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Meet me in … Baltimore?

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TESOL’s annual convention returns to Baltimore in April for its 50th birthday party (TESOL’s, not Baltimore’s). I’ll be greeting and speaking:

Wednesday April 6, 5:00-5:45pm, room 328: Beyond the EAP Border into Graduate Studies: Cross-Institutional Curricular Models (Jin Kim and Nigel Caplan)

Thursday April 7, 10-11am: Meet the authors coffee hour: Chris Feak and I will be on hand to drink coffee and talk about our textbooks and graduate student education in general. At the University of Michigan Press booth in the exhibit hall.

Friday April 8, 1:00-2:45pm: Getting on the Same Page — transitions from IEP to First-Year Composition (panel).

Friday April 8, 3:00-4:45pm, room 343: Discovering and Teaching the Grammar of Academic Writing (Sandra Zappa-Hollman, Nigel Caplan, Ryan Miller, Thomas Mitchell)

Handouts from my sessions are available here.

Hope to see you there!

 

 

Still not teaching the 5-paragraph essay!

“Our concern is not to banish the evils of incoherence, nor to promote writing as the free expression of the author’s voice. We have seen over and over that the explicit and thorough teaching of genres is the best way to level the playing field and give marginalized learners of all ages access to the high-stakes ways of knowing, reading, and writing that will open doors in their academic, professional, and social lives.”

– Read the rest of my post with Luciana de Oliveira on the TESOL blog and for an example of genre-based pedagogy in action (or at least in a series of ESL textbooks), take a look at Inside Writing!

 

Introduction to SFL for K-12/ELL teachers

I just discovered this fantastic recording of a lecture by Mary Schleppegrell of the University of Michigan in which she introduces the use of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and argues convincingly for the incorporation of SFL metalanguage in order to give ELLs access to grade-level disciplinary texts. I’m going to use this as part of a blended course for Delaware K-12 teachers as they start to read Luciana de Oliveira and Mary Schleppegrell’s Focus on Grammar and Meaning.

Updates from the anti-5-paragraph essay campaign

I’ve spent much of the winter break typing up students’ papers for my dissertation research. The task was descriptive writing — first describing the student’s house, apartment, homestay, or dorm room, and then (after the intervention) writing a featured home article about a house for sale as if for a local newspaper. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was still struck by the number of students who tried to shoe-horn one or both tasks into a pseudo five-paragraph essay, and this despite the fact that neither prompt mentions essays or even paragraphs! In fact, the featured house article is taught as a genre with a regular structure that has little to do the so-called English theme. Some of the results are awkwardly amusing: Everyone has a house, even animals. I’m going to describe my house. Or: this house has two floors. First of all, the first floor.  You can imagine the rest.

For anyone still harboring a sentimental attachment to the “ahrehtorical” (to quote Christine Ortmeier-Hooper) and ageneric (as I keep misquoting Christine Ortmeier-Hooper!) teaching of a universal form of bland, banal writing, here are some recent articles fighting the good fight for teacher genre-aware, context-specific writing skills:

Plus a few of my previous thoughts on the subject:

Update: Well, this is getting interesting. Over on the TESOL blog, Rob Sheppard has written a spirited defense of the 5-paragraph essay in which he usefully critiques Brian Sztabnik’s rather over-enthusiastic piece. But we couldn’t let that stand, so Luciana de Oliveira and I have written a rebuttal, “Why We Still Won’t Teach the Five-Paragraph Essay.” Let the games commence!

 

 

Inside my genre-based writing presentation!

Tamara Jones has written a lovely two-part description of my recent workshop on genre-based pedagogy and Inside Writing at Howard Community College. Her writing is so vivid, I almost feel I was there. OK, I actually was there, but if you weren’t, you might enjoy reading about how she was converted to genre-based writing and the teaching/learning cycle. Thanks for the kind shout-out, Tamara!

Who is teaching my students to write rhetorical questions?

No, really, I’m not being ironic: who are you? And could you please stop? Two of my high-advanced students — smart people by all accounts — started their diagnostic essays thus:

Do you think profit should be the only motivation for businesses?

Should profit be the only goal for business?

And guess what? (OK, that one was rhetorical) The prompt was: Should profit be the only goal for a business? So, essentially, the students started their essay by asking me the same question I asked them. Oh yes, and the second student had even given the essay a title: Profit is the only goal for business. I need to teach them what a spoiler alert is.

Let me be clear: I’m not blaming, mocking, or criticizing my students. After all, they’re reproducing the poor writing strategies they’ve been taught, in which all writing must begin with a so-called “hook,” and proceed with the familiar tedium of the five-paragraph essay. I don’t really like teaching hooks at all in academic writing. They’re fine for a magazine or newspaper article where the writer’s success (and perhaps paycheck) depends on attracting the reader’s attention, but a hook is entirely useless in a class assignment, which it’s my job to read. I can’t choose not to read essays that don’t have my attention! In the end, what makes an academic argument engaging isn’t a weak rhetorical trope in the first sentence; it’s a thoughtful, balanced, and well-supported claim that’s developed coherently and cogently. Continue reading “Who is teaching my students to write rhetorical questions?”