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Doing Feedback: Second Writing Project

October 20, 2015

For the second essay in our class, I’ve asked that you identify a particular problem, question, or controversy that you can respond to by joining in to a conversation with other sources. In Joseph Harris’s terms, this will most likely involve coming to terms with the sources you’ve chosen and then forwarding or countering some of the claims those sources make. The conversation you choose to enter may be one we’ve already identified in our readings, or it may be one you’ve noticed in sources outside of our class texts. The goal, however, is to try to say how three or more authors have wrestled with a similar idea and then to add something of your own to offer a new perspective.

On Thursday of this week, we’ll be working again in groups to brainstorm and respond to each other’s initial drafts, and that means you’ll all need to do some preparation before our next class meeting. Here’s what you should do:

As a writer:

Post a draft of your second writing project to Canvas under the assignment “Second Writing Project: Peer Review Draft” by midnight on Tuesday, October 20.

In the “Comments” column to the right of your uploaded draft, post a substantial paragraph including the following information: 1) What do you feel best about with your current draft and 2) What questions do you have that your peer review partners might be able to help you with?

As a reader:

By Wednesday, October 21, visit the assignment page on Canvas. In the right hand corner of the page, you should see a “Peer Review” option with links to the drafts of your peer review partners.

Take time before class on Thursday, October 22 to read your partners’ drafts. Please post at least one substantial response to the draft in the “Comments” column to the right of the draft. Although it isn’t required, you may also use the comment toolbox, located at the top of the screen, to insert specific comments or feedback within the draft.

** Taken together, your paragraph reflection on your own draft and your comments on your partners’ drafts will count as your next quiz grade. **

Please be sure to bring a laptop or tablet to class with you on Thursday to access your partners’ drafts. If you aren’t able to bring a laptop of your own, let me know by Wednesday, and I’ll arrange to have one for you.



Group 1: Hannah Foster, Mia Jackson, Jamison Jensen

Group 2: Jessica Dixon, Aaron Compton, Jungwoo Yun

Group 3: Charles Yang, Patrick Jackson, Reanna Sherman

Group 4: Laiken Harrigan, Kevin Sawyer, Erik Whitcomb

Group 5: Jon Cooper, Kendyl Walton, Ashutosh Aryal


Coming to Terms with Rewriting

October 5, 2015

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll try to apply some of the forwarding and countering strategies that Joseph Harris identifies in Rewriting to the kind of public discourse we might encounter online or in popular magazines and publications. To that end, tech_brainon next Tuesday we’ll discuss a couple of readings that engage in a kind of conversation with each other about the way reading and writing online influences our patterns of thinking.

For Tuesday’s class next week, please be sure to read Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”:

As a companion to Carr’s piece, I’ll also provide you with a handout reading from Clive Thompson’s recent book Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better.

As you read these two pieces, please be sure to note the way that the two authors interact with each other. They each briefly reference each other’s work directly, but more important, they are clearly engaging in a shared conversation about the way our minds and lives are shaped–for the better and the worse–by the technology we use. Look for moments, in particular, where you see examples of forwarding or countering in their own arguments. How are these authors enacting the kind of intellectual conversation that Harris is exploring in his own text?

For our next writing project, I’ll ask you to identify a similar kind of public conversation about an issue that you can contribute to. See the details now available on our Writing Projects page, but I hope you’ll see this as an opportunity to put some of Harris’ ideas to work for yourself.

Memory and “True” Stories

September 28, 2015

In class on this Tuesday, we’ll watch a brief excerpt from an interview with Tim O’Brien to get a sense of how he reflects on his own work as a writer. Feel free to preview this excerpt before class, or search for some other interviews with O’Brien on YouTube:

In this particular clip, he observes that when we read something someone else has written, we are “partly a witness and partly a participant.” As we look at the final sections of The Things We Carried, let’s consider what this might mean. How are we, as readers, both a witness and a participant with the writer, and how is the writer both a witness and a participant in the process of reconstructing his or her memories? What does this have to do with O’Brien’s project for this text?

Doing Feedback: First Writing Project

September 16, 2015

Becoming better responders to writing is one of the course objectives I’ve set for us this semester. With that in mind, we’ll spend next Tuesday’s class interacting in small groups over the drafts you’ve started for the first writing project. The most obvious purpose for the activity is to provide you with some initial feedback on your writing, but I think there are even greater benefits to the work we’ll be doing. The claim I’d make is that by offering thoughtful feedback to someone else, you are in fact improving your own skill as a writer. By working with another person’s text, you’ll discover new ways of looking at your own. So what I ask is that you approach this feedback process earnestly with an eye toward improving yourself as a reader and writer.

Below I’ve sketched out what I have planned for us on next Tuesday, so please read carefully and notice that you’ll need to prepare for the class both as a writer and as a reader. At the bottom of this post, you’ll see that I’ve listed the groups you’ll be working in.

Preparing for next Tuesday, September 22:


* Post an initial draft of your first essay to your own blog by no later than 5:00pm on Sunday, September 20.

* At the top of your draft, please include a paragraph addressed to your peer review group. In the paragraph, you should provide at least three pieces of information: 1) What do you feel best about with your current draft? 2) What do you feel you have left to do at this point? 3) What questions do you have, or what kind of feedback would you like from your group?


* Check the list below to see which group you’ll be in on Tuesday. At some point between Sunday evening and class time on Tuesday, visit the blog of each member of your group and read the drafts that they’ve posted.

* Pay attention to the paragraph that each group member has included about his or her draft. As you read each draft, be thinking about the advice you might offer the writer on Tuesday.

* Using the “Leave a Comment” function on each member’s blog post, leave an initial brief response to the draft. This doesn’t need to be lengthy, but you might simply indicate what seems most interesting to you about the draft so far and what questions you’d like to discuss with the writer on Tuesday.

PLEASE BRING WITH YOU TO CLASS ON TUESDAY a laptop or tablet that you can use to access your partners’ drafts. If you don’t have access to a laptop or tablet, please let me know in advance, and we’ll work out a solution.

Writing Groups:

Group 1:

Aaron Compton

Charles Yang

Mia Jackson

Group 2:

Ashutosh Aryal

Jamison Jensen

Hannah Foster

Group 3:

Jessica Dixon

Kevin Sawyer

Erik Whitcomb

Group 4:

Reanna Sherman

Jon Cooper

Jungwoo Yun

Group 5:

Kendyl Walton

Patrick Jackson

Laiken Harrigan

Getting Critical

September 9, 2015

Two of the readings we’re discussing this week–those from Harris and Graff–address what professors and academic thinkers typically refer to as critical thinking. As we mentioned in Tuesday’s class, the word “critical” and all its variants (critic, criticism, criticize, critique) don’t always sound very pleasant. In common use, the word implies urgency (“critical condition”) or excessive negativity (“don’t be so critical!”). When we criticize someone, we’re usually pointing out a weakness or character flaw.

However, the process of critical thinking doesn’t have to be an act of ill-tempered fault finding. In fact, Harris suggests that critical thinking can (and should!) be both generous and assertive. To respond to someone else’s ideas, even if you disagree, you first need to offer a fair representation of what that person’s claims are. In the process, “your aim should be less to prove them right or wrong, correct or mistaken, than to assess both the uses and limits of their work” (25). In a similar way, Graff reminds us that critical thinking isn’t something that is restricted to great works of art or science. As he discovered, our own personal interests, no matter how unacademic they may seem, can often benefit from careful thinking and investigation.

More than anything else, critical thinking hinges on the way we ask questions. Although it may seem otherwise at times, academic questions are not typically aimed at finding a simple right or wrong answer or a correct interpretation. Instead, by asking questions, we’re trying to gain a better, fuller, more complicated understanding of the subjects we study. So rather than just sticking with the “facts” about an event, an academic would be more likely to ask, “why does the event occur the way it does,” “what is influencing the event,” and “what possible perspectives are we overlooking?” In this way, critical thinking requires that we suspend judgement about what we’re studying until we’ve investigated it from multiple angles.

As we begin discussing The Things They Carried, we’ll try to take on a critical mindset, and I hope we’ll be able to make some connections to what we’ve read so far. O’Brien’s account of life as a soldier in the Vietnam War doesn’t necessarily address writing or the academic life explicitly, but it is about the complex ways we think about and work through our own memories and experiences. As you begin reading, keep the following questions in mind:

  • Why does O’Brien choose to describe the confusing, disturbing, and often contradictory experiences of being a soldier in Vietnam as he does? As a writer, what strategies does he use to convey these experiences?
  • How is O’Brien using his writing to work through particular problems and concepts that are important to him? What’s his project as a writer?
  • Why is O’Brien so concerned with the nature of truth in the stories he tells? Does he want us to understand the book as a memoir (a “true” story) or as a novel (a fictional story)? What difference does it make?

Be looking for (and marking) specific moments in the text that stand out to you or that help us answer the questions above.

For background information, you might also want to to read a bit online about the Vietnam War (the Wikipedia entry on the war is a fine starting place) and about O’Brien himself.

College writing and the “generative paradox” of academic work

September 3, 2015

For the first week or two of our class, I’d like us to reflect a bit on what it means to be a college student and what you can do to make the most of your experience. The introductory chapter from Rewriting, by Joseph Harris, gives us some insight into the way that college professors most often think of the writing process. In particular, in the first pages he explains why he chose the term “rewriting” for the title of his book, and he suggests that there is a “generative paradox” at the heart of most academic work:

[C]ertainly, I hope it’s clear that the kind of rewriting I value has nothing to do with simply copying or reciting the work rewritingof others. Quite the contrary. My goal is to rewritingshow you some ways of using their texts for your purposes. The reason I call this rewriting is to point to a generative paradox of academic work: Like all writers, intellectuals need to say something new and say it well. But unlike many other writers, what intellectuals have to say is bound up inextricably with the books we are reading, the movies we are watching, the music we are listening to, and the ideas of the people we are talking to. Our creativity thus has its roots in the work of others – in response, reuse, and rewriting. (2)

Although some of the terminology he uses here might seem difficult or imposing, I think this passage makes an essential observation about what it means to write in an academic context. For this Thursday’s class, let’s try to get at the heart of the paradox Harris is referring to. What is “paradoxical” about the work that professors ask you to do?

Welcome to the English 101-21 Class Blog

August 30, 2015

Welcome to English 101-21, Doing Writing: Literature and Composition. This blog will be the online home for much of the work we do this semester, so please plan to check here frequently for news about the class, updates on assignments, and other important details. I’ll also be using this as a place to reflect on our group discussions, so I hope my own blog posts will give you some insight into what I’d like us to accomplish over the course of the semester.

To get this process started, I’ll ask you to do a few things right away:

First, please take a moment to look around the blog and explore what’s already here. The blog is pretty sparse for the moment, but it should grow quickly as our class gets underway. At this point, you’ll find that there are links to course materials listed across the top of the page. You’ll also see an explanation of the blog title on the About This Blog page.

Second, I’d like you to set up a blog for your own writing this semester and make your first post. To do this, simply go to and click on the “Get Started” link provided there. As you’ll see, it’s an easy process. You’ll be prompted to create a user name, a password, and a domain name and title for your blog. Once you have your own blog set up, please comment to this post and paste in the web address for your blog. I’ll then add everyone to the “Blogroll” list in the column to the right.

Finally, make your own first blog post. For this initial entry, you should introduce yourself briefly, and then think about one or two goals that you have for yourself in this class. Is there something you’d especially like to work on or get better at in your own writing? Rather than focusing on general goals (like making good grades), try to identify something specific you’d like to be able to do more effectively.

We’ll troubleshoot for any problems you’re having with your blog in class on Thursday. If you have a laptop, feel free to bring it with you for this session.

Thanks, and happy blogging!