Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Cyber-Posts for Dreams from My Father Preface and Introduction

Please post your paragraph summaries for the Preface and Introduction here. The Preface summarized is due now. I have not assigned the Introduction yet. Just read them both.

If you want to combine the two, that is fine.

Don't forget to keep a reading log. Look at the syllabus to recall what you should consider when writing the reading log. One thing you can look at are the important themes, the language and the writing. What you like about the passage, any confusing terms or references, characters, scenes, or anything from chapter or section to section that acts as a transition or a thread which holds the story together. You can also relate the story to yourself and what Obama experienced which resonates with your life experience or that of someone you know well.

If any students want to make me a CD with the songs Felicia Pride references in her book, that would really be lovely and you would get extra credit. Respond to this post if you can and let me know which chapters, so students are not duplicating each other's efforts.

I appreciate your openness to the process cyberspace, even if you are not quite comfortable yet with the process.


Stewart Pidd

Today we started Stewart Pidd. After reviewing the parts of speech, clauses, and sentence errors, students completed pp. 14, 15, 29, and 30 from SPHE. We reviewed the answers together, referencing the textbook when needed for the "confused words." Homework is to complete the first section of the book: Part 1: Confused Words.

We got into smaller groups and completed the paragraphs analyzing Stewart's punctuation errors from Quiz 1. Some students couldn't fill in the blanks--but that's okay, you just know what you need to work on. Do your assignments in the Writing Center and if you need help, it is there for you.

Students are also encouraged to visit my office hours.

We read the syllabus. Make sure you leave me a comment on the syllabus where it is posted by Monday. Other homework is to read the Preface and Introduction in Dreams from My Father. Post a summary, a short one is fine, 5-10 sentences, at the link.

I'd also like you to tell me what you think of Stewart Pidd and the exercises we completed today. You can post those responses here.

Buy the books.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yesterday when I referenced Concord, CA when the president mentioned several battles in his Address, I was mistaken about Concord. Concord actually references a battle during the Revolutionary War.

I enjoyed the history lessons two students shared in my English 1A class today regarding the reference to the Battle at Trenton, George Washington led and to the other battle in Concord, MA* during the Revolutionary War. I thought Obama's reference was Concord, CA (smile). Goes to show you...but that reference, while not intended still works for me. Port Chicago, in Concord, CA** references WW2 and the black men who refused to load live ammunition onto the ships as ordered.


I like this blog, which offers a critique of Obama's sanitizing of the whole Washington Crossing the Delaware saga that is a part of the American mythology.


Course Syllabus

English 201, Spring 2009 at COA
Professor Wanda Sabir

ENG 201 A
22944 Lec 10:00-11:50 MW Sabir A 200
22945 Lec 01:00-02:50 PM MW Sabir A 213

ENG 201 B
22952 Lec 10:00-11:50 MW Sabir A 200
22953 Lec 01:00-02:50 PM MW Sabir A 213

Class Meetings: Jan. 14-May 20, 10-11:50; 1-3, MW, Rooms: A 200, A 213
Drop dates: Jan. 30 (w/refund), April 25 (w/W) and no refund.
No classes: 1/19; 2/13; 2/16; 2/24; 4/12-18; 5/19
Final Exam week: May 22-24, 26-29

Syllabus for English 201A/B: Preparation for Composition and Reading

The English 201 series (4 units) is a preparatory course designed to emphasize the thinking, reading, organizing and writing skills required for successful execution of college-level papers in all subject areas. This course is designed to for those students requiring minimal preparation for entering English 1A.

Absences must be kept to a minimum. If you miss 6 consecutive hours or 8 cumulative hours you will risk being dropped from the course, doing poorly or both. English 201 consists of weekly essays and daily assignments. This is a portfolio driven class. Keep all of your written work, graded and otherwise to turn in the last day of class. There will be an assessment, a midterm, a research project, a final and a class presentation.

This semester we will be reading about the life and work of President Barack Obama. I thought it might be interesting to follow the life of a man who is making history, his first book written when he was 33, just after becoming the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. When the book went into its second printing, he’d made another historic first as the third black man in the United States Senate, his seat the first since Reconstruction. Now the book is flying off book shelves since his bid for the office of president two years ago.

Besides Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father,” we will also be reading, “The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs” by Felicia Pride and “Stewart Pidd Hates English” by Politt and Baker.

At the end of the course, students will collect their favorite freewrites to compile their own Greatest Songs reflections.

As stated in the letter, Stewart Pidd will provide a context for essay writing which will hopefully allow students the opportunity to become conversant about the writing process and use grammar in context, as well as, employ MLA documentation. Keep a reading log for the Obama book noting key ideas, themes, vocabulary, questions and an analysis of primary writing strategies employed: description, process analysis, narration, argument, cause and effect, compare and contrast, definition, problem solving.

Research Project
Your research project will entail finding a person here in Northern California who is a social entrepreneur. The paper will be about 4-5 pages. This will include a works cited page and bibliography. Students will make 5-10 minute presentations of these papers the day of the final. The paper will be due about two-three weeks prior to the presentation. We’ll discuss this task further later on.

New Heroes
Visit “The New Heroes,” to read about social entrepreneurs. There is also a program called Frontline World. We will explore this assignment more, later in the course.

Why socially responsible economics?
Too often people feel helpless or hopeless when there is a lot you can do as an individual as soon as you realize the answer lies inside of you. If possible choose an entrepreneur who lives in Northern California, someone you’d like to interview and perhaps meet. Students can work on the project together, share resources. Each person has to write his or her own paper, but you can make a group presentation if you like.

Course Objectives

English 201 will look primarily at writing which persuades: argumentative writing, as well as, expository writing, narrative and descriptive writing. At the end of the course students will have read work of accomplished writers, as well as practiced writing in a variety of styles to suit the writer’s purpose.

Academic Blog

In this course, students will submit essays and other written work on-line. The academic blog is an opportunity for students to utilize multiple intelligences as they engage one another in a variety modalities.

Student Learning Outcomes

At the end of the course students will have an altered or heightened awareness of the world around them, especially discourse: speech and text. Students will see that everything is an argument, whether that is a cartoon, advertisement, or lyrics in a song. Students will be able to analyze and critique each incident or contact to evaluate its author’s purpose, audience, and evidence to determine whether or not such goal was met and if appropriate, act accordingly.

This course is intended to be both a group learning experience as well as an individually rewarding one. Mid-semester we will schedule conferences so students can confer with the instructor to evaluate his or her progress in the course. Classroom instruction will consist of lectures, small group work, and students working in pairs. This is an effective way for students to exchange ideas with classmates, compare reactions to readings and practice giving and receiving constructive feedback on class work.

Preparation for class, regular attendance and active participation is imperative for those students who wish to succeed in this course.

It is a student’s responsibility to contact the instructor if he or she plans to miss class. The student is responsible for all materials and information given during the class time, so please get telephone numbers for three (3) classmates in case you are late or absent. You will not be able to make up in-class assignments when you miss class.

Requirements for homework assignments:

Late papers are accepted only when arranged in advance. Any papers below a C grade are an automatic revision or rewrite. Essays range between 2-3 pages, 500-750 words (English 201B students write the longer essays).

Choose topics which give you enough to write about. We will use documentation to substantiate all of our claims. With this in mind, I expect all papers to utilize at least two (2) different outside print sources, in addition to the occasional interview, and broadcast news, that is, radio or television, Internet also.

You will learn to document sources; we will practice citing sources in text, using footnotes and end notes, and writing bibliographies and notes pages. Remember save all your work! This is a portfolio course.

All essay assignments you receive comments on have to be revised prior to resubmission; included with the revision is a student narrative to me regarding your understanding of what needed to be done; a student can prepare this as a part of the Writing Center visit (see below), especially if said student is unclear over what steps to take.

Library Orientations:

We will write short essays that reflect themes and ideas discussed that week. Stewart Pidd has essay assignments attached to the text. Some of these essays will be written in class and posted on the class blog. The research essay will be an argument. There will be a midterm and a final.

Jot down briefly what your goals are this semester. List them in order of importance.






Index Cards due January 28

Please list your contact information: Name, Address, phone number e-mail address, best time to call.

What strengths do you bring to the class? What do you hope to obtain from the course – any particular exit skills? What do I need to know about you to help you meet your goals?

Presentation 1: February 18

Bring in an object that reflects America, American values, its people, landscape, or history. Write a brief profile on the object justifying its inclusion in the archives (100 words or so). This is also a cyber-assignment to be posted later.


Essays: 15 percent (including Stewart Pidd essay assignments)
Daily journals posted on blog: 15 percent (including Stewart Pidd exercises)
Midterm: 10 percent
Final: 15 percent
Research Essay/Presentation: 15 percent
Portfolio: 15 percent
Peer Reviews from Lab teachers: 5 percent
Participation: 10 percent

Each book will have collected writings or essays. The essays which take their themes from the books are practice essays, and are about a fourth of your grade, your midterm and final are another fourth and your portfolio is the final fourth. (Save all of your work.) You can average the grades to see how to weigh the various components. Participation is included in the daily exercises and homework portion of the grade, so if your attendance is exemplary, yet you say nothing the entire 18 weeks, you loose percentage points.

You will also need to plan to spend time weekly in the Writing Lab (L-234-235, (510) 748-2132). It is a great place to get one-on-on assistance on your essays, from brainstorming and planning the essays, to critique in areas like clarity, organization, clearly stated thesis, evidence or support, logical conclusions, and grammatical problems. In the Writing Center there are ancillary materials for student use. These writing programs build strong writing muscles. The Bedford Handbook on-line, Diana Hacker’s Rules for Writers on-line, Townsend Press, and other such computer and cyber-based resources are a few of the many databases available. There is also an Open Lab for checking e-mail, a Math Lab. All academic labs are located in the Learning Resource Center (LRC) or library. The Cyber Café is located in the F-bldg.

Students need a student ID to use the labs and to check out books. The IDs are free and you can take the photo in the F-Building, Student Services.

Have a tutor of teacher sign off on your essays before you turn them in; if you have a “R,” which means revision necessary for a grade or “NC” which means “no credit,” you have to go to the lab and revise the essay with a tutor or teacher before you return both the graded original and the revision (with signature) to me. Revise does not mean “rewrite,” it means to “see again.”

When getting assistance on an essay, the teacher or tutor is not an editor, so have questions prepared for them to make best use of the 15-20 minute session in the Lab. For more specific assistance, sign up for one-on-one tutoring, another free service. For those of you on other campuses, you can get assistance at the Merritt Colleges’ Writing Center, as well as Laney’s Writing.

All essay assignments you receive comments on have to be revised prior to resubmission; included with the revision is a student narrative to me regarding your understanding of what needed to be done; a student can prepare this as a part of the Lab visit, especially if said student is unclear over what steps to take.

Students can also visit me in office hours for assistance; again, prepare your questions in advance to best make use of the time. Do not leave class without understanding the comments on a paper. I don’t mind reading them to you.

English language fluency in writing and reading, a certain comfort and ease with the language and confidence and skillful application of literary skills are all skills associated with academic writing. Familiarity if not mastery of the rhetorical styles used in argumentation, exposition and narration will be addressed in this class and is another key student learning outcome (SLO).

We will be evaluating what we know and how we came to know what we know, a field called epistemology or the study of knowledge. Granted, the perspective is western culture which eliminates the values of the majority populations, so-called underdeveloped or undeveloped countries or cultures. Let us not fall into typical superiority traps. Try to maintain a mental elasticity and a willingness to let go of concepts which not only limit your growth as an intelligent being, but put you at a distinct disadvantage as a species.

This is a highly charged and potentially revolutionary process - critical thinking. The process of evaluating all that you swallowed without chewing up to now is possibly even dangerous. This is one of the problems with bigotry; it’s easier to go with tradition than toss it, and create a new, more just, alternative protocol.

More on grades, and portfolio

We will be honest with one another. Grades are not necessarily the best response to work; grades do not take into consideration the effort or time spent, only whether or not students can demonstrate mastery of a skill – in this case: essay writing. Grades are an approximation, arbitrary at best, no matter how many safeguards one tries to put in place to avoid such ambiguity. Suffice it to say, your portfolio will illustrate your competence. It will represent your progress, your success or failure this session in meeting your goal.

In past semesters, students have skipped the portfolio and/or the final. Neither is optional.

Office Hours

I’d like to wish everyone good luck. I am available for consultation on Thursdays, 11-2, and on Monday and Wednesday afternoon 3-4 and Tuesday mornings 10-11, by appointment. My office is located between the academic labs in L-236 (inside L-235). My office number is (510) 748-2131, e-mail Let me know the day before, if possible, when you’d like to meet with me on MW. Ask me for my cell phone number. I do not mind sharing it with you.

I don’t check my e-mail frequently on weekends, so I’d advise you to exchange phone numbers with classmates (2), so if you have a concern, it can be addressed more expediently. Again study groups are recommended, especially for those students finding the readings difficult; don’t forget, you can also discuss the readings as a group in the Lab with a teacher or tutor acting as facilitator. Keep a vocabulary log for the semester and an error chart (taken from comments on essay assignments). List the words you need to look up in the dictionary, also list where you first encountered them: page, book and definition, also use the word in a sentence. You will turn this in with your portfolio.

Students are expected to complete their work on time. If you need more time on an assignment, discuss this with me in advance, to keep full credit. You loose credit each day an assignment is late and certain assignments, such as in-class essays cannot be made up. All assignments prepared outside of class are to be typed, 12-pt. font, double-spaced lines, indentations on paragraphs, 1-inch margins around the written work.


Plagiarism is ethically abhorrent, and if any student tries to take credit for work authored by another person the result will be a failed grade on the assignment and possibly a failed grade in the course if this is attempted again. This is a graded course. There might be an option to take this course C/NC. See Admission and Records.

Textbooks Recap:

Pollitt, Gary. Craig Baker. Stewart Pidd Hates English: Grammar, Punctuation, and Writing Exercises. California: Attack the Text Publishing, 2008. ISBN: 13: 978-0-9755923-4-2

Obama, Barack. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004. ISBN: 1-4000-8277-3.

Pride, Felicia. The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip Hops Greatest Songs. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2007. ISBN: 10:1-56858-335-4

Students also need a dictionary. I recommend: The American Heritage Dictionary. Fourth Edition.

The Prepared Student also needs...

Along with a dictionary, the prepared student needs pens with blue or black ink, along with a pencil for annotating texts, paper, a stapler or paper clips, a jump drive to save work from college computers, a notebook, three hole punch, a folder for work-in-progress, and a divided binder to keep materials together.

Also stay abreast of the news. Buy a daily paper. Listen to alternative radio: KPFA 94.1 FM (Hardknock), KQED 88.5, KALW 91.7. Visit news websites:, Al Jazeera,,,,, CBS 60Minutes.

The syllabus and course schedule is subject to change, at the instructor's discretion, so stay loose and flexible.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Past Assignments

Some students have not responded to my letter. Please do so. Also, all students have not completed the Letter from the Birmingham Jail assignment or if you'd planned to, the extra credit assignments: the Presidential Inauguration and/or King Day event. Catch up.


1 Paragraph Summaries of 1 page of the Inaugural Address

The early class worked in groups on summarizing select sections of the Address. We didn't finish, so please post your 1 paragraph summaries of your page of the Inaugural Address here.

Students in the afternoon class practiced summarizing after a brief discussion of the Address. We pulled out vocabulary to discuss and define. We also looked up "Father of our Nation," to see if the reference was to Washington or not, and it was.

The numbers indicate paragraphs in the handouts; the first number is the page number.

Vocabulary: recrimination (1:8), dogma (1:8), inevitable (1:6), Scripture (1:9). We discussed the terms: forbearer, ancestor, and founding fathers (I asked where the Founding Mothers were). Obscure (2:1), leisure (2:1), Gettysburg, Normandy, Khe Sanh, Concord, (Port Chicago); commerce (2:6), wield (2:7), fascism (3:3), communism (3:3)--we also included: capitalism, socialism, democracy. Prudent (3:3), emanates (3:3), alliances (3:3), expedience (3:2), levees (4:3), patriotism (4:4), grudgingly (4:4)), accept (4:4). I included the word often confused with accept, except.Generation (5:1), hardship (5:1), virtue (5:1).

Homework is to bring in the book, Dreams from My Father. We will write a summary of the Preface and talk about the Introduction. You can read both in advance if you'd like to get ahead. Bring in Stewart Pidd also, if you have the book. We will be using it Wednesday.

Remember to comment on one classmates post. In the early class we looked at themes or issues the President raised in his speech. You can share your list with commentary here also.

The other freewrite was to the following prompt: List 5 personal goals for the semester. Secondly, choose 2 and discuss how you plan to achieve them. Complete the narrative plan for the other three for homework. Keep these plans in your notebook and check them off when accomplished. Do not share on the blog.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Stewart Pidd

For students who are interested in buying the book on-line visit: The retail price on the book is $34.95; ISBN: 0-9755923-4-3.
We are going to use the book beginning Monday, January 26.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


FIRST 100 DAYS Dear President Obama letter assignment

Extra Credit

I told the first class about this assignment and they overwhelmingly stated they were not interested in this assignment; however, when I mentioned Obama's request that all Americans spend five (5) hours in community service, and those that do will receive a free Starbucks refreshment. Visit and

Post your letters to President Obama here. The freewrite assignment, which we shared was to write the president a letter and share with him issues you'd like him to consider addressing this first 100 days, certainly during his first term in office. I asked students to be chose issues which illicit tangible response. Students were to post the letter here, send a copy to the president and then follow the president's administration the first 100 days.

Send you letter to him via where there is a physical address and an email address. Choose whatever medium you like, and post his response to your letter here later, also converse with each other regarding his 100 Days.

You will have to mail the letter; the email posts only allow a short message.

In the second hour I shared my reflections on January 20. It is posted at If students have photos they'd like to share, send them to me and I'll post them on the class blog.

If you decide to participate in this 100 Day Watch, post all your responses here.


Letter from Birmingham Jail Assignments

Post your summaries and paraphrases here. The summaries are due before class on Monday, January 26. The paraphrases (10-12 AM class) are due now.

Begin your summary with: In Martin Luther King's essay, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," he writes...says...speaks... (use a present tense verb)


Class Assignments

Today in both classes we read Martin King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." I ran out of copies.

The link is (This includes an audio link.)

In the morning class we reflected in a freewrite on the significance of January 20, 2009, what we did that day, and what impact it would have on the rest of our lives (10-12 class). Quite a few students didn't watch the inauguration, so they couldn't respond to the freewrite assignment, so for the second class I omitted the Obama reference.

In both sections, students hadn't read the essay, so we read the first couple of pages today and discussed the difference between paraphrases and summaries and practiced the former. Homework is to post a 250 word summary response to the Letter. This is due by Monday, January 26.

Students can post their group paraphrases of a selected paragraph at the Letter link also. (Morning class only). In the afternoon class we looked up the definitions of the words paraphrase and summary. The American Heritage definition is:

Paraphrase: "A restatement of a text or passage in another form or other words" (AHD). The reason we paraphrase is to clarify meaning.

Summary: "A condensed statement of the substance of a larger work" (AHD).

In the afternoon class we looked at the prefix "para" and "par" as in paragraph, paradigm, paratransit, paraphrase, see if we could decode the word this way.

Homework due the day of class is to bring in an annotated copy of the President's Inauguration speech. It is at

This is just a cool recap of Inauguaral events:

Bring the annotated copy to class.

What else? Oh, buy your books. If you can order the Stewart Pidd on-line visit The other Obama book is at the public library.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Cyber-Posts for King Events and Inaugural Event Reflection

Extra Credit Assignment
Attend an event or read an article about Martin King Day celebrations here or elsewhere and post a response/summary here. Today in downtown Oakland at 11 a.m. there is a kickoff celebration of the Dream. Monday, January 19, there are events throughout Oakland and the San Francisco Bay Area, including a Freedom Train ending at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. I plan to attend the event on Sunday, January 18 at the Scottish Rite Auditorium. I have listed quite a few events at my website:

Please include references (1-3). Use MLA style for references. Visit

Inauguration Assignment
Watch the Inauguration. What were your impressions? Analyze Obama's address. Listen or read commentary on the event. The response should be minimally 250 words. Post at the assignment link by 1/22 by 11:50 p.m. Please include references (2-3). Use MLA. We'll talk about this more on Wednesday, Jan. 21.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


First Day

Today was great! Students seemed focused and ready to commit to the journey and what it takes to be successful. The last class had an opportunity to both read and hear the Coup song, "Wear Clean Draws." So I'd like them to post their responses to the song and Felicia Pride's entry in The Message, here. Other students can post their freewrites also, but you don't have too. Students are also encouraged to respond to each other.

Please when posting assignments indicate which class and what level you are in. The homework is to read Letter from the Birmingham Jail, and to post your essay response to my letter. The response to the Dear Students should be minimally 250 words. Remember, type it in a Word Doc. and then paste it in the comment section of the blog post.

Next week there is no school Monday, January 19, the official Martin Luther King Birthday celebration. It is a national holiday, which means there is no school and all government offices are closed.

The following day, January 20, is the presidential inauguration. I'd like you to respond to the festivities and the ceremony on the blog. I will put a link here for the day and you can post your thoughts and feelings and it you have photos, send them to me and I'll post them also.

Have a great Martin King Birthday celebration tomorrow and next week. The books are in at the COA bookstore. You can order the Stewart Pidd book at or ask you local bookstore to get it for you. It isn't in presently at the bookstore.

I will post the syllabus here late today/early morning tomorrow. Copies will be available in the bin outside my office L-236 1/22.

We will practice writing summaries on 1/21 with the Birmingham assignment. Please bring in any questions you might have also about the letter and King's references.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Welcome Students to Spring 2009

January 11, 2009

Dear Students:

Today is my older daughter’s birthday. She’s 30 and a student at Cal State East Bay; she graduated from COA a couple of years ago. She also worked her as an IT. She will be graduating in psychology this year and continuing her graduate work in counseling psychology. Her younger sister is also in this field, TaSin’s is art therapy. She has an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts Photography from the California College of Arts and Crafts. My degrees are from Holy Names College and the University of San Francisco. I have course work at the University of California at Berkeley also in Arabic, Linguistics and Art. You can read my profile on the academic blog: (Eng. 1A) and (Eng. 201)

My children were raised in a single parent head of household. I was divorced when my younger daughter was three. I raised them in West Oakland. They attended Berkeley Public Schools where I worked at the Albany YMCA as a site director at Kid’s Club at Thousand Oaks Elementary School, and then for the Berkeley Unified School District and for the Berkeley/Richmond Jewish Community Center, and for Richmond Head Start. Eventually I left child development and school age childcare for a career in property management, and began working for Housing Resources Management as a clerk then property manager at Richmond Townhouses, Deliverance Temple and Acorn Apartments. I was fired from there and after a year on disability went to work at the Volunteer Center for Alameda County as project director for the AIDS Volunteer Clearinghouse. I worked there until the money ran out and then I returned for my master’s degree and worked for the Berkeley Public Library System developing community forums looking at how the library could better serve the black community called COIN. From there I went to Maybeck High School and from Maybeck to COA. I have attended Merritt College, Contra Costa College and Laney College. I have a state of California issued family daycare license.

I grew up in the Nation of Islam and went to private schools for middle and high school. I graduated from high school at 15, and then taught for 2 years before attending UCB. I entered Berkeley underprepared and had to take remedial courses. I didn’t learn what a thesis sentence was until graduate school in 1995, 13 years after my first college writing course. I got As in my college composition courses at Merritt and failed my college writing entrance exam at Holy Names. HNC has a policy called writing across the curriculum, so each class I took was an opportunity to learn to write better essays. I can’t say that I fully understood what this process was until four years later when I took a teaching writing course and learned about argument and exposition and saw my first grammar style book.

Can you believe this? I had taken courses to prepare for the Teaching English to Students of Other Languages (TESOL), received the teaching certificate, yet didn’t have the language I needed to talk about “the essay.” I say all this to tell you why I want to spare you this journey which was not skill based. I am going to give you the skills, and then you can forget them and do the work.

You probably have some familiarity with the essay or you wouldn’t have tested into this course, but I want you to feel more confident about what you know and the best way to accomplish this—I hope, is by demystifying the concepts and by giving you vocabulary to talk about what it is you know or need to know to write and read academic texts.

The college environment is nothing like what you experienced in high school, and the community college is similar to the university but there are differences. One is, the community college is smaller and your professors are more accessible—at least this one is.

I want you to leave this class with the skills to tackle academic texts, which are daunting for the underprepared student. There is a difference between reading for pleasure and reading for information. There is a difference between writing for the academic and non-academic audience. There is a difference between having an opinion and having an argument. There is a difference between knowing something and proving something, even when the evidence used is the same.

You are probably doing a lot of this skill based reading and writing already, but like me when I was 18, 19, 20, 24, 27, 29, 30 and 39—those ages when I was in college studying writing and did well because I liked to write and I understood the value of good models, I couldn’t articulate what I knew about the critical reading and writing process. I want you to get As on purpose. Like I said, I didn’t understand the technicalities of the writing process until a graduate student.

This semester I am going to try something new. Last semester, for the first time I noticed so many students without academic tools to navigate the institution, and fearful to try. I’ll say fearful rather than lazy. One doesn’t acquire knowledge without work. So let’s say they were fearful. I opened my door to everyone and couldn’t get anyone or few students to come to me to ask for assistance, to confer and see what they needed to do to excel. I attended a conference midway through the course and learned about a writing tool called Kurzweil which is a speech to text program which helps students navigate those text heavy courses, it is also a way teachers can share with students their thinking about a topic as they read. It is interactive and user friendly—again it is not intuitive, by intuitive, I mean you are born knowing how to use it, you have to be taught, but it isn’t hard to learn to use with one’s courses, especially the reading and analysis. It is also a great note taking tool.

I learned Fall 2008 that students really believe they can get through college and not open their books, or better yet, not own any. I have colleagues who don’t assign books any more. I do. I also expect students to read the books I assign.

This semester we are going to begin the course with foundation lessons from a text called: Stewart Pidd HATES ENGLISH, so that by the time your financial aide checks arrive and you feel like cutting classes, you will hopefully have the skills necessary to write essays and analyze literature and participate in critical theory discourse or conversations in class and on-line..

We live in a world which is becoming a virtual medium right before our eyes. My course this semester will look a lot different fall 2009-spring 2010, if my proposal passes the curriculum committee. Fall 2009 will all be hybrid which means you will have limited face time or face to face contact. This might be great for some learners and not as great for others. We’ll have to see. I’m flexible and so are the classes I’m proposing. So each student needs to access what type of learner they are. I can help with that.

Everything you’ve heard about me is probably true. I expect a lot, but no more than you are capable, and no more than the academic guidelines for this course require. There are objectives, goals and learning outcomes for each course you take. I will share more of this with you in the syllabus posted at the academic blog. I can even email it to you if you request it. I want you to get your money’s worth, but more importantly I want all students whom I touch to walk away with life skills which will enhance their next encounter be that an essay assignment or a traffic ticket they need to refute or a clinician who has forgotten who he or she works for.

I went to New Orleans over the Winter Recess. The calling card was an extraordinary exhibit called, Prospect 1. Visit It was also an opportunity to visit family and connect with friends who are working to free two men who have served the longest time in solitary confinement in this country, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, known as Angola 3. One of the men, Robert King, was released in February 2001. We were planning some actions for January-February to coincide with Martin King Day Parades, Mardi Gras, and Lent, to being attention to Albert’s court date.

When I returned I visited for the first time the California Women Correctional Facility in Chowchilla, California, the larger of the two. It has a skilled nursing facility. It is also the facility where women are executed. It was an eye-opener. As I sit here writing this letter to you, my heart is heavy and I feel a huge responsibility for those without the ear of mainstream society. What we do as writers is so important, and to the extent that we take our skills and the sphere of influence we command seriously, is the extent to which we change the world for the better.

On New Year’s Day in Oakland, Oscar Grant III was killed. In New Orleans, another man, also 22 and a father, Adolph Grimes III, shot 14 times, 12 in the back, by undercover NOPD as he sat in his car waiting to pick up his cousin to celebrate the New Year. The similarities between the Oscar Grant and Adolph Grimes’ murders is uncanny, too uncanny. It’s a larger statement about the value or devaluing of certain lives whether that is GAZA Oakland or GAZA New Orleans.

As I walked down the street to the A3 meeting in the 6th Ward, I realized it was just down the street from Circle Market, a historic landmark—the place that once served as a trading station for enslaved Africans. I heard drumming as I turn the corner on my way to S. Robertson Street. It reminded me of what it must have been like in Africa, when one could hear live music coming from the homes as one walked, rode one’s bike, or drove by.

Virtual reality. One shouldn’t confuse this with reality, if such exists. When a musician tells me he plays a computer, not real drums, I think about the paradigm shift and the consciousness of the person speaking to me who thinks a computer generated sound is superior to one created by a person in real time.

It is the same with this class. If you aren’t committed to putting in the hours woodshedding, working out the details necessary to be a fine writer, don’t expect to pass the class with honors, or to pass at all. The application is one which combines virtual reality and the tangible reality we’re forced to address in this corporal form—a flesh and bloody reality. You will sweat and bleed this semester as you put in the hours, often when you’d rather do something else, thinking and planning, practicing and writing, reviewing and thinking and then rewriting.

Writing is not intuitive for most. Yes, there are those geniuses, but if you were a genius you probably wouldn’t be in my course. I do believe we all have our strengths and we are all genius material, some just have to apply more effort polishing spirit and stone and intellect. The outcome is the same for both students –the brilliant and the one with brilliance. Ultimately the journey is not as important as the outcome, but one needs to work smart, not needlessly hard. This is where I come in. I can help you identify which student you are, what kind of learner you are, what skills you possess and what strengths you can build on. Come to my office hours early in the semester to chat. Bring graded writing you’ve completed in past composition courses so we can talk.

We are not competing. We are sharing and giving constructive feedback so we can all shine together. This is a personal walk even though we are all here in class together.

There are standards for the course and for writing in general. One is the genre or communicative event (essay) has to be clear, succinct and say something. You have to have a point. The point you make and the way you present your argument, if it meets the form and the spirit of the assignment, certainly will vary depending on the experience and knowledge the individual brings to the topic. Research is important; however, life experience allows one to interpret information differently. We all have something valuable to share and to bring to the table this semester.

We do not exist in a vacuum and I think you are privileged to be able to attend college. There are many others who would like to be here but aren’t. As such you have a responsibility to not waste this opportunity and to be an example to others in your discourse community, your peers and even your elders. You have to demonstrate how knowledge has empowered you to make better choices and to take better care of yourself and think productively about how what you are doing for yourself right now, will better the community where you lay your head and by extension the entire country and world community.

You are not alone and everything is connected to everything else. Virtual reality is real and then it isn’t. We have to operate as if this is the only reality, this moment we have together and then know that if this moment is allowed to happen again that we have another opportunity to continue the conversation, to continue the work, to continue on the journey to happiness and the fulfillment of our dreams and aspirations.

Let me help you. I don’t like grading papers so we need to figure out how to address this. I suggest study hours. In the past no one came, but perhaps you are a different discourse community and you will (smile). I will be in the Writing Center (L-234 and the smaller lab) a lot this semester on Thursdays. I don’t remember the hours presently, so look for an update. I suggest coming to my office hours, but no one comes. Email works to an extent, but face-to-face is better. Tutors are great too, but no one gets help until it is too late.

Again, I am open to suggestions. I have hired assistants to keep me from getting behind, and I am going to try to do this again, but it didn’t work, my assistant got behind on her own work and failed all her classes last semester—not a good idea.

I give talks and workshops in the community from time to time and have a radio show. If you are interested in what I am up to visit my website:

I am teaching four classes this semester: ENG 1A, M-Th, 8-9 and 9-10; and ENG 201 A/B, MW 10-12, 1-3.

Required textbooks for my classes this semester are: “Stewart Pidd Hates English” by Politt and Baker, Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father,” Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope,” Alehouse 2009: “Poetry on Tap,” “The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs” by Felicia Pride.

All the books are not for all classes. Stewart Pidd is for all classes. Poetry on Tap is for ENG 1A, and The Message is for ENG 201. Dreams is for both classes. Audacity is for ENG 1A (don’t buy this yet. I might change my mind.).

Peace and Blessings,

Wanda Sabir
Office L-236
(510) 748-2131
English Basic Skills
College of Alameda

PS If you write me, in the subject line tell me who you are: ENG 1A 8-9, 9-10, ENG 201 10-12, 1-3 SPR 09

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Final Grades are Filed

January 3, 2009

Dear Students:

I just filed my grades yesterday, Friday, January 2, 2009. I am in New Orleans, it's pouring rain and mosquitoes are eating me alive. I waited to submit my grades to give some students the opportunity to get their work in. Nonetheless, I still found many students who didn't pass the class or turned in sloppy or incomplete portfolios or skipped the process altogether.

It's a shame.

Most of the students who failed were the ones who stopped doing the work, long before they stopped coming, then came back. Other students fared poorly because though the writing was good, this class is about "the essay" and managing information, so if the students didn't demonstrate he or she understood the form of the essay: introduction, body and conclusion, written in recognizable paragraphs, plus the ability to document sources, introduce citations with signal phrases, and on the grammar side, not make mistakes that blurred the meaning, then they failed or were marked down for the inappropriate creativity. Suggestion: Take a creative writing course next time. Do not try this in Freshman Comp.

Other students whose grades were lower than I'm sure expected reflected the less than scholarly tone of the final essay on Afeni Shakur. Also, many students did not show their sources in-text or in a works cited page. But don't worry, all who passed certainly demonstrated their seriousness, and considering the trauma and loss many of you suffered this semester, I was pleased to read the portfolios and pleasantly surprised by more than a few of you.

I am looking to change my class assignment and exercises strategy for Spring 2009. I'm thinking of making the first 6-8 weeks really intense. Give the heavy assignments toward the end of the first month, and then by the time Spring Break rolls around and students start to drop, perhaps more will stay around because the intense portion of the course will be over.

I'd like to have a “Book of the Semester” for the College, a “Summer Reading Selection” and a “College Retreat” at the beginning of the Fall Semester, mandatory for all entering students. This is where we can pair freshmen up with sophomores. Any volunteers?

I am looking at having an on-line class television show broadcasting minimally three times next semester, this will include the portfolio presentations and perhaps a few other assignments. I am also thinking about a radio show, bi-monthly where we discuss writing or literature topics. I'd like it to be a call-in with featured guests.

For those of you who received less than satisfactory grades. Don't worry. Writing is a process and for some scholars it takes longer to grasp the concepts and apply them than others.


Many of you didn't take your first college course seriously. Academic resources are for your use, so use them to your advantage. I'd also recommend that all freshmen take a College Preparation course. It is a three unit, transferable class, which helps you matriculate through the institution a lot easier. It is not an intuitive process. You have to be instructed on how the system works, or it is a trial by fire and most likely you will get burned.

More than one of you failed all your courses, and you took the financial aide. This is really serious and quite alarming.

We also lost more than a few of our scholars who were not challenged intellectually so they are going to another college where they feel the college atmosphere there will be more collegial.

I received more than one comment about assignments and the changing deadlines. The problem was students were not doing the assignments and if we'd kept going, more would have failed. It's always difficult for me in a class where the students resist reading and preparing in advance for class discussions.

I am going to offer all my courses as hybrid Fall 2009, which might address this a bit, but I agree the morale suffers when everyone isn't engaged.

I am around for the duration, so look me up. I'll be facilitating College Prep Luncheon Rap Sessions Spring 2009. Some of the topics I'm considering are: Academic Services on Campus, Time Management and Study Habits, Financial Aide, Mentoring, College Life: Academic Clubs and Offices, Studying for Tests, Emergency Preparedness or How to stay in college, and keep your grades up when you have a personal emergency, and when to drop, the Grievance Process, Student Rights, Academic Integrity or why cheating is not an option for serious students.

The panels will consist of faculty, staff and students.

Of course we won't be able to offer sessions on all of these topics, but if students like the idea then maybe we can continue these conversations outside of this arena in a Study Hall type setting, like the LRC.

This would be good to broadcast on the Peralta Television Station.

Send me topics you are thinking about also.

Happy New Year!

Wanda Sabir

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