Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What Do Professors Want?


"Professor, what, exactly, do you want?"

This is a question I often hear from students, especially before a critical assignment or essay is due in the class. I often cringe when I hear a student ask this, because to me, it either means I am not being clear, or it means that a student just wants an answer.

As writers it is our job to ask questions, to investigate, explore the reasons, not particularly to give answers. I believe it's my job, as a writing teacher to illicit questions, not to give answers;  so, I try to get the student to come up with their own answer.  Most students are just annoyed by this response. Then, I discovered that I am not the only teacher that recognizes this dilemma. Roanoke English Professor, Paul Hanstedt finally does answer the question, and it deserves repeating. So, in the words of Professor Hanstedt and to all of my students:
You want to know what I want? Here's what I want:
  • I want you to come to class. 
  • I want you to come to class on time.
  • When you don't come to class, I want you to be honest with me about why you weren't there.  Please note:  a lot of grandparents tend to die around midterms.  I've noticed this trend.  Just saying.
  • I want you to accept responsibility for any work you've missed.  Whatever you do, I don't want you to ask me if you "missed anything important."  I want you to understand how insulting that question is.
  • I want you to do the reading.
  • What's more, I want you to think about the reading.  How does it relate to everything else we've read and discussed in class?  What do you find intriguing?  Why? What startles you?  Why?  What challenges you?  Why? 
  • I want you to ask why.  I want you to ask this of yourself, of your classmates, and yes, of me. 
  • I want you to be gracious as you do this.  Because being gracious is rare these days, and I want you to be a rare person.
  • I want you to have some fun.  I really do.  I want you to go to parties and fall in love and indulge in some of the things that college students have indulged in since the beginning of time-or at least since the late 1960s.
  • And I want you to come to class on time, have I mentioned that?  Even when class is at, say, 8:30 on a Friday morning.
  • I want you to take some risks.  Raise your hand even if you're not entirely sure you're right.  Ask the questions that get us all thinking.
  • I want you to fail. 
  • I want you to not give up when you fail.  I want you to step back, reconsider, think about what happened. 
  • Then I want you to try again, more thoughtfully this time.
  • I want you to study abroad.  I want you to wake up in a foreign country and be confused and have to learn your way.  I want you to learn that you are capable of doing this.
  • I want you to push yourself. 
  • I want you to push the world.
  • I want you to look at what's not right and change it.
  • I want you to push me to do the same.  Years ago, I was at a workshop when someone said, "Well, obviously we don't want our students to be line workers:  we want them to be line managers."  I didn't say anything at the time, but what I thought was, "No:  I want my students to walk into the room, look at the line workers and the line managers and say, 'There's got to be a better way.'  And I want them to have the courage to act." 
  • I want to see you walk across the stage at graduation. I want to barely recognize you, because there's a light in your eyes that changes the way you look, a light that tells me that you've found something-a poem, a social issue, a question in the sciences-that keeps you awake at night, that tells you who you are, what you value, what really matters in life.  I want to see that light, and I want to see your face, and I want to shake your hand. 
  • That's what I want. 
  • But in the meantime, I want you to write that damn paper and turn it in.  Preferably on time.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Example of Strong Design




What Can/Should a Person Do?

I was standing in line at the grocery store yesterday and wondered what I could do right then to help.  I decided to chat with the next person in line. I simply turned to the person and said, "Hi! Darn, I forgot my reuseable bags today. Did you know . . .

  • An estimated one million birds and 100,000 turtles and other sea animals die of starvation each year after ingesting discarded plastic bags which block their digestive tracks.

  • A person uses a plastic carrier bag on average for only 12 minutes; in contrast, a plastic bag can take between 500 to 1000 years to break down in the environment.


  • At least 267 different species are known to have suffered from entanglement or ingestion of plastic marine debris.www.worldwatch.org/node/5565

  • Instead of using a bag I asked the checker to simply put everything back in the cart since I have bags in the car. Then, I bagged my own groceries when I got to the parking lot.

  • My next few blog posts will focus on a series of suggestions, litlle changes that anyone can and should make in their dailiy lives that will have great impact in our community and in our world.

Here's a list so far:
  1. Talk to people and convince at least one person to refuse a plastic and paper bag today.
  2. Convince that one person to convince at lieast one other person and pass it on . . .

What simple things can you do?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Example of Strong Content--Weak Design

The sample post below could be more appealing to an audience with relevant graphics to make reading online easier and more inviting. Also, the use of color and bullets should enhance the text rather than distract from it.


What Can/Should A Person Do?

I was standing in line at the grocery store yesterday and wondered what I could do right then to help.  I decided to chat with the next person in line. I simply tuned to the person and said, "Hi! Darn, I forgot my reuseable bags today. Did you know . . .

An estimated one million birds and 100,000 turtles and other sea animals die of starvation each year after ingesting discarded plastic bags which block their digestive tracks.



  • A person uses a plastic carrier bag on average for only 12 minutes; in contrast, a plastic bag can take between 500 to 1000 years to break down in the environment.

  • There is now six times more plastic debris in parts of the North Pacific Ocean
    than zooplankton.
    www.acfnewsource.org/environment/plastic_plankton.html



    At least 267 different species are known to have suffered from entanglement
    or ingestion of plastic marine debris.
    www.worldwatch.org/node/5565

    Instead of using a bag I asked the checker to simply put everything back in the cart since I have bags in the car. Then, I bagged my own groceries when I got to the parking lot.


    My next few blog posts will focus on a series of suggestions, litlle changes that anyone can and should make in their dailiy lives that will have great impact in our community and in our world.

    Here's a list so far:
    1. Talk to people and convince at least one person to refuse a plastic and paper bag today.
    2. Convince that one person to convince at lieast one other person and pass it on . . 
    What simple things can you do?

    Thursday, February 21, 2013

    Creating Writing Assignments with a Real Purpose

    As an English teacher and writer, I often wonder how I can use writing with my students as a vehicle for change. Each semester I try to create writing assignments that evoke interest in my students and that also serve a larger purpose. Last semester I created a writing assignment, a research paper, about the use of plastic bottles in our community. I wondered: "Why do people buy water in plastic bottles when they can get water for free?  What impact does the plastic water bottle craze have on our community?"  I have similar questions about the use of plastic bags.  Europe has been using their own bags for over a decade, but Americans are still stuck on using the plastic bag or paper bag in stores.

    Here's a link to a mockumentary video on the topic of plastic bags that effectively advocates for change:



    I asked my students to research this topic and to inspire people to make a change. The purpose of the research paper was to change the habits of the average American consumer. This topic worked well, for some, but others were not inspired by these issues.

    I need more ideas. What other research paper topics might work to inspire change in our community? Let me know what you think!

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012

    Writing for Social Change



    The power of words can inspire people to change the world. This blog serves to inspire writers to write for social change. The blog is based on the concept of using writing as a tool for social critique, as a means of calling for social change and justice, and as a tool for social transformation. The blog combines traditional methods of literary and cultural analysis with creative, personal writing, exploring  the ways writers impact communities, and examining the role of writers in addressing pressing social issues.