Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

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Teaching the Tensions

posted: 1.30.15 by Donna Winchell

The last few weeks have seen two threats to freedom of speech that have generated international attention. The first was North Korea’s threats against Sony if the movie The Interview was released because the comedy was about the assassination of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Although the threats were enough to delay the release, within days the movie opened peacefully nationwide and was soon available on demand. It may have been only a movie—and a mediocre one at best—but it was a matter of principle. Threats to freedom of speech became much more serious with the massacre of twelve journalists at the French weekly Charlie Hebdo following the publication of cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed. They may have been only cartoons, but twelve people died for the right to publish them, and hundreds of thousands marched in support of that right. [read more]

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Categories: Argument, Critical Thinking, Discussion, Donna Winchell
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How Memes Can Build Community in the Classroom

posted: 12.14.10 by Traci Gardner

Building BlocksInternet memes, like the quizzes, surveys, and polls students see on Facebook, are one of the easiest ways to build community in the classroom. Memes, by their nature, connect people. They spread like gossip from person to person, and as they are passed along, people learn a little bit about one another in the process.

As Bits blogger Barclay Barrios explained in his discussion of teaching with video memes, memes “get students thinking about the connections between what we are reading and what’s happening out in the world.” That, of course, is why they are so successful: memes provide students with a context for building connections that’s grounded in the buzz of pop culture.

Memes are like cultural building blocks, just waiting to be arranged and assembled in the classroom. Internet quizzes, surveys, and polls will be familiar to most of the students you teach. You can begin building community in the classroom on existing knowledge and take advantage of the inherently social nature of the connections students will make.

Better yet, there’s nothing to explain before students can start engaging. They’re already pros at the genre. Just give students a quiz or survey that relates to the purpose of your course, and tell them how you want them to respond. Once they reply, you can compare the answers and discuss the memes themselves. The Internet memes become icebreaker activities that give everyone a shared experience to talk about. [read more]

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Categories: Discussion, Popular Culture, Teaching with Technology
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Talking about Tolerance

posted: 11.16.10 by Traci Gardner

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You may not realize it, but today is the International Day for Tolerance. Established by UNESCO in 1996, the event is based on their 1995 Declaration of Principles on Tolerance “to take all positive measures necessary to promote tolerance in our societies, because tolerance is not only a cherished principle, but also a necessity for peace and for the economic and social advancement of all peoples.”

One effective but simple way to explore tolerance is to look at how people talk about the concept. You can begin by asking students to record their own understanding of tolerance. They can record personal experiences, working definitions, and responses to events in the news. There is no right or wrong answer. The goal is to create a touchstone that they can return to later.

Next, take a look at UNESCO’s declaration. Article 1 specifically addresses the meaning of tolerance. Ask students to read the entire declaration, paying particular attention to that section. In class, discuss the definition in the declaration and how it compares to students’ own understanding. Explore the language that is used in the document specifically. Unpack the complex words, and note how the document attempts to be inclusive. [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Campus Issues, Critical Thinking, Discussion
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Persuasion, Argument, and Book Banning in 10 Steps

posted: 9.21.10 by Traci Gardner

Banned Books WeekALA_BBW_Poster_2010_sm is September 25−October 2, 2010. Every fall, the American Library Association (ALA) encourages the public to fight censorship and celebrate the right to read. For writing teachers, it’s also a chance to talk about persuasion and argument.

Every time a book, film, or Web site is banned from a library or classroom, argument and persuasion play a part. Students can examine these real-world arguments to see how people use argument and persuasion in everyday life.

To get started, choose some banned texts to discuss. Sadly, there are always stories about censorship and book banning in the news. All it requires is a search of Google News for “book banning” or “censorship.”

You can choose an internationally sensational event, like Florida Pastor Terry Jones’s plan to burn the Qur’an on September 11, or a more local example, such as the recent Stockton, Missouri decision to ban Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. [read more]

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Categories: Discussion, Uncategorized
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Free Documentary Films for the Classroom

posted: 2.10.10 by Traci Gardner

Last year, I shared a site that was full of ready-to-use movie clips that you can use with students. FreeDocumentaries.org (found via Lifehacker) is a similar site, but it’s full of nonfiction trailers and movies. That’s right. The site has full-length documentary films. All you have to do is download them.

The Technical Details

The site highlights documentaries like Super Size Me and SiCKO on the home page, but it also includes shorter (and likely, less well-known) documentaries. Menus on the right side of the page allow visitors to browse the documentaries by topic or region as well as to look for French or Spanish documentaries, short documentaries, and documentaries with closed captions.

The length of the videos varies. Many are less than an hour long, so they could be played during a class session. Others are longer feature-length films. Since the site and the movies are free, however, you can manage any time management challenges by having students watch movies outside of class as homework.

The site is still being developed, so there are some features missing. There’s an area on the right for tags, but it hasn’t been developed (or at least isn’t working at this point). The movies launch in a new window, so you may need to turn off any pop-up blockers you are running.

The site also requires visitors to figure out some details about the films on their own. The length of the documentaries wasn’t listed anywhere obvious and to find the dates that the films were released, I had to go to the Site Map. Still, with a free collection of documentaries readily available, the disadvantages are things I can live with.

The Pedagogical Details

FreeDocumentaries.org has an explicitly educational goal, as explained on the site’s About Us page:

Our goal is to have everyone that watches a film at freedocumentaries.org learn something; whether it be a new perspective on a topic, simply understanding a conflict, or being more accepting of a certain belief system.

If your goal is to increase students’ awareness on any of a range of specific topics, there are award-winning documentaries on the site to choose from, such as the Academy Award-winning films Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids and The Fog of War. You’ll also find documentaries that take up opposing perspectives, which you can use in the classroom to foster debate on a topic. Use the “Films by Topic” menu on the right side of the page to find collections that focus on related issues.

If you’re teaching a piece of literature or an essay, you may find a documentary that provides additional background information on the same topic. Talking about Holocaust literature? Add an episode from the Auschwitz series. Teaching The Things They Carried? Hearts and Minds, Vietnam: The Quiet Mutiny, or The Fog of War could be effective complementary texts. The collection of videos leans toward contemporary issues, so you’re not as likely to find a pairing for a Shakespearean play or the Emily Dickinson poetry. If you’re teaching a text from approximately the 1940s on, however, you may find a suitable documentary to supplement class readings.

If you’re teaching nonfiction composition, there are additional ways to use the materials on the site. The documentaries can serve as models for multimodal compositions and as examples of visual rhetoric for class analysis. Most of the documentaries are obviously persuasive (if not propagandistic), so there are opportunities to talk about persuasive techniques, argumentative fallacies, and the rhetoric of argument. As you discuss advertising techniques, for instance, you might show PBS Frontline: Merchants of Cool, which explores how corporations market products to teen consumers.

A Few Comments

  • Be sure the documentaries you choose are appropriate for the classroom, and provide any warnings or disclaimers to the class before showing the film. There is no censorship in the documentaries. Some of the films display raw images of situations that may upset students, including violent and graphic images. Many deal with tough subjects that may lead to controversial discussions. Always preview the entire documentary before you use it. That’s the best way to ensure that the film will fit with the students and local community where you teach.
  • Note the “donate” links. All the documentaries are available for free. You don’t need to donate anything to view the films. If students are confused by the “donate” links, spend a few seconds explaining why they are there and let students know that they do not need to click on them.

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Categories: Discussion, Visual Argument, Visual Rhetoric
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Send Us Your Turkey-Day Assignments!

posted: 10.31.09 by archived

Holidays can be hard to write about. The “what you did on your summer vacation” prompt probably tops the pile, but tired sentiments about gratitude and world peace might not be far behind.

With Thanksgiving coming up, the Teaching Poetry blog wants to know how you approach this holiday with your students. Do you assign elegant odes or SPAMku? Do you avoid the topic altogether?

  • How do you get around clichés and get your students thinking for themselves?
  • What models do you use?
  • If you teach creative writing, what assignments work best for generating original turkey-day themed verse?

Send in your thoughts, your favorite assignments–or stories of classroom disasters. We’ll be collecting your insights over the next couple of weeks and posting your responses on November 16th, just in time for the holiday. Then, we’ll ask you to vote for the coolest activity!

E-mail assignments to: aflynn (at) bedfordstmartins (dot) com

Deadline: anytime before Friday, November 13
Vote on all submissions: November 16
Favorites go live: November 17

Stay tuned!

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Categories: Creative Writing, Critical Thinking, Discussion, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Teaching Advice, Uncategorized, Writing Process
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The Persistence of Stereotypes in Visual Texts

posted: 10.7.09 by Traci Gardner

In my most recent Ink’d In column, I wrote about “Finding Hidden Messages in Visual Texts” and pointed to some World War II posters that demonstrated anti-Japanese bias as examples.  In my related classroom activity, I ask students to look for similar messages in more contemporary texts.

The Inside Higher Ed article “A Tale of Two Posters” provides a perfect contemporary example to use in class: a parody campaign poster that raised questions about racial stereotyping on Tufts University campus this fall. The stereotypes represented in the poster attack Asian appearance (“squinty eyes” and the exaggerated expression in the photo of In-Goo Kwak), Asian language use (use of broken English), and Korean culture (“kimchi”).

Students should easily see similarities if you show them the image of Tojo from the War Posters and the photo of In-Goo from the parody poster:

Tojo from WWII Poster, Hon. Spy Poster Detail from Photo by In-Goo Kwak

The Inside Higher Ed (IHE) article indicates that In-Goo, the parody’s designer, included the stereotypes specifically to counter what he saw as political correctness in the campaign poster of another student. Regardless of the intention, indeed perhaps because of it, the campaign poster lends itself to classroom discussion of how and why stereotypes persist in societies. You can use the WILCO mnemonic to analyze both campaign posters in more detail as part of your exploration.

In addition, take advantage of the opportunity that the article provides to discuss the nature of stereotypes, prejudice, and language use. As always when you explore emotionally-charged issues, be sure to discuss the importance of respecting the feelings of others before your analysis. Once the ground rules are set, students are bound to have an opinion on whether In-Goo’s poster should have been allowed and whether Tufts University responded appropriately. Alongside the related World War II posters, the Inside Higher Ed article will lead to some lively discussion in the classroom.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Discussion, Document Design, Visual Argument, Visual Rhetoric
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100 Sticky Notes, or The Simple Way to Move from Observations to Composing

posted: 9.30.09 by Traci Gardner

I have a new challenge for the next class of students I teach:

Buy one package of sticky notes. Any brand will do, but be sure that they are about 3″ square. There should be about 100 notes in the pad. They don’t need to be a name brand. Check the dollar store for cheap ones.

As you read texts for class this term, write your comments or questions on the sticky notes, along with the related page number, and add them to the book. During the term, I want you to use the entire pad of sticky notes.

Sound like busy work? It’s anything but. Take a look at “Added Bonus—Writing a Reader’s Response Journal Entry” from the Scholastic Classroom Solutions blog. I know. It’s an entry from a 3–5 teacher. Stay with me. Take a look at what she’s having students do.

Students write their reader response reflections and analysis on sticky notes and then adhere them to the page that the comment applies to. The journal questions that Victoria Jasztal, the teacher-blogger, uses could work with students at any level, with some slight changes to make the task age-appropriate, or you could use your own journal questions with this technique. Later, Jasztal shares a journal entry that a student might write after writing their sticky notes.

My hunch is that you’re asking why go through all this trouble. If students bought their own books, couldn’t they just underline and make comments in the margin? Sure, they could. But there are some real benefits that I’d like to point out for using sticky notes.

Perhaps the most obvious argument for the technique is that there are times when students can’t or don’t want to write in the books that they are using. The student might have a book from the library for a research project. Perhaps the student has borrowed a book from a roommate. Maybe the student just doesn’t like the idea of writing in books. Sticky notes seem like the perfect solution for all these situations. That’s only the beginning of why this is a great technique for the writing classroom, though.

The size of the sticky notes encourages students to focus on concise, concentrated comments. I suggest either the 3″ square notes or, at most, the 3″ by 5″ rectangular notes. Anything other than the little flags will probably work though. On a 3″ square note, most students can write at least one full sentence. The notes are for their own use, so abbreviations and shortcuts are fine. As long as they can read their notes later, spelling and mechanics don’t really matter. Compare the short comments to the kind of concentrated comments people post on Twitter and in Facebook status updates. The kind of commentary should be familiar to most students. The goal is to ask them to apply that kind of writing to the texts that they are reading in class.

Once students begin using the technique, the sticky notes can improve class discussion. Ask students to point to a passage that stood out in a reading and you often get blank stares. Who remembers that the third paragraph on page 345 was confusing? Underlined text and margin notes might help, but sticky notes poking from the edges of the book make this task easy. The same things works in reverse, of course. If you point the class to a specific passage, you can ask who has a note on the page. Depending upon your classroom set-up, you may even be able to see whose books have notes on the page.

When it comes time for students to compose, the sticky notes can help writers point to supporting details. First, have students make sure that their sticky notes include the page number they relate to, so that they can return to the passages later. You might even urge them to be more specific by pointing to a paragraph number or sentence (e.g., sentence 2 in the second paragraph). Next, have students pull all notes out of the book and arrange them based on similarities. Depending upon the project, there could be piles based on different kinds of imagery, different characters in a story, different rhetorical techniques, and so forth. After notes are sorted, students can choose a topic based on the pile that is most interesting and that gives them enough support for their argument. Students can then place the notes on notebook paper and use them as a jot outline for the evidence to include in their paper. Remind students that they don’t need to use every sticky note, only those that relate to the paper topics they choose.

After writing a paper, students can use the sticky-note technique for peer review comments. Have students write their questions and comments on sticky notes and adhere them to the peer drafts. Since they are writing for other readers, remind them to avoid any unfamiliar abbreviations or shorthand. The sticky notes will give reviewers plenty of space to make their comments without marking up the original document. They can also be removed so that a second reader can comment on the same draft without seeing what other readers have said. Perhaps most importantly, the process applies the same critical thinking process to peer drafts that students apply to the every other text in class.

The technique can take students from first observations all the way to composing the final draft. It’s definitely not busy work. It encourages students to make critical connections to their readings, and, by nature of sticking their comments down, students are literally forced to connect their thoughts to specific passages in the texts. Once they understand this technique, students can easily use it in any class or subject area (as well as in the workplace). And my hunch is that when they use up that first pad of 100 sticky notes, they’ll get another pad.

Comments: (2)
Categories: Assignment Idea, Citing Sources, Discussion, Drafting, Peer Review, Planning
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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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Jazz Up Your Next Presentation

posted: 6.10.09 by Traci Gardner

Want to jazz up your next slide presentation? Modea Share is a great mash-up of Twitter and SlideShare that will do the trick!

Just released this week, Modea Share lets you project your SlideShare presentation on the left side of the screen and all the related, incoming Twitter updates in a column on the right. Here’s a screen shot. Click to see the full-sized image:

The tool finds the related Twitter updates by using a hashtag, a metatagging system that people include when they post to Twitter. TwiTip’s Tweet Your Message to a Larger Audience with Hashtags explains how the tags work. Many events and organizations announce related hashtags and encourage people to use them when they post. For instance, people are using the hashtag #cw09 for status updates related to Computers and Writing 2009.

It’s easy to set up—and the Web sites you’ll use are all free.

  1. Create your slide presentation in PowerPoint, OpenOffice, or Keynote.
  2. Upload the presentation to SlideShare.
  3. Copy the embed code for your presentation from SlideShare.
  4. Go to Modea Share and enter the details on your presentation:
    • Your Twitter Username (so people can contact you later)
    • A hashtag (e.g., #cw09 if you’re presenting at Computers and Writing 2009)
    • Your SlideShare embed code
  5. Ask people attending your presentation to tag their comments so that they will appear on screen.

Modea Share really is that simple. Set it up as part of your presentation, and Modea Share will quickly foreground that back channel conversation and allow you to respond to your colleagues.

To focus the Twitter updates that appear alongside your presentation, you can create your own customized hashtag. For example, #cw09 would be great for a keynote speaker’s presentation, but someone presenting at the Graduate Research Network workshop might ask people to use the hashtag #grn09 to narrow down the comments to just those people in the session.

You can use Modea Share in the classroom too. Use the tool with any slide presentation to encourage more discussion and engagement. Create basic slides that students can respond to at the beginning or end of class. Post a brainstorming prompt on a slide, and have students respond with a hashtag via Twitter so that everyone can see the responses. If you can use Twitter in your classroom, Modea Share can be a great new way to increase participation.

Oh, and if you’re worried about the stream of status updates becoming a distraction, read “Twittering in Church, with the Pastor’s O.K.” from TIME. If folks can Twitter in church without being a distraction, I know we can do it in the classroom.

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Categories: Collaboration, Discussion, Professional Conferences
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