Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Addiction: Tolerance and Withdrawal

Napoleon's Retreat from Moscow
Intolerable Withdrawal?
Adolph Northen (1828-1876)

My Advanced English students ´╗┐recently handed in their final essays on a topic labeled "My Addiction."

Early this semester, we had read in our textbook a short article on addiction and learned that two key elements of genuine addiction are "tolerance" and "withdrawal." The article explained these quite clearly -- the former being the tendency over time to need more and more of a substance or behavior to obtain the same satisfaction and the latter being the painful physical and emotional symptoms associated with cessation of a substance or behavior.

This final essay was the second rewrite of the assignment. For their first essay, I had asked students to write on their 'addiction' -- prior to reading the article. The results were predictable. Most students called their habit an "addiction." We then read the article and learned the crucial elements "tolerance" and "withdrawal," and I asked the students to rewrite their essays with a definition paragraph in the body of the essay to clarify what an addiction is. Though not all students did so, most complied, but then failed to apply the two elements to their own 'addiction' to determine whether it was truly an addiction, or not.

I therefore had them rewrite again, telling them clearly what to do. I also warned them against using dictionary definitions and exhorted them to stick to the book's explanation. Most students complied, but a few didn't, including one clueless student who had previously included no definition paragraph and who then proceded to write the following explanation for the tolerance and withdrawal characteristic of an addiction:
If people rely on something, symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal begin to show. Tolerance has the meaning that 'tolerance is the practice of permitting a thing of which one disapproves, such as social, ethnic, sexual, or religious practices' in the dictionary. And it is causes that people are even more dependent on. This is the starting point in the addiction. Withdrawal has the meaning that 'A withdrawal may be undertaken as part of a general retreat, to consolidate forces, to occupy ground that is more easily defended, or to lead the enemy into an ambush.' When people ban dependent, this result(withdrawal) appears. And it is causes that make difficult to stop addiction.

I wrote above that this student was "clueless," and that judgment may have seemed harsh, but readers can now see that I wrote accurately. I had warned students that anyone who didn't include a definition paragraph using the textbook's explanation would get zero out of ten points, but I gave the student a 5.5 since the terms "tolerance" and "withdrawal" were used more or less correctly when this same student went of to discuss an addiction to a smart phone.

But how one can know the terms well enough to use them with roughly the correct meaning, yet define them formally using entirely different definitions lifted from a dictionary, entails a blindness to intellectual insight that I'll never comprehend!

At least, the essay offered an amusing diversion after dozens of similar definitions . . .

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At 7:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have to say I'm withdrawing my enthusiasm somewhat due to my increasing tolerance for your "apparent" success with overcoming your addiction for teaching English in Korea.

Can't say I'm surprised though.


At 8:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It's been a long struggle, JK . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:30 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

In addition to everything else, the challenge of incorporating the dictionary definition seems to have overwhelmed the student in this case.

It might have been helpful to have the students use their dictionaries but otherwise work up their own definitions for their discussions?

At 1:47 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

At some point we have to break off and ask ourselves about the long term process of learning to write. Early on, I emphasize the structural aspects. This they follow readily, as proper essay organization in English can be thought of as strict and uniform. After a few years of following the proper structure--Standard Essay Form--grammar will improve of its own accord (and with LOTS of practice and feedback).

The studies indicate that it is structure and organization rather than lack of grammatical knowledge that leads to awkward usage. Of course, these studies were conducted with students for whom English was their first language. Still, I suspect teaching strict structural practices might appeal to your Korean students?

Standard Essay Form:

I. Introduction
A. Create Interest
B. Thesis
C. Main Points (each main point gets a body paragraph)

II. Body Paragraph
A. Topic Sentence--General Statement
B. Supporting Sentences--Specific Statements
C. Fully Developed
D. One Topic per Paragraph

III Conclusion
A. Thesis
B. Main Points
C. What's Next?
D. Closure

At 7:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I teach roughly the same essay structure, but I think that I need to clarify for students the nature of an argument so that they understand that a definition is not free-floating, not merely something else the teacher insisted be included.

As for the definition, I specifically warned them against using a dictionay definition and told them to go with the definition of the term addiction that we studied in the textbook.

This particular student was beyond reach, it seems.

Jeffery Hodges

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