013

PowerPoint: Dialects and Discourses

At the end of a week-long discussion on dialects and discourses, I used the following PowerPoint in class to wrap up the key concepts and focus on what students need to know about dialects and discourses in academic and professional contexts.

The main takeaway from this presentation is that Standard Academic English is no more "correct" than any other dialect of English but that mastering it is often a necessity for participation in professional and academic discourse communities.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Reading: Do You Speak American?

PBS has a great resource on different dialects in American English. There are a lot of different entry points into the material, but one way to break it up and share it with students is to assign the section on "American Varieties" as reading. Students could then choose two or three of the different dialects to explore in more detail: Appalachian English, AAVE, Californian, Cajun, Chicano, Lumbee, Midwest, New York City, Pacific Northwest, Pittsburghese, Smoky Mountains, SpanglishSouthern, and Texan.


Since many of these individual sections are written by sociolinguists, some of the language and discussion of dialectical variations can be rather technical and dense. In order to help students discuss their readings in more detail, there are a variety of sources that could be brought into the classroom to help illustrate the way dialects work.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Reading: Bad Grammar? No Job.

CEO Kyle Wiens has a strict grammar policy, and he explains it in this Harvard Business Journal article. For Wiens, bad grammar is a professional deal breaker, no matter how qualified the applicant might otherwise be. He is also clear that this applies at all levels of the work for his business, not just the management or writing positions. If someone is stocking shelves, he believes, they should have to pass a grammar test to do it.

Wiens' blunt message seems to get students talking. In discussions I've had, students have called his policy into question as unfair and discriminatory. We've used this as a platform to talk about how grammar can be used to discriminate against someone and how grammar can be used to judge someone. Then we've talked about whether that judgment is fair or not.

briefcase man on a windy day

Reading: Grammar as Fashion

This NYTimes article compares grammar to fashion and provides a great starting point for a discussion on why grammar matters as well as when it matters and how to use it. This piece does an excellent job of re-framing what has often been pointed out as "errors." Instead of seeing unconventional grammar usage as mistakes, this article sees them as variations of language usage, much the same way people vary their clothing choices.


There's nothing wrong with wearing bunny slippers, but we wouldn't wear bunny slippers to a job interview because it sends the wrong message and doesn't meet the expectations of our audience.

Reading: Language and Culture

This Wall Street Journal article takes a look at how language differences mirror cultural differences. It examines how people from cultures that use words for directional terms (north, east, southwest, etc.) in everyday directions have a stronger sense of direction and that people from cultures that use passive construction are less likely to place blame on individuals for accidents.

It raises questions about the nature of language. What comes first: our thoughts about the world that then shapes the words we create to express it or the language that we learn that then shapes how we see the world? It also raises questions about what learning language means to us as we live our lives. How can we use what we know about language to make sure that we are aware of how it shapes our perceptions?

Prezi: Becoming a Lifelong Writer

This is a short, simple presentation that gives some basic tips on becoming a lifelong writer that might be used at the end of a semester to talk about how the tools we gained carry forward.

Assignment: Exploring Audience Expectations

Overview- Good writers adapt their material for their audience. Even if your purpose remains the same, your message will change when your audience changes if you want to deliver it effectively. A good way to see this in action is to explore the websites run by The Washington Post. The Washington Post is a nationally-renowned newspaper that provides information, analysis, and commentary on a wide range of topics.

Reading: Differences in Sign Language Highlights Discourse Communities

This article from The Washington Post demonstrates that there is a racial difference in American Sign Language usage. It traces the difference back to practices in segregation and could be used as a place to start a discussion on the way different dialects form. It is also a very useful way to discuss that there is no "right" way to use language and that language develops through usage.

Lisa Wade also talks about this post over at Sociological Images.

Reading: Exploring How Language Shapes Thought

Since language is how we make meaning out of our world, it makes sense that language would impact how we view the world around us. Many researchers have shown that the way we use language impacts the way that we think.

This article from Cracked (Warning: contains some profanity and sexual innuendo. For a more formal version of similar content, see this WSJ article.) puts several examples of language shaping our perception into a relatable, comical list. Everything from how we visualize time to how we perceive colors to how we follow directions is ultimately controlled by the words we use to explain those things.

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