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The Final Theater Project!

January 6, 2011

here it is, the two part series of “Relationships: We Love Them! We Hate Them!”



Giving Students Guidelines: Writing a Blog Commentary

December 2, 2010

While the free-for-all feeling of blogs exists, I had to do my part and find a way to teach my students something–something more than simply “What is a blog?”

After the blogs were set up, class became a series of group presentations. Their only real task: Bring in something to help start a conversation. The result was fantastic. We had students bring in music videos, commercials, song lyrics, and advertisements. Students performed mini-skits, they argued, they discussed, and then, of course, they wrote blogs about it.

The assignment: Write a commentary blog (based on a chapter in our textbook, Writing Today)

These commentaries had to do three things:
1. Discuss the Pros of a controversy by addressing the arguments of a complete Believer
2. Discuss the Cons of a controvery by addressing the arguments of a complete Doubter
3. Synthesize these two sides into where the student stands

Here are a few examples:

Jocelyn’s Blog: This is a blog titled “The Sex Effect.” Based on arguably the most memorable viewings in class, Jocelyn addressed an Axe Commercial advertisement (referenced in many other student blogs). Her blog literally moved me.

A Cinderella Story: This blog is titled “Just Another Game of Tetris or a Misinterpretation of Women?” and is another good example of how Axe affected our classroom. Rather than women running in bikinis in a commercial, Krista looks at a still Ad that uses modified tetris images. I do have to say this much about Axe: I might not like their commercials, but they were by far the most memorable!

Looking for Prince Charming: This blog, “Sex Sells Yet Another Commentary,” was based less on the class discussion, but advertisements that use sex in general.

And yet, not all the students stuck with the class content. Many came up with content of their own.

Trials and Tribulations: Jessica’s Blog “The New Deathbed” is about Cyberbullying and she integrates some really interesting research to make her point.

Ideas of Notsteve: And this one is by far the most creative. An “Uncommon Common Commentary” takes a very close look at the government’s preparation for: ZOMBIES!

From advertisements to song lyrics to the TSA’s role in the holidays, commentary blogs were everywhere and I was really proud of them.

More Credit: the Alternative to Extra Credit

November 17, 2010

It is that time again.  The end of the semester.  When grades are not what we want them to be (students and teachers both, if you are a teacher like me who worries that low grades are a reflection of my teaching) and time is running out.  Lucky for my blogging students, they are enrolled in one of UNM’s Freshmen Learning Community Courses:  English 101 (Composition: the reason they are blogging) is linked to Theater 122 (Theater Appreciation: the reason they are blogging about relationships)

In their theater link of the course, Susan is guiding the students through a devising process where they will write, perform, and stage their own production on an area/issue that most affects them.  Our class chose the all encompassing theme of Relationships.  Last year’s class chose Addiction.  You can view their performance here:

This year, Susan is working with the students to incorporate projected images and videos, and here’s where the “extra” credit blogging will come in. I have invited my students to post the following:

  1. A brief explanation of something you are currently devising/rehearsing for the final project.  This should just give us some context (for I, like you dear readers, haven’t been participating in this process).  Tell us what you are doing in the particular scene, how it came about, and anything else you might want to include.
  2. Include an image or a video that you think may best complement this skit.  Think of finding images that are interesting or compelling, complex and, most importantly, usable.  Your goal here is to help your tech crew compile images that will work either before, during, or after each individual skit. 

Rather than getting extra credit, I am offering a perfect score to my students’ lowest Low Stakes assignment.  (For instance, if they scored a 15 out of 30 on a low stakes assignment given at any point in the semester, I will change that grade to a perfect 30).  Happy blogging = hopefully, happy grades.

Advice for Teachers: A word about audience

November 15, 2010

In case I haven’t stated it clearly enough, I am not a regular blogger. I am also, by no means, a blog expert. Yet here I am teaching blogging to a class of English 101 students. Hence Susan and I’s blog name: teaching without a net (which implies that if you fail, then you fall, and you have to deal with all of the consequences of that SPLAT!). Then, why, you might ask, am I doing this?

UNM’s Core Writing Program focuses heavily on writing genres. Their logic is simple: most of the students who enroll in English 101 and 102 (composition courses) are not English majors. They want to study anthropology or criminology, engineering, communication, art, more or less anything BUT literature. By teaching genres rather than traditional English essays, the hope is for students to learn something transferable. Mainly, the good ole-fashioned RHETORICAL SITUATION.

The Rhetorical Situation is simple. It states, that for every act of “writing” (whether it’s a letter to your mother, a newspaper article, an academic essay, a billboard, or a blog post), you must consider five things: your subject (what you are writing about), your angle (your take on the matter), your purpose (why you are writing), your readers (who is reading it), and your context (in what form does this take place, when is it being written, and how will people encounter it).

I usually give students scenarios with their papers: You are a reporter for the Daily Lobo. Write a profile on an incoming freshman to introduce the class of 2014. Imagine your profile will be a part of a series of ongoing profiles. You must do this in only 250 words.

While this works (for the most part), my students aren’t stupid. I can pretend the audience is the entire university, but they know better. It is really just me. They aren’t actually reporters. They’re students. And this is a required course. (And my teacher is making me pretend to be a reporter? I don’t think so.) By blogging, I have forced them to become—reluctant or willing—actual bloggers. Who have to consider everything—the subject, the angle, the purpose, the context, and, most importantly, their audiences. That means you. And many of them don’t quite understand yet what that means.

In class, I provided many cautionary tales about being aware of audience. From teacherly advise—don’t write anything you don’t want your mother or a future boss to read—to actual evidence—I had them read Heather Armstrong’s blog. For those who don’t know, Heather was fired from her job after blogging about work. (Her story even caused the creation of a new verb: dooced.)

On the day of my student’s first blog posts, I offered these cautions then told them to choose a number between 1 and 10. Choosing 1 meant you would be extra cautious with your content. 10 meant the equivalent of “Who cares?” Most people chose the middle ground. I told them to remember this each time they put their thoughts out there into the wide wide world of cyberspace.

What I didn’t think about was where I fell along this scale as their teacher. Because, by creating this web of blogs, I have created something linked to ME, and I don’t want to be fired! Yikes! And if I put myself along that scale, I would score a 2.

So what do I do now that my students are doing exactly what I asked them to do: they are letting their personalities SHINE through their blogs, and as a result, their writing is some of the best writing I’ve seen from them all semester. They are using their own facebook-induced language (including quippy quotes back and forth and, yes, profanity), but they are also telling me EXACTLY how they really feel.  One particular blog discussed one class a student found particularly boring. (This, by the way, sent me into a minor state of devastation where I questioned whether or not I would ever teach again (I wish I was kidding).) It seems that somehow, by removing myself from V.I.P status, I may have also erased myself (and erased the filter that a teacher/grader provides).

And, if that wasn’t bad enough (or good enough?), my students were also blogging about guest lecturers or blogs written by people I knew. Many of these people were friends who’d volunteered to help me. And where I can get over my own melodrama, I do NOT want to cause hurt to people who were simply doing me a favor. And even though the overall class response to these events were positive, I didn’t want negative things spread about these people over the internet (for the world and their mothers to see!). In other words, blogging = can of worms. And boy do they squiggle!

I’m not a quizzer, but I made a quiz. The questions were as follows (as well as the answers):

  1. • How does blogging differ from facebook in terms of audience? [In facebook you can regulate who reads your messages and with blogs you can’t. In facebook, people who read your postings most likely know you and your personality. People reading your blogs? Maybe, maybe not.]
  2. • What has Heather Armstrong taught us about audience? [In short, that opinions can have some serious repercussions. Blog carefully.]
  3. • Give an example of how this could relate to your academic or professional lives now (In other words, what are some possible positive OR negative repercussion that may happen to one of your blog posts). [I might blog about how much I hated a class my teacher taught and she may never teach another class again. (ahem, melodrama)]
  4. • If you blog about the Cherry Orchard or another play campus performance, who may read it?
  • i. Sam, Suan, and your classmates
  • ii. the director of the play (who may one day decide to cast or not cast you in a role)
  • iii. The actors in the play (who you may one day perform beside)
  • iv. potential theater goers (who may see the play)
  • v. All of the above [←the answer.]

The idea, of course, is that this quiz is more a discussion launcher than an actual quiz. I hope that by having reality knock on their doors that it will get them remembering that their audience is much more than each other. We shall see if it works.

Relationships aren’t always just between people…

November 10, 2010

This post has absolutely nothing to do with teaching blogs, but I came across this list from my friend Casie who posted it on facebook. We spend so much time thinking about relationships towards people, but here is a lovely article that looks at the relationships of people and culture and the affects we have on words:

20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words from Around the World

This one is my favorite:


13. Wabi-Sabi


Japanese – Much has been written on this Japanese concept, but in a sentence, one might be able to understand it as “a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.” (

But the question is, how do you use it in a sentence?  Go forth and be wabi-sabi?

So What Happens Now? The Other Suitcase in the Other Room…

November 9, 2010

Last week, the class and I sat in the  computer lab of the SUB and spent two class periods setting up our blogs, surfing google or facebook for relevant images, all for the sole purpose of “making them blogs pretty.”  At one point, as twenty-two people typed away at computers, one of my students raised her hand and said, “Am I really allowed to sit here and search for pictures?”  

Part of me wonders if I’m going to get fired.  Because yes, for two full class periods, all we did was play.  Facebook, google images, youtube–a teacher’s usual nightmare (and student’s dream) were embraced and as far as I can tell, everyone was happy. 

“Title your blog entries whatever you want,” I said.  I reminded my students of their last two papers  (a literary analysis of a play and a profile on a person within the performance world).  “Remember how I told you to stop being so clever?  That I wanted boring, dry titles that fulfilled the rubric requirements (convey your subject and your angle, that’s all!).  Well, forget it.  Be your clever selves. Let the blog be you!”  And boy did they.  From Andrea’s Ghetto Love to Devonna’s Love and Lies or Ryan’s King of Muggle’s Blog, they did just that.  Blogs about cinderella stories, and parental relationships, open-ended questions about thedating world, about their place in it, and more (including one blog dedicated solely towards one “Failboat’s” failed advice).  

I’m as new to this blogging world as they are and we had fun simply working together and figuring things out.  Without a net, indeed.  But now the blogs are created (complete with snazzy titles and even more snazzy taglines) and the first postings have scattered over our twenty-one different sights.  (Susan has even learned to post photographs!).  

And I keep wondering: what happens now?  Well, in truth, it’s entirely  up to them.

(Oh yes, and extra credit points for anyone who knows what musical I’m referencing!)

I Did It–photo uploaded

November 8, 2010