Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

ETA: Classification and Division

Overview: You will spend the next few weeks practicing emulation through analysis, abbreviated to ETA writing and nicknamed bishop writing. Like the chess piece, you have some restrictions on the direction you move, but only the limits of the board for distance. We are also leaning on the etymology of the noun: Bishop comes from the Greek episkopos, meaning “watcher or overseer,” and you will oversee all elements of the writing process yourself, using the model texts and tools in this post.

Goals: This is another exercise of resource management, critical thinking, and close reading; it is also tightly woven into our degrading shift. We are returning to the focus on modes of discourse [1] that we used as early as last July. By the end of this quarter, you will produce a kind of argumentative essay called classification and division—usually an argument of fact and value built around the inventive exploration of a common topic. The best examples blend narrative and expository writing into this careful explication, so it tests all of the various kinds of writing you’ve studied and produced this year.

You can approach this writing process as if it has six steps:

  1. Deconstruction of model C&D papers using QORAS and the DAMAGES rubric
  2. Construction of the draft of your response
  3. Self-assessment, conferencing, and metacognition
  4. Staggered collaboration through Google Docs and class workshops
  5. Construction of the first revision of your response
  6. Looping steps 3-5 until satisfied

This is a kind of flipped classroom, in addition to being a perfect starting point for your Kohnian efforts. You work through the models, deconstruct and emulate their components, reverse engineer a process, determine your own direction and speed, and then use the class and teacher to help where needed. We will do other things in class, of course—mostly extemporaneous studies of multiple-choice questions, timed writing, and one-off lessons in poetry or short fiction.

Sequence: There will be no due dates issued before we’ve had a chance to read and deconstruct Stephanie Ericsson’s “The Ways We Lie” as a class. Even after we’re ready to start talking about due dates, you must remember that this is emulation through analysis; it takes time to emulate, time to analyze, and significantly more time to marry the two. That requires you to outsmart yourself. You cannot self-medicate through deadlines.

The key is to train yourself to become, to borrow a phrase from David McRaney, a more capable psychonaut. We’ve talked about this more than once already this year, but it will help you to watch the trailer again. You have no grades to motivate you, after all; if you are not able to motivate yourself through something more authentic and organic, you are going to struggle.

On to the work.

ETA/Bishop Tools: The following tools are quasi-optional, which means that you cannot hope to complete this essay without some of them; you are not, however, required to use all of them, nor should you find that necessary. Every choice you make should be about efficacy.

Model Texts: The principal text for emulation is Stephanie Ericsson’s “The Ways We Lie.”
Note: The best classification and division essays weave broad insight into the obvious arguments of fact and value; they are not mere lists, and you should check your own approach constantly for that lapse. Use the links below carefully and with an eye toward the level of discourse required in our class.

DAMAGES+: Use this to break down model texts into components; use it again to build the components of your own response.
Note that many of these guides deal extensively with how effective writing translates into grades. We will use some of that language to guide your work this quarter, but we are not using the translation into numerical grades.

  1. Reading through a rubric: DAMAGES+ overview
  2. Writing through a rubric: DAMAGES+ full guide
  3. More DAMAGES+ documents here: Resources

DAMAGES Excerpt: A1/¶ing: Arguably the most important element in this kind of essay is its structure.

  1. Arrangement (A1) excerpt [PDF]
  2. VirtualSalt transitions guide [PDF]

SOAPSTONE: A tried-and-true tool for deconstructing or constructing the framework of a text.

  1. Basic explanation and overview from the College Board
  2. A blank sheet for you to use

QORAS: The most precise ETA Tool here, but it requires more expertise to use effectively. These cover Stephanie Ericsson’s “The Ways We Lie.”
Note: We will workshop some of these questions on rhetoric and style in class, and you can drive the shape of those discussions; if you prepare in advance, be sure to identify which analysis tools you want to use to set up your own writing.

  1. Questions on rhetoric and style: Parts 1-2 (includes SOAPSTONE prompts)
  2. Questions on rhetoric and style: Part 3
  3. General commentary on a modified QORAS assessment (2010-2011)

A note on #3:  That general commentary from 2010-2011 is extensive, and it would take you a lot of time and energy to delve into it. I cannot stress how beneficial that would be, however, and I will encourage you to follow up any in-class discussion we have with a look at how that general commentary addresses common errors.


BACK TO POST [1] An addendum to the argument I have been waging (quixotically, perhaps) for years: That list of the major kinds of writing includes most of what you will read or write in your lives, whatever your career, whatever your individual likes and dislikes. It does not, however, include literary analysis, which is virtually all (or, in the case of the new Regents exam, absolutely all) you are asked to produce in high school. In high school, in fact, you have been asked to read a kind of writing—narrative fiction, sometimes poetry—that you do not emulate, and to produce a kind of writing—literary analysis—that you do not read. Neither kind of text is particularly useful in college (unless you are an English major) or the job market (unless you are a literary critic).

More damningly, by having you write literary analysis and read literature through an archaic, antiquated lens, we might have stripped stories and poetry of their real benefits. The canon teaches us about our humanity, and it ought to be a continual part of our epistemology*—meaning that we can read Macbeth to learn something of ourselves, and that something will be unique and resonant, and we ought to read poetry more than we do, if only to see how creatively the world can be interpreted. But if we read only to analyze theme or characterization, our work will be repetitive and regurgitated. (There are five million pages there; get more specific about a canonical text, and the results still hit six figures.)

You should read literature constantly and closely and glean what you can from it (and we will probably read that same text this year, if you are interested); you should also read exposition and argument, analyze it, and emulate it. That will teach you to think critically and write effectively, and the product won’t be decontextualized and ultimately defunct. This is, in fact, why you are choosing the novel you read this quarter. We can’t drive your learning through the vehicle of fictional narratives forever; the roads and destination are radically different from what they were even a decade ago, and we need to adjust.

*To add a footnote to a footnote: This term is the precise term for what we do in English classrooms, but it is usually rejected as fancy or superfluous. Like the term rhetoric, it is seen as unnecessarily erudite; however, like the term rhetoric, it encompasses all that we do, and there is no easy way to avoid it. These terms have guided education for thousands of years; to exclude them in order to seem folksy or accessible loses touch with the very purpose of writing. We study knowledge and understanding and the way people communicate both to the rest of the world. What else are Shakespeare’s plays but the invention of the human? Why was Christopher Hitchens memorialized last year—in essay after essay, too—except that he wrote beautifully and persuasively for decades about what it means to be human? When Bob Dylan is remembered and celebrated, what drives those essays, decade after decade, if not the certainty that poetry and song teaches us about ourselves?


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