Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

Monthly Archives: December 2012

Assignment: Mock Synthesis Prompt (1)

Note: This is just the first part of the assignment. The second part will happen after the break. The caveat, of course, is that waiting until then to prepare all this will give you a bit of a headache; you ought to see what you can cobble together now, because you will need to free up mental space and processing power for what we’ll do on January 2.

Beginning on January 2, you will create an individual synthesis prompt—not an essay response, but the prompt that would generate an essay response. Click below to load the Google Drive folder with all the necessary materials:

You will see sample prompts, a guide to creating your own prompt, a template you can download and edit, and the beginning of a collection of sources. The latter is where you should focus your attention over the break. Note: You should not do any writing yet.

Your job is to find sources that are somehow—directly or indirectly—related to Santa Claus. As you read the guides to this process over the break, keep coming back to your list of sources. Save texts, pictures, and so on; link to websites; share out ideas through Google Groups or over email.

Our focus on Wednesday will be efficacy—the ability to produce a desired effect. That means weighing the sources you’ve gathered against each other in terms of a synthesis-driven conversation. Then we’ll build the prompts together.

Let me know if you have any questions.


Feedback: Progress Reports

Or, The Paradox of the Heap

Tomorrow, your progress reports are issued. You will have three grades: an adversarial, a set of questions on rhetoric and style for Edelstein, and a set of questions on rhetoric and style for Ebert. You will not get to see how you did on your timed rhetorical analysis essays until over break; the DAMAGES/C4 analysis was disrupted by my impromptu hospitalization, and I will not give you numbers until you also have feedback—and, of course, the time to study that feedback.

Which brings us to the paradox of the heap.

Twice every nine weeks, your teachers are asked [Note: That’s an interesting passive voice, isn’t it?] to draw arbitrary lines in the sand. When we do this, we look back and articulate, through canned commentary and somewhat oblique grades, how you are doing. Certain grades and commentary indicate that you are learning; others, that you are not. But this is obviously imprecise. Some of you still need to share your Chaos QORAS with me—be sure to check your email, while you’re online—but that’s an easy one; all of you will have progressed further the day after these progress reports are posted. Like the heap linked to above (you are still reading every link, aren’t you?), it’s a vague and sometimes inaccurate kind of report.

Because, of course, you are in charge of your progress. For the adversarial, you were given explicit annotations on exactly which comments earned what number of points; you spent an entire day looking this over to prepare you to discuss online the next adversarial, which will be tabulated and scored beginning on 12/20. For the QORAS covering Edelstein, you were given emails and exemplars through Google Drive—so many, in fact, that you were given another day in class just to read that feedback. And for the QORAS you wrote on Ebert’s review, you have just received a set of similarly scaffolded feedback: an exemplary response, plus the option to conference with me for further feedback on your grade. Again, you should check your email for that feedback. I will give you your actual group responses tomorrow, after I know you’ve had a period to look at the exemplars.

In general, the paradox of the heap tells us that grades, while important, aren’t the key. As long as you check your email, pick up all handouts, and take full advantage of the time you are given, you should know exactly how you are doing in this class. The final piece of that puzzle came today in the form of those grades, however, so take the time to look at all this. And if you are wondering about how you can improve those grades, well, just make sure you’ve read that last post.

Bonus Round Redux

As a teacher, Neil Postman would deliberately use logical fallacies in order to test his students. He’d preface the course by saying that he’d do this; if sharp-minded students caught his specious reasoning or deliberate logical missteps, he’d reward them. I tried this myself while we studied political rhetoric in September and October. One student—Avery, from Period 9—caught me using a false analogy; no one else did.

Of course, this could be due to a general hesitation to call out a teacher for specious reasoning, and respect is the only rule I’ve ever set for you in here. (It’s why, in fact, watching a group or two chat and daydream and generally waste Tuesday’s student-driven reading of “Yes, Virginia” was so disheartening.) So I abandoned the tactic as probably more harmful than helpful.

When we moved into our next unit, I began emphasizing the need for you to do formative work. That refrain, begun in July, got louder. I posted this assignment. After offering you a couple of weeks and a lot of time in class to complete it, I surprised you by collecting it for enrichment credit. Here again is the post that details your failure to take advantage of that (which was the fulcrum of many parent-teacher conferences, I am sorry to say). Part of the original formative assignment was a push to email me with questions if anything confused you, seemed unclear, had a typo in it…

I’ll let one of your peers connect the dots for you:

Read more of this post

Michael Levin, “The Case for Torture”

Note: We will circle around to your recent performance—from missed opportunities to recent grades—next week.

Our next text was published on June 7, 1982, in Newsweek:

This moves us from the realm of fictional violence and obscenity and into a discussion of political torture. You can see the specific focuses of our discussion by loading this document:

Use the comments section of this post to continue that discussion; be sure, however, that you are basing your contributions on the photocopied annotations on adversarials that were distributed on Monday. Do not ignore that feedback.

If you use Google Groups to work out your responses to any of these concepts, include the link.

Bonus Round: The Formative Writing Process

This message is for archival purposes—but it also sets up the work we will be doing through the end of next week. Keep this in mind.

Today, I asked you all to submit the DAMAGES/C4 work you were assigned back in mid-November. A copy of the formative writing process is here, with the rest of our writing resources; you were given one in class on November 14th; or, if you like, you can click below to load another copy.

This was never a formal assignment, in that it was never going to be graded. But we spent time a very, very long time working on it. The three days before Thanksgiving were given over to this; then you had another day, Friday the 26th, to finish what you’d started. That’s because, as I tell you in the document itself, this ungraded, informal, formative assignment was always going to matter:

First, locate where we are in this cycle:

  1. Investment in formative work leads to
  2. success on summative work, which leads to
  3. an easier time parsing and processing summative scores and feedback, which leads to
  4. more productive collaborative and individual feedback looping, which leads to
  5. more effective metacognition and reflection, which leads to
  6. an easier time investing in formative work, which leads to
  7. greater success on summative work, and so on.

This is based on the philosophy articulated in our introductory materials—a philosophy I will again attempt to articulate next week or the week after. It is a cycle in which greater investment in the optional portions results in greater success on the required portions; on the other hand, failure to invest in each step, regardless of extrinsic motivators like checkpoint grades, leads to a cycle of stagnation and frustration.

That’s why the DAMAGES/C4 work for Singer was collected today as a bonus. As long as you get it to me in full by the end of the day, I will reward you magnificently. If you didn’t do this when you should have, nothing bad will happen to you, at least in terms of THE GRADEBOOK. Your choices should always have consequences, after all, but those consequences don’t always have to be punitive; sometimes, it ought to pay off unexpectedly that you did the right thing without an extrinsic motivation.

Of course, doing this formative work will pay off in your next writing assignment—that’s the whole point—so what we are really talking about is the currency of grades. Those of you who did the right thing are being rewarded twice. The rest of you need to let this be a lesson: Don’t waste opportunities to improve your skills.

Chaos Theory

Make sure you’ve read the last post, and extend the adversarial conversation there. That window closes on Monday. To prepare for class on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, read the following:

Meanwhile, as grades and feedback are released, you should be using your resources effectively. Take your time to understand everything. Study my notes, which will be shared through Google Drive, and read whatever emails I send you. Devote as much time to that reading as you do to Ebert—and then take 30-45 minutes to correct your work, even though it isn’t required. Then you can talk to me about what confuses you, and you can schedule appointments with me that are beneficial, not just perfunctory.