Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

Category Archives: The Stuff of Growth

Cooking the Books

Before the end of Monday’s class, you must start the grade abatement process by giving me the score you believe you deserve this quarter. If you haven’t already, you will be required to complete the handwritten portion of the rubric. Any other writing you’ve prepared can be submitted tomorrow or over the ensuing week.

Honesty and accuracy are the most important elements of this process.  Many of you are a 6. Some push into a 7, but the particulars are important: 7 indicates an impeccable work ethic, a strong performance in all aspects of the course, a consistent and reliable approach to metacognition, and so on. Did you keep up with regular reflections on what you learned each week? Did you finish your final essay when you needed to? Have you used every single period in class productively? Did you read everything you were told to in the final series of instructional posts? If not, a 7 is hard to justify.

Getting into the 8 and 9 range is obviously even more difficult, yet that’s where most of you want to be. A reliance on scores of 90+ has been bred into you over a decade of formal schooling. We’ve covered the reasons for this—and the deleterious impact of it—enough this semester, but there is one question worth asking again: How do we reconcile honesty and accuracy in grade abatement with a school culture obsessed with grades?

Read more of this post

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:

Read more of this post

Final Salvo, Part 2

This post covers your final exam, which is in some ways a direct extension of your autodidactic unit. Here is a copy of the overview, including the rubric for Part II:

This information (except for the rubric, which cannot survive the translation to WordPress) is reprinted in full after the jump.

Read more of this post

Final Salvo, Part 1

The writing that follows looks a bit strange after it’s been reformatted by WordPress; you’ll find it’s difficult to read the footnotes, and some of the miscellaneous presentation is different. I trust you can manage. This is a copy of what was shared with you through Google Drive, and your job this weekend is to read it.

Your job over the next week is to read everything that starts here:

That is last year’s complicated series of posts on the final essay. You obviously have a different kind of assignment, and one divorced from the toxicity of grades; the process is not all that different, however, and there is a massive amount of help to be had in those posts. Lots of it still applies. You might even note that some of the language has, in fact, already been used on you this year.

Your job is to make your way through everything in that series of posts, including the work from your predecessors in AP Language. This is all you need to pull of the writing goal outlined below. You will receive more student models in class. We’ll also go over the final exam and all its attendant stresses next week.

Read more of this post


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.

Read more of this post


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.

Read more of this post

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.

Read more of this post

How Teachers Make Children Hate Reading

The following essay is by an educator named John Holt. Learn more about him here. As a continuation of our discussion of reading in general, study this argument, and then share your reactions in the comments section. If you would like to see what my tenth graders had to say about this article, you can look here.

How Teachers Make Children Hate Reading | John Holt

When I was teaching English at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School, I used to ask my students the kinds of questions that English teachers usually ask about reading assignments—questions designed to bring out the points that I had decided they should know. They, on their part, would try to get me to give them hints and clues as to what I wanted. It was a game of wits. I never gave my students an opportunity to say what they really thought about a book.

I gave vocabulary drills and quizzes too. I told my students that every time they came upon a word in their book they did not understand, they were to look it up in the dictionary. I even devised special kinds of vocabulary tests, allowing them to use their books to see how the words were used. But looking back, I realize that these tests, along with many of my methods, were foolish.

My sister was the first person who made me question my conventional ideas about teaching English. She had a son in the seventh grade in a fairly good public school. His teacher had asked the class to read Cooper’s The Deerslayer. The choice was bad enough in itself; whether looking at man or nature, Cooper was superficial, inaccurate and sentimental, and his writing is ponderous and ornate. But to make matters worse, this teacher had decided to give the book the microscope and x-ray treatment. He made the students look up and memorize not only the definitions but the derivations of every big word that came along—and there were plenty. Every chapter was followed by close questioning and testing to make sure the students “understood” everything.

Read more of this post

Caged Birds and a Different Kind of Freedom

The best of a Google image search for “caged bird.”

Amid the clamor of grade abatement this past week, you were given a series of questions on rhetoric and style for Francine Prose’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read.” Your assignment was to answer the questions, zeroing in on the ones you believe (being metacognitive, as always) you need help with.

Here is the key: Francine Prose, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read” — Questions on Rhetoric and Style

The questions are reprinted, along with guiding commentary for each response. Read the entire thing. Don’t just skim it. Teach yourself from this. Let this feedback settle in you a bit (like bricks or dead words, as Maya Angelou would say). And keep in mind the following:

  • This is meant as (and is, obviously) preparation for the AP exam.
  • It must be done entirely at home, since we are using class time for writing work.
  • Only by reading and processing this key can you ask me to help you with individual questions.
  • You should be ready at this exact moment to look at this key and apply it to your answers.

That last one is probably most important to those of you who are sort of collapsing under the realization that everything you did last quarter was (1) noted by your teacher and (2) part of the grade abatement profile. Everything counts. If you didn’t read Prose and/or complete the QORAS I gave you, you have failed to juggle your responsibilities.

Send me your questions about the Prose QORAS over email. I’ll arrange feedback in small groups or individually based on that. Get this done by Tuesday; we’ll be moving on to other reading on reading at that point.