Posts tagged MLA

December Christmas Decorations at the Carnegie

Right now I am in class with my dutiful composition students typing away on their post-assessment of the semester.  They all NEED the 25 points that this task is worth, that is, if they answer all the questions correctly.  In the meantime, I am about to leave them to themselves so they can finish this assignment on their own while I go off with two of the students to the Carnegie building.  This is for my other comp lab class that actually thought of this assignment to do as a kind of “field trip.”  Anything to get out of class, right?  I didn’t tell them that they will have to look at the traveling exhibit that is there at the Carnegie and answer the 14 questions that I composed so that I KNOW that they read the material.

I have had a pretty good semester with very compliant students but this 1:00 p.m. class has been a challenge.  They are very diverse and needy in some respects. The mature ones I tried to get out of this challenging class to an earlier class I taught. The ones who are not prepared for college are still in this class with the exception of a few.  The antsy ones play off of the others but after enough disciplining, they are by now ready for the rest of their college career.  I have had them write papers on human trafficking and that was after they downloaded the FREE e-book version of Two Kyrgyz Women.  I have harped on them about APA formatting style and researching with good keywords.  They know about that now but many of them had learned MLA formatting in high school, if they learned that at all.  Some came with grammar errors and others came with persistent punctuation or spelling problems.  They are all good kids at heart.

Anyway, in about two minutes I will leave this group of 16 students to their own devices.  I must trust them but I will get a report from the student who gathers up the 700 word self assessment.  I will have a GREAT time with my other composition class who are ready, I hope, to put up the Christmas decorations in the Carnegie.  We will have three Christmas trees to put up.  Lots of icicle lights and also more ornaments and about ten wreathes.  We will have the local newspaper over to take photos of this event.

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Back from the “field trip” and all 16 students showed up and two others from the historical society were on hand. We had a photo of the 19 of us for the paper and then some of them had to get back to campus for their other classes of the day.  We stayed on until 5:30 p.m. after being there since 1:30 p.m.  It went very well with the kids all pitching in and stringing the lights around the pillars and others putting the 3M plastic up to keep the cold air out.  It should be looking nice for Friday night after people read about it in the newspaper tomorrow.

The kids were READY to help because they didn’t want to work on the 14 question worksheet that I had given them.  They got half done with that. I found out that the 15 kids I left behind were very diligent and wrote and wrote so that they can have extra points.  I will have all these papers slipped under my door for me to find tomorrow morning.  Tomorrow I will have the students do their powerpoint presentations on their final research paper.  I am in the home stretch and feeling good!

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Mr. Controlling Idea MEET Ms. In-Text Citation

This academic writing experience we expect of our students is as subject to crash and burn as any potential romantic relationship on our university campus.  However, in this case at our university it is inexperienced hayseed cowboy who MEETS sophisticated debutante.  The following is from my own long held convictions that topic sentences, who are first cousins to controlling ideas and supporting ideas, should remain in remedial courses for beginner students.  

 

Let me introduce Mr. Controlling Idea, he has many virtues.  His main job is to catch the reader’s imagination in the topic sentence with his singular purpose to entice them to read on. He wears a cowboy hat with complimentary boots, everything is in neutral colored rawhide.  He wears a red kerchief around his neck, he has that “devil may care” look about him because he is invincible and young.   However, if there are too many guys like him, too many Controlling Ideas, the paragraph falls apart.  

 

He may have two or three brothers, depending on the paragraph formally named as Mr. Supporting Idea I and II.  They help the reader to understand there is logical support or evidence for the control he maintains in his set paragraph or the corral.  He rides on Transition Markers, good thoroughbred horses, to alert his reader which direction he is going.  These horses names are called: Moreover, Nevertheless, In Fact, For Example, First and In Conclusion, just for example.  Mr. Controlling Idea rarely backs up his horse but likes to go full speed ahead while letting his reading audience know there may be a gallop or a simple trot in the next paragraph or two.

 

One nemesis of Mr. Controlling Idea are the occasional encounters with Mr. Logical Fallacy.  Actually, he and his cronies lurk everywhere and have no regard for the words they are surrounded by. Legions of Logical Fallacies abound and they care nothing for their dear readers, their sole mission is to lead astray. Cleverly concealed lies are their content but Mr. Controlling Idea and his brothers are able to discern who these negative forces of the essay paper are.  Logical fallacy is NO match for a truthful controlling idea who maintains law and order.

 

That’s where Ms. In-text Citation makes her appearance.  Even though she actually is a city slicker and can be quite provocative at times, she has some attraction for the man of the rodeo, Mr. Controlling Idea. Her expensive clothes are not practical and can show spots on them very easily.  If she is of the APA formatting style, Ms. Citation doesn’t really want anyone to know whether she is a female or not, she prefers last name only.  However, she DOES want everyone to know that she is wearing the latest fashion by having the most up-to-date publication.  When she looks at the tired out Chicago style, she appears uppity.  Also, she sees that footnotes of the Turabian devotees are so untidy. Ms. Citation doesn’t even try on MLA clothes, there is something so twentieth century about them.  No, Ms. Citation comes from very highbrow types, just look at her parents in the “Works Cited” page.

 

Actually, her grandparents are called “Working Bibliography” who were from the farm and never take on their granddaughter’s airs, they work quietly minding their own business.  The only way her Grandparents got to the top was a LOT of spade work, meaning they knew how to use Keywords to get their source material from the electronic research databases.  Yes, Keywords are good family friends with the Bibliographies and Citation families.  What Ms. In-text Citation doesn’t appreciate is that to make it into the essay in the first place, she has to be wanted by Mr. Controlling Idea.  His Supporting Idea brothers have to want her in the family of their sentence as well.  

 

So, what do we have in our university’s classroom with young, impressionable Kazakh students?  We have those who do not know the basics of how to write in English, they’ve been grilled in high school on how to use correct GRAMMAR. This haranguing was probably done in steady Russian. 

 

These beleagured students do not grasp the importance of what topic sentences with controlling and supporting ideas are all about.  Unfortunately, these students are expected, according to the syllabus for their one and only writing and reading course, to know how to use the sophisticated reference work of APA formatting style to help buttress their arguments in any given essay. We only teach them two in the space of 16 weeks, discursive and problem and solution essays.

Some of our students are capable of this budding relationship between the simple mechanics of essay writing and using in-text citations.  A happy marriage happens with good results if they have the grounding in Intensive or Provisional classes and in our Academic Reading and Writing courses are to fine-tune the referencing and researching fun.

 

Unfortunately, the two are not meeting each other, poor Mr. Controlling Idea and Ms. In-text Citation.  This relationship takes time, writing takes time, writing requires re-writes.  Alas, I didn’t even bring up the King of the Rodeo and that is His Honorable Thesis Statement. Stayed tuned for Part II.

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Nazarbayev – “Nightingale Cannot Do Without Woods”

Yesterday we finished our third day of “Virtual Classroom” with Language Center teachers doing keyword searches on the electronic databases provided by our university library.  Five questions were part of the Treasure Hunt about known authors from our university and about nine people e-mailed their answers to me.  The quickest was Olga and as winner she received the latest edition of the Turabian style book.  The consolation prize of an MLA style book went to Claudia who found the article on SpringerLink of an administrator who had an article published in a physics journal in December of 2000.

 

We ended our “Teacher-Researcher Workshop” with a panel discussion with three professors from our university, one in Public Administration, the second from Political Science and the third from Economics.  Each helpfully contributed something to over 40 Kazakhstani teachers.  The first talked about writing being the “Queen of Rhetoric” or communication, it involves all the thinking skills.  This public administration professor felt fortunate to have had a very good writing teacher in his undergraduate class which helped him in his subsequent classes and even now in his publishing articles. 

 

Our second panelist from a political science perspective has great empathy for what we do as writing teachers for first year students.  He advised to stick with ONE style of writing research papers.  At the very least let the students know there are as many formatting styles as there are journals.  It seems that most of the professors on campus prefer Chicago or Turabian with footnoting or endnotes and NOT the APA style we have enforced on our fledgling first year writing students.  He also stated that American high school students have an edge over our Kazakhstani students because they have already been exposed to research papers.  Unfortunately, our students don’t have that writing background when they enter our western-style university.  He recommended that we prepare the students in the first year on how NOT to plagiarize so that the upper division courses don’t have to focus on that but devote more time on the conceptual ideas of each students’ paper. 

 

Our third panelist from economics stated that “Writing is Thinking and Thinking is Writing.”  Being a writing teacher is a difficult position to fulfill all those expectations. He knows that in the U.S. it is the most arduous for administrators to fill writing courses with qualified teachers. With all other teaching assignments, such as speaking, listening or grammar, the teacher conducts the class and leaves whereas the writing teacher conducts the class with the same contact hours but also has hours and hours of correcting papers afterwards.  No one wants to invest that kind of time into a course and be paid the same amount of money, unless they are convinced it is for the betterment of their students.  Clearly writing teachers in the western universities are not IN IT FOR THE MONEY!!!

 

One Kazakh teacher, during the Q&A time, lamented on how to make writing seem less like punishment to the students.  She claimed there are so many rules on writing a research paper and felt there is so much pressure and tension to get all the rules correct.  Her students wailed they did not want to take another semester of a writing course as has been suggested.  Yet another teacher responded that her students were very enthusiastic about writing because of all the options available with the research databases and other Internet cites that help make it easier and more enjoyable. In a group of 40 teachers, there is a vast array of skills, experience, level of curiosity and time commitment involved with the teaching of writing.

 

My last comment to all who were gathered yesterday is that we have to guide and suggest topics with our students that are of interest to them.  I believe we need to hover over them from the very start when they are experimenting with thesis statements.  Especially do young students need help with English synonyms for keyword searches once they start looking for journals on the electronic databases.  Bottom line for us as teachers, we need to help the students in the PROCESS of writing from first draft, second draft to final version in order to have good papers to read.  If we are enjoying the process and discovering along with them, the students will ultimately enjoy writing too. 

 

Therefore, I would recommend that the Kazakhstani students have a required three semesters of writing at our university instead of only one semester so that they can discover their own voice. Most all western universities have two semesters of writing courses for their incoming freshmen students. I strongly suggest first semester would be very informal writing with narrative, descriptive, compare and contrast essays, topics the students would really enjoy writing about.  The second semester would be more discursive, cause and effect, argument and problem and solution.  Finally, the third semester would be the most formal writing with a research paper, fully preparing them for other coursework that expects written essays.  Instead we are expecting our first year learners, who do not have English as their first language and have NO writing experience in high school, to immediately write like an academic in a short 15 week course!!! That is definitely a recipe for disaster and no wonder some of the students end up hating writing and feel desperate enough to plagiarize even though there are red flags all over the syllabus to NOT plagiarize!!!

 

One final thought I’ll end with a Kazakh proverb, “Nightingale cannot do without woods, man cannot do without Motherland.”  The country of Kazakhstan will fall behind in achieving its goal of being one of the top 50 countries by 2011 if corners are cut in the most supreme of communication —writing! If the Kazakhstani students are not given a voice, as the nightingale has such a lovely voice, they will not be able to articulate to the rest of the world what a great country Kazakhstan

is.

To be a global player, President Nazarbayev realizes and knows that computer technology and learning to write in English is one of the ways to success.  Why else has President Nazarbayev written so many books in English?  I believe Nazarbayev, as a true leader, is that nightingale singing for the good of his country.  Will other Kazakhstani writing teachers follow him?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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