adapted writing guide, a few thoughts on writing and pedagogy

i just spent some time summarizing and adapting someone else’s adaptation of someone else’s guide to writing (specifically for ethics and philosophy but many of the points apply more generally). i have attached it in case it is of use!

i am now assisting with this particular ethics course for the first time. it was therefore no longer surprising  but still unsettling that on almost every midterm i graded last week, i wrote “a thesis sentence would be helpful.” i‘ll note that this is a masters-level course. i thought about reintroducing the (as noted by a friend, colossal “In-and-Out 4-by-4 Animal Style”) sandwich as teaching tool but opted against it.

i find it upsetting that in a school of public health – covering topics for which communication skills are ostensibly quite important – there so little direct emphasis on improving writing and public speaking.

first, for better or for worse, at least in my department, TAs do the vast majority of the grading. we generally don’t have the time (nor, ahem, the commensurate pay) to comment on writing style and grammar as well as content.

second, the writing resources at school are limited to one man. he does a great deal of good work but we can hardly assign all students to go to him before a paper is due, as in undergrad the professor could mandate that a paper went to the writing center before it was turned submitted  (where you were forced to read your paper out loud, which was both terrifying and extremely helpful).

third, the above point is all the more upsetting given the school’s cultivation of an international student body. that there are no writing resource that ESL (or, likely EnL) students can access when working on a specific paper is fairly upsetting.

fourth, i am of the firm opinion that one really learns how to write or present by having to comment on or grade good and bad writing or presentations. however, most times when i try to insert a mandatory “read your paper out loud to another student” or “grade a fellow student’s paper” into a curriculum, it is shot down for one reason or another. yes, it’s a pain. yes, students might go easy on each other. nevertheless, i still think is a good idea and a necessary component of taking good writing seriously. rating other students’ presentations seems to go over slightly better – but only slightly.

Writing for ethics_HEL2013

presentation tricks & tips from the US presidential & VP debates

presidential 1: “no, i wouldn’t have gone over the time limit if you hadn’t interrupted me to point out the limit.

VP: “no, i can’t give you more specifics but i can repeat the same thing, slower and with hand gestures. (or try link here.)

presidential 2: don’t do this while other people are talking. the slower, non-defensive response can work quite well. also, how you listen is important.

presidential 3: actually, the third debate was pretty upsetting. maybe the daily show will pull me out of it. a few things:

  • clever lines and the now-ubiquitous ‘zingers‘ stick, even if they are untrue (and, yes, i thought obama had some good ones but, no, they weren’t fully accurate). this actually makes the lesson of romney’s leaked first debate strategy not that one shouldn’t spend time coming up with zingers, it’s just that you shouldn’t let anyone find out that you are doing so because it sounds silly if you have to practice.
  • can we stop pretending that ‘flip-flopping’ is such a horrible thing? i agree that saying different things to different audiences is bad, as is the need to change one’s opinion because you spoke too hastily the first time around. but changing one’s position or, i don’t know, updating one’s prior based on new information, should be accepted, if not rewarded.
  • can the phrase ‘you’re all over the map’ be stricken from foreign policy debates? first of all, because that should simply be a statement of fact in a foreign policy debate. and, second, because it was not a statement of fact about last night’s debate. if we were talking about a map that, say, alexander the great (actually, erosthenes) had, then, yes, perhaps the conversation on 22Oct would have appeared to be ‘all over’ it.
  • really, nothing on ‘development’ efforts? no hearts and minds and bodies and lives and livelihoods? geez, mcgovern for president.