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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Student Essay Example: The Word Saggin’ Spelled Backwards (Part 2)

 Red pen on paper with corrections

As indicated in this post’s title, this blog post is a continuation of Part 1. If you have not yet read the student essay posted in Part 1, you may want to so that the commentary in this post will be more meaningful.

Overall Grade

Gerard’s essay is in pretty good shape, but is still in need of both revision and editing.  The fact that it needs revision is what makes the paper incapable of earning an A.  Very few essays will be flawless and a grade of “100” does not indicate perfection (although there are some professors who never give a paper higher than a “99” for principle’s sake).  What an A grade does demand are errors on only the editing level: grammar, spelling, and word choice. Revision requires changes in the content and organization of an essay, and are therefore more drastic and costly in terms of grade points.

That said, Gerard’s paper is a solid B to B+ in my book.  I tend to grade more leniently than others, though, as I only count off once for grammar and spelling errors instead of for each and every time a particular error occurs.  I do so to encourage students to tackle more advanced sentence structures and to try and incorporate new vocabulary in their writing, but I understand why other teachers prefer to mark off for every instance.  Because Gerard’s professor was stricter in his grading of errors, Gerard earned a C on this paper.

Revision Errors

Because revision should come before editing in the writing process, I’ll look at this paper’s content errors first.  There aren’t that many issues, but they have a big impact on how focused the essay is.

  • The first paragraph in any piece of writing is the most critical. The introduction has to set the tone and focus for the rest of the essay and, unfortunately, Gerard’s doesn’t.  The reason for this is the lack of a thesis statement.  If you read the introduction in isolation, you’d think the paper were going to be about the “N” word.  That’s clearly not the case.  This paragraph needs one more sentence that tells us that the paper is about how sagging pants and socio-economic status (i.e., low class and ignorance) are linked.
  • The third paragraph includes the sentences, “It’s too bad that they do not realize that they are sending a bad message to the people who have made this trend what it is. These softies from the suburbs do not realize that they are being laughed at by real thugs.”  It’s an interesting direction to take, but not one that fits the scope of the paper.  As the essay discusses how sagging is tied to ignorance, painting the trend in a positive light by linking it to real street-smarts undermines the main point.  Gerard had a wealth of knowledge about the rougher part of city-life and I want him to know that his experiences make him an expert able to write authoritatively on the topic.  What makes a person a real “thug” is just a topic for a different paper, one that would no doubt be fascinating and well-written if Gerard ever wanted to pen it.
  • The use of the word “Thug(s)” diverts the focus of the paper and introduces a potentially confusing new term.  By changing every instance of the word with “Sagger(s),” the paper gains clarity.
  • The 5th paragraph should actually be the 3rd paragraph as it introduces the history and background of the sagging trend.
  • The 4th paragraph should start with “Inner-city and suburban saggers…” and the 6th paragraph should start with “For saggers, regardless of location,…” to make the organization of the main points clearer.
  • The conclusion needs to tie-back to the “N” word, the idea the paper first began with. 

While these changes aren’t severe, they would make a huge difference in how smoothly the paper flows. These errors would all have been spotted easily by outlining the paper. As the person grading it, I outline it myself as I go along to see if I can find the main point of each paragraph and their progression. Outlining doesn’t take long and really makes such a world of difference in keeping an essay focused.

As it stands, the paper starts strong but loses focus after the first page.  That’s not surprising and quite normal, actually, as most high-schoolers have never been asked to write a paper longer than two pages.  I could wax poetic over what a travesty that is (While some teachers are to blame, some aren’t; I was ordered to stop assigning essays when I taught high school because a strong essay wasn’t required to pass the TAKS test), but ultimately it is what it is.

Editing Errors

While I will mark and label every error I see as I grade a paper, I only choose the three most prevalent errors to focus on in my comments.  Fixing a couple of grammar and spelling problems at a time and keeping an eye out for them in the next paper will eventually lead to error-free papers when the next most-encountered errors are addressed, and so on.  In this paper, Gerard has several errors that need addressing.

  • Semicolons join two closely related independent clauses. Examples of misused semicolons in the paper are: “From what I have grown up with in Southwest Houston; black, white, brown, and yellow people…”, “Thugs only have one thing on their minds; being cool”, and “But by this time, unless they come to their senses, and realize that they can still make a change for the better; they pass up on those opportunities.” 
  • Misspelled word: “selling” not “sailing.” When I first read the paper I thought perhaps Gerard knew drug terminology that I wasn’t aware of.  It took my mom pointing out the misspelling for me to realize he had used spellcheck and hit “ok” to all changes without checking that they were the correct ones. 
  • Excessive comma use. Gerard uses commas quite a bit in this paper in places they don’t belong.  For example, after almost every instance of “Although” he inserts a comma, even when the clause isn’t finished yet! Take this sentence for example: “Although, I have noticed a decline in the number of blacks and Hispanics who wear their pants below their waists, this style of stupidity is still going strong.” If you read the sentence out loud, you should feel yourself NOT pausing after “Although” as the phrase isn’t finished until “waists.”
  • Orphaned quotation. While not a repetitively occurring error, dropping a quote into a paper without integrating it into the paragraph is a big no-no.  The quote in this case is “Rappers such as Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur promoted the style in videos and on CD covers” (Glanton).  Prefacing the quote with “This mimicry has not escaped the eyes of the public as Glanton writes ‘Rappers such as…..’”  would let the reader know why the quote is being used and how it contributes to the paragraph’s main point.
  • Ad-Hominem Fallacies. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being passionate about a topic, but name-calling doesn’t belong in academic papers.  Not because it’s “mean” (“honest” would be the word I know many students would use), but because it actually makes your paper less persuasive.  Rhetorically, it’s a bad move.  Sentences like “Since these people are seriously stupid they fail to realize the important things in life…” hurt your case by placing people who either take part in sagging or have friends or relatives who are saggers on the defensive. 


It may appear that I’m being very hard on poor Gerard’s paper, but it’s only because I know how much better his work can and should be! This paper is so close to being an A paper and that’s the grade I know he wants and the one I want to give him.  He has to earn it fair and square, though, and by pointing out the errors in his early essays, it’s my hope he’ll fix them for later essays and work his way up to an A grade.

This essay has a great deal going for it. First of all, I LOVE the way he used the fact that “Saggin’” spells “Niggas” backwards to tie ignorant language with disheveled appearance.  His paper does not link Black people or Hispanics only to the trend; rather, it speaks about the type of socio-economic classes most vulnerable to the trend and the life-style that comes with it.  This sentence states the link beautifully: “In much the same way the ‘N’ word is a misrepresentation of the ‘proper’ way of saying the word ‘Negro,’ so is the way adolescent males are currently choosing to wear their pants.”

This paper is and always will be one of my favorites because Gerard reached past the stale, over-used topics his peers were writing about to find a topic that was relevant to himself. To paraphrase a popular saying: He aimed for the moon and fell among the stars.  I wonder how he’s doing these days.  The last time I heard from him was several years ago when he’d e-mailed me to let me know he’d been admitted to Texas A&M University. I forwarded that e-mail to everyone I knew, I was so proud of him!

He was the kind of guy one would call “rough around the edges” but he surprised me with how imaginative and well written his essays were.  I took one look at his silly-looking gigantic sneakers (those big Air Jordan kind that seem to be so popular among kids), baggy basketball jersey (he wore one to every class!), and flashy necklaces that hung to his waist and thought to myself that I was going to have to teach him how to write separate paragraphs in an essay.  I still remember how shocked I was and how embarrassed to have stereotyped him I felt when he turned in his first essay!

He sat in the middle of the front row every class day next to a Hispanic student with a shaggy mop of hair on his head that he was constantly brushing out of his eyes. Believe it or not, that guy’s name was Gerardo.  Ha! Gerard and Gerardo sat front and center side by side every Tuesday and Thursday. Those two made me love coming to class.  I only had them for one semester, but 5 years later I’m still thinking of them and getting teary-eyed.

Photo credit: CellarDoorFilms

Chihuahua Convalescing: Hugo’s Oral Recovery

Hugo Teeth Cleaning Summer 2012 04

Today I am staying home from work to nurse my little chihuahua back to health.  With a face that cute, who wouldn’t call in sick to stay home with the little guy?! Hugo had 6 teeth extracted yesterday during his teeth cleaning at Meyerland Animal Clinic, which, along with the 4 he had removed several years ago, makes him 10 teeth short of a full set of choppers.  That’s not too bad for a 7 year old chihuahua!

Dr. Werner noticed several of his teeth were mobile after we complained about his bad breath (not that dogs normally have minty fresh breath!) and urged us to get his teeth cleaned.  When she called to give me an update during his cleaning and said he had been “difficult” to prep for surgery, I thought to myself, “That’s my Hugo!” He’s not the sweetest dog when it comes to poking and prodding, and clipping his nails is a nightmare.

Now that his teeth are in perfect shape, it’s time to start preventative measures! Now I just have to find a chihuahua-sized toothbrush….

Pictured above is Hugo with his favorite stuffed animal.  The staff at Meyerland Animal Clinic even let him take his squirrel with him to his procedure! Below is Mofi on his walk yesterday. He didn’t even notice his little play-buddy was missing! I asked him where Hugo was and he gave me this “Who’s Hugo?” look! Ha! He was excited when I brought his accomplice-in-mischief back home, though.

Mofi During Hugo Teeth Cleaning Summer 2012

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Student Essay Example: The Word Saggin’ Spelled Backwards (Part 1)

The Flash Fiction story I wrote for this week involved a girl rediscovering old treasured photographs her mother had stored away.  The nostalgia I felt when writing that story inspired me to go through treasures I, too, have stored away.  Instead of photographs, though, I’ve held on to student essays.

The student who wrote this essay holds a special place in my heart; all the kids I taught who were particularly talented do. They were Stephen Kings waiting to happen, they just needed to figure out how to get through academic writing with all of its formulas and restrictions so they could get back to writing what they wanted to write, rules be damned.

As flawed as this essay is, I still consider it one of the best I’ve received.  Gerard, the student who wrote it, excelled at the narrative and descriptive essays I assigned in our Composition I class.  Research papers were more difficult for him and he sent this essay to me after he was assigned it by his Composition II professor.  Others who didn’t teach him will not understand, but every time I read it I see the hours he struggled to write this paper. 

The errors Gerard made in this paper are the errors most often made by his peers and highlighting them here will hopefully provide others with guidance they can apply to their own papers.  More than that, Gerard’s essay is an example of how anyone, if they are willing to work hard, can succeed in subject areas they thought hopeless.

In this first post, I will post Gerard’s essay in its entirety.  It was submitted to TurnItIn’s database when it was first assigned by Gerard'’s Comp II professor.  As a precaution I have submitted it to several other plagiarism detection databases.  Any teacher worth his or her salt will be able to locate this paper online if s/he suspects plagiarism. I routinely Googled random sentences from every essay I received to see if they could be found online and I know other teachers do the same. 

In the second part of this blog post I will provide feedback about the essay.  It should help students in college or those planning on going to college see what kind of expectations their English professors will have of them.  The hardest part of writing papers is not knowing what your teacher expects from you.

On to the paper!

The Word Saggin’ Spelled Backwards

The word saggin’ is street vernacular (slang). The proper terminology is “sagging”. When spelled backwards saggin’ becomes the “N” word (which is properly spelled ending with the syllable ERS). The “N” word has nothing to do with being a dark skinned person. In other words it means low class. Ignorance in the black and Hispanic community has left many to believe that it means friend, or dude. Ironically, the definition of the “N” word is ignorant, and stupid. And we all know that ignorant people come in assorted colors.

The origin of the “N” word accounts for much of the ignorance we see today in society. Kennedy, a leading scholar, targets the slur’s origins when he writes “The linguist Robin Lakoff speculates that nigger became a slur when users of the term became aware that it was a mispronunciation of Negro and decided to continue using the mispronunciation as a signal of contempt – much as individuals sometimes choose to insult others by deliberately mispronouncing their names” (86). In much the same way the “N” word is a misrepresentation of the “proper” way of saying the word “Negro,” so is the way adolescent males are currently choosing to wear their pants. Instead of wearing pants at the waist in the socially acceptable (and arguably “correct” way to wear pants in order to gain a full range of motion from them), teens are wearing them below the waist and purposefully exposing their undergarments. This trend is common amongst inner city teenagers living in ghettos. From what I have grown up with in Southwest Houston; black, white, brown, and yellow people who sag their pants display ignorant behavior. These are the people who are always getting into trouble in school, and with police. They are always fighting, talking unnecessarily loud, getting involved in other people’s business, jealous of someone else who accomplishes something, having babies with random men and women, stealing, joining gangs, sailing drugs, abusing drugs, drinking, abusing their loved ones, and standing on the street corner all day and all night with nothing else to do other than beg for money. This careless trend is notorious in the black and Hispanic community. Although, I have noticed a decline in the number of blacks and Hispanics who wear their pants below their waists’, this style of stupidity is still going strong.

Although, this trend is thought to only be inner city culture, it has spread to the suburbs pretty fast. Not only are suburban children of all colors mimicking this trend that they believe to be cool, they are picking up a more hardcore version of rebellious behavior that comes with it. They find this way of life to be an okay thing. It’s too bad that they do not realize that they are sending a bad message to the people who have made this trend what it is. These softies from the suburbs do not realize that they are being laughed at by real thugs. This just proves that they have gotten caught up in that low class lifestyle.

Thugs only have one thing on their minds; being cool. Since these people are seriously stupid they fail to realize the important things in life such as going to college and getting ahead in life. The only thing that these people want to do is party. They miss out on so many opportunities that so many people give their lives for in order for them to get ahead in life. They take for granted their right to vote, obtain an education, and everything that the United States Constitution says that they have the right to do. This one set back in life causes most of these people to remain in the ghetto, or get trapped in the ghetto because they act like gangsters. A few thugs at a time will gain some intelligence, and wisdom in life, and understand the mistakes that they made by fallowing the wrong crowd (usually after a life altering situation). The thugs who do manage to make this kind of transition are very scarce in the urban ghettos. The average thug cannot figure out why he or she has such a hard time getting anywhere in life. In order for them to earn enough money whether if it is just to get by, or if it is for them to buy a fancy car, and a house in the suburbs (which they obviously do not fit the description of the type of person who typically possesses such property) they’ll do anything from hustling, and pimping women, to sailing drugs, and having sex for money. This lifestyle leads to nothing but constant warrants, searches and seizures by the police, and constant repossession of property that they struggled so hard in the streets to buy, and absolutely no peace of mind. You would expect these people to get tired of living that way, but the fact remains that they are ignorant people. A majority of them know nothing of other than that trifling lifestyle. They see the material things in life, but they do not know the value of it.

Sagging was discovered by homosexuals in prison (Glanton). Shortly after, it became a black thing. Soon after that the Hispanics caught on to it, emulating the rap-star role models who publicized the new style. “Rappers such as Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur promoted the style in videos and on CD covers” (Glanton). As rap music has become popular among more than just the black and Hispanic communities, whites also began to sag their pants. I’ve seen a few Asians sag their pants, but I do not have any idea why they do it. But the few that I have seen sagging live in rough areas of Houston. But nowadays there are kids in the suburbs who sag their pants. Mostly whites followed by a few blacks, but they’re from the suburbs of all places. I figure that this trend reached the suburbs through the hardened inner city children who moved from the ghettos, therefore spreading their rough style of living which is fantasized by suburban children. When it comes down to kids in the suburbs trying to fit in to that so-called cool lifestyle that is glorified in certain genres of rap music, and is influenced through peer pressure; I worry simply because these kids have no streets smarts, often resulting in inner city kids taking advantage of them. They attract the wrong kind of attention when they wear their pants below their waist. Martin, a councilman and African-American activist, states it best when he says “When the police pull you over, you can't say they are profiling you. You've already profiled yourself” (qtd. in Glanton). This ghetto style of dress may also be adolescents’ way of rebelling against their over-protective parents, but for these soft-core teenagers their lives are easily thrown off track. This is the same way that inner city youth get introduced to the thug life, but they grow up knowing almost nothing but trifling ways of living because almost nobody has any faith in them. As a result they are so much tougher than suburban children, and are able to take care of themselves around a rougher crowd of people.

For the suburban teenagers their lives start going downhill when they find acceptance from the wrong crowd. Since they do not have any streets smarts, and they feel acceptance from kids who they view as cool, people take advantage of them. Before long they start ditching school to hang out with the “cool kids.” As a result their grades decline. If they’re lucky they will finish high school. But by this time, unless they come to their senses, and realize that they can still make a change for the better; they pass up those opportunities to go to college and get ahead in life so that they can legally own a flashy sports car, and CONTINUE to live in a nice neighborhood, and have a piece of mind, therefore, actually being cool. By this time it is too late. That low class lifestyle is what they become accustom to.

Since the world is set up the way it is, some people have to be ignorant and low class. I’m just glad that people around the world do not just see black people in that sense. I’m relieved that they see people of all colors that way.

Works Cited

Dahleen Glanton. "Hackles Rise As Jeans Droop." Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL) Sept. 6 2007: n.p. SIRS Researcher. Web. 31 October 2009.

Kennedy, Randall L. “Who can say ‘Nigger’?...And Other Considerations.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 26 (2000): 86-96. JSTOR. Web. 31 October 2009.


Stay tuned for Part II where I provide feedback on this very deserving essay.

Photo credit: Tobyotter

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fifteen Minutes of Fiction: “The Hike”

My friend over at The Writing Righter has started a series of weekly freewriting prompts called Fifteen Minutes of Fiction.  If you don’t have time for a full blown scene (like the kind required to write a good flash fiction), freewriting for 15 minutes may be just the option you need.

Instead of working over a story for several days, you have to limit yourself to a mere 15 minutes and write as much as you can in one sitting. If traditional freewriting isn’t your cup of tea, you can cheat a little like I do.  My “freewriting” is a little bit more organized than pure stream of consciousness would be, but it’s what I need to do to get through the allotted time still sane. And if you need a little longer than 15 minutes, no one has to know but you.

This week’s prompt was the starter sentence: “If only she had been looking where she was going, none of this would have happened…”

The Hike

If only she had been looking where she was going, none of this would have happened. Reaching down, she gingerly prodded her now swollen ankle. She didn’t think anything felt broken, but she wasn’t exactly a doctor. All she knew was her ankle hurt far too much to be able to bear her weight, much less get her back up and out of the ravine she’d fallen into. She looked around for a branch thick and long enough to use as a crutch.

After half an hour passed by of painfully scooting herself along the ground on her bottom, she gave up the hunt. In the movies, perfectly proportioned tree limbs always appeared within arm’s reach of a fallen hero. She figured she was in more of a Stephen King kind of story. Sure, chances were she’d live, but all manner of unpleasant things would happen to her before she fought her way to safety.

The ants crawling up her legs were evidence enough of that. Swatting at them, she cursed and scooted away as quickly as she could from the ant hill she hadn’t seen earlier. “Just my luck,” she grunted as she used a tree trunk to pull herself up into a standing position.

“O.k., Jasmine. Time to take stock of what you have.” Swinging her backpack off one shoulder and around, she started rooting through it. “Cell-phone that can’t pick up a signal out here in the middle of nowhere? Check. Almost empty water bottle? Check.”


Photo credit: Bruce Denis

Flash Fiction Friday: “The Transfer”

This week’s Flash Fiction Friday prompt is much simpler than previous prompts. In the style of any genre, the story must start with the sentence “We need to talk about Kevin” and be no more than 1,300 words long.  Also different this week, we’ll be voting for which submission is the best.

I can honestly say I will be surprised if I win the contest. I wanted to do something unexpected with the interpretation of the starter sentence, and I think I have.  While“The Transfer” is a good showing for only a couple hours of writing, I’ve already read some of the other entries and they are amazing. Make sure to check them out, too, and vote (even if you didn’t participate!).

I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did coming up with it!

The Transfer

“We need to talk about KEVIN.” Grabbing his arm, Robert made research coordinator Hanwen Huang stop his advancement down the corridor. “There’s something wrong with this project, and you know it.”

Still with his back to his research assistant, Hanwen grunted noncommittally and shook his arm free. Rubbing his bicep where Robert had grabbed him, he said, “We can talk later. I have to compose a response to the Mars transmission we just received.”

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about! We need to tell them the study volunteers are-“

Fine. The study volunteers are fine, Rob. They transported to the Mars base successfully and they returned successfully. All limbs were intact and accounted for. Their health is unaffected by the transfer and they remain coherent.”

“But what about-,” Robert started, only to be cut off again by Dr. Huang.

“The Kinetic Electron Vehicle Implanted Neurotransmitter project is a success.” Shooting a glare over his shoulder at his assistant, Hanwen whispered harshly, “Don’t you dare mess this up for me, Rob. I’ve worked a long time on this project.”

Robert watched him walk away until he turned at the end of the hallway and disappeared into his dormitory. Dr. Huang was right; the project was a success. Nine months travel time to Mars was inconvenient and problematic. What if an emergency happened to travelers on the shuttle? It was simply not possible to include every type of specialist, both mechanical and medical, on every single flight to and from the planet. Mars had only been made hospitable enough to support human life for a handful of decades. Technological and medical events continued to occur on the Mars base for which the experts stationed there lacked the knowledge and tools to deal with. Radio waves took anywhere from 18 to 30 minutes to send and receive to the planet from Earth, making collaboration with experts on Earth difficult. The wait for needed supplies was another nine months once the laborious conversation finally, if ever, generated a solution.

The KEVIN project was a chance to change that. By implanting a neurotransmitter in the base of subjects’ skulls, the brain would be forced to send signals to all extremities causing electrons to hyper-excite. Those electrons would provide the kinetic energy needed to fuel a transfer of the atomic make-up of the individual via radio waves. Thirty minutes later, give or take depending on the position of the two planets, a copy of the subject was created atom by atom at a holding cell set up with the raw materials needed while the original body remained in stasis on Earth. The project had so far successfully transferred two dozen volunteers to and from the Mars base.

The research team should have been celebrating a victory. And they were, except for one member.

“I know I’m ‘just’ a research assistant,” mumbled Rob as he placed his forefinger in the biometric scanner, “but I have eyes! You’d have to be blind not to see what’s happening to these people.” After several beeps, the door to the lab opened and Rob went to his work station. Switching on the two monitors, he watched the video feeds of subjects in their rooms under post-transfer observation.

All twenty four subjects were confined to their quarters. The first set of twelve traveled last week and the second set traveled just that morning. Robert’s attention was focused on the first twelve video feeds. So intent was he on the feeds, he didn’t realize he’d been leaning in closer until his nose bumped up against the monitor.

Pulling back, he grabbed a tissue to wipe off the smudge he left on the screen. As he was wiping, his eye caught a flash of movement in one of the rooms. Instantly he dropped the tissue, but all subjects remained seated on the edge of their beds, staring at the wall, the way they had been for the past seven days.

“I saw it. I know I did. It’s going to happen again, I just have to keep watching.” Rob rubbed his eyes and sighed. He adjusted the positioning of the camcorder he’s set up on a tripod on his desk. Leveling it so that both monitors full of video feeds could be seen through its lens, he hit the record button and went to pour himself his fifth cup of coffee for the afternoon.

He knew what he saw, even if the video feeds didn’t corroborate it. There was something wrong with the recordings or someone was altering them post-capture. If he saw it on the monitors in the live feeds, he could capture it on a camcorder not wired into the system. He had to.

“Damnit! We’re out of creamer.” Grumbling, Rob left the lab to restock the coffee supplies. The doors shut behind him as he walked out, cutting him off from the video feeds. Not that Rob was looking at them, his mind focused on obtaining the creamer needed to make the laboratory coffee palatable enough to drink.

If he had been looking at the feeds, he would have seen the first twelve subjects standing in the center of their rooms, staring at each other through the walls.


Photo credit: Onkel_Wart