California English Journal

 
 

Table of Contents

June 2003

MAKING ANALYTICAL ESSAY WRITIN VISIBLE FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS
-Carol Booth Olson

WRITING INSTRUTION: THEORIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
-Leif Fern and Nancy Farnan

A PICTURE PROMPS A THOUSAND WORDS: CREATING PHOTO ESSAYS WITH STRUGGLING WRITERS
-Nancy Frey

NAMES IN ADVERTISING AS A STUDY IN WORD STRUCTURE AND SEMANTICS
-Philip Bowles

BECOMING A WRITING COACH: ONE TEACHER'S STORY
-Christine Steigelman

RIGHTING OUR WRITING WRONGS: TEN CONCERNS ABOUT WRITING INSTRUCTION
-Kelly Gallagher

Artist of this issue - Amy Mayfield

Features & Departments

Editor's Column

President's Perspective

Names in Advertising as a Study in Word Structure and Semantics
-Philip Bowles

Word study in the English-language arts classroom can take many forms. Early in a course my students and I typically review traditional Latin and Greek roots and affixes; then I assign etymological studies that take students to unabridged dictionaries and to word-history reference books for help. Later I ask students to take notepads and pencils to markets such as Vons and Ralphs and to pharmacies such as Sav-On and Walgreens to discover innovative product names such as ChocoLite (a diet bar) and Trojan-enz (a brand of condom). I also direct students to scour the Yellow Pages for unusual
company names such as Port-O-Let (portable toilets) and Fabrific Fabric Center.

As pedestrians and as passengers in cars and buses passing strip malls, students peel their eyes for interesting proper nouns--unusual spellings and morphologies of product and company names in advertising. Products on store shelves, company marquees at business sites, and ads in the phone book become rich sources of contemporary names purposefully coined. More importantly, they sparkle as examples from outside the classroom of ways in which the business world today massages, manipulates, and recombines existing morphemes and other word elements (1) to attract consumers' attention, and perhaps (2) to provide clues to the nature of the service or product.

Although teachers may provide linguistic categories up front to which students assign the names they find in the field, instructors may want to hold off on naming the groups of data, allowing students to comment inductively on the nature of the product or service as compared to the ways in which mainstream spelling and morphology have been changed. Through the years, high school students have never failed to respond enthusiastically to this project, which I call The Components of Product and Company Names.

Pedagogically, it is a lesson in spelling, phonological and morphological analysis, semantics, and the name-based goals of retail and service industries.

My guidelines for the project require that the chosen names be interesting--unusual in some way. Perhaps the name is a simplified phonetic and alliterative spelling such as Chek-Quik (payroll check cashing/loans).

Or perhaps the word is an innovative blend of two familiar words as in beautorium (beauty + emporium; a cosmetologist's shop) or the suffix -ex, meaning medicinal, purifying, or efficient, as in--respectively--Blistex (blister balm), Purex (bleach) and Timex (watches) . What I call "foreign flair" terms may take advantage, for example, of the association of French
with things stylish and new: Vespre [acute accent over final e] (vesper + spray: a feminine spray) and L'EGGS (not only is the apostrophe used to emphasize the name of the eye-catching shape of the long-used egg container for the hosiery, but it also lends French sophistication to the product as an abbreviation of the French definite article le).

Students are interested in speculating why companies such as Chick-fil-A (a rival of KFC in some parts of the nation) take a chance on the syllable-based spelling of fillet (boneless meat). They can usually guess at least one of three reasons for such innovations: (1) Companies need a unique spelling to help them own the name of their company under federal law; (2) companies need a spelling that is visually memorable for the sake of marketing, and (3) companies need to make pronunciation easy. Americans might mispronounce the French fillet, but they likely will use the copyrighted new spelling to help them pronounce the last syllable like the name of the capital letter 'A' in English. The linguistic categories my students and I have determined in the past include (1) phonetic spelling (e.g., Al-Fa for alpha, Tite for tight, Vu for view, Kee Lox for key locks); (2) syllabary spelling (e.g., the middle element in Port-O-let for portable toilet, B-Beautiful for "be beautiful"); (3) blending (e.g., ChocoLite for chocolate and light); and (4) foreign flair (e.g., De Conna Ice Cream, a
Spanish-influenced company name).

If you use this project idea, orient your students to the goals of advertising and marketing. Explain that to comply with federal law every name in the business world needs to be unique. Finally, point out the differences between straightforward names such as Smith's Shoe Repair and some of the names listed above. Then send the students out into the community with notepads and pencils, to make an accurate drawing of each name--some of which have distinctive graphics--and to write an objective phrase or sentence that describes the nature of the product or service.

Later the names may be committed to 3 x 5 cards and labeled with the student's name if one master file is to be created for a small group or the class as a whole.

When the students return to class with fifty or more names and their descriptors, they are ready to work in pairs or small groups to sort out the cards into stacks that represent natural categories that they can explain (see those listed above). Often the same term belongs in more than one category. Be sure to encourage students to speculate on the components of
meaning in the more complex names.

Such a project qualifies as consumer education as well as language education. And since the public is interested in such analysis, parents, other students, teachers and administrators respond positively to student oral presentations on their findings. Findings can be published in the formats of the traditional analytical essay, the oral report enhanced by Power Point visuals, charts, and handouts in which the organizing focus may be on linguistic categories, on the multiple manipulations of names, or on the denotations and connotations packed into the names.

About the author:
Philip Bowles is a Professor of English at Point Loma Nazarene University and a fellow in the San Diego Area Writing Project. At PLNU he co-founded Program Quick Start, a summer academic boot camp for incoming freshmen. Before moving to California, he was a high school teacher in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and an Upward Bound instructor at
Tennessee State University, Nashville.

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Writing Instruction: Theories and Responsibilities
-Leif Fearn and Nancy Farnan
There may have been 1000 people in the San Francisco meeting room that day early in the 2002 annual conference of the International Reading Association. The session was about writing. Donald Graves, one of the most influential individuals in the field, started. He talked about testing. What we highlighted in our notes from Professor Graves' commentary was that we should not expect young writers to write as well as they can under conditions of restricted time and artificial prompt. The theory is that young writers' voices and their passions, both critical in good writing, are compromised, as the result of restricted time and prompt.
Graves’ commentary at IRA 2002 wasn’t the first reference to the theory. James Gray, for example, wrote about it (1995). He noted three basic flaws in National Assessment of Educational Progress testing protocol in writing: testing isn’t related to getting good grades, students write to topics someone else selects, and there is artificial pressure (time constraints).
Both Graves and Gray suggest that restricted time and assigned prompts are reasons why young writers may not write as well as they can when they write for test purposes. Both time and prompt selection are routine aspects of how people talk about teaching and testing writing. There exists a veritable mantra to the effect that young writers must select their own topics and have the opportunity to write on their own schedule if they’re to write as well as they’re able.
We recently completed an investigation that required a writing sample from tenth graders, for approximately half of whom English is not their primary language, and we restricted the time and assigned the topic. Because we sought a stable basis on which to compare the performance of the subjects in our investigation, we took pre and post writing samples. The prompt was to think of a favorite place, a place where there are good feelings, good vibrations. In both pre and post writing situations, not only did we prescribe the topic, we prescribed the time. Students had five minutes, start to stop, with no preparation, and when the stop watch hand hit the sixtieth second of the fifth minute, we directed them to stop. There was no writing at all after the end of the five minutes, not to finish a sentence, not to check for errors, not to enhance their structures.
We wanted everyone writing to the same topic for the same period of time because one of our scoring protocols was analytic, and fluency (number of words) was an aspect of the analytic scoring protocol. In the analytic protocol, we also calculated average sentence length, ratio of clauses to sentences, and ratio of errors to sentence.
In addition, we used a general impression rubric that included four criteria: the writing is on-topic; elaborative; recognizably organized; and textured, the latter meaning words and phrases that "show" rather than "tell.” General impression scoring occurred on a 6-point absolute scale, which means that a 6 is just about as well as the piece can be written, irrespective of grade level.
Because we used both a general impression scoring protocol and an objective analytic scoring protocol, the prompt and time had to be controlled. Given the theory about the effect of dictated time and prompt, students’ writing samples should be absent energy, stilted, voiceless, flat. It wasn’t.

Cued and Timed Writings From Tenth Graders
While these writing samples represent some of the better ones among those collected, the point is that they were written under a five-minute time constraint and to a dictated prompt. All of the pieces appear precisely as they were submitted, errors included.

Ramon wrote:
“ My favorite place is the park because I love to play soccer. I could spend hours playing soccer, then rest, and play soccer some more. I never get bored at the park. When Im there, I feel so alive, just like the wind makes the birds fly.”

Lourdes wrote:
“ I’m in the park, listening to the water passing by. Theres a lot of people. They are with their pets or with their families. I can smell the freshness of the air and feel the breeze of the cascade Im looking at. There is like a big pond where you can get a boat and four people can wander around. There’s some ducks with many different colors. This park is very big and lots of people go to celebrate a party, to walk, to relax, to get on a boat or just to wander around. I’m sitting under a big tree with my friend. The park is located in Reseda, California.”

Asil wrote:
“ My favorite place is the sunny blue beach. It is my favorite place because of its atmosphere. It is like a time machine that takes me back to the past. The smell of salty sea fills my nostrils and the warm water beats against my bare feets. Seeing the children and the sound of their laughters reminds me of home. The beach is like a grandmother to me, telling me stories if I really listen hard.”

Kong wrote:
“ I like hanging out with my friends. Usually at their house, or the park. The park is medium sized and fenced in, with green grass. Theres a baseball diamond which has reddish-brown dirt and a water fountain with cold water. There is also equipment, slides and bars. That is where my friends and I wrestle.”

Lellah wrote:
“ I’m singing in the choir stand and I’m singing one of the songs we sing every time we practice on Thursdays. “Oh Magnify the Lord” It was the first thing that popped into my head because I love to sing. Another place I went in my head is my poetry book journal. It doesn’t matter where I’m at because I write wherever, whenever. It is so relaxing and peaceful to me. It is the best time to think, especially when it’s quiet and peaceful, and it makes me happy.”

Francis wrote:
“ My favorite place is the basketball gym. The hardwood floors are surrounded by stands. The people go to the basketball gym to play basketball. All you can hear there is the echo of balls bouncing, shoes rubbin on the floor, people yelling and calling plays. I enjoy goin there because that’s what I love doing most on my spare time.”

Maria wrote:
“ My heart was racing. I was on the way to Blueberry Muffin Land. This place was full of blueberry muffins. The walls were large blueberries, and the floors were soft, like muffins. You could smell the blueberries from miles away. They were fresh and hot. You could eat the muffins right off the floor, and you could bite the blueberries right off the wall. Kitty always comes with me to Blueberry Muffin Land, and we eat muffins together.”

Armando wrote:
“ One of my most favorit places to go when Im down or happy is the park. I like going to calm fun places. The reason I say that is because when I go to the park, I can here the birds sing, smell the aroma of the beautiful flowers, see the leaves on the trees move to the rhythm of the wind. Most of the time the park is empty, but not quite empty. There’s always someone there doing what I’m doing, contemplating what’s going to happen next. When you look at the grass and the sun reflecting up on it, it shines in your eyes like if you were seeing a silver coine on the ground.”

Brenda wrote:
“ As I sit on the beach, I see children in the water, sea gulls all around the sky. People are having a relaxing time with their family. I can smell the fresh salty water. As I walk along the beach, I can feel the cool water all over my body. It is a hot sunny day so the sun is shining brightly in the blue sky. There are kids of all ages laying in the golden sand. People are having BBQ, and you can smell it from miles away. As I sit back in the sand, I relax and all of my troubles are gone away for as long as I stay here.”

Theory-Making and Falsification

Remember, we are making no claim whatsoever to the effect that the nine pieces above represent the best kind of tenth grade writing, even from speakers of native languages other than English, which all nine are. We offer them in contradistinction to the theory that timed and prompted writing is flat, lifeless, voiceless, without energy precisely because it is written under the artificial conditions of a dictated prompt and restricted time.
Perhaps the young writers who write lifeless, voiceless prose do so because that’s how they write. Perhaps they would write flat prose absent energy if they identified their own topic and had an hour to write. There may be intuitive appeal in the theory that they’d write better if they had more time, or if they could write to their own interest, but the tenth graders' five-minute samples above tell us that intuitive appeal doesn’t necessarily stand very well against the light of evidence.
“Yes, but,” we’ve heard when we’ve presented this perspective in the past. “But you’re only showing selected ones on the overhead.” (Nine here among forty-seven in the study, though not necessarily the highest-scoring samples in the study) The number isn’t the point. When there is a theory (and the effect of dictated topic and time constraint on writing performance is a theory), and one instance belies the theory, the theory is at least vulnerable to question. In science, one contrary instance requires a change in the theory to accommodate that instance. It’s called falsification. It takes only one instance of an object not falling “down” to require an accommodation in the theory of gravity. In fact, the accommodation has already been made. Objects don’t always fall down. Objects are vulnerable to gravity only when gravity is observable.
On the basis of our tenth graders’ performance, we would argue that students don’t necessarily write lifeless prose because the topic is dictated and the time is restricted. Young writers who write with energized voice, do so because they can. If they have it, they’ll show it. Our theory is that young writers, and the rest of us, write about as well as we are able whenever we write.
Moreover, we theorize that what young writers write on their first page or two is a very good indication of how well they can write. Therefore, when teachers assign three pages, they multiply their reading time for little or no additional teaching-learning benefit if, that is, the writing and teachers’ reading is intended to have teaching-learning benefit. We would never suggest that students should never write longer pieces; it’s just that longer writing does not show more about writers’ ability.
Furthermore, much, if not most, of the writing critical in school and the workplace, if written well, demands not more than a page or two. A report of information is a question, procedures, findings, and conclusions -- four parts, four sentences, four paragraphs, four elements. When good writing is the priority, short is good.
Somerset Maugham wrote Death's line in “Sheppy” in 197 words, a whole short story, and a prototype; in fact, it is a story of such precision and insight that it reflects precisely what Gardner (1983) meant by "the fictional dream.” Could our students write such a story? Perhaps, if they knew how. It's the knowing that determines the probability of the performance, not the prompting or the timing.
What does all this mean? It means that if we want textured and energized writing from our students, we have to teach them how. If they don’t show it when they write for a test, it isn’t necessarily because of the test; it’s as likely because they can’t. It's always interesting to see what they write after they’ve been taught how.
Our theory is open to evidence of falsification. Assign students a two-page report and a four-page report, and solicit dispassionate raters' judgements on a 6-point assessment rubric. It's most insightful if the raters are professional writers. Give three or four raters a half-dozen randomly-selected two-page writing samples. Give three or four other raters a half-dozen four-page samples. Make all the samples in the same genre, though not necessarily on the same topic. See if the longer ones get higher scores, and if so, why?
Our theory is open to evidence of falsification on another basis. See if you get lifeless and untextured writing only from the students you prompt and time, but those who select their own prompt and have their own schedule write with voice, force, and insight.

There's a Future for Which We're Responsible

It's time for those of us in writing classrooms to look critically at the assumptions that inform what we do when we teach writing. We've learned a great deal about what to teach, and how, in the 30 years since the last paradigm change -- the one that turned our attention from product to process. There is ample evidence of what we've done so well. We've heightened the focus on writing to the point at which many children and youth are writing every day, often multiple times every day, sometimes through the curriculum; and the data show that we have produced a generation of young writers who write more than any generation before. We should pay attention to what we have done in the last three decades. It is a Herculean professional achievement.
There is also evidence of what we haven't done so well. Young writers don't appear to be writing much better than they did three decades ago (NAEP, 1998), and we should be paying attention to what that means. One of the cherished theories is that the more young people write, the better writers they become. There is considerable falsification evidence that renders our "practice-makes-perfect" theory at least distracting, if not flatly inaccurate. The evidence seems to suggest that practice doesn't make perfect at all; rather, a critical point related to intentional instruction is that practice makes permanent, not perfect (Fearn and Farnan, 2001). In fact, people don’t learn to write effectively by writing; they learn to write effectively by writing effectively.
There's a future for which we're responsible. If it’s writing effectively that makes better writers, how do we cause that? We certainly caused more writing over the last three decades. How do we cause better writing? Yes, of course, it's instruction. But what should we teach, and how, and to whom, and when, and for how long, and how do we know if they're getting better? Even more important, how do our students know they're getting better, every day, in ways they experience overtly?
The assumption of a causative relationship between quantity and quality, in the absence of evidence, ought not satisfy us. Burdening young writers with length when brevity is the soul of quality doesn’t reflect the best of what our students read in their literature classes. Focusing our attention on writing activities and management plans might suggest to some that were the activities and plans removed, we wouldn't know what to do.
We aren't suggesting there are unambiguous answers to the questions. We've made two claims.
1. There is little or no causative relationship between testing protocol and students' writing performance.
2. There is little or no causative relationship between quantity and quality.
Those of us with children and adolescents in our classrooms; those of us who conduct preservice and in-service professional education; and those of us who supervise student teachers, cooperating teachers and university supervisors, alike; can all start moving ahead with those two unambiguous statements that reflect what we've learned over the past three decades. By “moving ahead” we mean moving to another paradigm shift in thinking about writing instruction, where assessment informs instruction and where quantity is necessary in writing, but insufficient for learning to write well..

References
Fearn, L. and Farnan, N. (2001). Interactions: Teaching Writing and the Language Arts. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Gardner, J. (1983). The Art of Fiction. New York: Knopf.
Gray, J. (1995). Why large-scale testing fails. California English, 1, 11.
National Assessment of Educational Progress. (1998). Report in Brief: NAEP 1996
Trends in Academic Progress.
Available at: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/96report/97986.shtml.

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Breiger’s Bookshelf
-Marek Breiger

Never Fade Away” by William Hart, Fithian Press, Santa Barbara, Ca.2002

William Hart’s “Never Fade Away”—though set in the mid- 1980’s is an appropriate book for our present time. The novel takes place in Los Angeles at a mythical state university and is about the bond between John Goddard, a Vietnam Veteran, ESL teacher, and short story writer and a Vietnamese student named Tina Le.
Tina Le is a boat person, a survivor of serial rape, who, with Goddard’s encouragement, becomes a powerful writer herself.
“Never Fade Away” is a novel, also, about the University and the corruption of the University—of the way immigrant and minority students are encouraged to enter the college system yet often not given the help or encouragement they need to succeed at a four-year college.
But mainly the novel is about the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Both Goddard and Tina have been badly damaged by the war in Vietnam. Tina has lost, to the Communists, a grandfather murdered in a re-education camp, a father killed by pirates on the high seas, and a mother who dies trying to protect Tina from rape. Goddard, who still has flashbacks of Vietnam, feels responsible for a buddy killed in front of him by a Viet Cong, and an innocent Vietnamese woman he feels he may have killed accidentally.
Goddard has become an angry isolate—his humanity only expressed in his writing and teaching. The novel is told through a series of diary entries—Goddard and Tina’s. —and here is how the teacher describes himself:
“…here I am, age 35, addicted to alcohol and grass(maybe pills as well), nearly friendless, and without family. Can this be the same promising scholar/athlete who at age eighteen set off for war with fire in his eye and a song in his heart? Look how far I’ve come in seventeen years.”

When Goddard gives Tina and another talented student passing grades in his composition class—despite their failure of an unfair exit exam—and refuses to change their grades, the untenured teacher becomes the victim of his department chairs:
“I got my annual evaluation from the Promotion and Retention Committee today and they’ve lowered my ranking from (1) excellent to (4) poor. Means I won’t be offered classes next year. In effect I’ve been fired…Oddly there is virtually no other information on my evaluation form. Nothing about my publications, nothing about the students’ evaluation of me…why nothing this year?”
As Goodard fights without success to save his job, he and Tina become involved in a close relationship, a friendship that becomes an unconsummated love. Though the novel does not end in a “happily ever after”
scenario, the narrative is honest in its description of two adults—damaged by war and war’s aftermath—who are in desperate need of each other. As Tina Li writes in her last journal:
“As I now believe, the strong feelings I have for my teacher are most fortunate, because they show me I can love and trust a man. For many years I did not know how to love or trust anyone, especially men. It is the greatest thing my teacher teach me, and surely this is the purpose of my love for him. There are many kinds of love in the world. And which kind is best? Maybe I can answer by the time I die.”
Hart’s book could be taught in a high school or college class dealing with American War Literature, for like Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home, “ and Irwin Shaw’s “Act of Faith,” and Tim of Brien’s “If I Die In a Combat Zone,” the author’s sympathy and feelings are with those soldiers and civilians whose lives should not and cannot be easily summarized, or made into handy symbols, or dismissed.

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Editor's column
-Carol Jago, Editor

A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
– Thomas Mann

Once upon a time James Britton, Donald Graves, Peter Elbow, Dixie Gotswami, and James Gray — giants on the earth — showed us new ways to think about writing. Their work and the work of others who followed their lead brought about tremendous changes in curriculum and instruction. I can’t imagine an English teacher in this country, novice or expert, who isn’t familiar with writing as a process. So influential has been their work that the English Language Arts standards documents of many states invariably include reference to the essential elements of the writing process. According to a report by the GED Testing Service Alignment of National and State Standards(1999):

Although the terminology related to the writing process —often referred to as process writing — may vary slightly among states, the overall perception of how the process functions remains steadfast. States regard prewriting, drafting, revision, editing, and publishing as the essential features of the process and stress that the process itself is recursive (83).

Their work has received such widespread acceptance that most current assessment instruments, NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), state-wide language arts tests, as well as high school exit exams and GED include a direct writing sample. In many ways this is a dream come true for advocates of process writing. Yet we must be careful what we wish for. It might come true.

We accept that assessment drives instruction. For this reason most English teachers cheered the appearance of writing prompts on standardized tests. We were delighted that students would be required to do more than identify run-on sentences, misspellings, and misplaced modifiers. Requiring students to produce a page or two of well-written prose on state tests seemed to validate our writing programs and send a powerful message to students that “writing matters.” What blind-sided us was the way results of state and national assessments would be used to demonstrate what a dreadful job teachers were doing.

This issue of California English demonstrates what a good job teachers are doing teaching writing. Carol Booth Olson’s essay offers hard data on how quality, focused writing instruction leads to improved student achievement. Leif Fern and Nancy Farnan’s article explains how to use assessment to inform instruction. Kelly Gallagher identifies 10 concerns that writing that schools need to address if we hope to improve student writing. I believe it is a teacher’s professional responsibility to prepare students for high-stakes tests. I also believe it is critical that we show students how writing can be a vehicle for learning about themselves. Though these two agendas may sometimes compete for classroom time, they are not mutually exclusive.

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