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My discussion questions for our readings in Kelly Gallagher and Cinema-to-Graphy:



In the last chapter of his book, Gallagher lays out his 10 core beliefs about teaching writing. As part of number 1 he reiterates the importance of writing with the students in the classroom, not hiding “behind the curtain.” Number 5 discusses the question of the infamous five-paragraph essay. What are your thoughts on his core beliefs? Which one do you agree with the most? Which do you disagree with the most? For those of you who are teachers, how do you feel about his suggestion you should disregard mandates or at very least only spend 5% of your time teaching five-paragraph essays? Is that even realistic?

Also, now that we’ve finished the book, what are your thoughts on the book as a whole? How useful will in it be for you in the future?


In the first part of Cinema-(to)-Graphy we read about several different approaches to effectively using film in a composition class. Which chapter did you find would be the most helpful if you were to include film in a composition classroom? Why?

For example, I personally enjoyed the chapter on using Rear Window and Pretty Woman the most. As soon as I saw the title of the chapter I used it as an excuse to finally watch Rear Window for the first time (I had planned a massive Hitchcock marathon with a friend last summer but sadly it never happened). I’m planning on writing a syllabus for my teaching artifact and had somehow wanted to include film – I remember having to write film reviews for my freshman composition course years ago – but wasn’t entirely sure the best way to incorporate it. I thought this chapter had discussed some great ways to analyze film without just assigning a simple review for students. I also thought the following chapter, “Representing Student Culture,” was interesting in the way it showed students learning to be observers through film and then adapting that to research.

Lastly, both Bishop and Dunbar-Odom use film to discuss the sensitive topic of racism, and Bishop focuses on apartheid in order to distance the students from the issue and avoid discomfort and argument. Do you think this approach could work in the types of classrooms in which you currently, or plan to one day, teach? What other sensitive topics could be taught this way and what films would you use to facilitate the discussion?



  1. Lija Stoltzfus says:

    I enjoyed and appreciated Gallagher’s core beliefs. It inspired me to perhaps create my own set of core beliefs about teaching writing and reading for that matter. While I can’t honestly say that I’m 100% on board with every single thing, a lot of what he writes makes sense to me and reverberates in my pedagogical soul, so to speak.
    The belief that I probably agree with most is the “Purposes for Writing Should Be Blended.” I think that that is probably the most realistic for me and applicable for real world teaching and real world preparation of learners. His article within that core belief about not teaching to the test was interesting and inspiring, but I still couldn’t help but question, “Could we really design ANY test that can accurately and truly value writing and critical thinking?” as he suggests. I don’t know. I feel like that would be a major challenge.
    I can’t say that there is one single belief that I strongly disagree with, but the weakest one might have been “There Are Other Purposes for Writing Than Those Emphasized in This Book”. When I read that, I was kind of like- duh, of course there are!
    Oh, the dreaded five paragraph essay argument! While he isn’t off base to make his 5% suggestion, I don’t know if that is realistic in every school. Obviously, some schools have more autonomy than others, so I think teachers have to make due with what they have. It could be realistic- depending on where you teach. Is it a good goal? Probably.
    Overall, I found this book to be very helpful; it’s truly chalk full of ideas and innovations for writing. The most useful components for me were the endless writing prompts and suggestions and tools; I also appreciated that said tools were organized by type/purpose of writing. I also found that this book helped me to generate original ideas for writing prompts as well. Gallagher would offer one idea that lead me to think of five more ideas. I also appreciated some of his suggestions for teaching and modeling. In the future, I hope to apply some of his techniques and prompts to my own teaching of writing.

    The chapter I found most helpful was “Rear Window” since it generally had the most practical application for the classroom. I immediately appreciated Maloney and Miller’s upfront and blunt statement, “…there are reasons for advancing a role for popular culture and media in composition that hinge on students’ extensive exposure to them.” Let’s be real- popular culture is typically more popular with the masses than grammar or even literature. Often, it’s a free ticket into the the minds and intellectual growth of students who might otherwise check out- if you utilize it properly in connection to English studies. It’s an easy and obviously natural fit. The breakdown of “Rear Window” here opens plenty of opportunity for application to the classroom via a number of film vehicles. What’s more is that Maloney and Miller guide the viewing of the film in such a way that the connection between the influence of film and influence of writing/reading and the influence on the viewer/reader/writer seems parallel and inherently valuable. Overall, it felt like the most relatable chapter from an educational standpoint.
    While less easily accessible, I also enjoyed reading chapter two on “Writing Images”. I appreciated how Wild addressed how we read film, how do we know what what we know, legibility and linguistics in writing and film, and constructed images. His theory-based approach may not be as quickly applicable, but it certainly has it’s value and momentum in developing and teaching composition with an eye for film.
    Bishop and Dunbar-Odom’s approach, regardless of distance, could certainly work in some classrooms; it feels dependent upon some important factors. Namely, which age group are you working with, what cultural context are you teaching in, how well do you know your students. Overall, truly if know your audience, your students, then you know what works. Other sensitive topics could definitely be approached in this manner. When you have a film to explore, it allows students to step back and reflect in unique ways. It also gives them the opportunity to discuss sensitive issues within the context of the film, often opening opportunity to delve into topics that might otherwise remain taboo or too difficult to encounter. At the end of the chapter, Dunbar-Odom states on page 55, “The role of the participant/observer accorded them a kind of expertise, which, in turn, made them feel empowered to take part in an argument in which they felt that had something at stake.” Moreover, this sort of approach also empowers them to even breech topics and concerns in a platform (whether it be in writing or aloud) that allows a different sort of freedom for the students. That, in itself, is a solid argument for inclusion of such film and teaching perspectives for me.

  2. Sarah Clark says:

    Despite his approach to teaching writing (I felt it get a little dry towards the end), I thoroughly enjoyed Gallagher’s core beliefs. I especially appreciated the 8th belief: Model What’s Right, Not What Is Wrong. I even highlighted the line in which he says, “All of these teachers understand that raising student performance is grounded in showing their learners what is right, not what is wrong. This is something we should remember every time we go into our classrooms to teach writing” (234-5). Because the task of writing is a daunting one to most students, it is important to remember that pointing out errors discourages them even further from stepping outside of their comfort zones. As teachers, we need to remember that the students are not experts, that they are still just growing comfortable with their own voice; we don’t want to silence them or prevent them from using it.

    After trudging through the introduction to this piece, I came to realize how different it was from our first two sources of the semester. I don’t have much experience with film myself, even from high school, so this reading was a great introduction on how film can be utilized in the classroom for purposes other than watching the screen version of a book. What I kept finding interesting was the term “reading film”. At first, I was baffled; I almost felt offended as an avid book reader that something other than books can be “read.” But once I started to read on through his examples (especially when he was discussing Pulp Fiction, one of my all-time favorite films), I came to realize just how pertinent film can be in the classroom. As media continues to grow and expand and influence our mode of communication and outreach, I’m slowly discovering just how RELEVANT film can be in the classroom.

  3. John Paul says:


    I think a majority of his core beliefs are solid principles, but I also think a lot of his book is heavily optimistic. I think that belief #1 is probably the most valuable. I agree completely with the idea of exposing the vulnerability of the teacher to the students and teaching them the same processes that we used to become experts in our subject. I thought that the metaphor was clever and fairly accurate to the contradictory nature of high school teaching, something I’ve struggled a bit with as a teacher. That said, I also know that if I went in tomorrow and immediately implemented everything in this book, it would flop. A lot of teaching is finding your own way of conveying value and meaning to the students. There are ideas in this book, like having students write so frequently about personal trials and issues, that would go against who I am as a teacher. In essence, I would appear false and lose credibility in the eyes of the student.

    As for eradicating the five paragraph essay? I think it’s possible, and I also think that it is over-hyped how much it is “taught” at the high school level. I don’t think I’ve ever actually taught a lesson where I said “here is how to construct a five paragraph essay,” and I don’t know any teachers in our building that have. The same was true of all of my student teaching experiences. I think that schools actually are moving away from this model and emphasizing writing to develop skills as opposed to emphasizing writing as a product. Yes, it is still on the tests, and yes, it is a critical part of the assessments that we rely on so heavily as educators. For that reason, we’ll never outright state “five paragraph essays are dead.” I missed class to learn about a new teacher assessment system that literally links the Keystone scores of the students directly under me into my assessment as an educator. For that reason, I will continue to perpetuate the beast regardless my philosophic disdain for it; my job, quite literally, will depend on it. That said, what is so evil about teaching five paragraph essays alongside qualitative writing like those that Gallagher advocates? As long as you articulate that it is just one of countless forms and functions of writing, I don’t think teaching a five paragraph essay is necessarily evil. Hell, I used all last semester in a philosophy course because it was easy, concise, and my instructor didn’t give a damn.

    Sorry. I’ll dismount my soap box. To answer the final Gallagher related question, I’ll say that while Mr. Gallagher and I would have some issues with content and time-management, I think that his book did a great job of forcing me to reanalyze a lot of what I’d taken for granted and become overly comfortable with as a teacher. I’ve implemented several of his ideas already, mostly writing prompts like Evaluate and Judge and similar exercises, to great effect. Also, I think that his approach to grammar is both refreshing and highly relevant in a high school classroom by comparison to the workbooks we use in our school. Lastly, I like RADaR, and I want to give it a shot as well. I really liked this book, and I think it’s earned a permanent spot on my desk beside others like Writing Down the Bones as something I can look to when I feel my instruction stagnating and want to reinvigorate it.


    Like others, the chapters on Rear Window and Pretty Woman were the most interesting in terms of their application to a classroom. I also agree completely with the author on how misused the limited film experiences that we give students really are. I agree with others, however, in that Bishop is a real pain to read. Between the over-the-top vocabulary and my impatience towards this type of writing, I’m not looking forward to continuing this book.

  4. Lynn Eager says:

    I understand the reason behind teaching the five-paragraph structure, it is certainly easier for students to visualize the opening paragraph, three body paragraphs, and closing. But the structure becomes a crutch and students have such a difficult time seeing beyond this structure. My daughter is a perfect example, she has great voice in her writing, but most of her instructors tried to squash her voice, they felt it made her work sarcastic. Luck for her, she had an instructor during her second year in college who loved her voice and encouraged her writing, otherwise I’m sure her joy for composing would have continued. This book has a home on my bookshelf and a plan to return to it often.

    The film book is a different kind of read than we have been doing, I probably liked the “Rear Window” piece the best, I liked the way the editor suggested incorporating film into the class. The more I study film, the more I despise when it is used as a comparison to a novel. I’m looking forward to more suggestions how to use film in a comp class other than character analysis.

  5. Jennifer Huhn says:

    I left Gallagher at school over the weekend, so I don’t have the book in front of me. This is probably a good thing, really, as it shows I have been using it and incorporating his ideas into my teaching! That being said, I do remember much of what he said at the end of his book, and I definitely found myself nodding in agreement as I read it. To me, the biggest takeaway is to have the kids write more. I’m finding they don’t write enough at my school, and when they do, it does tend to be limited to 5-paragraph essays and “constructed response” Keystone practice. I have found myself slowing down the curriculum to allow for more writing experiences, and while I don’t know how Gallagher manages to have time for literature at all (and I know he does–he has several books on teaching reading!), I am finding it a positive experience. I’m also trying to focus on the positive with my assessment of writing. I tend to mark up pages and fill them with negative comments and suggestions, so I’m actively looking for positives in each piece of student writing and addressing that first. Besides Gallagher, I think having to write and assess each other’s writing in this class has influenced me the most on this. I still find myself avoiding reading feedback out of nerves, and I imagine my negative words strike some kids the same way they would if I received them on my own writing. As for disagreement–I don’t think I really disagree with anything. I get the criticism of the 5PE, and I agree to a point, but I do think teaching students an organizational structure to write with is useful in a certain context. I just think this should be done well before high school and by the time they get to this level, we should not continue to limit them to this form. It’s a form of scaffolding-students learn with a structure, then transcend it as they develop as writers. We just don’t push them to this next step.

    The first two chapters brought back nightmares of Derrida and literary theory (a class that actually used film, to my great joy, as many of the texts we read were incomprehensible on their own). However, it gets better! I enjoyed the chapters on Rear Window/Pretty Woman and Higher Learning, and so far, Wednesday’s reading has maintained this beat. I have used film in class and these authors have definitely made me consider how I can move beyond a “novel-like” reading of a film (focusing on character, plot, symbol, theme, etc.) and really look at how films can shape and reflect our perceptions of the world and society. As a high school teacher, I do think much of this is probably beyond the level of the students I teach, but I can find ways to incorporate this kind of analysis in a way that might prepare them to think more about the implications of film. I thought the Bishop article actually presented ideas that could be modified for a high school setting. The comparisons of 3 different texts (2 films, one book) on the same topic could be incorporated into a pre-existing unit, and the deeper analysis of the audience and directorial choices isn’t beyond high school students. It makes me think of films I have “taught” in various units (Into the Wild, Schindler’s List, Smoke Signals) and how I could incorporate some of her strategies to get students to really examine the films and how they present their subjects. It makes me wish my school felt more positively about using film–but I never use film in a way I can’t support. This book is making me think about how I can take it further.

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