Monday, August 27, 2018

#Writing Tip. ADverbs often SUBTRACT from your writing - numbers1-5

Back in the day, a fad swept at least my part of America. Known as Tom Swifties, each is "a play on words taking the form of a quotation ascribed to Tom and followed by an adverb. Here's a good example:

The thermostat is set too high," said Tom heatedly. 

The blue text is quoted from Used in this manner, adverbs are an art form, particularly for those who love to pun.

There are times and places in your writing when an adverb does ADd to your story.
Most of the time, rather than adding what an author thinks they add, adverbs SUBTRACT from the storyline, distract readers, and might insult readers, too.

I'll be looking at the negatives of adverbs for four blogs in a row. Week four will close the door on adverbs with examples that I feel completely help the sentence.

Consider the following five sentences. Adverbs are highlighted in yellow.
1.        Suddenly, a bomb went off.
2.        After a long day’s work, she hungrily ate her supper.
3.        actually enjoy writing.
4.       “I just won the lottery!” he said excitedly.
5.        She was listening happily to his story.

Sentences like those above are common in the works of novice writers. Unfortunately, they are common in the works of writers who edit less vigorously than they should.

Why is that?

I do insert adverbs—intentionally and unintentionally—in my first drafts. When I do my first edit, I re-write scenes where the only way a reader might know that something was said “excitedly” is through use of that term. Your story should draw your readers into the minds and moods of your characters.
From time to time during the next two months, I’ll revisit this topic. More than one book I’ve been asked to review has been mired in the pit of excessive adverbs. I lost interest in the stories because there were
       ·      many times when I was told what I already knew or felt.
       ·      other times when the adverb didn’t match what I felt about that scene in the story.

The five sentences above are reprised below. Following each sentence is an explanation of why the highlighted adverb isn’t needed along with a possible revision.

Suddenly, a bomb went off.
One characteristic of a bomb is exploding without warning. Suddenly is redundant in this situation. Any event that surprises a character is sudden. Avoid redundant adverbs.

A revisionThe bomb exploded. Shrapnel followed the sound wave in a devastating reminder of the power of C4.

After a long day’s work, she hungrily ate her supper.
I’m usually hungry when I start to eat. The adverb isn’t necessary. While it’s possible for someone picking at their food while eating, a hungry worker isn’t one of those individuals.

A revisionShe didn't realize how hungry she was until she found herself reaching for seconds before the others had finished their first servings.

actually enjoy writing.
At least that’s better than pretending to enjoy writing. Actually and literally are abused terms. If something exists, it is actual. If something happens, it is literal. The adverbs shouldn’t be necessary. If the scene is well written, the adverbs are not necessary.

A revisionThe time I spend writing is the most enjoyable part of my day.

“I just won the lottery!” he said excitedly.
Duh. I know it’s tempting to include descriptors like excitedly. As I said above, the scene itself should trigger emotions like excitement, happiness, and sadness in your reader without the need for adverbs.

A revisionHis eyes widened and his pulse began to race as he looked at his lotto ticket before shouting, “I just won the lottery!”

She was listening happily to his story.   
I can’t tell if my ears are happy or sad. I have been happy to hear some information. I’ve heard happy news. I cannot recall listening happily.

A revisionThe story was funny. She smiled first, then laughed out loud.

If your stories don’t draw your readers in, adding adverbs to set the tone subtracts from those stories.

Next time I’ll comment on these sentences.
6.        “Move it, buddy. You’re blocking the hallway,” he said irritably.
7.        I guess I wasn’t truly invisible to the crowd.
8.        “I think we’re lost,” he said worriedly.
9.        The oxygen level in the cabin was dropping. She searched frantically for another canister to install.

10.    The car gave a jolt and I was nearly thrown against the window.

In two weeks: #WritingTip. ADverbs often SUBTRACT from your writing #2

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Sunday, August 26, 2018

#Teaching Tip #9. Semester or Final Grades Part 2

This is the ninth of a series of 10 posts.
I'm running all 10 posts on consecutive Mondays starting today. 
As of Labor Day, 2018, all ten of these #Teaching Tip posts are searchable on my blog.

If you're not a teacher and you're reading this,
let a teacher know they are available.

I've been in enough in-service/professional-development sessions to guarantee that the information in this series is better than most of the information you’ll get while sitting through all your teacher workshops this coming school year.

You might be asking yourself,
What gives this guy the nerve to offer ideas about teaching AND commentary on professional development to anyone?

That's a legitimate question.
I invite you to follow this link and check my credentials.

Categories in this year were based on California State Standards for the course. For the most part, the first six categories contained all the assignments--homework, tests, writing assignments, etc.--that related to the content in that standard. Notice in the left column that #24 is "Unit 1 m/c E7." That was the multiple choice portion of the unit exam on Standard #3 E7-Earth Science.
My first experience with “computer grades” was in the mid-1980s. I’ve described my first computer in an earlier blog,
I used it for word-processing and keeping track of student scores. There were no grading programs for the CP/M operating system. There weren’t many programs at all. I used the spreadsheet that came with the machine. It was Perfect.
The word processor was PerfectWriter. The spreadsheet was PerfectCalc.

I learned two things within hours of posting my first grade printout on the wall.
I needed to come up with some form of anonymous code to use for public posts.
Students thought that computer grades had to be correct—after all, they were from a computer.

I was still “keeper of all the points in the universe,” so my theory on grading didn’t change. It was sooo much quicker and easier to calculate grades when they were in a spreadsheet. Life was good.

At that time the Grossmont Union High School District required teachers to submit “Blue Cards” with each student’s grade handwritten in the proper column on a blue-colored cardstock form.

It was in my second or third year of using the spreadsheet for grades that I managed to find the spacing between lines required to fit the lines on the Blue Card. I printed my grades, carefully aligned the page to fit the spaces on the Blue Card, glued each printout onto the card, signed the “Teacher Signature” line, and handed the card to the Attendance Clerk. She was the collector of the grades.

The next day, I had a note in my mailbox to see one of the Vice Principals.

“We can't send your Blue Card to the district,” he said.
“Why not?”
“It’s not handwritten.”
“The grades are accurate and every grade is lined up with the correct space on each card.”
“They want handwritten Blue Cards.” He handed me my cards.

I recopied my grades that one time only.

At the end of the year, I told the VP that there was less chance of me posting an incorrect with my system than when I hand wrote them. I handed him my glued on printout, hand-signed Blue Cards.

I don’t know if someone in the office pulled off the printout and handwrote the grades above my signature that semester. I hope not. But, I turned in my glued/hand-signed Blue Cards for the next 10-years or so, until I left the district.

The biggest change in my grading procedure over my career occurred while I was teaching my last high school courses at Great Oak High in Temecula, California.

I was the last science teacher, figuratively dragged kicking and screaming, into grouping like content or like assignment-type scores into categories. Regardless of the number of assignments or points in a category, it was worth a fixed percentage of the final grade. The image below is a grade printout with categories listed.

The most important thing I learned about using categories in grading is this:
Neither students nor parents understand how grades are calculated.
That is a gross generalization. It’s also not far from the truth.

The worst “innovation” in grading is allowing students and parents to “real time grades.” This phenomenon reared its ugly head when grades went online. Students and teachers could check their current grade—real time—by logging in to the grading program.

At first, teachers could “hold” a set of grades in one category until other grades were recorded. Releasing four or five grades in a category is a much more realistic description than the grade after a single entry in that category.

Once teachers lost the control to put a set of grades on hold, every grade input into the grade program was immediately accessible to parents and students. I’ve received emails from parents who were online while I was posting grades during my preparation period demanding to know “why <student name>’s grade dropped from an A to a C.”

Ultimately, no grade is real until the final semester grade turned in for the student’s permanent record. Most parents, and many students, are not satisfied with that reality.

What follows is an attempt that my co-teacher and I made to explain how our categorical grading system worked. We took class time to go through the letter with our students. We sent the letter home with the students.

Hello, Parents.
While we don't believe personally that it is necessary for anyone to have 24-hour access to student grades, it is district policy. For that reason grades in our class will appear in real time.
Because pre-AP biology uses categories, no one assignment can make or break any student’s grade. For example, the entire first unit your student completed, Scientific Method, is worth a total of 2% of their final grade. The next unit, Chemistry, is worth 13%. Please ask your student for the complete listing of categories and their values. Another way to put this idea of weighted categories is:
Each point in the Scientific Method category is worth 2 points in the final semester grade calculation, however, each point in the chemistry Unit is worth 13 points in the final semester grade calculation
All assignments whether lab, in class activities, homework, projects, or tests, are recorded within the category for the unit in which they occur. Since each category has a unique percentage value, individual grades on assignments have slightly different weights in different units/categories.
Because of the waiting of categories, the first assignment recorded in any category has a disproportionate value. For example, the first assignment in the chemistry unit will be worth 17% of the student’s final grade at that moment in time. However, when the unit is completed, that assignment will have a significantly less impact on your student’s grade, than it did when it was entered. Not only does the first assignment in a category account for the total percentage value of that category, it also is weighted temporarily at more than the value percentage of the category.
To continue our example from above:
If a student received 55/66 (83%) for the Scientific Method unit, and the first grade recorded in Chemistry was 4/10 (40%) on a quiz, because of the weighting, the quiz grade is 100% of the Chemistry unit weight at that moment in time. The student’s grade plummets to failing AT THAT MOMENT IN TIME ONLY.
Grades currently posted are for the Scientific Method unit that is worth 2% of the ultimate grade in this class. However, at this moment in time, that grade appears as the course grade. This is an aberration. When the Chemistry unit is completed, 15% of the total ultimate class grade will have been earned. But, when you look at the grades at the end of the chemistry unit, the chemistry unit itself is worth six times the scientific method grade. In other words even if a student did very well in the Scientific Method unit, if they did not do as well in chemistry, the lesser (Chemistry) grade would be six times the value of the good (Scientific Method) grade.
Hopefully this letter will help ease your mind when you look at grades from time to time. If you look at the grade and it's a C+ and the next time you look at it it's a C-, that's probably not a cause for concern. If however, the first time you look at a grade it is an A and the next time it is a B and the next time it is a C, then that may be cause for concern.
Typically what happens when a new category is opened is that student grades go either up or down very quickly for the reason explained above. As more grades are added to the category, the overall grade tends to stabilize around the true value.
Please don't assume that your student is doing poorly in the class based on any one look you take at the grades from pre-AP biology.
Thank you.
Dr. Chuck Downing          & Ms. Rachel Larson
Great Oak PreAP Biology Teachers

In subsequent years, we added the highlighted bullet to our class syllabus shown below. This is an edited version of the document to show the general layout and the categories we used. We sent the above letter home before we posted our first grades online.

The categories are
·   3-ring binder with divider tabs labeled: Agenda, Study Guide, To Be Completed, Vocabulary, Notes, Activities, Labs, and Cal/Syl/Safety (CSS). All work done for this class, before and after grading, should be kept in the appropriate tab section.

Next #Teaching Tip #10 – Miscellaneous Musings

Post #10 will be/might be the final blog in this series.

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

#Teaching Tip #8. Semester or Final grades Part 1

This is the eighth of a series of 10 posts.
I'm running all 10 posts on consecutive Mondays starting today. 
As of Labor Day, 2018, all ten of these #Teaching Tip posts are searchable on my blog.

If you're not a teacher and you're reading this,
let a teacher know they are available.

I've been in enough in-service/professional-development sessions to guarantee that the information in this series is better than most of the information you’ll get while sitting through all your teacher workshops this coming school year.

You might be asking yourself,
What gives this guy the nerve to offer ideas about teaching AND commentary on professional development to anyone?

That's a legitimate question.
I invite you to follow this link and check my credentials.
I invite you to follow this link and check my credentials.

When I started teaching in 1973, there were no computers on high school campuses. There were few computers anywhere.

Grades were kept in a notebook. I hand wrote the title of every assignment and the score received by every student. At the end of a grading period, I took a mechanical adding machine and added up each student’s scores.

Handwritten Grades. I did not record these grades. They are part of the gradebook for my high school biology class. I'm #6. Since my first teaching job was teaching with John Burak, whose grades these are, my gradebook was very similar.

A student’s score divided by the total possible points for that session yielded a percentage. The percentage determined the grade for that session.
less than 50

Those were the outer limits of each grade category. There were subdivisions like B+/B/B-. Actually, the percentages were applied to the total points for the grading period. The whole numbers derived were used to assign grades. 

As Keeper of All the Points in the Universe, it made no difference how many assignments or what kind of assignments I had in the session. An assignment’s “weight” in the student grade was based on the number of points. More points, higher value. The last blog will discuss grading using categories.

It was not uncommon for my students to have access to 3,500 points or more in a semester.

Once grades were determined, students hand-carried grade cards with carbon paper between the two copies. During class on “Grade Day,” I sat at my desk. Students came up one at a time with their grade cards. I hand wrote an academic grade, and effort grade, and a conduct grade on the card. There was room for a short comment and my signature.

The teacher of whatever was a student’s last class of the day had all students remove the carbon from between the grade cards. The teacher saved the carbon paper sheets since carbon paper was reusable at least one time. Students pulled the original grade card and the “carbon copy” of the grade card apart.

Teachers collected the original grade cards. The carbon copies went home with the students. Teachers turned the originals into the office at the end of the day.

It took a LOT of time to do grades by hand. And, carbon copies were not had to alter. All a student needed was a piece of carbon paper—another reason to collect the carbons from student grade cards, place the carbon paper over the desired grade, and write on the top side of the carbon. I learned how to reduce alteration of grades on the carbon copies from my Master Teacher while student teaching.

The two most common grade changes were “+ to “ and “D to B.”
To prevent à - (one small vertical line with carbon paper), all a teacher had to do was write m instead of -. So Dbecame Dm.
Preventing D à B was more difficult. I know we had a strategy, but I cannot remember it for the life of me.

The actual grade scale was determined to the first decimal point. So an A was 100-88.0. The range for a B grade was 87.9-78, etc.
I seldom rounded grades up and never grades that weren’t the semester grades. My most common "rounded up" grade was 62.9% to 63%. By the fourth year I taught, we’d changed the lowest “C-“ to 65%. I felt better about rounding 64.9% to 65%.

I never “gave/gifted” a student an A. Ever.

Few students complained. Of those who did complain, all but one student accepted the explanation of not rounding up because of the number of points possible. The single student who stormed out of my room after receiving his grade of B+ never came by my room again. It was the final second-semester grade and did not take second-year biology.

I’m tempted to write about the difference in attitude about getting what you earned between “then” and “now.” I’ll limit my comment about that to this:

At some point in the 1990s, the number of students who were willing to work hard and earn a B grade diminished. If the workload was more than they wanted to do without getting an A, they stopped working so hard. “After all, a C is a passing grade.”

You can ask any of my students about the rigor of my courses. The word “easy” will seldom be heard. “Hard,” “tough,” and “demanding” are three that will predominate.

You have taught me that hard work truly pays off. Also, you have given me the tools to be successful. O.M. – Great Oak High School

There are those select people one encounters in life that make you want to look, act and think as though you are far beyond your actual years... [The methods used in class] made me want to try hard not only in your class (which is the furthest thing from my actual life career goal) but try hard at all I did in high school. You instilled a drive and a passion for me to pursue thoughts and ideas I would have never dreamt possible, and I almost always accomplished them… Students were accountable and responsible for doing our work... J.E. – University of Southern California

There are reasons for the overall lack of complaining about grades. 
Students did the work because it was engagingSee the previous blogs in the series for examples.

I held to my expectations. 

Below is one page of grades from my last year of full-time teaching.

The handwritten 11-12 indicates the school year. Grey shaded headings have to do with categories, a topic for the next blog.

The students were a group that had failed a science class and needed the science credit. It was not a highly motivated group. By this time, I’d lost all control over my grading scale. Grade ranges were district-wide. It shouldn’t shock you that the percentages were 90/80/70 for A/B/C. There was no "D" grade. More on that next time.

What might at least surprise you is the grade distribution for this “class of past failures.”
A – 2; B – 11; C – 7
No failures. Two students hovered at 70%, but none were below that. I think that speaks to what students can/will do if they are engaged in the coursework.

Lest you think that this group was ultra-motivated because of their past failure, here's a shot of a 9th grade class. Same course, but this is from 2009.
Out of a possible 660 scores on this page, 36 were zero without explanation. 17 were excused for some reason. 5% if the assigned work was not turned in without excuse. 95% of all work assigned in this class of 9th graders was completed and turned in. With very few exceptions, my classes had turn in rates of 90% or higher.

#Teaching Tip #9. Semester or Final Grades Part 2 is next.

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

#amwriting #Grammar 4. Glimpses into Clauses, Conjunctions, with Closing Comments on Commas

This is the fourth of four posts on common grammar errors, omissions, and misunderstandings. 

Most writers have grammar issues. The issues chosen for this blog series are some that I experience in my writing.  The issue with each issue in the series ranges from significant to bothersome in my writing.

I teach a technical writing class to nurses in the BS-Nursing program at Point Loma Nazarene University. Early versions of the course focused on rules of English grammar. I've shifted the focus to the importance of editing. If you search my past blogs, you'll find LOTS of instruction, information, and insistence on the importance of editing.

The above paragraph does not mean good grammar is not important in your writing. The four blogs in this series present information that I’ve gleaned, remembered or learned about grammar while in the role of a writing teacher. I know that teaching this class helped my writing. I’m running this series--and following it was a series on adverb use/abuse--with high hopes that both series will help your writing, too.

If you don’t experience any of these issues in your writing, I hope you realize how fortunate you are!

This glimpse begins with


Independent Clauses (IC)

  • An independent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought.
  • They can live on their own. 
  • An independent clause is a sentence.

Jim studied in the Sweet Shop for his chemistry quiz.


Dependent Clauses (DC)

  • A dependent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and verb but does not express a complete thought.
  • They rely on the rest of the sentence for meaning.
  • A dependent clause cannot be a sentence.
  • They often depend on a dependent marker word for connection to the IC.
  • Another clue you have a DC is the presence of a subordinating conjunction (because, since) or a relative pronoun (who, when)see below,

When Jim studied in the Sweet Shop for his chemistry quiz . . . (What happened when he studied? The thought is incomplete.)

Dependent Marker Word
A dependent marker word is a word added to the beginning of an independent clause that makes it into a dependent clause.
When Jim studied in the Sweet Shop for his chemistry quiz, it was very noisy.

Some common dependent markers are: afteralthoughasas ifbecausebeforeeven ifeven thoughifin order tosincethoughunlessuntilwhateverwhenwheneverwhether, and while. Some common dependent markers are: afteralthoughasas ifbecausebeforeeven ifeven thoughifin order tosincethoughunlessuntilwhateverwhenwheneverwhether, and while.
Connecting dependent and independent clauses is commonly done with . . .


·      These join equivalent structures, including any part of speech, phrases, and clauses.

     FANBOYS! is an acronym to help remember the most common conjunctions. Jot down your thoughts on what conjunction is represented by each letter in the acronym. The solution is at the end of this section.


These also join equivalent structures, and they come in pairs: both… andnot only… but also


·      These introduce adverb clauses (dependent clauses) and signal the relationship between the adverb clause and (usually) an independent clause.

·      They include sincebecauseonce, and although.

Subordinating conjunctions begin dependent clauses. Dependent clauses can tell us whether we need a comma.
     ·      Does it come before the independent clause in the sentence? If yes, you need a comma! (e.g. “Because Jess likes cats, we stopped to pet the kitten.”)
     ·      Does it come after the independent clause instead? If yes, you DON’T need a comma. (e.g. “We stopped to pet the kitten because Jess likes cats.”)

When one of these subordinating conjunctions is used right before an independent clause, it makes the clause DEPENDENT instead.
A dependent clause cannot stand alone as its own sentence; it must be used with an independent clause.
     ·      If the DEPENDENT comes first, separate it from the independent with a comma.
     ·      If the INDEPENDENT clause comes first, no comma is needed before the dependent.
Think of the dependent clause as a child stepping into the street.
 ·      If the child (the dependent) is in the street first, you’d ask, “Where is that kid’s parent?” It would give you pause. So give it a comma.
 ·      If the parent steps out first and leads the child along, it doesn’t give you pause at all. You leave out the comma.

BONUS! Conjunctive adverbs

·      These connect independent clauses and frequently act as transitions. Think of them as coordinating conjunctions with superpowers.

·      They include words like howeversimilarlytherefore, and finally.

My advice with conjunctive adverbs is to rewrite your sentence or paragraph and eliminate the need for these terms as often as you can.

Acronym Answer:
For, and, nor, but, or, yet, so

Closing Comments on Commas

You need a comma in all the following situations. Thanks to OWL from Perdue University for some of this information. Here’s a link for a more detailed look at comma abuse.

IC, IC (remember the conjunction)

DC, IC (ONLY if the DC comes first)

After an Introductory Phrase: In the beginning, God created . . .

Between items in a Series of items: …lions, tigers, and bears…

Some examples need more than the above shorthand to clear up.
Coordinate adjectives: Can alternate positions without changing the meaning of the sentence. He was a difficult, stubborn child.

Non-restrictive clause:  A non-restrictive clause is a clause which is not needed to identify the word it modifies, i.e., it is just additional information. As a non-restrictive clause is not essential to the meaning of a sentence, it is offset with commas. For example, Peter Jones, who plays goalkeeper for our village football team, has worked at his father's greengrocers for twenty years. (

Appositive phrase: A noun or noun phrase that renames another noun right beside it. The appositive can be a short or long combination of words. The insect, a cockroach, is crawling across the kitchen table. It renames insect.

Parenthetical phrase: Can use parentheses, commas, dashes or brackets to include nonessential information. "The three boys, Bob, James, and Joey, went out to get some ice cream.

Participial phrase: Always function as adjectives, adding a description to the sentence. The horse trotting up to the fence hopes that you have an apple or carrot. Trotting up to the fence modifies the noun horse.

Contrasting element: Sometimes you will want to emphasize two strongly contrasting ideas or points by inserting a comma between them: We should remember the lessons we've learnednot regret the time we spent on a pirate ship learning them

Transitional phrase: These are very important. Important enough for a graphic.

Ultimately, use commas for

**CLARITY** (…within reason)

A good motto for commas is:

When in doubt, leave it out.

Next: ADverbs Often SUBTRACT from Your Writing

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