Monday, October 8, 2012

A good essay begins with an interesting introduction – ONE THAT WILL OUTLINE THE CONTENT [appositive] in such a way that the reader is hooked from the very first sentence.  Editors bore quickly, and when their interest flags, it can be detrimental to the publication of an article. While reading an essay, an editor or teacher looks for structure -- THREE SKELETAL ELEMENTS: [appositive] the introduction, the body, and a conclusion. All the rest fleshes out the essay and can leave a figure WASTED OR STRONG. [Adj out of order]

Students WRITING FRANTICALLY THE NIGHT BEFORE A DUE DATE, [absolute] often leave out important descriptive essay elements: TRANSITIONS, SUPPORTING POINTS, FINAL THOUGHTS. [appositive] OFTEN REPEATING THEMSELVES, [participle] students try to pad a paragraph so that it fulfills the requirement of a certain number of sentences.  READING A NUMBER OF HASTILY WRITTEN ESSAYS [participle] can make a grown teacher cry out in frustration. Why grade something carefully that has been knocked out in an hour? The essay WRITTEN IN LAST MINUTE ANXIETY [absolute] doesn’t deserve the same treatment as one that has been thoughtfully produced.

This is not to say that teachers don’t care. Of course they care, but when faced with 20 essays, some of them clearly lacking much forethought, one doesn’t have to wonder which essays will receive the most attention.  That’s unfair someone might claim because the essay was, in fact, handed in on time, but it all comes out in the wash, doesn’t it? All essays are not equal, and even though a teacher tries to read them with an unprejudiced eye, the researched ones are just plain better, and usually those are the ones on which a student has spent the most time.

All in all, a good essay leaves the reader with a feeling that the person who has written it has some penchant for the topic. Sometimes, when a subject is predetermined by the teacher that is hard to come by. DRUMMING UP PASSION [participle] is difficult. It has to come from within and cannot be manufactured. Perhaps that is why so many essays fail; the topic was just unpalatable.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Writing these blogs is a good opportunity to re-evaluate my writing style as well as to reflect. In a previous blog, I mentioned that I teach at the Intensive American Language Center (IALC) here on campus. The students, who come from all over the world, range in age 18 - 35. They work extremely hard as the program is truly intense for both students and  teachers alike.

I barely get to know their names, which are for the most part very difficult to pronounce, before they move on to the next level. Their efforts are rewarded when they pass level six which means they can enroll as WSU students. That is their goal -- their summit. Well, actually, their goals probably extend to receiving their bachelor and master degrees if not their PhDs. Realistically, most of their summits would probably be attained when they find a good-paying job.

There are real challenges in teaching an English Language Learner (ELL). One of the first obstacles I met was that Asian students rarely open their mouths in class. They expect to learn everything by listening solely to their teachers. Group activities and direct questions scare them which makes it difficult to get any response from them or to have any fun. Several teachers here have found games that are good ice-breakers (ways to loosen them up a bit).  When students relax, there is a window -- a teachable moment.

We only share a classroom for two months which is much too short a time really to gain their trust: respect, confidence, or friendship. During that time, from when we first open the books to when they take the final exam, they learn an amazing amount of grammar, write several paragraphs and an essay, and read a high school level novel such as Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, or The Magician's Elephant. They also take a listening and speaking class which I believe is the most important because without it, they wouldn't be able to function in the other classes.

There are also electives available to them: a computer class, a movie or music class, a pronunciation class, and a class whose  title is, "I Write Better Now." Most of my students do choose an elective even though they are only pass/fail courses. These ELL students are really motivated and really work hard. They participate in class, they do their homework, they worry that they're not doing enough. I really respect them and feel for them if they have to repeat a level (session).

All in all, this is a very rewarding profession because I am able to watch them improve mightily from level one (where they barely speak English at all) to level six where they can think, write, speak and dream in nearly perfect English. We all applaud them after they get through our program, and we track their progress when they become students at WSU. Most of them thrive, and when we ask them how they are doing, they always reply, "Oh, it's so hard at WSU, so very very hard." I studied at an Italian university when I was a young student, and those were my exact sentiments about that university. I'll save all that for another blog -- my year abroad. It's my opinion that everyone should take a year abroad.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I know how to use pronouns, but just BETWEEN YOU AND ME, I cannot ever remember which pronoun goes into which category. It's embarrassing to say the least. I just can't seem to make MYSELF learn the declensions. (Now there's a grammar term to look up!) Subjective, objective, possessive, reflexive. Are there any others? I'd have to look in the class packet. They're  confusing in THEMSELVES.

It's a matter of memorization, I suppose. Like the conjugation of verbs. All the terminology makes my head spin. At what age do we teach, expect students to memorize these pronoun cases? Memorization in ITSELF is not a bad thing as far as I'm concerned. I memorized a lot of poetry when I was a kid and can still remember some of it. "I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me. . ."

Now, song lyrics are another thing altogether. A song from the 60s, fifty years ago, can come on the radio, and I find MYSELF singing the words right along. Every word flowing from my brain as though it were just yesterday. Amazing how music can aid memorization. Probably hearing it ten times a day on Hot One Three Oh One helped a great deal. There's just something about repetition that goes along with recitation.

Just BETWEEN US AND THE GATEPOST, is something I remember hearing a long time ago. A secret between two or more people with an inanimate object as a witness. Fun, archaic farm talk. I've noticed that quite a few of our idioms (regionalisms) come from rural speech. Take,"Madder than a wet hen," for example.

I recently read of a huge first volume of American regionalisms. It took several decades to put together. Quite a project begun by one man, handed down to a woman who kept up the work. I'd like to look through that book. I bet it's really humorous.

Somehow I have let MYSELF stray from the topic of what I have learned this week. Seems like that happens quite often in my blogs. I promise I'll keep on track better next week after we learn more about grammar ITSELF.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What I have learned so far, that intrigues me the most, is the idea that writers can use punctuation to lead their readers from phrase to phrase, from the beginning of a sentence to ITS end. Writers can then make sentences longer and longer without losing the reader WHOSE attention span may be only as long as a single phrase between two commas.

When Barbara asked us to stretch ourselves into creating longer sentences, I thought it would be a difficult task, but with the use of coordinating conjunctions, adverbial phrases and THEIR ilk, it is not hard to get from the first capital letter to the period and use up three lines of text.

Learning about Dora's progression through different stages of period placement was interesting.  I was glad that she would never regress to putting periods between each word once she had moved on to end of the page periods, etc. Of course, that may have changed for her when she got old enough to read e.e. cummings.

What else have I learned? I teach English as a Second Language at WSU, and I decided to take this class so I could somehow answer certain questions more clearly about our convoluted language. There are actually times when I've heard myself saying, "It just sounds right!" Not a very profound reply, so I'm here to learn how to answer questions that are about grammar ITS very own self.  

All in all, I am learning what it's like to be a student again in a class with such an array of intelligent young people. I have really enjoyed hearing what they have to say during the Socratic seminars. If anything, what I am most learning is how to listen with fresh appreciation of the way OUR minds work and interweave.

 These are my thoughts.You can have YOURN. :)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A recurring problem for me with grammar is my constant use of sentence fragments. It's not necessarily a problem I want to fix. Starting sentences with "but," "and,""so," no subjects. . .

I can remember way back to high school arguing with an English teacher about "But." I showed him several examples from modern literature wherein the author used,"But" at the beginning of a sentence. That old English teacher wasn't going for it. Wouldn't let me do it. See -- a sentence fragment. Dropping the subject. For emphasis, I suppose.

I've read too many modern novels and poetry. Did Hemingway effectively use sentence fragments? Yes. He wrote dialog true to our speech patterns Sure did. What about Stein, Salinger, Vonnegut, Joyce, Brautigan? Can't remember. But I'm certain it's from reading their novels and others that I picked up the habit.

It distresses, confuses, perhaps angers English teachers. Out comes the red pen and they start crossing out, adding subjects, putting "sent. frag." above "And" and "But." A lot of red ink used on my writing! So, is it a habit I want to break? Not for informal writing. But essays and academic writing? I now know better and can restrain myself, self-correct, take out the red pen on myself, edit. I am able to write full sentences, but it's with compunction and a sense of defeat.

Have I picked up patterns of spoken speech, used them de rigueur, with abandon, unconsciously, consciously? I suppose so. Am I sorry about it? I don't think so. Old habits die hard. Don't they?