Archive for the ‘Critical Reading’ Category

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TED Talk Teaching: Part IV

posted: 5.27.15 by Barclay Barrios

TED Talks are great teaching tools.  Each is visual, engaging, focused, and contemporary.  I think they make excellent supplements to the readings in Emerging, particularly because many of the text’s authors have been TED speakers.  And the interactive transcript is a bonus feature, letting students work with the text of each talk.

In this series of posts I want to highlight some particularly useful TED Talks and suggest some of the ways to use them in the classroom.

The Talk: Pankaj Ghemawat: Actually, The World Isn’t Flat [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Barclay Barrios, Critical Reading, Emerging, Teaching with Technology
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TED Talk Teaching: Part III

posted: 5.20.15 by Barclay Barrios

TED Talks are great teaching tools.  Each is visual, engaging, focused, and contemporary.  I think they make excellent supplements to the readings in Emerging, particularly because many of the text’s authors have been TED speakers.  And the interactive transcript is a bonus feature, letting students work with the text of each talk.

In this series of posts I want to highlight some particularly useful TED Talks and suggest some of the ways to use them in the classroom.

The Talk: Kwame Anthony Appiah: Is Religion Good or Bad (This Is a Trick Question) [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Barclay Barrios, Critical Reading, Emerging, Teaching with Technology
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TED Talk Teaching: Part II

posted: 5.13.15 by Barclay Barrios

TED Talks are great teaching tools.  Each is visual, engaging, focused, and contemporary.  I think they make excellent supplements to the readings in Emerging, particularly because many of the text’s authors have been TED speakers.  And the interactive transcript is a bonus feature, letting students work with the text of each talk.

In this series of posts I want to highlight some particularly useful TED Talks and suggest some of the ways to use them in the classroom.

The Talk: Daniel Gilbert: The Surprising Science of Happiness [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Barclay Barrios, Critical Reading, Emerging, Teaching with Technology
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TED Talk Teaching: Part I

posted: 5.6.15 by Barclay Barrios

TED Talks are great teaching tools.  Each is visual, engaging, focused, and contemporary.  I think they make excellent supplements to the readings in Emerging, particularly because many of the text’s authors have been TED speakers.  And the interactive transcript is a bonus feature, letting students work with the text of each talk.

In this series of posts I want to highlight some particularly useful TED Talks and suggest some of the ways to use them in the classroom.

The Talk: Michael Pollan: A Plant’s Eye View [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Barclay Barrios, Critical Reading, Emerging, Teaching with Technology
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More Unflattening

posted: 1.12.11 by Barclay Barrios

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, our students have a tendency to flatten readings by reducing them to one or two simplified concepts. One way we try to discourage this tendency is to focus on parts of the readings that feel tangential or less important, thereby encouraging students to develop depth.

For example, the Leslie Savan essay “What’s Black, Then White, and Said All Over?” is primarily concerned with the appropriation of black slang by pop culture and media. That’s an easy concept for students to comprehend—all they need to do is turn on the television (or check out some popular video memes) to see it happening. But at the end of her essay Savan talks about the controversies surrounding Black English in the classroom. Students tend to disregard that part of the essay, so in our last assignment we tried to make it center stage: [read more]

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Categories: Critical Reading, Emerging
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Writing About Food

posted: 2.5.10 by archived

In the readings section for How To Write Anything, there are several essays that examine food: food as site of family or cultural tradition, food science and economics, and even reviews of food.  I like reading and talking about food and I find students do, too.

So I thought I’d borrow some ideas from the book and create a few short prompts to share some ways we might assign food-oriented writing assignments.

Narrative: Personal Food History

Choose one important dish that has been passed along in your family or your culture.  Do some research: Ask the cooks you know to tell you more about the dish; try to find out a bit about the history of its ingredients and their cultural significance; compare this recipe to versions of the dish in other cultures.  You might use Internet resources such as allrecipes.com, epicurious.com, or foodtimeline.org. Finally, reflect on what you’ve learned and write about it.  What does the cultural history of what you eat say about who you are?

If you want some examples to share with students, try The American Cookbook Project, “a forum for sharing food stories. People from across the country are invited to share their favorite recipes and memories associated with this dish. This is not simply an online cookbook but a collection of memories and recollections of great meals from the past.”

Research Paper: Where Does Your Food Come From?

Create a food map.  Choose ingredients for a small meal and then do some research to find out where your food has come from. If you can find company names, you should be able to do some Internet research.  Then, find out what you can about how and where some of the key ingredients in your meal were produced. Use what you know about how and where your food was produced to ground an evaluation or review of your meal in the facts about its production.

Michael Pollan’s blog for the NY Times might be a resource that you assign for reading and discuss with students to prepare for this assignment.

Students also might be interested in the Factory Farm Map, sites like Local Harvest, or a Food Miles Calculator.

Review: Food Critic

You can write your review of a restaurant, or you can review a food product that you buy from the supermarket.  In either case, you’ll need to spend a small amount of money on your primary research: Buy a meal or purchase the product.  As you eat, make sure that you take lots of notes: observe sensory details, record dialogue (if appropriate), and so on.  As you write your review, try to recreate the experience of eating for your reader—be objective and give lots of thick description.  You can have an opinion, but try to balance your opinion so that your reader can also make up her or his own mind based on the information you provide.

McSweeney’s has fun and unconventional examples of food reviews, and more standard reviews can be found at the New York Times site, or the Web home for Gourmet magazine.

Proposal: New Food Ideas

This is a more creative assignment that asks you to write about a new food idea.  Be inventive: What food do you make for yourself that everyone should try?  What new food technology would you like to see?  What new combinations would make great recipes?  What is the future of food?  Then think about what the positive impact might be of this new food, as well as the challenges you might face in creating it.  What do you need to do to make this food a reality, and then to get others to eat it?  Write a proposal that supports your idea.

And then, just for fun, here is a video about NOT writing about food, featuring Cookie Monster.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Critical Reading, How to Write Anything, Jay Dolmage, Writing Process
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Thinking Gray

posted: 12.9.09 by Barclay Barrios

I recently chatted with a group of teachers at a nearby institution who were going to test the readings in Emerging, Appiah’s “Making Conversation” and “The Primacy of Practice.”  One of the things we talked about is that students always want to flatten what they read, a particular problem when it comes to essays with subtle and complex ideas like Appiah’s.  After reading these selections, students will want to say, “We should all just get along,” or “We just need to talk more and that will solve things.”  And, yes, those reflect Appiah’s ideas.  But things are not so simple, so black and white.  Sometimes the challenge of teaching writing is getting students to think gray—to deal with the messiness of complexity, and to think their own way through it.

I shared with those teachers some of the techniques I use to get students thinking gray.  For example, the class will gravitate to certain sections of an essay or certain quotations; these will probably be the key sections of the reading, but they will also probably be the ones students “get.”  I try to direct students to the ignored parts of an essay.  If a section feels unimportant, then why is it there?  What does it do for the argument?  Along these lines, I ask peer editors to find quotations from the essay that challenge a student author’s argument.

But sometimes the best way to think gray is to pay very close attention to the text.  That was my suggestion for Appiah.  Students will want to dismiss him as all “kumbaya” and “Let’s all get along.”  But then I direct them to a small but crucial quotation from Appiah’s text: “Cosmopolitanism is the name not of the solution but of the challenge.”  Asking students to explain what Appiah means, to account for this quotation within his larger argument, to see cosmopolitanism as both a challenge and a solution… that is the stuff of thinking gray.

What are your methods for engaging students in a “messy” reading?

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Categories: Argument, Critical Reading, Critical Thinking, Emerging, Rhetorical Situation, Working with Sources
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Helen Vendler: Close Reader In Action

posted: 9.28.09 by archived

by Andrew Flynn

Helen Vendler is famous for reading poems closely. Her skills are certainly on display in this discussion with master interviewer Christopher Lydon a couple of years ago. It appeared on his Internet radio show Open Source.

Vendler talks about her then-new book on W. B. Yeats, Our Secret Discipline, offering thought-provoking analysis of a number of poems, including the famous “An Irish Airman Forsees His Death”:

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My county is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Vendler makes many illuminating observations (the discussion of the poem begins at minute 5:12)—about the poem’s history, its form, and its content—but I was particularly struck by her analysis of time and place. Vendler notes:

The thing that Yeats does that to me is astonishing in this poem is that he makes the airplane take off. When the Irish airman begins speaking, he’s on the ground, saying “I know that I shall meet my fate/Somewhere among the clouds above”—so he’s looking up to the clouds in the sky, the clouds are above. Later, he says, “A lonely impulse of delight/ Drove to this tumult in the clouds”—this tumult that he is now experiencing in the clouds, where he is surrounded by the clouds and is up in the air. And, somehow between line two and line twelve the plane has gone up into the air and he is speaking from the air, where he began speaking from the ground. And that seems to me one of the sort of amazing things Yeats could do in a poem, without telegraphing it, without saying, “First I will show him speaking on the ground, then I will show him aloft in his plane.” He doesn’t say a word. He just makes it happen. It’s all show and no tell with Yeats.

I’d read this poem a dozen or so times before, but I’d never noticed this major shift in time and place. Her analysis makes for fresh reading of this well-read poem, though I’m still trying to figure out what happens between lines two and twelve.

The quality of Vendler’s reading is that it reveals both subtleties that benefit academic debates on interpretation and also make the act of reading more pleasurable.

In her Poems, Poets, Poetry text, Vendler includes “An Irish Airman Forsees His Death” in chapter 6 on “Constructing a Self.” The chapter focuses on space and time, testimony, typicality, and motivations—considerations that help readers understand how poets create their speakers. Vendler advises:

As you read a poem, ask yourself question about the speaker constructed within the poem. Where is he or she in time and space? Over how long a period? With what motivations? How typical? Speaking in what tones of voice? Imagining life how? Resembling the author or different from the author? The more you can deduce about the speaker, the better you understand the poem. If you think about what has been happening to the speaker before the poem begins (if that is implied by the poem), you will understand the speaker better.

Helpful advice—and the entire Open Source interview with Christopher Lydon is well worth a listen.

Activity:
Take a favorite poem that you think you know well. Then consider Vendler’s advice quoted above. How do these considerations about the poem’s speaker change the way you read? How does it change your understanding of the poem’s meaning?

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Critical Reading, Discussion, Genre, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature
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Stop Dihydrogen Monoxide!

posted: 4.14.08 by Barclay Barrios

As an exercise in getting students to evaluate Web sources with a critical eye, have them review the Web site for the Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division. This site details the dangers of this chemical, which include death from inhalation and severe burns from its gaseous form. The punch line is that the chemical is water. See if your students can decode this hoax and then prompt a discussion of the reliability of Web sources in research projects.

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Categories: Argument, Assignment Idea, Critical Reading, Finding Sources, Rhetorical Situation, Teaching with Technology
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Thesaurus Distortion

posted: 11.6.06 by Barclay Barrios

Have students review the section of the handbook on choosing words and/or tone. Then, either in a computer classroom or at home, have them choose a key sentence from their drafts and use a thesaurus (book or electronic form) to replace every significant word in the sentence (perhaps even multiple times). Bring these altered sentences in for a discussion of how/if they still work. Use the handbook to begin a discussion on how word choice impacts tone and meaning, and then continue that discussion by looking at the word choices in the current reading.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Critical Reading, Grammar & Style, Revising, Teaching with Technology
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