Quotation Mark, Period, @$#&!

In this blog post I’m going to touch on an issue of personal significance to me, so forgive me if it becomes somewhat vehement in tone. It’s subject is the punctuation sequence [“.]!

To clarify, the sequence I am referring to is the close-quotation mark (), followed by the period (.), or, alternatively, by a comma (,). In the paragraph above, the brackets are employed only to set off the sequence, and the exclamation mark is intended to convey how I feel about seeing a quotation mark followed by a period: exclamatory, in a negative way. This aggravating punctuation is one of the reasons that I look for other things to do when I have papers to grade (this time, blogging is no relief). There is no justification for putting a period (or a comma) outside a quotation mark! Except, that is, if there is an intervening parenthetic page citation. Continue reading

Victorians Then and Now: Why Victorian Literature Matters to 21st Century Students

When I introduce any Victorian literature to students, I initially ask them to brainstorm words they associate with Victorian, and I write their responses on the blackboard. Overwhelmingly, they see the period and its figures as resoundingly restrained. Though many American college students define the Victorians by their apparently repressed sexuality, troubling gender relations, and long, rambling novels, the truth is that the Victorian period is strikingly parallel to our current moment. Part of teaching Victorian literature is debunking—or at least adding nuance to—students’ preconceived judgments. Continue reading

Teaching Writing to Students with Learning Disabilities

Teaching Writing to Students with Learning Disabilities

What is a Learning Disability?

A learning disability is when a person has extreme difficulty learning in a typical manner. This can be caused by one factor, or many. People who are learning disabled are clinically diagnosed by a professional, be it a pediatrician or a psychologist, and there are many different types of learning disabilities, or LDs.  This blog post will discuss different strategies that teachers can use to help struggling students with writing. There will be three different articles from three different scholars who discuss writing strategies for students with disabilities. The different strategies discussed are for all teachers, not just special education teachers. Teachers need to make their classes inclusive for all students, even if they do not teach special education classes. Also, the strategies discussed in this blog can be used for all students with learning disabilities, not just those with writing disabilities.

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How to Promote Effective Peer Response

Peer responding can be constructive

Writers can become highly motivated to revise when peer readers with some training and practice respond to larger issues in a draft such as content, organization, tone, emphasis, use of evidence or details, etc.  But to get productive peer response sessions, that is, responses balanced with both earned praise and constructive critique, the instructor has to invest some smart planning, modeling of the process, scaffolded training, and assignment-specific criteria and questioning. Continue reading

Ethical Readers and New Media

Check out Andrew Kahn’s Interactive and Annotated version of Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener.

A New Republic of Letters in the Digital Age

In Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (1853), Melville self-reflexively critiques the life and death of reading.  Melville’s titular character Bartleby’s dead letter-reading and life-writing (or not-writing, because, after all, Bartleby “prefers not to”) criticize national ethics of expression and representation.  The novella can also be read as a commentary on Melville’s own anxieties about reading the changing literary and social forms of mid-nineteenth-century America.

Moving away from Melville’s dead-letter office, and perhaps, into today’s new digital republic of letters, I find myself thinking about Melville when refiguring the ways I apprehend and teach literary form.  As teachers and scholars, it has become increasingly important to enrich reading and writing instruction by teaching texts anew: 21st-century learning requires an emergence within the moving texts and contexts that define our contemporary, technological society.  How can we account for the wide swath of changing literary forms and social practices? What is the role of new media literacy in the classroom?

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Teaching Advertising

I’ve taught several classes on WWI literature and culture, and one challenge has often arisen. Most of the literature we now study that takes up the war, whether it be canonical (Wilfred Owen, Ernest Hemingway) or not (Helen Zenna Smith) was written or published in the decades after the war ended. How can students get a sense of what people thought about the war while it was being fought between 1914 and 1918? Moreover, how can a teacher get students to answer this question for themselves? Continue reading

A Case for Teaching Narratology

By Dan Irving

Much has been made of recent efforts to shift STEM to STEAM, or the inclusion of the arts in an effort to integrate “wonder, critique, inquiry, and innovation” into the typical STEM curriculum. Steven Pearlstein’s article on “the parents who won’t let their children study literature,” published in the Washington Post last September, is one of the more visible recent incarnations the debate. Pearlstein, a Professor of Public Affairs at George Mason University, notes that parents aren’t letting their kids major in the humanities because it’s not practical; he counters that logic by claiming that literature courses help students learn about “the meaning of life,” a metaphysical goal amongst STEM’s profound physicality. I’m wary of the argument that an Introduction to Fiction class can, or even should, teach students the meaning of life (though this might be a minority opinion). I do, however, think we — English instructors at a science-focused research university — are in a unique opportunity, early on in (what will hopefully become) our teaching careers to rethink our approach to teaching literature to make these classes more relevant to STEM students.

I argue that by building undergraduate English courses from the ground-up to focus on narratology (the “form and functioning” of narrative, per Gerald Prince), we can more effectively find common ground with undergraduate STEM students. This idea of finding common ground is worth keeping in mind: it’s not a stretch to say that 90% of students in 100-level courses — which are largely taught by PhD students — aren’t English majors, and while they may be interested in the course topic, most are there because they need the SBC credit. The idea of studying fiction, or Shakespeare, or whatever else an English course might throw at them is a foreign, and in some ways an irrelevant, concept; it’s a hoop to jump through to finish a chemistry degree. We can look at this as a drawback — we’re not necessarily teaching students who are as interested in modernism as we are — or an interesting opportunity, a chance for us to shape our teaching philosophies, in a way, to make even a health science major really get into what we’re offering.

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Brown Bag Wrap-Up

Calling All Brown Baggers

For this month’s Brown Bag event, Professor Dunn and several graduate students presented some methods and techniques on how to effectively respond to student writing. Professor Dunn began by identifying some advice for instructors which is also summarized here.

Graduate students then offered a variety of suggestions based on current educational research. Below are some of the key points from their presentations. If you’re interested in reading more about our talented graduate students, check out their biographies.

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