Thursday, March 24, 2011

Andy Selsberg: Twixt Tweet and Text

Andy Selsberg
Penning anon 'nymous' notes . . .
(Image from Workman)

I've just read in the New York Times of an idea whose time may have come:
[A] few years ago, I started slipping my classes short writing assignments alongside the required papers. Once, I asked them, "Come up with two lines of copy to sell something you're wearing now on eBay." The mix of commerce and fashion stirred interest, and despite having 30 students in each class, I could give everyone serious individual attention. For another project, I asked them to describe the essence of the chalkboard in one or two sentences. One student wrote, "A chalkboard is a lot like memory: often jumbled, unorganized and sloppy. Even after it's erased, there are traces of everything that's been written on it."
Great idea for those of us instructors weary of dealing with "font-size manipulation, plagiarism and clichés" in "the five-paragraph essay and its bully of a cousin, the research paper." The solution, according to Andy Selsberg? Don't go long! Go short!
A lot can be said with a little -- the mundane and the extraordinary. Philosophers like Confucius ("Learning without thought is labor lost. Thought without learning is perilous.") and Nietzsche were kings of the aphorism.
Excellent learnéd aphorism from Confucius. Somebody now go tell the Confucians here in Korea that not all learning is long-rote memory work.

For the entire humorous but insightful short piece, see Selsberg's "Teaching to the Text Message," NYT (March 19, 2011).

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At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One core benefit of the research paper, however, is the benefit of the process: locating multiple sources, analyzing them, sort out info for use to make an argument/key point, then making that point in long form.

I like the short text as described for working on writing skills and mental development, but for high school and college, I'd still want projects that require students to learn to locate and crunch information then use it in effective communication.

For my ESL high school students in the US, I avoided the 1-time research paper in favor of a process we tried to use a couple of times a semester.

The ultimate end products were a newsletter for each class and Internet version on a blog I setup. But, after the initial brief research phase, they wrote a standard text (essay or fiction depending on the focus) which they would workshop and then edit to fit the more informal newsletter/Internet format.

Because they were ESL, we chose overally topics to suit their interst (and our textbook), and the texts were fairly short by essay standards, but I really wanted them to learn skills that would benefit them "out in the real world" when they graduated.

I'd tell them how much money many people in the area where we lived who lost gobs of money each year just because they were not efficient in locating and using information.

At 4:40 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for a well-considered response to the post.

I, too, like the research paper . . . but I rather dread 'correcting' it.

Jeffery Hodges

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