The Hoarder’s Writing Shop and Table Revisited

[Way back in the Fall of 2012, I wrote something about how I shepherd writing ideas. Not long after I wrote it, I started using Evernote, as it had a functionality and flexibility I liked. I still use it, particularly as a sort of thought scrap-book from which I can draw at some point later. With Evernote, a stray thought, a link to a magazine article, and a photograph each find a easily organized platform. This app also makes it easy to connect different devices–a new note I write on my computer instantly arrives on my phone and visa-versa. I find it particularly useful when I travel as I am navigating back and forth from phone to computer continually. It has improved my work flow and my ability to preserve my thinking.

I am fascinated when I find something months or even years afterward that I wrote very quickly and without much reflection. A number of the ideas that in the past might have been fleeting get a second life. Many of the scraps become part of something larger. Additionally, I have noted more and more often that a number of these one-off thoughts are not actually one-offs but instead are part of an interconnected web of ideas.

I am sharing what I wrote in 2012 as it captures something that remains true about how I conceptualize my work. Evernote has come to house my writing shop and table. This way of thinking about my approach to writing whether it be for the blog, for some other aspect of my work, or for the poetry collection, reminds me continually that the best writing is not born of a lightning strike of inspiration but from hard work at a craft.]

The Hoarder’s Writing Shop and Table (2012)

–Something from Ecclesiastes…

–Some poems I haven’t finished (or rather am not ready to part with)… 

–Part of an email conversation about the role of technology in an English classroom…

–A paragraph I like from a letter I didn’t send several years ago…

I have a Word document that serves as a sort of a giant virtual workshop at the center of which is a virtual worktable where I can tighten the vice down on an idea or topic. Some things in the shop have been there a long time—projects continually pushed aside for more pressing ones. They hang on hooks on the wall next to virtual hammers and virtual screwdrivers.  I thought I would at last get to most of these over the summer—my May ambition to write more seems quaint to my September self. Somehow they never made it off the wall and onto the table. Some of them probably need to go to the dump, but I don’t quite have the heart to let them go.

Other things are in the shop and on the table only briefly before they move over to the blog. My last entry, for instance, about trading in my pick-up truck was only on the worktable for thirty minutes or so over the weekend before I moved it over to WordPress. I am writing this entry right now on the worktable. There is a television in the shop tonight, so the US Open is slowing me down.

This Word document is more woodshop than office, and its worktable designed more for a hack carpenter than a draftsman.

It is a place where the criteria for inclusion is limited to what may or may not be ever relevant to the creation of something else. In this way it is a hoarder’s writing shop, complete with overfull boxes of conceit washers, idea screws, and pentameter wood scraps.

If only my Mac could produce the perfect woodshop smell.

The Hoarder’s Writing Shop and Table

Something from Ecclesiastes…

some poems I haven’t finished (or rather am not ready to part with)…

part of an email conversation about the role of technology in an English classroom…

a paragraph I like from a letter I didn’t send several years ago…

I have a Word document that serves as a sort of a giant virtual workshop at the center of which is a virtual worktable where I can tighten the vice down on an idea or topic. Some things in the shop have been there a long time—projects continually pushed aside for more pressing ones. They hang on hooks on the wall next to virtual hammers and virtual screwdrivers.  I thought I would at last get to most of these over the summer—my May ambition to write more seems quaint to my September self. Somehow they never made it off the wall and onto the table. Some of them probably need to go to the dump, but I don’t quite have the heart to let them go.

Other things are in the shop and on the table only briefly before they move over to the blog. My last entry, for instance, about trading in my pick-up truck was only on the worktable for thirty minutes or so over the weekend before I moved it over to WordPress. I am writing this entry right now on the worktable. There is a television in the shop tonight, so the US Open is slowing me down.

This Word document is more woodshop than office, and its worktable designed more for a hack carpenter than a draftsman.

It is a place where the criteria for inclusion is limited to what may or may not be ever relevant to the creation of something else. In this way it is a hoarder’s writing shop, complete with overfull boxes of conceit washers, idea screws, and pentameter wood scraps.

If only my Mac Air could produce the perfect woodshop smell.

An Essay Grading Criteria for High School

[Around 1998, as part of an effort to make the evaluation of Senior Demonstration essays more consistent at Asheville School, I wrote a grading criteria that over the years evolved into the document that follows.  When we took the step of creating a Humanities Department out of the faculties of both the History and English Departments, the department revised the original criteria into something a bit closer to what appears below. I have used versions of it as the basis for my assessment of student writing ever since. Often when I created a writing assignment for my AP Literature students, I simply added a couple of sentences to each grade description in order to reflect the specific expectations of an individual assignment. When used by each member of the Humanities Department at Asheville School, we found it increased our grading consistency, and just as importantly, it provided us with a shared vocabulary to describe the relative quality of student writing.

I sent an early version of the grading criteria back to colleagues at Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina where I taught for the first eight years of my career, and they adopted a very similar criteria. I believe it is still in use there ] 

An A paper exceeds the expectations for the assignment. It contains compelling strengths and rich content and is appropriately suited to a particular audience. The author states a thesis of substance and/or originality and defends it by using relevant textual evidence and/or supportive detail. The paper maintains a readable and highly organized style that never interferes with the author’s intended meaning. This paper is marked by stylistic finesse: the title and opening paragraph are engaging; the phrasing is tight, fresh, and highly specific; the sentence structure is varied. The tone suits the purpose of the paper. The paper bears evidence of careful editing and revision and contains few, if any, grammatical errors. The author creates useful and artful transitions between paragraphs and sections of the essay. This response reveals an appreciation for and grasp of the subtleties of the work(s) and topic(s) the author has studied. The author provides a well-articulated conclusion derived from the essay that precedes it. This paper, because of its careful organization and development, imparts a feeling of wholeness and unusual clarity.

A B paper meets the expectations for the assignment. This paper delivers substantial information–that is, substantial in both quantity, interest, and originality. Its specific points are logically ordered, well-developed, and unified around a clear organizing principle that is apparent early in the paper. The author states a clear thesis in an introduction that draws the reader in and defends the thesis by using relevant textual evidence and/or supportive detail. The paper exhibits an awareness of audience. The paper bears evidence of editing and revision and contains few grammatical errors. The author attempts to create transitions between paragraphs and sections of the paper. This response maintains a readable and highly organized style, which only rarely gets in the way of the author’s intended meaning. The diction of the B paper is typically more concise and precise than found in the C paper. Occasionally, it even shows distinctive style–i.e., finesse and memorability. This response reveals an appreciation for and grasp of the work(s) and topic(s) the author has studied. The author provides a well-articulated conclusion derived from the essay that precedes it.

A C paper meets the assignment’s basic expectations although it is limited in some way. The author states a thesis and attempts to defend it by use of textual evidence. The paper may not exhibit a clearly focused awareness of audience. There may be gaps in the author’s logic or in the organization of the essay as a whole. Vague generalization in the writing may prompt the reader to ask marginally: “In every case?,” “Exactly how large?,” “Why?”. These questions may also have appeared on previous drafts of the paper. Frequently these papers include stylistic difficulties such as: the absence of an introduction which draws the reader into the paper, a conclusion that is not much more than a perfunctory wrap-up, bumpy transitions between paragraphs, lack of sentence variety, lack of sufficient textual evidence and/or supportive detail, and imprecise or redundant diction. Grammatical errors may distract the reader and the paper may appear not to have been revised or edited carefully. The C paper, then, while it gets the job done, lacks polish and intellectual rigor.

A D response neglects several important expectations for the assignment. Its treatment and development of the subject are rudimentary. This response may reveal an inadequate reading of textual material. Because of a lack of careful revision and/or editing, sentences are frequently awkward, ambiguous, and marred by serious mechanical errors. This paper may contain a faulty use of documentation, paraphrase, or direct quotation. There are major gaps in the author’s thinking process and/or ability to convey and support his/her ideas. While some attempt at organization is present, it is neither clear nor effective. This paper may have all the component parts of an essay; however, there are significant problems within those component parts. This paper, in fact, often gives the impression of having been conceived and written in haste with little or no revision.

An F response fails to meet the basic expectations for the assignment. For example, the response fails to meet the minimum length requirement, reveals an incomplete reading of source material, or seems not to have been revised or edited. Its treatment of the subject is superficial; it lacks discernible organization; its prose is garbled or stylistically limited. In short, the ideas, organization, and style fall below what is acceptable for the assignment.

Differentiated Assessment of Student Writing in an English Class

[In order to align myself fully with the vision of the school, I will need to improve my ability to differentiate instruction. As part of my self-reflection on this topic, not only am I thinking about areas where my teaching practice may be deficient (or more generously, ready for rethinking), but I am also thinking about areas where I may have done things as a teacher that already represent differentiated instruction well. Responding to the individual needs of students is nothing new to sound teaching practice, but the bar is moving up pertaining the level of attentiveness teachers need to pay to pedagogies incorporating differentiation. I find this exciting.

Successful writing teachers must differentiate based on the needs of individual writers. As this may be an easier concept to understand in teaching writing than it is in other areas of the curriculum, it may provide a good launching pad to reflect more deeply on how to transfer the idea of differentiation to other aspects of my teaching.

I think of reading, listening, responding, speaking, and writing as parts of one process rather than distinct ends unto themselves. To simplify this idea to its most basic form: clear thinking is the central prerequisite to excellent transactional writing. To reach the point of clear thinking takes time and focus, as well as a willingness to jettison one way of approaching a topic or issue so that one might replace it with something more sound. Clear thinking AND excellent writing are thus the result of an earnest and sustained ability to refine one’s approach, position, and voice. How teachers interact with students when they are working through that process has to be differentiated in order to provide students with the specific feedback they need most. Bottom line: students need us in different ways during the writing process. 

On an exam a number of years ago for juniors in my AP Literature course, I had a section in which they had to work on revising part of an essay they had written earlier in the semester. In order to create this section of the exam, I had to determine tasks tailored to each student. I have included several examples of those individual tasks below. Individual students were only able to see his or her task: they were not able to see what I was asking of their classmates. It is interesting looking back to see that in order to create an equal level of demand for the students, I needed to create a quite diverse array of tasks.]

Paper Revision. You may use your books and notes for this section, and thus you should complete this section after you have finished the first three parts of the exam.

J.C.          You are to write the first two paragraphs from the long paper option you didn’t choose on Dubliners.  In our conversation you said that you bailed out on the topic you really wanted to write about…well…here’s your chance to show me what might have been.

B.R.         Textual Evidence—I have not been kidding about its essential part in making a successful analytical argument.  With this in mind, I want you to revise the two body paragraphs of your shorter essay on Shakespeare’s tetrology.

P.S.          I want you to revise paragraph #6 of your long essay.  It is a long paragraph that is not as cohesive as it might be.  You may break it into two paragraphs (or not) depending on your thoughts about what is best.  There is a lot of good information and thinking represented in this part of your paper, but I think the overall essay would benefit from an overhaul.

J.M.          I want you to revise paragraph #3 of your long essay.  My comments should get you started.  This paragraph is choppy and largely unpolished.  It is also apparently incomplete analytically.