Conversation 1

How are the rhetorical situations in which you engage your students related to professional, civic and other kinds of writing in the world beyond schools?

23 thoughts on “Conversation 1

  1. Activity: “Maligne Canyon”

    Again, what kind of assignment was this? What was the purpose? We feel as if it may have been an idiosyncratic assignment that “strangled the student,” and we weren’t sure if genre and audience expectations were communicated clearly to the writer

    – conflict between aesthetic and scientific (though they can work together in general, just not here)–the latter may be easier to follow, and the former is more enjoyable
    – in the writer’s defense, the aesthetic parts are in the introduction, which, if two genres are combined, may be appropriate
    – descriptive language also integrated into science parts–many of us liked the language
    – some of us preferred the first (subjective, emotional, aesthetic) half; some of us preferred the (scientific, citational, objective) half–some felt the latter was “more academic,” but others pointed out that such an assessment depends on genre and expectation.

  2. - The ‘Marijuana” article started off strong but there was no sustain. The grammatical errors started can get to the reader after a while. The scientific evidence was not very good.
    – The police say that marijuana does not guarantee that the user will become an abuser of serious drugs but every serious drug user started with marijuana. In fact, of course, most marijuana users do not go on to become serious abusers.
    – Teachers can smell marijuana on the student and do not want such students in the classroom.
    – Student is very passionate and it was a miracle that the student did not take a tone but remained very respectful. Even so, there is a very strong voice in the piece. It actually reminded me of the conversations in my high school classes. One time, a teacher told us students to go out to a park and start smoking pot in very large numbers. They would not be able to arrest everyone so the marijuana laws would not be enforceable.
    – But, the students does not provide true facts but seems to have made a lot of stuff up to support the position. The spelling and composition errors interfere with both understanding and flow. Other times, the spelling was amusing.
    – Student had sentence fragments, but the student seems intelligent enough to be able to overcome the easily, fixable problems.
    – However, it is a struggle to read. It might not be as easy to fix as some might think.
    – Clear disagreement over this. Some people think it was easy enough to follow despite the writing problems.
    – What does “morals” and “real criminals” mean? Terms need to be defined better.
    – Student has done research but there are no specific citations!
    – We need the assignment description to know what the student was asked to do.
    – Class setting might be best way to learn spelling because the student can use spellcheck at home. But, we do not know the context. If this is a three month research assignment, then it is less impressive.

    “Maligne Canyon”
    – It’s very boring. It seems like the student is trying to use words to make it sound like more than it is so the teacher might like it. The writing seems forced.
    – Did person actually go there or just get something from internet?
    – This could have been written in half the space. It is redundant. There are weak vocabulary choice – a lot of “very’s.” The reader gets everything they need in first paragraph. It sounds like the student had a number of words target that needed to be reached.

    – It does read cleanly. Compound sentences, good use of transitions were all present. Logical flow to what is written. Excellent use of subheadings and topic sentences. Student does seem to know what he is talking about. It seems that the student was writing to the assignment description.
    – No sentence fragments. Few grammatical errors. BUT, there is no voice.
    – The essay does not engage the reader so s/he falls asleep. The essay says it is the writer’s observation, but, in fact, the observation is that of a person who saw a photograph. But, it might have been the writer’s photograph. Expectations would change if we knew what the assignment was.

  3. Discussion from the whole group (Maligne Canyon)

    – vivid language, would make a good travel brochure
    – organization makes sense, follows the structure of the image
    – direct and easy to read
    – nice use of complex sentences and punctuation
    – coherence is excellent
    – inconsistency in language (vivid imagery to sterile language) – commenter blames the institution (!) because of the insistence on bland language in the sciences – the student’s passion for the site is coming through in jarring ways
    – the student speaks with authority
    – feels like the interpretation of a photograph

    – the sense of purpose is not directed and could be developed more clearly
    – describes but does not engage the reader
    – there could be more consistency
    – transitions could be stronger
    – conclusion and discussion of drainage systems much stronger than the introduction, which is lacking a clear purpose
    – provides a good contrast – difference in tone when a student is or is not passionate about the writing (compared to Marijuana paper)
    – turns into a data-dump, the ending could be tied back the actual observation/experience – inconsistency between two halves

    – again, if we knew the genre we would be able to understand it more. Maybe the assignment asks for two different sections.

  4. Maligne canyon
    detail, description
    Imagery; punctuation; transitions; “academic” as a good thing;
    student knew what they were talking about (authority)
    30-2 student assignment: interpret a photograph
    clear sense of purpose

    -inconsistency between the aesthetic and the objective; some disagreement among the audience about this point
    -doesn’t engage me
    -deceived as a reader: is this an actual observation of the place or of a photo?
    -tough to read the first section–didn’t know the purpose right away
    -lack of passion here made it boring; but this is maybe a function of the assignment; plus do we have to be emotionally invested?
    -encylopedia kind of writing

  5. Maligne Canyon Observation
    – not sure if this is academic or esthetic
    – focus unclear: lots of topic s and ideas that were introduced without substance.
    – got boring towards the end, but the headers gave more focus once they wire introduced
    – is this s scientific or poetic?

  6. Maligne Canyon Observation


    -Boring but does the job.
    -Or: not boring, but loopy.
    -Personal interjections a bit confusing
    -some descriptive language disrupting (v. augmenting) overall “objective”
    voice? Moments where the text “surprised” us. Would like the author to
    decide on genre/voice (how much of this is anecdotal v. scientific?
    Aesthetic/poetic or just, well, dry)
    -Unevenness of voice vs. description itself
    -Comparing vegetation and grand canyon: is this an accurate/possible
    description in this context?


    We do get a good sense of what this place is like. We also get: succinct explanations and logical organization.

  7. Maligne Canyon
    Liked it–clear and organized. Within the content of an observation included the effect on the viewer. Last half got technical but still had flow [pun intended].
    Observations followed by the parsing of them.
    Interesting and read well; having been there, it really does describe it well.
    Picture: would be difficult without it. Refer to it earlier?
    Transitions: a bit awkward and clunky.
    Starting with the atmosphere then the technical; structure given in the assignment?
    Observations disconnected–first time through reading.

  8. Second reading: Maligne Canyon Observation

    – again, we don’t know what kind of assignment this is or what class it is for
    – written to a grade five level reader, could fit in a textbook
    – this is just a description – there is no recommendation, analysis, etc
    – if this is meant to be a description in a scientific context, the diction should be more advanced – it should be more than just visual, avoid phrases like “many scientists believe”
    – the student is trying to make it rich
    – there are no mechanical errors, but there is a confusion of purpose. What is the objective of the writing? Not even the student knows (see “my observations and research”)
    – it feels like this student has been reading a very different style of writing than what they are supposed to be turning out – their exposure to this discipline has been found in textbooks only – genre-blurring and a lack of clarity
    – as teachers, are we clear about what we want? Do we communicate this effectively to students?
    – reads a bit like a travel brochure

  9. Malign Canyon:

    Things we liked:
    imagery — well written at the beginning.
    some good transitions at the beginning
    opening is stronger than later parts
    takes risk with sentence structure (leading a sentence with because).
    Defined terms well.
    Shows passion in writing (for science or geography)
    Research was woven in nicely.
    Liked the representation (picture) so you could picture the landscape as you read through the rest of the text.
    Headings used to organize text.

    Things we didn’t like:
    because at the beginning of the sentence in (solutions) is off putting.
    some concepts were not developed clearly enough
    the purpose of some paragraphs were not always clear.

  10. Discussion comments from the whole group:

    – when students are passionate it comes across in the writing
    – this student understands paragraphs – each one is its own idea, there is an internal organization
    – student stays on topic
    – student understands the need for evidence, tries to temper emotion with facts
    – solution to eating disorders and phrase ‘Canadianize’ show creative thinking
    – student uses creative diction, ‘forbidden fruit,’ and has a very strong voice all the way through
    – student has a very strong position statement, there is a base to work from
    – subtlety of thought shows great potential
    – ideas are there even if mechanics are not, there is a clear purpose and it is very persuasive
    – this is a perfect draft or ‘letter to the editor’ essay

    – fine tuning, spelling, sentence structure are distracting – lack of core skills
    – the student may not know who the audience is
    – author needs to substantiate what (s)he argues, evidence is pointed at but not provided
    – similarly, the student could also develop what (s)he means in the discussion of morality
    – ‘talk radio style’ (could also be a strength – tone) but how do you ask the student to fix problems without ‘breaking their heart’
    – feels like a free-write
    – work on specificity and define terms (e.g. ‘real criminals’)

    – we don’t know what the student was asked to do, this would help us contextualize the piece – ‘judging the bicycle for not being a car’ – could be an exam context

  11. What do we think of “Marijuana: The Debate Continues”

    – Everything is relative to the context the student was writing in: in class? revisions? purpose? English of social science? We have to make assumptions in order to respond. It would be a great timed exam, but a really weak 3 month research paper.
    – Good structure; moments of eloquence in language use; some high diction & personal voice (e.g. “fluctuates,” “forbidden fruit”). Clearly engaged in the subject. Clear sense of purpose.
    -Surface level analysis hinders the “good stuff.” Show me the science (though detail is “trickled in”); insufficient use of evidence if this is a research paper. Obvious mechanical problems, but that’s a lower-order concern, and their problems are of the easily-fixed kind (e.g. sentence fragments are easily explained). Inadequate engagement with the “other side” of the debate.
    – On a “gut level” we kind of liked it.

  12. Responding to “Marijuana – The Debate Continues”: What are our values

    Preliminary remarks: what’s the context?

    Question: How would I help the author turn this into an academic paper?

    What strengthened the paper/did we like?

    -Strong voice/sense of conviction (good attempt to convince)
    -Author understands paragraphs

    What weakened the paper/did we dislike?

    -No clear separation between sources and opinion.
    -Background uncertainties (who is this for, what are the requirements?)

    Conclusion: The “weaknesses” are good learning opportunities–there is good potential for a strong paper.

  13. Grammar issues: disagreement among respondents about the severity or how to handle them.
    Bigger issues: the argument has potential–the evaluation would depend on the context: a draft? a polished paper? Grade 10 vrs. Gr. 12?
    How to handle the person: would you break their heart by commenting about the problems since they are so invested in the topic?
    Is this a letter to the editor assignment? Is this a research report?

  14. Conversation One: Uses the process of dynamic criteria mapping – focus on what we value in writing. “Putting your rhetorical values on the line and advocating for them, and listening to others do the same.”

    Participants have writing samples in their folders. The first reading, “Marijuana, the Debate Continues,” is written by a grade ten student. Everyone reads silently, looking for aesthetic qualities instead of reading to mark/grade. What qualities strengthen/weaken the text?

    – not bad for grade ten, fairly strong structure and flow
    – repetition of “different eras…” and purposeful tone, use of word ‘I’ takes ownership over the writing
    – energetic and heartfelt argument, but not well developed
    – the other side of the argument is acknowledged in the beginning
    – opening is stronger than the closing

    – ‘trying on diction that they haven’t grown into yet’
    – feels like they have taken some phrases from google and changed specific words to avoid plagiarism
    – more emotional than evidence-based
    – writing flaws undercut the argument
    – the student is not sure whether this is an opinion paper or a research paper: (s)he seems well informed but does not communicate the evidence to the reader

    Next steps:
    – acknowledge the other side of the argument but also disprove it
    – include evidence

  15. “Revolutionary” used a lot. Capitalize on anything to support their position.
    What was the assignment?
    What research were they supposed to use in it?
    Length of paragraphs–long for Grade 10. A consequence of the barrage approach.

  16. Things we liked:

    Values shift depending on the context — different if it is a research paper than if it is an on demand task. Expectations shift in terms of polish and refinement if it was clearly a process oriented model.

    Moral aspects, including tolerance for other lifestyles, empathy for other cultures.
    Content was good — details were provided to support points.
    Organization: each paragraph was focused.
    Vocabulary was good.
    Slang and jargon were good.

    Things we didn’t like:
    Conclusion fell flat while introduction was too long.
    Too much of it was just a rehash of others’ perspectives
    Was not spell checked or proof read.
    6 rather than 5 paragraphs — could have stopped him from rambling.

  17. A sense of history–context for events–but nor really interested in that history. Barrage method of argument–dumping. Could have been more organized.
    Really enjoyed the first half of the first paragraph, and then it turns. Becomes a voice that can’t discriminate.
    Passion in the conclusion; idea of the new generation growing old.
    Interesting things but refers to statistics but never actually gives one. Strong opinion but couldn’t persuade someone else.
    A few points where if they had just stuck with that it would have been better.
    Reads like poetry” A few people could lead an average full life”
    Reference to moral debates as just old school thinking.

  18. -Helped organize/hatch the idea.

    -We want to hear what students/high school students have to say and can do (tired of just hearing that “students should be able to do x”). Especially in conversation with what post-secondary educators have to say.

    -Valuable to hear what people who teach different students/have different backgrounds have to say. Also different cultures…

  19. There are many different level of learning when it comes to ESL students learning how to write in English alongside other students struggling to learn new writing kills as well. Students sometimes need more one-on-one attention.

  20. Why are we here today?

    – want to know how to help kids become better writers in my area (social studies)
    – not much training on how to help students, despite taking PD opportunities
    – often teaching by intuition
    – interested from teacher’s perspective, also interested in university teaching: no consensus on how writing is taught and what the expectations are in 1st year uni classes
    – uni may be a lot of “unlearning” things taught in high school: uni not so formulaic (which some students and teachers may need, but which is more generally a problem).
    – when and where are formulaic writing assignments / forms appropriate?
    – how to improve student writing, and get them engaged?
    – high school teaching is mostly teaching to the exam, because it’s high-stakes, but it may be “wasted time” as uni prep
    – collaboration is a strength of teaching
    – Reviewed writing and reading strategies for older students all summer; has students who cry if you put a pen in their hand initially, but through these reviewed strategies, they have become much more comfortable and excited about writing, so this event is a way to build on that progress
    – as a uni instructor, what are the contexts that students have been writing in? It’s hard to know what their experience of writing has been; I don’t want to repeat things they know nor overburden them
    – need to address international writers, writers from a number of cultures

  21. Group discussion comments
    – tired of hearing the narrative of ‘university students should be able to do x.’ Can we focus on the real state of writing?
    – interdisciplinary writing is important
    – we need to look at all levels of the education system as well as students from all backgrounds

  22. First, what brought us here today?
    – Students asking why they need to learn to write if they’re in a professional/applied program (eg- nursing, engineering). How do we communicate the importance of writing to students who aren’t in the humanities?
    – In high school, how much time is being spent teaching students to write well? What happens when you ban the five paragraph essay or allow students to choose their own topics? How do we move away from formulas like one-sentence ‘point, proof, discussion,’ etc.

  23. Middle school teachers feel caught in the middle. Students come in from elementary classes having focused on sentence structure. High school teachers expect to be able to just focus on content. Middle school teachers have to focus getting them from sentences to full papers. PAT seems to drive a different focus than high school expectations expect of the them.

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