In the middle of an Internet treasure hunt for …. what?

Was it danglers I started out Googling before a bunch of other stuff came up?

Whatever it was, I’ve just come across a favorite:

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.

-Douglas Adams


Until this moment, I’d never had the experience of forgetting what I was looking for on the Internet. 

It’s one thing to walk into a room and not remember what you’re looking for.

But walking into the Internet and not remembering what you’re looking for — yikes.

That whooshing sound in my ears is getting louder.

Teacher’s lament

I’m going to be working with a graduate level research class next week, and in the process of trying to track down papers on the relationship between writing and thinking, I’ve come across a fabulous passage, quoted in Exploring Literacies Theory, Research and Practice by Helen de Silva Joyce and Susan Feez:

Bringing up the question of learning to read and write reminds us of the comment by the primary-school teacher who remarked, ‘It’s lucky we’re not responsible for teaching them to talk. If we were they’d never learn that either’. Nevertheless, a surprising number of people do become literate, mostly through being taught.
(Halliday 2009/1978: 178)

Halliday and Hasan are two of my favorites. Our writing curriculum is strongly influenced by their work (which I have yet to read in full, I should add).

I don’t post this passage to malign teachers, by the way. Not at all.

Being good at teaching isn’t enough. To teach well, teachers need a field-tested curriculum.

But instead of providing teachers a proven curriculum, schools expect them to Google lessons and posters on Pinterest, purchase them from Teachers Pay Teachers, or stay up till all hours of the night writing curriculum themselves.

I personally have spent what feels like years of my life Googling lessons, handouts, and worksheets, and in the end what I have to show for it is a massive heap of digital stuff (some of it fantastically helpful, to be sure) that doesn’t cohere and isn’t a curriculum.

Teaching freshman writing via conlanging (part 2)

Speaking of conlangers, here is Stanley Fish on his approach to teaching freshman composition:

On the first day of my freshman writing class I give the students this assignment: You will be divided into groups and by the end of the semester each group will be expected to have created its own language, complete with a syntax, a lexicon, a text, rules for translating the text and strategies for teaching your language to fellow students. The language you create cannot be English or a slightly coded version of English, but it must be capable of indicating the distinctions — between tense, number, manner, mood, agency and the like — that English enables us to make.

You can imagine the reaction of students who think that ”syntax” is something cigarette smokers pay, guess that ”lexicon” is the name of a rebel tribe inhabiting a galaxy far away, and haven’t the slightest idea of what words like ”tense,” ”manner” and ”mood” mean. They think I’m crazy. Yet 14 weeks later — and this happens every time — each group has produced a language of incredible sophistication and precision.

How is this near miracle accomplished? The short answer is that over the semester the students come to understand a single proposition: A sentence is a structure of logical relationships.

Devoid of Content | New York Times | May 31, 2005

And see:
Conlangers are a thing (part 1)

Conlangers are a thing (part 1)

I’ve just discovered an entire category of people:


Conlangers make up languages for fun.

I had no idea!

I knew there was one conlanger on the planet: the guy who invented Dothraki.

I had no idea there were others, let alone multiple others.

Turns out there are so many others they have their own conlanger societies, listservs, wikis, software, and books.


And see:
Teaching freshman writing via conlanging (part 2)

Testing, testing

I’m posting Katharine’s comment about how to tell that phrase “at which point” turns a sentence into a fragment because it brings up a technique I discovered while looking for help teaching freshman composition: intuitive grammar tests.

Most native speakers, I assume, use intuitive tests from time to time. The one everyone seems to know tests whether “I” or “me” is correct in sentences like:

They’re coming with Jane and I.

The test: eliminate “Jane.”

They’re coming with I. WRONG

They’re coming with me. RIGHT


They’re coming with Jane and me. RIGHT

Turns out there are all kinds of useful tests, but nobody ever tells you what they are.

Katie’s test for “at which point”: insert a comma after “at which point” and see how it sounds.

The rules for what sorts of words can modify complete sentences seems somewhat arbitrary–i.e., not based entirely on meaning. “However” can introduce a complete sentence; “though” can’t. “At that point” can; “At which point” can’t. One way to test for this is to see if it works to pause–-or add a comma–-after the phrase in question. Cf:

“However, I did snap at friends, abruptly accessing huge depths of fury I wouldn’t have thought I possessed.” (fine)

“Though, I did snap at friends, abruptly accessing huge depths of fury I wouldn’t have thought I possessed.” (weird)

“At that point, you realize that it doesn’t express one more advantage…” (fine)

“At which point, you realize that it doesn’t express one more advantage.” (weird)

This may relate to where the intuitive ear comes in.