Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

Category Archives: Inquiry-Based Learning


Over the next three days, I am going to reach out to some of you over email. This will happen in waves, starting with Period 4 tonight and continuing as often as I find time to read through your abatement profiles. Check your BHS email address regularly.

I’m going to have to start with the students whose self-assessments are missing, incomplete, or inaccurate. In rare cases, this means telling you that you actually deserve a higher profile score than you’ve thought; in most cases, this means telling you that you deserve a lower score. That’s not going to be easy to read, my Geisterfahrer, not least of all because most of the inflated self-assessments slip into the shade of the Dunning-Kruger effect. You don’t know you deserve a lower score, and that is, at least in part, why you deserve a lower score.

I want you to remember a few things. First, the enemy of accuracy is that Skinner-box desire for a particular number. Call it the curse of the High Honor Roll. Second, this is one of those points where opinion shades off into an error of fact; you might truly and fervently believe you deserve a 92 for a performance that can’t earn above a 72. Yet that comes down to you, as well: It’s you who provides me any missing details I need to make this decision, which is why particularly vague or unsubstantiated reasoning echoes your overall limitations. Third, if you’ve been reading what’s required of you over the last month, you know that you have ample opportunity to be honest with yourself and take home the shiny average you so badly want to slap on the refrigerator.

The answer to your probable cognitive dissonance is to make a choice: You can conference with me or accept my feedback without conferencing. If you choose the latter, you accept the score I’ve indicated; if you choose the former, you must make a second choice between talking with me over email and meeting with me in person.

Once I’ve dealt with the students whose self-assessments are missing, incomplete, or inaccurate, I will use whatever time and energy I have left to respond to the rest of you. And if my time and energy is depleted before the end of school, I make you this promise: I will have read what you’ve written me, and I will be proud and honored by how insightful and honest and effective your work is. You should be proud, too. You’ve done all I’ve asked of you, and you’ve done it to the best of your abilities. In fact, if I can be allowed one moment of sentimentality, you’ve given a very old man a very new kind of hope for what this classroom can be.

Until we reach the foot of the next mountain,

Mr. Eure


Water Bear Facts

Tardigrade don't care.

Tardigrade don’t care.

Note: The collective goal outlined in this post has been raised to a 7. More information to follow.

In the first guide I gave you on grade abatement, I said that I’d like you to become a kind of academic polyextremophile. After the AP exam, I sort of launched you into space to see if you had adapted. We’re now in Week 3 of that experiment.

To the right of this post is a section labeled Current U/E Score, where U/E stands for Ursus Ephemeris, the website you are ostensibly redesigning and repopulating as an extension of your autodidactic work this quarter. (It is also the second time you’ve been asked to make your writing authentic in this way; and, in fact, you’ll need that original “Pushing the Message” post to do this work.) The score is based on the rubric being used for the second half of your final exam, and it reflects the most current assessment of the site overall.

Have you clicked on and explored/revisited each of those hyperlinks? Good. Two things:

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An older version of Grand Theft Auto

In the previous post, I asked you to reply in the comments with your favorite words and phrases. This post will be a bit more negative, because we are considering the language that we hate—examples of logomisia, if you will. Like linguaphilia, logomisia is created from two roots: logos, Greek for “word,” and misia, Greek for “hatred” or “disgust for.” After reading Orwell, Nunberg, and Wallace, you should have a sense of the way language mutates, shifts, and sometimes declines; now it’s your turn to chime in, although the chime might be more of a clarion (or perhaps the bell that this guy is ringing). After the jump, a few ways to situate yourself before replying.

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Love of language…

Congratulations. You made it.

Of course, our work doesn’t end after the exam. It’s time for a different kind of study of language to take center stage. (Or as the first of Orwell’s rules might have me rewrite that, it’s time for language to enter the scene and chew a little scenery.) We start with linguaphilia, a word formed from the Latin lingua,”tongue” or “language,” and phila, “dear” or “beloved.”  It means a love of language, of words and phrases, of how we strings together letters and sounds to make meaning—and it is the subject of your next unit of study. Our essential questions:

  • Is the English language truly in decline?
  • Do semantic debates matter?
  • How do Internet-driven shifts in communication, such as texting and LOLspeak, affect us?

Let’s get into the background reading. I’ve already given you in this post the first (and arguably most influential) modern treatment of it: George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language.” Spend a little time with this, and it will inevitably shape how you scavenge the texts around you for words and phrases. You’ve also read Geoffrey Nunberg’s “The Decline of Grammar,” a lengthier argument from 1983 that explores the same issues—it was one of the passages on the 2001 multiple-choice practice exam. After the jump, you’ll find a regular plethora (as opposed to an irregular plethora? I just like the assonance of the phrase) of links to more perspectives, plus your assignment.

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Who Warrants Survival?

We’ve been focused on education, learning, and especially reading for a while now. Let’s take a break and talk about the apocalypse.

First, head back to this post on torture porn and obscenity, scroll down to the section on the Toulmin model, and brush up on claims, support, and warrants. We covered these terms back at the beginning of the year as part of an introduction to cogent argumentation; now you’ll probably find them useful as you prep for the AP exam’s third free-response question. The quick breakdown: Your claims need support, and warrants connect support to a claim. One of  the easier ways to see how that works—as well as the importance of that connection—is the following exercise. Read it carefully, and then use class time and the comments section of this post to explore your reasoning.

If you’re interested in what last year’s group had to say about this, check here.


Adapted from K. Sherlock’s work at Grossmont College in El Cajon, CA. Available in its original form at this website

A sudden, unpredicted asteroid impact has wiped out virtually all life on Earth. The eleven survivors on the North American continent grieve the loss of billions of human beings and billions of species of flora and fauna. Among the remaining is a NASA scientist, who reveals the U.S. Government’s secret plan to send its country’s eight most powerful and richest people to a newly discovered Earth-like planet in a nearby solar system in the event of a predictable Extinction Level Event. The plan remains, but the intended passengers perished in the asteroid strike. In their place, the eleven survivors will leave the Earth to start over.

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Multiple-Choice Questions: Schneller’s “Culture”

Quick Update: While you continue your C&D Symposium elsewhere, you need to finish creating multiple-choice questions for Johanna Schneller’s “A Culture Saturated in Sexism.” Here’s a link to a downloadable copy of the original text:

That will open in Google Drive. You’ve already gotten a link to your period’s MCQ document; check your Drive directory or email inbox for that. Here is a copy of the directions from the email:

Take your multiple-choice work from the last few days — the questions you have been writing for “A Culture Saturated in Sexism” — and transfer them to this document. You’ll be working together, which will take some coordination; you’re all editors, so you’ll need to collaborate to create a single document. Note that you won’t need to create exactly ten questions. There is no minimum or maximum; ten would, however, be impressive. Let me know how it goes.

Be sure to read the directions in the document itself, too. Each period’s work will be edited, revised, and then given to the other periods as a quick quiz on Schneller. Let’s try to finish the first step today.

Classification and Division: Symposium

Update (3/13/13): Here is an outline of what we’ve done and what we’ll be doing. Read it carefully.

Let’s talk about what your job is this week. First, you are going to share your C&D essays with me and the rest of the class, so that we can hold a kind of symposium—leaning, of course, more heavily on the “scholarly discussion” part of the etymology, not the “drinking party” bit.

To pull this together, you need to have a copy of every C&D essay written by your fellow students. The method I am going to give you should work; if it doesn’t, your test is to figure out another method on your own, share it with your peers, and facilitate total, unilateral access to all essays. If you find a more effective method of creating a digital symposium, let me know.

Here is a Google CSV file that you can import into the Contacts section of Google Apps:

Download that file, import it, and then create a contact group with it. When you are ready, you can share your essay with everyone. Be sure to allow your peers to comment on your work, but not to edit.

As you receive access to documents, to organize all the writing into folders so that you can read, review, and comment on as many as possible as quickly as possible. That’s the real goal of the next week or so: Share, comment, and collaborate as a large group. I will guide you through the initial steps of that tomorrow. Be sure your work is shared with everyone, including me, before then.

Progress Reports: Canned Metacognition

Progress reports will be printed and sent home at the end of this week. In the past, I mentioned these arbitrary moments of review in a different light; now that we are fully embracing Kohn and a “degraded” environment, I can shift my tone considerably. (Note: The language related to grade ranges has been struck through; I’ve left it in to remind us of the changes, because we really ought to focus on your learning, not any attached numbers.)

First, note the three questions you have been asked in class to answer on a regular basis. They are posted on the right side of the site; each asks you to elaborate metacognitively or reflectively on your progress. If you have been keeping up with this, you should have more than enough data to work with this week, when you will finish Friday’s work on this:

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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.

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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.