Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Grammar Issue

I hate teaching grammar. I am not good at it. 

There, I said it.  And I feel better. 

My college has a sort of formula they follow for the freshman composition curriculum.  They have a unified curriculum wherein everyone learns basically the same thing: how to write an academic summary, how to respond to an academic article, a description essay and a synthesis or research paper.  There also has to be two editing or grammar tests.  The editing/grammar tests are worth a good chunk of the grade, which tells me that I need to hit it kind of hard.

The English department here thinks that teaching students to write well using proper grammar is important.  I am not certain why this is, but I have my suspicions.  The reference guide is co-written by two faculty members and while not overly fantastic, it is useful.  The department also gets a lot of heat from the rest of the university, as students come to classes unprepared for academic writing.  Many of those professors forget what their own English 101 papers looked like when they were handed back.  If their memory serves, they had excellent critical thinking skills, perfect grammar and good breath when they woke up in the mornings.  Ah, the good old days. 

Whatever the reason, book sales, university expectations or general lack of curriculum creation creativity, I have to teach editing and grammar skills. 

I am used to teaching grammar in context.  In many ways, I follow the philosophy that if someone knows how to drive a car, they don't need to know how the drive shaft, clutch or spark plugs work in order to drive.  Likewise, if someone's grammar ain't broke, I don't fix it.  If I notice that people in a class are globally having a hard time with commas, I teach comma use.  If they do not seem to understand subject-verb agreement, I teach a mini-grammar lesson on that using student examples.  Oftentimes, I write things on their essays, complimenting (and identifying) compound and complex sentences and structures, turns of phrase and interesting bits of writing.  I also make suggestions and diagnose individual problems with grammar and punctuation. 

"Hey buddy, you have a real comma addiction. Have that looked at. Here are some ideas... "
"You do a great job of description, but let's address that run-on sentence structure.  It's an easy fix..."

And so on.  In other words, I don't waste class time, metaphorically, on pointing out the pieces of the engine so much as I focus on how to keep the damn car on the road and get from point A to B. 

Even when I taught junior high last year, my grammar lessons were taught in context and in a timely manner. 

But now? Now I have to explicitly test for editing skills, which means that I am testing for grammar skills. 


I began with asking students to correct a small paragraph and to discuss their answers first in small, then in larger groups.  Then I taught the first grammar mini-lesson over the topic of sentence fragments.  They occur naturally in our speech but should be eliminated from formal essays.  I scaffolded with nouns and verbs and built to the lesson, giving examples and asking students to write and fix sentences on their own.  Then I wrote down the pattern for the lesson and broke students into groups to create their own grammar mini-lessons.  I directed them to specific parts of the reference book so they could find rules and examples.  I pulled examples from the lessons my student gave and made a small study guide.  I even broke the test down to four parts- circle the right answer, multiple choice, short answer and sentence punctuation correction (with multiple answers for that part).

Nobody got an "A".  A few people got a "B".  Mostly though, it was "C" and "D" material. I am going to have to give eah student a blank copy and ask them to do it as a take-home test.

I am going to paste the quiz below.  Feel free to comment, give ideas and/or discuss how you have approached this subject.  I feel ambivalent.  We are not doing a great job of teaching formal writing in school.  Somehow, I am supposed to be able to teach explicit grammar in one quarter, around all of the other stuff I do.  I am frustrated, and I have to do one more test at the end of the quarter, for even higher stakes. I just don't think explicit grammar instruction goes with my teaching style.   

What are your thoughts? Respond in the comments...

English 101 Editing Quiz                                                                                Name______________

Dr. Dieu

Part 1 Instructions: Mark the appropriate response or word.

1.       Meatballs and spaghetti (is/are) my favorite meal.

2.       Subjects joined by or, either, neither or nor are singular (true/false).

3.       Her salary, together with her tips, (is/are) just enough to live on.

4.       Ten million gallons of oil (was/ were) spilled.

5.       If she (was /had been) awarded the scholarship, she would have quit her job.

6.       Neither the basket nor the apples (was/were) expensive.

7.       More than half of the population in West Texas (is/are) Hispanic.

8.       The cities in the (Northeast/northeast) were the hardest hit by the winter storms.

9.       Each of the students (is/are) willing to lead the discussion.

10.   None of the food (is/are) spoiled.

Part 2

Instructions: Select the most correct answer.

1.        You should always use this point of view in a formal essay:

a.       First person

b.      Second person

c.       Third person

d.      Depends on the type of essay


2.       In the following sentence: “The recruits were called to duty”

a.       This is written in simple present tense

b.      This is written in simple past tense

c.       This is written in present progressive tense

d.      This is written in past perfect tense


3.       In the following sentence, “Ms. Jones had been called for jury duty twice last year, but she was glad to serve again.

a.       This is written in simple present tense

b.      This is written in simple past tense

c.       This is written in present progressive tense

d.      This is written in past perfect tense


4.       Is the following sentence correct? “Nothing effects my job performance more than getting positive feedback from my boss.”

a.       Yes, this sentence is correct.

b.      No, this sentence is not correct; Use the word “then” instead of “than”.

c.       No, this sentence is not correct; use “affect” instead of “effect”. 

d.      No, this sentence is not correct; Use the word “then” instead of “than” and “affect” instead of “effect”. 



5.       Which of the following sentences is correct?

a.       To find the thesaurus, press Shift and the function key F7.

b.      To find the Thesaurus, press Shift and the Function Key F7.

c.       To find the thesaurus, press shift and the function key F7.

d.      None of these is correct.


Part 3

Instructions: Answer the questions with less than a paragraph. Please use whole sentences.

1.       What is the difference between “affect” and “effect”?


2.       Describe a sentence fragment and how it is different from a whole sentence.



3.       What is at least one way to fix a comma splice?


4.        When can you use a semicolon?


Part 4

Instructions: Please correctly punctuate the following sentences.

1.       The director is unable to meet with you this week however next week she will have time on Tuesday.

2.       The cultural center has a new collection of speak points many of them were donated by a retired anthropologist.

3.       Our division’s reports are posted on our web page hard copies are available by request.

4.       Bonnie a gal who works in the office and who often brings donuts was abducted by aliens last night. 

5.       Wynonna Ryder lives at 101 Baker Street Wonkaville California 70863.

6.       During his stay in Djakarta Craig visited a souk and purchased a cartouche for his mother.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The New Normal

I love this front porch
Home is starting to feel like home again.  I wake up and know where I am. This is a good thing, since I usually am awakened between midnight and 3 a.m. by a thirsty little kitty who just can't wait for me to go down the stairs, lift her up to the sink and turn on the water for her because she doesn't like the water in her water bowl.  Seriously.  Four times a day and sometimes in the middle of the night if she can get me to get up.  I really don't mind.  OK, I guess I mind a little more now that I don't have a master bedroom with a bathroom attached to it.  Ah well. It is a little more chilly lately too, sometimes dipping into freezing overnight.  We have wall heaters and most of them don't have a temperature gauge, so we usually turn them off when we are not in the room.  Only the downstairs kitchen and living room have temperature gauges. 

So there I am, half naked and pulled from my warm bed and sleeping husband to creep down the creaky, rickety staircase in my bare feet. Eleanor leads, stopping halfway down the staircase to check on me and meow if I haven't made sufficient progress.  Once I hit the linoleum in the kitchen my toes curl and I turn on the light in the bathroom, give Eleanor her water and lean against the wall by the heater for five to then minutes while fuzz for brains gets her drink.  She sometimes stops in the middle to contemplate running water and the meaning of life.  I sigh deeply.  I'm glad she is still around to bother me in the middle of the night.  This idiosyncrasy is a small part of the price I pay for the privilege of an aging, ancient feline friend.  On the upside, I carry her upstairs and we snuggle back into bed and everything is right in the world.  The other night, I was trying to get to sleep and El kept trying to get me to snuggle.  Grey said "do I hear purring from under the covers?"
"OK, I'm lying."
Damn cat always gets her way.

Like I said, good thing that home is starting to feel like home again. 
The kitchen looks like a kitchen now
I'm getting used to the morning commute as well. I have thankfully traded my car for a walk.  I live on 5th Avenue. and the university is located between 8th and 11th streets.  My office is closer to 11th street.  It's about a 15 minute walk.  For this purpose, and keeping in mind that the temperatures will only continue to cool, I have some interesting challenges.  The biggest is wardrobe and footwear.  Apparently, I will need something called "Yaktrax" to help me keep traction on the snow/ice. They are little thingies that slip over your shoes so that you won't slip.  Since it's getting chillier, I can't wear all those pretty summer dresses, but I have a woeful amount of sweaters and had brought no actual coats with me from Oklahoma.  That last part was an oversight on my part- I wasn't paying attention when we loaded up the Uhaul. So far, I have acquired a couple of sweaters, a jacket and a winter coat.  Next, I think I will go look for some corduroy-type trousers.  I can't just wear jeans every day that it's cold (like I am today).  I would feel like a total bum. However, there is no way I am wearing skirts or dresses when it's under 40 degrees during the day.  If it's up above that- no problem.  Grey and I even scouted around and got me a little ceramic heater for my office.  It's lovely and warm and makes me a little sleepy at work.
..and my hair looks like hair again.

My hair has been crazy lately.  Moving from a really humid environment to a really dry one has wrought havoc on my hair. I have been alternately frizzy, fuzzy and limp-headed.  I'm frizzy if I blow dry my hair, fuzzy if I leave it to dry naturally and limp-headed if I put in the serum my hair stylist recommended I start using.  It's good stuff, but it's a heavy oil that is hard to wash out.  My color-treatment shampoo doesn't do a good job of getting the serum out so I get all limp-haired on day two after washing. After a month of struggling, I figured out that once a week, I have to deeply condition my hair.  The other days I can just use cheap old Pantene for color treated hair and I'm back to being golden again.  I just want predictable hair days again. 

Also, I am not sure if everyone does this, but I tend to cut my hair off in the fall and grow it the rest of the year.  Something about the advent of school that makes me want to do new and cool things.  So it's just trims for the next year, and then we'll see.  I do love it short, but I love even more the things I can do with longer hair.

Highline Community College in Kent
It was supposed to rain last Saturday....and it almost did.  I had to go to a conference on the West side, in Kent.  Kent is on the Puget Sound and the college there overlooks the water.  Pretty swanky, but with an interesting and highly diverse student population.  Good conference too.  It rained all day, which I loved but which my hair did not, and the rain followed us as we drove over Snoqualmie Pass.  I thought it might be raining in Ellensburg too, but it died off abruptly five minutes before we hit town.  And it stayed like that; ominous clouds, the smell of dampness and humidity hanging in the air, and tantalizing breezes filled with the promise of cloudbursts.  Finally, yesterday afternoon, the rain began to fall and we enjoyed an afternoon and evening of mild euphoria while the world was turned wet. 

Eleanor has lately been on a kick where she insists she is an indoor/outdoor cat.  This is a little perplexing since she has never been an indoor/outdoor cat. At. All. But when I go by the door, she will sit and meow, sometimes stretching up towards the handle.  Grey sometimes will take pity on her and let her outside with him while he reads on the porch.  But she can't handle staying in his lap and always tries to get away so she can roam free and be "feral". The idea of Eleanor being feral is just as ridiculous as expecting a full-grown mountain lion to politely wake me up at 3 a.m. for a drink of water and to use a covered litter box. Ain't happening.  Anyway, to make a long story short, he wouldn't let her go and she hissed at him.  That was the end of Grey's benevolence.
Yay for RAIN!
Since it was raining, I decided to let Eleanor go outside.  I swung wide the door and pronounced her free. Go, kitty! Explore nature! Catch your own dinner! Her ebullience quickly melted to reluctance as she realized the entire out-of-doors was wet.  Eleanor doesn't "do" wet.  Or snow. Or really anything but sunshine and rainbows.  She stood on the threshold.  Grey gently used his toes to urge her forward.  Suddenly, Eleanor spun and raced back in the house, took a corner at 90 miles and hour and disappeared upstairs to hide from the imperfections of nature.

Like I said, we are all feeling more comfortable here.

I can't wait for it to snow.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Keep Trying

Since it is getting cooler here, I talked Grey into going to Yakima with me to do a little clothes shopping.  I love to shop at thrift stores and disount stores and I love a good bargain on things like heavy coats and furniture.  We recently bought a chest at Goodwill- it's solid wood, holds a bunch of stuff (we will be storing books in it) and you can also use it for seating.  I got it for $20. Score!  When we got it out to the car, it was a couple of inches too big.  A lady in a Cadillac drove by and offered to help.  Just like that. "Hey, that won't fit. Want to see if I can get it into my car? I'll drop it off for you!"  It was so nice of her to offer, but the chest wouldn't fit.  I cussed myself out pretty loudly in my head and tried smiling at Grey.  He had that patient look he gets when he has decided to go along with one of my hair-brained ideas that are only half thought out.  Like he knows that things aren't going to work but he's going along anyway because I am stubborn. As if!

Anyhoo, I had to leave the chest at Goodwill overnight and borrow a truck from a co-worker that I barely knew to go pick it up. This took far too many hours on a Sunday afternoon.  Grey and I agreed that to avoid such an occurrence in the future, I am somehow going to measure stuff and not "eyeball" it.  Hey, eyeballing stuff works for me almost 70% of the time!  But I do want to get along and not be inconsiderate what with the sheer number of scrapes that I get myself into.  I would like to point out that this *did* come out okay in the end.

So we went to Yakima and had a little lunch. It was late afternoon and by the time we got around (Saturdays are pretty lazy), our choices were limited as to where we could shop.  We decided to go to a couple of the larger retail stores to go poking around and hit up a used record store.

Things went alright at first.  Then I left my phone in a dressing room for five minutes.  When I came back, it was gone.  We searched the store for almost an hour.  The manager didn't seem to care. The Loss Prevention people took Grey's number and said that they would call if it turned up.  I borrowed Grey's phone and changed my passwords lickety-split. I also went on Facebook and asked all of my friends to send text messages to my phone, asking for its return.  They did; some implored for the sake of good Samaritanship.  Some talked of karma.  One person tried hostage negotiation and another offered sexual favors, though I'm not sure how he phrased the proposal. When I got home, I had the service suspended.  So I lost an iPhone that I paid a dollar for.  All of my stuff is backed up onto the iCloud so nothing really lost there.  I hope someone really needed it.  Because I can get another one.

It couldv'e been worse. It could've been my wallet.

Today I went shopping here in Ellensburg alone.  Everyone needs time for themselves.  I don't need much; an hour or so.  I went back to the Goodwill where I purchased the chest.  As I wondered the aisles, wondering how to create a costume so that I can become Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter series, I accidentally overhead a conversation that two middle-aged White ladies were having.  They too were having Halloween thoughts and I eavesdropped a bit to see if I could get any ideas.

"Bob and I have matching outfits this year," said Lady #1 (Bob is an alias).
"Oh, did you buy costumes or are you making them?"
"We ordered them online.  We are going to be Indians this year!"
 My brain almost made my mouth interrupt them. After all, one of them had a pre-teenage daughter with her. I clamped my lips around my teeth, but it didn't sound good.
"Bob's is regular, just breechclout and a tunic and braids.  But mine has a bunch of fringe on the skirt and it's slit up the side.  Talk about sexy Indian princess!"  Both women laughed lightly at the idea.
My brain threw itself against the side of my head.  I may have a concussion.  It demanded that I march three steps over and announce that I was going to go in black face and ask if they thought it was sexy too.  Or that I ask which tribe she thought she would appropriate for her racist and stereotypical farce. Or that perhaps I settled for snorting loudly and walking away, leaving two women in my wake who had no idea why another White woman would be so jealous of their ideas.
I'm still mad at myself for not doing or saying more.  I don't think it would have made a difference though.

It diminishes my humanity when people act this way, as though other cultures, races or ethnicities all exist for the benefit of dressing all slutty.  When I say it diminishes my humanity, I mean that I feel the urge to hurt someone's feelings. Or throat.

The thing is, sometimes I make mistakes, like when I try to measure things in my head.  Sometimes others are dishonest and take what doesn't belong.  And others, in their ignorance - I hope- do and say racist things.  Next time, I will measure.  Next time, I will do a better job of protecting my property.  Next time, I will find a way to politely say that even though it's not intended, it's offensive to appropriate someone's clothing or culture so that you can play grown-up sexy dress up and that Orientalism is not cool, but in fact is racist and sexist and harmful. I will try to keep in mind the times when I have unknowingly fell flat on my face and offended someone and the lessons I learned from those mistakes.

I'll keep trying.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My Favorite Season

You would think, that since I have spent the last three nights curled up in the evenings by the heater with a blanket, that I didn't like the cold.  In fact, last night I fell asleep snuggled in a comforter right next to the couch because it was warm and snuggly and Eleanor wanted to be cuddled. 

You might think that since yesterday it was 34 degrees in the morning and that this morning it was 32 degrees, I would be sad that I can't wear my flip-flops to walk to work (it's almost a mile from my house).  Or that I would be sad that I don't have a good scarf to keep my neck warm.

Or that since fresh fruit season is almost gone, I might lament having moved to Washington just in time to see the world spin down to a frozen ice cube. 

You would be wrong.

Except for the fresh fruit part.  I stole gleaned an apple from a passing tree the other day as we walked out past the edge of town.  Best I have ever had.  And I eat a boatload of apples, people. 

Yep, I love autumn.  I love falling, crunchy leaves and seeing my breath as I walk to work.  I love cool and brisk days where you have to walk faster or shiver the whole way. I like to call my Okie friends on my way to work because they are two hours ahead of me and already up and around.  I love pumpkins on the front porch and sideways sunshine coming through the blinds.  
Finally! I can snooze and you can write...

I even like coming downstairs in the morning and turning on the heaters.  I love that little Eleanor will sleep on my lap now that it's cooler and being warm is a priority once again.  And sweaters. I adore wearing sweaters. 

The problem is that I am terribly underprepared.  I accidentally left my winter coats and most of my warm clothes in Oklahoma.  I did buy a light jacket but will need to invest in a heavy parka, a space heater for my office and some good boots in the next month. 

Halloween is coming with candy and hopefully some trick-or-treaters this year since our house is downtown.  Then there's Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes, which are kind of my yearly indulgence.  And sweet potatoe casserole and green beans and beets and stuffing!

I'm getting hungry. Sometimes my friends complain that I lose weight in spring and summer.  Then they see me in winter. I'm like a bear, man. 

And Grey?  He's great.  He loves cold weather.  He barely dons his light jacket to go out in the evening and finally closed the bedroom window just last night.  Grey also had the foresight to bring his heavy coat, unlike me.  We signed up for a beginning yoga class together too.  Our yoga mats match and a gal from my office is coming with us too.  We will soon meet more people in the community and will continue settling in.  I can't wait for snow!

At the Entrance to Pike Place Market
We took a day trip to Seattle last Saturday; got up early and left the house at 9, returning at midnight that night after a full day of Pike Place Market, bookstores, coffee houses and yummy yummy food.  We brought home some Beecher's cheese and dried fruit from a vendor in the market.  And we saw a movie on a 70 millimeter Cinerama, which is a big as an Imax screen but not in Imax.  Pretty cool picture and sound.  The theater held something like 800 people and it was at least 3/4 full.  "The Master" was a pretty good film, though the plot left something to be desired.  Joaquin Phoenix and Phyllip Seymour Hoffman could get Oscar nods for their performances.  We had dinner overlooking the bay.

It's getting cold here
Grey Cavitt: Not Cold
We had such a good day too.  Lots of people don't know that September is the best month to visit in the Northwest, since it's the least rainy and most...verdant.  We caught the last of that for the year but will be regular visitors.  Since Snoqualmie Pass (click here to see current camera photos) lies between us and the Emerald City, we will remain at the mercy of snow and ice.  Our little car, Silver, can only be asked to do so much. 

In the meantime, I'll keep walking to work.  And I'm going sweater shopping too.
A View at Dinner