Posts Tagged ‘reading’

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What Is a Blog Carnival?

posted: 6.12.12 by Traci Gardner

On the ferris wheel at the Vermont state fair, Rutland (LOC)
When you hear the word carnival, you may not immediately think of academic reading, but I’m hoping to change that this week by explaining what blog carnivals are and why you should spend some time looking at what they have to offer. Come back next week for some ideas on how to use blog carnivals in the classroom.

So what is a blog carnival? Basically, it’s a collection of links to blog posts on a specific topic. If you think of blog posts as being similar to essays, a blog carnival is essentially an anthology or a collection of essays. The main page for the blog carnival is like the table of contents for the anthology, outlining all the pieces included in the collection. To read the items in the carnival, you click through and read the posts on the blog where they were originally published.

Two kinds of blog carnivals have developed over the years. One kind is a collection of links that have been found by an editor. ProfHacker’s monthly Teaching Carnival fits this structure. Each month, an editor looks for blog posts that provide “a snapshot of the most recent thoughts on teaching in college and university classrooms.” The June Teaching Carnival was edited by Billie Hara. In the carnival post, Hara arranges the links she’s collected into broad categories of The State of Education, Teaching, Technology, Teachers, Students, and Commencement Addresses. This kind of blog carnival creates a curated list for readers. [read more]

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Categories: Traci Gardner
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Behind the Textbook: Boulder on a Pin

posted: 10.19.11 by Barclay Barrios

I’m not sure people know the kind of balancing act it takes to put together a composition reader. To give you a quick sense, here are the issues we track while thinking about the table of contents for Emerging:

  • Academic vs. nonacademic: Including readings from the academic world offers students real examples of how knowledge is produced in the university. At the same time, those working within a discipline are often writing only to others within that same discipline—which might entail field-specific assumptions and terminology that are beyond first year students. Ideally, then, we balance readings by including those writing from both inside and outside the academy.
  • Cited vs. noncited: Related to the first concern is the issue of citation. Academic writing always models citation, which can reinforce for students the importance of this practice. Writing from outside the academy, no matter how sophisticated, usually does not include citation. The goal is to balance essays that model the practice while also including essays that offer food for thought even without academic citations.
  • Ethnic diversity: We strive to reflect ethnic diversity in the table of contents, not simply as a matter of principle but, more importantly, because students live in a diverse world and need to learn how to think and communicate within such a world. [read more]

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Categories: Emerging
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Reading a Book

posted: 10.11.11 by Steve Bernhardt

I mentioned in a post last summer that I was going to require my first-year comp students to write a paper based on their experience reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, an immensely popular nonfiction book that was selected on our campus as a shared summer reading for all incoming students. We are now in the middle of the assignment—and so far, so good.

I am convinced that everyone in my class has read the book, and most have intelligent things to say. This book lends itself well to essay writing, in part because of the range of issues it raises. As part of thinking through ideas for their papers, I asked students to list themes from the book that might be the focus of discussion: racial bias in healthcare settings, research ethics, tissue culture and cloning, the complex research process that the author pursued, health-care and scientific literacy, and issues of class and education. We worked in class to articulate thesis statements that would represent a real position or stance on some thematic issue in the book. We also spent time work-shopping one proposed thesis to see what episodes in the book might be discussed as part of the paper. We do all this work in public space, via Sakai, using the Forum tool. I haven’t seen the students’ first drafts yet—they are due Wednesday—but my sense is that they are working hard and developing strong ideas. [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea
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Behind the Textbook: What Didn’t Work and Why

posted: 10.6.11 by Barclay Barrios

When gathering potential readings, there’s always heartbreak along the way—pieces I desperately want to use that just won’t work, and pieces I so want to find that just don’t seem to exist.  Here are some examples:

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
    Skloot’s history of Henrietta Lacks, whose tumor cells became the most important line of laboratory cells ever (called HeLa), touched on so many issues I would love for students to think about: race, the body, medicine, technology, privacy, social justice, and much more. The problem is that Skloot’s work is so narrative and so continuous. It’s just impossible to excerpt. That was a heartbreaker.
  • Lady Gaga
    I really want to find a smart and savvy piece about Gaga. I know it she is someone students would find engaging, and I also know the subject has a lot of potential: pop culture, self-image, fashion, gender, and more. But I haven’t been able to find anything of any substance—at least not yet.

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Categories: Emerging
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A Substantive Field

posted: 10.6.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for BitsDoug

One of my desert-island books is Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. One of these days I’ll manage a post on Pirsig’s take on Aristotle and why we should be teaching that, rather than Aristotle itself, as the rhetoric in writing courses.

But for today, I want to focus on ZAMM’s beautiful depiction of how writing instruction has historically been relegated to the basement in the university, as “faculty wives” work, because the nature of writing instruction was essentially clerical.

Pirsig draws the scene of his main character, Phaedrus, interviewing for a fellowship with the Chairman of a University of Chicago’s philosophy program:

The Chairman said, “What is your substantive field?”

Phaedrus said, “English composition.”

The Chairman bellowed, “That is a methodological field!”

Pirsig reflects on the relative silliness of acting as if substance (say, what an atom is) and method (say, how an atom moves) are separable knowledge. Methodological, “how-to” knowledge is substantive subject-area knowledge, in the same way that form (how) is never cleanly separable from content (what) in writing.

Our world still wants to relegate writing to “mere” method, though, assuming that the activity and teaching of writing is nothing of substance. How, after all, when writing is the form that gives expression to the substance of whatever it is talking about, could writing itself also have substance? Writing, in this view, is the empty container filled up by some other substantive field, and thus writing itself appears quite insubstantial (and thus inconsequential)—especially when the teaching of it, through clerical editing, also appears quite devoid of intellect. [read more]

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Categories: Writing about Writing
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Behind the Textbook: The Search

posted: 9.28.11 by Barclay Barrios

The subtitle for Emerging, “Contemporary Readings for Writers,” is truly a central component of the book’s philosophy. The idea is that students are more than students—they are also emerging actors in the public sphere. In providing very contemporary readings, we hope to get students engaged in the kinds of problems they will need to solve as adults in the world today. That makes finding the actual readings both easier and harder: easier, because there’s so much going on in the world at any one moment, but also harder, because it takes a lot of sifting to find material that will remain pertinent and usable for the next three or so years. In revising Emerging, I’ve used a variety of techniques to find new readings:

  • Crowdsourcing
    Consistent with James Surowiecki’s argument in The Wisdom of Crowds (as well as any given episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?), I always start from the assumption that the crowd is smarter than me and thus better equipped to select readings than I am. Thus, I always start my search for readings with bestseller lists—the New York Times,, as well as Barnes and Noble’s Web site. Looking through the bestselling nonfiction is not a way to find what’s popular per se. Rather, it’s a way to find what’s important to people right now, what we’re reading and thinking about— because that’s what I want students reading and thinking about, too.
  • Usual Suspects
    After running through bestseller lists, I turn to what I call the “usual suspects.”  These are print sources that I know tend to publish the types of writing I like to use in my classes—interesting, current, engaging, and with complex ideas.  So, I turn to the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Wired and other magazine sources that imagine a kind of “public intellectual” audience—reasoned and interested readers.—because those are the kinds of readers I want students to be, too. [read more]

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Categories: Emerging, Readers
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Behind the Textbook: The Goldilocks Principle

posted: 9.21.11 by Barclay Barrios

The classes I teach are more about critical thinking than writing, so I am always looking for readings with ideas that students can work with, synthesize, connect to other ideas, extend, complicate, or challenge. But finding those types of readings is easier said than done. When I start looking for readings, I operate with something of a “Goldilocks Principle” in mind:

  • Not too long, not too short.
    Readings that are too long can overwhelm students, but if readings are too short they don’t provide students with enough material for writing the kinds of papers we ask them to write in our courses.
  • Not too dense, not too easy.
    If the prose is so dense as to be impenetrable, students won’t be able to get to the ideas of the piece—and that’s the stuff I want them working with. But if the style of writing is too easy, the selection as a whole may not have enough weight—it might not fit in with the kind of academic writing we ask of our students.
  • Not too narrative, not too theoretical.
    Students love an engaging story, but if the piece is too narrative then it’s more difficult for students to find ideas to work with. At the same time, if a piece is too theoretical (too jammed with ideas), students can get lost.
  • Not too controversial, not too boring.
    Controversy is a great way to spark class discussion, but I find that with hot-button topics students quickly default to a black-or-white, pro-or-con position.  I’d much rather have them explore the gray. At the same time, if a selection is boring I won’t want to teach it, and if I can’t get excited about it then I can’t get students excited about it.

Of course, all of these factors are multiplied given that I am working on a textbook.  That means I can’t think about just my students; I have to think about your students too. And that’s not easy, to be sure.

What principles do you keep in mind when looking for materials to use in your class?

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Categories: Readers
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New Help in Finding Reading Materials

posted: 7.15.11 by archived

As a writing teacher who sometimes chooses not to use textbooks, I’m always on the lookout for potential reading material for my students. I regularly read through the New Yorker, Harper’s , the Atlantic Monthly, and the Sunday magazine sections of the New York Times and the Boston Globe, and from time to time I check at Arts and Letters Daily for online articles that might be suitable (their sidebar also lists many top-notch magazines that offer free access to much of their archives).

A site that launched last month,, offers great promise for teachers like me on the hunt for FYC reading material.

On the Atlantic Wire blog, Adam Clark Estes describes it like this:

Byliner works like a discovery engine for the best long form nonfiction writing. Fueled by the archives of publications like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Outside as well as an original content platform called Byliner Originals, the newly launched site indexes individual works and sorts them by author, by topic and by source. Users can follow their favorite authors, submit links to quality articles and share what they like with their social networks. Imagine an aggregator like Arts & Letters Daily meets Google News and has a beautifully designed baby.

[read more]

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Categories: Holly Pappas, Teaching Advice
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What is a Reader?

posted: 7.14.11 by Andrea Lunsford

A few weeks ago, I participated in a panel at the 2011 summer meeting of the Association of Departments of English called “What Is a Reader.” It brought together scholars from several California universities who are part of a larger group studying and debating the future of reading. Many at the meeting expressed grave concerns, citing studies that show that young people are reading less and less. As with many debates, however, it all depends on your definitions. If by “reading,” we mean engaging classic works of literature, then yes, young people are reading less. But if by “reading” we mean engaging texts of all kinds—then it is clear that young people are reading more than ever before.

I began my remarks by offering a small taxonomy of ways of reading, drawn from a course I taught a year ago where we wrestled with defining reading. These ways include, I suggested, informational reading (what Louise Rosenblatt called “efferent” reading), that is reading to extract information. Other ways of reading we identified were ludic or playful reading, rhetorical reading that is aimed at action, aesthetic or hermeneutical or analytic reading, and participatory or creative reading. As far as I am concerned, all of these ways of reading are legitimate and important:  though we in English departments tend to emphasize the close reading of literary texts, I believe that other texts (student writing, let’s say) deserve the same kind of careful, artful “close” reading that characterizes the best literary criticism; I also believe that other ways of reading can be generative as well. [read more]

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Categories: Uncategorized
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Many Roads to Writing

posted: 7.11.11 by Susan Naomi Bernstein

ferrAfter my last post “Crooked Seams,” Joanna Howard, Rochelle Spencer, and Brenda Tuberville posted thoughtful stories of their experiences as both students and teachers thinking outside the box of the standard curriculum.  Joanna and Rochelle asked me to describe the many roads that students take to writing.

I try to imagine writing as a love affair waiting to happen—and that unfolds through travel across time.  So rather than focus too extensively on roadblocks or potholes, I instead offer the signposts I discover again and again with students as we travel down the feeder roads and the superhighways, the unpaved streets and treacherous mountain paths that bring us all, through our various meanderings, close to writing.

  1. I reserve judgment, as I read the first paper, on infelicities of grammar and organization, or “deviation” from the standards, norms, or course outcomes. Instead I read mindfully and inquisitively, not as if I were the leader of an inquisition. That is, I read against the grain, as students are often required to do.  I read to find out what already is present in the texts – the strengths—and then address what’s missing. In my comments for revision, I encourage students to take note of their strengths, to reconsider audience, and to aim to create the missing pieces from their compositions. [read more]

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Categories: Basic Writing, Developmental
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