Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Case Against Grades

Read Alfie Kohn’s “The Case Against Grades,” which you can load online by clicking here. After you’ve finished reading, complete the following two exercises.

Part 1: One question: In the comment section of this post, ask one specific question that was raised for you about the reading. Is there a concept worth elucidating? Does Kohn raise an issue that you want to explore further? Is there an immediate concern you have about not being graded? Let this question be a sort of preface to the second exercise, which is free writing; keep in mind that we will continue to discuss this process through the beginning of next week, as well.

Part 2: Free writing: Open your Google account and load a blank document. Spend the rest of today’s period writing an answer to the following essential question:

  • To what extent are grades and learning connected in your education?

Use your reading of Kohn to inform your response. Be specific and thorough; this is not going to be shared with me or anyone else unless you want to do that, so there’s no reason to hold back. Get your thoughts down, letting Kohn’s theories and examples guide you.


Midterm Metacognition: Update

We’re going home early today, so our schedule will be a bit catawampus for the rest of the week. You have an email from me to read before tomorrow; follow the links in it to the directions for your required reflective and metacognitive writing. I’ll give you tomorrow in class to get started on that, and then we’ll move into a discussion of degrading (in the Kohnian sense, not the general-entropy-of-the-world sense) before returning to our unit on lying.

Update: Q2 Enrichment

We are going to have a lengthy conversation about this midterm, and the refrain of that conversation will be succinctness and preparedness—the two traits at the heart of your performance, whether you demonstrated them or demonstrated a lack of them. The preface to that conversation is a response of sorts to the (thankfully) few of you who sought me out to complain that you did not have time to finish:

  • For Part 1: You had this article a week in advance. You had a half-dozen guides to rhetoric and style built on a semester’s worth of work, plus time in class to meet with me or your peers to prepare. Your annotations and notes on the article were required on the day of the exam.
  • For Part 2: You built your own prompt. You had time to outline your response before the exam. You had guides to the prompt and the response, plus a practice prompt we built collaboratively, plus access to me and your peers.

The only difficulty—and one emphasized in all our preparations—was compressing your thinking and outlining into two hours. But the synthesis essay requires only 40 minutes to write. That left 80 minutes for twelve questions on rhetoric and style—or between five and seven minutes each. The conclusion—one drawn for you in advance—is obvious: You had to be precise and fast. You had to be succinct. But most importantly, you were not expected to produce volumes. This was about quality over quantity, and you cannot blame the time frame of the exam for your struggles.

This is really a discussion about grades, and one I’ve raised before with a reference to an educator named Alfie Kohn. Grades are ineluctably tied to learning, at least for the moment, and that means we aren’t just talking about your reading of Sam Anderson or your ability to write a synthesis argument. We are talking about a number and how that number affects you. And I will tell you what I have always told you: Grades matter, but I will always give you control over what that number looks like.

So let’s talk briefly about enrichment and Q2 grades.

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Midterm Preparations

The exam is at 8AM on Tuesday, January 22. Your locations will be posted around the building. For reference:

  • Period 4 is in Room 214
  • Period 6 is in Room 215
  • Period 9 is in Room 216

And a quick checklist to use on Monday:

  1. Read this post again. It says everything I’m about to say, and it should be your primary resource. (On the eve of the exam, of course, that post should be as a sort of final check, not a last stand. You’ve been at this for two weeks.)
  2. Bring your synthesis prompt to the exam. Print it before Monday morning if that is at all possible. Otherwise, plan to get into the library or Room 214, where I will be waiting, as early as possible.
  3. Use the templates and notes you have to insure that your prompt looks like it should. Think about what you will write, including which sources you will use.
  4. Mark up the prompt and sources ahead of time, if you like. You can use any annotations you bring with you. You will be handing in your prompt with the response.
  5. You may bring this guide to synthesis writing, which was also included in the previous post (and distributed in class a few times this year). Use it to help you plan and edit during the actual writing.
  6. Bring the Sam Anderson article with you. You may use any annotations you have to help you answer the questions on rhetoric and style.

Note that this exam is as much about resource management (including time management) as it is about rhetoric, close reading, and argumentative writing. Keep this in mind as Tuesday rattles toward you: If you’ve been hard at work, you’ll do well; more importantly, no last-minute cramming will really help you.

Finally, you should look at the following document:

That is exactly what you will see on Tuesday, only the questions on rhetoric and style have obviously been removed. Check over those directions ahead of time.

Good luck, Kinder.

The Midterm

Your midterm will be a two-hour examination on Tuesday, January 22nd. The time and location will be posted in various places around the building.

Part 1: Questions on Rhetoric and Style

Note that you can complete the two parts of this exam in any order you wish. The first section asks you to respond to about an hour’s worth of questions on rhetoric and style on the following text:

You will be given a copy of the formatted Word document; you should also set aside time to read the article in its original, online format, because one or two of the QORAS will deal with those interactive elements. It’s also an excuse to play a video game in the middle of an English class.

As you annotate the text, refer back to this last post on rhetorical analysis. Focus on the DAMAGES-specific commentary in that post. My goal is not to trick you with esoteric terms or oblique analysis; I want to see if you can read, parse, and react to a complicated text. You can do that, by the way. You only need to slough off this idea that rhetoric and style are about dissection. It’s a kind of vivisection, if you want to use that metaphor; the text is alive and breathing, and if you cut into it too deeply or repeatedly, you will kill it. (That is a terrible metaphor. Let’s move on.)

You will be able to use your copy of Anderson’s article on the day of the exam. You will also be able to use any notes you’ve taken in your compendium. It would be a waste of time to copy over a thousand definitions or terms, after all; this is really about your use of time and resources, and you’ll still have to condense that preparation into a session of timed writing.

Part 2: Self-Directed Synthesis Argument

This is the evolution of the original synthesis-building assignment: You will construct a prompt on a subject of your choosing, and then you will write a response to that prompt on the day of the exam. Click here to load the folder with all of the synthesis-related materials:

And click here to load the two most important documents from that Google Drive folder:

You’ll need to use both in concert to develop an effective prompt. Of course, you also have model prompts and a week’s worth of class time; you’ll be able to bounce ideas off of me, your peers, and previous iterations of the AP exam.

More information:

  • You may write the prompt alone or in a group.
  • Your prompt must have six or more sources. One of those sources must be visual (e.g., a graph or political cartoon).
  • Whether you work alone or in a group, you will write an individual timed response on the day of the exam.
  • A copy of the prompt, whether you wrote it alone or with a group, is due on the day of the exam and must be attached to your timed response.
  • You must write your timed response in its entirety on the day of the exam. The suggested time is 45 minutes to write and 15 minutes to edit and revise.
  • You should not write the response ahead of time; you should, however, plan what you will write.

At the start of Q3, on or around January 28th, you must be ready to defend your writing and prompt-building choices and the process of creating both through metacognition and reflection, respectively. This is not part of the midterm, but you should keep it in mind.

One more thing: Watch this video.

Procedural Updates

Update #1: You have until Monday to finish the optional assignment contained in this post. I posted grades this morning; by now, you’ve hopefully read the feedback from yesterday, looked over your writing, and considered (carefully) the contents of that post. Remember that you only receive the boost to your score if you earn it. At some point over the next few days, I’ll indicate how much your score on the adversarial increased; most of you earned back 50% of the points you didn’t earn the first time, but there were a few people who earned only 25% back, or who earned nothing at all.

Update #2: On Friday, January 11, we will brainstorm subjects for your mock synthesis prompt. Return to this post at any point for a complete rundown of the original parameters. They will remain static for the midterm, except for one obvious change: You have total freedom to choose the subject of your prompt.

You’ll receive a formal overview of the midterm, including point values and deadlines, next week. Until then, you should have the following general shape from your class notes:

  1. An hour’s worth of questions on rhetoric and style for a full-length argument, which you will receive a week in advance
  2. A timed synthesis response to a prompt of your own creation

You’ll have all of next week to read, annotate, plan, and build. This is a test of more than just your analytical and critical thinking skills; it’s a test of your ability to manage your time, utilize your resources, and take ownership of your learning. Keep that in mind.

Po Bronson’s “Learning to Lie” + Notes on Rhetoric

First, a serious mea culpa: When I introduced this essay on Monday, I referred to Po Bronson as “she” during the entire prefatory speech. I don’t really have any explanation for this, except that my immune system is attempting to murder me; serious disorientation tends to play with one’s self-editing. Our next author is a woman, and I got ahead of myself. And if that mistake, careless as it was, doesn’t seem like it deserves to be at the top of this post, know this: The details matter.

(Well, some details matter. Misspelling a word here or there isn’t a big deal; screwing up the gender of the author you’re studying sort of is. More on the distinction between the forest and its trees below.)

Now to the text: We’re using Bronson’s essay, “Learning to Lie,” for two reasons: first, to segue into next quarter’s study of lying as a cultural phenomenon; second, as fodder for midterm practice. You’ll get a formal outline of the midterm when we’re closer to the date; for now, just note the two halves of the exam:

  1. A set of questions on rhetoric and style for a full-length essay; the essay will be given the week before, but the questions will be held until the exam date
  2. A timed synthesis essay written to a prompt of your own creation

Bronson will help you prep for the questions on rhetoric and style. Load the essay through one of the two links below; read carefully, annotating it as you would any text; and then bring your observations and analysis to class on Wednesday. You’ll be able to use the comments section here to ask questions and hold conversations generated by our in-class discussion. You’re also encouraged to use Google Groups to extend our in-class work.

After the jump, you’ll find a brief review of what to look for in a text like this. Here is the essay:

Now to the forest:

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Feedback: YVA02 + YVA03

We tackled these questions on rhetoric and style before the winter holidays, and our approach was a bit different: You had the first part of the week to read and respond to the text in class; on 12/20, after you ostensibly completed the questions on rhetoric and style, you were given about 25 minutes to complete two responses. During those 25 minutes, you had to write alone, but you could use any notes you took, including ones prepared by your group ahead of time.

Overall, speed was secondary to preparation. 10-15 minutes is more than enough time to write effective responses to these questions after two days of collaboration with your peers; many of you, however, didn’t focus your efforts during that preparatory time. So let’s just get this out there: When you waste time in class, you perform more poorly on whatever assignment follows.

I took up these responses and scored each holistically out of 100 points. You completed QORAS #4 and QORAS #7; the former asks you to identify and analyze Church’s definition of “real,” and the latter asks you to evaluate the argument as a whole.  (Here is another link to the text, if you’d like to revisit it before reading this post.) Your scores are online only; you’ll need to visit the Portal to check them, after which you should refer to the usual general scoring scale to determine your relative effectiveness.

As with the last set of general commentary, you can earn up to 50% of the deficit in your grade back by writing a thorough reflection on this assignment. This reflection, however, must incorporate application of the commentary in this post to your responses. You must, in other words, explain what you’d fix if you could. Be specific, thoughtful, and honest. Treat the reflection as an explication and as a vehicle for metacognition, not just a rote summary of what I’ve said here, and you will see an increase: A 70 might improve to an 85; an 80, to a 90; a 90, to a 95; and so on. You can only earn up to 50% of the missing points back. Finish this by the time class starts on Friday (1/11), and submit it to me typed and printed.

As for the general commentary that follows: These are approximations of what an exemplary response would contain, so you are applying this understanding to your own work. In other words, this is what an effective response looks like; if you want to earn credit back, however, you need to do more than just repeat what I’ve written here.

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