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And Now? We Close.

photo of street sign that says end school zone

Some other great instructor will be taking over ENGL3043 at Prairie View A&M, since I have left the university for another position.

For all my eMedia alum, I hope you remember something useful for your professional goals!


Attempting eDifferentiation

I have blogged quite a bit about the online course, Professional Writing for eMedia, that inspired this site. It’s in its nth iteration this term and still focused on career-based uses for various sites, tools, and apps.

colorful cloud of social media logos

For the first time, students get to choose what they want to learn, to a great extent.

  • Three projects, worth around 1/3 of the course grade, are required.
  • Everything else is optional: students decide how they want to spend their time and earn their points.
    • They can do part of a project or all of it.
    • Some projects are relatively easy, while others are more involved (and consequently worth more points).
  • There are enough options that students can skip entire projects that aren’t appealing.

Students also can tackle projects with the comforting knowledge that if the end results aren’t perfect, there’s always something else to try. I am hopeful that this will minimize some of the grade-based anxiety.

Differentiated assessment is a go…


Katrina, 10 Years Later

Google search for the phrase hurricane katrina still

Google’s suggested searches for “hurricane katrina still”

I don’t remember much about Katrina’s landfall in 2005, except that the images on the television were horrifying.

In the aftermath, I remember all four of my godchildren reporting new students from New Orleans in their classes. I remember making donations, cash and goods, to various fundraising efforts.

And I remember going to the Houston Astrodome with a friend whose company was encouraging all its employees to spend a day volunteering to assist refugees. There was a steady trickle of people going to the check-in point — nothing, nothing at all like the sea of people on cots inside.

I don’t remember what I did that day (I think I was at a table handing out water bottles). What I remember, with crystal clarity, is a woman: tall, thin, short hair. She was standing to my left, at the end of a row of cots, while three small children played nearby. The look on her face — and she didn’t seem to be looking at anything or anyone — was not despair or anger or defeat. It was deep, profound exhaustion. She was tired. She looked like she was trying to hold herself together, arms crossed tightly across her chest, the hands resting on opposite shoulders.

That is what I remember.


Today in Advanced Grammar we discussed excerpts from Code-Switching: Teaching Standard English in Urban Classrooms by Rebecca S. Wheeler and Rachel Swords. As preparation, like always, students completed an online quiz prior to class where they reflected on the contrastive approach to grammar instruction, where teachers emphasize that choices are more or less formal rather than more or less correct.

To start off, we watched three YouTube videos:

While Key and Peele got the most laughter, I love “Bailando” for the variety of switches it employs. The lyrics go from Gente de Zona singing completely in Spanish (“Me está enloqueciendo / Me va saturando”) to Enrique Iglesias singing in relatively formal standard English “Girl, I like the way you move”…and then there’s the hook:

I wanna be contigo
And live contigo, and dance contigo
Para have contigo
Una noche loca

With their intra-sentential switching, these lines demonstrate a seamless slide from English to Spanish. The song also has been commercially successful, holding onto a top 20 spot in the Billboard Top 100 and leading news outlets like NPR to wonder “How Did ‘Bailando’ Become a Spanglish Crossover Hit?”

Maybe it’s because so many of us code-switch so often?

The Perfect Poem for Sentence Combos


Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Sonnet 36 is just one sentence, in fact:

Hearing your words, and not a word among them
Tuned to my liking, on a salty day
When inland woods were pushed by winds that flung them
Hissing to leeward like a ton of spray,
I thought how off Matinicus the tide
Came pounding in, came running though the Gut,
While from the Rock the warning whistle cried,
And children whimpered and the doors blew shut;
There in the autumn when the men go forth,
With slapping skirts the island women stand
In gardens stripped and scattered, peering north,
With dahlia tubers dripping from the hand:
The wind of their endurance, driving south,
Flattened your words against your speaking mouth.

Students can be asked to identify where the opening subordinate clause actually stops (end of line 4) and where the first independent clause stops (end of line 8) with the understanding that this is not a run-on sentence!

Millay uses various methods of sentence coordination, with the coordinating conjunction “and” in line 8 as well as a semicolon at the end of that line, and a colon at the end of line 12. She also employs different subordinating conjunctions like “when” in lines 3 and 9 and “how” in line 5.

Students can be asked to go online and examine an additional poem by Millay (the Academy of American Poets lists 34 works in its collection). Does she consistently write one-sentence poems? Does she have favorite methods of sentence construction?

New Semester

I spent the better part of the summer working full time. When I wasn’t on my laptop conducting my three online courses, I was creating how-to videos. When I had a break from all that, I was trying to pull together my research (three articles in progress). So, I didn’t blog much.

But now it’s a new semester, fresh with possibilities! My pencils are, both physically and metaphorically, sharpened. I have extra classes to teach, lessons to revise, new duties to navigate, and all the usual meetings that accompany the start of a term.

sharpened pencil on blank paper

It’s a lot, of course, so recently I read an advice piece called “Face It: Your Decks Will Never Be Cleared” on the Chronicle of Higher Education looking for inspiration. I agree with the overarching premise of the article: there is always something on a teacher’s desk. I agree that ten minutes a day for research writing is a small bit to carve out, but those minutes add up (personally, I try for at least 30 minutes each day). I disagree, however, with the importance attributed to research:

The key is to remember that your scholarly work is not just one more commitment. It is not “one more thing.” It is the main thing in your professional life. It is what you need to do to be happy in your chosen field. And it can be a rewarding thing, once you establish frequent, low-stress, high-reward encounters, in a supportive environment, with a project you care about.

My research is not the main thing in my professional life — not even close. While I enjoy my writing and scholarly projects, they really are not my source of professional happiness. Sure, it’s a nice buzz to see my name in a table of contents or on Google Books, but the main thing in my professional life always has been, and I hope always will be, the success of my students.

I do work at a teaching-intensive university, where the typical load is a 4/4, not a 2/2, so maybe my perspective is different. I still am expected to produce scholarship regularly, and even though folks might argue that my research activities raise the level of discourse in the classroom, I rarely teach anything related to my scholarly areas.

I like research, but as I keep telling people lately, “I wouldn’t have gotten a Ph.D. in English unless I wanted to teach at the college level.”

If it’s a choice between redoing a lecture for one of my classes and putting in 15 more minutes on an article, my students will win, 99 times out of 100.


Grieving 2.0

in honor of my dear friend Ruthie, who died this morning at home, surrounded by her large extended family, after a year-long fight against stage 4 metastatic breast cancer 

Where we used to send cards and flowers, grief has a new life on social media. When a student at my university passes, there’s a flood of tweets about that person, complete with memories and photos (and a stream of accusatory “you didn’t even know him/her” replies).

How do we know people, in this electronic age? If we never meet in real life but we’ve been chatting online for three years, do we get to claim friendship and a space at the virtual grieving table? I think so.

My friend’s Facebook wall today is a stream of condolences to her husband, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, cousins, and grandchildren. Her relatives are sharing their disbelief and grief. People who knew her mention her constant good cheer, her giving spirit, the hole that will be left by her absence. They are her friends.

But individuals who only “knew” her on Twitter, as a diehard part of a particular fan army, are sharing their sympathy as well. Ruthie had 420 Twitter followers, many of whom may not have known she was even battling cancer. They still are extending condolences from other continents, as members of her extended online family. They have known her in this 2.0 forum since 2009. They are her friends, too.

It’s funny that someone shared this cartoon with me yesterday on Facebook:

Copyright Shoebox Blog

Copyright Shoebox Blog

It’s supposed to be funny. Facebook updates are a bunch of mundane say-nothings. Yet for the grandchildren who are too small to remember Ruthie–and for the great-great-grandchildren decades down the road–a snapshot of her Facebook wall will show exactly what TV shows, movies, and musicians she liked enough to click the “like” button for them. They might read one of the “25 Things About Me” memes that she completed. They will see the pictures of her, smiling and healthy, that people shared in her last weeks. They will see how most of her timeline was devoted to bragging about her family. They will see, in clear sentences, how much this woman meant to others.

Today, I’m grateful for social media and the mundane memories it can leave behind for grandchildren.

Love you, Ruthie!