Thursday, September 20, 2007

When I Say "Synthesis" All They Hear Is "Blah, Blah, Blah"

Yesterday, I introduced the Explanatory Synthesis, and a left class feeling as if it could have went better. On last Friday, I told the students to pick one of the three candy bars we decided we would use, and eat them for homework and jot down some initial impressions. When I gave them this assignment, all seemed very enthusiastic, but of course on yesterday nobody wanted to talk. After some teeth-pulling, I got them to start telling me things to jot down on the board, but then everyone kept giving the same information about how the candy was chocolatety, or just plain good.

So, I abandoned this topic and switched to some discussion on cafeteria food.

This topic produced a few more sparks than the candy bar one. Even though I was able to get a fair amount of input, it seemed as though I was losing them when we started to combine the sources. At first, I simply thought I had failed in the delivery of the exercise, but after talking to a somewhat veteran of comp 101, I learned that when you say the word "synthesis" to the students all they hear is "Blah, Blah, Blah," like what the children heard when the adults would talk on that Charlie Brown Show.

With that, I've decided to take a slower approach to this assignment and ease the students in.

Below is an e-mail I sent out today with some general reactions about yesterday's class, and some examples of topics.


Tomorrow I will hand out the assignment sheet for the junk draft. I've decided to wait and give you the official assignment sheet for the Explanatory Synthesis until the week before the rough draft is due.

My thinking behind this decision—I don’t want you all to feel overwhelmed by this assignment. With that said, we are going to take a more process approach toward this paper to make the transition from just simply writing a summary, knowing how to paraphrase, and incorporate some quotes to actually: narrowing down a topic, researching, and finding ways to combine your sources into a cohesive whole that will explain your topic.

It is important for you all to let me know when things are not working. If telepathic abilities were apart of my genetic makeup I would be a very happy person, but they are not. A large part of what you all will get out of this class is what you put into it. So if at any time, the introductory exercises we do in class are confusing or just not helpful don’t hesitate to let me know.

Below are some working topics. Don’t feel obligated to any of them if you don’t want to. The purpose here is just to exhibit the possibilities you have with this assignment. With any topic you choose, it’s beneficial to perform a Google search or topic search at

How color determines mood in Tim Burton’s films
How the song “Fight the Power” is a motif in Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing

How Bob Marley’s music can be considered “Rebel” music
How sound effects the ways humans’ process information OR How classical music effects the developmental growth in infants

Explain how Salvador Dali’s art is considered surrealism
Explain how Romare Bearden’s art of collage imitates everyday life
Explain how Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” can be categorized to be Black Classicism

How the brain processes elements of sound or smell, and allows humans the ability to connect that to memory
Explain the phenomena surrounding Stone Babies

The Long and Winding Road

That leads back to a class session of deep-review. Last Thursday, I read through the summary rough drafts for class, and to my surprise a fair amount of students were just not getting the process of reading their articles and extracting the author's main points. So instead of introducing the Explanatory Synthesis assignment, as I had planned, Friday we all drowned-deep in heavy review of how to read and identify the main and sub points, and how to paraphrase without plagiarizing...

Last Thursday afternoon, I had sent out a very long and detailed message about my reactions to their rough drafts and a way we were going to work through the process of how to improve their drafts.

It was very cute on Friday morning how one of the students looked at me and said, "Were our papers that bad." In which I replied, "No, it wasn't that they were that bad, I just think some of you blew-off this assignment and didn't give it as much time as it needed." So with that, I broke the first and second plagiarizing paragraphs (on pg. 50 in the book), on the board and had students go up and paraphrase them. After the first student volunteered and wrote her paraphrase, I showed another way to paraphrase the same sentence and abandon the original language all together. It was like 18 to 23 little light bulbs had been flicked on as I explained my example of the same paraphrase. My initial thought of the plagiarism I saw in the rough drafts being unintentional was affirmed. For some reason, the students thought paraphrasing just meant switching the original source words around to make the sentence appear different.

I realized that allowing the students to look at my comments and ask me questions about them proved to be beneficial.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Topics I Can Stand Reading Explanatory Synthesis Papers About

Friday, Sept. 14th - This is my list

  • Explain how Romare Bearden used his art of collage to imitate everyday life.

  • Explain how Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man, can be categorized as Black classicism.

  • Explain the research surrounding the study of Stone Babies.

  • Anything that explains how sonic qualities effect the way individuals process information.

  • Music

  • Film

  • Black Literati
  • Anything on how the brain works

Friday, September 7, 2007

My Expectations for Essay 1

I would like the students to show that they fully understand how (and when) to summarize, paraphrase, and quote in their essays. I expect the drafts I will receive on Wednesday, Sept. 12th will be better than the average rough draft because today we work shopped their junk/discovery drafts. This exercise actually proved beneficial to the students because it allowed them to discuss writing with one another in a relaxed environment. They also shared with me how much they enjoyed being able to have the junk/discovery drafts first.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Learning Pains

Yesterday, I planned for the class to distribute their junk/discovery drafts for workshop on Friday. (Sidebar, up to this point I have been pretty organized w/this class, which is a blessing for me because I, sometimes, live for chaos and havoc). So about an hour into class, I asked the students if they wanted to assemble their own groups, which I thought would be a piece of pie because most of them seemed to know one another. WRONG, big time. They all looked up at me when I said, "Hey, I was wondering if you all wanted to form your own groups for workshop," and said "No, we think you should do it." At that moment, I wished for a sheet of paper with their names divided into groups, but I didn't have that paper because I didn't follow my first-mind the night before and create the groups.

So okay, I had to create the groups. While I was doing that I told the students to start printing their papers. Of course, there had to have been someone who couldn't print, didn't have their draft saved (even though I sent around like thirteen e-mails saying, "Make sure you have your papers saved on yr MavDisk or some portable storage device for Wednesday's class), or needed more staples for the stapler.

Very quickly I formed three of the five groups, before running down to the English office to inquire about the printer (mysteriously) not printing anymore, and to grab more staples. While downstairs, I made more copies for one student who didn't have her draft saved, out of my own dinero, which I will never do again. When I got back upstairs I was so hot. About fifteen minutes before class was over I started announcing groups for the paper exchange. I'm not sure why I just didn't make all the groups even, but I didn't and somehow we had a slight problem with the last two groups. After numerous of e-mails, uploads to D2L, more e-mails of papers to respective groups I think everything is under control.

This will be one of my learning pains about teaching, "Never assume anything because it makes an ass out of me, out of me."