Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

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Teaching from the Headlines

posted: 9.16.11 by Donna Winchell

The fun part of writing an argument text is compiling the readings to illustrate the concepts I teach. The challenging part is keeping the readings timely. The time it takes for a book to go from final manuscript to finished book is about the same as the gestation period for humans—nine months. That means even the essays I slip in just under the wire could be outdated before the book appears in print or before the next edition if I don’t choose carefully. All it takes is a look back at recent events in Egypt, Libya, Syria, or Japan to remind us how much can happen in a matter of months. I was in Cairo in May of 2010. The streets were a mass of cabs moving with total disregard for traffic lanes or even for the fact that two other cars were trying to occupy the same space at the same time. A few months later, the cabs were gone from Tahrir Square, and the streets were a mass of people summoned via social media to join a revolt against Moammar Gadhafi.

This social medium is my means of keeping discussion of argument up to the minute—or at least up to the headlines of the last week or two, which are such a rich source of discussion in a class on argumentation. Even before President Obama finished his speech on jobs last week, his claim of policy was the headline on Internet news outlets. He told Congress, “You should pass this jobs plan right away.” Republicans immediately came back with their own claims of value and claims of policy, and the battle was on. Interestingly, CNN contributor John Avlon, writing on, pointed out Obama’s appeal to common ground, a technique crucial to effective argument. He wrote, “The biggest takeaway is that all the major policies the president proposed were rooted in past bipartisan support. That good faith effort to bridge the deep partisan divides in Washington deserves something more than predictable spin—and, in turn, the American people deserve some concerted action on the economy from Congress.” [read more]

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Categories: Argument, Rhetorical Situation
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“A More Civil and Honest Discourse”

posted: 1.24.11 by archived

The shooting in Tucson, Arizona three weeks ago was extremely disturbing.  As a teacher of writing, rhetoric, and argumentation, I feel particularly upset about the ways this event has been linked to certain agonistic styles of discourse.  I am not trying to figure out what happened or why.  In some ways, I agree with Sarah Palin and Jon Stewart that this senseless violence was not the direct result of political rhetoric. But I also agree with Barack Obama who suggested that we need a “more civil and honest public discourse.” I’m sure that many BITS readers, like me, have been hoping for better ways to engage differences of opinion for a long time. I’ve never wanted to teach argument in traditional ways – I hope that teaching argument allows students to open their minds to other ideas and viewpoints, not that it just teaches students how to more strongly support what they already believe, or to cut down other opinions.

So I have a few ideas to share.

One assignment that I strongly believe in is the multi-vocal, multi-genre research paper.  Laura Brady, a friend and my former colleague at West Virginia University, first showed me this assignment.  The version that we developed with the help of all of the writing teachers at WVU is a variation of Tom Romano’s work, filtered through Johnson and Moneysmith and Julie Jung. One virtue of the assignment is that, instead of starting with a single opinion, students begin with an issue, and then they research multiple viewpoints on the issue, and write a paper in the multiple voices of 3-4 people whose opinions on the issue diverge.  I have attached an example assignment prompt for you to look over. [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Jay Dolmage
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Remembering Lucille Clifton

posted: 2.23.10 by archived

Teaching Poetry mourns the loss of poet Lucille Clifton, who died on February 10 at the age of 73, after a long battle with cancer.

Clifton, perhaps best know to students for her widely-anthologized poem “homage to my hips,” was the author of numerous books of poetry as well as prose. She grew up in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of working-class African American parents, and attended Howard University.

Her poems frequently focused on the African American experience and family life, and are marked by their sparseness—Clifton usually wrote in short lines without capitalization or punctuation.

Clifton was much lauded.  She was a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; won an Emmy, a Lannan Literary Prize, and the Ruth Lilly Prize; and received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She was poet laureate of Maryland from 1974 to 1985. She won the National Book Award in 2000 for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000.

There are numerous moving tributes to Clifton in print and all over the Internet. The New York Times featured a lengthy obituary that sums up Clifton’s life and work well. On the New Yorker’s Book Bench blog, poet Elizabeth Alexander writes a stirring remembrance of a poet she admired deeply:

No matter how elaborate the words they use, poets strive to tell elemental truths. As Clifton often reminded her acolytes, ‘truth and facts are two different things.’ Time and again, she made luminous poems premised on clear truth-telling, but always with a twist, and with space for evocation and mystery. Her style was as understated as the lowercase type of her poems, a quiet, even woman’s voice telling sometimes terrible truths. Like psalms, koans, and old folks’ proverbs, Clifton’s poems invite meditation and return.

The Poetry Foundation dedicated their Poetry Off the Shelf podcast to remembering Clifton. The American Academy of Poets main site prominently features a tribute to Clifton, and their resources on her include a recording of Clifton reading her well known “homage to my hips” and a lesson plan for teaching women poets.

The Poetry Society of America remembers Clifton on its blog. The PSA was scheduled to present Clifton with their Centennial Frost Medal on April 1. The event will serve as a tribute by other poets to Clifton’s memory.

Readers interested in learning more about Clifton can find a lengthy bio on the Poetry Foundation’s site, alongside a number of her poems that appeared in that magazine, and audio recordings of “praise song” and “why won’t you celebrate with me.”

Rest in peace, Lucille Clifton.


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: Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Uncategorized
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Poetry Speaks! Now Online

posted: 12.14.09 by archived

Reading poetry aloud in the classroom is a great idea. Sometimes, however, you ask for volunteers to read and get…total silence. Sometimes even students who are willing to read don’t do the poem justice. Sometimes you have bronchitis. Luckily, is here to help., officially launched November 4, 2009, aims to “create a space where poetry can be discovered and rediscovered.” The brains behind it, Dominique Raccah,  is the founder of Sourcebooks, Inc. and the publisher of the New York Times bestseller Poetry Speaks, (the book), which included three audio CDs of poets reading their work. From the success of that book, she knew she had the fan-base to support the Web site. Online, she’s able to provide many more audio and video resources that foster interest in reading, writing, and listening to poetry.

The site, in the works since 2005, is always adding new features and content. It’s also been developing alliances in the poetry and performance work. A few publishers (Naxos AudioBooks, Tupelo Press, Marick Press) have partnered with the site, and its advisory board includes Anne Halsey from the Poetry Foundation, Bruce George, co-founder of Def Poetry Jam (HBO), and Robert Pinsky, former poet laureate of the United States.

The site has three main sections: PS Voices, which has text and audio for poems by well-known poets (some read by the poets themselves); SpokenWord, devoted to slam poetry; and YourMic, which allows user-poets to upload and share audio and video files of themselves reading their own works. Right now, the site features a short poetry film called “The Captain,” which features the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, read by Allison Janney (one of my favorites!). You can watch the film and read the poem here.

The site also has a PoetryMatters blog and a Poetry Store.

Yes, a poetry store. Of course, there are plenty of places online to post text, audio, and video files of poetry., however, charges for poems: You can buy the text, the audio, the video, or a combination package. And your payment helps to directly support the poet. The set-up is similar to iTunes: a 30-second professional audio recording is free, but the whole poem in MP3 format is 99 cents. (A recording of “The Raven” is nine minutes long; “Ozymandias” is only one minute, forty seconds; both cost 99 cents.) If paying for poetry makes you balk, think of it as breaking the tired-out tradition of the penniless poet.

Do you like to use recordings of poetry in your classes, or do you prefer live readings? Would you consider asking your students to post their own poetry on a site like this?  What other resources could a site like provide?

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Categories: Creative Writing, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Popular Culture
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Enjoying Thanksgiving with Poetry

posted: 11.22.09 by archived

Thanksgiving is in the air. Can it also be in the classroom? If so, in what form? Before you instructors and students head to festivities this week, perhaps there’s time for one more fun assignment.

There are the  traditional approaches to the holiday, with poems such as Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem “Thanks” or  W. S. Merwin’s “Listen” serving as models.

Lauren McClung writes that Komunyakaa’s poem sparks interesting writing. “Usually I have the students read it and then spend some time writing their own “thanks” poem.  Often the students will borrow the list-like form and let their own ideas flow.  If they have a hard time I may point out how it begins with thanks to an object.  This has been a great trigger for my classes.”

Sherine Gilmour agrees that while the Thanksgiving the holiday doesn’t provide much fodder, the idea of thankfulness does. She offers the Gerald Stern poem “Lucky Life.”

Sarah Heller writes that the William Matthews poem “Depressive,”  published in the Winter 1980-1  Ploughshares journal, contains the great line “the turkey is stuffed with the memory of turkey…” which could be used as a prompt.

Or, she says, check out Marie Ponsot’s new book for a poem written in the voice of a turkey.  “Not T-giving specific,” warns Heller, “but still.”

Finally, as the New York Times reported last Thursday, so often these kinds of festive gatherings can bring out the most regressed behavior from all parties involved–parents, grandparents, children, siblings, and other relations.  Did you know there is a “Mothers-in-Law Anonymous” section on Good fodder for poems, perhaps?

Enjoy your holiday! (Gobble gobble.)

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Creative Writing, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature
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Food for Thought (and Sequence)

posted: 10.23.09 by Barclay Barrios

I caught a wonderful little feature on the New York Times last week: Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules.”  It’s an interesting collection of reader-submitted rules about food and eating with a mix of culture, history, and humor presented in an intriguing design. It got me thinking about the Pollan piece in Emerging and about how I would put together a food sequence for one of my classes. The following is one sequence I might use:

  • Michael Pollan, “The Animals: Practicing Complexity”: I love this piece and students tend to like it, too.  It’s about a highly efficient organic farm that gets its efficiency through an ecological approach to farming, a true understanding of complex systems.  It would be a good starting point to discuss food and it also has elements of education and business, which could be teased out later. I’d use the NYT piece in the paper assignment, asking students to either deduce the food rules of Polyface Farms in Pollan’s essay or work more abstractly on function of rules in food ways.
  • Julia Alvarez, Selections from Once Upon a Quinceañera: This selection about the Hispanic coming of age ritual, the quince, is one of my current favorites in Emerging because it does so much.  It’s not about food at all, but about culture, and it would be interesting to use it in an assignment with Pollan.  I’m particularly interested in the concept of retroculturation in the piece and thinking about how that works with food ways.  I would make an assignment about the role of food in culture or the culture of farming.
  • Thomas Friedman, “The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention”: On the surface this essay is about globalization in the flat world, but what I like about Friedman’s piece is that it also provides entry for discussions of economic and business systems.  And, like Pollan, it has a lot to do with complex and emergent systems. Bringing Friedman to this sequence foregrounds questions of economics and class that are buried just beneath the surface of Alvarez and Pollan.

One of the things I love about Emerging is that the readings are contemporary, so something’s always going on that inspires me or connects the class to the world, even if the connection is as simple as the food we eat.

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Categories: Emerging
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What If Students and Teachers Tweeted for Help?

posted: 7.22.09 by Traci Gardner

I’m jealous of @comcastbonnie. Okay, that’s a little extreme. I wish I had the resources she has and could use them to help writing students and teachers.

Bonnie Smalley, also known as @comcastbonnie, was the focus of “A Day with 400 Tweets Starts with Simplicity,” a recent New York Times article that describes how she provides customer service for the cable TV and Internet service provider Comcast.

As the article explains, Smalley is “one of 10 representatives who reach out to customers through social networks, rather than waiting for them to find Comcast’s support site.”

Imagine if we could do the same thing to help student writers! I’d love to prowl the Internet, on the lookout for students lamenting that they can’t figure out an assignment or they can never remember how to use the semicolons.

If I ran a writing center, I’d set up and publicize a school hashtag and then ask online tutors to watch for basic questions. In quick exchange on Twitter, a tutor could answer simple questions about grammar and punctuation, define literary terms, and point to additional explanatory Web pages on a site like the Purdue OWL or Colorado State’s Writing Studio. When student writers ask more complex questions, tutors can encourage them to set up an appointment for a more in-depth session.

If we could support students the way @comcastbonnie runs customer service, writing program administrators might monitor the Internet for questions about program requirements, prerequisites, and course registrations. An English Department could answer similar questions for majors and minors as well as for incoming students and those interested in applying.

But why limit the help to students? Just think how we’d benefit as teachers from having someone out there on the Internet dedicated to helping us find what we need just when we need it — whether it’s standards and guidelines, convention details, or a second opinion on a troublesome situation. Wouldn’t it be great if someone could “reach out” and give them the help they need when they need it? Now there’s a job I’d love to have!

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Categories: Collaboration, Student Success, Teaching Advice, Writing Center
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Facebook Slashes Grades

posted: 5.9.09 by archived

The Times Online has an article about how students who spend a lot of time at Facebook do worse at school.  I’m sure that impacts our teaching as much as it does their studying!

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Gregory Zobel, Popular Culture, Student Success, Teaching with Technology
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Endorsing Your Coffee Habit!

posted: 4.27.09 by archived

The NY Times published an article which discusses the performance-enhancing nature of caffeine. This seems pretty obvious, but if you ever needed backup to endorse your coffee habit, here you go!

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Gregory Zobel
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