Reading, Writing, Eating

Lemon CakeAlyssa Rosenberg wrote about Food in Fiction and How Cooking Brings You Closer to Characters this week in The Atlantic. The article asks readers to think about how cooking and eating the same foods as fictional characters strengthens the connection between reader and the text.

Rosenberg describes some lemon cakes she made as a connection to Sansa, a character the books by George R.R. Martin that are the basis of HBO’s Game of Throne:

The cakes weren’t anything like I’d imagined from reading about them in the book—they were spongier and less sweet, and hard to imagine as a dreamed-of delicacy. But they were delicious, a powerful visceral connection to the people on screen and the world in which they live.

Such connections between reader and text reminded me of the potential writing about food has in the composition classroom. Jay Dolmage has written two entries this year that include assignments and discussion ideas. Take a look back at Writing About Food and Food Rules for ways you can connect with students just as Rosenberg connects with those fictional characters.


This post is the introduction from the Bits Flashback for June 26. Read the rest of the post on Facebook.

 

[Photo: Lemon Cake by Charles Haynes, on Flickr]

Another Trauma Narrative: Bits Flashback for May 8

KeyboardOn Saturday, Black College Wire posted an article on a composition assignment that had consequences the teacher never expected. The teacher, Lisa Carl, asked students to write “either a first-person autobiographical account of a significant event in their lives or an analysis of a graphic novel or anthropological classic.”

In response, student Jessica Martin wrote the essay “I had an affair with my high school teacher,” which was later published in the N.C. Central University’s newspaper, the Campus Echo, as part of an annual collection of first-person narratives. The student’s account has resulted in campus scrutiny of her decision to write the essay and the newspaper’s decision to publish it—as well as the arrest of the high school teacher she wrote about.

As I read about the aftermath of the essay’s publication, I thought immediately of Holly Pappas’s Trauma Narrative post last month and how pertinent all the questions she raises are in this situation. It’s worth rereading Holly’s piece and thinking about how it applies and the new questions that it raises.

While you’re looking at past entries, also check out these Bedford Bits posts from last week:

A Few Extra Links

Let us know what you want to know about teaching writing or about using digital tools in the composition classroom by leaving a comment. Your response will help shape upcoming posts.

 

[Photo: Keyboard by cheetah100, on Flickr]

Turning Blog Posts Into a Book Draft

2010 NaNoWriMo Winner BadgeAfter thirty days of thinking, sorting, and scribbling, I turned a variety of notes and blog posts into a very rough and informal book draft of 52,967 words.

Now as I confessed a month ago, I went about the process as a rebel—writing a nonfiction, academic piece and borrowing from existing work as appropriate. Fortunately, rebellion is sanctioned in this contest, and I am now officially a National Novel Writing Month winner for 2010.

The Secret to My Success
I would never have taken on this project without a little nudge from Literature & Latte’s Scrivener NaNoWriMo 2010 Trial, a special trial version of a wonderful word processing program for Mac (and coming soon for Windows). Ryan Cordell reviewed Scrivener for ProfHacker, and that’s when the program initially caught my attention. When I saw that the Literature & Latte folks were offering a discount for NaNoWriMo participants, I knew I had to download the program and give the month-long writing event a try.

After a few days, I realized that Scrivener had completely changed the way I work on a longer document. Honestly, the program made it possible for me to see how my practice of writing short pieces could work in the context of producing a larger document.

I write dozens of short documents every month, almost always blog entries composed in Dreamweaver for upload to a blog platform like WordPress. When I’m not writing blog entries, I am writing very structured pieces like lesson plans and strategy guides for ReadWriteThink.

My greatest fear has been that I would never figure out how to write another book. I’ve become so used to these shorter, structured pieces, that I just couldn’t think through the problem far enough to understand how to structure and write a fluid, longer piece.

After playing with Scrivener a bit, I realized that I could create and import dozens of shorter pieces as Texts, arranging them in folders, and dragging them around on the cork boards until I had what I wanted. I soon had six chapters sketched out, and I ultimately ended up with 73 short texts sorted into those folders.

Admittedly, the draft is not close to finished. There’s little flow or consistency at this point, but when I realize that I went from 0 words to a fleshed-out folder outline and over 50,000 words in a month, I know it wasn’t just the pressure of the NaNoWriMo deadline that did it. The secret to my success was that Scrivener allowed me to collect my existing blog posts, compose some additional short texts, and end up with a book draft.

My Take-Away Lesson
After participating in NaNoWriMo, I realize that I was letting my belief that I had to have a finished idea for a book in my head block me from getting started. Working with Scrivener helped me recognize that my practice of writing short pieces could still work when I composed a larger book-length manuscript.

As I worked on my draft, I quickly learned that I could turn my blog posts into a very rough book draft simply by sorting things into reasonable categories and adding some missing pieces. My take-away lesson is to remember that I don’t need that finished piece figured out to create a longer text. I just need to be open and creative about how I fit my ideas together.

The Outcome
So here it is 30 days later, I have a roughly-arranged manuscript, which I’m currently calling Designing Digital Writing Assignments.

I’m not sure when I’ll get the manuscript finished or if I can find a publisher. I’m trying not to worry about that right now. It’s enough of an accomplishment to realize that I now know how to turn my blog posts into a book draft. I even know what I want to write a third book about and how to do that. Besides, I need to get back to anxiously checking my email for that 50% off discount for Scrivener that I should get from Literature & Latte as a NaNoWriMo winner.

 

38 Ways to Write about Writing

Writing writing writing...The second National Day on Writing is nearly upon us. Wednesday, October 20, is the day established by the National Council of Teachers of English to celebrate the many kinds of writing that people everywhere do.

Chances are that the students you teach are already writing and already talking about writing each and every day. What can you do to make this one day stand out?

NCTE has some celebration ideas, and the National Writing Project has gathered details on how many sites plan to celebrate. Last year, there were school-wide celebrations at places like Eastern Michigan University and Boston University, special acuities in college writing centers and writing program offices such as the University of Minnesota and Arizona State University, and hundreds of people adding submissions to the National Gallery of Writing like these writers from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The New York Times Learning Network blog even suggested writing activities for students.

For a classroom-based celebration that can fit in with whatever theme or topic you are teaching, try asking students to write about writing. No matter what they are doing, they can reflect on the writing they are doing, the strategies they use, and the different experiences they have had as writers.

The resources below come from a variety of sources, but all ask students to think about themselves as writers. Though some are framed for specific projects (e.g., writer’s blogs) they can easily be adapted and customized. Just share the question and ask students to discuss it in whatever way you like.

Whatever you choose to do, I’d love to hear about your celebration. Please let me know about your plans in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by dbdbrobot]

 

6 News Stories to Connect to Orwell’s 1984

Big brother poster by anarchosyn Big brother really is watching you. Today we accept a certain amount of oversight by government and business as a part of daily life.

Students know about all the surveillance cameras that follow them as they move about in the world. They realize the U.S. government tracks details on their income and health. They know that online vendors know what they buy and everything they looked at before they decide. They have all heard stories of someone who gets a ticket because of an act caught by a traffic light and toll booth camera.

Still, they can bring a skepticism to class when they read George Orwell’s 1984. Seriously, we could never be watched that closely, right?

Several recent news stories may make the answer to that question less certain. Have students read and discuss any one of the stories as an introduction or supplement to 1984, or arrange students in small groups, having each read a different article and then present the information and their comment to the class.

  1. Someone’s watching Granny cook her eggs. A new video surveillance system watches over senior citizens, monitoring everything from when they get out of bed to whether their eggs are fully cooked.
     
  2. Aunt Martha’s been in the bathroom for 30 minutes. Motion sensors track senior citizens around their homes, sending text messages to family when a possible problem arises. RFID chips track medicine and the inventory in kitchen cabinets.
     
  3. The scanner says you missed class today. Students must flash an ID card near the university lecture hall entrance to register their class attendance. The resulting information feeds into class participation grades.
     
  4. Alert! Preschooler has left the building! Thanks to a radio frequency tag in special basketball jersey-type shirts preschoolers wear, teachers and administrators can quickly tell when a student wanders off campus. The system tracks students at recess, in the cafeteria, and even in the bathroom.
     
  5. Why is Will still on the school bus? RFID chips and barcodes on student and faculty IDs and various pieces of equipment will allow a high school to track where people and things are at all times if funding is awarded. If someone’s missing or out of place, they can take action immediately.
     
  6. Your recycling bin may tattle on you if you throw away too many plastic bottles or cardboard boxes. In Cleveland, Ohio, RFID chips and barcodes will tell garbage collectors how often you put out the recycling. If it’s not often enough, your trash will be searched and you can be fined $100 if recyclables are found.

 

Student discussion of the articles can be guided with these questions:

  • What freedoms or privacy rights does the system affect?
  • What is the benefit of the system?
  • How would you feel if you were monitored by the system?
  • Would you feel comfortable using the system to monitor someone else?
  • How do the benefits balance with the loss of privacy? Is the loss worth the cost?

If students read and discuss several of the articles, additional questions can ask them to compare and synthesize the pieces:

  • Notice that the targets of these programs are either students or senior citizens. What do you make of the focus of these systems?
  • What other ways are monitoring systems used in America? How do the systems in these articles compare to them?
  • Create a scale that outlines how you feel about tracking and monitoring. What should always be monitored? What should never be monitored? What falls in-between? Explain how you decide where to place things on the scale.

Note that these articles would also make a great supplement to M. T. Anderson’s Feed.

 

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by anarchosyn]

List of Ten: Fun with Crayons

Crayon Lineup by laffy4kI’m a sucker for office supplies. Snoop around my desk, and you’ll find colored pencils, a rainbow of Sharpies, and a full range of notebooks and pads of paper.

It’s no surprise then that I was excited when I found a link to a Vintage Crayons, Paints, & Art Supplies Flickr set on a friend’s Twitter feed (John D. Lemke aka @lumpy).

Sadly that collection is limited by copyright restrictions, but you can find plenty of other images, like the illustration on this post. Just search for Creative Commons-licensed content for the keyword crayons.

Once you have found a collection of images you like, students can use one of the topics below to inspire a project such as an essay, a Powerpoint presentation, or a YouTube video.

  1. [Persuasion] Look at the vintage boxes in the image included on the Crayola entry on Wikipedia. You can also use more recent images of crayon boxes. Ask students to analyze the boxes for persuasive information. Point out the box that proclaims, “Not injurious to the hands and will not soil the clothes” as an example. There’s also an early advertisement you can analyze. Discuss how the boxes appeal to customers. How do they attempt to persuade customers to purchase a box of crayons?
     
  2. [Gender & Race] Ask students to look at how gender and race are represented in the images includes in the Vintage Crayons, Paints, & Art Supplies Flickr set. Crayon companies literally have all the colors of the rainbow to choose among. Are the images diverse? Do they accurately represent the people who will use the product? [You might begin this assignment by asking students to consider the Flesh crayon and the current Multicultural Crayons collection.]
     
  3. [Naming] Where do crayon names come from? Typically, the name seems to describe the color, but if you read the list of Crayola color names, you’ll quickly see that some are a bit unusual. Consider the Inchworm crayon. That’s hardly a name you’d expect. Review the list of Crayola color names, and choose one color to explore. Consider the connotations and denotations of the name, think about the alternatives that Crayola could have used, and draw some conclusions about their final choice. Your project will be an analysis of the name for that crayon—exploring the name, what it means to people, and why it was probably chosen.
     
  4. [Perception] Take a look at XKCD’s Color Survey Results and the related resources the results have inspired. Colors are deeply personal and quite objective. Discuss the role that gender plays in the analysis, and suggest what other personal characteristics might influence the names people choose for colors. If your resources allow, the raw data from the survey are linked from the XKCD site. Try your own analysis of the data and report what you discover.
     
  5. [Culture] Consider how cultural connotations of colors (alternative discussion) compare to the names Crayola has used to label various crayons. You can use Poynter’s Color, Contrast & Dimension in News Design to talk in more detail about how color works. Are there names on the list of Crayola color names that could be culturally insensitive? What alternate names would you suggest if the crayons were used by children in a different culture?
     
  6. [Color Bio] What if your life were a crayon box? Identify 8 to 12 significant events in your life. The times might be especially happy memories, things that changed your life, or milestones you achieved. Choose a crayon color to represent each event, and explain why the color is appropriate for the event. The project might be published as a kind of graphic life map.
     
  7. [Special Collections] Crayola has created special collections of crayons over the years. Some are named for the kinds of colors included, like Silver Swirls. Others are specific to an event or situation, however, like the State Crayon Collection (image 2 , image 3 ) or America’s Top 50 Crayons. Create your own special collection of crayons—choose a theme (e.g., the Mardi Gras collection, the Halloween collection, or Thomas Dale High School collection), and 8 to 12 crayon colors that you would include. Provide names and explanations for the colors that would be in your special collection. The Educational Chemistry Crayons are a great example of such a project.
     
  8. [Tell Your Story] Almost everyone has memories tied to crayons—whether coloring worksheets in preschool or filling in the images on a place mat at a restaurant. Write a personal memory about crayons. Brainstorm the things you remember when you think about crayons. Choose one or two, and tell us your crayon memory.
     
  9. [Coloring Pages] Take a look at a collection of Coloring Pages or Craft Projects on the Crayola Website. Choose 5 to 7 pages from a collection, and analyze the images and text that are included. How is Crayola presenting the issue or idea? What is included and what is not? The pages are obviously intended for children, but are there other aspects of the audience that your analysis reveals? [Expand this activity by including coloring pages from one of Crayola’s international sites, which include Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Mexico, and Italy.]
     
  10. [Coloring a Place] Dump a collection of crayons in a bag (or names of colors on slips of paper). Each student pulls out a crayon (or a color) randomly. Have the student look up the color on the list of Crayola color names if you use slips of paper. Imagine that the color is the name of a place. Using the color of the crayon and the crayon’s name as inspiration, describe the place. What does it look like? What happens there? Who goes there? What sounds and smells are associated with the place? NOTE: If a student has trouble working with a color, just have him pull another one. The idea is for the color to be relatively random, but there’s no reason a student should be forced to stick with a color that he’s having trouble using as inspiration.

Most of these activities will work with any collection that is based on colors. You might use paint chips, for instance, or if students do scrapbooking, the names and colors of paper and ink used by Stampin’ Up would be work.
 

Check out the other Lists of Ten for writing activities, professional development ideas, and other classroom teaching tools.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by laffy4k]

March of Time Newsreels in the Classroom

Film Canisters by Mr. T in DCBack in the days before 24-hour news networks, people went to their local movie theaters to see what was going on in the world.

The March of Time, perhaps the most well-known producer of these videos, distributed documentaries that covered everything from American culture and lifestyles, to business and industry, to the nation at war.

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of this precursor to breaking news videos on YouTube, the Museum of Modern Art has a special film exhibition, running September 1 through September 10. Turner Classic Movies has posted background information on The March of Time and will show five of the newsreels on September 5th.

Luckily, highlights from the collection of historical videos are also available online from HBO Archives. Note that a free site login is required to view the videos. Additional materials are also available from the March of Time’s Facebook page.

The newsreels and documentaries on the HBO site include historical events, cultural happenings, and biographical profiles. The videos provide a wonderful snapshot of life in America and around the world.

I first wrote about the March of Time collection on Bedford Bits last summer. You can check my blog entry Use Newsreel Videos for Background and Analysis there for specific ideas.

One of my favorite possibilities for class discussion this fall is the Oil and Men video, which offers a profile of Standard Oil of Indiana from 1951. What a great pairing that 30 minute video would make for videos and news stories on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Here are some others you may want to spend some time with:

  • Basic English 1, with text by I. A. Richards, is quite odd, though perhaps not the best “teaching picture.” There’s also a Basic English 2 if you survive the first video.
  • Tobaccoland, USA might pair nicely with an analysis of cigarette advertisements and anti-smoking commercials.
  • Leadbelly is a short biopic on the famous musician, which might be compared to profiles on celebrities shown on TV or in magazines like People.
  • Wit and Humor is a dramatization of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment.”

It’s unfortunate that HBO has left the running clock on the videos, but it’s still a handy collection with limitless possibilities for the classroom.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by Mr. T in DC]

Activities That Ask Students to Explore Cultural Mindsets

Wrist watch by sergis blogThis week’s release of the Beloit List got me wondering about how the resource might be used in class.

Officially known as the Mindset List of the Class of 2014, the Beloit List has been published each August for the last 13 years to remind us teachers of the cultural knowledge that first-year college students bring (or don’t bring) to the classroom.

This year, we’ve learned that the incoming class thinks Barney is a dinosaur rather than a Mayberry Deputy, telephones have never had cords, and wrist watches are not part of their wardrobe. Or at least that’s what the list wants us to believe.

The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article yesterday that explored the background of the list. Tom McBride and Ron Nief, “The Minds Behind the Mind-Set List,” explain:

the list started on a lark back in 1997—some old college hands unwinding on a Friday afternoon, musing on how much freshmen don’t know about recent history and culture. But such blind spots are to be expected, they had agreed, given the relative youth of the incoming class. They had concluded that professors should be mindful of how very different their students’ life experiences are from their own.

What struck me when I read The Chronicle article though was the picture of the lists creators. There they were. Two, white-looking, men. I couldn’t help but wonder how the lists might be different if the authors were, to put it politely, a bit more diverse.

What began as that little curiosity turned into this short list of ways that you might use the list in class:

  • Analyze the list for diversity. Think about race, gender, and ethnicity. What’s missing? How would you revise the list to be more accurate.
     
  • Consider the accuracy of the list. Take one of the items on the list and do a little research to see how correct it is. Anecdotal research and simple surveys would be enough. For instance, observe people in the library or dining hall and count the number who have on a wrist watch. Think of yourself as on a mission to bust myths and misconceptions.
     
  • Share your personal mindset, using the Beloit List as a model. What cultural markers do you consider important? Are there things that have always been a part of your life (or have never been)?
     
  • Create a list for a historical figure or fictional character. The list should clarify how the world of the figure or character is different from that of today. For instance, Chaucer’s pilgrims never had indoor plumbing and travel was normally by foot or by horse. Pop culture figures would work as well (e.g., characters from television series or movies).
     
  • Gather a list on the cultural mindset of a different social group—veterans who served in Afghanistan, working mothers, or firefighters, for example.
     
  • Refocus the list to outline 5 to 10 items that fit the topic “I live in world where . . .” Try to think of specific details that communicate how your world differs from that of others in the incoming class. Use the list to show how you’re different.
     
  • Satirize the list with an irreverent collection based on a more humorous touchstone. How about “ever since I got a job” or “since I’ve been on a diet”?

The language of the Beloit list is an easy model to follow, and many of these activities can be a fun community building activity.

And speaking of fun, I know it’s a terrible stereotype, but I really want to write a list that begins “Ever since we started dating, the cap has always been on the toothpaste, the toilet seat is always down, and my dirty socks are usually in the laundry basket.”

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by sergis blog]

BP’s Unintended Lesson on Visual Rhetoric

Altered BP HIVE Center Photo by BP AmericaIt’s politically correct to be disappointed with BP and their little oil well problem in the Gulf. But how can I be angry when they provide me with such wonderful gifts?

First, BP America digitally enhanced some of their oil spill clean-up photos. The images are great for pointing out the sloppiness of the Photoshop work and, more importantly, discussing the ethical issues related to tampering with the images. Be sure to look at the face-saving explanation BP has posted with the BP Altered Images Flickr set. Any class exploring visual rhetoric should spend time with these photos. So a big thank you to BP for classroom material.

But that’s not all. Next, the folks over at Wired took the faked BP images and challenged readers to create their own digitally altered photos. The results are marvelous. Everything from Godzilla to Rick Astley is out there in the Gulf causing mayhem.

The submission showing pop culture images on the different monitors is probably my favorite:

BP Multiple-Monitor Pop Culture from Wired

How could you NOT like an image that includes Max Headroom, War Games, Star Trek, Poltergeist, and The Matrix?

As part of a visual rhetoric lesson plan, the Wired challenge images open up the topic of satire and parody. Students can discuss how the different images critique the way BP has handled the oil spill—both in its actual clean-up and in the images they have shared with the public.

So politically correct or not, I’m a little thankful to BP America for providing me with the materials for a timely lesson on an important topic.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by BP America]

Classroom Activities Using Twitter

Sending Twitter Message by Cell Phone Image by rockinfreeSince Twitter is a communications tool, there are infinite ways to use the site in the English classroom.

These two excellent videos provide introductions to using Twitter with students that are polished enough to share at staff meetings and professional development sessions:

  • The Twitter Experiment – UT Dallas is one of the first stories of a teacher using Twitter in the classroom to hit wide distribution . The YouTube video includes discussion and feedback from Dr. Monica Rankin and students in her history class. Rankin’s focus is on increasing discussion and class participation.
  • Twitter in the Classroom? shares details on a partnership between University of Minnesota and Roosevelt High School to use Twitter to communicate and engage students.

In addition to giving students some basic tutorials and guides, it’s useful to go over the information from College Student’s Guide: Twitter 101. The page shares advice on how to make choices wisely so that students are taken seriously when they use Twitter as part of their classes.

For some more concrete classroom activities, look at Twitter Resources for the Classroom and Ten Ways to Use Twitter with Colleagues, both from Bedford Bits.

You’ll also find useful examples in these articles:

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by rockinfree]