Still Standing

A great deal has happened since my last post, and I have been busy converting my three seated classes to online (I already have two other online classes to maintain), readying myself to teach my classes from home. My transition has been easier than some because I have been teaching online for years and even prefer an online environment in many cases.

I know many of my students do not feel that way at all. All of my students are dealing with upheaval in their lives in so many ways, and now this. Therefore, I have taken some steps to help us move forward in our class. Here are some of the things I have done, am doing, and will do to help my students finish the semester successfully.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Last week, when we were still meeting as a class, I started preparing my students for continuing as an online class. It has helped that I already have a robust online presence. For years, I have posted online resources, and all assignments are already collected and graded online. My students are already used to the online classroom environment in many ways. One of the first things I did was develop a survey to distribute through the LMS that asks a few simple questions about their readiness to continue online, their comfort levels as far as DL classes go, and most recent contact info. I added a comment box, where they could write any questions or concerns.

Be positive. In my communication, I am trying to be as positive as I can while acknowledging the obvious difficulties we are all facing. I try to emphasize that completing an education is more important now than ever and that strong writing and critical thinking skills, which have always been important, will be even more so in the days to come. I also tell them that I believe in them, and I do. They will face this crisis and move through it stronger than ever before. I tell them they have a resiliency that some of them don’t even recognize they have. My students are some of the best, strongest people I have ever met, and they deserve to get a quality education no matter what the delivery system.

Integrate interesting technology. I love educational technology and most of my students do, too, so have tried to add some interesting assignments over the years. They use PowerPoint and Google docs, of course, but we create infographics and annotate text electronically. I have created screencasts with my iPad to show them how to research databases using our state’s virtual library. I show them how to use Survey Monkey for conducting surveys of their fellow students. I do glossary assignments using our LMS that allow them to create study guides as a class.

I want to start using more interactive educational technologies that will allow all of my students to see and hear each other. Here are some that I have wanted to explore more, but haven’t had time to work with much until now:

  • Flip Grid—Allows teacher and students to ask and answer questions through a video format. Smartphone- and user-friendly.
  • Collaborate—Allows for synchronous or asynchronous meetings with students. Through our LMS, I can create Collaborate lessons within the course just like assignments
  • Lesson packages—our LMS allows us to create whole lessons where we can add our own discussion questions, quizzes, or other assignments within the lesson that the computer can grade and send to the grade book. These packages help track which students are actually viewing the material or not.
  • Zoom—Similar to Collaborate, it allows for real time instruction.
  • Google hangouts—I took an educational technology PD course a few years ago and experimented with Google hangouts, but I would like to use it more. Really great for tutoring sessions because I can share my screen
  • Google Maps—I have wanted to add a Google Maps segment to my signature travel project in Brit. Lit. Now is my chance to explore it.
  • YouTube—the live steaming feature will be useful.
  • So many more. I will blog about my adventures as we go along.

It is a brave new world, but I am determined that I will give my students the tools to navigate it successfully.

Mrs. Winkler Writes a Poem for Power

I am too small. I am too large.

I will never be small enough

Never large enough

Or smart enough

Never competent and capable enough to do all the tasks you don’t want to do

in a room you will never enter.

Yes, you trust me to teach developmental classes,

develop any curriculum,

complete all other duties as assigned

by just about anyone.

Credentialed. Yes, just not at acceptable places.

Oral Roberts University?

You’re kidding.

Can there any good thing come out of there?

Not good enough. Not good enough.

A trouble maker

The first one to dissent.

The first one to ask a question.

So many questions.

Me too?

But who cares what abuse you’ve endured

When you’re nothing special to look at.

C’mon.

Get over it.

That happened so long ago.

Your worth? Ha. Look at you.

But I know it.

I wrote it out moments ago–1,444 words so far

And I haven’t even scratched the surface.

So go on and treat me like a simpleton

who doesn’t know the first thing about teaching

then ask me to teach the unteachable.

Ask me to fill out another

damn

form.

Treat me as if I’m incompetent.

Then, ask me to develop another new course.

Then, wipe out all that I’ve done.

Go ahead and tell me to do something,

criticize me for doing it.

It doesn’t matter.

I know my worth.

And so do they.

And that–

That is the only thing that does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pet Peeves

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Not earth-shattering. Not life-destroying. Not important at all in the grand scheme of things, or even in the niggling scheme of things, but here are some of my pet peeves. I freely admit that I peeve myself at times, and I’m sure, others as well. But here goes anyway–for kicks and grins.

  • Using st, th, and nd when writing dates–Example–January 1st, 2020. In American usage, the convention has been, and will continue in my teaching, to be–write January 1, 2020 and say January 1st, 2020. The problem is that the British often use the endings when writing the dates, leading to understandable confusion. I am an anglophile from way back, so I’m not dissing the Brits, but I am also an American English teacher, so I will teach American standards. Here’s more about it from Daily Writing Tips: January 1 Doesn’t Need an “st” 
  • Placing the end mark outside the quotation marks–Example. She said, “We are in America, so we should use American punctuation conventions”. Yes, we should, and in American English the punctuation almost always goes INSIDE the quotation marks. “We should use American punctuation conventions.” Here is more on the subject from Grammarly: Does Punctuation Go Inside Quotation Marks?
  • Leaving out the possessive apostrophe OR adding an apostrophe with a simple plural. We need apostrophes, yet we don’t need apostrophes. The rules are simple:
      • Use an apostrophe with contractions or to show possession.
      • Do NOT use an apostrophe with a simple plural.
      • If the word ends in s, then generally the apostrophe comes after the s, but there are significant exceptions, such as when using irregular plurals.
    • It seems insignificant, and maybe it is sometimes, but not using the apostrophe when appropriate and using it unnecessarily can both lead to misunderstanding and also drives Mrs. Winkler crazy!
    • An example–I cant attend the New Years party, but I dont want to go to Sherrys house again because I dont like her childrens’  loud toys’ that company’s seem to love selling at this time of year.
    • Now my spell checker caught dont, Sherrys, and childrens’, but not the cant , Years, toys’, and company’s because although the spellcheck programs are more and more sophisticated, they are not (yet) sentient and can’t replace a writer’s own careful editing and revision.
    • Here’s more on the subject of apostrophes from Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), one of the first and still one of the best: Apostrophe Introduction
  • It’s and its, a problem that gets its own category. Its own category–no apostrophe because it’s a possessive pronoun. It’s a possessive pronoun--I used an apostrophe because I am using the contraction It’s to mean It is. I think people understand the rule for the most part, but its an easy mistake to make (I did that one on purpose. I swear). Here are the rules again (not trying desperately to be clever this time):
    • It’s is the contraction for It is–Example–It’s snowing on January 5, 2020. The little trick I give my students is, “Can you say, It is in place of It’s? If so, then you have correctly used the apostrophe.
    • Its is the possessive pronoun–Example–The horse chewed on its hay. I understand why people get confused here: Its is a possessive pronoun. We hear the word possessive, and we immediately think apostrophe, but I tell my students, think of it this way– we don’t write hi’s car or his’ car do we? Nouns that show possession use apostrophes; pronouns that show possession do not. Here is an exercise to practice distinguishing between the two from one of my favorite grammar sites–Grammar Bytes: Word Choice–Exercise 13
  • Capitalizing when one shouldn’t and not capitalizing when one should. Okay, I get it that people don’t want to capitalize. It is sooooooooo much trouble to hit the shift key and type a letter, especially when writing with a smart phone. But increasingly I am seeing words that should NOT be capitalized being capitalized, especially doctor, lawyer, mother, father, even brother and sister, as well as a myriad of other words that should not be capitalized in academic writing. I am not too peeved by occasional unnecessary capitalization, often the person is just trying to show respect, but often capitalization errors show a lack of concern for proper writing, even when the person is writing assignments for a composition class! Here is more about capitalization from Grammar Girl: When Should You Capitalize Words?
  • I definitely get peeved when a person does not capitalize the personal pronoun “I” when emailing an English instructor. Come on, guys! Get with the program!

How much can an English teacher take?

 

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I promise I won’t get peeved with you if you submit your best work for publication in my bi-annual literary magazine Teach. Write. Submissions are open for the 2020 spring/summer edition until March 1. See submission guidelines here. 

Thoughts at Year’s End

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I haven’t blogged much this year.

Oh, well.

It isn’t that I’ve lost interest or feel that the blog isn’t important.

I haven’t and it is.

I have been forced to…no, I have chosen, to put my efforts elsewhere.

It has been a pivotal year for me in some ways, and I have discovered many things about myself, my teaching, my students. That’s never a bad thing. It has sometimes been a difficult year, especially for some of the people I love, but even those difficulties are not without worth, without purpose. The sorrows of the year have been tempered with joy. They haven’t necessarily made me stronger, but they have helped me to realize that weakness is not a sin, not evil–it is human.

So here are some thoughts about my year as an English professor:

  • Individual conferences continue to be invaluable and should be done earlier and more often. I have long held research paper conferences with my students and have almost always found them effective, but because the research paper comes later in the semester, some students are too behind to gain the full benefit of a one- on-one meeting time with me, so in the future I want to hold conferences more often.
  • I have always liked Oxford’s “personalised learning” model of tutorials where small groups of students (three or four) meet once or twice a week with a faculty member to discuss readings and essays. Although this style of teaching is not possible when a faculty member has over 110 students in composition-heavy classes like I did this semester, I would like to move in the direction of more individualized instruction when I can and make room for it in my schedule.
  • Less is more. This year, I had too many students, too many papers, too many assignments. For example, at the beginning of the fall 2019 semester, I had 120 students–three first semester English composition classes (close to 60 students and 20 online), one second semester freshman English composition class (20 students), close to 20 online British literature I students (composition heavy) and the rest an online eight-week study skills course. That course may seem like the easy one, but I do a great deal of time-consuming direct communication with students because it is such an important introductory course.
  • I know, I know, some of you teachers out there are scoffing at my “light” load, but these heavy teaching loads are not good for us or our students, and I for one am determined to work on making my grading load lighter so I can do justice to my students and have the time to give more meaningful feedback to them, which leads me to my next thought.
  • Discovering what meaningful feedback is. This year, I have relied more heavily on advanced grading techniques provided by our LMS, particularly rubrics and checklists. I have spent more time tailor-making grading tools for each particular assignment, so each includes more feedback with less effort.
  • I still make some markings directly on more heavily graded essays, but I usually stop at the first paragraph or first page and include a statement from my “quick list” that says “I will stop line editing here. See the rest of the paper for any additional comments.” (I LOVE my quick list embedded in the LMS’s advanced grading system that allows me to save common comments and quickly add them to the graded paper.) Then, when posting the grade I include this comment or one similar to it: “See the rubric and comments on the document for feedback. Contact me if you need more information.”
  • My marks on papers are more useful to me than students. This year I have come to face the fact that most students don’t read or try to understand the marks that I make on their essays, but I continue to line edit the first paragraph or page and make spot comments throughout the essay because it helps me grade more accurately and efficiently. I typically grade ten or more essays in one sitting, so it’s easy to lose track of each paper’s strengths and weaknesses. However, if I have made comments, it’s easy to flip back and re-read them before marking the rubric.
  • The downside of plagiarism detectors. This year, I have encountered less direct word-for-word plagiarism but more academic dishonesty. How can that be? My theory is that students use the plagiarism detection software incorrectly or they do not understand or abide by the basic tenets of proper documentation.
  • Quite a few of my students, therefore, are turning in papers that are at best poorly documented and at worst out-and-out plagiarized because often they will only change around a few words or retain the syntax of the original quote. Sometimes, these quotes are simply dropped into the paper without any attempt to integrate them into the paper. In addition, some students will include complete works cited lists at the end of the papers but have no internal citations. Occasionally, they will question why this is considered plagiarism and seem truly baffled that I would give the paper a low grade or a zero. Next thought.
  • Our society thinks too highly of technology. Don’t get me wrong. Modern educational technology is a great tool. I love it and embrace it, but it is only a tool. It can’t do the heavy lifting required to be a good writer, which comes more from reading and comprehending complex texts than from any other single thing. But online writing, like this blog, does not lend itself to the deep, intense labor of reading that is needed to give birth to good writing. Also, technology makes the process of revision and editing easier in a myriad of ways, but I have yet found a truly effective way to motivate my students to use the tools technology supplies. One draft, and I’m done, seems to be the mantra.
  • Five Easy Ways. One way I have tried to help students grasp the concepts of revision and editing is through my “five easy ways” to revise writing. These are simple concepts that I learned in graduate school that can help students learn to find and revise errors. Not always effective when students have been writing one draft only for years. However, students who persist consistently improve. Isn’t that always the case?
  • The continued value of working with others. I am an extrovert. I tend to draw energy from being around and interacting with people. I like collaboration, working together with people toward a common goal. And I continue to enjoy my extroversion. One of the great things that happened this year was the world premiere of my play Battered, probably the best thing I’ve ever written and would have never happened without the director, who is one of my closest friends, the cast, crew, and so many others. It was wonderful–one of the highlights of my  career as both a teacher and a writer.
  • On the other hand, I have also been learning the value of working alone. I have been a people-pleaser most of my life. It goes against my nature to do things just for me without someone suggesting or guiding me, or vice-versa, but as an effective English instructor with 30 years teaching experience, I now see the value of not trying to convince others that my way is the best way but simply doing things my way to the best of my ability, while listening to other voices I trust, like my colleagues at the college, continuing to research andragogy, the teaching of adults, and being humble enough to honestly assess my teaching and make changes when necessary.
  • One big change I made as a result of teaching an eight-week freshman composition course is streamlining the course–fewer papers, fewer assignments, less ineffective feedback, but more information provided through advanced grading methods, which are standard for all students, and personal communication, only when requested by the student (forcing the students to take more charge of their education has been a big plus). I do NOT plan to teach in the summer ever again, please Lord, no, but I did keep the eight-week model and spread it out to 16 weeks this past semester, and all would have been well if I had not made the stupid decision of picking up a third first semester freshman English course. My fault, not to be repeated.

I definitely have plenty of thoughts floating around, but this blogpost is getting a little long and have a novel to work on and some after Christmas sales to hit, so I will sign off for now and blog some more later.

BTW, this is fun and relaxation for an English professor on holiday.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Everybody!!

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Questions

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Soon I will have time to write, but tonight, it is not to be, chéri.  No watching baseball with my hubby, either. Too much to do. But I don’t want any more time to go by without posting about one of my persistent concerns–high school students taking college classes.

Here is an interesting, balanced article from Joseph Warta, a homeschooled young man writing for the conservative educational think tank The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal: Dual-Enrollment: A Head start on College or Empty Credentialing?

Warta points out both positive and negative aspects of his Career and College Promise experience at a North Carolina community college with his primary complaint being that his college classes lacked rigor, which I had never heard before. The complaint I hear most often is that my classes are too difficult.

But, of course, not all colleges or instructors are the same, are they?

I turn grades in on Thursday, graduation is Saturday, and then the summer. I will be teaching online–a pilot eight-week freshman English course that I will certainly blog about because I truly love curriculum design.

It’s funny, isn’t it?

When I went to Auburn, the university was on a quarter system; then, it moved, with most of the rest of the college and university system, to a semester system, and now the move is back to quarters. What goes around, comes around.

Seems to be true of education especially, doesn’t it?

 

I made it! Barely.

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Glad to offer Volume II, Issue 2 of Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. Once again, producing this journal right during this busy time of the semester, right before the premiere of my fourth play, has nevertheless been a joy. I feel like I get to know all of the writers who contribute by reading their e-mails, bios, and most of all, their writing. I thank them all for contributing, and I hope you will all enjoy this newest edition of Teach. Write.

Here is a link to the journal: 2019 Spring_Summer_Teach. Write.

 

The world premiere of Battered, a play about domestic violence inspired by Robert battered posterBrowning’s The Ring and the Book, will appear April 11-14, at the Patton Auditorium of the Henderson County campus of Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

Over a period of two years, I have worked on the script along with the director and a hard-working cast and crew. My continuing collaboration with the head of the drama department allows us to provide real-world experiences for students, along with an opportunity to express themselves through their art.

At the latest professional development day, the keynote speaker talked about providing students with what he called peak moments, those educational experiences that provide lasting memories and shape our students’ future. My hope is that this production of Battered will provide such experiences for the cast and crew. I know it has for me.

 

 

Purely Pecuniary

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For, money makes the world go around
…the world go around
…the world go around.
Money makes the world go ’round
The clinking, clanking sound of…
Money money money money
Money money money money…
Get a little, get a little
Money money money money…
Mark, a yen, a buck or a pound,
That clinking, clanking, clunking sound,
Is all that makes the world go ’round,
It makes the world go ’round

from “Money Makes the World Go Around” by John Kander and Fred Eb from the musical Cabaret.

Remember that song from Cabaret? When the sleazy, clown-like emcee and outrageous Sally Bowles sing “Money Makes the World Go Around”?  The film version of the classic musical about greed and corruption in pre-Nazi Germany made a huge impression on me when I first saw it as a youngster.  Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey were “divinely decadent” in the scene, provocatively contorting as they extolled the virtues of the Almighty Dollar, or mark, or yen.  Here’s a link if you want to see it: Money.

Kind of creepy, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong. I like money. I really do. I appreciate that with sensible management, thanks largely to my wonderful husband, we are able to sustain a comfortable living, allowing us to travel frequently to see family, provide the basis of financial security for our daughter, give to the charities of our choice, as well as save for emergencies and retirement. All of these things are wonderful.

What creeps me out about money is the overwhelming love for it that the society at large seems to have. And I mean love in the biblical sense, as in the root of all evil kind of love. I mean hot and heavy LUST for it. It permeates everything, including higher education, of course.

Here’s the even bigger problem for me.

I can’t do a darn thing about it.

I mean, I’ve tried. I speak up about the intrinsic value of education beyond training a workforce. I write about it on this blog. I try my best to provide a true education to my students–one that goes beyond passing tests or turning in assignments with a modicum of grammatical and mechanical errors so they can earn a grade in a course and be passed on to the next course. I try to give my students an education that honors their individuality, that challenges them, that enters into their hopes and dreams, no matter what their socio-economic status, no matter how much it will cost the State to educate them, no matter what they want to study, even if they want to study arts and humanities.

But I am losing the battle. Why? Because Money. Makes. The World. Go. Around.

Alright then, I can play along. Let’s play Purely Pecuniary. Let’s only talk about Money.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a good place to go. It takes a few easy searches to find information that shows a bachelor’s degree or more is preferred if the goals are employment and wages:

chart (2)

 

Notice that at all times from 1998 to 2018 those who have bachelor’s degrees or higher have the lowest unemployment rate, adjusting for seasonal work.

employment growth

  • Note that production (the gray dot) is projected to have almost negative 5% growth by 2026 with wages decreasing to below the median annual wage. 
  • Notice the highest growth of employment is healthcare support followed closely by personal care and service, but these two occupations, requiring little to no post-secondary education, are also located well underneath the median wage line.
  • The higher paying careers with high employment are also in the healthcare area, but both occupations require either advanced degrees or the equivalent in technical education. Obviously, those with more advanced degrees will make more money.
  • Computer and mathematical careers have higher wages, but to get those higher wages, many will need a four-year degree or higher as this next graph indicates:

degree earnings

Clearly, earning a bachelor’s degree or higher is not only the most likely avenue to employment but is also the best direction for those who wish to make two times the median wage, or more. If you want to read more (and see more charts with important data ), then go to this informative slideshow from the BLS.

So, if indeed money does make the world go around (I don’t really believe it for a second), then obtaining a  liberal arts education or professional degree is the way to do it, and if students need or want to save money, they can begin that journey by obtaining an associate’s degree at a quality community college and transferring to a university as a junior.

Furthermore, some universities in my state and others have drastically lowered tuition, so if students transfer to a cost-effective four-year institution nearby so they can live at home, they will have an opportunity to graduate with little or no debt. Win-Win. 

See, I like money. But I LOVE providing students with an education that will give them more than a paycheck. I want to help students receive an education that frees them to seek meaningful work and otherwise enhances their lives, and the lives of others, more than they ever dreamed possible, by giving them a purpose beyond consumption–beyond material gain.

April 11-14–World Premiere of “Battered: A Play about Domestic Violence Inspired by Robert Browning’s ‘The Ring and the Book'”

battered poster

Yesterday, we filmed some of the flashback scenes for my newest play, Battered: A Play about Domestic Violence Inspired by Robert Browning’s “The Ring and the Book.” If you are near Asheville, NC, in April, then I hope you will try to make it.

Here is more information about the production:

April 11-14, the Theatre Department at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, North Carolina, presents the world premiere of English faculty member Katie Winkler’s drama, Battered: A Play about Domestic Violence Inspired by Robert Browning’s “The Ring and the Book.” A story within a story within a story, the play takes place in a small theater during the read-through of a new play by a young woman, Julia, who has escaped from a violent relationship with her intimate partner.

Julia has chosen to write an adaptation of the Victorian poet Robert Browning’s masterpiece, The Ring and the Book, drawn not only to the long narrative poem’s subject of the real-life murder of Pompilia Comparini by her husband Guido Franceschini, but also to the story of the great love between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett. As the main character in this play within a play endures the increasing violence of her tyrannical husband’s abuse, Julia begins to relive her own nightmare.

As in past productions, including last season’s Stories from the Table by communications instructor Joshua Bledsoe, Battered is a collaborative effort, involving Director Jennifer Treadway and the author, as well as Blue Ridge students and community members. The desire is to raise awareness about the ongoing issue of domestic violence and also celebrate the enduring work of two of the greatest English poets of all time.

Author Katie Winkler has taught English composition and British literature as an adjunct and full-time professor for over 23 years at the college. Previous productions of her work include the musical A Carolina Story, a literary adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the one-act comedy Green Room. She is an active member of the Dramatists Guild of America and is a recently named trustee on the board of the North Carolina Writers’ Network.

Starring as the playwright Julia is well-known area actor Natalie Broadway, who has performed in several productions at Blue Ridge, including August: Osage County, The Taming of the Shrew, and Les liaisons dangereuses, among others. She also served as artist-in-residence at the college, performing the lead role in Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children. Other cast and crew members include theater students, as well as students outside of the department, alumni, and community members.

Battered will be presented April 11-14 in the Patton Auditorium of the Henderson County campus. Other performance sites will be announced soon. Admission for students, faculty and staff is $5. General Admission is $7. Contact the Blue Ridge Community College Theatre Department for more information or to make reservations.  js_treadway@blueridge.edu.

Spring 2019 Edition of Teach. Write. Coming April 1

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Busy times for Mrs. Winkler! Besides grading like mad to catch up from unexpected eye surgery followed by a bad head cold AND putting the finishing touches on the play, I am currently putting together my newest edition of Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. I am excited about this edition’s contributions and think you will be, too! Stay tuned!

 

Battered: A Play about Domestic Violence Inspired by Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book by Katie Winkler

battered poster

When I was in graduate school long years ago, I took a course in 19th Century British literature. I was already a huge fan of the period, fueled by an undergraduate class in the Victorian Era, so the course further entrenched my love of the time and its literature.

During the class, we were required to read The Ring and the Book by Robert Browning, the master of the dramatic monologue with its “silent listener.” Although many are not familiar with The Ring and the Book, others are likely to have encountered what is probably Browning’s most recognizable poem, “My Last Duchess,” a dramatic monologue, of course. Here it is:

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Lucrezia de` Medici by Bronzino

 

My Last Duchess

by Robert Browning

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

The Studio

The Studio by John Liston Byam Shaw (c1900)

The dropping of the daylight in the West,

The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—which I have not—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—
E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

close up photography of person holding opened book

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The Ring and the Book involves similar settings and themes. Set in Italy during the Renaissance, The Ring and the Book, at 21,000 lines one of the longest poems in English literature, tells the story of how Pompilia Comparini, a 17-year-old who has just given birth, is cruelly stabbed to death, along with her parents, by her husband, Count Guido Franceschini, and four assassins.

Browning based his novel-length poem, told through 12 dramatic monologues, on a true Renaissance murder trial chronicled in The Old Yellow Book, a collection of trial papers and hand-written notes. Browning had secretly married Elizabeth Barrett, the author of the renowned Sonnets of the Portuguese, in 1846; they had fled from England to Italy soon after for the sake of Elizabeth’s health and to escape her tyrannical father. After her health improved, at 43, Elizabeth gave birth to their son, Pen. Then, one June day in 1860 while wandering the streets of Florence, Browning came across the trial papers covered in vellum. Although fascinated with the story from the beginning, Browning did not write his masterwork until Elizabeth’s death and his subsequent return to England.

brown and white painted cathedral roof overlooking city and mountain under blue sky

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Back when I was a graduate student in that 19th Century British literature class, I first thought how I would like to dramatize The Ring and the Book, about how relatively few people still read and study this great work with its beautiful language and far-reaching themes of searching the heart for reasons why we do the horrible things we do (Hodell) or how we are able to endure when we seem so weak and frail.  I wanted, someday, to find a way to help people, especially those who may have never heard of Browning before, discover, or re-discover, his greatest work.

25 years later, I have been blessed with the opportunity to write a play that, I hope and pray, does just that.  And more.

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Stay tuned for more information about Battered, which is being produced by the Theatre Department at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, North Carolina, April 10-14, 2019.

Also, if you are interested in learning more about Robert Browning, dramatic monologues, and other Victorian Era works and authors, I highly recommend taking a look at The Victorian Web, a wonderful resource for you anglophiles out there.

 

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The Second of Five “Easy Ways” for Students to Improve Their Writing

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It’s been a busy time for me, and I haven’t had much time to work on the blog, but I had a good response from my first posting about five easy ways for students to improve their writing, so I didn’t want any more time to pass before the next installment.

The first of the five easy ways was to eliminate the use of first and second-person pronouns in academic writing. I can hear someone saying right now, “Just like an English teacher, not following her on rules,” but I tell my students that there is a time and place for using the first and second person; however, with so many bad writing habits around, eliminating them altogether for a time often helps people to control their use. The time, I tell them, lowering my reading glasses to peer at them, is in my classroom.

The same is true for the next of the five easy ways: Avoid beginning sentences or clauses with “There” and “It.” When community college students, many of whom are unfamiliar with the process of revision, are encouraged to find words and phrases that should be eliminated or avoided, what tends to happen is that they will often need, or even want, to change much more about the sentence than just the one word. Sometimes they make their overall sentence structure much stronger and clearer by recognizing one or two things that need to be avoided.

Therefore, I ask students to avoid beginning sentences with “There or “It” rather than eliminate them, but elimination is best. In the paragraph assignment described below, I ask students to eliminate the words “there” and “it.” But I begin with a curious request: I ask them to write a paragraph where every single sentence or clause begins with “there” and “it.”  What?

Take a look!

For the next paragraph assignment, I want each student to write a paragraph on one of the following subjects, but here is the trick–every sentence or major clause should begin with either “There” or “It”–that’s right–every sentence or major clause. Doing this should make sense when we do the next assignment

Begin with a topic sentence that contains the main idea, and write five to eight sentences that support that main idea and then write a concluding sentence.  Be sure to use specific sensory language to create a dominant impression as explained in the text and on the video.

In your paragraph describe one of the following

The lake at BRCC

The Patton Parking Lot

A classroom at BRCC or some other room

The Patton Building

The General Studies Building

Since you are online students, you may not be familiar with these places, so choose a room, building or other feature of any school that you attend, your home or the city or town you live in. It should be somewhere near Blue Ridge, though.

Example:

General Studies 115

     It is a plain room that, in the end, is quite remarkable. There are four white cement block walls. There is one blank wall, one wall with a bulletin board and two walls with white boards.  There is a bulletin board in the back that has been there for over five years, its blue background fading. It once had bright red trim, now pepto-bismol pink. It has old flyers from long ago events tacked here and there. There are tables and hard plastic chairs, a few broken ones. There is no sound except the hum of the ancient data projector and the rattle of the ceiling vents. It is a typical old classroom in one of the oldest buildings on campus. It is without life, until the first student, back pack slung over his shoulder, wanders in and takes his seat.

After the students have turned in that paragraph, I assign the following: 

You probably have guessed what I want you to do. I hope so, anyway.

I want you to take the paragraph you wrote for Assignment 2.2 and eliminate all uses of “there” and “it.” Might be harder than you think, but the exercise will hopefully make you more aware of how much we overuse these two words.

NOTE:  Don’t forget your first lesson–No first or second person pronouns either. 

Use my rewrite as an example (I begin with the original paragraph, so you can see the changes that I made). Notice that I took out words, added words and totally rewrote some sentences to better conform to good descriptive writing techniques. You should do the same.

Original Paragraph: 

General Studies 115

     It is a plain room that, in the end, is quite remarkable. There are four white cement block walls. There is one blank wall, one wall with a bulletin board and two walls with white boards.  There is a bulletin board in the back that has been there for over five years, its blue background fading. It once had bright red trim, now pepto-bismol pink. It has old flyers from long ago events tacked here and there. There are tables and hard plastic chairs, a few broken ones. There is no sound except the hum of the ancient data projector and the rattle of the ceiling vents. It is a typical old classroom in one of the oldest buildings on campus. It is without life, until the first student, back pack slung over his shoulder, wanders in and takes his seat.

Revised Paragraph

Student Name

Katie Winkler, Instructor

ENG 111.202

13 January 2018

The Old Classroom

     The plainest of rooms in one of the oldest buildings on campus is, in the end, quite remarkable. Standing in the front, listening to the ancient data projector and ceiling vents hum and rattle, the instructor, a 23-year veteran, faces a bulletin board, mostly blank, with just a few outdated event flyers tacked on its faded blue background, its once bright red trim now Pepto-Bismol pink. Brown tables and hard plastic chairs in conforming rows stand silent, or languish in the corner–broken and of little use. Then, the room, and all its occupants, like old, loyal soldiers, come to attention when the first student, backpack slung over his shoulder, wanders into the room.

Note: The two bold words (its) are being used as possessive pronouns in this paragraph and are therefore allowed. The contraction “It’s” would not be allowed. 

I have only used this assignment for the past two or three semesters, but I have had excellent results. Do students continue to have issues with overusing “There” and “It”? Of course, but, after this lesson, they have two easy things to look for when tackling the required revisions of rough drafts.

The third easy way will be coming your way soon!!!

NOTE: I neglected to mention in the last post that I am indebted to the classic little book on composition The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White for the development of my Five Easy Ways series of lessons. One of the greatest, and most accessible, books on writing, The Elements of Style, practices what it preaches–be concise and clear, my dear.

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Do you teach English composition or have you had a positive writing experience with a gifted composition instructor? If so, please consider submitting a short story, poem, or essay to Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. Submissions are now being accepted for the Spring/Summer 2019 issue and will close on March 1, 2019. Click  here for submission guidelines.