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February 13, 2006

The Standard Deviants: Sesame Street for College Students?

"The Stone Age was marked by man's clever use of crude tools; the information age, to date, has been marked by man's crude use of clever tools." ~ Source Unknown

I've been using the instructional videos from this production company, the Standard Deviants, for some time now. They also have a series on grammar and punctuation in a similar format but it's the one on writing for college that I generally try to incorporate somewhere in my writing courses near the beginning of the semester. The overall success of this series has . . .

. . . been un-unanimous to say the least. Generally speaking, it seems this particular production's attempts to appeal to popular culture were outdated even before its release in 2002. While I like to refer to this piece of work as "Sesame Street for College Freshmen," some of my students refer to the actors as the "40-Year-Old-Freshmen" since, like the musical Grease for example, the actors are obviously not the ages of traditional freshmen.

Where the acting is deplorable, the humor embarrassing and the scripting in dire need of someone from this century, the educational information in the film is rather thorough if not a bit redundant. For the student that has absolutely NO hands-on experience with college-level writing, this film might actually be useful. I can see where it might have a positive effect in, say, ENGL 100 (pre-ENGL 101) or remedial English writing classes.

The content has more to do with the western logic process, in my opinion, that it does with the English language. For that reason, ESL students may find it interesting to learn how, in this case American, college students outside their own national borders are encouraged to "think" when forming an essay. (I like to use the French essay model as a prime contrasting example).

In my opinion, this particular series works best if you can show it in short segments since you will probably lose the interest of your class in about 15 minutes. On the other hand, to do so might take the entire semester. The overlap of the information provided by your style guides and textbooks will soon make the film redundant.

While you probably won't find this Cliff's, Barron's, Spark Notes or Writing for Dummies styled production in your university library, but it is readily available from both Amazon.com and the Netflix service. My advice: borrow this DVD from Netflix first to see if it might be applicable for your needs.

The information for the film is: Learn Writing Basics. DVD. Standard Deviants, 2002. Cerebellum Corps.

If you've had the opportunity to screen this presentation, please consider the following questions:

1. What is the one thing that I can take from the content of this film and actually use? What’s helpful?

2. What has been “run in to the ground,” with regards to what you've learned, as far as “writing education” goes? Is there anything in this film so obvious that it’s inclusion just seems unnecessary?

3. What’s missing from this film? You’ve thought about what WAS in the film, but what WASN’T? Is there anything about writing (like advice) that you still need to know to get a good essay score (or, to be a better writer)?

Please enter your comments about the screening below:



*Read more English-Blog Film Reviews HERE!

Posted by lhobbs at February 13, 2006 12:02 AM

Readers' Comments:

Professor Hobbs,

I thought the video was a little over the top, but I must admit it did help learn the material better. I learned a lot about editing and revising my paper. I liked how they used the example with the kid who was trying to write a paper and they went through all the steps he would use. There is a lot I took away from it. They used revision techniques like peer evaluation and the told you what to look for and how it should be corrected.
The video did have a lot of annoying little sounds and corny things that weren’t that funny at all. There were times where I may have smiled a little bit, but over all it wasn’t that humorous. I think the information was good, but they didn’t need it to be that outrageous if they were aiming for a college audience.
It could have used some more examples than just that one. It could have also talked more about the format of the essays. The example could have been in a more serious context as well. Over all I thought that the video was worth seeing and that it helped me more than it hindered. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone just because of the idiocy of it, but it served its purpose.

Sam H.

Posted by: Sam H. at February 13, 2006 10:51 PM

The Standard Deviants: Sesame Street for College Student. We watch this movie which helped explain to us how get started on a paper and all the steps that you should use to help you compose your paper properly. If you follow these steps it will help you in th long run by giving you a better grade on your paper. What I found helpful is how they laid out all the steps. The steps were clearly marked and they were clearly explained. The way they set the video up was a interesting way to grab students attention. This movie wasn't just a person standing in front of the camera lecturing us how to write a paper properly with all the correct steps. This video was set up in a way that would keep the students attention even though it was a little kiddish it was still able to keep the attention of the college student more then if it was a lectured video. What I found helpful in this video is how in dept they went into each step they showed you step by step how to do it. They also, showed you the wrong way and then showed you how to correct the mistakes if it happens to you. They gave you situation that each and everyone of us has faced once in our life time. They didn't just throw out information that was not important all the information that they gave out would help you in the long run with composing your paper properly. What I found not helpful in this video was very little yes it was kiddish and yes it wasn't a normal video students our age are use to watching. The only thing that I did not find helpful is all the times they kept going back and reviewing what we learned. They did that too many times throughout the video it would have been fine if they just did it once at the end of the video but every sections they would stop and go back and review what they just said. The repletion was the only thing that I did not like much about this video. What I found missing in this video is structure. Yes, I did say that I learned a lot from this video but not everyone learns the same way and the kid like appearance and lay out of this video won't help every student out. This movie seemed laid back a little to laid back. Some people may miss the point this producer was trying to make in a movie that was that kiddish. Some college students may not be able to grasp the concepts that way since we have been taught through lecture so long the laid back way may not have made its point as vivid as it should. They might have made this movie a little more structured not saying to cut everything out of it. You can keep it the way it is but when you make your point all I am saying is try to make the point more concrete and not so much just throwing it out in a carefree manner. This is my opinion of this movie.

Posted by: Jennifer G at February 14, 2006 01:33 PM

Professor Hobbs

This part of the film was helpful to me, especially since we are getting ready to write an examples essay. When the student in the film had his friend revise the paper he wrote, I got a better understanding on how to make a paper better. It showed me how much detail should be in a paragraph. The way that the editing was visually shown was effective.

Some of the film was redundant though. I don’t think outlines needed to be explained in such detail. I think I learned how to make an outline in the fourth grade. Also just about everything was repeated a few times. Though the film was a little childish and repetitive, I did learn a thing or two.

C. Robinson

Posted by: Cathy at February 14, 2006 09:16 PM

Professor Hobbs

To me this film was an overview was an overview of the other information we have been learning. The other films we have viewed and the reading we have done in the text were all explored throughout this film. Much of what I have learned throughout this film was basically revisiting the writing process; beginning the paper, drafting the paper and then revising the paper.

It is hard to say if the film missed anything. The steps provided in this film were detailed and describes the writing process in a different way. The only way this film missed something is if it used a different writing process then the one that I have been taught.

One of the things I learned during the film was a different approach to the editing process. Instead of allowing a peer to review the paper without much aim, providing a list of questions for the editor to look for throughout the paper. Making a list of questions for peer editing will guide the editor to where you feel the problem areas occur.

Samantha V.

Posted by: Samantha V. at February 14, 2006 10:20 PM

Professor Hobbs,
During Tuesday’s movie, there were some topics that were very helpful, yet there were also things that were unnecessary. I found the information on considered writing and the opening suggestions exceptionally useful. I often have a difficult time writing my introduction paragraph and the movie gave me some helpful ideas. I believe the movie could have given less information about outlining. I’ve been learning the outlining process since junior high, and it is not too hard. I also do not feel strongly about the childish gestures and comments. It seems the actors were trying to capture the audience’s attention, but unfortunately they were just turning me off. Overall, the movie covered a large variety of important writing topics. I cannot recall anything that may have been left out.
Angela H.

Posted by: angela h. at February 15, 2006 12:07 AM

Professor Hobbs

I gained a lot from watching this video. The main point that I took from the video was to create an outline. I found that outlines are very helpful in the writing process. Outlines are like the beginning point or the "border" of the essay. They are useful because they allow the writer to explore in addition to organizing.

Although outlines are very helpful to me, I felt that they were repetitive. I guess the video was trying to stress the fact that outlines are important. The whole video focused on outlining. I think that it could have included some other strategies of writing too.

The creators of the video should have incorporated revision more. They only spent about two minutes on peer revisions and its benefits. I think that revision is the most important step in writing. Without revision an essay would not be good and full of errors. Revision is also important because it allows you to catch things that you may have missed.

Kashiff M.

Posted by: Kashiff M. at February 15, 2006 12:20 PM

What was helpful from the video was the part when they talk about the audience of your paper. One thing that wasn't helpful was all of the stupid jokes and some of the animation. If they wanted to get the audience attention by being silly, they went about it the wrong way. The movie should of been on a more seriously level and not try to make it seem like it gears towards grade school students. What's missing from the film is a good writer, animator and director.

Posted by: David R. at February 15, 2006 01:42 PM

Professor Hobbs
The film about developing good writing has lots of information that will prove to be helpful to me. One thing that I can take from the content of the film are the suggestions about developing your opening papragraph. They talked about having a strong opening becuase that is what will capture your reader. Some suggestions they gave were to use an ancedote, ask a question, use a quote or even give a definition. these are all helpful suggestions because just as in life where first impressions determine alot, in writing, opening paragraphs are everything.
Although the film gives great advice about how to form your essay, there are somethings that have been beaten over the head for as long as I can remember and by this stage should be familiar. Creating an outline is something that I believe everyone has learned and has had practice with since middle or maybe even elementary school. The video spent time explaing the various types but I think we all have it down packed by now!
For the most part, the film has answered alot of my questions and has also helped me with problems that I've had with writing for years. Hopefully, my new skills will emulate throughout my future papers.

Posted by: Adrianne E at February 15, 2006 04:51 PM

Professor Hobbs,

From watching the film in class, I know several facts I will be able to use and that will be helpful in the future. In the film, they went into great detail to show what a broad statement looked like. They also showed how to change it and make the statement directed to a point.
Unfortunately, in the film there were several points concerning thesis statements that have been heard over the years. What a thesis statement is and how to make it a good one is very overdrawn. As much as the information is good, it does get a little old hearing about it over and over again.
After the film was over I felt that there should have been more examples on how to create good transition sentences.

Kelly J

Posted by: Kelly J at February 15, 2006 11:41 PM

While watching the film on the basics of essay writing, I found many things to be beneficial. I think that any writer can always improve his or her writing, no matter what their current skill level. A few examples of things that were particularly helpful were the ideas of having someone else proofread your paper for you to catch the mistakes you may have missed, freewriting, and outlining. In the past, I have used the technique of having others proofread my work, but not every time I wrote something. After watching the movie, I see that it can really improve your writing to use a resource like the school writing center. Two things that I did not often practice before watching this film were freewriting and outlining. I had learned about them in the past, but not put them into practice. After viewing the movie and seeing the ways that they can help essay writing, I think that I am going to try to use them more often. I think that this film, while at times childish, was an effective teaching tool.

On the contrary, I believe that there were a few writing techniques that could have been removed from the movie. For example, I feel that the obvious was overstated at some points. I felt that some parts of the film, especially those which addressed having a logical organization, were very much common sense. For the most part, however, I feel that everything in the film was useful.

I feel that most everything that should be in a film about college writing was included in this movie. There could have possibly been more about how to get out of a mental rut and how to avoid writer’s block. I know that is something that I deal with often and I would like more tips on how to avoid it. Overall, I feel that the film was very helpful and contained pretty much everything I expected it to.

Posted by: Kelsey L. at February 16, 2006 12:06 AM

The one thing that I could take from the film would be how to overcome writer’s block. They gave good examples about free writing and clustering. These techniques will seem to help me when writing my next essay or large paper. They are good ways on how not to get stuck when writing and by me testing them out I will have an easier time piecing together parts of my paper. Also by doing this I will be able to make my essay flow much better.

The thing that I thought was more repeated was about proofreading. People taking this course already know how to proofread. I thought that it was unnecessary to keep bringing it up. Plus proofreading is an obvious step that you have to take when writing a paper.

The one thing that I would have liked to known more about writing papers in this video was how do you know that you are complete with proofreading. How do you know exactly when your paper is going to be as good as it gets? They didn’t explain that very well or even at all in the video.

Posted by: Liz L. at February 16, 2006 07:27 PM

Professor Hobbs,

Although the film could be called the "Sesame Street for College Students," it does have a lot of useful information. It stresses the importance of pre-writing, whether it is in the form of free writing, outlining, clustering, or many other forms of pre-writing. It also suggests different ways to find help if a person is having trouble while writing. I do not think that anything was missing from the film. It told you how to plan out what you are going to write before starting, where to find help, and also the basics of proofreading and editing. Even though most of the theatrics we not needed, the film served its purpose well.

Ali L.

Posted by: Ali L. at February 16, 2006 11:39 PM

Professor Hobbs,

This video really helped me with the different strategies that I can use to get topics and build on them. The video went into detail with every strategy. It also helped show the several different ways to open a paper. There are more ways than I thought to open a paper with. I thought the whole film was helpful in all aspects of writing a paper.

The only thing that was missing was the conclusion part. I really cannot remember if that was a part of if that part is in the videos to come.

Thoryn S.

Posted by: Thoryn S. at February 19, 2006 08:15 PM


In my opinion, this film seemed to be very child-like and repetitive. The last thing a college student wants is to be talked down to by a film and made to feel like he or she is inadequate and so are their writing skills. However, there are many topics that were mentioned that are in fact useful when writing a paper. First one must get over the feeling of having writer's block. It is something easily occurs to everyone and it can't be helped at times. A good way to get over writer's block is to just jot down various ideas and attempt to build on them. This can be called free-writing. This video also stressed the significance of writing an outline prior to starting to write a paper. Writing outlines have not always helped me in past experiences, mostly because assignments such as these took up a lot of time and usually got me nowhere. However I can definitely see why they can be very useful, especially if they include topic sentences for each paragraph. The Topic sentence in a paragraph acts in a way as the thesis for the paragraph and dictates where exactly the it is heading. This stops the writer from straying too far from the topic of the paper and helps the paper have more direction instead of just being a clutter of ideas. All in all, even though this video was lacking in its presentation, it made up for it in the information provided.

-Emily S.

Posted by: Emily S. at April 20, 2006 10:12 PM

Professor Hobbs:

I felt that The Standard Deviants: Sesame Street for College Students film was helpful, because it did have a lot of information that would be useful to college students who did not grasp the concept of writing papers or etc in high school. The video was very easy to follow, however, the whole presentation of it was child-like, completely the opposite of what a college student is. In the video, it showed the process of writing a paper and how a student should outline, cluster, write rough drafts, research and so forth. I feel like the video emphasized on making outlines and/or clustering the paper. For some people, this would be useful to them, however, others, I believe, find it useless instead. Personally, I think that making outlines and clustering for a paper helps a lot. But the fact that it takes up what I feel is unnecessary time, I end up not doing it, which is what most college students do. The whole process of writing a paper shown in the video was really helpful though. If someone had writer's block, and watched this video, it may help guide them on what to do next. The video should, however, be made so that it's more mature to suit the audience.

Linda Mai

Posted by: Linda M. at April 23, 2006 11:08 PM

Dear Prof. Hobbs,

I found this instructional film to be elementary in its presentation. The animations while entertaining, weren't necessary for the message of the film. We are in college now, so naturally I want to veer away from things that pertain to my childhood. I want to prepare for adulthood. That doesn't mean that I lose my sense of humor but I just know the proper place and time for things.

The film wasn't a total loss for me however. I did find the material very beneficial to writing. There were techniques that the film taught that I found to be conducive to my writing experience. For instance, the film introduced clustering to me and helpful tips in how to write a 1st draft. Also the film described what a linear outline was. It was quite beneficial to my writing skills.

Posted by: Holden B. Jones at May 6, 2006 02:48 PM

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