Monday, December 28, 2015

Product Review: Are Adult Coloring Books Worth the Money?

A pencil-colored owl with decorative acorns and greenery
An Owl from the Enchanted Forest Adult Coloring Book

Although I had the inclination to get myself an adult coloring book as soon as I saw them hit the shelves, I stubbornly passed them by, thinking "If I want to color I can just draw a picture, right?" 

I continued to see them at the craft stores, at the big box stores, at the grocery stores, and at my in-laws, even!

The next time I saw them, I was weak. I purchased Johanna Basford's Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Coloring Book.  It's right up my alley with its forest and castle theme.

The Pros

To begin, I am happy I purchased this book.  First and foremost, the book is quite beautiful to flip through, whether or not I'm choosing a page to color in it. The pictures are expertly drawn, featuring both elements of design in entire scenes and the repetition of patterns.  Furthermore, the act of coloring in this book has its intended effect; I have spent a few hours coloring in it, and it feels very much like a meditative practice.  Coloring in it effectively helps me clear my mind and gives me something stress free to pass a little time between other tasks.  On a more personal note, coloring in it also gives me a chance to use my fairly large collection of Prismacolor colored pencils, especially the numerous shades of green I've accumulated.

The Cons

On the other hand, despite my overall "gladness" of having purchased this text, I recognize it may not be for everyone.  For example, the detailed drawings might be a bit off-putting to some folks who may have shakier hands, poor eyesight, or who lack a decent pencil sharpener or tabletop workspace. In that case, a book with less detailed drawings may be better.  I do find myself leaning close and stopping to sharpen my pencils fairly often.  I also recognize that although I already had several pencils, others may not be so prepared; starting a collection of colored pencils adds to the expense of the coloring. All in all, however, the overall cost is quite low when compared to other artistic hobbies.

Final Assessment

Because of the low cost of this hobby and the beauty of the book (whether or not you color in it), I recommend it to anyone who may be on the fence.  If you remember fondly your days of coloring as a child, pick it up and give it a chance to work its magic, again.

Want to read more about arts and crafts?  Try

How to Use Beautiful Buttons
Yarn as Memory and Memory as a Gift
Arts and Crafts and Healing

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Experimenting with Quince Fruit

Half peeled quince fruit
Preparing a Quince 

Until I moved into my new home here in Georgia, I had never heard of quince.  There is a quince tree in my yard, however, and although neither my real estate agent or I could identify the tree, my neighbor could: Apparently, the tree was planted by her father-in-law more than 60 years ago!

Early this fall, I rescued 2 large quince fruits from the critters; bugs, squirrels, and birds. After a little research online, I learned the fruit was completely edible, and I was able to prepare the two quince fruits like an applesauce. The quince sauce I made was definitely a bit grittier and a lot more sour than applesauce (like a green apple), but with ice cream and crumbles on top, I hear it made an excellent dessert cobbler.

Cutting a Quince

These are not the pretty quince slices I saw online.
First and foremost, know that quince are hard; they are really hard.  Cutting the quince was harder than cutting a winter squash.  I attempted to use a chef's knife, but I resorted to something serrated to saw through the fruit.

In all honesty, I wanted to have beautiful slices like some other online recipes show, but it was all I could do to even get the knife through it. I settled for a good peeling and getting as much of the fruit away from the core as I could.

Preparing a Syrup

While I was hacking away at the quince, I was also creating a syrup over low heat.  I used 1/4 cup of sugar and 2 cups of water seasoned with star anise and a cinnamon stick.

Once I added my two hacked-up fruits to the syrup, I brought it all to a boil, lowered the heat and let it simmer for a few hours.  I checked in on it every so often since I wasn't sure how long it would take.  Some of the slices started getting pink and soft within the first 15 minutes, but others took the two hours.

Finishing and Serving

Star Anise and Cinnamon
After I tasted the quince the first time, it took me about 20 seconds to unstick my face from the "pucker" it caused.  Once I unstuck my face, I added 1/2 cup brown sugar and let it cook for another 15 minutes or so.  The brown sugar brought the power of the sour to a reasonable and refreshing level.

I served the quince cold to my family, but my mother-in-law bumped it up a notch by creating a dessert with the container I delivered to them.  From all family reports, preparing the quince sauce with crumbles and ice cream made it a lovely dessert.

And with that,  ooh la la, I see another quince has fallen from the tree . . . .

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Diagramming the Past Perfect "Had Had Had Had"

To create the past perfect of a verb, English speakers add "had" to the past tense of a verb. The past tense of the verb "have" is "had." That means the past perfect tense of "have" is "had had."

Thinking about "had had" long and hard at 3 a.m. this morning, because that's the sort of thing what keeps English professors up at night, I came up with an example sentence that uses the past perfect of "have" twice in a row and once more for good measure.  I then diagrammed that glorious sentence, added a few prepositional phrases to it, and diagrammed it again. Although this exercise might be the kind of thing to help most people fall asleep, it just excited me, and here I am writing about it four hours later.

Here's today's past perfect sentence diagramming challenge sentence:

He had had the special training, but the special training that he had had had had no effect on his ability to perform his job duties under pressure.

Step One: Separate the Clauses

Clause One (Independent): He had had the special training
Clause Two: (Independent): but the special training [that he had had] had had no effect on his ability to perform his job duties under pressure.
Clause Three: (Adjective Clause): that he had had

Step Two: Diagram the First Independent Clause

The subject of the first clause is "He," and the complete verb is "had had."  "The" and "special" modify the direct object, "training."

Step Three: Diagram the Second Independent Clause

Connect the first and second clauses at their verbs using the coordinating conjunction, "but."  The complete subject of the second clause is "the special training [that he had had]," the complete verb is "had had," and the object is "effect."  "No," and the string of phrases, "on his ability to perform his job duties under pressure" are modifiers (with modifiers).

Step Four: Diagram the Adjective Clause

"That he had had" modifies "training" in the subject of the second clause.  Therefore, as with all modifiers, it is diagrammed under the word it modifies.  Because it is a clause connected to a clause, it is connected with a dashed line.  Before it can be diagrammed, however, it must be rearranged.  The subject should appear first.  The rearranged clause, in standard subject-verb-object (SVO) order, reads "he had had that."

Do you have another challenging sentence that needs diagramming?  Give it a try or present it in the comments below!

Want to read more about diagramming sentences?  Try

Diagramming Sentences: A Playful Way to Analyze Everyday Language
Silly Sentence Saturday
Diagramming Pangloss: All Is for the Best in the Best of All Possible Worlds

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Diagramming Pangloss: All is for the Best in the Best of All Possible Worlds

In Candide, Voltaire presents one of the most famous lines in literature, putting it in the mouth of the one of the most famous philosphers in literature, Dr. Pangloss.

"All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds," Pangloss says.  "Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles."

However, as easy as it is to find explanations of this philosophy in English or in French, your choice, it is not as easy to find grammatical analyses of the line.  This line's analysis requires the analyzer take a long, hard look at each of the three prepositional phrases and determine their best possible locations.  That is not to say, of course, that Voltaire did not place them in their best of all possible locations in the best of all possible lines, just that the analysis can lead to a better understanding.

Subject and Verb: "Tout est"

The subject and verb, "Tout est," is easy to determine.  The sentence has only one verb, "est," and "Tout" is the only noun that precedes the verb.  The subject sits to the left of the base line, and the verb sits to the right, divided by a perpendicular line that slightly crosses the base line. 

First Prepositional Phrase: "pour le mieux"

The first prepositional phrase, "pour le mieux," acts as a subject compliment in this sentence.  The subject and this first prepositional phrase are joined by the linking verb, "est." In other words "Tout" equals "pour le mieux."    In order to diagram the subject compliment, add a back-slanting line after the verb and diagram the prepositional phrase above the base line.  Connect the prepositional phrase element to the base line with a perpendicular line and legs.


Second Prepositional Phrase: "dans le meilleur"

The second prepositional phrase, "dans le meilleur," requires some interpretive sleuthing.  A prepositional phrase is a modifying phrase.  It behaves like an adjective or an adverb.  To determine its placement in a diagram, one must determine what the prepositional phrase is modifying.  In this case, it could describe what "is in the world," what "est dans le meilleur," or it could be telling us Dr. Pangloss means to tell us about "all in the world" (or "everything in the world"), "tout dans le meilleur."  Lastly, he could mean all is for the "best in the world," which would really emphasize the level of best, or "mieux."  As the interpreter of this sentence, I have chosen the second interpretation, "Tout dans le meilleur" as the subject, which emphasizes he really means everything. The phrase has been diagrammed under the subject.


Third Prepositional Phrase: "des mondes possibles"

The final prepositional phrase, "des mondes possibles," modifies the object of the preposition, "meilleur," which translates to "the best of all," or colloquially, "the absolute best." When analyzed grammatically, a reader can see that with the use of the two superlatives, "mieux" and "meilleur," the last prepositional phrase is really unnecessary.  However, when analyzed for interpretation or meaning, this last prepositional phrase adds to Dr. Pangloss's character development and echoes the philosophies of Liebniz - all for the effect of the novel's satire. 

Final Diagram: "Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles."

The final diagram for Dr. Pangloss's philosophical sound byte looks to be a rearrangement of the original that does, indeed, assist with understanding, whether that understanding aligns with accepted meanings or semantically stands apart from accepted meanings: "All in the best of all possible worlds is for the best," or "Tout dans le meilleur des mondes possibles est pour le mieux."

Want to read more about analyzing literature?  Try

Diagramming a Poem by Mina Loy
Writing about Unctuous Characters
Using Existentialism as Literary Analysis

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Diagramming Possessive and Plural Nouns

Do you want to write about one butterfly or many butterflies?

Nouns: Possessives and Plurals 

As a general rule, a noun ends in "s" when a writer is referring to more than one of the given noun. For example, the writer might write about seeing one butterfly or several butterflies.  The writer might mention encountering  a ghost or multiple ghosts.

When a writer means to say that something belongs to the noun, however, he or she uses an apostrophe before adding the "s."  The writer could refer to the butterfly's wings or the ghost's intentions.

When a writer wants to tell his or her readers that something belongs to more than one of the given noun, the writer must use the plural form of the noun and the possessive apostrophe.  In this case, the writer would tell us about butterflies' wings or ghosts' intentions.

How to Diagram Plural, Possessive, and Possessive Plural Nouns

Before diagramming these nouns, the form of the noun must be carefully considered.  Plural nouns are diagrammed on horizontal lines, either on a base line or horizontally as the object of a preposition.  Possessive nouns, however, have an entirely different purpose, and they are diagrammed as modifiers underneath the nouns they modify.

To diagram a plural noun as a direct object, simply place it on the horizontal base line in the third segment of that base line.  In this instance, the writer is referring to more than one butterfly.

To diagram the singular possessive form of a noun, place the possessive noun under the word it modifies on the diagonal line.  In this example, the direct object is "wings."  The possessive noun, "butterfly's" tells us more about the kind of wings Kate admired. 

In this final diagram, Kate admired the wings of multiple butterflies.  Although "butterflies'" is plural, it is also possessive, and it is therefore a modifier.  It remains underneath the word it modifies, just like any other adjective.

In diagramming, just as in writer, the form of a noun must be carefully considered before it is written. Plural nouns are placed just as singular nouns are placed, but possessive nouns are diagrammed like adjectives.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Students' Learning Outcomes

An Outcomes-Based Assessment Model

Outcomes-based assessment has become the go-to model for assessment practices in education from elementary schools through post-graduate programs.  However, there is a weakness in the model.


What's missing from the model is a level of alignment and an opportunity for feedback from students about what students want to gain or achieve by the time they reach graduation.

Outcomes-Based Assessment Model Overview

To give a quick overview, institutions have goals, abilities and qualities they want students to have by the time they reach graduation.  Schools and disciplines or departments have goals, too, which are more specific abilities and qualities for students to demonstrate by the time they graduate from that particular school, discipline, or department.  The abilities and qualities institutions, schools, disciplines or departments want students to gain are taught and assessed in specific classes.

Class goals align with departmental or discipline goals, which align to goals of a particular school, which align with the institution's broad goals for all students.   In that way, each individual class clearly helps students move closer to an achievement of proficiency in the departmental or discipline goals and outcomes, and the institutional goals and outcomes, concurrently.

The Students' Goals

This is an effective model for assessment, no doubt.  In this model, though,  I see the potential for an institution to ignore, either intentionally or unintentionally, the goals of the students.  Theoretically, students accept as their own the outcomes set forth in the courses, departments or disciplines, schools, and institutions they choose.  When the outcomes determined by faculty, administrators and stakeholders do not align with the abilities and qualities the students want to achieve, however, where in the model do the students have an opportunity to offer feedback?

Of course, faculty can ascertain this type of misalignment within individual courses, but generally do not have the authority to change the outcomes or goals that are assigned a particular course because of the consistency required for assessment.  Administrators and stakeholders may hear from some students and faculty about any misalignment, but such anecdotal information is not statistically relevant enough to overhaul institutional goals and outcomes.

Program Review

The answer may lie in the program review process.  Indirect data collected via surveys sent to students, graduates, faculty, staff, and employers could be used to gather evidence of any misalignment between or among the institution's, school's, discipline or department's goals and outcomes and the students' goals.  This type of data, unlike anecdotal evidence, may be statistically significant enough to encourage changes to any outdated or otherwise irrelevant goals, from bottom (course goals and outcomes) to top, or from top (institutional goals and outcomes) to bottom.

This type of survey data must become common practice, part of standard procedures for program review, if an institution wants its goals and stated outcomes to remain relevant in a changing world. Students' goals, their requests to learn specific abilities and gain specific qualities, should not be ignored, but should become part of an institution's annual assessment practices.

Want to read more about teaching and assessment?  Try

Composition and Field Journals
Student-Centered or Curriculum-Centered?
Flipped Classroom: Before Making Videos

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Common Errors to Avoid: Pronoun Shifts and Confusing Antecedents

A sentence diagram that clearly points out the shift in pronoun case between one clause and another.
Avoid Shifting Pronouns to Avoid Clarity Errors

The use of pronouns can be a tricky thing, but errors can be avoided if you always check your antecedents.

The first common error that can be avoided by checking your antecedents is an inconsistent point of view.  The second common error is the use of a vague or ambiguous reference.

Point of View and Pronoun Shift

The point of view is the "relative position from which something is seen or a subject is considered" (Shaw 358). When this point of view changes, it can make your writing a bit confusing for a reader to understand, and that's never a good thing.

Take the following sentence, for example, which includes a shift in number: "A puppy can bring a person a lot of joy, but they are also a lot of work."  Can you see it?  The pronoun in the sentence is "they," which is plural.  However, it's antecedent, or the word it refers to, is "puppy," which is singular.

The sentence needs to be corrected for the shift in number in order to clarify the pronoun-antecedent relationship: "A puppy can bring a person a lot of joy, but a puppy is also a lot of work," or "A puppy can bring a person a lot of joy, but he is also a lot of work."

Another type of pronoun shift is class or formality.  For example, instead of writing "One should always return library books on time if you want to avoid fees," maintain either the third person or the second person throughout the sentence.  To correct it you could write, "One should always return library books on time if one wants to avoid fees," or "You should always return library books on time if you want to avoid fees."

Vague or Ambiguous Pronouns

We call a sentence or phrase ambiguous when there are multiple meanings to choose from, but we don't know which meaning the writer means for us to choose. We say a sentence or phrase is vague when meaning is implied, or if we can't figure out any meaning.   Here are some examples:

Ambiguous: "The veterinarian took the puppies and kittens from the pet carriers and placed them on the floor."  The pronoun in the sentence is "them," but we aren't sure if "them" refers to the puppies, the kittens, or the pet carriers.  What was placed on the floor?  There are three different words in the sentence from which to choose, but the antecedent is ambiguous, so we just do not know.

In order to clarify our meaning we can say, "The veterinarian took the puppies and kittens from the pet carriers and placed the carriers on the floor."

Vague: "They have great desserts in Canada."  If the writer means to say that Canadians make great desserts, she should use "Canadians" as the subject of her sentence.  However, because the antecedent to the sentence is implied, does not appear in the sentence, she might also mean something else, like "restaurants," "French bakeries," or some other unknown subject.  We simply do not know because the antecedent, the meaning of the pronoun, is missing.  To correct the sentence the writer should use a specific noun as the subject instead of using a pronoun, which is a good rule of thumb for all sentences.

Revision and editing take time and practice, but if you know what to look for when checking your pronouns and antecedents, the process can be made much easier.  Always check your pronouns for shifts in case or number and for vague or ambiguous antecedents.

Works Cited

Shaw, Harry. A Complete Course in Freshman English. 2nd revised ed. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1940. Print.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Survey: First Generation College Students Turned Faculty

Are you a first generation college student turned faculty?
Take the survey!
Study after study has been conducted on the beliefs and behaviors, success rates, parental involvement, and challenges of being first in family or first generation college students.

However, little to no information is available about how those same students, who later become part of academic institutions as faculty, better learn to navigate the challenges associated with those beliefs, behaviors, success rates, and parental involvement. 

Faculty who were first generation students themselves, may or may not have been part of special programs that then may have better prepared them to mentor or advise their own students.  Faculty may also still have feelings of displacement, or concerns about their own identities or "fitting in" with other faculty from higher socioeconomic statuses. These first generation college students turned faculty may or may not have support and acceptance about their career choice from friends and family.  Just like first generation college students, they may or may not feel adequately supported by administrators whose roles they may not fully understand.

In order to investigate any patterns or correlations that may exist, longitudinally, as first generation college students become faculty members, faculty should be surveyed.  The following questions are part of an initial survey.

  • Are you a faculty member at an institution that serves first-generation college students?
  • Were you a first-in-family or first generation college student?
  • Do you work directly as a teacher, mentor, or adviser of first generation or first-in-family college students?
  • Were you part of a special program for first-in-family or first generation college students?
  • Do you feel a special first generation program has helped or would have helped you better teach, advise, or mentor first generation college students?
  • Do you feel you are sufficiently able to empathize with other first-in-family or first generation college students?
  • Do you ever feel as though you yourself do not belong in academia?
  • Do you feel your job or day-to-day responsibilities are misunderstood by family and friends who are not part of academia?
  • Do you or have you ever felt unprepared for your day-to-day responsibilities, like lesson planning, attending meeting with others, research, or working as an adviser or mentor?
  • Do you have any other comments about being a first-in-family or first generation college student turned faculty member?

Dependent upon the results of the survey, a closer look at programs that prepare first generation college faculty for jobs within academia may be warranted.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Introduction Paragraphs and Lead-Ins

A Well-Written Introduction and Conclusion Work Like Bookends
Bookends Image Used by Permission of Ole Husby

The introduction of an essay serves two purposes. First, the writer uses it to capture a reader's attention. Then, the writer smoothly leads the reader from the attention-getting material to the thesis, which is the claim, position, or revelation about a narrowed topic.

Since there are already oodles and oodles of posts and articles written about thesis statements (some of them mine), let's focus here on that other part of an introduction, the lead-in or attention-getter.

Introductory Lead-ins

Quintilian, in Traditions of Oratory, defines the purpose of the introduction, called exordium, as  "to prepare our audience in such a way that they will be disposed to lend a ready ear to the rest of our speech."  Although he was discussing oratory, specifically, this same rule applies when we write essays.  Writers want audiences to want to continue reading the essay through the conclusion.

There are several techniques a writer can use to lead a reader into an essay and capture his or her attention.  Writers choose the best lead-in technique after carefully considering several options.  Just like the rest of the essay, the lead-in must be relevant to the thesis, have an appropriate tone, and attract the specific intended audience.

Make a Lead-in Relevant to the Thesis

If a lead-in strays in any way from the main point of the essay, the reader will not be prepared to read the information the writer has presented.  This, in turn, makes the reader say "Huh?  What's going on?"  Once that happens, it is very difficult to regain a reader's trust, or even his or her attention.

The following lead-in is a startling statistic from an authority.  What might the best, relevant thesis for the following lead-in be?

According to the American Cancer Society's Web site, there will be over 230,000 new cases of breast cancer this year, and over 40,000 woman will die from breast cancer (2015).

a. Everyone should be tested for breast cancer as soon as possible.
b. Because of these startling statistics, women should all be tested every year.
c. These numbers are startling, but women can avoid becoming this year's statistics if they practice self exams each month for early detection, have a  mammogram if they are over age 40, and visit their doctors for yearly testing if they have not yet done so this year.

Write a Lead-in with an Appropriate Tone

Tone is very difficult to define, but people generally understand tone of voice when they hear variables of it.  For example, people know when someone is angry, being sarcastic, bitter, or ironic, being flippant or cutesy, being mushy or sentimental, preachy, or pompous.  Furthermore, because people understand these tones when they hear them, they can generally also understand and identify them when they read them.  Unfortunately, when people read these particular tones in essays, they stop reading.  If these tones present themselves in the very first few sentences of an essay, readers won't even make it to the thesis.

It's also important that the tone of the lead-in matches the topic.  For example, a funny anecdote or joke is not an appropriate lead-in for a serious matter like breast cancer or child abuse.  In the same way, a joke about child abuse may not be funny, but that doesn't make it appropriate for a serious essay, either.

Which of the following might be appropriate lead-in techniques for a serious essay?

a. An emotional description or cause and effect scenario related to the narrowed topic
b. A statement of a problem or popular misconception about the narrowed topic
c. Relevant facts or statistical evidence about the narrowed topic

Write the Lead-in with a Specific Audience in Mind

The intended audience of an essay should affect the way the essay is presented from the opening lead-in to the conclusion of the essay. A lead-in, in other words, should be written to attract that specific, intended audience.

For example, an essay about seat belts on school buses could be directed toward any number of specific audiences, from the students riding the buses, the bus drivers, a school board, or parents of riders.  Each of these specific audiences will need to be addressed in the manner most relevant and interesting to them.

Which of the following lead-ins would be the most interesting if the example essay about seat belts on school buses was intended for students who ride buses?

a. Do you sit next to a friend on the bus on your way to and from school?  Imagine what would happen to that friend if the bus hit a tree, rolled into a ditch on a slippery, icy road, or was hit from behind by another large vehicle.  Now, imagine the same scenario, but imagine your friend wearing a seat belt.  Which scenario would you prefer?
b. School buses account for 12% of all traffic accidents each year, and some of those accidents include fatalities.
c. Bus drivers are trained to avoid distraction and get students to and from school safely.  However, everyone is human, and some things that happen on the bus simply cannot be ignored, like students swapping seats or fighting while the bus is moving.  Seat belts could help alleviate or discourage some of those distractions.


The introduction is an exceptionally important part of an essay.  The lead-in statement of an essay's introduction helps the writer attract the attention of a specific audience while preparing that audience to receive the information presented in the thesis.  Whether the essay is written to inform, convince, or tell a story, the essay must have a beginning for its middle and its end.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Annotated Bibliography Assignment Guide for Students

Annotated Bibliography assignment got you stressed out?
Breathe and take it one source at a time.

So you've been assigned an annotated bibliography and you have no idea how to get started, how to write an annotated bibliography, or what an annotated bibliography even is, eh?  

Here's the skinny:

An annotated bibliography is a list of sources you find about a particular topic and your accompanying notes about each source.  Sometimes that topic is given to you, sometimes you get to pick the topic, and sometimes you're given a broad topic and you have to narrow it down.  Whatever the case (topic) may be, you have to find sources about it, take notes from and about those sources, and properly format each citation for each of the sources.

If this is the first time you've attempted an annotated bibliography, try this method to get started.  

Find One or Two Sources 

Within your school's library databases, use a variety of search terms related to your topic to generate hits.  Try selecting only peer-reviewed articles or articles within a certain date range or subject area to start, and expand your search or use the Internet if you aren't finding the type of evidence you need for your particular topic.

For example, I can use a science-based database to search for articles about veterinary science published in peer-reviewed journals in the last three years.  I can search for "large animal medicine," or "keeping horses healthy," or "dairy cow nutrition."  All of these searches will turn up different hits, and I can scan the abstracts to make sure they are relevant to my topic before I choose to use the sources in my annotated bibliography.

When in doubt, ask a reference librarian to help you learn to search for sources in the numerous database or subscription services your school is sure to offer.

On the other hand, I can also use an Internet search engine, like Google, if my topic calls for the use of lay testimony.  I can search for "iPhone Reviews" or "New iPhone" or "Newest Apple iOS for Phone" if I want to find out what people, not necessarily experts, are saying about the newest version of the iPhone.  If I'm working on an annotated bibliography as the first step in a research paper, however, I will need to keep these types of sources to a bare minimum and stick to peer-reviewed journal articles or texts.

Read the Sources

After you scan your hits and choose the best sources, read them. No, really:  Read the sources, the whole sources, and everything about the sources (like the authority of the author or the publication date).  Really really read them.

  • Read the source the first time.  Do not take notes.  Just read the source all the way through.  
  • Read the source the second time.  Take notes, ask questions in the margins, mark passages that excite you, confuse you, or make solid points.  Look up information you need to look up in order for the source to make as much sense as possible.  Remember that if you are new to a topic, it's going to take a lot of reading about it before you can understand everything you read.  Be patient.
  • Read the source a third time and make a final determination about its main points, its evidence, its relevance, reliability (if you can), and its timeliness and authority.
  • Read the source's bibliography and see if there's anything there for you to read, too.

Cite the Sources

Depending on the instructions of your professor, you may need to use one of a variety of citation styles for your bibliographic entries.

Here are some options, all for the same journal article:

AMA (American Medical Association)

Renner K. Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television. Horror Studies [serial online]. October 2013;4(2):201-219. Available from: Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 16, 2015.

APA (American Psychological Association)

Renner, K. J. (2013). Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television. Horror Studies, 4(2), 201-219. doi:10.1386/host.4.2.201_1

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date

Renner, Karen J. 2013. "Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television." Horror Studies 4, no. 2: 201-219. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed September 16, 2015).

Chicago/Turabian: Humanities

Renner, Karen J. "Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television." Horror Studies 4, no. 2 (October 2013): 201-219. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed September 16, 2015).


Renner, KJ 2013, 'Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television', Horror Studies, 4, 2, pp. 201-219, Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost, viewed 16 September 2015.

MLA (Modern Language Association)

Renner, Karen J. "Negotiations Of Masculinity In American Ghost-Hunting Reality Television." Horror Studies 4.2 (2013): 201-219. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.

Whichever style you are asked to use, be sure to follow the instructions for both in-text and bibliographic citations.

Use Your Notes to Draft Paragraphs

Remember all those notes you took during your second read of the source?  Now is the time to look at them very carefully.  You're going to be turning those notes into complete thoughts about the source.

There are different ways to organize the information from your notes, but a good beginning point is to divide the entry into four parts: citation, source's main points, credibility and authority of the author or publisher, and additional notes about why you may or may not want to use the source for a final project, like timeliness of information, genre, bias, or reliability.  Once you draft responses based on those four prompts, you should add coherence to the paragraph or paragraphs and make sure all quoted or paraphrased source content is attributed to the page or paragraph where that information appears.

Of course, your professor may want information organized in a specific manner, so when in doubt, always follow those instructions and ask for help if you need it!

Here is an example entry that's been divided into its four parts:

MLA Citation: Kass, Jared. “What is Contemplative Education?” Institute for Contemplative Education. Institute for Contemplative Education, n.d. Web. 16 July 2015.

Review of important information: The Web site has a fantastic, thorough definition of contemplative education.  Kass states, "This educational approach introduces people to the maturational goals and contemplative practices of the spiritual traditions, and teaches them to use these practices as a resource for resilience, well-being, and peace-promoting responses to conflict" (par. 5). 

Author's credentials: Dr. Kass, the director of the Institute, has several publications and academic honors in this field of study.  His full bio is available on the Web site.

Relevance, use, and timeliness: I will use the definition available on this site to help support my argument that the contemplative educational approach is an approach that is directly linked to the development of diversity skills.  The definition given on the Web site includes three diversity skills as part of the definition.  However, I must be aware of the weakness of the definition: There is no date on the Web site, and the definition might be outdated pending newer research.  


Once you have completed one or two entries, be sure to have your work checked by your professor to make sure you are on the right track.  If this is something you have never done before, that follow-up may be essential to your grade.  You can continue adding entries to your annotated bibliography, one at a time, until you have satisfied your curiosity about your topic and met the assignment requirements.  It all starts,  however, with just one entry.

Want to read more about research and writing?  Try

Prewriting the Research Essay: Starting with "I Think"
An Overview of the Writing Process
Evidence: Writing Well-Supported Paragraphs

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Airlock Lids and Homemade Sauerkraut

Use 1 1/2 Tablespoons of Salt for 1 Medium Head of Cabbage

I recently decided to try making homemade sauerkraut for the first time.  

After reading a bit about the process and making my intentions known, my husband asked if I was going to bury it in the backyard.

Although it is a bit "from the old country" of me to make my own sauerkraut, I didn't need to go back quite that far.

Making Sauerkraut

I was able to make safe, delicious, just-the-right-amount sauerkraut using 3-piece airlock fermentation lids sold by Quality Reliable Products.

I started by

  1. chopping a medium head of cabbage into small bits, 
  2. stirring it by hand in a large mixing bowl with 1 1/2 tablespoons of sea salt until it got juicy, then 
  3. packing it down into 2 large-mouth mason jars using a small jelly jar and a wooden spoon.

Using Fermentation Lids

After that came the super easy part, which did not include burying anything in the backyard.  

The next steps included 
  1. screwing down the airlock lids, 
  2. slowly twisting the airlocks into the holes in the lids, then 
  3. carefully filling the airlocks half full of water so that none of the water got into the jars and lastly, 
  4. fitting the lids onto the airlocks and placing the jars in a safe storage area for about 4 weeks.

More About Sauerkraut

Now, according to this very thorough sauerkraut-making post by Lea from Nourishing Treasures and posted on the Food Renegade blog by 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Pig: A Sample Narrative Essay

Narrative Essays Are about Capturing Memory
Just before I started my last full time teaching position, I spent time visiting my playful, happy grandparents in Florida.  It was an uncomfortable visit because something was wrong: My grandfather's memory wasn't what it was.  His personality wasn't what it was, but my grandmother wasn't talking about it.   She was just tired, really tired and unhappy.

 He mixed up his verb tenses, an error not easily overlooked by an English professor. 

 "Your grandmother makes me eat bologna sandwiches every day for lunch," he said.  I remembered him telling me that when he told me about working for Chrysler.  He retired in the 1970's.

 "I have an airplane, and I can fly anytime I want to," he said.  He'd used his G.I. Bill benefits to get a pilot's license.

 When he made these verb tense errors, my grandmother would make a sour face and sigh.  Sometimes she'd change the subject or ask him what he wanted for lunch.  Sometimes she'd get mad and start coughing.

 "Nothing with garlic.  You always use too much garlic.  And no beef.  It's too tough.  You make it too tough," he'd say, which was odd because I'd never heard him once criticize my grandmother's cooking.

I could guess it was Alzheimer's.  In addition to the dementia, his knees were hurting constantly, and he was having trouble moving around.  He napped on and off all day in his chair.   On one of the last mornings I visited, he was sitting at the little dining table, reading the paper and drinking his coffee in his plaid bathrobe.  I sat with him to make small talk, but after a few minutes he took my hand and said it "was terrible."  "It" was like dreaming all the time, never knowing what was real and what was a dream, he said.  I looked at our hands.  His thumbnail was very flat, with ridges and a small crack.  The nail was a little too long.

 When I was quite young and there were no such things as car seats, my grandparents used to take us to yard sales on weekends.  We went once to a yard sale at the trailer park where my grandmother's sister lived.  On one of the folding tables not being swarmed by grown-ups, I saw a crocheted pig with the saddest face I'd ever seen on anything or anyone.  It was love at first sight.  Neither of my grandparents realized how much I loved that pig; maybe my grandma thought she could make me one herself, and maybe papa thought the same.  We left without the pig.  I cried silently most of the way home.  My grandma turned around and asked me why I was crying such big crocodile tears.  I told her I wanted the pig.  Papa turned around, and we went back for the pig.  My dad and I dug that pig out of attic storage the last time I went home.

I'm starting a new full time teaching position, and lately, I can't stop thinking about my grandfather's hand, his thumbnail specifically, the way it looked when he held it that last time I visited.  I can't remember if I said anything special, or if we just went back to small talk, but I do remember thinking of that moment in the back of the car, with that lump of sadness in my throat, crying big crocodile tears.  If life would let us turn around go back for things, like we went back for that crocheted pig, could I have spent more time with him or said something worth remembering?  The reality is that we can't go back, not in that sense, no matter how badly we hurt.

Read More About Narrative Essays

The Narrative Frame: Prewriting the Narrative Essay
A Narrative Essay: Holding Hands
Why Write a Narrative Essay

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Thesis Statements: Revising "There Is" and "There Are"

Watch out!  There is a hole in your thesis!
When writing an essay, a writer generally must compose a thesis statement and topic sentences before he or she can generate an outline or find the best supporting details and evidence for each body paragraph.

Drafting and revising come later in the writing process.  Because writers generate a thesis before "officially" drafting and revising an essay, they draft in the beginning what is called a "working thesis."

This name, "working thesis," presupposes that the writer will later revise the working thesis, if necessary, to make the main ideas more clear to the intended audience and to clean up any grammar, mechanics, or usage errors.

Expletive Constructions

One of the most common clarity errors student writers must revise when looking back at their working thesis statements is what is called the expletive construction.  Now, although it sounds like this has something to do with expletives (like #$@%!, for example), what it really means is that the sentence begins with "There is" or "There are" or "Here is" or "Here are."  Removing the expletive words from the beginning of a sentence, and revising the sentence so that the subject of the sentence comes first, adds clarity.

Working Thesis Statement Examples

There is nothing inherently wrong with using the expletive construction to create a working thesis statement.  As I stated above, writers get lots of chances during the drafting and revising stages of the writing process to adjust the thesis before submitting a final draft.

Some examples of working thesis statements using the expletive construction include:

  • There are three types of dangerous situations a ghost hunter might encounter while investigating a haunted location: legal, physical, and emotional or spiritual.
  • There is a kind of snake that everyone should be able to identify.
  • Here are a few reasons why Player Piano is the great American novel.
  • Here is how "comics" has been defined differently by comic artists Scott McCloud and Will Eisner.

All of these working thesis statements would definitely be specific enough about the narrowed topic to get a student started on an outline and on the path to planning supporting paragraphs.  However, later in the writing process, each of these working thesis statement could be revised for clarity by rewriting the sentences so that the subjects of the sentences come first.

Revised Thesis Statements

The first thing to look at when revising the expletive construction is the grammatical subject of the given sentence.  Then, it's up to the writer to determine if the grammatical subject of the sentence is what he or she truly wants to emphasize.  Here are (Did you see how I sneaked that in there?) the grammatical subjects of the working thesis statements.

  • There are three types of dangerous situations a ghost hunter might encounter while investigating a haunted location: legal, physical, and emotional or spiritual.
  • There is a kind of snake that everyone should be able to identify.
  • Here are a few reasons why Player Piano is the great American novel.
  • Here is how "comics" has been defined differently by comic artists Scott McCloud and Will Eisner.

To change these up, place the subject of the sentence first.

  • Ghost hunters might encounter a few dangers while investigating a haunted location.  The dangers can be broken down into three types: legal, physical, and emotional or spiritual.
  • Everyone should be able to identify one specific kind of snake.
  • Player Piano is the great American novel.
  • Scott McCloud and Will Eisner define "comics" differently. 

Then, the writer must determine if these subjects are really the part of the thesis they believe is most important and deserve the "pole position."  Furthermore, the writer can replace vague or ambiguous language with specific language that tells the intended audience exactly what the essay will be about and what the writer's "take" or "claim" about the topic might be.

  • Dangers ghost hunters may encounter during an investigation can be broken down into three types: legal, physical, and emotional or spiritual.
  • For safety's sake, the crotalus horridus is one snake that every American hiker should be able to identify. 
  • Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano meets the tenets of the definition of the great American novel.
  • Will Eisner's definition of "comics" is more accurate than the definition posed by Scott McCloud.

Again, what I have revised here from the working thesis statements above include

  • "Pole position," or the idea that the first words hold the most importance
  • Replacement of vague or ambiguous language for concrete, specific ideas
  • Clear expression of the writer's "take" or "claim" about the narrowed topic


Once more, there is (I did it again, did you notice?) nothing inherently wrong with beginning the writing process with a working thesis statement that includes the expletive construction.  The trick is knowing when and how to revise that working thesis later in the writing process.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Advice for Faculty: Do Your Thing

I received my MFA in Creative Writing from Naropa University's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in 2006. Since that time I have written a full-length play, completed a textbook about diagramming sentences, wrote a supplemental text, and published six chapbooks of poetry for other poets.

I've spent the last 8 years as an English Professor, teaching first year Composition and remediation.  I started this blog and wrote essay after essay after essay. I judged writing competitions and served on editorial boards.  I created online courses.

Today, for the first time in almost 6 years, I wrote a poem.

Without getting into how uninspired I have been for a very long time, and how that lack of inspiration has affected every aspect of my life, I want to use this short post to offer a simple piece of advice to my fellow faculty members and creative souls: Do your thing.  Whatever it is you do, you must make time to do it and "fill your own cup" before it, in absentia, makes you forget why you became a teacher in the first place.

Ending this exceptionally short blog post abruptly, I now release you from the Internet so you can go do your thing.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Advice for Adjunct Faculty: The Teaching Demo

Make Sure You're a Good Fit
At some point during the hiring process, a school will usually schedule a teaching demonstration with a potential faculty candidate.  This teaching demonstration is a great way for the school to find out if the candidate will be a good fit for the school.  That's the tricky part for the faculty candidate, however.  What makes for a "good fit" for one school may not make a "good fit" for another.

The faculty candidate's best bet is to ask the right questions about the teaching demonstration and the school's teaching philosophy ahead of time.

Learning Objectives or Outcomes

Is there a particular learning objective or outcome you'd like me to cover?

The way an objective or outcome is worded can tell you a lot about the school and help guide your teaching demonstration.  For example, broad and general objectives indicate you have a lot of freedom within the classroom when it comes to meeting the broad and general outcome.  There are a lot of ways to get students to "understand basic principles of writing."  However, a detailed objective that covers a very specific action or subtopic may indicate less freedom and a more "lockstep" approach within the classroom.  Instead of having freedom to help students "understand basic principles of writing," you may be asked to help students "complete an annotated bibliography in APA format."

If given a broad outcome, be sure to narrow it down on your own and somehow show within the lesson how the lesson meets the outcome.  If given the more specific objective, be sure to stay within its parameters. Just remember that you want students to be able to do something at the end of the lesson, not just know something.  That may require a step-by-step lesson or a real-time example.  It will certainly require some sort of quick assessment to make sure students are meeting the objective or outcome.  Make sure to plan a complete lesson to meet the given time restraints.

Teaching Philosophy

Do your students in my particular discipline area respond best to curriculum-centered or more learner-centered classes?

In general, a learner-centered approach means the faculty is empowered to reasonably do whatever it takes to make sure the learners understand the material being covered and have proficiency in the basic skills detailed in the learning outcomes or objectives.  Schools that take this approach are often very hands-on, workshop, lab, and project-based.

In general, a curriculum-centered school wants students to understand the material being covered and have proficiency in the basic skills detailed in the learning outcomes or objectives,  but they are also very serious about deadlines and timetables.  These schools are often more lecture-based and there is an expectation that students have the will and ability to self-supplement knowledge on their own if there is something they do not understand.

Class Format

If hired, which class format will I be teaching most often: lectures, discussions, labs, or workshops, or a combination of these?

Because "learner-centered" and "curriculum-centered" are general terms and not terms always used consistently, please be sure sure to also ask for clarity about what type of course format your students might prefer or you might be assigned.


If preparing a lecture, please be sure to add more to the lecture than what is in a particular textbook. Use any visual aids (PowerPoint slides if the classroom is equipped) to add to the information you are delivering instead of repeating it.  Use charts, graphs, and images on slides with appropriate citations. This will help you avoid reading the slides and thus better bring your lecture to life.  (No one wants death by PowerPoint).


Plan a short short lecture, then expect students to contribute to a discussion about the topic.  This is kind of like teaching and assessing and mediating all at the same time.  It's hard, so if you've never done it, try to practice. Be sure to prepare open-ended questions to spark conversation, and create an open but respectful atmosphere for more meaningful conversation.


We think of labs when we think of chemistry classes. A lab is an action-based lesson. However, students must still receive information (knowledge about the topic, the lab, the goals, safety) before the lab begins.  At the end of the lab, they should also get a summary or run-down of what happened in the form of assessment and feedback.  Although you may not be able to complete a lab during a demonstration, you may be able to show a short video or explain a series of images in a slideshow.


A workshop is when a teacher gives students a set of instructions, then allows students to practice a technique or work on a project or assignment during class time.  The teacher is there to assist and guide.  It's a lot like a lab, but we say "workshop" in discipline areas where you'd just be working in a classroom, not a "lab."


The teaching demonstration is an integral part of the interview process for new faculty.  The demonstration is the faculty candidate's opportunity to show how he or she can "fit in" with the other faculty members, the school, and with the expectations of a given student body.  However, all situations can and will be a little different. Candidates should ask a few questions before the demonstration so they know how to prepare effectively.

Want to read more about pedagogy and teaching?  Try

Teaching Advice for New Adjunct Faculty
Flipped Classroom: Before Making Videos
Motivate the WIIFM Student with a Learning Audit Assignment

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

An Example of Satire: "Stallmate in House"

Be a Sweetie and Wipe the Seatie

What's Satire?

Oxford Dictionaries defines satire as follows: "The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues."

The satirist journalist's purpose or goal, then, is to help heal the wrongs in society by pointing them out.  By bringing awareness to an issue, sometimes with absurdity, satirists can help folks find places where agreement can happen; more specifically, places where people can agree change needs to happen.

Take a look at the following bit of satire.  Do you believe it adheres to the given definition?  What about fulfilling the purpose of pointing to a place where there may be some wrongs that need healing? Where are those places?  What needs to change?

Stallmate in House: Republicans and Democrats Cannot Agree on New "If You Tinkle When You Sprinkle, Be a Sweetie and Wipe the Seatie" Bill

Louisa Hilke was only 12 years old the first time she fell victim to sprinkle in a public restroom. Jackie Spinoza was only 6.  It was her first day in the first grade.  Now are both well into their 40's, but the experience left them shaken and determined to end public restroom sprinkle.

"There's just no reason for sprinkle in public restrooms," Hilke states firmly as she sips on an espresso during our interview.  "Why should we have to worry about our pants getting wet or try to do that weird squaty-thing over the bowl?  It's just not right."

Nodding at Spinoza, Hilke continues, "A few years ago I met Jackie, and we agreed on this issue. Firmly.  So, we started a petition, and our politicians noticed."

"Finally," Spinoza adds.

Finally, indeed.

Hilke and Spinoza were not the first to act.  The first petition was signed by 678 women in 1790 in Philadelphia.  The second was left on the doorstep to New York City Hall in 1830.  It had been signed by 1290 women.  A third was submitted to Governor Schwarzenegger in 2009.  It had been signed by 45,000 women and men.   Hilke and Spinoza's petition is the fourth.

After the petition was signed, liked, and commented on by 67,000 social media users, the two women phoned their representative, and he said they were right and there should be a law. He then wrote out a draft and introduced it to a congressional committee.  According to an expert we found sitting on the steps outside Capitol Hill, who identified himself as "Just Bill," most bills never even get into committee, so this bill should consider itself lucky.

However, here is where the story turns: Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on key points of the bill, referred to as the "If You Sprinkle When You Tinkle, Be a Sweetie and Wipe the Seatie" bill.
An anonymous representative claims the bill would simply cost taxpayers too much money.  A second states it would cost business owners too much money.  Another believes the bill doesn't go far enough to punish wrong-doers.  Still a fourth anonymous representative asks rhetorically when interviewed, "If the executive branch isn't going to bother to enforce the sprinkle laws we have already passed, what makes these guys think he'll bother to enforce new laws?"  When each is asked why he wants to remain anonymous, each exhibits signs of slight discomfort.

What do Hilke and Spinoza think of these issues?  "If it's meant to be, it's meant to be," says Hilke, speaking again for both women.  "I mean, I exercise and all, but my legs get all shaky when I do that squaty-thing, and if I get some sort of disease from sprinkle, which is no laughing matter, I'll sue somebody -  law or not."

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Originally published Jan 31, 2013 by Amy Lynn Hess.