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?

 

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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:

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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'”

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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

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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!
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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.

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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.

 

 

Poetry’s Power

Poetry’s power partly lies in its ability to distill a great deal of meaning into a small space. An English teacher friend of mine used to explain to her students that poetry is the tomato paste of the literary world. Novels are crushed tomatoes, short stories are tomato sauce, but poetry is the thick paste that only comes out of that tiny can with a spoon (or opening both ends of the can and pushing the paste out in one big flavorful lump).

 

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The compact nature of poetry also makes it useful for teaching English composition, especially in college-level classes that often must stuff yards of material into inches of calendar space. For example, when the state where I teach decided to re-design developmental English, shoving 16 weeks of material from two separate 16-week reading and composition classes into one class of 8 weeks, I was having difficulty fitting in essential grammatical information.

 

Our old developmental English textbook used Langston Hughes’ “Harlem” as a way to teach vivid verbs, but my students had a hard time understanding what a verb was in the first place, so the poem became my way to simply identify verbs and introduce the concept of syntax, denotation and connotation as well as  analyzing concrete texts and the original purpose of verb usage.

In addition, we would discuss the importance of symbolism, metaphor, simile, and other figurative language, all concepts the re-design material stressed as important information to cover.

It worked beautifully.

I would introduce the poem and put it into historical context–an African-American writer titling a poem “Harlem”that he wrote in 1951 New York. We would talk about the importance of the title and how it helps the reader understand the poem better.

I would have students identify the action verbs and verbals in the sentence–happens, deferred, does, dry up, fester, run, etc.

Then we would look at the similes  “like a raisin in the sun,” “stink like rotten meat,” and “crust over like a syrupy sweet.” We would talk about the imagery and the importance of syntax and rhyme. Why is it important, I would ask, that the two lines rhyme and come one after the other in the poem?

Inevitably, I would have at least one student who would, in the beginning, question the relevance of studying a poem in a developmental English class, but by the end of the discussion, I would have almost always won the student over to the importance of using connotation, syntax and figurative language in their writing.

No doubt about it–plain and simple. It was the Power of Poetry that won them over in the end.

***

The Power of Poetry is certainly displayed in the fine poetic contributions to the

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Spring 2018 edition of Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal.

Check it out!