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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Composition
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1118  Wednesday, 24 April 2002

[1]     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 Apr 2002 14:10:21 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.1104 Re: Plagiarism and Composition

[2]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 Apr 2002 11:51:51 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1104 Re: Plagiarism and Composition

[3]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 10:45:38 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1104 Re: Plagiarism and Composition

[4]     From:   Edward Pixley <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 08:46:44 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1104 Re: Composition


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <
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Date:           Tuesday, 23 Apr 2002 14:10:21 -0400
Subject: 13.1104 Re: Plagiarism and Composition
Comment:        RE: SHK 13.1104 Re: Plagiarism and Composition

I have no desire to answer Gabriel Egan's complaints about college
students and their lack of writing skill; not only have they been (I
believe), sufficiently answered, but the wailing has been going on since
at least Harvard's founding.

I would like to point out, however, the other half of my post.
Composition (and rhetoric) as a discipline is NOT just teaching remedial
English. It is not just about correcting the mistakes of the secondary
education system. It is a perfectly legitimate discipline, with a range
of theories about how people write, the impact of technology on writing,
the cultural implications of literacy, just to name a few. There are
advanced and graduate composition classes taught at many, many
universities, and these classes do not center around how to get student
athletes to write a grammatical sentence.  Certainly it would be
wonderful if all students came to college with a solid grasp of grammar,
style and organization. But even if they did, Composition as a field
would still exist. And it would be, as it is, a growing, lively,
intellectually fruitful field, no more or less than fields like, oh,
Shakespeare. In fact, I've had more than one Comp. specialist ask me how
I can study texts that have been picked over for 400 years. How boring!
How useless!  What more can there be to say?

Perspective is all, but respect helps.

Annalisa Castaldo

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Tuesday, 23 Apr 2002 11:51:51 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1104 Re: Plagiarism and Composition
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1104 Re: Plagiarism and Composition

Karen Peterson writes, "However, at the end of the day I must side with
Gabriel Egan.  His account of his experience teaching composition at an
American university matches my own.  I *wish* I thought it possible to
teach a student 'how to write' at age eighteen or older, but my
experience indicates otherwise.  I believe that if a solid foundation
exists, one may 'coach' and advise students in ways that can help them
improve their own writing.  But if that foundation is lacking, then a
semester, or two, or three, or four, is not going to make the
difference."

Karen, if I might, I would like to comment on this part of your
remarks.  I respectfully omitted part of your remarks, showing your pain
at dealing with a difficult situation in colleges today.  So my remarks
are not meant to be directed at Karen, but _on behalf of_ her showing
concern for students.  Hope doth spring eternal in all prof's breasts,
to mish-mash a famous poet.

I was an adjunct professor of English composition in the state of
Florida during my recent retirement years.  Over three decades, I have
done many jobs, including teaching high school and community college,
and was a college professor of world literature, as well.  I speak now
just to teaching English comp, I and II, as we called it.

Most of my thousands of students came into Comp I and II, from teachers
and other profs with an eighth grade reading and writing level
experience.  I found a method that worked for me, and my students: and
not that it is for everyone, I offer it anyway.

I made each student, in Comp I and Comp II (mostly the Research paper)
buy a 120-page ring-bound notebook.  Now this is going to sound _real_
basic, and it is: it worked for the A+ student down to the C students.
I do not believe in F students, as they would quit my class rather than
do the work.  Here it is:

(1) Day one, pic of student inside cover, page one and two, bio, and
goals in college, in longhand, and CURSIVE [supported by copious
handouts].  Police officers who go for degrees are taught to write in
block letters, and I had to have them overcome it; no bones about it,
CURSIVE all the way.  It's faster, and teaches respect for the rules of
capitalization.  The ring-bound is a must, as students cannot insert
pages later and defeat the _marching_ process of assignments upon
assignments.  Students SWORE :) they would NEVER write even 90 pages,
but believe me, they ALL did.  Or quit!  My attrition rate was less than
5 percent, so it was successful by my standards.

(2) Day two, students form groups of five or six, and look at each
other's writing abilities and comment to each other.  They meet each
other, know they are going to do their own work, etc.  An Index in the
back three pages numbers the pages, and the pages are numbered
consecutively from the front.  ALL homework assignments are in these
notebooks, and I, the prof, can collect, some, any, all, at any time.
Neatness, legibility, clarity, simplicity of thought, saying in words
what you think, are stressed.  Advanced students are told they can back
up any assignments with more detailed work from computers, if they
wish.  But nobody, absolutely nobody, escapes the rigors of this
prove-thyself method of you and me, and your words. Students read along
in class with me the college plagiarism policy, and I forewarned them
day ONE that I would take notebooks home and lay out certain assignments
side-by-side and look for plagiarists.  Obviously, those who wish to
cheat could find a hole in all this, but at least they had to produce in
their own CURSIVE script, and occasional assignments were in class under
test conditions, and a few tests were in the notebook, and the notebooks
immediately collected.  I am sure you all can think of a million
variations upon this theme, and improve even on what I accomplished over
several decades.

(3) Days, as they followed, were progressively harder, with varied
assignments, based on reading, reviewing, whatever.  Those students who
were having a hard time quickly showed specifically what WAS their
problem.  I even had a six-page handout which had a set length piece
normally read in a minute and a half, and they read it, and an
accompanying chart showed their reading speed.  Comprehension, as a
skill, was taught.  I won't go into all that, but you all can get the
picture.

My point: I do believe and did accomplish, for the most part, to pull my
students from eighth grade level high school to at least advance to
sophomore level when they were, obviously, on their OWN.  Have hope!

Bill Arnold

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 10:45:38 +0100
Subject: 13.1104 Re: Plagiarism and Composition
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1104 Re: Plagiarism and Composition

Ed Taft comments,

> But I agree with Gabriel about one point: teaching
> composition is a hard, difficult business in which
> even the best teachers often feel as if they have
> failed. I think that's because we don't as yet know
> enough about teaching writing to insure that all who
> need to improve are helped.  That fact, however,
> argues for MORE emphasis on the discipline of
> teaching writing, not LESS.  Either that, or we go
> back to educating only those who already know
> how to write before they enter the
> university.

I'm pleased to see Ed's implicit acceptance that the rise of 'comp+rhet'
was a reaction to a change in the admissions system so that those who
don't know how to write could nonetheless enter university. I think this
an unwise change whose causes are economic, not egalitarian The new
recruits are not well-served by being at university.  A degree of some
sort is for many young people the only way to avoid a life of
exceedingly miserable labour. It is hardly surprising that so many cheat
and so many are litigious: they and/or their parents have paid ten of
thousands for the meagre privileges degrees confer.

Despite this dire state of affairs, a pleasing number of cheerful souls
actually manage to learn, although one suspects that these individuals
would do that given merely unimpeded access to the library and enough
free time to read, whether or not lectures and seminars were provided.

I believe Mari Bonomi's account of her work teaching composition and its
achievements, and agree with her that it's a legitimate endeavour in
high schools. That's where it should be done.

Gabriel Egan

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward Pixley <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 08:46:44 -0400
Subject: 13.1104 Re: Composition
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1104 Re: Composition

> Having said all that, I must add that if anyone out there is casting
> about for a field of study with the goal of getting a tenure track
> academic position in the U.S. -- and if they don't much care what they
> actually end up teaching -- the current demand for Ph.Ds in "Composition
> and Rhetoric" far exceeds the supply.

Karen,

I agree that the demand for teachers in this area exceeds the supply,
but my limited experience suggests that they are more likely to end up
as part-timers or adjuncts than in tenure-track positions.  The respect
that made most universities require every entering Freshman to qualify
in rhetoric or composition got eroded in the '70s (largely by English
teachers who didn't want to be forced to teach the one or two requisite
sections) has never been restored.

Ed Pixley

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