West Chester University

Spring 2006 and Fall 2005

West Chester University

Fall 2004and
Spring 2005

Spring 2003

Fall 2002

Spring 2002

Fall 2001






Course Syllabi and Announcements
  LIT 165 Syllabus
  LIT 165 Announcements and Assignments
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  WRT 120 Announcements and Assignments

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2008)
  A Reading of THE TEMPEST

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Rites of Passage (Spring 2006)
  Goals of the Course
  Fundamental Questions about Literature
  Valuing Literature
  Critical Thinking and Reading Literature
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Literature as ART
  Approaching the Art of Fiction
  Defining the Short Story
  Evaluating Short Fiction
  Craft of Fiction: PLOT
  Craft of Fiction: CHARACTER
  Small Group Exercise
  ARABY by James Joyce
  A note about GIRL
  POE and the art of STORY OF A HOUR
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Fiction and Ambiguity - Your Questions
  Writing Workshop - Short Fiction
  Poetry Journal Project Assignment Sheet
  Defining Poetry
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry
  Drama and Tragedy
  Study Questions: DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2006)
  Paper #4 Assignment Sheet
  Critical Thinking and Commentary
  Casebook: Evaluating Sources Worksheet
  Selecting Information
  Evaluating Arguments
  CASEBOOK PROJECT Assignment Sheet
  Approaching Persuasive Writing
  Topic Development - Profile Essay
  Generating Ideas for the Profile Essay
  Paper #2 Assignment Sheet
  Profile Exercise
  Objective Writing: Selected Readings
  Writing Workshop: Paper #1
  Expressive Writing in the NYTimes
  Writing Effective Introductions and Conclusions
  Paper #1: IDENTITY
  Expressive Writing
  Open Letter Exercise and Examples
  EMERSON on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Literature related to IDENTITY
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Fall 2005)
  One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
  Franz Kafka's BEFORE THE LAW
  Paper #3: Assignment Sheet
  Paper #4: Independent Project
  The Problem of Stability in BRAVE NEW WORLD
  Analyzing Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  Defining Utopia
  Embarking on Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  A Reading of Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST
  From today's news (11/3/05)
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #2
  Goodbye to Dante's Imaginary World
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 10-34
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 1-10
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 32-34
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 18-31
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 12-17
  INFERNO: Structure
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 1-5
  INFERNO: Analyzing Canto 1
  Relating to Dante's Inferno
  Approaching Dante's DIVINE COMEDY
  A Little Help with Dante's INFERNO
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Responses to LEAF BY NIGGLE
  ON FAIRY STORIES: An Essay by Tolkien
  Notes on Axolotl
  Reading Ovid's Tales
  From Myth to Literature: Approaching Ovid's Tales
  Functions of the Genesis Tales
  Analyzing Mythic Tales
  Defining Mythology
  Filtering the Introduction to FANTASTIC WORLDS
  Commentary on LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI by Keats
  Commentary on DARKNESS by Byron
  Handout: Imagination Poems Set
  What is Imagination?
  Our Course Theme: Imaginary Worlds
  LIT 165 Assignments: Fall 2005
  LIT 165 Announcements: Fall 2005
  Imaginary Worlds: Course Syllabus

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Fall 2005)
  Paper #4: Independent Thinking/Reading/Writing
  Casebook Preparation Checklist
  Casebook Assignment Schedule
  Evaluating Sources for the Casebook
  Casebook Project Assignment Sheet
  Notes on Rational Argument
  Assignment Sheet: Objective Writing
  Reviewing Elements of the Profile Essay
  Writing the Profile Essay
  Readings: Objective Writing
  Assignment Sheet: Expressive Writing
  Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
  Emerson on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Mind-map: Identity
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Assignments Page
  Announcements Page
  WRT 120 Course Syllabus for Fall 2005

ENG Q20: Basic Writing

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

Critical Thinking and Commentary

Most of the work you’ve done in this class this semester has involved some tool associated with the larger skill of critical thinking.  Whether it’s expressive writing that observes an describes, objective writing that explains and analyzes, or persuasive writing that synthesizes and argues, by selecting topics and writing about them from your own perspectives, you’ve been developing your critical thinking skills.

A critical thinker is an independent thinker.  Every college student should aspire to be an empowered, independent thinker.  If your college education gives you anything, it must give you the sense that you are not dependent on others to tell you what to think…whether those others are parents, peers, or professors.  Your education should give you the tools to think for yourself.  You aren’t a lump of clay waiting to be shaped and molded; you’re not an inert sponge soaking up the opinions of your textbooks or your teachers.  In a free, democratic society, education is not indoctrination.

When you join the public conversation as an independent, critical thinker, as an individual, you join it in your own individual voice, not the parroted voice of others. When you are not only confident but eager to do that, you’ll know you got your money’s worth from your college education.  

Practicing or reading “commentary” is all about joining the great, free public conversation that goes on all around us. Trimbur says writing commentary is a way for people to analyze and interpret events, trends, and ideas.  In other words,  after observing your world you think critically about what you’ve observed and then you have something to say about it.  

Trimbur tells us that the commentary goes beyond the reporting of fact; it attempts to help its audience make sense of the facts.  There are no shortage of commentators in the mass media; some are highly respected while others are dismissed as “talking heads,” but they all will have a few things in common:
  • they’ll have clear positions on controversial issues
  • they’ll attempt to make their positions persuasive
  • they often come up with an innovative or novel label to describe current trends
  • they encourage us to think about the causes and consequences of trends and events
  • they often praise or blame, and take a moral stance on events or trends
Critical thinking is often defined as a certain set of skills like responding, questioning, analyzing, interpreting, synthesizing, and evaluating.  All of these skills come into play when you practice writing commentary.

Commentary presents more than the facts; it presents the writer’s interpretation of the facts, the writer’s sense of what the facts mean—you might be thinking: we are in the realm, once again, of impression and opinion.  You are right.  

Are other people’s opinions always useful to us?  Not really. Sometimes we can completely ignore other peoples’ opinions and be none the worse for it.  When do other peoples’ opinions seem unhelpful?

When a commentary is purely subjective, purely opinionated with no supporting analysis, interpretation, synthesis, or evaluation it can seem pretty useless.  For example, consider a hypothetical commentator (all too real) whose disembodied, enlarged head appears on the screen following a presidential debate to say  things like, “Well, it was obvious to everyone who watched the presidential debate that the President looked very Presidential this evening” and from that you’re supposed to be persuaded that he performed successfully in the debate.  There’s no supporting analysis of what Presidential “qualities” he’s referring to, no specific interpretation of his language other than his body language (as if to be “Presidential” you merely have to stand in a certain posture and use a particular tone of voice).  There’s nothing to help you understand anything but that one person seems convinced that the President appeared presidential.

This would seem to be completely unhelpful. Uninteresting. Useless. In what sense, then, can other people’s opinions become more socially useful?  

Consider the superficial example of a movie review.  How can one person’s opinion about a movie become useful to you?  Suppose there’s a movie reviewer who gives the latest flick a thumbs down.  She says, don’t bother seeing this movie because the plot was predictable, the acting was forced, and the camera shots were really dull.  The action sequences were full of stunts that have been done a thousand times before.  You have a pretty clear idea why this reviewer didn’t like this film, and even if you don’t agree with her conclusion, you know why you probably would or wouldn’t like the film yourself.  Even reviews we disagree with can be useful to us if the reviewer has included that kind of evaluative commentary.  Maybe you don’t care about the plot as long as your favorite star is on the screen for 120 minutes; maybe the acting is less important to you than the posing; and maybe originality is not something you expect when you go to the movies.  You’re a gun fight fan regardless of how many you’ve seen.  You decide that even if this reviewer hated this film, the reviewer’s criteria helped you realize that you may like it a lot—the review was useful to you.

Commentary is really only socially useful and interesting when it includes some kind of objective analysis, interpretation, synthesis, or evaluation.  It comes back around to critical thinking.  If you’ve observed and considered your subject thoughtfully, readers have something substantial to work with.  They can determine whether they agree or disagree with you and why.  They gain a better understanding of your subject by understanding your perspective on it and how their own perspective may be the same or different.

Suppose you want to write a commentary on the cell phone trend.

You might use one or several of critical thinking tools to help you arrive at your own response to this trend.

Analyze: break into parts, examine each part closely, and make inferences
  • Who, what, where, and when are people using cell phones?
  • Do teenagers use them differently than adults?
  • What kinds of cell phones are available today?  Who’s attracted to which kind?
  • What kinds of services are available through cell phones that people never used to associate with phones?
Interpret: explore the possible meanings of what you’ve observed, or settle on one meaning you think is correct
  • Why do people use cell phones?  
  • What’s the purpose of a cell phone?  
  • Are cell phones fads or permanent fixtures?  If they’re permanent, do they change our culture in any way
Synthesize: juxtapose your subject with something outside your subject to give your readers another way of looking at it.  Compare/contrast is one common way to synthesize.   
  • Is this new technology comparable to other leaps in technology?  The portable transistor radio of the 70s?  The internet of the 90s?  Is there something to learn about comparing or contrasting cell phone technology with any past trends, fads, or leaps?
Evaluate: establish the worth or value of your subject by identifying and applying a set of justifiable criteria
  • Is the cell phone trend a good or a bad thing for our society, as you observe it?  How can we determine that?  What criteria should we use?
  • Was life better before or after everyone had cell phones?
  • How could we make cell phones better?






Questions? Contact me.

All materials unless otherwise indicated are copyright © 2001-2008 by Stacy Tartar Esch.

The original contents of this site may not be reproduced, republished, reused, or retransmitted
without the express written consent of Stacy Tartar Esch.
These contents are for educational purposes only.