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[This post was originally published on September 25, 2012.]


Your average student has developed a significant collection of digital work. There are Facebook updates, Twitter posts, YouTube videos, and Flickr and Instagram photos. I’ve been thinking about how to use this collection of artifacts since Antero Garcia reminded me that there is a “huge stream of student data to look for growth in.”


[Photo: text message by sffoghorn, on Flickr]


What are positive ways to use all that data? I’m not interesting in mining that data for indications of what strategies do or do not work. Instead, I’d like students to find their growth and changes in that stream of data themselves. Happily, I’ve found inspiration for an assignment that I think will do just that. I simply need to ask students to look for the stories in their data stream.


Oddly, this idea came to me when I read a story in the Georgia Southernalumni magazine. I’m not an alumnus of Georgia Southern, so I almost threw the paper into the recycling unopened. It only ended up in my mailbox because I have donated to the Graduate Research Network (GRN). Curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to skim it in case the GRN was mentioned inside.


Instead, I found a story about Jessica Hines, a photography teacher at Georgia Southern. Hines searched through her own data stream to learn more about her brother Gary, a Vietnam War veteran who took his life. The story from the alumni magazine isn’t online, but you can read more about Hines in My Brother’s War: Professor Acclaimed for Images of War Experience.


Two things caught my imagination from the piece. First, my eye tripped on the title, “Hines teaches students to tell story of themselves through photography.” The grammarian in me either wanted to add the word the, change story to stories, or perhaps both. Still the idea of telling stories with photographs drew me in, since I’ve been searching for multimodal assignments recently.


My interest piqued, I read on and found my second inspiration. Hines talked about her teaching as an introduction to her own search to learn more about her brother:


“I explain to my students that the camera is a device that, by pressing a button, shows them what they are interested in,” explains Hines. “The potential for self-discovery is high if one pays attention.”


What would happen, I wondered, if I sent students off to look through their data stream for their stories with the intention of learning more about themselves and their interests in the process? I knew I had found a positive way to use that “huge stream of student data.”


The assignment I have in mind asks students to look back through their data stream for recurring themes or topics and to compose a text about how their ideas have changed over time. I want them to consider questions like these:


  • Has your interest in the topic or theme deepened over time?
  • Have you slowly lost interest?
  • Have you learned increasingly more over time?
  • What has influenced how you feel about the topic?
  • What have you noticed as you look back at how you’ve documented the topic or theme over time?
  • What stories have you found?
  • What discoveries have you made about yourself?


For now, I’m leaving the medium for the text open. The piece could be a traditional text, but the assignment also lends itself to video, photography, and multimedia compositions. I’ll also leave the places students search for these stories open, rather than limiting the activity to just photographs, for instance.


Finally, I am hoping that I can avoid the Creepy Treehouse effect, since students choose the stories that they tell. They will pull their stories together in an independent piece that won’t require me or the class to visit their private postings. Students will curate the collections only with data they feel comfortable sharing.


In addition to reflecting on their own stream of data, I hope this assignment will also help students learn more about finding and analyzing how images or themes develop in a body of work. The assignment reminds me of the skills that I use when I trace how a poet uses a specific motif through a series of poems or how a novelist develops an image over the course of a novel.


What do you think of asking students to explore their own data stream? Do you have ways to tap the stream of student data? Do you have an assignment to share? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment below!

As a development editor at Bedford/St. Martin’s, I recognize the importance of keeping connected to the first-year writing classroom – to new pedagogy and practice, to instructors, and to students. Our English editorial team learns a great deal from working with our distinguished authors, communicating with instructors during textbook reviews, and attending professional conferences such as CCCC, MLA, NADE, and more. But one of my favorite events is the Bedford New Scholars Advisory Board, and the 2018 program and participants do not disappoint.


First, a bit of context: The Bedford New Scholars Advisory Board is an ongoing venture begun by the Bedford/St. Martin’s English editorial team in 2008; it was formerly known as the Bedford/St. Martin's TA Advisory Board. Each year we contact program directors from ten leading graduate programs and invite them to nominate one of their outstanding graduate students to serve on an advisory board for the calendar year. By bringing together a motivated group of graduate students from across the country, we hope to hear more about the teaching challenges they face and the research in the field that excites them. They also give us feedback on the direction of our new projects. In the process, Bedford New Scholars participants have the opportunity to connect with other graduate students from across the country and to learn a bit about how publishing works.


Without further ado, I present the Bedford New Scholars advisory board for 2018:

  • Andrew Hollinger, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (nominated by Randall Monty)
  • Daniel Libertz, University of Pittsburgh (nominated by Jean Ferguson Carr)
  • Dara Liling, University of Maryland-College Park (nominated by Jessica Enoch)
  • Emily Pucker, University of Alabama (nominated by Luke Niiler)
  • Skye Roberson, University of Memphis (nominated by Katie Fredlund)
  • Cecilia Shelton, East Carolina University (nominated by Michelle Eble)
  • Matt Switliski, University of New Hampshire (nominated by Christina Ortmeier-Hooper)
  • Lizbett Tinoco, Texas A&M University-San Antonio (recently of University of Texas at El Paso) (nominated by Kate Mangelsdorf)
  • Kristin vanEyk, University of Michigan (nominated by Anne Ruggles Gere)


Though tenure in the program is a full year, the most anticipated event is when all participants – advisory board members and English editors – gather together for the annual summit. This year’s meeting took place in Boston on June 20-22, 2018, in and around the Bedford/St. Martin’s office. We spent time getting to know each other over good food, conversation, and city tours in between introducing and getting feedback on the projects we are all working on.


On the Bedford/St. Martin’s side, we shared some of our exciting first edition projects, in various stages of development, to receive feedback from this advisory board of rising composition teachers, scholars, and administrators. These projects included the soon-to-publish Becoming a College Writer: A Multimedia Text by Todd Taylor, as well as some other new book and media projects in the works.


Bedford New Scholars board members also led the group by presenting their Assignments that Work, successful or innovative activities or assignments they have used in the classroom. As always, this was one of our most lively sessions, providing excellent questions and insights into pedagogy and practice. (Never fear! We hope to make many of these assignments available to you on the English Community very soon.)


Here are my Four Key Takeaways from this summer’s Bedford New Scholars summit:

  1. Assignments in the first-year classroom grow ever more varied and multimodal; we saw assignments that produced true crime podcasts, soundtrack playlists, and other new media such as infographics, videos, and websites. But through their assignments, instructors are also finding new ways to teach the core writing concepts of individual voice, synthesis, revision, and the rhetorical importance of the sentence.
  2. Recognizing, honoring, and teaching to students’ multiple languages is a growing focus in the classroom, one that requires a rethinking of how we teach writing assignments and present instruction.
  3. As part of professional development efforts for grad students, an Ideal TA Training Kit might include more attention to the general principles of teaching as a graduate student: more go-to classroom activity and assignment ideas (especially for a variety of courses like hybrid and online), books on teaching and juggling teaching with graduate student expectations, WPA-specific training workshops and webinars, and sample syllabi.
  4. These 2018 Bedford New Scholars are incredibly smart, driven, and passionate about their work and their students. Be on the lookout for them!


We at Bedford/St. Martin’s are excited to know and connect with these advisory board participants, who represent the future of the field. Speaking for myself, I certainly look forward to seeing each of them – not to mention past advisory board members! – at conferences and on scholarly (and textbook!) covers in the future.


Coming soon!: A Community page dedicated to the Bedford New Scholars program, where you can follow these advisory board members in the coming year as they publish Bits blog posts about their teaching and research. Stay tuned!

This post is the second in a series on Memorable Reading. For the first post, see Memorable Reading, Part 1: Fiction, Poetry, and Drama.


It is August, and the minds of many of us are turning back to school and the need for creating new syllabi, retooling old ones, or learning how to teach the ones that we are required to use. As I began the process of course preparation, I thought back to the many texts in my education that stuck with me. Especially significant were texts I discovered in times of transition, between high school and college, post-college employment and my MA, the MA and the PhD. I remember the readings that kept me motivated through difficult moments, and the texts that opened my mind to new possibilities.


I wanted to know what still inspired other educators in and out of school, so I posted my question to my Facebook timeline and to several Facebook groups engaged with writing studies. The responses are listed in two separate blog posts. The first post covers fiction, poetry, and drama and the second post concentrates on philosophy, pedagogy, and non-fiction. Some responders listed more than one text across genre lines. In this case, I have grouped their responses with the first genre mentioned.


The purpose of these lists is to reflect on texts that has inspired the responders over time, rather than to fashion a new canonical mandate. For me, these inspirations, read in aggregate, are powerful reminders of how much good writing matters, and how, for many of us, good writing, carefully read, can help to shape the course of life and vocational choices.


My hope is that the lists offer memories of our own inspirations and, in doing so, allow us to make wise choices as we prepare our courses for the coming term.


Hive mind: What is one reading from your education that you still remember? That transformed you, perhaps? That sticks with you, even though it's been years? NOT something that you taught, but something that impacted you deeply as a student -- in or out of school?

WHY do you still remember it? What impression did it make on you? Why was it relevant to the rest of your life?

I'm considering compiling these readings in a blog post, so let me know if I can use your name, or if you would rather be anonymous.

Thanks in advance for all responses !


Aaron Kerley The Ethics of Ambiguity. It freed me from thinking being an individual as an intrinsically selfish pursuit.


Christina Fisanick Judith Butler's "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution" because it helped me understand how reality is social constructed AND that not only could I read thick cultural theory, but I could understand and teach it!


George Yatchisin Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” Still so pertinent.


Jeff Cook Ken Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything. He convinced me that seeing a work through multiple perspectives is better than trying to solve its riddle and find it’s ‘meaning.’  After Wilber, (which sounds like a Mister Ed biopic) I started asking those questions about all of my life. ‘What’s another way to see it?’ It got applied to dirty dishes, car crashes, and people who wear socks with sandals.


Joanna Howard I remember my grad school professor giving me a copy of an essay “I and Thou” in which Martin Buber discusses the difference between having a job and having a vocation—and while I can’t remember if it related to teaching, our discussion did, and I have thought of that conversation from time to time over the years.  The significance was that I was a grad student who wanted to be a community college instructor, a teacher, and this conversation and Buber’s piece validated my choice.


Let me add that theology classes in high school and my coursework in grad school often helped me reflect on what I was doing in my life, what did I want it to become, what did I want to do, which is why Marge Piercy’s poem, “To Be Of Use” was (and is) a poem that I keep coming back to in moments when I feel I’ve lost direction. Buber and Piercy’s works are like rudders prodding me back to a considered direction. Buber reminds me to view my students as ”Thou” and not “It,” I have been my happiest and most successful with this perspective, and have gained the most as a fellow human being from it. (No pun intended.)


Lynn Reid As an undergrad When Abortion Was a Crime was transformative in my thinking about Roe v Wade. And a book called The Tattooed Soldier might be the one I most remember reading (and later teaching). Women of Sand and Myrrh, too. In grad school, Time to Know Them by Marilyn Sternglass.


Pf Lengel I and Thou, by Martin Buber. Buber, in collaboration with the beloved late Ken Morrison, opened a pathway between my mind and my heart, a path where life and relationships live in infinite Presence. I can't always find my way to that place, but it is my enduring vision and my most cherished aspiration.


Sophia Snyder A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. I read it my freshman year of college and it was my first introduction to the power of academic feminism. I was familiar with popular feminist political writing about the present day (this was 2003, in the midst of the heyday of the feminist blogosphere!) but I had never encountered the idea that we never finish re-writing history, and that *who* writes the history books and sees value in what historical documents is vitally important.


Steve Cormany Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Try not to complicate things. Live life in an elemental way. Be conscious of your place in the universe. It allows you to live your life carefully.


Susan Naomi For me it was “The Myth of Sisyphus” by Albert Camus. As a student struggling to transition from high school to college, life often felt like rolling that rock up that mountain, only to see it tumbling away me at the peak and having to start all over again. Now, as I reread The Myth, I focus more on the moment of joy, on Camus's notion that: "One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Valorie Worthy Maslow’s Toward a Psychology of Being— self actualization and peak experiences!  

Donna Winchell

Bad Research Papers

Posted by Donna Winchell Expert Aug 13, 2018

[This post was originally published on March 9, 2012.]


It’s research paper time in high schools and colleges across the country. I know about the high schools because my younger son is writing a research paper as part of his senior project. I’m reminded once again how easy it is these days to write a bad research paper. Students at least used to have to type up the words and ideas they got from print sources. Now they can electronically cut and paste together a bad paper in no time at all. With the freedom of the Internet comes so much online junk that they don’t have to be discriminating users of search engines. Maybe they don’t really believe the first source listed on Google is the best. It may just be the easiest. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they have grown up as Googlers, but they may not have been taught how to find the good sources among all the chaff. (The first step is to teach them that Wikipedia may provide some quick information, but it is hardly an authoritative source.)


[Photo: Research Papers on Flickr]


My son’s school tries to limit the sources the students access by introducing them to DISCUS: South Carolina’s Virtual Library! I found trying to help him locate sources via DISCUS too limiting. A search based on what seemed very logical search terms would produce no sources, where a Google search of the same terms would produce thousands. It’s not easy teaching students how to locate the happy medium in between.


They need to learn that there are databases like LexisNexis Academic and Academic Online that do much of the discriminating for them. They need to learn what databases their campus library subscribes to and how to access them–and why they are better for some course projects than more general databases. For information on the very most up-to-date news, however, they need to know which of these databases are updated daily. Journals may be wonderful sources for most academic research, but the time lag before they appear in print prevents their being the timeliest. Databases that include newspapers and weekly magazines will be more useful for researching this week’s headlines. Students can use a general search engine like Google if they develop an eye for legitimate sources. Is it a reputable publication, available online? Is it recognized as being biased politically? Is it even clear whose site it is? Is it a government site? How does that affect its usefulness as a source?


We may have to educate ourselves about the types of sources our students use or should use. After all, many of us did our college research papers back in the days when the process still required going to the library.

[This post was originally published on October 30, 2012.]


As a writing program administrator, I spend precious little time actually teaching first-year students, and instead have shifted much of my professional energy to teaching teachers, faculty development, and designing and assessing curricula.  I compensate by fantasizing about courses I would like to teach, and my blog this week is about just such a fantasy course.  Inevitably, some graphic

component seeps its way into my pedagogical fantasies, and this week is no different as my current

fantasy takes its inspiration from Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s amazing pseudo-memoir A Drifting Life.




In an earlier blog, I wrote about Tatsumi’s development of gekiga, a grittier, more adult version of manga.  Collections of his work translated into English in the last several years include the remarkable Push Man and Other Stories, which bring together several of Tatsumi’s “shorts”—startling and provocative slices of post-war Tokyo life, full of economic desperation, difficult family situations, lovelorn lives, and erotic dysfunction.  Tatsumi inspired other manga artists, including the grandfather of manga, Osamu Tezuka, to explore more adult themes and content in their work and helped establish manga as a medium not just for kids, but as a venue through which more “graphic” subjects might be rendered and considered.


Originally published in Japan in 2008 and released in the US by Drawn and Quarterly in 2009, A Drifting Life is a large volume “memoir,” depicting in somewhat fictionalized form Tatsumi’s coming of age in post-war Japan and his early love of manga, which he steadily turns into an artistic career.  The book lovingly details the different kinds of manga that Tatsumi read as a youngster, as well as his initial attempts to imitate the artists he loved.  We see him struggling with mastering elements of plot (for adventure-oriented manga) and then steadily developing his own particular style and thematic concerns.  Tatsumi excels at exploring how his narrator (ostensibly based on himself) must deal with the pressures to conform to publishing demands, which often required that manga artists produce page and page of original material on a weekly basis.  Still, Tatsumi has his own vision, and negotiating that vision with fan expectations as well as the economic realities of publishing in post-war Japan is at the heart of this memoir.



Many compositionists have their students write literacy narratives.  Ultimately, A Drifting Life is a sustained, critical, and often provocative literacy narrative about becoming a manga artist.  Central to its narrative concerns are a mapping out of the narrator’s coming into awareness of the different genres of manga available in post-war Japan, but also, just as key, an awareness of the economics of literacy.  Many Japanese after the war were too poor to buy manga, so lending libraries emerged to help folks get access to the popular emerging medium.  Moreover, the desire for escape and fantasy from economic hardship fueled much of the genre’s early content.  These forces and influences are as much a part of Tatsumi’s literacy narrative as are his boyish love of well-drawn adventure stories.


As a compositionist, I also appreciate A Drifting Life for its emphasis on working with audience concerns and expectations while also honoring the particularity of authorial voice and vision.  That Tatsumi can explore some wonderful material in a manga about making manga adds to some of the thrill of the text; we see Tatsumi’s style develop literally before our eyes, in panel after panel Tatsumi shows us his inspirations and his foils, the work that inspires him and the work against which he struggles to articulate and render his own vision of what manga can be.  A Drifting Life offers a powerful meta-narrative about the arts of composing, and I can see it as a central text in a first-year or advanced composition course devoted to multi-modal writing.

This post was originally published on December 20, 2012.


One of my students in a popular cultural semiotics seminar recently wrote her term project on the reality television “Real Housewives of .  .  .” phenomenon. Not being a fan of such shows myself, it took her paper to prompt me to think seriously about the whole thing for myself. And I realized that such shows instantiate a far more profound cultural signifier than I had heretofore realized. The following analysis represents my thinking on the matter, not my student’s.


As is always the case, my semiotic analysis centers on a crucial difference. The difference in question here is not simply that between the actual realities of the lives of ordinary housewives as opposed to the reality TV versions, but also the difference between their current television representations and those of the past. That is, not only do most actual housewives lack the wealth, glamour, and business opportunities of the “Real Housewives” of Beverly Hills, New Jersey, or wherever, but their television counterparts of the past did, too. The classic TV housewife, enshrined within the history of the family sitcom, was an asexual middle-class woman who was totally focused on her children: Think June Lockhart, Jane Wyatt, and Barbara Billingsley.


That the current crowd of glammed-up, runway-model housewives of today’s “reality” shows reflects a widespread cultural return to the conservative gender-coded precept that a woman’s value lies in her erotic appeal almost goes without saying. While a few less-than-glamorous women are cast in these programs as if to head off criticisms of this kind, their existence tends to prove the rule—and even they tend to be dolled up on the program Web sites.

But this is an easy observation to make. More profoundly, however, is the fact that the reality TV housewife has become an object of desire for her largely female audience. Rather than being seen as a hapless drudge of patriarchy, the reality TV housewife is a vicarious role model, even when she doesn’t found her own business enterprise and simply stays at home. What caused this change in perception?


To answer this question, I considered the frequently reported economic fact that household incomes for the vast majority of Americans have been essentially stagnant, when adjusted for inflation, over the last four decades. Now, add to this the exponential inflation in the costs of such basic necessities as housing and transportation and you get the modern two-income family: not necessarily because both partners in a marriage want to work, but because in order to maintain a middle-class household two incomes are now more or less essential. Certainly the efforts of the women’s movement have contributed to the enormous growth of women’s participation in the workforce, but the new image of the reality TV housewife suggests that something else is at work here as well.


That is, with the housewife being presented as a fortunate woman who doesn’t have to work, it seems that American women are nostalgic for the “good old days” of a time when they didn’t have to work just to maintain a middle-class home. The fantasy now is to be a housewife, not to escape the role. That’s quite a change.


Just how much of an effect on American consciousness in general this stagnation of incomes has had is probably one of the most important social questions of our time. Can it help explain the hostile polarization of our political landscape, our dwindling sympathy for others in an increasingly libertarian environment, the growing resentment of middle-class workers (especially unionized workers) with decent jobs and benefits? I think so. And this will be a topic for future blogs of mine.

It is August, and the minds of many of us are turning back to school and the need for creating new syllabi, retooling old syllabi, or learning how to teach syllabi that we are required to use. As I begin the process of course preparation, I think back to the many texts in my education that stuck with me. Especially significant were texts I discovered in times of transition. I remember the readings that kept me motivated through difficult moments, and the texts that opened my mind to new possibilities.


I wanted to know what readings inspired other educators in and out of school, so I posted the question to my Facebook timeline and to several Facebook groups engaged with writing studies. The responses are listed in two separate blog posts. The first post covers fiction, poetry, and drama, and the second post (next week) concentrates on history, non-fiction, pedagogy, philosophy, psychology, and writing studies. Some responders listed more than one text across genre lines. In these cases, I listed their responses under the first genre mentioned.


The purpose of these lists is to reflect on texts that has inspired the responders over time, rather than to fashion a new canonical mandate. For me, these inspirations, read in aggregate, are powerful reminders of how much good writing matters, and how, for many of us, good writing, carefully read, can help to shape the course of life and vocational choices.


My hope is that the lists offer memories of our own inspirations and, in doing so, allow us to make wise choices as we prepare our courses for the coming term.


Hive mind: What is one reading from your education that you still remember? That transformed you, perhaps? That sticks with you, even though it's been years? NOT something that you taught, but something that impacted you deeply as a student -- in or out of school?

WHY do you still remember it? What impression did it make on you? Why was it relevant to the rest of your life?

I'm considering compiling these readings in a blog post, so let me know if I can use your name, or if you would rather be anonymous.

Thanks in advance for all responses ! 


Angela Rhoe Sonia Sanchez’s We A BaddDDD People, my introduction to the Black Arts Movement. This collection of poems about the power, beauty, and strength of black people blew my mind and helped me to unequivocally love myself and embrace my blackness. Life changing!!


Ann Etta Green  Not an essay, but the first book where I recognized myself in an educational setting was The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute. It set me on a path so when I found Calling Home, Janet Zandy’s collection of working

class women’s writing, Dorothy Allison, Sandra Cisneros, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker all clicked.  In terms of short stories, “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker. I attempted my first piece of feminist criticism on that story and failed. But a good failure.


For me as an undergraduate, I was deliberately seeking out female teachers and women writers because there was such a lack of them in my experience. I didn’t have a theory of why—I was just looking. And I was also looking for examples of people like me who didn’t know people in college, other first generation college students or working class writers, but I didn’t have that word yet.


Simultaneously, I was trying to “catch up” by taking canonical courses because somewhere along the way, I had the idea that I should prioritize canon, to know the canon but reject it.


Bill DeGenaro Early in undergrad: Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Was awestruck by the world-building and convention-exploding. I grew up loving horror novels so at the time the chapter narrated by a dead body blew my mind. Years later, the whole book’s audacity sticks with me, the idea that breaking rules as a writer and provoking readers smartly can unleash so so much.


Cecilia Ready When I started college women were absolutely marginalized. But though I identified with male characters, I never lost my identity as a woman. Thus Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist had a huge impact on me. Naturally I fell in love with Stephen Daedalus, but his statement, “Non servium” resonated with my already rebellious nature. Of course, my rebellion consisted of refusing to follow traditional female career paths.


James Wermers I took a class as an undergrad in modern Catholic novelists, and much of what we read in that class has stuck with me. Mauriac’s Therese Desqueyroux, Greene’s End of the Affair, and Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop in particular challenged me, consoled me, pushed me, and forever changed me. As much as anything I have ever read, they taught me the complexity of faith, failure, love, and humanity.


Keith A. Waddle This quote from George Eliot's Middlemarch: "for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

My appreciation for that quote and the overall wisdom of that novel grows the older I get.


Lisa Blankenship Undergrad: Egalia’s Daughters by Gerd Brantenberg; Toni Morrison; Shakespeare. Grad: Rhetorical Listening, Kris Ratcliffe; Anticipating China, Hall and Ames. ED is a satire switching gender roles in a (would it be?) dystopian society; opened my eyes about sexism and one of my first intros to feminism. Morrison same about black terror and trauma in the US historical and ongoing. Shakespeare: used to read it and weep alone in my dorm room, feeling maybe less alone than ever. Rhetorical Listening helped me as a white woman be quiet and listen to women of color hopefully a bit more. Anticipating China: most powerful book on comparative rhetoric and philosophy I’ve ever read.


Natasha Murdock The Yellow Wallpaper” had a pretty profound influence on me. It taught me to recognize the way I was being stifled and abused by my marriage, to be honest. It was monumental in helping me regain a sense of myself as a writer as I was going through my divorce.


Paulette Stevenson The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (in HS). I was appalled at the treatment of animals and workers. I remember thinking how much these people were getting screwed over by others for just trying to live a better life in the US. I was 14, living in a small town in the Midwest, and the novel allowed me to experience oppression like I hadn’t seen before. Oh and I also became a vegetarian after reading it. Note: I haven’t read it since, so I’m not sure if it holds up to my take.

Ted Fristrom "The Distance of the Moon." I always wanted to be a musician, but I had this weird notion at the end of high school that being a writer might be acceptable as well. After reading Cosmicomics, I thought being Italo Calvino would be more than acceptable. Perhaps that's circular answer to the relevance question. Why would I want to emulate Calvino? I don't know. Who wouldn't want to be Calvino? I had a short attention span and liked things that were a little surreal; it seemed to break up the monotony of my childhood.

Susan Miller-Cochran

Why WID?

Posted by Susan Miller-Cochran Expert Aug 6, 2018

[This post was originally published on September 21, 2015.]


Next month, the book I co-authored with Roy Stamper and Stacey Cochran, An Insider's Guide to Academic  Writing will be released. [Editor's note: The Insider's Guide to Academic Writing is now available, and the second edition is due out this Fall.] The three of us will be blogging in our new Bits blog “Teaching Writing in the Disciplines” about how to teach with a writing in the disciplines (WID) approach in foundational writing courses, which is the approach of the text. We hope this blog can be a space where we explore methods of teaching and practical classroom activities and approaches.


[Photo: Macmillan Learning]


When I first arrived at North Carolina State University nine years ago, I joined a First-Year Writing program that was launching a relatively new curriculum that focused on writing in academic disciplines. I had never taught first-year writing as writing in the disciplines (WID), and I was skeptical: how could a teacher with a background in English teach writing in other disciplines? I was no expert in writing in biology or nursing or math or psychology or any other field other than rhetoric and composition. What in the world would I teach my students?


We talk about imposter syndrome a lot in academia. I experienced a pretty severe case of it at that moment. Not only did I feel unqualified to teach the first-year writing course, but I was supposed to start directing the program the following year.


I began thinking of all of the reasons why a WID approach seemed challenging:


  • Faculty comfort level: Wouldn’t many of the writing faculty feel uncomfortable about teaching writing in other disciplines, just like I did?
  • Challenges of transfer: How would students transfer knowledge into their other classes? Would they be transferring inaccurate knowledge about genres in other disciplines?
  • Stigma as a service course: Would teaching a WID approach make first-year writing even more of a service course with no real rhetorical, disciplinary content of its own?


What I didn’t realize at that moment was that the most effective ways of teaching a WID approach in a first-year writing course do not solely emphasize mastery of various disciplinary genres. Rather, they draw on the disciplinary expertise of the writing faculty teaching the courses, focusing on rhetorical principles and understanding the context for writing. The rhetorical context in a WID-focused course just happens to be writing in different academic disciplines. Students are engaged in close, rhetorical reading of writing in different disciplinary areas.


They aren’t memorizing formulae for writing across the college or university. They’re learning to ask smart, rhetorically-focused questions about what writing conventions are followed in a specific field, how arguments are shaped, what evidence is used, what questions are asked, and what methods of inquiry are most common.


Students would leave my first-year writing class better prepared to write in contexts outside of my class because they would know what to pay attention to—even as they encountered contexts we never discussed in my class. And as the icing on the cake, if I could help them understand what they were learning in my class and how it would help them in the future, I could imagine an increased potential for student motivation.


Once I realized that I could take what I knew about writing and rhetorical context and apply it to a WID context, my list of reasons not to teach a WID approach were immediately countered by arguments for why it was a great idea:


Why not?


Why WID?

Faculty comfort level


Rich, meaningful application of rhetorical principles

Challenges of transfer


Potential for transfer when taught from a rhetorical approach

Stigma as a service course


Student buy-in and motivation


What I can claim after directing a program for eight years that used this approach is that students understood the potential for transfer of what they were learning. When they saw the curriculum, they understood that they would be learning something different from (but hopefully building on) what they learned in high school. Faculty invented a range of ways to approach teaching WID that emphasized some of their passions and interests. And best of all, our program assessment demonstrated that students were mastering the rhetorically-based student learning outcomes for our first-year writing courseA program director can’t ask for much more than that.


What are the biggest questions and concerns that you have about trying a WID approach? If you’ve tried it already, what are some of the strategies you have found to be most effective?

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Barclay Barrios

A Clockwork Christ

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Aug 1, 2018

[This post was originally published on December 5, 2013.]


I want to return to my recent critical moment during grading.  In short, I was frustrated—not because of the amount of work involved (that’s just par for the course at this point) but because students had problems with things we had gone over in class again and again.  I felt both angry and like a failure.  Then I realized I was just stuck in Clockwork Christ mode.


“Clockwork Christ” is a term I coined over my years working new Graduate Teaching Assistants (it’s also the name/subject for an article I’d like to write some day, if my administrative work load ever lightens (as if) so, “dibs!”).  The concept comes in part from my teaching experience but I am also indebted to the work of Richard E. Miller, especially in “The Arts of Complicity: Pragmatism and the Culture of Schooling” (College English1998).  I use the term to index two dominant and contradictory narratives of teaching that circulate in culture, narratives that we as teachers often tend to inhabit, enact, and embody whether cast in the role by our students or ourselves.


It’s easy to identify these narratives.  The first is teacher-as-Christ, the one who sacrifices everything so that students can experience the transformative powers of education.  Based on your age, you know this figure from To Sir with LoveThe Dead Poets SocietyDangerous MindsSister Act IIFreedom WritersStand and Deliver, or School of Rock.  Depending on your theoretical inclinations, you know it too through the work of Paulo Freire or Peter Elbow.  The narrative is simple: teacher encounters victimized and distrustful students; teacher passionately devotes self to “saving” these students (often through unorthodox pedagogies); students are transformed.


But running alongside this narrative is a second, inverse narrative of teacher-as-cog, the mindless functionary of a bureaucracy bent on grinding students into dust.  Based on your age, you know this figure from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in The Wall.”  Depending on your theoretical inclinations, you might find it in David Bartholomae or Gerald Graff.


Practically I see these narratives manifest in new teachers all the time.  The same teacher will, one week, hold extra office hours on the weekend (though few if any students will show up) and the next week wait with a slathering snarl for some student to miss one more class so they can rigidly implement our attendance policy, fail them from the class, and have one less paper to grade.


I don’t think we can escape from these dual narratives but we can become aware of them, which is what I did while grading.  More than that, we can deploy them.


I can’t believe I’m about to share this in the everlasting medium of the Web since I have always only shared it orally with the caveat I would strenuously disavow the words but, well, here goes… I offer you the “nuclear option.”  The nuclear option foregrounds the disjuncture of these two narratives to “shock” students at the moment most needed.  Before revealing it, there are some important points to keep in mind.  First, in order for it to work you must learn your students’ names on the first day of class.  If you can manage this, they will love you because they are nothing but a nameless face in every other class they are taking as first year students (Step One: Deploy Christ).  Second, you can use this option once and only once.  I wait for that point in the semester when students are just not doing the readings, not showing up with drafts, not “there” in any real sense.  At that moment, I stand before them and I move to Step Two: Deploy Clockwork.  I say something like this, “Look, if no one wants to do this work we can all just go home.  I’m happy to do all I can to help you pass this class but the truth is it doesn’t really matter to me because I get paid the same whether you pass or fail.”  The reaction is almost always the same: they feel guilty (their own Christ reaction) and therefore re-energized.


Ummm, in case anyone asks, I did not write this post.

Barclay Barrios


Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Aug 1, 2018

I never cease to be amazed by the number of my colleagues who exhibit little to no awareness of FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), which is the educational equivalent of HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Both pieces of federal legislation mandate absolute privacy when it comes to information, whether pertaining to health (HIPAA) or, more relevantly, student grades (FERPA). It wasn’t all that long ago that I could walk through the halls of our department and see boxes of graded student papers outside the doors of my colleagues’ offices (yikes!).


I understand FERPA, and I celebrate it. I also detest it. The problem is that I grade student work electronically using my word processor’s Track Changes and Comment features—good for the environment (well, good for trees anyway) and good for my sanity and health (for me, typing doesn’t produce the kind of repetitive stress that writing does). Actually, electronic grading isn’t the problem. Returning electronically graded student work is.


“FERPA-ly” speaking, e-mail is not a secure medium; someone could intercept the e-mail or a roommate could see it on the student’s computer, revealing the grade and breaking the law. So, returning graded student work by -email is technically illegal (well…let me say “non-FERPA compliant,” instead).


Blackboard and other course management systems are okay (or FERPA-compliant, if you will) since they are considered “secure” environments. But Blackboard is a royal pain in the ass and always seems to be, technologically speaking, about five years behind the curve. To return one student paper through Blackboard can take me as many as five mouse clicks. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but add in Blackboard’s slow response time and suddenly returning student work takes almost as long as grading it (not really, but that’s how it feels).


I’ve tried using Dropbox, but that involves getting each student to download and install Dropbox and then create and share folders. Besides, when I did try it I discovered it’s eerily pan-panoptic. I get a little pop-up whenever the student puts anything in the folder; they get one when I do the same. It’s like we’re always watching each other or, what’s worse, always acting as though we’re being watched.


Of course, I could print the papers but that defeats much of the purpose of electronic grading.

What to do?


Dream. In my dream, there is what I call the “FERPA-fied student locker.” The interface is simple: Dropbox simple. Each student signs up for an account in the locker with a code to add them to my class. When I sign in I see this:


To return work, I just drag and drop the graded file into the appropriate folder, where it is encrypted and stored in the student’s online locker. That’s what Web 2.0 is, folks—not just leveraging the “wisdom of crowds” through crowdsourcing but also Web applications that feel like a desktop environment. Drag and drop, drag and drop.  Let me say it one more time because I love and want it and need it—drag and drop.


That’s all I want. No discussion boards. No online peer revision. No electronic grading. No assessment tools. And no, not that other thing either. Just this.


Does the FERPA-fied student locker exist? No. Can it? Yes. “We have the technology. We can make [it] better than [it] was. Better…stronger…faster” (and I’m fairly certain it won’t cost six million dollars).

[This post originally published May 23, 2011.]


This time of year, thoughts often turn to summer book lists. The International Writing Centers Association discussion list includes a query and recommendations for summer reading. The University California at Berkeley publishes a summer reading list with archives dating back to 1985; while intended for incoming first-year students, teachers will find many titles here that invite participation in the three Rs of summer: reading, reflection, and renewal.


My own summer reading list overlaps with my summer writing, which includes the revision of  Teaching Developmental Writing: Background Readings for a fourth edition. As I revise, I want to consider more of the historical context out of which basic writing and open admission college education emerged for poor and working people in New York City and other urban locations. So my reading list includes Mina Shaughnessy’s essays and Manning Marable’s new book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.


As a child born and raised in the American Midwest who now lives in one of New York City’s five boroughs, I am intrigued by the journeys of other Midwesterners to New York. Mina Shaughnessy (1924–1978: Lead, South Dakota; Evanston, Illinois) and Malcolm X (1925–1965: Omaha, Nebraska; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Lansing, Michigan) both took this journey, although their roots were quite different. Shaughnessy studied theater at Northwestern University and acted in summer stock productions. Malcolm X dropped out of school after eighth grade, moved from Lansing to Boston, and became absorbed in reading and writing while incarcerated in a Massachusetts prison.


Because Manning Marable’s biography is a cultural history, I look forward to learning more about this earlier generation and the world into which I was born. Like my parents and many of my teachers in K–12 public schools, Mina Shaughnessy and Malcolm X grew up in the catastrophic years of the Great Depression in the 1930s, and came of age in the midst of the tumult of World War II in the 1940s.


In 1965, I was a small child living in a segregated suburban Chicago, and I do not remember Malcolm X’s was assassination in New York City. I first read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, cowritten with Alex Haley, several years after I finished my BA. My copy of the book was old, and the yellowed pages often fell out of the binding as I read. That first reading left me confused, intrigued, and hungry for more. Although it was never assigned in any of my classes in undergraduate or graduate school, I have many times since reread and taught the Autobiography.


Similarly, I did not learn about Mina Shaughnessy’s work until I began my MA program in English in the mid-1980s, not quite a decade after Shaughnessy’s death from cancer. Yet in becoming a writer and in teaching writing, I recognized the struggles and potential transformations described in Errors and Expectations, and in Shaughnessy’s essays, and I felt a strong attraction to basic writing and to urban open admissions education.

So my summer reading focuses on political, historical, and cultural contexts that helped shaped basic writing and urban open admissions programs for poor and work-class college students. With these plans, I look forward to a summer of passionate engagement with reading and writing—and perhaps a time or two at the beach.


What will you do for the three Rs of summer? What are your plans for reading, reflection, and renewal? Where do you hope your reading will take you? And what will you do once you get there?

[This post originally published on November 13, 2012.]


One of my all-time favorite assignments is to ask students to create a time capsule focusing on their writing and themselves as writers. I’m not sure if it’s because of my obsession with archives, my love for scrapbooking, or my fascination with the things that go into writing a text that draws me to the activity. Whatever it is, the assignment helps me learn more about how each student writes while at the same time encouraging students to reflect on their writing and how it changes.


To begin, I explain the basic assignment. The goal is for students to create time capsules for themselves as writers. The audience for the activity varies. I’ve asked students to create time capsules that they will open later in the term or at some point in the future. It can be interesting to do the assignment early in the term and then open the time capsules at the end of the term as part of their final project. I’ve also asked students to create time capsules at the end of a term as a way to reflect on the work that they have done during the course. With students’ permission, I’ve opened some of these time capsules at the beginning of the next course I teach as an overview.


I set up the assignment as early in the term as reasonable. If I wait too late, students may well have discarded artifacts that they would like to include. Most students will understand what a time capsule is, but to be sure, I always kick off the activity with some background. Now that Apple has a back-up solution called Time Capsule, it is crucial to make sure everyone understands what we’re talking about. Wikipedia has a Time Capsule entry, which I use as a basic explanation. I play this YouTube video of the Westinghouse Time Capsule, buried in 1939 and to be opened in the year 6939, to provide a concrete example:



I also share some news articles on time capsules, like these:


The assignment I ask students to complete is not as complex as the time capsules in the news and video nor do students wait as long to open them, but these examples are a good way to review the characteristics important to time capsules. If I have time capsules from a previous course to share, I open them at this point too.

After exploring the examples, we create a class list of characteristics. I like to make sure students understand these details about time capsules:

  • The goal is to show someone in the future what life was like when the time capsule was assembled.
  • It’s not meant to showcase buried treasure or priceless artifacts. Money and artifacts can be included, but they normally are not remarkable treasures at the time when the time capsule is assembled.
  • The items in a time capsule should be long-lasting. They need to survive a long time without decaying in some way.
  • The items also need to be things that will not damage one another and/or they need to be specially packaged so they won’t damage one another.
  • The time capsule can include items that predict what life will be like when the capsule is opened, like letters to a future self or messages to future generations.


I ask students to brainstorm a list of the items in time capsules as well, so that they have a working list of the kinds of artifacts they will gather for their own time capsules. I also review the documentation included with the Westinghouse Time Capsule, and ask students to include similar explanations and reflections with their time capsules.

Beyond these instructions, I like to leave the specifics up to the individual students. They can choose the kind of container and what goes into it. They can include digital artifacts as well as analog materials. I prefer not to dictate requirements like the number of items or the kinds of things to be included. This assignment is very personal, and I want students to reflect on themselves as writers. If I provide a checklist of what to include, the assignment won’t do what I want it to. The only specific item I require is some explanatory, reflective pieces that help identify the items and their importance.


Opening these time capsules is always informative. I learn so much about students every time I use the assignment. It’s tempting too to think about what my own time capsule might look like, as a writer and teacher. If I were in the position to do so, I’d love to ask new graduate teaching assistants to gather time capsules after orientation that they will open at the end of the academic year as part of a final reflection on their teaching.


Do you have assignments that ask students to reflect on the writing they have done in the past? What artifacts do you save from your own writing and teaching? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave me a comment below!

Nancy Sommers

Coming to Teaching

Posted by Nancy Sommers Expert Jul 25, 2018

[This was originally posted February 1, 2011.]


Recently I was asked by a group of new writing teachers to give them one single piece of advice about teaching. As I tried to compose myself—just one?—and sifted through the various mantras that seemed possible, I offered up the following: Become a teacher who sees learning through the eyes of students.


I walked into my first classroom some decades ago with equal parts of enthusiasm and terror. I was just a few years older than my students and barely a step or two ahead. To prepare for class, I had spent hours with a mimeograph machine, staining my hands purple, obsessively duplicating a stack of handouts to fill a seventy-five-minute slot, lest my students found me wanting. What strikes me now about those early years of teaching is that all my new-teacher anxieties were focused on my own performance. I never considered adjusting classroom lessons to students’ rhythms and silences, as they practiced the unfamiliar moves of academic writing.


A few years ago, I started yoga classes, seeking to learn something new but also to see learning from the back of the room, from the perspective of a student who doesn’t know how to contort her body into a downward facing dog. I wanted to understand the experiences of students who don’t yet know how to write English sentences or paragraphs or who don’t understand the common language of academic writing. And I wanted to take a page or two of teaching methods from inspiring teachers who could help me reach my own students in the back of the room.


Along the way, I discovered a passion for yoga. At first I was a baffled and frustrated student who looked sideways to copy the postures of others and was clueless when teachers uttered words, especially in Sanskrit, that everyone but me seemed to understand. But I was also fortunate to find compassionate and generous teachers who didn’t bark commands—“Do downward facing dog”—but rather anticipated what was required for students to assume such a posture and devised a progression of small moves and sequences to help us learn the pose. These teachers appreciated the difficulties of being a novice and encouraged students to be patient—to learn by experimenting, approximating, and practicing.


These days I try not to bark commands to my students—“Cite your sources” or “Write clear sentences”—but to respect the challenges they face as novice academic writers. I ask: What do students need to know to cite sources or write clear sentences? And how can a writing assignment be broken down into a series of small steps and sequences to give students sufficient practice with individual skills, one lesson at a time, with opportunities to approximate the skills as they practice them? With so much newness in the classroom, we want students—those who sit in the front as well as those in the back—to learn from one another, especially to understand that learning takes practice, yes, but that it’s also a habit of mind, that each lesson is worth learning to become good college writers.


And teaching is so much more fun without purple-stained hands or a mimeographed stack of handouts. I’ve learned to love the silences in a classroom, even to listen for them, as they guide me—patiently and compassionately—to see learning through the eyes of students.


Whether you’ve been teaching one year, thirty-one years, or longer, please join the conversation. What one brief piece of advice would you offer new writing teachers? Or what advice was offered to you as a new teacher that you want to pass forward?


Share your suggestions, thoughts, or teaching stories in the comments!

Barbara Wallraff

Thinking Ahead

Posted by Barbara Wallraff Expert Jul 25, 2018


We’re told that people who hope to have fulfilling careers now and in the coming decades must be adaptable. That’s because technologies such as the internet and artificial intelligence are changing the kinds of jobs for which college is intended to prepare students and the skills they’ll need to do a given job well.

Consider your own job: You probably use a course management system, though such things barely existed 20 years ago. No doubt you’re also familiar with Wikipedia, Twitter, digital textbooks, blogs, Prezi, plagiarism detection systems, hyperlinking, and so on. Technology keeps shaking things up, and technologists warn that the pace of change can only increase.

Rapid change is expected in part because artificial intelligence has become capable of doing many things—identifying individuals in photos, driving and parking a car, and learning from experience, for instance—that once were the exclusive province of people. AI continues to encroach on, or assist with, many increasingly highly skilled kinds of work. So students must be prepared to have all kinds of innovations thrown at them throughout their careers. They will need to view change as a constant.

And then there’s “correct English,” which changes at a glacial pace. The fundamental structures of English change hardly at all. New nouns and verbs and adjectives may be coined every day, but they’re still nouns and verbs and adjectives, doing the jobs they’ve always done. New prepositions and conjunctions, however, scarcely ever enter English—these are considered “closed” classes of words. Pronouns, too, had long been considered a closed class, though new gender-neutral forms like “ze,” “nem,” “vis,” and the singular “they” are vying with one another to join the mainstream. Even a “glacial pace” of change is speeding up, figuratively as well as literally.

Of course, it’s a good thing to be conversant with the norms of traditional prose, because these makes centuries’ worth of writing accessible. We can, for example, read and enjoy Shakespeare. But contemporary literature is ever more inclusive, celebrating ever more registers of English. A few of many possible examples would be the fiction of Jesmyn Ward and Jhumpa Lahiri, and George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize.

On the nonfiction side, traditional norms allow us to admire, for example, Charles Darwin’s insights in On the Origin of Species—even as we might wish he’d been able to write it in blog form and post videos of species as he came across them on his travels. (The first edition of Origin had just one illustration, a simple branching diagram.)

The norms of scholarly writing by now have diverged far from those for literature—journal articles, for instance, intentionally rely on the passive voice and colorless, if precise, terminology. Further, the vocabularies of scholarly and technical literature are expanding as rapidly as the fields of research: nanotechnology, mesosociology, biomedical engineering, artificial neural networks, and so on. Most of the world’s scientists and engineers and so on write in English—but often it’s not an English that people outside a small circle can understand.

Even the range of genres available to us has broadened, largely thanks to the technology of the internet. Online, multimodal compositions are coming to be the norm, with text paired with photos, videos, interactive graphics, and so on.

I doubt we can even guess how advances in technology will change our language in the near future and how we use it. Will “it’s” get folded into the spelling “its” because software has trouble distinguishing when to use each form, or will the software catch up with educated human understanding? Will the preferred pronunciations of words become the ones that Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant recognize most readily? Will grammatically correct phrases that a grammar checker underlines come to be considered incorrect?

But those are just fine points. Taking a longer and wider view, I remember a U.K. ESL specialist explaining to me almost 20 years ago that speech to text automation was coming along, automated translation software was coming along, text to speech was coming along too—and pretty soon the three processes were likely to become one sequence and we’d be able to converse with almost anyone, each of us in our preferred language. That ability is now tantalizingly close. Once simultaneous translation becomes widely available, it’s bound to shake many things up. And that’s only an example of the kinds of technologies on the horizon that have the potential to profoundly affect our lives, our work, and our use of language.

What does all this suggest for the present and future of English comp? To me, it suggests that students need to know that there’s no one correct way of writing anymore, if there ever was one. Certainly, there are better and worse ways—better and worse registers and tones—in different genres, for different audiences.

Would your students benefit from an assignment like the following? Let’s imagine a surprising archaeological find was recently made near your campus. They might write it up in three to five different genres—maybe as a tweet; as if they had taken part in or watched the dig and are telling a friend about it; as a brief local news story; as a report for an archaeology wiki or blog; and as an academic paper based on firsthand sources or the outline for such a paper.
An assignment like this may not do much to get your students ready for changes to the language and technology yet to come. But this one might help them better understand how diverse is the range of registers and media and genres already available to them—and how adaptable they will probably need to be in their writing.


Do you have questions about language or grammar, or are there topics you would like me to address? If so, please email me at or comment below!


Image Credit:  Pixabay Image 2228610 by Seanbatty, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

[This was originally posted October 2, 2015.]


When I share stories of my experience teaching in a WID-based curriculum, I’m often asked: So what exactly do you teach in a WID curriculum?


There are all kinds of ways to answer this question, of course. I could emphasize the rhetorical principles I teach, the writing process, the evaluation of source materials, or any number of other important concepts and skills. I’ve learned, though, that what people really want is to learn more about the kinds of major writing projects I assign.


Considering my course with such a question in mind, it occurs to me that I tend to organize my WID-based FYC course around two general categories of writing practice: rhetorical analysis projects and disciplinary genre projects.


Rhetorical analysis projects take a number of forms, but they all serve the purpose of providing opportunities for students to analyze and reflect on the ways academic communities, among others, construct texts.


When we explore writing in the natural sciences, for instance, one of my projects (Translating a Scientific Article for a Scholarly Audience ) asks students to translate a scientific article intended for a scholarly audience into a genre aimed at a more popular audience, like a press release or a news article for a science magazine. The act of translating information into the popular genre causes students to notice numerous conventional or distinctive features of scientific writing; it further allows students to consider the appropriateness of those features when communicating the same information for a different audience. In more traditional rhetorical analyses, students are asked to identify and describe the rhetorical features of one or more academic texts.  As part of their descriptions in my assignment, I push students to explain why they believe the writers of a text made the rhetorical decisions they did.


Rhetorical analysis assignments like these provide opportunities for students to consider “the how question”  — How is the text constructed? — but they can also cause students to consider more deeply “the why question” — Why is the text constructed as it is? Assignments that support students as they develop an understanding of how and why texts are constructed as they are, regardless of the intended audience, rely on the kinds of transferable analytical skills we want students to practice any time they encounter a new discourse community, in college and beyond.


Disciplinary genre projects are those in which students have opportunities to practice the forms of inquiry and writing that are often specific to particular academic communities. These reflect the kinds of assignments students are likely to encounter as part of the undergraduate experience.  The chart below provides a sampling of genres students might produce in a WID-based FYC course:



Some Possible Genres


Interpretation of Artistic Text


Review of Work of Art

Social Sciences

Literature Review


Social Science Theory Application



Natural Sciences

Formal Observation Report


Research Proposal


Annotated Bibliography

Applied Fields

Business Letter (Business), Legal Brief (Law), Discharge Instructions (Nursing)


Although I’ve described two kinds of writing assignments, the point really should be that these are complementary endeavors. Practicing disciplinary genres gives students needed experience in discipline-specific inquiry, and analyzing the rhetoric of a discipline helps students understand how that research is translated to a specific audience.


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