Templates and Toddlers

I have always believed that facility with the English language can save lives, but I was unprepared for the joy and purpose I would feel when one of my online students wrote to say that our textbook was saving her marriage. We’re using Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein’s book They Say, I Say, which takes a conversational, deconstructive approach to collegiate writing and gives students the templates they need in order to think academically. And, everyone knows that if you think academically, you will have a happy marriage.

For instance, here’s the template for agreeing and disagreeing simultaneously:

X is right that _______, but she seems on more dubious ground when she claims that _______________.

Here’s one for disagreeing with reasons:

By focusing on _____________, X overlooks the deeper problem of ________.

This book is full of hundreds of templates that provide a fill-in-the-blank response for every possible tense situation, on and off paper. It amazes me that by learning how to think, we inadvertently change what we think.

Another student wrote and said she’s going to use the templates when she goes to court to obtain full custody of her son. Another guy said he used the templates on the North Slope, where he works, to help mediate some arguments between his general foreman and a sub-contractor.

I’m sure our friends and family are not in the market for a good English composition textbook, so I think I’m telling you all this because I love words and I think this little ole English class I’m teaching is actually improving lives. It’s pretty trippy when you realize that so many situations go wrong not because someone felt the wrong thing but because they didn’t have the right words to make it better.  I am thinking about creating my own set of templates to give to Clara when she first asks if she can wear make-up or shave her legs or go to a Katy Perry concert.

Here’s a trial run:

1. Template for Avoiding a Socially Uncomfortable Situation

Although I understand you think it will be fun to  ____________________, I have to leave now because I read in  _________________ that you lose brain cells and sensation in your right arm  when you _______________________.

2. Template for Making Friends With Nice Boys and Girls

So, I see you like to study _________________ and that you are interested in ______________________. Perhaps we can work on homework at __________ before it is time to eat the delicious dinner my mom ________.


Anyway, late night blogging has a mind of its own, and I still have some pictures and Clara stories to share:

Our grown-up friend Kelsey and grown-down friend Anna invited us to Tot Time at the Kenai Rec Center. There were so many balls and unsupervised children!

September 2011 003

Pretty good form for a 1.5 year old.

September 2011 004

Clara has a nice little plastic menagerie going on in the bathtub.  And, here’s a nice theme-0f-the-blog quote from the allusion, Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie: “I think that hate is a thing, a feeling, that can only exist where there is no understanding.”

September 2011 012

Clara’s latest trick is to tuck herself fully into the cupboard and disappear.

Now, you see her . . .

September 2011 022

Now, you see her fingers. She loves hiding from mom, but she doesn’t know I can still hear her little giggles from outside.

September 2011 020

This morning for our weekly Sunday clean, Clara insisted on doing the kitchen floor.

September 2011 038


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4 responses to “Templates and Toddlers

  1. Nancy

    Am I the only ready who immediately put They Say, I Say in an Amazon cart? Saving a marriage? Mediating disputes? Aren’t these unprecedented testimonials from students about a text?
    The pictures of Clara are precious. I love the hiding in the cabinet shots. Thank you, Sherry, for all the updates of Clara. They really help a long distance grandma.

  2. Brooke

    Totally off the subject…Does Clara have any leggings to wear under the jean jumper? I can send some! ;-0 Go figure, you are writing about your love of words and I respond with a question about Clara’s clothing. We all have our comfort zones…

  3. Sherry

    Brooke, Clara has quite a few tights and probably had some on that morning, but I don’t think she has many leggings, which are thicker, right? Do leggings generally look like tights?
    Nancy, I’m glad you like it and I’d love to hear what you think about the textbook.

  4. Mandy

    Wow…that sounds like a really neat book…something ANYONE could benefit from. I may have to see if I can find it at the Soldotna Library…ha, ha! 🙂 Sherry, I wish I had had a composition teacher like you back in college. 🙂

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