Sunday, March 11, 2012


Now that it's March, we're thinking about new growth. Our question around midterm was this: "What's your calling?" The posts that went up this week all address this question. A calling can be as a simple as a strong curiosity or a sense of keen interest. As the semester winds down, it's a good time to take note of what has caught your attention.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What Do You Believe?

For our last assignment,
we'll be writing a short essay about our personal credos based on a program developed by NPR, This I Believe. On the show, ordinary folks from across the country read aloud a personal statement about one of their beliefs. Here are links to the radio essays we'll be using in class:

Be Cool To The Pizza Dude, by Sarah Adams

A Grown Up Barbie, by Jane Hamill

Two years ago, a Craft of Language student from SJU was published on the site. Check out Brandon Gergel's essay, "I Dance to Techno."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reading Rosa Lee

This week, we're looking at how journalist Leon Dash created a window into American poverty when he wrote his Washington Post series about Rosa Lee Cunningham and her family. The series received a lot of criticism for reinforcing stereotypes about poor African Americans, but it also generated discussion about how public agencies in the nation's capital ignored what was happening in Rosa Lee's household.

Inner City Blues, a review by Douglas J. Besharov
Besharov reviews the book and calls Rosa Lee's form of parenting "child abuse."

Readers React: 4,600 readers contacted The Washington Post to respond to the series about Rosa Lee -- installments were published in The Post before the series became a book.

Rosa Lee's Obituary: Leon Dash spent six years chronicling Rosa Lee's life. Before she died, she called him "a friend."

Further Questions to Consider

What's your experience with what Dash calls "the underclass"?
Does this this book give you a new perspective on poverty?
Does it reinforce any stereotypes?
How would you describe Rosa Lee's level of literacy?
What opportunities did Rosa Lee have to get out of poverty?
How would you describe Rosa Lee's upbringing?
Would you describe Rosa Lee's method of parenting as "child abuse"?
Would you agree that Rosa Lee was a victim of child abuse?

Would education have changed Rosa Lee's prospects?
Did anyone offer Rosa Lee guidance?
How about her children?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

To Grade or Not to Grade?

We're into Week #5. Service has started, and the class has ventured into West Philly to meet their learners and take in some city sites, like the quirky row houses above that are so iconic around the UPenn campus. This week, our class is writing their first college English papers. Students have three potential topics to explore, and they also have an option when it comes to grading.

Alfie Kohn suggests that students develop more natural curiosity when they aren't driven to strive for grades. To explore this theory, students can opt to ditch the letter grade on their first paper in favor of comments or a private conference with me about their writing. The challenge is this: which system offers the best learning experience? 

Below, you'll find the assignment, followed by a rubric that offers students the chance to weigh in about assessment.

                        Assignment 1: A Reader’s Response

Craft of Language, SL-2011
Draft due: Thurs., Oct. 6
Final due: Thurs., Oct. 13
Length: 1,000 words

Instructions: You have two choices for this paper. Pick the assignment that interests you most, then sketch out a draft. You’ll hand it in to me on October 6 for comments, then I’ll flip it back to you so you can revise.

The purpose of this assignment: to give you practice responding to in-class readings, something you’ll be asked to do throughout college. Feel free to use “I.” Note: this does not have to be a thesis-driven essay.

Grading: I’ll be grading on 4 areas – content, organization, style, and mechanics.

1. Grading: A Response Manifesto
Alfie Kohn’s essay “From Grading to De-Grading” (286-297) argues that the American grading system is problematic. Write a 1,000-word response essay in which you explore at least three of his points – do you agree or disagree with them? Use personal anecdotes to back up your opinions. At the end of your essay, suggest at least one change to the current grading system. Be sure to quote directly from Kohn’s essay.            

2.  Social Roles: I Won’t _________
Reread Catherine Newman’s article “I DO. Not. Why I Won’t Marry” (61-66), then come up with a rite of passage that you don’t believe is for you (joining a fraternity/sorority, having kids, buying a house, owning two cars, joining the military, etc.) Style your 1,000-word response after Newman’s, using “because” statements to set up each of your points. Be sure into include a strong introduction and conclusion.

3. Reflecting on School
In Johnathan Kozol’s “Preparing Minds for Markets” (331-343), he condemns schools for teaching kids to see themselves as workers in a business. Explore your own experience as a student – was your mind prepared for market or a particular career? Examine any presuppositions, terms, or silent signals that may have fed into this educational paradigm. In your opinion, are there any benefits to this market-driven approach?


Please attach this rubric to your paper:

Does the paper have a strong opening and conclusion? Does the author make clear points and support them?

Does the paper contain specifics and examples? Is it compelling? Does the paper help a reader gain a new understanding about this topic?

Are the sentences clear? Does the writer use interesting, well-chosen words? 

Does the writer set up quotations and offer pager number citations? Is this paper written in complete sentences? Has it been proofread and checked for commas?

Finally…to GRADE or NOT TO GRADE?

____All I need to see is a letter grade.

____I want to skip the letter grade and receive detailed comments.

____Please give me a letter grade and comments.

____I would like to meet with you to go over my paper in person. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Photo Walk

We're going to be taking pictures in class on Thursday -- capturing images on campus that will help you focus on what you really want to learn in the next four years. Obviously, we've read some pretty provocative essays about American education this week -- are colleges really factories? Is creativity drained out of you in first grade?

You'll have a chance to think these questions over on your walk. If you like doing this project, you might want to check out this list of cool photo essays from a digital photography blog I came across. Maybe you'll even want to start a photo-a-week project on your blog.

Turns out, a lot of you are photo lovers. Here are some other interests you listed on your intake:

Jewelry making
Cello, violin
Family History
Digital design
Children's advocacy
Environmental issues
World religions

Looks like we're going to have a pretty awesome year together!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Our Writing Goals

This is what our chalkboard looked like on Thursday, September 8, after our first all-class brainstorming session. I asked everyone to make a list of what they expected to write in the next four years of college, followed by a list of skills they'd need to accomplish them.

Anticipated Assignments: a personal resume, a thesis or large research paper, analytical essays, field reports (in education classes, especially), journals, lesson plans, reflections, statements of philosophy, translations, lab reports, blog posts, and spread sheets.

Skills Needed: choosing words and writing concisely, thinking creatively to develop innovative approaches to writing, overcoming fears about big projects, structuring and organizing papers, working from outlines, making time for patience, learning about library and online resources, learning to use style guides for certain disciplines but also developing one's personal writing style, concentratring, punctuating, reviewing grammar, and getting down with citation.

In the coming week, we're going to be examining how we approach learning as a culture and how we, as a class, can drive our own learning to make college an engaging and transformative experience.

If you want a preview, here's an animation we'll watch in class: "Changing Education Paradigms," by Ken Robinson. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Welcome, ENG 101 Writers

This is the home of 20 Notebooks, the site where you can come to read about what our service learning class is up to. Once things get rolling, everyone in our class will develop a blog to record their observations and experiences.

You can come to this site to access all the individual blogs from our class.

Plus, you'll find the syllabus, links to our service site, and more.

If you like the look of this site, you can set up your own on Blogger, Wordpress, or Tumblr. All of them offer free templates for bloggers. When your blog is ready, drop me a comment or shoot me an email so I can create a link to you.

Don't worry, I'll walk you through the process of getting your blog set up. For now, give some thought to the following:

  • A title 
  • A short bio 
  • A background image or header 

Once you set up your blog, you can begin posting. By the end of the year, you'll have a record of what you experienced. If you want, you can leave your blog up for years to come so that it exists as a time capsule. You might even find that your blog comes in handy as a kind of portfolio, so have fun and make it your own.

Best wishes,
Professor Darlington