Friday, July 22, 2016

A Summer Reading List for Teachers

We can't believe that Summer College for Teachers came and went so quickly! During our time collaborating with high school educators in June, we often talked about non-fiction texts that teachers can use to revise their prompts, in order to bridge the gap between high school and college writing. Here is a list of recommendations, complied by Brendon Votipka. Check out the selections below and use them to revised your prompts before the new school year begins!

Nonfiction Reading List

Compiled by Brendon Votipka, Rutgers Writing Program

Arlie Russell Hochschild, The Commercialization of Intimate Life: Notes from Home and Work
Andrew Solomon, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity

Susan Faludi, The Terror Dream: Myth and Misogyny in an Insecure America
Chuck Klosterman, I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)
Maggie Nelson, The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning
Kurt Spellmeyer, Buddha at the Apocalypse: Awakening from a Culture of Destruction

Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
Michael Kimmel, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men
Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric
Kenji Yoshino, Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness
Alison Gopnik, The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us about Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life
Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door

Social Interaction
Susan Blackmore, The Meme Machine
Janet A. Flammang, The Taste for Civilization: Food, Politics, and Civil Society
Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Technology & the Mind
Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
Cathy N. Davidson, Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century
Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other
Sherry Turkle, Simulation and Its Discontents

Writing, Thinking, and Communication
Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, “They Say / I Say”: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing
bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen, Writing Analytically
Deborah Tannen, The Argument Culture
Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations

College-Level Nonfiction Anthologies
Barclay Barios, Emerging: Contemporary Readings for Writers
Michelle J. Brazier, Points of Departure: A Collection of Contemporary Essays
Kurt Spellmeyer and Richard E. Miller, The New Humanities Reader

Friday, July 8, 2016

Teaching with Technology

Marc Cicchino discusses the many advantages of using Google in your classroom.

Marc Cicchino, the supervisor of English in Roxbury Public Schools and a faculty member at Rutgers University, spoke on June 29 at the Summer College for Teachers about teaching with technology.

Appropriately, Marc opened his presentation about technology by asking attending educators to pull out their cell phones, laptops, or tablets and jump right into a conversation. is a great resource for educators, Mark said, because teachers can easily send out a question to students to take a poll, ask for anonymous feedback, and allow students to engage when they otherwise might not be able. For example, a conversation on can allow student to engage with a video by making comments while it plays, allowing it to act as a backchannel. Additionally, allows teachers to easily send out a message to the class, such as a bit of trivia or an important announcement.

The next resource Marc shared with teachers was called TodaysMeet, which allows teachers to easily set up a chatroom. Marc says a helpful use of TodaysMeet is that it can allow students in the outside ring of a Socratic Circle to become active participants in the conversation happening in the inside circle.

A Socratic Circle that could be enhanced by allowing the outer circle to comment using TodaysMeet. (Photo: Sturgis Soundings Magazine)
Then, Marc turned to a discussion about Google Docs, showing everyone in the room that there are even more incredible features available for free from Google than we had imagined. For example, did you know that you can check the revision history of a Google Doc that your student is using to turn in an assignment? Using the revision history, you can see if a student is copying and pasting large amounts of their work from an outside source, see if the student is editing after the due date, or check who is doing what portion of the work on a collaborative project.

Google also offers a Research button in the Tools menu, which allows students to search for and insert citations in a sidebar within their Google Doc. This feature is a game-changer because it makes researching significantly easier for students, and it saves teachers from reserving research time in the school computer lab, leaving more time for work in the classroom.

Finally, Marc showed educators how to use Add-Ons, including EasyBib Bibliography Creator for Google Docs and Doctopus and Flubaroo for Google Sheets. The EasyBib Bibliography Creator allows students to easily create their bibliography and cite sources using a simple sidebar within Docs. Doctopus instantly creates an organized system of folders in Google Drive for an entire class, based on a roaster entered in Google Sheets. Flubaroo grades quizzes given on Google Forms for you.

Remember, technology is only an advantage in the classroom if its use simplifies or enhances an activity. Marc reminded educators not to get caught in the trap of trying to use technology too often and actually making activities more complicated than they need to be.

The SAMR model explains the four positive ways that technology can work in the classroom.
Marc's presentation can be accessed online here. Take a look and check out even more tools you can use in the classroom.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Inspiring Mindfulness in the Classroom

On June 28, the second day of Summer College for Teachers, guest speaker Tim Brennan addressed educators. Tim has worked in education for fifty years, and has spent twenty-eight of those years as a superintendent. Despite his move to administration, Tim has never let a year go by without teaching an English class. "Once an English teacher, always an English teacher," he says.

Tim values his position as a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University, but he commented that many students walk into his classroom overwhelmed. Students are addicted to their screens, including laptops, tablets, and phones, and this has negatively impacted their ability to focus. He says that the visual bombardment coming from our screens can be calmed with mindfulness meditation. Tim begins each one of his classes with two full minutes of silence, explaining to students that they have no obligation for those moments other than simply sitting and being aware that they are sitting.

Tim's students say that this mindfulness exercise helps students to get started in class with clear focus. This activity can also help students get started on a paper or assignment at home. For more information about mindfulness, check out the 60 Minutes video clip above, which Tim shared with educators at SCFT.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summer College for Teachers Kicks Off with Discussion of Educational Goals in Democracy

Educators consider a passage written by philosopher Jacques Ranciere.

June 27 marked the first day of the annual Summer College for Teachers, hosted by the Rutgers Writing Program. Kurt Spellmeyer, chair of the Rutgers Writing Program, Regina Masiello, director of Expository Writing, and Brendon Votipka, the Plangere Coordinator and an Assistant Director in the Writing Program, welcomed New Jersey Educators with the first session of the day.

Kurt kicked off the discussion by reminding educators that our current educational system was developed in the nineteenth century and arguably has not moved forward since then. In fact, until as late as the conclusion of World War II, the average American had a ninth grade education. High school and college were distinctly separate institutions, and thinking that high school and college “populations and concerns” are separate remains a hindrance to education today.

“If we want education to survivereal educationwe need to band together,” Kurt said of the collaboration between high school and college educators, which happens at Summer College for Teachers and should happen on a broader scale too.

The group also discussed the lack of stability in high schools as a problem in education today. It’s hard work for a high school departmental supervisor to spearhead a program and get that program off the ground. There is a relatively quick turnover of departmental supervisors, which means that each time a supervisor is replaced, the process of spearheading initiatives starts all over again.

Of course, a discussion of education in America would be incomplete without mention of the Common Core. Many in the room agreed that the idea behind the Common Corean equal, free public education for all Americansmay be admirable, but the way that the standards were created and the way they are enforced don’t always add up with their goals. Educators wondered, where do the goals of Common Core and educators diverge?

“For me [as a student], literature was a door into a bigger world. I have to wonder about these students for whom standardized testing starts in the second grade,” Kurt said.

Kurt went on to share that, although Rutgers has one of the top ten history departments in the country, the department has experienced a 25% drop in enrollment in the last two years. The English department at Rutgers has not experienced quite the same drastic decline, but English departments across the country reveal a trend in universities: the humanities are losing popularity as a vocational mentality increases in students.

Educators discussed how we live in a climate of fear, where students enter career-focused majors such as engineering or business in the hopes of ensuring future security. This mentality ignores the fact that the humanities majors grow into the most cognitively flexible adults. In other words, humanities majors learn how to think critically and outside the box. Business majors consistently score the lowest in cognitive flexibility, Kurt said, and also report low worker satisfaction.

Session one wrapped up with a discussion of where education’s place in politics isspecifically in today’s democracy.

“What we do is inherently political because we change the way people look at the world,” Kurt said.

The group said that one important goal of humanities teachers in both high schools and colleges is to give students permission and a place to present their own ideas.

The session ended on an inspiring note, when one educator commented that sometimes, her students make her rethink her own opinions: “When they make me uncomfortable in my views, that’s when I know I’m in the perfect job for me.”

The second session of the day, Close Reading/Non-Fiction Prose Pedagogy, expanded on the notion that educators need to give their students permission to share their ideas. Regina spoke about her experience as the director of Expository Writing and explained that students in writing courses at Rutgers are exposed to conceptually rich non-fiction. Permission is given for students to share their ideas through the way the prompts are written; students are encouraged to enter into conversation with the texts they read, rather than regurgitate experts’ ideas.

Through an active pedagogy, educators teach students how to digest ideas or recognize that they do not necessarily agree with everything they may be taught.

The second session stressed the importance of revision in academic writing and thinking. Revision may make students uncomfortable because it forces them to have “flexibility of mind and tolerance of ambiguity,” Regina said.

For the remainder of day one, Regina and Brendon spoke to participants about other aspects of non-fiction prose pedagogy, including teaching grammar to students in the context of their own writing and using shared assessment criteria across a department, as Expos uses a shared assessment criteria across its hundreds of class sections. In the afternoon, Brendon led educators in free writing exercises and discussions so that they could put pedagogy into practice.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Rutgers Writing Program Presents at the New Jersey Writing Alliance Conference

Michael Goeller, Associate Director of the Rutgers Writing Program, and Agnieszka Goeller, Interim EAD Coordinator and Associate Professor, presented at the New Jersey Writing Alliance Conference on May 25. The pair presented their talk, “Teaching Writing to Second-Language Learners: Focusing on Vocabulary over Grammar,” for the second year in a row.

Michael and Agnieszka’s presentation explained the reasons behind a spike in English Language Learners at Rutgers. In short, Rutgers began recruiting international students more in 2011, and the amount of students coming from Asia to attend Rutgers spiked. This prompted Rutgers to quickly come up with ways to best accommodate and educate their increasing population of foreign students. The increase in students needing more help from the Writing Program means that now, 17,000 students are served each year.

Michael and Agnieszka explained that there are two types of English Language Learners that Rutgers might see. Type 1 is the resident student, or a student who has lived in the United States for at least two years prior to attending Rutgers. The second type of student is called a visitor, and they often arrive in the United States less than a month before the first day of classes. At this time, Agnieszka estimates that 90% of Rutgers’s ELL students are visitors.

Surprisingly, visitors often have stronger grammar skills than residents because they have studied for the TOEFL. But, visitors face the challenge of having a limited vocabulary, and thus present a high level of errors without a clear pattern.

Agnieszka explained that a reader needs to know 98% of the words on a page in order to be able to guess the remaining 2% with context clues. This statistic reflects the importance of having a strong vocabulary at one’s disposal. She further elaborated that vocabulary is more than just memorizing SAT words one by one. In fact, educators need to shift the focus of vocabulary to phrases. When a student understands the words that typically surround a vocabulary word, then they can appropriately understand and use that word in an essay.

Oftentimes, though, educators see an error in preposition use, for example, as a grammar error rather than an error in the student’s understanding of the word requiring the preposition. Then, in marking the paper, the teacher will correct the error, drawing attention to the grammar mistakes rather than flagging the vocabulary word the student needs to understand more deeply.

To combat this issue, Michael and Agnieszka suggest having students keep a vocabulary log. When correcting a paper, the teacher should correct the error but also mark the misused vocabulary word with a highlighter for the student to add to their log.

Students can learn the phrases associated with a vocabulary word by using a collocation dictionary, available online here, or by simply googling “[word/phrase] sentence.” This simple Google search will bring up tons of sample sentences available online, and the student can learn from reading the sample and jotting some down in their vocabulary log.

To learn more about Michael and Agnieszka's vocabulary logs, you can access their powerpoint and handout from the conference here, as well as other supporting materials from presenters throughout the day.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hip Hop Education at the New Jersey Writing Alliance Conference

Brian Mooney discusses the poem "Boys Will Be Boys," written and performed by his former student Ben.

New Jersey educators and writing teachers gathered on Wednesday, May 25 at Brookdale Community College to attend the 17th Annual New Jersey Writing Alliance Conference. The keynote speaker kicking off the day of professional development was Brian Mooney, an educator at High Tech High in North Bergen, NJ and a PhD candidate from Teachers College, Columbia University. Mooney uses hip hop and spoken word as a way to educate and connect with his students.

“What distinguished Mr. Mooney's class from other high school classes I've observed was his willingness to have students engage with complex, provocative ideas across disciplines and genres,” said Lynda Dexheimer, Associate Director of the Rutgers Writing Program and a parent of one of Mr. Mooney’s former students. “The synthesis and analysis he encouraged his students to grapple with really raised the bar for critical thinking and meaningful writing.”

Mr. Mooney famously caught the attention of Kendrick Lamar after using the rapper’s album To Pimp a Butterfly during class in conjunction with The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Mooney says in a blog post that students often see no hope in the outcome of The Bluest Eye, a deeply moving story of one young black girl’s obsession with beauty as portrayed on the silver screen by white actresses.

It’s easy to become devastated by the stagnation of race relations in America. But Kendrick is careful to balance the chaos with a clear and purposeful sense of direction – even when shining the light on his own hypocritical double consciousness,” Mooney writes. “So how do we help our students find hope amidst such chaos and contradiction?”

Mooney helped his students find hope in Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album, suggesting that Lamar’s nuanced lyrics effectively tie together Toni Morrison’s 1970 classic novel with current race relations in America.

“What would have happened if Pecola listened to Kendrick’s hit single, ‘i’ which celebrates, ‘I love myself’ in a world that tells black people not to?” Mooney wonders.

Mooney’s presentation at NJWA, titled “Writing to Transgress: Breaking Boundaries Through Hip Hop and Spoken Word,” further explored the power of hip hop education. Three of Mooney’s former students also attended the conference and performed their slam poetry, which had previously been performed at Word Up, a performance event that grew out of a spoken word club run by Mooney at High Tech High.

“Word Up is as educational as it is counter-educational,” Ben, one of the poets, said. Mooney explained that Word Up breaks from traditional pedagogy. Students learn how to use their writing skills as a way to tap into their feelings and seize the opportunity to tell their own story. When students are provided with a greater purpose for their writing, such as a culminating performance like Word Up, they become more invested than they would for a simple graded assignment.

Hamza, another poet, read his piece entitled “An Ode to Jersey City.” He powerfully portrayed a moment when a young boy approaches the front desk at the library, only to be told by the librarian, “Put those back, kid, you can’t read all those.”

Following Hamza’s reading, Mooney said, “[Hamza] is asking us to consider the ways young people are silenced by authority.” In contrast, Mooney practiced what he preaches by giving the stage—and a voice—to three young poets during his keynote address. Their work was a testament to his style of teaching, called hip hop education.

Ashley performed her poem “Patsey,” written in response to the film 12 Years a Slave. Ashley’s poem even alluded to Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, showing how Ashley’s advanced writing skills allowed her to close read two different forms of media in one poem. Mooney was proud to share that Ashley won a slam competition with the poem “Patsey” against “adult poets” much older than her in Jersey City. Mooney and other poets from their school attended the slam to support Ashley.

Some might believe that attending a slam to support a student outside of school is going above the call of duty. But, Mooney spoke about the importance of understanding the community from which your students come. “If you don’t live in the community where you teach, spend a Sunday afternoon there,” he urged educators.

Mooney further elaborated on what makes a good teacher by performing a poem of his own, a persona poem in the voice of a bad teacher called “30 Days of American Schooling,” which can be read online here. Educators in the crowd were responsive to the poem, laughing at lines such as, “This syllabus is now your God,” but seriously reflecting on others, like: “We aren’t going to talk about race, class, gender or privilege in this class. We are all the same. Equality, people. Ever heard of it?”

Overall, Brian Mooney’s keynote address was engaging, and many teachers commented that he was the best keynote speaker they had ever seen at NJWA.

I thought Mr. Mooney's address was exactly what we educators in New Jersey needed to hear. It is time to reflect on how and why we are teaching, and whether or not our philosophies and practices are really best serving students today,” said Dexheimer. “Mr. Mooney's students' poetry was deeply moving and shows exactly the sophistication and brilliance young people have within them. We have to work harder to help them empower themselves to find their own voices as writers.”

If you would like to join the conversation about Hip Hop Education, you can participate in a weekly Twitter discussion with Brian Mooney (@BeMoons) and other teachers using the hashtag #HipHipEd every Tuesday from 9-10 PM.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Some Online Readings

The following essays are online versions of readings used in Basic Composition (355:100) and Expository Writing (355:101) at Rutgers:

Belkin, Lisa. The Made to Order Savior

Berry, Wendell. "God, Science and Imagination"

Blackmore, Susan. "Strange Creatures"

Bremmer, Ian. "Democracy in Cyberspace"

Carr, Nicholas.  "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

Chua, Amy. "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior"

Fallows, James.  “Win in China!” from Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China.  New 
York: Vintage, 2009. (Previously published in The Atlantic Monthly, April 2007).

Flammang, Janet. “Introduction” from The Taste for Civilization: Food, Politics, and Civil Society.  
Urbana: U of Il. Press, 2009. 1-21.
A good substitute: Michael Pollan, "The Food Movement Rising"

Gladwell, Malcolm.  “Small Change: Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.”  The New Yorker 
86.30 (October 10, 2010): 42-49.  Print and online.

Gopnik, Alison. “Possible Worlds: Why do Children Pretend?” from The Philosophical Baby: What 
Chilrden’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life.  New York: Farrar, Straus and 
Giroux, 2009.  (19-46).
Hochschild. Arlie Russell.  “From the Frying Pan into the Fire” in The Commercialization of Intimate 
Life: Notes from Home and Work, published by University of California Press, 2003. ©2003 by 
Regents of the University of California. 
Klein, Naomi. Excerpt, pages xviii-xxvii, from “Preface: Fences of Enclosure, Windows of 
Possibility.”  Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate. New 
York: Picador, 2002 ©2002 by Naomi Klein.

Kristof, Nicholas D. and Sheryl WuDunn.  “Introduction: The Girl Effect” from Half the Sky: 
Turn Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.  New York: Knopf, 2009.  

Orr, Gregory.  “The Return to Hayneville.” The Virginia Quarterly Review 84 no3 29, 28, 30-43 
Summer 2008.

Siebert, Charles.  "An Elephant Crackup?" 

Slater, Lauren.  “Who Holds the Clicker?” Mother Jones.  November 2005.  63-67, 90, 92. 

Smith, Zadie. “Speaking in Tongues.”  The New York Review of Books.  February 26, 2009. 

Specter, Michael.  "A Life of Its Own."

Turkle, Sherry.  “Introduction: Alone Together/The Robotic Moment/Connectivity and Its 
Discontents/Romancing The Machine: Two Stories” from Alone Together: Why We Expect More 
from Technology and Less from Each Other.  New York: Basic Books, 2011. ©2011 by Sherry Turkle. 

Yoshino, Kenji.  “Preface” and “Racial Covering” from Covering: The Hidden Assault on our Civil 
Rights.  New York: Randomhouse, 2007.  ix-xii and 111-141. ©2006 by Kenji Yoshino.