Updated Gatsby Module

I have updated the module on The Great Gatsby to ERWC 3.0.  This version includes the new 3.0 cells.  I eliminated some of the possible literary approaches and streamlined it a bit.  I now have a short writing assignment after each section so that instead of one module “arc” it has four mini arcs.   It is currently being piloted by at least one teacher.  After the pilot, I will create a teacher version.  If you have a chance to pilot it, please give me feedback.

The post on the older version is here.

The ERWC “Cell”

Why are the third-level headings in the ERWC Assignment Template called “cells”? Are we supposed to imagine them looking like this?

purplecells1

When we designed the first ERWC Assignment Template, we created a two column table with the ELA standards on the left hand and a description of an activity that addressed those standards on the right. As we added activities, we added rows, and eventually, we started naming categories of activities and describing the kinds of things that would happen at that point in the process. We started calling these categories “cells” because they were inserted into cells in the big table that was developing.

Recently, as we work on designing ERWC 3.0, some members of the committee began to question the term “cell,” saying that it wasn’t intuitive and that it reminded them of a prison cell. One even said that the term was “just weird.” I found myself defending the term, having used it without thinking much about it for more than 14 years.

Element

One of the suggested replacements was “element.” I took an immediate dislike to this, but I had to think carefully about why. In one sense, an “element” is a substance with a unique molecular structure that is uncombined and pure. In another sense, it is a necessary part of something else. Neither of these descriptions fit what we have in mind when we imagine our activity categories, which are not unique, pure, or necessary.  And “element” seemed solid and static. It didn’t feel right.

A Container

I began to think about the connotations of “cell.” A cell is a space with boundaries in which things happen. Yes, there are prison cells, but there are also monk’s cells. A cell has an inside and an outside. A biological cell is full of activity, consuming energy, processing things, accomplishing tasks, performing functions. A biological cell has a role to play, connects and collaborates with other cells, does work and passes the results on to other cells with different roles. A cell is part of a whole, part of an organism without which it cannot survive.

So a “cell” is an activity node, a waystation in a network of activity. I think this is exactly what we are trying to accomplish in naming the places and pathways of the template. We fill the cell with possible activities, processes, and products that connect to other cells and other products. And moving from the template cell to the module cell is a kind of reproduction, mitosis if you will. So yes, I think we should imagine a module to look something like the picture at the beginning of this post.  It is a pretty good metaphor for what we are doing. I think we should keep the term.

Module Writers’ Workshops: Key Points

The ERWC program recently conducted two two-day sessions for module writers to prepare them to develop new modules for ERWC 3.0. This post summarizes the key points we addressed during these two days.

Process for Developing New and Revised Modules

We are asking module writers to submit a Module Proposal Form (Page 1, Pages 2-3), which contains six questions. The first three concern the issue or question for the proposed module, the texts, and the possible writing prompt. Answers should be submitted mid to late October 2017, to the Module Review Panel. Writers whose proposals are approved will be assigned to a writing group led by a member of the ERWC Steering Committee. The answers to the last three questions, which concern learning goals, California English language arts and English language development standards, and the rhetorical concepts emphasized in the module, will be submitted in late November.

Module writers will submit a mini-module by late November, 2017, that includes at least one activity under each of the secondary headings and thus completes the ERWC “Arc”: Preparing to Read, Reading Purposefully, Questioning the Text, Preparing to Respond, Composing a Draft, and Revising Rhetorically. This should be a potentially teachable module that would take two to three days of class time. Once approved, the writer will expand the module to include appropriate scaffolding for different populations and to address an expanded number of learning goals and standards.

ERWC 3.0 Assignment Template Outline with Key Questions

The handout “ERWC Assignment Template Outline with Key Questions” functions as a quick reference for module writers and is the starting point for most module development. It is also useful to help teachers get a quick overview of the full Assignment Template. The latest version is available here.

ERWC 3.0 Mini-Module: Jimmy Kimmel Monologue

The workshop used this module designed around a Jimmy Kimmel monologue on health care to introduce the concept of mini-modules and to demonstrate the new template.

Universal Design for Learning

UDL is a philosophy and a set of concepts designed to make learning tasks accessible to any student, regardless of background or possible disability. In general, this involves offering multiple choices in media, ways of engaging texts, and ways of responding. The goal is to produce expert learners who are motivated, resourceful, and goal-directed. You can access more detail in the Universal Design for Learning Principles handout.

Integrated & Designated English Language Development in ERWC

Many students in ERWC classrooms will be English Learners who should receive integrated and designated English language development (ELD) instruction. All new ERWC modules will provide resources suitable for integrated ELD, and some modules will also include guidance for providing designated ELD. Module writers should consult the English Language Arts/English Language Development Framework and the English language development standards. An executive summary is available here.

The design of ERWC already incorporates much that facilitates both UDL and ELD, but increased attention to providing appropriate scaffolding and choices for different populations will further enhance the effectiveness of our curriculum.

Assignment Template 3.0: New Key Cells

The ERWC 3.0 Assignment Template has many features retained from the previous template. Some sections (internally we tend to call them “cells”) have been renamed and some deleted. Some new key cells have been added, based on evidence from our previous i3 study, feedback from teachers, and new interpretations of theory and research.

Negotiating Meaning

This cell is about making meaning from text, including identifying points of difficulty and developing strategies for overcoming it. We want activities that develop both individual strategies and social strategies that involve pooling knowledge and working together.

Considering the Rhetorical Situation

When we started designing the original version of ERWC, most teachers were not very familiar with rhetoric. We decided to keep things simple and relied mostly on the Aristotelian concepts of ethos, pathos, and logos. At this point, these concepts are much better understood by teachers, and we want to include a wider range of key rhetorical concepts. The basis for this expansion is close analysis of “the rhetorical situation” of a text, which includes the author’s audience, purpose, and occasion.

Synthesizing Multiple Perspectives

At one level, a paper that contains words, facts, and ideas from multiple sources is a kind of synthesis. However, this cell is about more than that. Every reading has at least two perspectives: that of the author and that of the reader. A perspective is a viewpoint, a way of seeing. We can see the same object from different perspectives and thus have different interpretations of its value or significance. As authors engage multiple philosophical, political, and personal perspectives, and readers with different backgrounds engage their texts, confusion can ensue. Activities in this cell will be about strategies for recognizing different perspectives, engaging them, accounting for them, and representing them.

Considering Your Task and Your Rhetorical Situation

This cell in the second main section of the template, what used to be called “Connecting Reading to Writing” but which is now called “Preparing to Respond,” is where the writing task for the module is normally introduced, causing the student to begin to reconsider the readings, his or her notes and annotations, and previous activities in the light of the writing task. The focus is now on “How can I use this material?” This is relatively unchanged from the previous template, except that we are placing new emphasis on the student’s rhetorical situation, his or her audience, purpose and occasion for writing.

Making Choices as You Write

Previous versions of the template were somewhat weak on the writing process. We wanted to steer away from the five-paragraph essay, but offered an intro-body-conclusion model that was not much different. Our directions assumed for the most part that students were writing short essays. In ERWC 3.0, we are expanding our horizons considerably. We recognize that a student’s writing process may be recursive and non-linear. We support a variety of genres and organizational patterns. We allow for multi-modal projects that have written elements, but could also include visual and auditory components. And as indicated in the heading for this cell, we facilitate student choice throughout.

We have also renamed sections or strands of the template to more closely mirror the language of the “arc.” Instead of Prereading, Reading, and Postreading, we now refer to Preparing to Read, Reading Purposefully, and Questioning the Text within the domain of Reading Rhetorically. See the draft Assignment Template here for other changes.

Learning Goals & Formative Assessment

The previous version of ERWC offered numerous opportunities and suggestions for formative assessment. However, these tended to be assessments of the students’ ability to perform the tasks of the current activity. They were fairly local. In part, this was because the learning goals of the module were often written after the module had been completed. In ERWC 3.0, learning goals are front and center. In addition to a carefully designed short list of learning goals for the module, we also have opportunities for teachers and students to set their own personal learning goals. Learning goals, readings, activities, and formative assessments will all be aligned.

Course Matrices & Modules in the Mix

ERWC 3.0 will consist of two courses, a new 11th grade course and a revised 12th grade course. The current model is for each course to consist of eight major modules with mini-modules on rhetorical concepts and other key strategies in between them. Modules will be sequenced according to multiple variables including text complexity and length, rhetorical concepts, implementation of standards, genres, writing tasks, and other factors. In some cases we may ask a module writer to tweak the module for a better fit in a possible course position. We are still thinking about the “arc” of the course in relation to the “arc” of a module and how to incorporate specific text types required by the standards, such as Shakespeare, American drama, full-length novels, foundational American documents, poetry and short stories. In addition, we are creating four modules for each grade in high school that will incorporate both integrated and designated ELD. We will revise some existing modules and create new ones in order to support the implementation of comprehensive ELD within existing ELA courses.

Module Writing Tips

My mantra for module writing in ERWC 3.0 is “Shorter, simpler, smarter.” Because we have added some new and important cells, and because we are trying to address both UDL and ELD, with the added requirements of increased scaffolding and multiple pathways, it will be hard to achieve the first two terms. Still, it is a goal to keep in mind. I have made some suggestions for how to achieve this in another post on “Module Writing Tips.”

New 1984 Writing Prompts

In a college-level literature course for English majors, the general practice is to assign several novels or other works and then let the students decide what they want to write about. Usually, this involves choosing a theme, a motif, a set of symbols, a social issue, or other focus and examining how it plays out in a particular work or works. Students support their reading of the work with evidence from the text. However, this practice is a bit too open-ended for non-majors. For ERWC, the writing assignment needs to have more focus.

A novel like 1984 is bristling with themes and big ideas to write about. However, the Internet creates problems in this regard. All of the obvious themes and big ideas have been explored in Spark Notes, Cliff’s Notes and various homework helper sites. A student can easily find essays to download, or detailed comments to copy and paste from Goodreads and other review sites.

In my original module, I tried to follow somewhat unconventional themes that perhaps had not been explored so thoroughly. I created four topics:

  1. The Party and Power: Can a society based on hate survive?
  2. The Fall of Big Brother: What might cause the fall of Big Brother?
  3. The Party and Objective Reality: Can Big Brother decide what is real and what is not?
  4. Surveillance and Big Brother: Is our technology taking us closer to the world of Big Brother?

Because these were all complex issues, I tried to help students by quoting relevant passages and asking lots of questions about subtopics. The prompts ended up being long and complicated, which is why I kept coming back to the core questions listed above. Recently, I asked one of my colleagues on the ERWC Steering Committee, who has read more sample ERWC essays than anyone I know, how these topics were working. The news was not good. Most students chose the fourth question about technology. Those who chose the first one about a society based on hate usually just answered “no” and went on to describe how horrible it was to live in Oceania. The topics were not inspiring good writing or thinking.

The other two topics were rarely used. The second topic about the fall of Big Brother requires an understanding of the fictitious book by Emmanuel Goldstein, plus an understanding of the implications of the appendix, the essay on Newspeak. It is an interesting political question, but too much for most students. The third topic, about Big Brother’s control of the perception of reality through language and power, is at its heart an epistemological question. I was setting the bar pretty high.

So as I revise the module for ERWC 3.0, one of my tasks is to create new writing prompts. My criteria are as follows: the prompt should

  • Require that the student have read the novel
  • Connect ideas from the novel to the student’s own experience
  • Be formulated in such a way that the student can take a stance and write a thesis statement

Here is a list of possible new topics (linked here and pasted below).  Please help me refine them by posting a comment:

1. Winston Smith is a low-level party member. In the course of the novel he has several interactions with the “proles” (short for “proletariat, essentially “the people”). How are the lives of proles and party members different? Would you rather be a prole or a Party member in 1984? Provide specific examples from the novel to support your argument.

2. The world of Big Brother has three main slogans:

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

These slogans seem to be paradoxical and contradictory on the surface, but in the world of Big Brother, they make a kind of sense. Each is like an equation, but how can one thing equal its opposite? Perhaps it would be better to ask “How can one thing lead to its opposite?” Could war abroad lead to peace at home? Could absolute freedom make you a slave to your own desires? Could knowing too much make you think more than act? Choose one of these slogans and explore what it means in 1984, using examples from the book. Then think about how the slogan might apply in our own society.

3. The people of Oceania are under constant surveillance by the government, through telescreens and microphones. How does this surveillance affect the lives of the people? If you knew your TV, your smartphone, and other devices were constantly watching and listening to you, how would you change your behavior? In a well-organized essay, discuss the effects of surveillance in the novel and potentially in our own lives.

4. 1984 provides a cautionary tale about the potential of surveillance technology to allow an authoritarian government to control the population. At present, current technology, including smartphones, web cams, GPS tracking, internet-connected home appliances, and many other items, is being used to make daily life more convenient. However, each of these is potentially a very powerful surveillance technology that the totalitarian oligarchy of 1984 would have been overjoyed to use. At this moment, the government, or another entity, could easily see every Web site you have visited, read every message you ever sent, and listen to every phone call. In what ways does 1984 suggest that we should be worried that our use of electronic devices could someday lead to totalitarian control? If Big Brother really might use our electronics to watch us, what could we do to stop it?

5. Science fiction novels don’t always try to predict the future, but in 1984, Orwell is trying to warn us of what might happen if new propaganda techniques and technology were combined in the hands of an authoritarian leader. As a prediction of the future, how accurate is 1984? In a well-organized essay, discuss what Orwell got right, and what he got wrong. Support your arguments with examples from the text.

6. “Newspeak” is attempt by Big Brother to control thought by reducing the number of words in the language and eliminating words that might lead to “thoughtcrime,” which is itself a Newspeak word. Is it possible to control thought through controlling language? Does our own society have similar tendencies? In a well-organized essay, discuss examples of Newspeak in the novel and how this kind of control might function in our own society.

Shorter, Simpler, Smarter: Tips for Module Writers

I have joked in previous posts that my position on new ERWC modules is that they should be “shorter, simpler, and smarter” than our previous efforts.  I have been asked to clarify what I mean by that and how it might be achieved.  As ERWC is about to gear up for a mad dash of module writing, it is an appropriate time to unpack that slogan.  In response, I have brainstormed a series of tips, based on my experience writing modules and getting feedback on how they perform in the classroom.   It turned out there were ten.  Here they are:

  1. What is the most interesting aspect of the text? Is it the rhetorical strategies? Is it the claims, the arguments, and the evidence? Is it the style? Is it ethos constructed by the author? Is it the implications for our lives, or for the future? Focus your attention on the most interesting elements.
  2. Design learning goals that are appropriate for the course, the standards, the students and the text. Don’t try to do everything at once.
  3. Build your module from the inside out by writing a micro-module first. After choosing your text or texts, design a writing prompt, then a prereading activity, a reading activity, and a critical activity that lead up to it. Then consult the template and the course matrix to think about what might be added to enhance the module and support the learning goals.
  4. Don’t go cell by cell and design an activity for each one. Each cell is a possible door. Don’t open every one. You are charting a path, not ransacking a building.
  5. Every activity should have a clear purpose that supports the learning goals and moves the student toward the writing assignment.
  6. When you add an activity, think about how it integrates with other parts of the module. Can a written product produced in this activity be used for another task in a later one? Will the thinking or analysis used here be useful for a later step?
  7. When adding a new text or activity, always consider the effort-to-benefit ratio. Is the effort expended by the student worth the benefit they will get from it?
  8. When you add another text to the mix, think carefully about what is gained by it. Do you really need another perspective or more data? Do the texts complement each other, clash productively, or just give you more of the same?
  9. When writing your module, try to think like a teacher and think like a student. Imagine you are teaching your module, then imagine an inexperienced teacher teaching it, then imagine being a student in the class. Ask yourself, “What can they do now that they couldn’t do before?” and “What am I preparing them to do later?”
  10. Don’t present every interesting thing you have discovered about the text. Leave some treasures for students to find on their own.

To complement this list of tips for module writers, I have also posted the new ERWC 3.0 Assignment Template Outline with Key Questions, which is the short version of the template that serves as a cheat sheet for module writers.

A Narrative with a Point

An ERWC 3.0 Mini-Module

On May 1, 2017, Jimmy Kimmel opened his show with a story about his son, who was born with a heart defect.  He began

I have a story to tell about something that happened to our family last week. I’m sorry, you know I try not to get emotional, but it was a scary story, and before I go into it I want you to know it has a happy ending. Don’t get too upset; leave that to me.

It was an unusual beginning for a comedy show. He tells his audience that the story is scary, but not to worry, it has a happy ending, referencing both the past and the future at the outset. Then he returns to the past to begin his narrative. His son is born, but in the recovery room, a nurse notices something unusual. His son is rushed to another room, which soon fills up with doctors and specialists. Everyone is worried as more tests are made. Meanwhile, Kimmel’s wife is still in the recovery room, oblivious to any problems. Finally, Kimmel’s son is rushed to Children’s Hospital for heart surgery. Everything turns out ok.

Kimmel thanks doctors, nurses, and many others, and describes a happy home life with his new son. But then he makes a political point: “No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life.” He connects this thesis to the vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act that is about to take place in the Senate.  This quickly became known as the “Jimmy Kimmel” test for the political viability of a health care policy.

The narrative is a well-crafted rhetorical piece with emotional appeals, strong identification, and various appeals to both medical and political logos. It also does interesting things with narrative time.  As he delivers the monologue, he moves back and forth between show time, hospital time, home time, and the larger political moment. There are many “nows” in his story, as there are in most stories, including the “now” of senators taking a vote on health care.

We used this monologue at our leadership events to introduce the concept of the rhetorical situation.  I found it so interesting that I decided to create a  mini module around it, based on the current draft of the ERWC 3.0 template.  See what you think.  Please post comments on this site.

In Memoriam: Jim Garrett

Yesterday I went to a memorial service for my friend Jim Garrett, whom I first met back in 1991, when I was setting up a new writing center at Cal State L.A. Jim was a computer programmer who had decided to study literature. He had enrolled in the M.A. program and the English Department had just instituted a requirement that new Teaching Assistants had to work in the writing center for one quarter before teaching. The center was brand new and I had just ordered 10 Apple Macintosh SE-30s and 10 IBM PCs for student use. I was a DOS PC person, but the SE-30s were delivered first. When Jim walked in, he found me puzzling over how to set up the unfamiliar Macs. He introduced himself and immediately began unboxing computers, setting them up, and teaching me how to use them.

Our friendship began at that moment. He was technically my employee at that point, but I was already learning from him. A few months later he found me having no luck trying to figure out how to create a student-tracking database in Dbase. He offered to write a program for me. When he brought the first version in, he sat for an hour watching the staff at the front desk use it. Then he told me, “They don’t use it the way I thought they would. I have to redesign it.” For most programmers, that would be a training issue, but not for Jim. He wanted it to work the way the staff worked. Eventually, that program not only tracked students, but scheduled tutors, did payroll, and generated dozens of reports. We used it for more than a decade.

All of this was typical of Jim. When he saw someone trying to solve a problem, he pitched in. And he brought immense problem-solving skill and considerable knowledge to every scenario. As near as I could tell, he was interested in everything. He had the problem-solving skill of an engineer and the soul of a poet. He could be practical, mathematical, theoretical, and whimsical, sometimes in the same moment. If he didn’t know how to do something, he would learn. If you asked him how to do something, he would more than likely do it for you.

Jim was a mathematically thinking computer programmer who became a Wordsworth scholar. For him, there was no contradiction in that. His thought was not easy to compartmentalize. If you thought you had exhausted the possibilities of something, Jim was sure to have a different take, a new perspective, a useful insight.

All this problem-solving kept Jim very busy, especially when he became chair of the English Department at Cal State L.A., a place with a tremendous number of problems to solve, many of which were off-the-charts intractable and full of Catch 22 traps. Jim continued to act as if data and well-founded arguments would ameliorate things in the long run. He kept trying even when his own particularly rational, genius-inflected approach did not win the day. Though Jim’s approach was always rational and straightforward, he understood human foibles, allowed for them, and took every person he met seriously.

No matter how busy Jim was, he always made time for family and friends. Whatever conversation you started with him, he was always right there. He never seemed to be bored, distracted, or to deflect any concern. He listened carefully, and always seemed to know something about the topic. Whenever I met Jim, no matter how things were going for me, I always smiled. Part of it was his smile, but part of it was simply his stance toward the world. You felt that things were going to be ok.

I considered Jim to be one of my best friends, but at the memorial service I realized that Jim had a huge number of people who considered him a best friend. He always made whoever he was talking with feel special.  Jim was one of those people who make you think that maybe the human race is not so bad after all. I realize now that there are certain kinds of problems that make me think, “I’ll ask Jim about this. He is sure to have some insight.” I still have those questions, but now I can’t ask Jim. We will all miss him so much.