Sunday, January 22, 2012

iBooks Author straightjacket

I downloaded iBooks Author, considering using it to publish teaching materials. The license agreement, however, is rather a barrier. Particularly this section:

B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows: (i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;
(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution. 

So, if you just plan to make your work freely available (like this blog), that's fine. But if you want to sell it at all, then you've got to create it, submit it to Apple, and hope that they will sell it for you. If they refuse, well, you can always give it away.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The exercise is not the game

In football, coaches will put cones on the ground and ask you to dribble the ball around them. This is supposed to improve your accuracy and fluency, but nobody believes that the purpose of this drill is to get better at dribbling around cones. Everybody understands that the purpose is a transfer of skills to a similar but different situation in a real football game.

Things are not so clear when it comes to the teaching of writing. It's pretty typical for writing textbooks and writing teachers to make claims like: "There are two ways of organizing a compare/contrast essay: the common traits method or the similarities/differences method."  Some of them might admit that there are many ways but then present "two of the most common" or some hedge to that effect. What students typically understand from this is: this is how you play the game.

Here's what I tell my students they really mean: When you're practicing to be a better writer, sometimes following a formula or copying a structure is a useful exercise. This simplifies things for you by allowing you to focus on certain elements and ignore others. Don't confuse the exercise with the game though. It's not common for academics, journalists, bloggers, or other self-directed writers to produce five-paragraph compare/contrast essays using "the similarities/differences method." Neither should this be your goal.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Economist wants to teach English

The "Johnson" blog at The Economist is looking for ideas about how the newspaper can make itself more useful to English (language?) teachers.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

How do you even write a book like that?

The Sisters Bothers by Patrick deWitt is a fantastic read. Or at least it is so far. The incongruity between the character of the brothers, two hired killers in the 1850s, and the formality of their dialogue is jarring but somehow fully appropriate.
'What's the matter?' asked Charlie, leaning up on his elbow beside the fire.
'A horse.'
'Where is the rider?'
'There is no rider that I can see.'
'If the rider appears, you may wake me.' He turned and fell back asleep. (pp. 76-77)