Sunday, April 11, 2010

Session 1 Blog Response: Descriptive vs. Prescriptive

Katie Wood Ray reminds us:

Through experiences looking at many different texts in inquiry with children, we came to realize that there was a difference between describing good writing and prescribing good writing. When we really engaged in describing good writing, we found ourselves talking about how it all works quite differently than we did when we only prescribed good writing, far away from the beautiful texts those prescriptions were meant to help create. And of course we had to face the fact that many of the things we had been taught about good writing simply were not true. As we looked and described what we saw, we were rewriting our own understandings about how good writing happens.

Over time, as we really looked at writing, we found that there was nothing to fear. Good writers don't pursue their craft with a reckless abandon. Instead, they have come to realize that language is there to be used, in any manner possible, to make meaning. Human beings invented language. Its use is not a fixed, rule-bound principle of the universe that existed before us or outside of us. Its use is an exchange between human beings, and because of that, it is alive and changing and growing, and it is never static, never one thing or one way you can put your finger on. To learn to write from writers you will have to make peace with understanding language in use, rather than language in principle.

For this week's blog response please post a piece of text (a sentence, a couple of sentences or a paragraph) that you've read recently that strikes you as "good" writing.

1. Describe in the best words you have what you think the author is doing (language patterns you see).
2. Describe why the author is doing it.
3. Why the writing itself resonates with you.

Do your best (and it will be hard) to not get hung up on needing to know the correct terminology, literary devices or parts-of-speech knowledge for everything you love about the way the language is constructed together. Just go with the best words you have to describe the writing at hand.


  1. "I took up smoking on Tuesday- a pathetic attempt to commit suicide, and an excuse to talk to Vince. Everything I did was either pathetic or an excuse." (Peter by Kate Walker page 196)

    1. The author makes a bold statement in the beginning of this quote (I took up smoking on Tuesday) and then gives two different kinds of reasons that are set apart using a dash (a pathetic attempt to commit suicide) and a comma (an excuse to talk to Vince).

    2. I think the author is trying to show how the speaker is conflicted about his reasons for smoking and to show that the speaker is not happy about his circumstances in life.

    3. It resonates with me because it seems realistic to what I believe an adolescent boy would actual sound like in real life. Bored and conflicted with his actions- yet still willing to take up new experiences such as smoking which he hopes will either kill him or get him an opportunity to talk to Vince. Hope and despair all in one. Packed with teen angst in two sentences.

  2. "...not by any stretch of the Zeitgeist, or Homeric blindness, is Carrie Bradshaw Helen of Troy. And Sex and the City ain’t a chic, ironic take on Wuthering Heights. These women on the bus are missing the point. The storyville they’re looking for doesn’t exist and never did, and trying to search for the literal in literature inevitably kills the object of affection, murders the fiction stone-dead."
    Vanity Fair. "The Out-of-Towners" (an article describing a Sex and the City tour of New York) A.A. Gill. January 2009.
    1. The author is using allusions and references to contrast the stark difference between real literary accomplishments and works and the fictional TV show, "Sex and the City". Also, he uses similar word structure to captivate your attention to his key point - that people are making literature literal, which is the opposite of its actual purpose. Also, he personifies literature by saying that by doing so, readers are murdering it; a play on words to exaggerate his feelings.
    2. He seems somewhat disgusted by people's enthrallment with a television show with simple plots that were merely meant to entertain, not become a generational icon and beacon of lifestyle hopes. He is upset because people are not appreciating literature for what it is: fiction.
    3. It resonated with me because, as a "Sex and the City" watcher and fan, I have caught myself making the show's scenarios into real-life mini-dramas, and I think we all do that to a certain extent with any show. We are intrigued with the excitement and drama of fiction, and so we try to mirror it in our own lives when really, fiction is called fiction for a reason. It's not meant to be reality, and by making it reality, we are taking away from its art form. Hence, reality TV.

  3. "Sheed owns a beautiful baseline turnaround, but he keeps it in the garage like a covered Ferrari. It's a breathtaking shot. He catches a pass on the left block, whirls effortlessly toward the baseline, pushes off so he's going up (not sideways) and releases the ball well above his head. All in one motion. Nobody can block it.

    Sheed shoots this turnaround once a game. Sometimes twice if we're lucky.

    Sheed's coaches always wish he would "go in the block more often." They never demand it; if they do, they know they won't get it. So it's more of a suggestion. Like reminding your spouse, "Hey, we haven't had sex in a while." If broached the right way, Sheed might shift his focus the next game, with his head down low, and bank home a couple of turnarounds. As though he's acknowledging, "You're right, I could do this." Then he goes back to standing behind the 3-point line."

    -Bill Simmons,

    1. For this article on, author Bill Simmons is writing a commentary on Boston Celtic basketball player Rasheed Wallace. He is providing his own commentary on the player by combining observations of the player combined with analogies of his on-court performance.

    2. The author is trying to share his opinion of the player by providing the reader with the both technical aspects (basketball terms) as well as humorous comparisons for those who might never have seen the player play.

    3. The writing resonates with me, because first and foremost I am a Boston sports fan so I am familiar with Simmons' work. It also resonates with me because it is so humorous. I constantly read this weekly column and the analogies and comparisons that Simmons uses are so over-the-top I can't help but laugh out loud. I'll also find myself saying "that's SO true!" to many of the observations he makes, which makes it even more hilarious.

  4. “Dad staggered in, eyes eerily lit.
    The corners of his mouth foaming spit.
    His demons planned an overnight stay.
    Mom motioned to take the girls away,

    hide them in their rooms, safe in their beds.
    We closed the doors, covered our heads,
    as if blankets could mute the sound of his blows
    or we could silence her screams beneath our pillows.

    I hugged the littlest ones close to my chest,
    till the beat of my heart lulled them to rest.
    Only then did I let myself cry.
    Only then did I let myself wonder why

    Mom didn’t fight back, didn’t defend,
    didn’t confess to family or friend.
    Had Dad’s demons claimed her soul?
    Or was this, as well, a woman’s role?”

    (Burned by Ellen Hopkins page 64)

    1.The author writes in a poetic fashion, using rhyming and an even cadence to make the text flow easily. She also indents the middle two lines of each stanza, I believe to make the text more interesting and keep the reader hooked. Hopkins uses very sensory words to paint a picture in the reader’s mind of what the two scenes may look like.

    2.I believe the author is really trying to pull you into the children’s world. Hopkins wants you to feel their fear and what it’s like to be in an abusive home. Through the flow of the words I can feel the sadness of the situation and the pondering of the eldest child.

    3.This is a book I read for my children’s literature class. It was a book of my choice and what caught my attention was the fact that it’s a short fat book, and the title was obscure. In reading this book, the whole thing was amazing, but this particular passage really made an impression. It was so heartfelt and I felt so sad for these children, especially the oldest child whose point of view the story is told from. This passage shows not only the effects of an abusive parent, but her eye opening wonderings about her own role as a woman in this world.

  5. Dear Mr. Walter Dean Myers,
    You probably don’t want to hear from me
    Because I am only a boy
    And not a teacher
    And I don’t use
    Big words
    And you probably won’t read this
    Or even if you do read it
    You probably are way too busy
    to answer it
    let alone do the thing
    I am going to ask you
    And I want you to know
    That’s okay
    Because our teacher says
    Writers are very very very busy
    Trying to write their words
    And the phone is ringing
    And the fax is going
    And the bills need paying
    And sometimes they get sick
    (I hope you are not sick,
    Mr. Walter Dean Myers)

    "Love That Dog" by Sharon Creech, page 56

    1. This book is a journal between a teacher and a boy named Jack who explains at the beginning that boys don’t write poetry. The author has put everything the boy says into verse to show how poetry can be created. In this section, she captures the voice of a boy inviting his favorite author to come to their school. She breaks the sentences at points that either create a nice flow, or that create a staccato feeling.
    2. I believe the author is doing this for a couple of reason. I believe she puts the boy’s letter into stanzas to show how poetry can be created. Since this is a journal, I believe she breaks up the lines of Jack’s letter in a way that reflects his emotions. For example, the listing of “the phone is ringing, the fax is going….” Broken into different lines reflects Jack’s feelings of not wanting to be disappointed.
    3. I believe this writing resonates with me because I have been in classrooms where it is very difficult to get students to write, and this book shows one teacher’s attempt at getting a boy student to write poetry. The boy’s voice comes through in the writing and is very honest. For this reason I can place it in a number of experiences I have had. It also resonates with me because as a teacher, it is great to hear what students write.

  6. "Starbucks is the coffee icon people either love or love to hate. The Seattle company opened its first shop in 1971, and all these years later, the coffee giant is still brewing up addictive drinks and venti-sized controversy across the globe."

    Source: 7 things you might not know about Starbucks By Dave Roos, Mental Floss (posted on

    1. The author is using the literary technique of a play on words with the expression "venti sized controversy" and connecting that with his previous statement pertaining to the coffee giant that is the Starbucks corporation. Since the largest drink size that Starbucks offers is a venti, in Italian meaning twenty, which refers to the 20 ounce cup, the author is using that reference to indicate that the controversy that Starbucks has caused through the years has caused huge ripples. `
    2. The author is purposely using an allusion to the name of Starbucks’ cup size because he is assuming that his readers will catch his wordplay. Since he begins his article by stating that people either love Starbucks or love to hate it, he implies that regardless of the case, it is a cultural icon that our society is well versed in. The overall impression I as the reader get from his choice of words is subtle humor, and as I continued to read his article, I was impressed by his hip and trendy choice of words.
    3. The writing of this article resonates with me because whether we like it or not, Starbucks has been and increasingly continues to be one of America’s cultural constructs, on par with the Big Mac or Coca Cola. Just a few years ago, I found it easy to write off the “overrated” establishment, bitterly joking that I’d have to ration my meals simply to splurge on one of its famed lattes. Nowadays, I too occasionally find myself lured in by the addictive aroma of this caffeinated institution.

  7. “The isle continues to defend itself against vulnerable people. Even people who once considered the isle to be their home and sense of refuge, such as myself. The isle does not grant citizenship. The isle claims no citizens, yet barbarians have, much to the isle's protest, seeded their roots in its bare fields. The barbarians, adhering to their nomadic nature, continue to roam the land and travel far and free. Palm trees grew, and prune, and olive trees, watered by the tears of the isle's yearning for its past.

    The isle floats alone on the surface of the ocean.

    I float alone.

    Underneath the same dark sky.”

    - Ninnar AlQames

    1. In this excerpt from a blog post, the author is comparing a person that they have had a relationship with to an isle. She is using a metaphor to describe the different characteristics of the person by comparing them to an isle. She uses the term ‘barbarians’ to describe the others who have had a relationship with this person, ‘the isle.’ She separates the last few sentences from the paragraph to make them seem more poignant and to highlight the point she is trying to make.
    2. The author is using the metaphor to describe how she perceives this person as an island, floating alone, defending itself from others. She uses terms like ‘home’ and ‘refuge’ to describe how close she feels to this person. She uses the term ‘barbarians’ because of her negative feelings towards others who have been with this person. Her use of words like ‘alone’ and ‘dark’ show the reader how sad she is feeling as she writes this post.
    3. This piece of writing resonates with me because it is full of raw emotion and interesting imagery. I can almost visualize this person as an island and all those who have been with her as barbarians. I liked that there was a hidden subtext that some people may not easily interpret. I love reading text and trying to analyze what the author means. In addition to the content, I really enjoyed the style of writing that the author used. Her writing is almost like poetry; it flows from one idea to another and incorporates symbolism and imagery.

  8. "I just can't manage to keep my stories straight. Hoping I might learn through repetition, I tried using gender in my everyday English. “Hi, guys,” I’d say, opening a new box of paperclips, or “Hey Hugh, have you seen my belt? I can’t find her anywhere.” I invented personalities for the objects on my dresser and set them up on blind dates. When things didn’t work out with my wallet, my watch drove a wedge between my hairbrush and my lighter. The scenarios reminded me of my youth, when my sisters and I would enact epic dramas with our food. Ketchup-wigged french fries would march across our plates, engaging in brief affairs or heated disputes over carrot coins while burly chicken legs guarded the perimeter, ready to jump in should things get out of hand. Sexes were assigned at our discretion and were subject to change from one night to the next—unlike here, where the corncob and the stringbean remain locked in their rigid masculine roles. Say what you like about southern social structure, but at least in North Carolina a hot dog is free to swing both ways.”

    ~Page 189 of "Me Talk Pretty One Day" by David Sedaris

    1. Sedaris is using vivid examples to describe his difficulty in learning gender assignment with nouns in French. He describes ways in which he tries to learn it and likens his behavior to when he was a child and would play with his food. The examples are not simply listed but briefly explained using humorous adjectives and actual “dialogue”, as in the 3rd sentence.

    2. He uses dialogue (“Hey, guys…”) and examples with everyday household objects to show the lengths he is going to to learn it, and to demonstrate how funny it sounds to (in English) personify an object. His adjectives and sentence structure in the part where he describes his childhood experiences with food seem to match the children’s imaginations at the time, and he is using somewhat adult vocabulary to describe child activities, adding to the humor. His choice to describe food, which we hardly think of as having gender, emphasizes his point about the ridiculousness of it.

    3. David Sedaris is obviously known for being funny but I don’t think being funny in real life automatically translates to writing. I'm assuming it's actually very difficult to write humor. To me, Sedaris writes in a somewhat simple manner, yet includes just enough detail, along with perfect words and examples to get the mood across. His writing is very descriptive but he doesn’t go overboard. It doesn’t seem like he’s trying too hard. He “mixes up” his sentence structure—starting his sentences differently, using different kinds of punctuation including italics, capitals, and such to emphasize his points, varying the length—and it flows well.

  9. “We are a nation obsessed with evaluating our children, with calibrating their exact distance from some ideal benchmark. In the name of excellence, we test and measure them – as individuals, as a group – and we rejoice or despair over the results. The sad thing is that though we strain to see, we miss so much. All students cringe under the scrutiny, but those most harshly affected, least successful in the competition, possess some of our greatest unperceived riches.” '' Lives on the Boundary" by Mike Rose.

    1. Describe in the best words you have what you think the author is doing (language patterns you see).
    Rose makes a rule through his experience of teaching and learning, he makes a statement about the education systems to expose the inadequacy of our public school system in hopes that it will prompt those in power to reflect and collaborate with educators on ways reform, and rebuild, in hopes that this will rejuvenate a love of learning in students simply to increase their knowledge, not for test scores or rewards. Gaining knowledge is the big prize.

    2. Describe why the author is doing it.
    It seems that Rose’s purpose for writing this book was to bring awareness to an injustice thrust upon people who experience difficulty in educational systems and the workplace. He wants to share his opinion on how culture and class are often the culprit in keeping one’s abilities from coming to light. He wishes to present the cognitive and social reality of children and adults deemed slow or remedial or underprepared and how to learn or ask questions.

    3. Why the writing itself resonates with you.
    . It resonates with me because it seems realistic to what we have in our education system. Sadly, teachers are constantly pressured to assess their students by their superiors and state mandated assessments. Educators are aware that assessment is overdone and that it is pointless to do so in the name of excellence. Precious time is robbed from the educators’ classroom time, making it that much harder to tend to the needs of his or her students, especially those of English Language Learners. Teaching the California State Standards in a timely manner becomes even more difficult.

  10. "While happiness isn't as easy to create as darkness is, the way you get there isn't much different: if you want to be happy, you have to start by dealing with the different things that can make you miserable."

    - Boys will Put you on a Pedestal (so they can look up your skirt) by Philip Van Munching page 164

    1.) The author is making a statement about happiness. He is oversimplifying the fact that one is responsible for his or her own happiness. His opinion of happiness is simple which is reflected in the simpleness of the statement.

    2.)I think the author is simply trying to offer his daughters the best advice he can. He wants them to know that happiness can be simple. It is up to an individual to figure out his or her life out. He points out that to be happy one must first face ones demons- so to speak.

    3.) This piece resonates with me because it sounds like my dad talking to me. I can hear my dad in the writing. No matter how old I get, I will turn to him for advice. Dads have a knack for making everything, mostly drama, seem so small.

  11. "...There was a sense in these stories that shopping was a joyous, uplifting enterprise, edifying in ways far beyond purchases made or products handled. Shopping was an emotional, rewarding, and necessary experience.

    The American Culture code for shopping is RECONNECTING WITH LIFE."

    -The Cultural Code by Clotaire Paraille page 158

    1) The author is analyzing the shopping behaviors and feelings of Americans based on some stories of his interviewee. These stories show that the emotional feelings when people shop.

    2) In this book, the author is trying to analyze the cultural codes for every aspect in human lives. I think the author is also trying to summarize the shopping experiences of interviewee. He comes up with a simple sentence to express the American cultural code for shopping. His readers are able to gather a concise conclusion of Americans' shopping behaviors.

    3) It resonates with me because it reminds me to think about my emotional feelings when I am shopping and my purposes of shopping. Am I happy or excited? And is my shopping necessary or unnecessary?

  12. “The first mouthful was electrifying. How ever strange it may seem, I was eating sentences and crunching paragraphs. The books tasted like brownies! Yum! Delicious! But even more astounding, the sensations on my tongue varied from word to word, from paragraph to paragraph. I wasn’t simply absorbing ink; I was absorbing pure and total adventure.” The Ink Drinker, By Eric Sanvoisin pages 31-32.

    1. The author is using simple and complex sentences, all containing rich language, to describe what drinking ink tastes like. The author also uses a comma to set of introductory statements.

    2. The author wants the reader to know that the character is tasting so much more than ink when he is drinking books. He is experiencing, and thoroughly enjoying, the story that he drinks.

    3. When I read this book to my students, you could hear a pin drop in my classroom because they love it so much. This particular paragraph resonates with me because it shows the delight that anyone, even someone who claims to hate reading, can experience when reading a book. It reminds my students, and myself, how exciting a good book can be.