Monsters Left Over from High School

Decades ago, cartoonist Sandra Boynton visualized the writing form/straightjacket known as the five-paragraph essay.  Some students just can’t get beyond it.


APA or MLA in Brief, on Posters

The online writing lab (OWL) at Purdue has just issued posters summarizing the key features of APA and MLA format.  You can print them out in assorted sizes:

MLA Poster:

APA Poster:

Champion of Techno-revolution Sees Web Bringing Culture to Kitchen Table

In “Three Tweets for the Web,” GMU economics professor Tyler Cowen argues that the decline of the book does not spell the end of literacy.  It’s just “part of a broader shift toward short and to the point.”

Cowen pooh-poohs the assumption that reliance on the Web is shortening attention spans; he sees it as a tool that allows people to follow stories over time and “with greater specialization.”

Once we had a “long-distance relationship” with culture, but technology has turned it into marriage “in the sense that it now enters our lives in an established flow, creating a better and more regular daily state of mind.”

Adam Kovach on Critical Reading Problems

Adam Kovach (philosophy) presented on “critical reading problems” at fall 2009 Innovations.  He finds students are not reading and/or not engaging with their texts.

He likens philosophical writing to a jungle.  Students need to bushwhack their way through texts but too often give up.  If professors pull out the key ideas and present them as potted plants, students can make sense of them. “But if we do everything for students,” he says, “then they can’t do it for themselves.”

After getting a grant and doing some research, he identified what he wanted students to do and then developed aids to specific texts, sort of readers’ field guides.  The goal: make students independent learners. The struggle: how to model critical reading without “giving away more than I have to.”

Here’s an excerpt from his presentation.  For the entire PowerPoint or examples of aids to specific texts, e-mail him or Sylvia in DISCOVER.

Reading Philosophy Actively (what students should do)

(a) Identify the main questions that motivate the text.

(b) Identify the main claims put forward in the text.

(c) Paraphrase the main arguments presented in support of (or against) the main claims.

(d) Define any special terms used to express the main claims and arguments.

(e) Formulate criticisms of the main claims and arguments.

(f) Formulate focused questions about the text to help fill gaps in your understanding.

Reader’s Aid (to help students do what they should do)

1. Locate and cite relevant passages in the text.
2. Look up terms background information to the text in a dictionary or encyclopedia.
3. Put significant non-transparent claims into your own words.
4. Explain the meaning of a longer passage in your own words.
5. Create new examples to illustrate a general principle or rule.
6. Paraphrase or outline an argument.
7. Compare different parts of a text and identify the logical connection.
8. Compare texts with previous readings to recognize how ideas are reused, developed and modified.
9. Explore some parts of the text independently and formulate questions as needed.
10. Answer open-ended critical thinking questions.

APA: “Oops”

Use APA style?

If you didn’t rush out to buy the new 6th edition of the Publication Manual, you might want to wait for the second printing.

Turns out the style guide contains a number of typos and other errors, as Inside Higher Ed reportsAPA has downplayed the mistakes, which appear most serious in three sample papers.  You can access corrected versions of those and a list of errors at the APA site.

Responding to Student Writing–Straight Talk

Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Ed, English professor James Lang reports favorably on using Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software to “write” reponses to student papers.  Lang notes that the software prompted his political scientist colleague to respond in a more conversational tone, so the benefit was not just functional but pedagogical.

Meet a Literary Agent in DC

Upon request, Georgetown has opened this event to MU faculty for a fee of $10 for lunch.  The event is Oct. 15 and requires a reservation.  Your check must arrive by Oct. 12.

Carole Sargent and The Office of Scholarly and Literary
Publications welcome literary agent Eric Lupfer of the William Morris Agency for a lunchtime talk and Q&A on Thursday, October 15.

The talk will be from 12-1 p.m. in the Leavey Program Room directly across the hall from the campus bookstore.  A sandwich buffet will be served.

*RSVPs absolutely required:

Checks should be made payable to Georgetown University and sent to

Natalie Kimber/OSLP
Georgetown University
3520 Prospect Street, #310
Washington, DC  20057

Checks must be received at least three days before the event so that we can open spaces if necessary (our events tend to fill up quickly).