W-Th Sept. 5-6 (Week II)
Key terms and concepts
conventional language vs original language
idiomatic vs unidiomatic (or not idiomatic) language
Plagiarism and "other people's words"
I began by reviewing the key rule of thumb we learned last class: Writers of English learn to follow a rule: When using others' words in your writing, you must put them in quotation marks.
Last class we looked at a list of phrases from They Say, I Say and tried to decide whether these phrases represented the author's unique / original language -- language that "belongs" to the author and therefore must be put in quotation marks -- or whether these phrases were conventional language that is "common property" we're all free to use. In this class we continued this exercise.
We quickly noticed the decision wasn't always easy to make. Though some phrases clearly "belonged" to Graff and Birkenstein and others were clearly "common property," for many of them the decision of whether to put them in quotation marks could depend on context. A phrase from TSIS like "agree and disagree simultaneously," "respond to larger conversations," or "linguistic formulas" could be used without quotation marks when writing about something totally unrelated to They Say, I Say, but if you used those phrases when summarizing They Say, I Say, you would definitely want to use quotation marks.
This underscores the importance of developing your own internal compass (or "gut feeling"): These decisions can't be made according to a clear-cut set of rules. I encouraged you to come up with your own list of "rules of thumb" to help you decide what needs to be quoted in what situations. Examples of such "rules of thumb" might be: "An entire sentence from a text must always be in quotation marks" or "A single word from a text doesn't need to be in quotation marks unless it's an important word for the author or used in a unique way" (like "templates" or "moves").
Graff and Birkenstein say that to become a good academic writer, one must learn to "weave others' voices into our writing." Doing this basically means mastering three "moves": summarizing, quoting, and paraphrasing.
Paraphrasing--expressing someone else's idea "in your own words"--is an important skill for "weaving others' voices" into a text without plagiarizing their language. We practiced paraphrasing in a different way in each section, but the key take-home message was:
Paraphrasing does not mean simply "rearranging" the writer's words in a new order. It means expressing the idea in an entirely new way, using none (or very few) of the important words from the original sentence or passage.
This serves two purposes: 1) it ensures that you don't plagiarize; and 2) it forces you to "digest" the idea, to think about it and actually understand it.
I handed out an essay written in Chinese by an American college student who is not a Chinese native speaker, and asked you read it and mark all the places where the language was either "wrong" (ungrammatical) or "weird" (unidiomatic).
Many of you laughed at the author's unidiomatic expressions: Second-language writing can be quite funny to read! I asked you to tell me why the unidiomatic bits were funny or weird and many of you quickly discovered how hard it to explain.
I asked you imagine you were this student's teacher, and brainstorm ideas for a) how would give the student useful feedback on the assignment; and b) what advice you'd give the student on how to improve their writing in the long term. Examples included: marking the student's errors but making them figure out how to fix them themselves; coming up with different "categories" of errors; and, in the long term, just reading a lot!
I did this exercise for a few reasons:
to demonstrate what unidiomatic language is and why it's problematic for the reader
to "put you in my shoes," and show you the sorts the things I have to consider when giving feedback on your assignments
to show you that the problem of unidiomatic language can't be solved overnight, but will only really get better with long-term practice.
Lastly, I handed back your marked-up copies of Short Essay #1, and introduced my system of Editing Marks.
Due M-Tu Sept. 10-11 (Day 5)
➤ Save your essay with my markings on it in a safe place. I encourage you to visit me in office hours or make an appointment to go over your specific language issues. Later, when we have mandatory one-on-one meetings, I'll ask you to bring all of your marked-up written work.
➤ Read my open letter to you on Two Cents. In particular, notice these things:
Where do I paraphrase students' ideas?
Where do I quote students' words?
Where do I offer my own ideas (or ask questions)?
What conventions do I follow when I quote your writing? What language, sentence structures, and punctuation marks do you notice me using?
Print out my essay and mark the places where I a) paraphrase, b) quote, and c) offer ideas or ask questions. You might find 3 different-colored highlighters or markers helpful for this. Bring your marked-up copy of the essay to next class.
➤ Short Essay #2
Why, despite the challenges, did Peter Hessler persist in (not "insist on") learning Chinese? What do you believe were his most important sources of his motivation -- what "kept him going" and helped him overcome the challenges he faced?
A good paper (one that gets a check-plus for the Writing component) will:
Make me understand clearly what you think the challenges were;
Make me understand clearly what you think the sources of Hessler's motivation were;
Use specific examples (not vague generalities) to achieve 1) and 2)
Focus on just a couple (2-3) main points and explain them in depth, rather than scattering your attention over a million different ideas
Not plagiarize Peter Hessler's language -- use quotation marks when using language that came directly from the text (language that "belongs" to Hessler)
Please note: When quoting someone else's words, everything between the quotation marks must be that person's exact words! If you change anything, you must make that clear by using brackets [ ] when you add something and ellipses ( . . . ) when you subtract. (See my open letter for examples.)