Information and Meaning: Connecting Thinking, Reading, and Writing

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9780130995261: Information and Meaning: Connecting Thinking, Reading, and Writing

Based on the premise that difficult material, with adequate support, provides the most enriching experience in the composition classroom, this book offers its readers a challenge and encourages them to think and write critically. KEY TOPICS Unique content features fresh material that is mostly new and has not been anthologized before. For writing inspiration, and anyone who wants to participate in broader cultural conversations about the selections presented here.

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Finally, an anthology that offers both challenging readings and comprehensive support.

Information and Meaning is based on the premise that challenging materials with adequate support will provide you with the most enriching experience in the composition classroom. The flexible organization will help you see the interdisciplinary and intertextual nature of academic work, and in-text apparatus will enable you to become a more active reader.

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In our media-rich society, companies buy and sell information, adventurers cruise the "information superhighway," and experts have emerged to provide "architecture" and "systems" for "managing" information. Information and Meaning explores the ways we encounter, assess, and create meaning using the vast landscape of information available to us. It provides students with models of and tools for critical reading, thinking, and writing that will not only benefit them during their college years, but will teach them to be discerning consumers of information

For decades, scholars, critics, and consumers alike have been looking closely at the means by which we process information in contemporary society. When media critic Marshall MacLuhan argued in 1964 that "the medium is the message," he suggested that content is irrelevant and that our nervous systems respond more to the electricity coming from a television set than to the programming. Almost forty years later, we are more comfortable with new media, and conscious enough of the physical effects to redirect ourselves to the challenge of "the message," as well as how the medium and the message interact. The works in this anthology—whether from the humanities, the social sciences, or the natural sciences—all interest themselves in such interaction, and in the complicated struggle for meaning in this information age.

In the college environment, the relationship between information and meaning is even more fraught. The college student is asked to absorb unfathomable amounts of information and simultaneously to be skeptical of it. Composition students especially must learn to filter, shape, reject, revise, present, deconstruct, support, and sell information in the context of the essays they write. They must consciously create meaning in contexts and via delivery methods new to them. The first step toward being able to do this successfully is learning to read actively and critically. Information and Meaning functions on the premise that difficult material with adequate support provides the most enriching instruction in this regard. Critical reading skills can only be acquired through challenging reading experiences, so none of the essays in this anthology presents simple arguments with definitive answers to the questions raised. The readings all analyze or illustrate what struggle there is in knowing something, especially in a culture that seems to resist the very concept of knowledge. So in addition to raising questions that will inspire critical inquiry, these authors present models of intellectual work for students—work that is always ambiguous, always difficult, and limitless in its implications.

In the midst of such complexity and difficulty, it is important for students to feel competent and autonomous. This text is designed to familiarize students with critical reading, thinking, and writing skills by offering both challenging texts and comprehensive support. The support offered is intended to show students the value of active reading rather than to provide a "crutch." In order to experience the intellectual delight in creating one's own meaning by synthesizing a text with the contexts, communities, and traditions that text has alluded to or been built upon, a student must be given ample illustration of, and practice with, such work. The following is an overview of the features of this book that provide this practice and illustration to help students internalize the intellectual process of critical analysis.

The texts are drawn from a range of perspectives, genres, styles, and disciplines. They cover a wide range of themes and offer a diversity of arguments; still, almost all of the texts can be shown to relate to each other and to the problem of making meaning out of information. Familiar subjects are addressed in fresh ways so that students do not recycle old ideas, but create new ones. And generally, the selections have not been previously anthologized, so it is unlikely students have read or written about them in previous classes.

The organization is alphabetical by author to avoid overly directed interpretations based on unit "themes." The texts do not have to be used sequentially, and each text is lengthy enough to provide many class periods of discussion. The texts can be used in just about any combination, depending on the needs of the particular course/curriculum.

Glosses of unfamiliar terms, names, dates, historical events, texts, and subtle allusions are bolded in the text and defined or described in the margins and in footnotes. The bolding facilitates easy navigation between text and gloss material, but students may choose to disregard glosses to avoid having to pause in their reading.

In Your Journal prompts in the margins feature note-taking suggestions, which may ask students to connect a passage to the main argument; to analyze a piece of evidence, the author's tone, or use of language, etc.; to remember a previous passage in the text for comparison; simply to paraphrase a difficult point; or to look for deeper meaning. Instructors may choose to require or encourage In Your Journal responses, which are numbered in each text for ease of use.

Introductions to each text provide biographical information, significant works and professional achievements of the author. For some students, this information will help place the supplied text in a larger context.

Questions about Substance encourage students to think about a text's main topic, argument, uses of evidence, and logic; to do close readings of quoted material and footnotes; to analyze or compare specific passages; and to formulate judgments about specific ideas presented in the text.

Questions about Structure and Style point students to sentence and paragraph organization, stylistic techniques, repeated themes or tropes, use of tone or emphasis, titles, introductions and conclusions, level of detail, imagery, or word choice—all to facilitate understanding of the relationship between a text's form and content.

Multimedia Suggestions provide short lists of films, television programs, Web sites, music, or other media to help students make interesting thematic or other connections across genres and subcultures. The suggestions are not meant to substitute for further reading, but to demonstrate that intertextual connections exist in all forms and that research can include myriad sources.

Suggestions for Writing and Research are not recipes for papers; they are meant to provoke deep thinking and complicated analysis, allowing for the development of original arguments. Students should think of these suggestions as springboards for their work, rather than quantitative questions that have "right" or "wrong" answers. There are various types of assignments here—from close reading exercises to more abstract argument assignments to full-blown research papers. An instructor may want to assign just one of the topics or to give students a choice of many, or even to assign a series of connected assignments. No one assignment is meant to take precedence over the others—they appear in no particular order of importance.

The Working with Clusters section at the end of the anthology presents lists of texts organized around concepts that will provide enriched reading and writing experiences. Each cluster includes a brief description of the ideas around which it is built and a series of questions called "Suggestions for Writing" that, in addition to providing paper topics, could also be used for purposes of discussion or to enhance the reading experience. Related clusters are also listed as potential unit partners, so that an instructor might build a whole course around the suggested cluster groups. The list of clusters here is by no means exhaustive, and instructors may use them as models for developing their own thematic or conceptual groups of texts. Finally, a short list of discipline- and genre-related clusters is provided without additional apparatus.

Combined, the book's apparatus gives students opportunities to practice:

  • Active reading
  • Intertextual inference/synthesis
  • Interdisciplinary thinking
  • Analysis of point of view, tone, purpose, and creative language
  • Finding main ideas
  • Exploring style choices
  • Looking at themes and patterns
  • Testing theoretical ideas
  • Assessing evidence
  • Examining logic
  • Critical thinking about context
  • Research

First, though, the Introduction for Students will describe for students some of the contexts in which they will use this book and some of the expectations it is meant to help them fulfill.

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