English 131 Message of the Day (131 A7 Fall Quarter 2005 Archive)
Important class announcements, notes, comments, and suggestions will be made in-class and via email. Please be sure to check your email regularly for messages of the day. Messages will have "[English 131]" in the subject line. MOTDs will also be archived here from newest to oldest.
November 21, 2005: NOTES on SHORT PAPER 2.4: Video as Contact Zone
When you get Short Paper 2.4 back, take some time to go over the comments and the questions I raise about your ideas. Reconsider the video you watched in class. Keep in mind the grading rubric and the course outcomes for English 131, which are located in your course policies. Go back to the assignment sheet as well and re-read the prompts you were given.
Here is a list of things I saw, commented on, and corrected on across a number of papers. Add them to your overall list, which should be helpful when you sit down to work on your revisions for the portfolio sequence. I am still noticing some consistent errors and lack of editing. I am also aware that many of you are not reading the assignment sheets (or asking questions about the assignment) carefully.
I am glad that people are showing interest in the video days, and you demonstrate that you are noticing things and reacting to things. However, this energy needs to be refocused and carefully articulated. Read over your paper and then read over this list of comments and follow-up with questions in class or via the class blog:
1) The assignment sheet is your friend. Make sure that you go over the sheet once before sitting down to write any paper. If you are unsure as to the goal of the assignment, please raise a questions early on in the process. Some of the difficulty with the assignment may be due to the fact that you may be waiting till the last minute to write the paper. Try, try, try to give yourself some time for reflection and revision. Too many papers reacted only to the video's content (which can be appropriate if used to support your analysis) and did not adequately consider or answer one of the three questions posed by the assignment.
2) Try to take better notes about what you see, about what you hear, and about what is going on in class discussion. If you have a question about a detail, ask your classmates or me to verify things like names, dates, places, events, and such. Misquoting or misnaming or simply mistaking a pertinent detail can be damaging to your argument and to your credibility as a writer.
3) Revisit Pratt's concepts. I think class discussion has helped to clarify concepts like the 'contact zone' and 'safe house' and 'autoethnographic text' but your understanding and use of Pratt still needs depth, consideration, and effectiveness. Again, if you are unsure about a concept (even this late in the sequence), please ask a question in class, on the blog, or via email. Some of your deployment of contact zone is too superficial, too universal OR too rigid, too specific. Push for some more complexity and depth.
4) Many people identified that the video was "slanted" or "biased" or "too one-sided" or "focused only on the protesters." How is this any different than any other media production? Lister & Wells tells us that no cultural production is without convention, context, and framing. How is this criticism of the video demonstrative of something going in in your understanding of the contact zone? Remember that all cultural production is biased and slanted, even the evening news. So, how can we identify and critique (not criticize) this bias as a way to understand what is going on?
5) Be careful about the kinds of assumptions you take for granted as you write. If you assume too much, the reader may not follow or may reject your argument. If you assume too little, the reader may get lost or feel alienated by your argument. Many papers assumed a great deal about how the protesters behaved, about how the police behaved, about the situation in the streets, about the WTO, about what is legal or not legal, about what people may or may not be thinking or feeling. Be careful as you read, think, and write and consider what is information you DO have, what information you are assuming, and what information needs to be verified.
6) Be conscientious about not boiling everything down to a black-or-white, right-or-wrong, yes-or-no binary. Complexity in claim and in argument and in analysis requires that you recognize that there may be several different factors at play. The protesters in the video are not all victims or martyrs or good and the police are not all evil and wrong and oppressive. Or vice versa. Yes, the video represents the protesters in a more positive light (for a specific rhetorical reason) but there is complexity even in that portrayal. Consider why they included the section about the few protesters breaking windows? Consider why the included commentary from the mainstream news? Consider why they begin with a sympathetic view of the police?
7) Mechanical issues are still cropping up that have been identified weeks and weeks ago. Remember that film titles are underlined or italicised (not in quotations). Remember that your papers need titles. Remember that quotations need speakers or introduction and need to be in MLA format. Remember that conspicuous errors in spelling, punctuation, format, and grammar are distracting and hurt your ethos.
8) Work on simplicity and elegance. Read your papers out loud. Many of your papers could be much clearer, much more precise, much more lucid if you took the brief time to edit and revise and read aloud your language. Do it.
November 5, 2005: NOTES on SHORT PAPER 2.1: Pratt Close Reading
It's that time again, ladies and gents. When you get Short Paper 2.1 back, take some time to go over the comments and the questions I raise about your ideas. Keep in mind the grading rubric and the course outcomes for English 131, which are located in your course policies. Go back to the assignment sheet as well and re-read the prompts you were given.
Here is a list of things I saw, commented on, and corrected on across a number of papers. Add them to your running list. The hope is that you can avoid similar issues or pitfalls or mistakes in the future. Take the following to heart and pen:
1) Rehearse over and over again the difference between a descriptive thesis and an argumentative thesis, between noticing something and claiming a position. Start at the descriptive thesis stage, but make sure that you take the process a few more steps.
For example: "I believe here she [Pratt] is proving that cultures, no matter where they are from, can all be different, but at some point, they all have similar problems." --A descriptive thesis noticing what Pratt is saying and simply agreeing with it. Believing and agreeing with something does not equate to arguing something. Beyond the fact that the sentence is a banal claim, how could you rewrite this statement, complicate it, make it more complex and specific?
For example: "Contact zones are ideas that can be seen in all parts of the world and has had a huge impact on world culture." --Again, another very broad and relatively empty statement. Avoid over generalizations. Avoid sweeping remarks without adequate support. How could this statement be made into a more compelling argument?
2) Relatedly, summarizing main ideas, identifying quotes, and providing an example does not add up to an adequate analysis. Again, it's just noticing, just observing, just regurgitating. Analysis requires that you make a clear claim, provide support, take into account assumptions, and tell us why something works the way it does, why it's important to understand, or why your idea is valid or valuable.
For example: "Mary Louise Pratt describes contact zones as 'social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of power' (586). These are places where language and ideology mix. Almost anywhere you can look there [are] contact zones. These 'social spaces' can be anywhere...Anywhere where one might hear a different language or meet someone of [a] different race can be described as a contact zone." --A good use of a good quote, the obvious quote that defines what Pratt thinks a contact zone is. But what about what you think a contact zone is? Examples of given, which are too broad (e.g. "anywhere" is not a specific term). But then there is no analysis of this "evidence". Why is important that contact zones are everywhere? What is the significance of language or race to the contact zone? And why has the writer ignored the part about "asymmetrical relations of power" in their analysis?
3) Everyone must return to the Pratt essay and take a look again at the main concepts: contact zone, autoethnographic text, imagined community, transculturation, and safe house. Granted, these papers were written before class discussion, but you are not careful or precise with your use of these terms. Now that we have had discussion of the terms (in class and via the class blog), revising this paper would require making sure that your use of Pratt's concepts is clear, accurate, deliberate, and precise.
4) Be simple and elegant. Be clear and precise. Use language appropriate to your audience that isn't overly flowery, overly "scholarly". Some of you are trying to write "up" your ideas, which only serves to confuse and occlude your otherwise sharp points.
For example: "Mary Louise Pratt's story 'The Arts of the Contact Zone' drives into an analytical way of showing personally how communities can be justified in different ways. The story of the Contact Zone brings in rhetorical situations which arise in many ways of the text." --The language sounds "analytical" but the meaning stumbles over the words. What does the writer mean here? How could these ideas be more clearly articulated?
5) Look at quoting and citation format again. Use the sheets I gave you or use a style manual like Lunsford's The Everyday Writer.
6) Discard right now the words "unique" and "obviously" and "true" and "reality." Most of you are using these words in an automatic way, in a banal way and they don't mean anything.
7) Pratt is a woman. Benedict Anderson is not Benedict Arnold.
8) Read your papers out loud. Read your papers out loud as you write them. Read them out loud all the way through when you're "finished" and read it again sometime later, preferably the next day. Listen to what you are saying. Listen to what your language is doing.
9) Papers are "supernaturally" ending exactly at three pages. Granted, some essays might conclude at three pages, but the trend seems to be that you either rush the second half of your paper to finish "on time" or you forego any kind of conclusion in order to finish "on the dot." As I have suggested, write your papers initially in single space. Complete your thoughts and then format to double-space.
Keep working on your writing. Keep asking questions in class. And make sure that you have enough time and focus and energy to get the assignments done. Please see a writing center or my office hours for additional help. Or direct your questions to the class message board. Keep trying, keep playing, keep writing.
October 23, 2005: The Goals of Cultural Studies
I was reading a couple of articles for one my own graduate seminars when I came across a couple of definitions that might help elaborate Lister & Wells' definitions of cultural studies and ideology.
First, the whole idea of cultural studies in a way is about thinking critically about your world, its productions. And since critical thinking has been a part of your academic lives up until now, how do you turn those skills to what we're doing in class?
Kathleen McCormick in "Closer than Close Reading" writes, "Critical reading, writing, and thinking is not only the ability to comprehend the texts one reads and link them with one's own personal worlds. Rather, it is the capacity to analyze and evaluate texts of all kinds for their antecedents -- the values, beliefs, and expectations of the culture from which they came -- and their implications -- the effects they have had on their past readers who lived in particular cultural contexts and the effect they may have on present readers who live in varied cultural contexts" (36).
So, break the statements down. What then does critical thinking or critical reading or critical studies mean? It's not just seeing an image, describing it, and telling about how it makes you feel or what it reminds you of or how it fits into your life. It goes beyond that, deeper than that. What does McCormick mean by antecedents? And what does she mean by implications? Those are exactly the things that you are to be thinking about when you read Lister & Wells and when you apply L&S to your image analysis.
Furthermore, McCormick quotes another scholar Gary Waller, who defines ideology as "a complex of distinctive practices and social relations which are characteristic of any society a nd which are inscribed in the language of that society... [it includes] all the largely unconscious assumptions and acts by which men and women relate to their world; it is the system of images, attitudes, feelings, myths, and gestures which are peculiar to a society, which the members who make up that society habitutally take for granted" (as qtd. in McCormick, 30).
How does this definition compare to the one I gave you in class? I offered, "An ideology is a set of beliefs, values, and institutions that are culturally created and agreed upon, which seem completely natural." So, if cultural studies is about looking at the ideologies -- stated and unstated -- created by cultural productions -- images, advertisements, football games, television programs, academic articles, street signs, fashion -- then what ideologies are at work in your image?
Making a list of what you notice, what you think is going on, and what isn't obvious but is still assumed by your image can be really helpful in generating ideas. Brainstorm. Then pick the best idea or examples to work with in your paper. Does that help? Any questions?
October 23, 2005: NOTES on the PHOTO AUTOBIOGRAPHY RE-VISION
Your third paper, the Re-Vision of the Photo Autobiography, has been commented upon and returned to you. Take some time to go over the comments on the paper. Keep in mind the grading rubric and the course outcomes for English 131, which are located in your course policies. Please take into account the marginal comments as well as the overall end comments when you sit down to work on your major paper. Always consider the assignment sheet when you sit down to work on a paper and when you go back to revise it.
Here is a list of things I saw, commented on, and corrected on across a number of papers. Please add this to the running list of my notes to you. The same errors and issues should not crop up again in further assignments. I enjoyed some of the choices that people made in changing their audience and/or changing their genre. I think that people felt very comfortable with writing about themselves, their own positions, and their own ideas. Now realize that the same skills you use to analyze your own life, your own perspective are no different than analyzing other "texts" such as your readings or your image. With that in mind, take a look at the following comments:
1a) Some are still employing the semi-colon (;) heavily, sometimes effectively and sometimes no so effectively. Keep in mind, like other special punctuation, the semi-colon should be used sparingly. The semi-colon is used to link two independent clauses (two complete sentences) that are linked, related, or reciprocal in meaning. If a conjunction like 'and' can be used, use it. If they can be made separate sentences without changing the meaning of the sentence, make them separate. See Lunsford's The Everyday Writer for semi-colon usage.
1b) Avoid using 'etc.' in your papers. It doesn't say much. Plus, "and so on" or similar phrases just look better, clearer.
1c) Comma splices and run-ons are still a challenge. A comma splice is when you link two complete sentences with just a comma (e.g. "John went to the store, John got a birthday cake.") -- the sentences should have a conjunction or be split by a period (e.g. "John went to the store. John got a birthday cake.").
1d) Acronyms need to be clearly identified. Generally, introduce the full name with the acronym in parenthesis to follow. For example, "Students at the University of Washington (UW) enjoy freshman writing classes. UW students believe writing classes help them in their overall work and performance."
2a) Vary your sentence length. Read your writing out loud. Listen to how it sounds. No one likes monotony. So, longer sentences offset by shorter ones and vice versa builds interest, rhythm, and pace.
2b) Practice parallelism, otherwise known as managing a series. The judicious and careful repetition of phrases, syllables, and words can build rhetorical and poetic strength. For example, consider Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.' I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today." How effective is the repetition of the phrase "I have a dream"?
3a) Avoid using the word "obvious" or "obviously". If it's obvious, then why are you mentioning it? Unless of course, you are using 'obvious' sarcastically or ironically.
3b) Know the definition of ironic. Alanis Morrisette does not do justice to the definition of irony. Consider: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony for help.
3c) Avoid using the word "unique". It's become cliche. Plus, very few things are actually unique (one-of-a-kind, never to be duplicated or copied, completely and impossibly special). Again, unless you're using it ironically. See 3b.
4) Organize, organize, organize. If you have difficulty mapping out where your ideas are going, outline before writing AND outline after. Generating an outline from your finished paper (write down what each paragraph's main argument and subarguments and evidence are) can show you if you jump from topic to topic without clear transition. Keep in mind my rule for paragraphing. Each paragraph should have a clear topic statement or argument.
5) Reminder that paper length is an important consideration. Assignments must meet certain criteria. Your grade will be negatively affected if the paper is too short or too long. Part of the rationale behind length is to force you to consider how to focus or expand your argument, how to include or what to exclude in your writing, and to edit conscientiously. Your ability to control length demonstrates control over your argument, your ideas, and the organization and elocution of those ideas.
6) Be telling. Be specific. Be detailed.
7) Many papers only barely completed the assigned audience paragraph acceptably. Really think about your audience. It should be more than just one specific person (and if it is, what about potential overhearers?) Also think about your own assumptions about your audience. Sometimes the paper did not write for the audience identified; consider well how the two things are connected and overlap. Some papers were missing the audience paragraph entirely, which is not acceptable.
Continue read your papers out loud. I cannot stress how much this little thing helps so much. Have someone read your papers to you. Let your ears catch things your eyes might not catch. Also, budget adequate time for you to work on your paper and then come back to it for revision.
October 22, 2005: Conferences Reminder
Here is the sign-up list for the first set of conferences this quarter. Please write down your date, time, and make sure you give yourself ample opportunity to make it to my office. IF you do not know where my office is yet, I would take a little fieldtrip to at least locate the building, especially if you're coming straight over from a class. Please do not be late since we only have about 20 minutes to work on your conference memo and your major paper idea. Remember that conferences are mandatory and part of your overall class participation grade. If you are going to miss your conference, please let me know by email AND by phone the day of your conference.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 24
10:20 AM - Katie Radoslovich
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 25
9:40 AM - Ben Schock
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 26
9:20 AM - Morgan Rutter
October 7, 2005: NOTES on the PHOTO AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Your first paper draft, the Photo Autobiography, has been commented upon and returned to you. Take 10-20 minutes to go over the comments on the paper. Consider the grading rubric and the course outcomes for English 131, which are located in your course policies. Please take into account the marginal comments as well as the overall end comments when you sit down to work on your next paper (or when you work on your revision). Take a look at your notes for the assignment as well.
Overall, I admire everyone's enthusiasm for the assignment, the varied and illuminating photos you chose, and the effort to try to make the assignment your own. Before we even got into heady things like "cultural studies" or "close reading" or "representation", you have a shown to me and to yourselves that you know how to analyze an image and find something important to say about it.
In the spirit of improvement, here is a complete list of things I saw, commented on, and corrected on across a number of papers. Please keep a running list of my notes to you. The same errors and issues should not crop up again in further assignments. Take a look at the following:
1a) Careful of careless mistakes such as the difference between they're/their or it's/its; watch out for homophones or near words like affect/effect, accept/except, there/their.
1b) If any paper is turned in with instant messenger-speak (e.g. u instead of you, l8r instad of later, nite instead of night), I will immediately stop commenting on it.
2) Generally, spell out numbers under a hundred. Never start a sentence with numerals (e.g. "6 days ago, I went to the store."). Depending on the style manual you're using, the rules for numbers will vary. See Lunsford's The Everyday Writer.
3a) Be careful of hypens (-) and m-dashes (--). Remember, a hypen connects words (e.g. ninety-four) and an m-dash connects parts of sentences, usually serves as a pause right before an important point or piece of information (e.g. "Johnny was very, very, very hungry--like a rabid wolf."). M-dashes should be used sparingly, for emphasis.
3b) Same with semi-colons (;). See Lunsford's The Everyday Writer.
3c) Avoid slashes (/). Usually, using the conjunction is much clearer and better looking. For example, I dislike the construction "and/or" or "he/she."
3d) Titles of newspapers and books and movies are underlined or italicised. See Lunsford's The Everyday Writer.
3e) Typography: be sparing (very sparing) in your use of boldface, underlining, all-caps, and italics
4a) Watch pronouns (like a hawk). Particularly watch 'it' statements. Pronouns are very useful, but they can become confusing when their antecedent gets lost. For example, "The duck and the dog went to the park. They wanted to play near the pond. He was very excited" -- who is the 'he' in the last sentence?
4b) Avoid "this" statements, particularly starting sentences with "this." Pointing pronouns can become confusing particularly if what you're pointing at is lost in a sea of nouns. It's usually a weak way of writing. Use it sparingly or when necessity requires it.
4c) Same with "which" statements, which incidentally requires a comma beforehand. For more information about "that" and "which" statements, restrictive and non-restrictive clauses, see Lunsford's The Everyday Writer.
5a) Avoid what I call over-writing or purple prose. When you inflate your language, use fify-cent words, complicate and convolute the language to sound prettier, more intellectual, or "academic" (in a negative way), you're not writing effectively. Formality has a place in writing, particularly in scholarship and professional writing, but that does not mean it needs to be stiff, choked with jargon, or indecipherable. Be simple and elegant. You prove your a smart writer if it's readable, if it sounds natural, if it makes clear points, and provides sound support or reasoning.
5b) I dislike the use of "thus" or "hence" or "often times" since they are overly formal to my ear. Use them sparingly, if at all. Avoid the pronoun "one" as well.
6a) Watch organization of ideas. If you have difficulty mapping out where your ideas are going, outline before writing AND outline after. Generating an outline from your finished paper (write down what each paragraph's main argument and subarguments and evidence are) can show you if you jump from topic to topic without clear transition. A good rule is that each paragraph should contain one main idea or one piece of information. Each paragraph should have a clear topic statement or argument.
6b) Avoid unnecessarily philosophizing or esoterics. Avoid banal claims, broad generalizations, useless generalizations, cliched generalizations, circular logic, and tautologies. Statements like: "The problem of war has plagued mankind for thousands of years" or "Since the beginning of time..." or "The problem can only be solved when the world comes together in harmony, peace, and understanding" don't really say very much to the reader and sound trite. It's automatic writing. Don't do it.
6c) Watch sentence fragments (e.g. "Which is what led them to change the law." is not a complete sentence or thought). Sometimes sentence fragments can be very useful, dramatic, and create emphasis. They must be used with care and artfully, not accidentally.
6d) On the other hand, watch run on sentences.
6e) Be careful of comma splices. For example, "John went to the store, he bought bread, cheese, hamburger, and a gossip magazine." To correct a comma splice, make each sentence separate or use a conjunction. Such as "John went to the store. He bought bread, cheese, hamburger, and a gossip magazine." Or "John went to the store, and he bought bread, cheese, hamburger, and a gossip magazine." Depending on whether you want two shorter sentences or a long sentence will determine which method you'll use.
7) Remember that paper length is an important consideration. Assignments must meet certain criteria. Your grade will be negatively affected if the paper is too short or too long. Part of the rationale behind length is to force you to consider how to focus or expand your argument, how to include or what to exclude in your writing, and to edit conscientiously. Your ability to control length demonstrates control over your argument, your ideas, and the organization and elocution of those ideas.
8) Be telling. Be specific. Be detailed. Too many papers began ideas and failed to follow through with enough relevant detail, enough support, enough exemplification.
Overall, I noticed general organizational, rhetorical, and mechanical errors that could have been corrected very easily if the paper had been read through once. There is no excuse for not catching spelling mistakes or fragments or formatting errors. If I have to stop reading in your first sentence because there is a glaring error or problem, then you're already in the hole.
Finally, read your papers out loud. Have someone read your papers to you. Let your ears catch things your eyes might not catch. Also, budget adequate time for you to work on your paper and then come back to it for revision.
October 3, 2005: Change in Office Hours
I have decided to change my office hours time to Wednesdays from 1 PM to 3 PM or by appointment. Remember that my office is located in the Lewis Annex on the north side of campus. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them via email or the class blog.
October 1, 2005: Course Mail "engl131a7_au05@u"
I have created a course reflector list, an email address designated for our class. Periodic announcements will be made via this list (and mirrored here on the course website). Sending an email to engl131a7_au05 @ u.washington.edu will send your message to the whole class. Please treat the course reflector list with the same rules and respect as the blog.
September 29, 2005: Welcome
Welcome to English 131! I just wanted to extend a hearty welcome to the class! Hopefully, everyone is having a smooth first week of classes. Here's to a productive, fun, and interesting fall quarter!
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