Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Toxic Individualism and Corporate Community

As a participant in the The 17th International Symposium on Electronic Art I was struck by how many delegates were hostile to the notion of community. Is it that, in the humanities, perhaps, academia is fatally geared to recognition of solo-achievement at the expense of collaborative methodologies? Perhaps that’s because the ‘art’ element is still understood in terms of romantic-period notions of self, ego, genius, and originality?  In these terms community is the wicked Father called Family, or Tradition. Individualism, in contrast, is Rebel Energy; it is innovation and creativity. The available writing on the self has arguably been more inspiring than that on the community, which tends to fall into windy utopianism or dreary sociological treatises.

But we certainly have a degree of nostalgia for our self-willed creativity, despite the thinly veiled reality that the majority of human beings are merely tiny cogs in the global machine. In part, the delusional component arises because the global conglomerates constantly promote the notion that we are actively making democratic choices; the money-driven system relies on the glorification of the free consumer while masking the grim realities of massive global inequality. It is a sad realisation that every sleek gadget is a displaced testament to an undocumented exploitation of a poor exploited sweat-shop factory worker.

Or consider how the global entertainment industry creates myths of the superhero while demonstrating its necrotising groupthink uncreativity by relying on a corporate production line of sequels and prequels dreamed up in the boardrooms of film studios. For Hollywood these fan-cash-machines now represent 80% of its business activity and are at the core of this dominant marketing regime. This species of film, backed by so much global advertising that it seldom dares to fail, is not the product of the heroic creative individual, an undiscovered J. K. Rowling, toiling away in a cafeteria to keep warm. So let’s not despair: it appears that the local genius still breaks through by means of her sublime efforts to embrace the larger issues of culture and humanity, woven superbly into a well told story. And if you break through then you too will have your global film franchise. We know how to reward success.

But such film-industry-style commercialisation is not altogether new. The notion that writers cater for the market can been witnessed in the work of Shakespeare, who wrote several popular history cycles. Let’s congratulate the BBC (backed by American finance in this cases) which is currently screening Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V, delightfully titled The Hollow Crown.) But Shakespeare showed us both the allure and the responsibility of absolute power; he showed power, cynically, as a necessary performance, a scripted regime; and he showed us the life of the people - warts and all.

Richard II

But community does sometimes hold people back when it is not open to growth, vulnerability and metamorphosis. Vibrant inter-cultural communities where genuine dialogue is enjoyed and conversations fostered can be highly successful. Throughout the world we witness the inexorable rise of super cities and mass migration from rural to urban areas. Indeed, the closed local community can be the most absurdly oppressive place to live (as satirized in Little Britain’s solo-homo Welsh Village ‘I am the Only Gay in this Village.)

Village Rights

But we also tend to romanticize the individuals who struggle against all odds and who gleefully challenge traditional expectations of them. Such is the tap-dancing working class romance Billy Elliot. It is a wonderful and very necessary mythology.

It seems that we are doomed to run our lives between the twin pillars of toxic individualism and oppressive community expectations. Between who we want to be and what society expects of us. The Scylla and Carybdis of individualism and communitarianism. Arguably, then, each term needs to be qualified, such that they can function in dialogue, rather than as reductive and destructive binary oppositions. Either that, or we change the system. Over to you!

Let's Dance our Way into the Future

Monday, 16 July 2012

Get More Children Reading: A 15-point Action Plan:

In recent years I have been working with parents and children to improve reading skills. There is strong evidence that boys' reading skills are increasingly falling behind those of girls, and that boys come back to school after the summer holidays with poor reading skills.

These are the questions that I asked in this blog:

How can we guide and support the enjoyment in reading and help to improve skills?

How can we link reading with creativity, community, and interactivity?

The results. Here are 15 motivational tips (with an emphasis on reading for boys):

1. Any reading is good reading. 

Boys often re-read books that they have enjoyed. But don't just stick to fiction; there are great factual illustrated books, top tips for boys, motor car books, jokebooks, sports annuals, magazines and graphic novels. Don't just stick to the classic fiction that adults say they enjoyed reading in their childhood.

2. Lead by example 

Children copy those around them. If a boy sees his brother, dad, or uncle reading, then he will be more likely to identify reading with positive male role models. Demonstrate that reading is a normal human activity. Try newspapers, car manuals, TV guides, celebrity books, survival guides ...

3. Install bookshelves.

Having a place to keep your books safe shows that they are a valued resource and part of the living furniture of the house.

4. Start to use the local library.

We hear a lot about cuts to library services but the truth is that many children's libraries are an excellent resource. Take time to explore and select books.

5. Listen to recommendations. 

Asks teachers, librarians and bookshop staff for recommendations. Explain what kind of books you like. Sometimes it is better to build on existing tastes rather than developing new ones.

6. Boys like gadgets!

So I'm not excluding online reading, e-readers and kindle. Let children research their reading styles and preferences.

7. Friendly, polite conversation, and open questions build confidence. 

Children like to talk about what they read and why they liked something. Often they will be delighted to tell you the full story in their own words. Ask them about their favourite moment in a book! This process is the beginning of critical reading and creative insight. Talking about reading builds the activity into the fabric of school and community life.

8. Build creatively on what you read. 

Make your own picture books and story continuations (prequels and sequels) based on favourite books. Or try alternative endings. Make a short film or radio broadcast about your favourite reading.

9. Set an agreed reading time.

This approach involves trial and error. Reading by discipline misses the point that reading ideally is self-motivated. However, reading may be a good wind-down evening or night-time activity - half an hour at the end of the day is often enough. It does not have to be every day.

10. A sense of progress. 

Some children work well with a target and a bar chart of their daily reading progress. Try setting a token reward for boys who get past page 100. (Research shows that many children give up before then.)

11. Collaborative reading. 

Children love reading and being read to. It helps if you both try out funny voices or read the characters with facial expressions. Children's reading groups and clubs are also an excellent way to share reading experiences. Why not set one up in your local area? Also look out for reading activities at your local school or library.

12. Multiple languages.

Some books are available in parallel translations which helps if English is not your first language.

13. Encourage your child to read with other children. 

There is not reason why an eleven year old cannot teach his seven year old brother how to read. When the child slips into teacher mode he or she will have a massive confidence boost.

14. The ideal present. 

When you have find out what your child likes, remember that a book is a great gift. Or give book tokens and allow the children to make their own choices. But books should not be the only present. 

15. Reading should not be like a term in prison!

Although I've read thousands of books there are still some days when I prefer a walk, or just listening to music. Motivated reading is more about freedom, and less about control. Parents who are too ambitious can do quite a lot of damage. Use your common sense and find a negotiated balance.


Shared time may, in fact, be the most rewarding human interactive element in reading.

Over to you! Do you have any tips, recommendations, or questions?

© Dr Ian McCormick. But please do contact me if you want to use this article as a guest post on your blog. With attribution offered I seldom refuse!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Online publishing opportunity

Online publishing opportunity CFP for academic and non-academic writers

Visible Margin is a new section of #Alt-Academy which will feature high-quality critical writing in the form of peer-reviewed essays and blog posts, as well as creative writing and work in other media.

In keeping with the theme of #Alt-Academy, we are especially interested in contributions from authors and scholars pursuing alternative, non-tenure track, and non-academic careers—individuals whose voices are heard less often within the academy.

Complementing #Alt-Academy’s existing clusters, Visible Margin will focus on cultural and intellectual production, with the aim of increasing the visibility of this growing majority of knowledge workers and of democratizing knowledge within and outside the university.  

We also welcome contributions from non-academic writers who share our goals.

Call for Submissions:

We are interested in a variety of submissions, including essays, topical articles, blogs, reviews, fiction, poetry, visual art and multimedia work. The essays and articles will typically be within the author’s area of expertise and should be written in accessible, polished prose.
General topics for essays and articles may include but are not limited to:
Arts and Culture: Anything from book and film reviews to critical or reflective essays on any topic within the arts and humanities.  

Politics and activism: current or historical issues or a combination of both.  

Science and Technology: digital publishing, digital humanities, discussion of recent innovations or any topic within this category.  

Academic Research: excerpts from recently undertaken research presented to an audience outside your discipline; reflections on research or the process of doing research while pursuing an alternative career.  

Writing and publishing: discussions of different forms of writing and publication; transition from academic to other kinds of writing; the publishing field; advantages and limitation of writing for academic and non-academic publications and audiences. Alternative academic careers: essays and edited groups of essays directly addressing this topic may be submitted to the existing clusters on #Alt-Academy’s main page. Review the cluster descriptions and follow the "How It Works" submission instructions.
Reviews: Reviews of recent books, films, or any other material of about 800 words in length are welcome. Reviews could also be part of a blog (see below).
Creative Work: High-quality fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, visual art and multimedia projects. While there are no specific guidelines for these genres, the work should be compatible with on-line publication and in line with the site’s focus on intellectual exchange.
Blogs: The publishing platform for #Alt-Academy, MediaCommons, supports blogging. If you would like to start a blog within the MediaCommons network and have it aggregated and listed as a part of Visible Margin, please submit a brief description of its scope and topics and a sample entry to the email address below. Blogs could be individual or collaborative and should be updated at least twice a month.

Collaborative Writing Projects

This website is strongly recommended for

collaborative writing projects:

Writing Spaces Open Textbook Chapters

Each of these titles is available under a Creative Commons license (consult the individual text for the license specifics). Click on the title to view the chapter abstract and a downloadable PDF of the chapter. Click on any of the keywords to see a listing of chapters tagged with that keyword.
On the main information pages for each volume, you can also download full versions of
 Volume 1 or Volume 2.
Titlesort icon Author Series Edition Keywords
A Student’s Guide to Collaborative Writing Technologies Barton, Matt and Karl Klint Vol. 2 collaboration, collaboration technology, Doodle, drafting, editing, Etherpad, Facebook, Google Docs, Google Scholar, instant messaging, Mindomo, news reader, prewriting, research paper, RSS, social media, Twitter, Zotero
Annoying Ways People Use Sources Stedman, Kyle D. Vol. 2 attribution, citation, paraphrasing, patchwriting, quoting, research writing, source integration, summarizing, works cited
Backpacks vs. Briefcases: Steps Toward Rhetorical Analysis Carroll, Laura Bolin Vol. 1 advertisement analysis, argumentation, audience, Bitzer, constraint, contextual, emotion, ethos, exigence, first day, genre, guidelines, implication, logos, media, pathos, persuasive, questioning, rhetorical analysis, situational, social, tone, triangle
Beyond Black on White: Document Design and Formatting in the Writing Classroom Klein, Michael J. and Kristi L. Shackelford Vol. 2 alignment, APA, contrast, design elements, document design, documentation style, font, formatting, graphics, headings, illustrations, images, margins, MLA, proximity, repetition, resume, typography, visual design, white space
Collaborating Online: Digital Strategies for Group Work Atkins, Anthony Vol. 1 collaboration, digital, dysfunctional, Google Docs, group, member role, oral presentation, productivity, task evaluation, teamwork, technology, wiki, Wikipedia
Composing the Anthology: An Exercise in Patchwriting Leary, Christopher Vol. 1 anthology writing, arrangement, assignment, cut-up, editing, found poetry, memoir writing, patchwriting, peer evaluation, plagiarism, poetry writing, student opinion, student publishing, table of contents, teacher story
Composition as a Write of Passage Singh-Corcoran, Nathalie Vol. 2 academic, argument, assessment, composition studies, FYW, knowledge transfer, professional writing, research, rhetoric, rhetorical analysis, WAC, workplace
Critical Thinking in College Writing: From the Personal to the Academic Dasbender, Gitanjali Vol. 2 academic, analysis, critical reading, critical thinking, engagement, evaluation, FYW, main idea, primary sources, problem solving, reflection, summarizing
Everything Changes, or Why MLA Isn’t (Always) Right Walker, Janice Vol. 2 academic, AP, APA, attribution, citation, credibility, documentation style, information literacy, intellectual property, MLA, new media, plagiarism, quoting, rhetoric, source critique, WID
Finding the Good Argument OR Why Bother With Logic? Jones, Rebecca Vol. 1 argumentation, Aristotle, burden of proof, classical rhetoric, closure, complexity, deductive, duality, ethical, ethos, freedom of speech, implicit, inductive, jargon, logical, logos, nonadversarial, pathos, Plato, pragma dialectical, premise, Quintilian, reasoning, relevance, standpoint, Stephen Toulmin, topoi, validity
Finding Your Way In: Invention as Inquiry Based Learning in First Year Writing Lessner, Steven and Collin Craig Vol. 1 Anzaldua, audience, bullets, composing, creativity, critical freewriting, exercise, focused freewriting, freewriting, FYW, graphic organizer, inquiry based, invention, outlining, peer evaluation, reader strategy, rhetorical, sample
From Topic to Presentation: Making Choices to Develop Your Writing Hewett, Beth L. Vol. 1 author story, brainstorming, composing, drafting, essay writing, peer evaluation, projector, revising, teacher as writer, topic, writer choice
Googlepedia: Turning Information Behaviors into Research Skills McClure, Randall Vol. 2 annotated bibliography, focus, Google, Google Scholar, information literacy, Internet research, library databases, preliminary research, research, research paper, source critique, thesis, Wikipedia
How to Read Like a Writer Bunn, Mike Vol. 2 active reading, audience, context, critical reading, genre convention, purpose, read like a writer, reading, reading questions, reading to write, writing process
I Need You to Say “I”: Why First Person is Important in College Writing McKinney Maddalena, Kate Vol. 1 academic, discourse analysis, exigence, expertise, first person, guidelines, insider, integrity, objectivity, ownership, scholarly, science writing, situational, sophistication, style, viewpoint
Introduction to Primary Research: Observations, Surveys, and Interviews Driscoll, Dana Lynn Vol. 2 data collection, ethics, hypothesis, interview, observation, primary research, primary sources, research ethics, research question, researcher bias, sampling, survey
Introduction: Open Source Composition Texts Arrive for College Writers Cummings, Robert E. Vol. 1 introduction to the volume, open source, open textbook
Looking for Trouble: Finding Your Way Into a Writing Assignment Savini, Catherine Vol. 2 academic, argument, critical thinking, deadline, discourse community, genre, problem solving, questioning, research, success, WAC, writing assignment analysis, writing process
Murder! (Rhetorically Speaking) Boyd, Janet Vol. 2 audience awareness, colloquial, connotation, context, denotation, ethos, eulogy, euphemism, genre, jargon, logic, logos, pathos, rhetoric, rhetorical appeals, rhetorical situation, tone
Navigating Genres Dirk, Kerry Vol. 1 arrangement, form content, genre, genre knowledge, popular music, purpose, rules, situational, thesis statement
On the Other Hand: The Role of Antithetical Writing in First Year Composition Courses Krause, Steve Vol. 2 antithesis, argument, audience, debate, opposing arguments, position paper, research, research writing, thesis
Putting Ethnographic Writing in Context Kahn, Seth Vol. 2 analysis, authority, context, description, ethics, ethnography, evidence, fieldnotes, fieldwork, inductive reasoning, interview, participant-observation, primary research
Reading Games: Strategies for Reading Scholarly Sources Rosenberg, Karen Vol. 2 academic, active reading, audience, critical reading, discourse, prior knowledge, reading, reading as joining a conversation, reading to write, rhetorical reading
Reflective Writing and the Revision Process: What Were You Thinking? Giles, Sandra Vol. 1 author story, case study, composing, letter to the reader, process, reflection, revising, sample, self-reflection, student-teacher memo, writer intention
Reinventing Invention: Discovery and Investment in Writing Trim, Michelle D. and Megan Lynn Isaac Vol. 1 activity, audience, brainstorming, creativity, discovery, genre, group, guidelines, implied reader, individual, interest, invention, needs analysis, problem solving, process, purpose, sample, topic
So You've Got a Writing Assignment. Now What? Hinton, Corrine E. Vol. 1 apprehension, argument, assignment, audience, directive verb, emotion, evidence, format, guidelines, interpretation, panic, procrastination, purpose, questioning, resources, sample, stylistic
Storytelling, Narration, and The Who I Am Story Ramsdell, Catherine Vol. 2 advertising, character, communication, creative nonfiction, grant writing, literacy narrative, memoir, narrative, narrative discourse, narrative structure, narrative theory, organization, professional writing, story, storytelling, who I am story, word choice
Taking Flight: Connecting Inner and Outer Realities during Invention Antlitz, Susan E. Vol. 1 apprehension, composing, compound topics, connection, content, creativity, digital, email, emotion, exercise, graphic organizer, growth, heuristic, ideas, invention, journal writing, meditation, messaging, personal, play, PowerPoint, prayer, private public, procrastination, random words, sample, social, writing ritual
Ten Ways To Think About Writing: Metaphoric Musings for College Writing Students Reid, E. Shelley Vol. 2 argument, audience, description, detail, invention, metaphor, purpose, show vs. tell, story, style, writer's block
The Complexity of Simplicity: Invention Potentials for Writing Students Charlton, Colin Vol. 2 audience, creativity, critical thinking, draft, feedback, focus, FYW, invention, invention activities, invention questions, inventiveness, rhetoric, writing assignment analysis
The Inspired Writer vs. the Real Writer Allen, Sarah Vol. 1 academic, alienation, author story, authoring, Bizzell, composing, inspiration, jargon, motivation, myth, quality, real life, teacher as writer, writer strategy
The Sixth Paragraph: A Re-vision of the Essay Lynch, Paul Vol. 2 argument, clarity, concise, essay, interpretation, introduction, Montaigne, personal essay, reflection, thesis, use of I, writing as exploration, writing to learn
Walk, Talk, Cook, Eat: A Guide to Using Sources Haller, Cynthia R. Vol. 2 assignment analysis, Burkean parlor, Google, Internet research, library databases, research, research paper, research strategies, source critique, sources, Wikipedia, writing process
What is Academic Writing? Irvin, L. Lennie Vol. 1 academic, analysis, argumentation, assignment, audience, closed assignment, communication, complexity, controlled, critical, definition, first person, genius, genre, grammar, interpretation, myth, open assignment, purpose, researching, semi-open assignment, situational
Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web Reid, Alex Vol. 2 argument, audience, description, essay exam, freewriting, metaphor, paragraph, primary audience, purpose, read like a writer, reader perception, repetition, rhetoric, secondary audience, show vs. tell, weblog, writer's block
Why Visit Your Campus Writing Center? Rafoth, Ben Vol. 1 audience, collaboration, conferencing, confidence, motivation, needs analysis, student opinion, tutoring, writing center
Wikipedia Is Good for You!? Purdy, James P. Vol. 1 accuracy, changeability, collaboration, dialogic, guidelines, interactive, internet, invention, resources, review writing, revision, term paper, Wikipedia
Writing “Eyeball To Eyeball”: Building A Successful Collaboration Ingalls, Rebecca Vol. 2 affinity diagram, collaboration, communication, conflict resolution, creativity, ethics, group theory, innovation, invention, professional writing, project management, reflection, teamwork, WAC, writing process

Beyond the Blank Page: How to write opening paragraphs

A Curious Opening Reverses Expectations
Are you familiar with the terror of the blank page in the exam room? Or just unsure about your technique in starting an essay? In fact, there are many tried and tested openings that will get your writing off to a confident and winning start.

Although there are infinite possible ways of leading into an essay, blog, or news article, there are some common opening gambits that writers rely on (like a game of chess). Before outlining the Seven Openings, here are some points to think about:

Is your aim to engage the reader by being relevant, creative, and original?
Are you trying to arouse curiosity or to meet expectations?
Are you explaining what’s on offer (like a menu), or offering a taster session?

In a promotional sense you want to encourage the reader to come through the door: to enter your mental world. Some readers are reluctant, suspicious people who need to be coaxed into your space. Remember that your aim is a happy relationship between writer and reader; not a divorce.

Sometime it is helpful to signal or summarize what your topic is, and how you will be approaching it (methodology). In academic essays there is often a well-crafted thesis statement that encapsulates the main argument in one sentence.

1. The Quoted Opening

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis (1916). My transformation happened over three lazy weeks, but it was not any less wonderful... Begin with an impressive quotation from someone who will be recognised by your reader. A well chosen quotation can also have the advantage that it provides an unusual angle on your content. Also, it may hint at the tone and approach you are taking to your topic. In academic essays marks may also be gained for evidence of research. Disadvantages: quotations can be over used (clich├ęs); you are relying on someone else’s work at the outset.

2. The Story Opening

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."  Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle (1948). A story has a universal appeal and everyone wants to know what happens next if there is an element of intrigue. This opening plays on the art of the unexplained: look where I am; how did I arrive at this point. This approach also involves the art of delayed resolution (ending) that we find in jokes or anecdotes. A story that is relevant to the reader also plays on empathy.

3. The Headline Opening

The Times Of India: “We saw the sea coming, we all ran. But God saves little” [28th December 2004]
“We saw the sea coming, we all ran. But God saves little” (The Times Of India, 28 December 2004). This approach keeps coming back to the essay title or the newspaper heading, but offers more detail or clarity. Again the emphasis is on focus and relevance. This approach works wells where the eye-catching headline is not a ready made statement or solution to an issue.

4. The Shocking Opening

Shock tactics may fit well with an eye-catching sensational opening. Often the trick is to reverse normal expectations, turning the world upside down. The element of surprise can be very effective, but it may be difficult to sustain after the initial impact.  Build your special effects using rhetorical drama (pattern, pace, rhythm, alliteration) and memorable literary devices (such as simile or metaphor).

5. The Interrogatory Opening

This opening relies on asking questions that engage the reader. This may involve empathy (Don’t you just hate daytime marketing calls? Why do we want to laugh in a moment of crisis?); or it may interrogate the title/heading in a curious or surprising way (Why do most disasters happen on Thursday mornings?). But too many questions leave the reader frustrated or perhaps impatient to hear the answers. Avoid this problem by asking unusual, thought-provoking questions.

6. The Summary Opening

This opening offers a preview of the remainder of the essay. It’s rather like a menu that explains what to expect and offers an insight into your approach (how the steak will be cooked; is the food spicy). The risk is that you give away all the surprises at the outset. So try to avoid going into too much detail at this stage. Better to give a sense of the general scope of your project, rather than trying to tick every box.

7. The Strange, but True, Opening

This is also known as the newsworthy or factual opening. ‘In Great Britain in 2012 it is reported that 3,678 babies swallowed an iPhone. All but one survived. This is his story...’ Common features of this approach deploy data, or statistics, but also develop a human angle on the arithmetic. Again, eye-catching news reverses expectations: the "Man Bites Dog" Rule.

8. The Connoisseur Opening

This opening does not fit any of the above categories, or it is a hybrid strategy that deploys several styles of opening. Sometimes it is a low-key opening that marks the innovator. In 1913, Marcel Proust began his epic novel sequence, "For a long time, I went to bed early." Swann's Way. (tr. Lydia Davis).

Tips to Develop Your Style:

Use a notebook, or simply cut and paste opening sentences and paragraphs which in your view are engaging and appealing. Also note down why you think they are effective. It’s also useful to make a list of your own categories of opening. For instance, what are there differences between factual items and literary fiction? What else is required in an essay for school or college? Why are some openings longer than others?

It is worthwhile examining existing models of great writing, but with practice you will craft engaging openings that bear your personal stamp of creative genius.

© Dr Ian McCormick. 

But please do contact me if you want to use this article as a guest post on your blog. 

With attribution offered I seldom refuse!