Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sample Descriptive Paragraph

The paragraph below answers the prompt "Describe your favorite thing in such a way as to indicate that it is your favorite."

My favorite thing is my bookshelf at home.  It is not a single construct, but a composite, built of several store-bought shelving units in white particle board and several more lengths of planking held to the wall by brackets.  I built the planking-shelves with my own hands years ago in cascades of sweet-smelling sawdust amidst the cries of saw blades and exultations of drill bits.  Both store-bought and hand-made shelves swell with the weight of hundreds of thousands of pages of books, collecting the wisdom and delight of centuries of the written word in English and other languages.  Although they remain fast to the wall and rooted to the floor, my bookshelves open many doors, their solid frames giving way to winds fragrant with old ink and the pencil-scrawled comments of generations of readers.  The gentle creaking of their boards as books enter and leave them bespeaks the ancientry of that of which they tell, rooting me in history even as the shelves are fixed and fixtures in my home, the focal point to which my guests' eyes are directed, and the source of what I am able to do in the work I love. 

Sample Summary

Students, please find here a sample of the kind of summary that I want you to write, as discussed here. For some of you, the article will be familiar, as at least one of my classes has received it.

On 20 September 2012, Daniel W. Drezner's "Why Presidents Love Foreign Affairs" appeared in the online New York Times.  In the article, Drezner asserts that, because so much of the presidential duty is concerned with foreign affairs, voters ought to attend to candidates' stances on overseas concerns much more than they do.  Instead, Drezner notes, voters pay attention to candidates' statements about domestic economy, a concern which is not the president's alone, but is heavily influenced by Congress.  Drezner also notes that presidential missteps in foreign policy can have drastic consequences in terms of lives and financial outlay that cannot be recovered.  He makes a successful case for having voters pay more attention to foreign policy statements, aided by his conversational tone throughout the article.

Sample Summary

Students, please find here a sample of the kind of summary that I want you to write, as discussed here. For some of you, the article will be familiar, as at least one of my classes has received it.

On 20 September 2012, the editors of the New York Times published "Season of Mists, if Not in Manhattan" in the online version of the newspaper.  In the article, the editors lament the lack of a specific form of autumnal weather: morning fog.  They outline the processes by which the fog forms and note that the conditions necessary for its generation no longer exist in New York City's central borough.  They successfully express a sense of nostalgia and longing for a feature of the natural world now absent from one of the most heavily urbanized places on the planet.

Sample Summary

Students, please find here a sample of the kind of summary that I want you to write, as discussed here. For some of you, the article will be familiar, as at least one of my classes has received it.

On 18 September 2012, Peter Applebome's "At a Campus Scarred by Hazing, Cries for Help" appeared in the online New York Times.  In the article, Applebome discusses the efforts of Binghamton University to address issues of student hazing.  He notes that the problem of hazing has been amply reported in the past, but little had been done at Binghamton to correct the problem; part of the inaction derives from a supposed dearth of allegations by victims of hazing.  Applebome reports that, although there are some efforts being made to reduce or eliminate hazing from Binghamton, they are inconsistent and not likely to be effective.  He succeeds in depicting hazing as a persistent problem that casts a pall over a member of the State University of New York system.

Sample Summary

Students, please find here a sample of the kind of summary that I want you to write, as discussed here.  For some of you, the article will be familiar, as at least one of my classes has received it.

On 2 October 2011, Dominique Molina's "Conquering My Fear of Speaking in Public" appeared in the New York Times, as recorded by Patricia R. Olsen.  In the piece, Molina notes that an unforced authenticity is her key to doing well at public speaking tasks.  She notes that she had not thought she would have to engage in them, but was surprised to be obliged to do so as part of her duties as a business partner.  Molina also remarks that in her initial foray into public speaking, she attempted to engage in theatrics, only to have them go badly and result in her shame.  Later attempts, she recounts, relied heavily on scripting and were not engaging as a result.  On advice from her father, Molina states, and after significant amounts of practice, she has grown comfortable in her own knowledge of her subject matter and is able to hide a nervousness that she yet feels.  She offers in the piece a successful anecdotal recounting of her own experience negotiating the task of public speaking, providing thereby one model that may be of help for those who face a similar challenge.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I received an email this morning.  As I have discussed before (here and here, among others), I do a fair bit of research work in addition to and in support of my teaching, much of which takes the form of conference presentations.  When discussing course calendars, I make note of when I will be away for conference work, and I comment (I well remember) that conference travel is nice work when it can be gotten.

I am going to get to do a bit more conference travel, it seems.

I received an email today which tells me that an abstract I submitted in response to the call for papers from the 2013 International Congress on Medieval Studies has been accepted.  Once again, I will be heading off to Michigan in May to give a talk about something about which I know a fair deal--and I will do so knowing more about it than I do now.

It is possible (although I make no promises in this regard) that I will use my work on the Congress paper as a model for paper development in my classes.  I am not about to offer sections of it here (that would actually be a breach of etiquette, since conference research is supposed to be original and not before published), but it does offer me the opportunity to engage, directly and intimately, in the writing processes I discuss with my students once again.  I will be able to reconnect with the kinds of things my students face in the assignments I offer them, and that ought to aid me in discussing things with them in what I hope will be a helpful fashion.


Due to the faculty convocation, I will not have regular office hours today, 19 September 2012.  Next week, due to advising, I will be meeting with students in Room 3005 at the 56th Street campus.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Announcement: Update

Students, please be advised that, due to the receipt of new information, the course calendar for ENG 101: Freshman Composition 1, Section 117, has been revised.  The updated calendar is available for download at the course website, here.

Hard copies of the revised calendar will be distributed in class during the first meeting, as planned.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Students, please be advised that Fall 2012 syllabi and course calendars are going up on the course website.  Links below connect to the relevant pages; please be sure you get the course calendar from the correct section of your class:

ENG 099: Basic Communications
ENG 101: Freshman Composition 1
ENG 202: Technical Writing and Presentation
HUM 110: Speech

I hope that you find them useful references.  I hope also that I will not need to change many things.

Monday, September 10, 2012

More on Teaching Philosophy

Quite some time ago, I mentioned that I was engaged in revising my statement of teaching philosophy.  I have had occasion to work on it and review it a bit recently, for reasons that will remain private for now, and I am reminded, as the Fall 2012 term is about to begin at the school where I teach, that it is frequently helpful for me to discuss my own thoughts and understandings as I try to get students to develop their own.*

I remain convinced that if there is no challenge, there is no reason to improve, and the improvement of the self is the reason behind education, formal and informal.  Even an online satirist is aware of the latter, although he couches his assertions...indelicately.**  Although, as I know and have noted, many of my students are not convinced of the utility of what I teach--mostly rhetoric and composition, despite my academic background being mostly in literature--their lack of conviction does not negate the truth.  For we are all engaged in telling stories and in presenting arguments, and it behooves us all to be able to do so convincingly.  Too, we are all presented with stories and arguments seeking to compel our beliefs and actions, and it is incumbent upon us to be able to understand and analyze them so as to be able to reject those which are made poorly or are based upon bad ideas.

Thus, while it is perhaps true that my students will not ever have to compose a formal essay after leaving my classes, and they may never be positioned such that they are in direct opposition to another person in a debate, they will have to convince their bosses that they deserve to keep their job--and maybe that they even deserve a raise.  They may have the misfortune of being in a position to have to convince a jury of their peers that they are innocent of wrongdoing, or the similar misfortune of having to convince a jury of someone else's that they have themselves been wronged.  They may be in a position to be asked to do a thing that they find somewhat questionable, and so they will have to decide if the cost is worth the benefit.  Many will find themselves needing to impart lessons to the young without making the overt statement that so often prompts resistance.  Some of them will seek to prevail upon another person to give them the time and opportunity to fall in love with them.  None of these are insignificant concerns, and all of them are aided and abetted by deploying the skills my assignments teach and of which they foster practice.

Those assignments offer a relatively low-risk laboratory for those skills.  The worst that can happen to a student in my class as a result of the assignments is that the student gets a bad grade--and, in many cases, that grade can be brought up.  It is a far lesser consequence than erring in the "real-life" applications of those skills outside the classroom, and so it seems to me that students are well-served to be well and truly challenged in the classroom.

*Lad Tobin's Opinion piece, "Self-Disclosure as a Strategic Teaching Tool: What I Do--and Don't--Tell My Students," from College English 73.2 (November 2010: 196-206) comes to mind as one resource related to discussing one's own personal engagement with the subject matter being taught.  Mark Edmundson's "Against Readings" in Profession (2009: 56-65) springs to mind, as well.  So, too, does much of the training in teaching I received as an undergraduate and a graduate student.  It is not formal citation, I know, but it should suffice in a piece of writing so informal as a blog to account for whence some of my ideas derive.

**I make a point of trying to invoke current and popular media in my teaching and examples, as noted here, here, and occasionally here, among others.  Sometimes, my sources use naughty words.  Then again, so do major authors such as Shakespeare and Twain...