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Jack Solomon

Star Wars Forever

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Apr 30, 2015

In my last blog post I wrote about Mad Men, a pop cultural sensation that is now winding down.  This time I want to reflect a bit on the Star Wars franchise, a pop culture phenomenon for which the word “sensation” is wholly inadequate, and which, far from winding down, is instead winding up in preparation for the release of its seventh installment (The Force Awakens), with at least two more “episodes” in the works.




The cultural significance of the Star Wars films cannot be overestimated.  I say this not as a fan (in fact, I more or less share the opinion of Alex Guinness, who, interestingly enough, was no fan of the films that made him very rich for playing the original Obi-Wan Kenobi) but as a cultural semiotician.  Because in the extraordinary success of 1977’s inaugural installment of the Star Wars saga we may find a precise marker of America’s turn to fantasy as its favorite cinematic form and all that that would portend.


Of course before Lucas, there was Tolkien and Roddenberry, whose Lord of the Rings and Star Trek paved the way for the transformation of fantasy from a children’s genre to a preferred form of entertainment for adults as well. But Star Wars went much further.  A survey of top box office hits over the years will show that prior to 1977 fantasy filmmaking wasn’t even in the running.   After 1977, between a host of sword-and-sorcery, tossed-in-space, superhero, and general sci-fi scenarios, the situation was reversed, such that the top ten films in any year since 2000 have been overwhelmingly in the fantasy sector (I’m using the term “fantasy” in the broadest sense).


So dominant is fantasy today that it is all too easy to take the matter for granted; but it is that crucial difference that a little research can reveal which points to the significance of the current paradigm.  The question becomes, what does that difference signify?


Given the historical identification of fantasy with children’s storytelling, we can abductively suggest that the turn to fantasy is, at least in part, a signifier of a fully developed youth culture, one in which youth—rather than age, as in most traditional societies—is the most valued life stage.  Beyond that, there are indications that the appeal of fantasy is especially strong in a drab postindustrial era wherein the realities of everyday life are so unsatisfying that the fantastic landscapes of Pandora, or even the dystopian labyrinths of the Matrix, are desirable distractions from the era of the Cubicle.  And one can’t help but think of Neil Postman’s famous jeremiad Amusing Ourselves to Death in this context either—that is, in an entertainment culture, rational discourse doesn’t really have a chance.


These may be fighting words (Postman’s particularly) for some of your students, but rather than presenting the significance of the fantasy era as a given to them, you would do well to explore what they think its significance might be.  (The 8th edition of Signs of Life in the USA provides a lot of material for this.)  The first step is to point out the phenomenon to them, because it is one of those things that are hiding in plain sight even as they loom over us.  After all, Buck Rogers was once kid’s stuff; thanks toStar Wars, fantasy is the dominant discourse of our time.

In this series we’ve looked at a few ways to make the craft of peer revision more “crafty.”  All of these exercises tend to be a big hit in my classes and I usually end up with stronger papers to grade because of this work.


But why?  Why do students do this work so enthusiastically and so well?  I have some theories:


  • Fun Factor.  Most of the students in the writing classes I teach are there because they have to be—the class is required.  Most of them also have a troubled relationship to writing, thinking they’re not very good at it for example.  Introducing craft-based activities introduces an element of fun into something many students find to be very hard work.
  • Nostalgia.  Teetering on the edge of adult responsibilities, students are reminded of a simpler time with these activities, a time filled with nap time and recess instead of exams and papers.
  • Switched Registers.  All of these exercises switch into a new register, allowing students a new perspective on writing, one in which they might see completely different things in their work.
  • Learning Modes.  Similarly, these activities touch on visual and kinesthetic learning in ways that can engage students who tend to learn in those modes.


I suspect there are other factors at play here and I will love to hear your thoughts.  Do you have any “crafty” exercises?  Why do you think they tend to work so well?

Gardner_Apr28_198.jpgThis line graph from a student’s final exam shows the progression of forum posts that the student submitted during the term. His goal was to demonstrate his steady progress toward the required number of posts through the entire course.


Just a glance at the graph tells me that the student fulfilled that part of the participation assignment for the course. Naturally, I still spot check the forums, and I keep an eye on students’ forum posts during the term. I ask students, however, to do the work of examining their forum participation and assessing how well they have done by writing a completion report for their final exam. Here’s how I frame the assignment:

You will review your work in the course and write a completion report that outlines what you have learned and done during the term. In particular, you will review your posts on the Forums and point out some of your best work. In addition to grading your report, I’ll use the information you present to help determine your participation grade for the course. In the workplace, you could think of this report as a self-evaluation for a performance review.


The activity is similar to the idea of writing a cover letter to highlight the contents of a portfolio or asking students to highlight their best journal entries for assessment. Since I am teaching professional writing students, though, I frame the activity as similar to workplace documents they will ultimately write.

I love these finals because students share their best work, often demonstrating their achievement with post excerpts and screenshots, in addition to graphs like the one above. Further, students frequently comment on ways that their writing has changed during the term, mentioning that if they had not gone back to examine their posts, they would never have noticed.


I feel certain that writers know their work far better than I do, and at the end of the term, they are easily able to pick out their best work. Even better for me, the assignment puts the onus on the student. I don’t have to search their posts for the golden gems. They unearth them for me and then tell me why those gems are valuable. I save time, and students gain a better understanding of their learning—this is one assignment that is a definite winner for me!


Do you have any tips for encouraging students to reflect on their work at the end of the term? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

This blog was originally posted on April 27th, 2015.


Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn. She continues her series on Radical Revision – and includes assignments and examples of student projects that you don’t want to miss!


In my last post, Radically Revising the Composition Classroom, I challenged others to hack their traditional, tried and true assignments.  I decided to enact this advice in one of my own classes this semester and gave the same challenge to my students, asking them to Radically Revise a collaborative class project through a multimodal lens.



  • To ask students to recast their rhetorical situation through revising for new purposes, audiences, and contexts.
  • To engage students in qualitative research practices and writing.
  • To demonstrate the relationship between collaborative and individual perspectives.
  • To give students practice and agency in multimodal composition.


Background reading before class
Ask students to plan for the assignment by reading relevant content from your handbook or rhetoric:


The Original Assignment
Students in my Writing in Collaborative Spaces class radically revised a mini-ethnography and cultural critique on a public, collaborative space.  In the original Cultural Observation assignment, as teams, students observed and applied ethnographic methods and communication theory to better understand interaction, communication, and structure of their team’s chosen public space.  The student groups in my class chose three cultural spaces: an independent coffee shop, the Mall, and a Super-Department Store.  Students originally prepared a collaborative presentation and team report document that described their findings, observations, analysis and synthesis for an academic audience.  They were asked to apply the theories of the course, design an observation rubric and look for evidence such as group structure, roles, organization, verbal and non-verbal behavior, background factors, physical environment and communication patterns to support their claims.  They conducted field research, collected images, and worked together to create a presentation and team report in their online space through Google Drive.   Setting up their teams in the Google Drive space allowed them to understand virtual collaboration and organize their projects through recorded minutes, field-note synthesis, online meetings, and collaborative revision of their deliverable products.


This project is interesting in and of itself.  It gets students looking deeply at the ways communication behavior shapes our culture and introduces them to the ways that varied collaborative models, language, and experiences are integrated throughout society and in their everyday lives.  It teaches them to read the cultural space as a text, and to research and support their claims through particular examples – all through the lens of qualitative research.  This is a tried and true, successful project that I have run for years.


The New Assignment: Switching It Up and Taking It Multimodal
Once students completed the originalCultural Observation Project as a team, I asked them to re-see this project individually and reframe it as a multimodal cultural critique for a general audience (to embed in their blog).   The Multimodal Guidelines asked them to recast the project in a different form, use multimodal components, and change the perspective and the audience – radically shifting the text in several rhetorical ways.


I encourage them to play, experiment, and get creative with the piece and incorporate humor, cultural critique, music, movement, collage, images, text, and outside sources (with citation, of course).  Using sources was one of the requirements and they all had access to the original primary research, data, and images from the team project to remix in this version.   It was also important that they communicate a perspective that captured their individual view of the space and the project in ways that were different from the collaborative perspective of the team.  This means that they might emphasize something different, look at a related issue, or generalize to universal experiences – all part of the kinds of rhetorical choices writers make as they compose.




Peer Responding and Multimodal Response Criteria

Like any assignment in my writing classes, I usually have students work together in collaborative peer response workshops for final revisions.  Multimodal compositions are no exception.  It is as we shape the criteria and get students to discuss these composing strategies and rhetorical choices that they can come to realize the ways these “acts of composition” transcend purposes, audiences, genres, and contexts.   I have linked to a copy of my Multimodal Peer Response Workshop criteria.


Student’s Multimodal Radical Revisions
Below you will find just a few of many great examples that students produced through their radical revisions to this assignment.  Although it was hard (I wanted to include them all!), I tried to choose multimodal hacks that represent a variety of approaches and perspectives for the three different cultural spaces they observed.


Students took on the challenge and created projects such as

Although all based on similar data and research, each one of the students’ projects is different from the last.  The assignment demonstrates how we construct meaning both collaboratively and individually.  It asks students to critically read, research, and compose in multiple perspectives and through multiple lenses, allowing for deeper critical thinking and rhetorical awareness.


Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various“acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things.  She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity.  You can reach Kim at or visit her website:


Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

When Susan Miera—who did her MA degree at the Bread Loaf School of English and is a leader in the Bread Loaf Teacher Network—invited me to join her and colleagues and students in Santa Fe, I jumped at the chance.  I’ve known “Ms. Miera,” as she is lovingly known by legions of high schoolers, for many years, and I’ve worked with a number of Native American students she has mentored—and sent to Stanford.  She’s a whirlwind of energy, and I know that I will always learn something new from her.  This visit was no exception.


With support from Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS), the Bread Loaf School of English, and Write to Change, Susan, who directs the writing center at SFIS, and her colleague Alicia Fritz put together a day-long workshop on Writing and Teaching Writing in the Digital Age.  The workshop brought together middle and high school students and teachers from SFIS as well as from Pecos (public) and Monte del Sol (charter) high schools, so bright and early on Friday morning about 30 of us gathered on the gorgeous SFIS campus to begin our day.

This eight-and-a-half foot bronze statue, by artist Estella Loretto, welcomed us to SFIS


Colleagues at SFIS describe it as a “grant” school, meaning that they receive some federal funds.  But they are also supported by the nineteen pueblos of New Mexico, along with other local and state sources.  What I sensed immediately was a strong sense of ownership among the students and faculty at SFIS, captured in what they said about their relationship to the school as well as in many posters and art works throughout the school that stressed commitment and pride:

After introductions and greetings, I talked about the necessity of collaboration for learning and for writing, enumerating four challenges I think we need to address:  the individualistic premises on which most institutions of education rest; the fact that our classrooms are now public spaces; alternatives to the “lecture mode” still common in many schools; and the need to retain the best of the “old literacy” while embracing the best parts of the “new literacies.”  Then we divided into groups, making sure to have students and teachers from all three schools in each group, and we got to work designing activities and assignments and policies we thought could address these issues.


The day went by in a flash, as groups presented their ideas and plans:  everything from designing a Think-a-Tron machine that would allow people working in groups to immediately access each other’s thoughts (!), to presenting PARCC (State test) WARS, in which the students designed a movie trailer to parody the test, to designing a unit on Romeo and Juliet that is thoroughly interactive, participatory, and performative—and a whole lot more.  Watchword for the day came from Steven Johnson, who in his “Where Good Ideas Come From” talk says “chance favors the connectedmind.”  Once again, I had the privilege of spending a day with insightful, thoughtful, witty, and wise young people.  And once again I came away convinced that today’s youth are prepared to use literacy—together—to reimagine classrooms, schools, and themselves.

Susan, Alicia, and me

So far in this series, we’ve looked at coloring (essentially that’s what they’re doing with highlighters), cutting, and taping.  In this part we’re going to move into drawing.


“Drawing the Argument” is one of my favorite class activities when discussing a new reading.  Working in groups, students draw the argument of the essay, locating quotations that support their visual interpretation. It’s a great way to open up discussion about the meaning of a reading since it forces students to condense the argument into a form that can be drawn.


I sometimes use this same exercise for peer revision.  In some ways it’s more challenging for the peers since there’s less “stuff” to draw but as part of a class with a couple of peer revision exercises it offers authors a completely new view of their writing.


It also occurs to me that in early stages of drafting it might be interesting to invert this exercise, asking students to draw the argument they want to make in a paper and then share that drawing with peers (or maybe a photo collage they prepared before class).  Peers would then write out the argument they see.  Student authors might get new insights on their own thinking, not only by making the drawing in the first place but also through any suggestions, deviations, or variations offered by their peers.

I suspect we all use peer review in some form or other. If we can help students become effective peer reviewers, then we give them a skill that helps them improve their writing without a teacherly intervention. Peer review makes writing public, so students see what others are doing and learn indirectly. We also help students become valuable workplace writers, because they know how to interact with others to improve writing within an organization.


My typical pattern in my introcomp class is to have students arrive to class with a completed draft, ready for peer review. We work from stated criteria on a given assignment, so students get in the habit of asking whether a document fulfills requirements and meets the purposes of the assignment. Comments, of course, range widely and do not stick strictly to the criteria on the rubric, but that is OK. We will often work in pairs.


I have a morning class this term, and I generally set a deadline for 11:30 pm that evening to turn in revisions. What I like about the system—and what students like, too—is that peer review makes a difference, immediately. Students might get some really helpful feedback and want to act upon it. Students might decide after seeing a couple of papers from others that they need to make some major changes. Or they might realize they fulfilled part of the assignment, but forgot to attend to some criterion. Or they might realize they have pretty good work in hand and just need do some final editing before submitting. Because the assignment is due the same day, students get immediate help, and the peer comments are fresh when they revise later that day. I get better work, and I get more work out of the students.


There are different ways to do peer review, and using available technology opens up more opportunity to play with the structure in a way that benefits students most. In my class, everyone brings a laptop (and we have a few Surface tablets for those without), and sometimes I have students pull up their texts in Word, turn on Track Changes, and then we play musical chairs. Students work at the author’s laptop, inserting comments and suggesting changes. They learn to use some very useful editing tools, and each student can quickly review two or three papers, so everyone gets feedback from more than one reader. Students like this approach because they feel freer in this setting, where they are not face-to-face with the author, to offer criticism, to suggest meaningful revisions, and to ask real questions about the text and its effectiveness.


But I also like to mix up my approach to peer review. My students sit at tables where they have a large shared screen. Anyone can connect by cable or wirelessly, and students can put their work up in front of other students. So sometimes we will put up a paper, especially an early draft, in front of the whole team (4-6 students per team). They can talk as a group about the writer’s approach, the strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps review two papers in class with the group agreeing to offer individual peer reviews to others outside of class. I let the teams manage the logistics.


My team tables are permanent through the course term, so students really get to know one another and establish good working patterns. But sometimes we work across teams. I’ll have everyone post their work to Sakai, our class management system, in the Forum (or Discussion) area, as an attachment. Students can then download the attachment, comment on the text either in the text itself or in the dialog box in Sakai, and review anyone’s text. I ask everyone to give at least two reviews and get at least two. Some do more. Many, I suspect, read quite a few of their classmates’ texts, learning to see what is strong or weak, what is novel or predictable, in the work of others. A collateral benefit of this approach is that students learn to be careful when downloading, renaming, and saving files so they can work on them. They use those handy Word tools to track changes and comments, and then upload their annotated files to the Forum. Students get to see what other reviewers do, and we can have a follow-up discussion about whose review comments were most helpful and why. A very natural modeling process for peer reviews leads to stronger future reviews.

I spent the weekend in wonderful Savannah, Georgia, at the Student Success in Writing Conference. The wonderful event led me to conversations with teachers from high schools, two-year colleges, and four-year colleges.


I got to meet Bits guest bloggers Kim Haimes-Korn and Jeanne Bohannon, who presented on “Transcending Tech-Tools: Engaging Students through Critical Digital Pedagogies.” Jeanne shared a video animation project that focused on “A Day in the Life” stories that developed students’ critical thinking skills by requiring them to consider another point of view, and Kim talked about an assignment that asks students to use digital timeline tools to publish literacy narratives. I’m hopeful that they will share more details in a future post.


Sarah Domet and Margaret Sullivan discussed “Practical Approaches to Multimodal Composition.” Their themed blog assignment transforms their first-year writing course into a semester-long writing and research project that students publish on blogs or websites. I loved their historicization web essay, which asked students to trace the development of their topic from past to current events. Their student examples showed students deeply engaged with their research. Students read and engage with one another’s blogs, culminating in bloggy awards at the end of the semester for categories like best overall blog and best home page. I’m not quite sure how to fit the activities into my own classes right now, but I’m certainly working on it.


I regret that I missed Natalie James’s presentation on “Teaching Tumblr: Blogging towards Critical Discourse,” but I had a nice conversation with her between sessions. Her presentation focused on the ways that “Tumblr can give students tools for practicing critical discourse in a relevant and engaging online environment.” I cannot wait to find her materials in the conference’s Digital Commons archive.


My own presentation focused on “Ten Ways to Use Digital Tools in the Writing Classroom.” I shared a collection of assignments and activities that I have used in the writing classroom to engage students. Some of the ideas I have already talked about in Bits posts, like my Pinterest Assignments and my Digital Identity Mapping Activity, but you will find some new ideas and student examples in the presentation resources as well.


Overall, I had a grand time in Savannah. The conference is a perfect size, allowing you to connect with colleagues and meet new collaborators, and because of the focus on practical writing strategies, I left every session with a list of ideas for my own classes. I recommend that you check out the Call for Proposals for the 2016 Conference, and submit your proposal beginning June 15. You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll have a grand time too.

Today’s guest blogger is Monica Miller, a Marion L Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow in the school of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech, specializing in digital pedagogies and multimodal composition. She received her Ph.D. from Louisiana State University in 2014, where she studied American literature, with concentrations in Southern Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies. Her work focuses on the intersections of region and gender. Her current book project, Don’t Be Ugly: The Ugly Plot in the Work of Southern Women Writers, examines the ways in which ugliness marks fictional characters who are excluded from traditional gender roles of marriage and motherhood.

“My friend said that his 1101 class was the best, because they watch videos all day—but he doesn’t get to play with Play-doh like we do!” –Overheard in my first year, multimodal, “maker culture”-themed composition classroom.


The students in my class were to some extent open to the idea of playing in the classroom, as the course theme of “Maker Culture” was one which encouraged play, seeing it as a key to innovation. “Play” is actually one of the guiding principles of Mark Hatch’s Maker Movement Manifesto, as important to his philosophy as other guiding principles such as “Share,” “Learn,” and “Tool Up.” Hatch encourages makers to “Be playful with what you are making, and you will be surprised, excited, and proud of what you discover” (2). Although there is much less awareness of maker culture in FYC pedagogy than there is in STEM classrooms, I have found that maker culture’s emphasis on digital tools, play, and collaborative learning make it an ideal approach to the multimodal composition classroom.


Let me clarify, however, that this kind of “play day” is not the same as the “safe space” featured in a recent New York Times article which has been subject to much debate. While students in such safe spaces play with Play-doh, crayons, and bubbles in order to find emotional security, in my classroom, these craft supplies served very specific pedagogical purposes.



  • To learn and reflect upon collaboration.
  • To introduce the concept of affordances.


Background reading before class
Ask students to plan for the presentation by reading relevant content from your handbook or rhetoric:


The Activity
In small groups, construct “creatures” from Play-doh and other “play” materials.


The students worked hard on their presentations, and many of them had been terrified by the public speaking. To reward their efforts, the class period following their presentations, we had a “play day.” I gave students Play-doh, construction paper, yarn, glue sticks, and scissors, with the vague instruction to “make a creature.” The only parameters I set were these: each group was to collaborate on one creature; the creature had to be finished by the end of class; and they couldn’t mix the Play-doh colors, because other students would be using them.


When asked why we were playing with Play-doh in class, I said that I did have some pedagogical motivations for the day, which I would reveal on Thursday, but I asked that they trust that there was a pedagogical foundation to the exercise and try to immerse themselves in the play. As the photographs throughout this post show, it was generally a fun day—something about the smells and textures from childhood coupled with relief from having a big project behind them allowed most of them to really let go and enjoy themselves. (Also, engineers have some skills with craft materials!)



Reflecting on the Activity
The class period after our play day, I began by focusing on the collaborative learning aspect of the exercise. My students were used to frequent collaboration in their assignments, whether brainstorming, peer review workshops on drafts, or more formal group projects. That day, I started class with a writing assignment, in which I asked students to reflect upon the following:

  • The nature of their group dynamics while making the creature, comparing the experience to their group presentation project as well as the other group work they’ve done, both in English 1101 as well as other situations.
  • How the nature of the project affected how they worked as a group.
  • How their group dynamics had changed over the course of the larger project.


We then looked at the photographs I took of the different creatures. Each group explained their process, what media they used for the different parts, and how their vision changed over the course of the construction. As we looked at the pictures, I asked students to think about what different purposes were served by different media. Yarn works well for hair as well as for being crocheted or knitted into clothes; Play-doh is good for larger body parts; construction paper can be used not only for details, such as eyes, but also for construction–several groups used it to make tabs to attach tails to bodies, for example.


Moving Forward
These observations allowed me to introduce the concept of “affordances” to the class. By first talking about the affordances of Play-doh in creature creation, I could then transition to a lesson in digital tools: a discussion of the affordances of different media—whether photos, video, or written text—in website design, which was their final project in the class.


I was quite pleased with the results of our play day. Maker culture is on to something—play encourages not only innovation, but also an atmosphere of openness which helps bring about the kind of community I strive for in my classroom. Playing in the classroom not only gives students a chance to catch their breath but fosters an environment of trust and (dare I say?) fun which I believe ultimately produces happier, more engaged students.

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Mondays assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

This blog was originally posted on March 30th, 2015.


Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn.


It is clear that Multimodal Composition is “alive and well” in the field and in our writing classrooms.  I just got back from a great teacher experience at our annual, national Conference on College Composition and Communication — 4Cs — in Tampa, where digital writing is central to the conversation. In his Chair’s address, “Funk, Flight, and Freedom,” Adam Banks spoke about the ways that the field of composition engages in the “funk.”  By that, he means that we are willing to “sweat and that we will look at all that pains us and still dance.” He extends to talk about the ways flight and freedom have always also been part of our discipline as we continually redefine ourselves in relation to the changing world in which we live.  He defines flight “as embracing and investing in exploration” and positions composition as a “hub for intellectual and critical dialogue” that gives us the “freedom to fly.” In his talk, he challenged us to move beyond the school essay and disciplinary boundaries and “promote other intellectual genres” as we “expand our vision to other forms.” He calls for boldly bringing technology and digital writing into our literacy practices – the kind of boldness that “climbs up from the soles of your feet.”



Adam Banks’s Chairs’ Address at CCCC 2015


This keynote address drove the crowd to their feet, ready to embrace their “funk” and set the tone for the rest of the conference.  Adam’s motivating words and ideas wove themselves into many connections and conversations. I also had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with Andrea Lunsford about her work in the field and the ways that we are embracing multiple visions of composition as we re-identify our writing programs and rethink our writing classes.  She speaks from a long career of shifts and changes and says it is “safe to say that multimodal writing is alive and well and prospering in writing programs across the country.” Our own Department of Digital Writing and Media Arts represents this kind of reframing as we teach courses that are both interdisciplinary and intra-disciplinary, and that transcend traditional writing programs to prepare students for professions in integrated, interactive content creation that bring together texts and visuals, writing and design, and emerging technologies. As Andrea notes in an earlier post, there is a “whole lot of shakin’ going on.”


Perhaps, this was most evident once again at the Bedford/St. Martin’s Celebration of Multimodal Composition Showcase, where teachers from programs all around the country displayed and discussed practical, multimodal classroom strategies and assignments. For three non-stop hours we got the opportunity to talk to many teachers from different kinds of institutions at different places in this process of incorporating digital writing practices into their curriculum and classes. Jeanne Bohannan and I got to show off work we have shared on the Mulitmodal Mondays blog over the past year. Jeanne presented her ideas on DIY blogs, wikis and twitter assignments and I got to share some of my assignments such as literacy timelines, mapping, and lifehacks.  Laurie Goodling showed how Microblogging and social networking for a cause can promote participatory learning and student activism. Niki Turnipseed shared a dynamic series of multimodal blog assignments such as a Genre Analysis and community ethnography, and Molly Scanlon’s shared assignments included a researched feature article on students’ chosen majors. Kristen Arola shared her student’s informational campaign, and Casey Miles’ Remix presentation encouraged students to analyze and compose in new ways through transforming ideas in new forms or modes. These examples represent just a few of the many interesting ways the showcase teachers engage students through multimodal composition.  It was great to meet people who followed our blogs, show off our amazing student work and support and encourage teachers wanting to learn more about multimodal composition.  The quality and complexity of the range of assignments showed the ways students, when given the opportunity, take ownership and critically and creatively engage with their own language and ideas to participate in the kinds of public conversations that multimodal composition affords. It is truly an exciting time to be a writing teacher and embrace our FUNK.


Check out Jeanne Bohannon’s storify archive of the event.

Featuring my students’ work at the Bedford/St. Martin’s Multimodal Showcase


Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things.  She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity.  You can reach Kim at or visit her


Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

Traci Gardner

Digital Identity Mapping

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert Apr 17, 2015

This blog was originally posted on February 10th, 2015.


I began the multimodal composing course I’m teaching this term with an exploration of digital identity, working from an assignment shared as a Multimodal Mondays post. I asked students to compose a “Statement of Your Online Identity,” combining a digital image with a brief linguistic text.


To help them get started, I asked students to think about the personas they developed online. Informally in class, we talked about the ways that they presented themselves online (for instance, on Facebook with friends, on LinkedIn with potential colleagues and employers, and on gaming sites with other gamers).


While I felt students had the general idea, I wanted to give them a more structured way to gather thoughts about their identity. I found the perfect tool in a Digital Identity Mapping grid, from Fred Cavazza (blog in French):



In the grid, students noted the different places they inhabit online, and then worked from the grid to find the aspects of their identity to focus on in their projects. To simplify their notetaking, I created a Digital Identity Mapping form in Google Drive. (Make your own copy by opening the link, then go to File → Make a Copy in Google Drive). I encouraged students to type the names of the various sites rather than tracking down the icons, as in Cavazza’s image. The icons make a pretty and colorful display, but I wanted students’ energy focused on their project, not on gathering icons.


The Digital Identity Mapping form was a great supplement to the project. Rather than going with the first idea that came to mind, students had to think deeply about the different places and identities that they had developed online. As a result, students had more evidence to use as they developed their identity statements. They quickly went from having little to say to choosing among a variety of options.


I’m definitely using that grid again to get students started on their projects. Could you use it in your course? Want to share some feedback on my project or share another tool I can use? Please leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.


[Photo: Digital Identity Mapping by fredcavazza, on Flickr]

So Mad Men is in its final victory lap, and I really have to hand it to Matthew Weiner.  I mean, imagine trying to pitch a television concept about a group of more-or-less middle-aged characters struggling to make it in the advertising business to a bunch of age-averse entertainment industry executives.  And set it in the 1960s—which means that the lead characters will all belong to my parents’ generation.  And don’t even try to frame it as a comedy.


Wow, that took a lot of imagination, not to mention perseverance.


But beyond the kudos, which we will be hearing a lot of as the series winds down, and the possible speculation as to whether Jon Hamm (Don Draper) will go the way of such hopelessly typecast television stars as Lorne Greene (Ben Cartwright), Richard Thomas (John-Boy), and Henry Winkler (the Fonz), there lies the story-telling genre in which Mad Men firmly belongs: that of literary realism—which would not be remarkable except for the fact that realism, in this era of superhero blockbusters and fantasy favorites (from Harry Potter to Katniss Everdeen and a mess of Starks and Lannisters), has not exactly been on the upswing in our popular culture.  And therein lies a semiotic tale.


Oh, you might point to the enormous success of such shows as The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and, more currently, House of Cards, while the entire category of Reality Television (RTV) would seem to indicate that realism has been all the rage for quite some time.  But, as literary theorist György Lukács put it, realism depicts the lives of typical human beings in typical circumstances, and there is nothing typical about being a mob leader, a meth king, and the President of the United States; RTV manages to take the typical and turn it into game show, soap opera, or farce.  And though a case could be made that the continuing tradition of the family sitcom belongs to the category of realism, the need to tell the story in the form of contrived situations, punctuated with one-liners and laugh tracks, substantially undermines any reality that might be found there.


Not that Mad Men doesn’t have its own rather soapy moments, but that is a result of a challenge that literary realism has faced from its beginnings, as authors have struggled with the problem of depicting the typical lives of ordinary people while somehow making it all entertaining enough for readers to want to read.  And even An American Family, that early pioneer of reality TV, lapsed into soap opera after a valiant attempt to capture life as it is really (that is, typically) lived.


So, I’ll refrain from nit picking and concentrate on what Mad Men accomplished.  By focusing on Americans at work in what is probably America’s second most iconic industry (the entertainment industry comes first, I suppose, but advertising is what America runs on), Matthew Weiner and his writers held the sort of mirror up to reality that can make us think about who we really are.  And by setting his series in the 1960s, Weiner took the additional step of causing his viewers to think about a critical threshold in American history that saw the transformation of the country in ways that we are still coping with today.


That is the fundamental value of realism: rather than distracting us from reality (as fantasy, in its myriad of forms, does), realism makes us think about ourselves.  That can make realism uncomfortable, but it also makes it a more mature venue for entertainment than fantasy can ever be.  That Matthew Weiner managed to hold onto his audience for eight years (albeit on cable, with Nielsen numbers that are only a small fraction of the top network programs, not to mention its AMC colleague, the fantasy series Walking Dead) is therefore quite an accomplishment.


And while I do rather wish that fans of the show would focus more on what it can tell us about how we got to where we are today as a country than on its clothing fashions and steamy affairs, that, I suppose, is part of the price that realistic entertainment has to pay in order to get anyone to pay any attention at all.

Andrea A. Lunsford

O Canada!

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Apr 16, 2015

This month found me returning to Canada, land of dreams for me ever since I taught at the University of British Columbia for ten years (1977-1987).  This time I was in Calgary, at Mount Royal University, where I gave a talk as part of their Distinguished Lecture Series and then participated in a colloquium on writing and teaching writing that brought together scholars and teachers from other Alberta Universities.  Calgary still has a frontier feel to me and I loved being in “big sky” country once again.


Professor Sarah Banting of Mt. Royal’s English Department and Writing Program, convened the colloquium, which began with tea (in real teacups!) and pastries.  And it really was a colloquium, one that left plenty of time for talk and interaction, and that featured panels that were more like conversations than lectures.  (You should check out her blog, Issues in Teaching Writing: A Mount Royal University Conversation.)


One major standout:  five students and one faculty member responding to questions from a moderator.  The students were thoughtful, insightful, and witty, reflecting on their experiences with writing, writing classes, and writing instructors—and on their sense of the role writing may play in their future lives.  One student, a biology major, was particularly eloquent in describing what she had learned about herself through writing and about how she expected to use writing for the rest of her life.  Other speakers described innovative courses and assignments and explored new uses of technology in the classroom.  Heather and Roger Graves (both of the University of Alberta, where Roger is Director of WAC) talked about the development of a fascinating project, The Game of Writing, which allows students to monitor their own writing processes, making progress step by step, and also to receive multiple forms of response to their writing.


An extra bonus was seeing Nick Sousanis, now on a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Calgary.  Sousanis is a comics artist who visited Stanford’s Graphic Narrative Project a couple of years ago when he was writing his dissertation at Columbia University, in comic book form (!).  The book based on his dissertation—Unflattening—is just out from Harvard University.  A shape-shifting, deeply engaging meditation on the relationship between words and images and on visual thinking, it’s a book you should check out soon!


As always, I came away from this colloquium energized and happy to be part of the writing studies community in North America.  After 45 years in the field, it’s good to feel that if I were starting all over again, I’d choose the same path!

This blog was originally posted on April 16th, 2015.


In my last post, I suggested ways to use highlighters in peer revision.  In this one, we’re moving into dangerous territory—dangerous because scissors are involved (no running!).


Bring a few pairs of scissors to class and some tape.  Ask students to cut up a copy of their paper into individual paragraphs and then to shuffle them.  (You can also ask them to do this part before class, bringing in the cut up paragraphs in an envelope.) Peers are given the individual slips of writing and then asked to put them in the right order, taping them back together.


The primary goal of this exercise is to help students with organization.  I usually frame it with a discussion about organization and transitions.  Most often, students get taped together papers with one or more paragraphs out of place.  These are probably paragraphs that need a better transition but this exercise will also reveal a paper that just makes a series of points without suggesting any logical order to those points.  This is to say that the exercise will reveal both local and global problems with organization.


There is a secondary effect of this technique, too.  Students, receiving long strips of taped together writing, are offered a new perspective on what they’ve accomplished by seeing how much writing they have done when receiving one long taped together strip of paper.  They tend to be really impressed with what they have been able to accomplish, as well they should be.

Gardner_Apr14_196.jpgStudents in the writing and digital media course that I teach have started work on their final project, the “remix a story” project that I have mentioned in previous posts. For this project, students choose a story (fiction or nonfiction) and retell that story using digital composing tools. The goal is to get beyond primarily linguistic stories to create stories that engage multiple modes of communication fully.


Many students will include social media as part of their remix. I have had projects that included things such as Twitter updates from Little Red Riding Hood and Facebook updates from characters in The Little Mermaid. As creative and fun as these projects are, they bring challenges:


  • Facebook does not allow fictional sites, so students risk having their project removed if Facebook finds it.
  • Creating logins for multiple characters can be at best tedious and at worst impossible for sites that allow only one account per email address.
  • Project assets made with the real social media sites sometimes include extraneous information Students may need to know how to edit screenshots to remove timestamps, for instance.
  • Students shouldn’t have to use their personal accounts for such projects. Their private social media stream should be private, not filled with updates from Little Red Riding Hood and the Big, Bad Wolf.


To address these challenges, I point students to these online tools that allow them to fake social media updates.

There are additional tools at and BigHugeLabs that could work, depending upon the story and remix goals a student has.


I do talk about ethical use of the tools when I share the list in class. It’s not that I don’t trust my students, but many of the sites talk about pranking people with your fake creations. That isn’t our goal, and I want to avoid any mixed messages.


I’m always on the lookout for tools to add the list. If you have a suggestion, please leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

This blog was originally posted on March 16th, 2015.


Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law Bohannon.


As I write this week’s post, I am wrapping up an illuminating weekend at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and its library’s conference Digitorium, where I engaged with colleagues who use critical pedagogy to “do the work” of digital humanities (DH).  There were so many different kinds of re/mixing and re/envisioning happening, that I felt, for the first time, the true interdisciplinarity of DH.  My colleagues were leading students in geocaching and visualizing distance reading data from biblical texts (see Bo Adam’s Presentation). So much of what I saw made me think about how our students really do produce texts for various publics, more and more frequently in digital spaces.  And it also made me think hard about the “doing of DH” and how we, as instructors, don’t have to be IT professionals to find a comfortable praxis in this “doing” and “re/mixing.”


As I’ve written in an earlier post, this semester has been a reflective opportunity for me, in terms of re/mixing writing for multimodal assignments and applying multimodal composition as DIYs across genres and contexts. This week, I offer a re/mix of analytical micro-studies, re/envisioned for a podcasting genre and public dissemination on YouTube.


This public text construction comes at the end of an upper division writing course, after students have drafted two micro-studies, demonstrating their understanding of specific language conventions and associated usages in digital spaces. Throughout the course, students practice applying grammar and syntactic structures in unconventional ways across digital platforms in social and public media.  YouTube is, of course, one of the most popular of these spaces.


YouTube was part of our daily lives in this class, from serving as digital teacher, Ian McCarthy on Social Media, to digital tipster, Writing Better Blog Posts.  As we watched to learn, students began to comment about adding their own voices to these video conversations about grammar(s) and creating content in digital spaces.  So, we crowd-sourced an idea: student-produced vlog-casts.


A re/mixed analytical study, re/imagined from a traditional, academic essay to a multimodal, public vlog-cast.


Goals and Measurable Learning Objectives

  • Apply multimodal composition strategies to video productions
  • Create vlogs as rhetorical, content-delivery devices
  • Synthesize meaning through critical production of digital texts on-screen


Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in democratic, digital writing assignments.  Ask students to plan by reading relevant content from your handbook:

  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Chapter 2, “Rhetorical Situations”; Section 6a, “Collaborating in College”; Chapter 7, “Reading Critically”
  • The Everyday Writer: Chapters 5-11, “The Writing Process;” Chapter 20, “Writing to the World”
  • Writing in Action: Chapter 4, “A Writer’s Choices”; Chapter 9, “Reading Critically”
  • EasyWriter: Sections 1c-1g, “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 3a, “Reading Critically”


Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation

My students and I run this writing assignment late in the semester, as a re/mix of a previous one.  Prior to starting the process, the class reads, responds to, and discusses multimodalities of texts and content management across digital discourses. We read Bohannon’s Multimodalities for Students and Popular Media Writing Tips.  We also peer review each other’s original micro-studies and offer ideas for relevant topics.


In Class and/or Out

During the semester, we watch YouTube instructional videos.  For this class, we collaboratively searched YouTube for videos that taught us brief histories of English, helped us figure out usage (courtesy of Grammar Girl),and advised us on how to write for popular media.  Searching together as a group was a most rewarding experience; I highly recommend it!


After each viewing, we then analyze key rhetorical components through the Five Elements for Visual Analysis, noting what works and what doesn’t for different audiences and purposes.  We provide feedback in both large and small groups to re/vise our writing for Vlog-casting Guidelines.


We then produce our “Grammar Vlogs,” using tools such as iMovie, QuickTime, Movie Maker, and Garage Band. The average time spent is about four, one-hour class periods, with production happening outside of class.


Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity
When my students reflected on this writing opportunity, here’s what they said:

Based on my experience with this assignment I would do it all over it again. It was fairly simple because I was able to find information about putting together the technological parts of it online, as well as, through my professor and other students’ advice. One issue I came across was making sure the audio matched the timer but after playing with the slides for a while, I was able to make it work. I was inspired to continue practicing my skills and decided to start a YouTube channel of my own this summer. – Brittany Rosario, Digital Pragmatics


When deciding what topic to do for my vlog-cast, I thought it would be really cool to do one about language, using multimodalities. It felt 100% authentic to be discussing the linguistic phenomena of up-talk and vocal fry, and I thought that it was just organic and real. That’s why I decided to go with a vlog-cast instead of a traditional essay style of writing.  I thought it definitely helped me with a better understanding of my topic. – Becca Tuck, Watch Becca’s Vlog-Cast


“I enjoyed this assignment because my topic gave me an opportunity to reflect upon the characteristics of my fellow students. It was less formal than the traditional essay, [and] making the vlog helped me understand my topic in more ways than just seeing my thoughts written out.” – McKenna Hight, The Institutional Dialects of Students at SPSU


My Reflection

I think this assignment would work well across topics and courses, because it doesn’t teach content, but rhetorical behaviors.  It draws out rhetorical performances as well, which engenders creativity and scholarly research processes that are relevant throughout the Humanities. Instructors could re/mix their own topics and search for YouTube videos that are specific to their students’ interests and needs.  I would love for folks outside of our field to try it, so please share this post with others!

Also, please leave me feedback here or at


Guest blogger Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) department at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth though authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies, critical pedagogies, and New Media theory; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at: and


Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

This blog was originally posted on April 13th, 2015.


As the end of the term draws near for many of us, we may wish to provide a writing process review for students. We could rehash textbook pages or websites that offer basic information about writing processes, as well as written products and genres of academic writing. But spring has sprung for many of us, and summer looms and attention drifts. How can we offer students opportunities to remember what they have learned about writing—and putting their learning into practice?


A kinesthetic approach to review can help. In kinesthetic learning, students turn away from laptop and tablet screens and use whole-body movement to rehearse significant concepts. For review purposes, the activity I present in class is called “What do we already know about writing and how can we apply our knowledge to our current writing project?”


  • Step 1: On the board, create four separate columns: Introduction, Body, Conclusion, Other
  • Step 2: Students use sticky notes to write as many concepts as they remember about the writing process and about the appearance of the final product.
  • Step 3: Students stick their sticky notes to a blank space on the wall and observe what everyone else has written.
  • Step 4: Students divide into groups based on each of the four columns: Introduction, Body, Conclusion, Other.
  • Step 5: Each separate group moves the appropriate sticky notes from the wall to the column on the board designated for their column.
  • Step 6: Each group of students explains to the rest of the class which sticky notes they chose for their column and why they were chosen.
  • Step 7: Students and instructor discuss the choices made, and also clear up contradictions, discrepancies, and overlaps between the processes and products listed on the sticky notes.


Results almost certainly vary between classes, and each group of students can add its own flourishes. One class member, for instance, shared heart-shaped sticky notes left over from Valentines Day. Paired with a variety of dry-eraser marker colors, the final display was detailed and bright, with hearts popping to emphasize significant points. This display brought up design questions that intersect with online multimedia writing.


writing kinesthetic group activity.png


In another class, students debated about the order of the writing process: should writers always write an introduction first? Or is it possible to write an introduction near the end of the process, even though the introduction needs to be placed at the beginning of the essay? The students decided that it depended on the genre of the writing project. Essay tests might require a more linear process, while a 1500-word researched essay might be more open-ended—or not. Students offered differing versions of how and why they grappled with their individual processes and products of writing.


As the instructor, I enjoyed the experience of watching students demonstrate what they already know about writing and how they could apply it to their current writing project. But perhaps most significantly, it was even more thrilling to bear witness to students’ intellectual engagements and commitments to writing. Through participating in kinesthetic activity and discussing the results, students developed a stronger sense of what they knew as individual writers, and also of what they could create through collective participation. This exercise proved useful as a writing review—and also as an activity for moving forward together.

This blog was originally posted on April 10th, 2015.


Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act reminds us once again of the role that definition can play in argumentation. The case has been made that the recent Indiana law is no different from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. One crucial difference, however, is a matter of definition. The federal RFRA states, “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” The wording of the state law is identical except that the term “governmental entity” replaces “government.” That is not the crucial difference, however.


What is crucial is that where the federal law does not define the word “person,” the Indiana law explicitly gives it a much broader definition than most people would expect. A person is not just an individual, but “an organization, a religious society, a church, a body of communicants . . . . a partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm, a society, a joint-stock company . . . .”  By stipulating that broad—and unexpected—definition of a person, Indiana has changed the whole interpretation of the law—or opened it up to a much broader range of interpretation. It would be useful for our students to consider how that stipulated definition changes the law.


The Indiana controversy is reminiscent of the controversy that revolved around Chick-Fil-A not too long ago. In that case, not an individual, but a company, was making decisions based on religion. That company drew criticism and boycotts because it donated to organizations opposed to same-sex marriage. It neither refused to hire or to serve gay or lesbian individuals. A question for students to consider is how the Indiana law would apply to that situation.


The key term “exercise of religion,” of course, is open to interpretation, and it is the discriminatory forms that the exercise of religion can take in this day of broader acceptance of same-sex marriage that have led to most of the outcry against the law. The owners of a bakery refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because they view homosexuality as a sin. Not a life-threatening exercise of religion, but how far should exercise of religion go in a world where members of ISIS use religion as justification for their atrocities?

2710245262_2ccb0a3a14_mThis blog was originally posted on August 2nd, 2011.


700 messages! My blood pressure shot up, and all I did was look at that image on the right. Usually, I can keep my Inbox well below that threshold, but during the semester when students are emailing me, it can certainly feel like I’m trapped in the world’s fullest Inbox.


The size of my Inbox can be even more daunting when the students writing me aren’t using the best strategies when they write their messages. Nod if any of the following sounds familiar:


  • Your Inbox is full of messages with vague subject lines like “Writing Assignment” or “My Paper.”
  • You have no idea who is, so it’s impossible to reply with the homework for the next session.
  • You have messages that send you to Urban Dictionary just to figure out what the writer is talking about.


You probably encounter those scenarios every semester. The problem is how to deal with them. I’ve never had the luxury of teaching a class that was actually focused on e-mail. The goal of the course is always something else, from first-year comp to visual rhetoric or from professional communication to American literature. There’s little time to spare for long discussions of effective e-mail practices. Still, to survive the influx of messages, you have to spend some time talking how to write about effective email messages.My solution is to keep a collection of resources handy, my own English Teacher’s E-mail Survival Kit. Below are links to resources and news articles that address the challenges of e-mail in the classroom. Just send the relevant link to a student when an issue arises. Ask them to read the piece and apply it to their work, just as you would point them to a grammar rule. Discuss the issues at more length if the situation requires.



These links should take care of most of the content problems that arise in the classroom. I’m not yet the super-emailing teacher described in the recent Atlantic article, “Composition 1.01: How Email Can Change the Way Professors Teach”; but I’m sure the only way to aspire to that level of interaction with students is to have clear guidelines and tips ready to share.


What strategies work well for you? If you share a resources or suggest a tip, leave me a comment below.


[Photo: spam_meets_inbox by mobology, on Flickr]

This blog was originally posted on April 6th, 2015.


Today’s guest blogger is Eric Detweiler, a PhD candidate specializing in rhetoric at The University of Texas at Austin, as well as an assistant director in UT’s Digital Writing and Research Lab. His interests lie at the intersections of rhetorical theory and writing pedagogy, and his dissertation puts those two in conversation with the rhetorical ethics of French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. He also produces a podcast called Rhetoricity and is a student and practitioner of odd puns. More details about his work are available at

From 2011-12, I helped plan and implement Battle Lines, an alternate reality game (ARG) designed to teach multimodal literacies in an undergraduate rhetoric and writing course at The University of Texas at Austin. In most cases, ARGs require players to work collaboratively in order to solve clues and puzzles, shifting back and forth between digital and physical environments as they do so—in our case, students moved from hidden wikis to campus landmarks, from scrambled video files to the Texas Capitol. For example, using a computer program to discover a muted track in an audio file led students to a poster in an on-campus music venue. That poster, which promoted a fictitious Janis Joplin concert, included QR codes that took students to the sinister-looking website of a secret society called the Friends of Texas. And so on and so forth.


The design, implementation, and results of that game are described and demonstrated in an article that theBattle Lines team—a group of graduate students working in The University of Texas at Austin’s Digital Writing and Research Lab (DWRL)—composed for Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. That piece,“Crossing Battle Lines: Teaching Multimodal Literacies through Alternate Reality Games,” is also available in the Parlor Press anthology The Best of the Independent Rhetoric & Composition Journals 2013.


Since the article itself provides explanations and examples of the game’s various challenges, I won’t rehash them here. Instead, I want to suggest something a bit more ambitious: having students design their own ARG level. Let me clarify that I’m not suggesting students design and implement an entire ARG. From idea to article, Battle Lines took over three years and hundreds of hours of work (the article alone had nine coauthors). But designing an individual clue, perhaps within the framework of a preexisting game, provides students with opportunities to think about procedural rhetoric, audience, the relationship between physical and virtual environments, and a variety of other rhetorical variables.

Sample student work from Battle Lines


While such an assignment might be especially relevant for courses focused on games and/as rhetoric (cf. Dr. Justin Hodgson’s Rhetoric, Play, & Games or Battle Lines project leader Chris Ortiz y Prentice’s Rhetoric of Video Games), it could also be a relevant part of first-year writing courses that incorporate multimodal assignments (cf. this lesson plan that the DWRL’s Lily Zhu developed for an introductory rhetoric and writing course).


To provide students a situated, collaborative opportunity to explore the rhetorical possibilities and constraints of multimodal composition.


Advance Preparation
This assignment particularly depends in a thoughtful consideration of audience (and predicting audience challenges and habits). Ask students to plan by reading relevant content from your handbook:


Have students familiarize themselves with an extant ARG: in addition to Battle Lines, the ARG that preceded the release of the film The Dark Knightas well as the one that occurred between the second and third seasons of the TV show Lost could provide useful and particularly robust templates. Guide students’ attention to procedural questions about the game:

  • What technological or other resources does this game require or presume on the part of players?
  • How or to what extent does the game lead players from one step to the next? How much room does it leave for error, confusion, or misinterpretation—whether intentionally or unintentionally?
  • In what ways does the game require collaboration, and/or to what extent could players proceed individually?
  • How does the game try to keep players invested and invested? In other words, how does it try (successfully or un-) to persuade and affect its players?


The following could unfold either over the course of a class period or as an assignment between course meetings.

  1. Divide students into groups of 3 or 4 (given the collaborative ethos of ARGs, as well as the challenges of designing them, a multitude of voices can be both appropriate and useful).
  2. Assign or have students pick a particular point in one of the ARGs with which they’ve familiarized themselves.
  3. After reminding students of the questions listed above, give them the remaining class time to design a clue for insertion at that point in the game. This could be a side quest that departs from the game’s primary trajectory, or it could be an extra step added between two of the game’s extant challenges. Students don’t necessarily have to execute their clue (given the complexity and temporality of ARGs, this could be a time-consuming if not impossible task)—just explain it. This could be as simple as a step-by-step written description, or include storyboarding and other multimedia and/or digital components.
  4. At the start of the next class meeting, have each group offer a five-minute presentation on their clue. (If time doesn’t allow, they could also read each other’s outside of class or present their clues on the same day they design them.) You might prompt them to address the questions from the Advance Preparation section above.


After all groups have presented, give students time in their small groups to revisit their clue. How does it differ from the other groups’? What particular strengths or weaknesses are they noticing now that some time has passed? (Again, this could take place inside or outside of the classroom, written or orally.) What limitations or affordances—technological, temporal, etc.—influenced their process and product?


If this is as far as you want students to go with the ARG assignment, have them explore connections between their ARG clue and the other modes and media in which they’ll be composing. For instance, in what ways might the degrees of freedom or constraint that their clue allowed players inform the relative flexibility they’re willing to grant the audiences of other texts they compose—even the level of explication or ambiguity they might allow in an essay or research paper?


In a games-oriented course, the assignment could be taken further: students could actually make their clues playable, or—if you’re willing to make it a major collaborative project—students could design and/or implement an ARG for their classmates, the student body, or other communities of which they’re a part. There are a host of pedagogical and ethical considerations that come with such an assignment—accessibility issues, the extent to which players and non-players might misread game elements as real dangers—which, depending on specific course goals and the scope of the assignment, could be worth addressing in advance.


For more on the pedagogical, academic, and rhetorical possibilities at play in ARGs, see the work of Jane McGonigal or Frostburg State University’s Jill Morris, this blog post by Henry Jenkins and Jeff Watson, or Ian Bogost’s book Persuasive Games.


Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

Jack Solomon

What... So What Then?

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Apr 10, 2015

This blog was originally posted on April 2nd, 2015.


In my last blog I discussed the importance in critical thinking of precisely establishing what, exactly, one is thinking critically about.  As I continue to ponder the essence of critical thinking—both as co-author of Signs of Life in the U.S.A. and in my current role as assessment director for my university—I am experimenting with ways of conveying, to both professors and students alike, what, exactly, critical thinking itself is.


My task is not made easier by the fact that a lot of what passes for critical thinking is really critical reading—as when a critical “thinking” assignment is to unpack the argument in an assigned reading.  Critical reading, of course, is an essential skill for college students, who must master it both for their collegiate careers and for their lives beyond, and it does bear a close relation to critical thinking, but it is not the same thing.  Critical reading, one might say, is the equivalent to establishing the whatness of someone else’s text; critical thinking goes beyond that—often to the expression of one’s own argument, but before getting to that argument (which is a rhetorical act) one has to do some critical thinking.


I put it this way: critical thinking is a movement from what  to  . . .   so what then?  It enlarges upon the recognition of something (an argument, a phenomenon, a problem) and reflectively seeks a further significance, or, in the case of a problem, a solution.


Let me take a simple example from the business world (I choose a business example because that is the world towards which most of our students are destined, and because business surveys consistently complain that new employees can’t think critically).  So, imagine that you are in the soft drink business, with an emphasis on selling sweetened sodas, but your sales are falling.  The reduction in sales, in this case, is your what, which is also a problem demanding a solution.  To solve the problem you need to do some critical thinking, and the first thing is to find the cause for your drop in sales.  This can involve testing hypotheses—for example, “Is it because our product doesn’t taste good anymore?”  Some research is likely to show that sweetened soda sales are down across the board, so taste probably isn’t the cause of the problem.


So, a second critical question would be “Is there something wrong with sweetened sodas?”  Here, you can situate sweetened sodas into a larger system involving public health, wherein sweetened sodas are receiving a lot of blame for America’s obesity problems.  You might jump at this point to a solution: “OK, we’ll crank out some new diet soda products”—which is exactly the sort of thing that has happened a number of times in the history of soft drinks.


Except this time, further critical research will show that diet soda sales aren’t doing so well either due to a growing concern about health implications of artificial sweeteners.  So maybe another diet product isn’t the solution to your problem.


But what about naturally flavored soda waters?


I think you can now see what I’m doing here: essentially, I’ve reverse engineered something that has clearly taken place in a lot of soft drink manufacturing boardrooms recently, because America is currently awash in naturally enhanced flavored soda waters, with more varieties appearing practically every day.  That didn’t happen by accident.  It happened because a lot of business people went through a what to so what then? critical thinking process.


In an era of information overload, when just about everyone is accustomed to receiving enormous amounts of information without thinking much about it beyond tweeting it here, or pinning it there, this simple, yet profound, movement from what to so what then? needs to be pointed out.  As I play with the idea (writing this blog is a form of playing with it) I am hoping to solve a problematic what that especially afflicts assessment: the fact that while just about everyone agrees that “critical thinking” is an essential university skill, no one can agree on what, exactly, critical thinking is.  Will I solve my problem with a what .  .  .  so what then? explanation?  I don’t know yet, but I have arranged a test of my hypothesis to see what happens.


I just hope that it doesn’t end in .  .  .  you know, whatever.

This blog was originally posted on March 31st, 2015.


I receive a lot of email from students. Sometimes it’s messages that I have requested, like links to their work. Other times, students are asking questions about assignments or telling me why they will miss class.


More often than not, these messages are not students’ best writing. I don’t care that the messages are informal. That’s fine with me. At times, however, they wander into telling me far more than I need or want to know. Worse yet, the messages can leave out the crucial details or attachments that would have made the message successful.


What’s a teacher to do? Well, to begin, I have My English Teacher’s Email Survival Kit that I can use to talk about effective email messages. I also like Molly Scanlon’s assignment on Multimodal Mondays: Introducing the Academic Environment with Email and Diantha Smith’s activity on rhetorical analysis of email messages.


My favorite resource though is a short, humorous overview I have created, which I call “Sassy Email Responses.” The slides in the presentation include a slightly revised version of a message that a real live student has sent and the sassy reply that I wish I could send back in my reply. Here’s an example:


For extra fun, after working through the slideshow, I ask students to write a horrible excuse for missing class, and then we read the most original messages together in class. This activity always results in laughter—and much better email messages from students for the rest of the term.


How do you talk with students about effective email messages? What strategies and resources work for you? I would love to hear your ideas. Just leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook orGoogle+.

This blog was originally posted on April 9th, 2015


OK.  If you have been completely out of touch for a couple of weeks, you’ve missed the CCCC meeting and thus Adam Banks’s 2015 Chair’s Address:  “’Ain’t No Walls Behind the Sky, Baby’: Funk, Flight, Freedom.”  And you’ve missed the thousands of tweets and postings commenting and celebrating it that have populated social media space ever since.  From his opening allusions to George Clinton and Bootsy Collins’s “I’d Rather Be with You” to his final “Thank you CCCC 2015,” Adam held the packed-to-the-rafters ballroom rapt—and with lots of response: the standing ovation was thunderous, and prolonged.  Since then, the presentation has been the subject of much admiration and debate on the WPA listserv.  So right now, whether you were there or not, go watch Adam’s performance (here or below).  It bears re-hearing and re-seeing.  And you may want to chime in on WPA with your thoughts.





As I wrote at the time, the talk mixed rhythms from Jazz and Hip Hop with echoes of the African American sermonic tradition, theorizing with personal anecdote, high-falutin’ academic language with oral vernacular, and a whole lot more.  It was in my view a bravura performance, embodying the themes of funk, flight, and freedom, arguing that “funk is worthy of scholarly attention” because it speaks of “honest expression and exertion,” of sweat and steaminess necessary to such exertion.  “Respectability will not save us,” he continued, not in our scholarship or our classrooms, nor will it save our students. “Intervention comes from those who are irreverent,” who are “wild,” from those who resist the tidiness and staying-in-the-lines of the traditional academy and fly free, beyond boundaries and boxes.


In one memorable moment, Banks paused to address “the essay,” saying that on this day, he declared it “retired” (long and loud applause).  Speaking directly to the retiree, he said that the essay could keep its office on campus and that we would even “continue to give awards in your honor.”  But as of this day, it was now the essay emeritus/a.  In doing so, Banks harked back to the work of Winston Weathers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and to his insistence that what he called the “Grammar A” of school writing was not the only kind of good writing out there—and he gave plenty of examples of Grammar B alternatives (An Alternate Style: Options in Composition, 1980).  Along the way, Banks alluded to the groundbreaking Students’Right to their Own Language (1974) and to the foundational work of Geneva Smitherman and others who have done so much to document the power of African American English.


Banks’s speech featured a liberal mix of Grammars A and B in putting the traditional school essay taught by Miss Fidditch and her colleagues as the be-all and end-all in its place.  But what most impressed me was the remediated essay that Banks performed, one true to the historical goal of the essay as a “try” or “attempt” and one emblematic of the essay as it lives and breathes and jibes in today’s discourse.  “The essay is dead,” I say:  “Long live the essay.”


We have work to do in understanding, describing, and embodying these deeply performative essays.  So I’ve been very glad to see teachers writing posts about assignments that ask students to listen to Banks’s Chair’s address, to respond to it, to analyze its parts and the sources of its power, and to try their own hands at such a composition.


Beginning around 2002, I began teaching a course I called “The Language Wars, a class that moved from studying the struggle over vernacular languages in Europe and around the world and the debate over what the language of the new United States would be (some argued it should be German)—and eventually to what should count as “good writing” in college today.  We read some of the scholars Banks referred to in his talk (Smitherman, Keith Gilyard) as well as June Jordan, bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldúa, Lee Tonuchi, Gerald Vizenor, and many others).  Now I’m thinking I would like to teach this course again, this time beginning with Banks’s 2015 Chair’s address.  At the end of his talk, Banks said “Thank you, CCCC 2015.”  I would add, “Thanks to you, Adam Banks, for the inspiration.”

This blog was originally posted on March 26th, 2015.


I’m just back from Tampa and the 2015 CCCC meeting—what I always think of as “the other March Madness.”  If I’m counting correctly, this was my 45th Cs, consecutive except for 2012, when I was on a round-the-world Semester at Sea adventure.  The earliest meetings I attended were quite small and relatively brief:  it truly did seem as if everyone there knew everyone else.  This year, over 3000 scholar/teachers coursed through the Marriott Harborside and Convention Center from Tuesday evening through Sunday morning.  I felt as though I’d been there a month as I rushed from session to session and met with friends and former students from across the country.


Joyce Carter’s program was especially rich this year, each time slot offering at least a dozen sessions I desperately wanted to attend.  Thanks to Joyce’s leadership and planning, the whole conference was extremely welcoming to newcomers and had a very conversational feel:  dialogic sessions replaced the traditional plenary “featured speakers,” multiple round tables left more room for discussion and sharing of ideas.  And there were highlights, of course, a method in all this madness:


  • The Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition, now in its 21st year, was a tour de force, organized by the group’s intrepid chair, Jenn Fishman.  This year’s event featured a “New Work Showcase,” with eleven scholars presenting poster sessions of their exciting new work.  This format helped establish the conversational tone I mentioned earlier, as attendees drifted from one display to the next, talking with the authors and trading sources, anecdotes, and methods. I was especially impressed with Tamika Carey’s “‘I Apologize’: What Rhetorical Missteps Reveal about the Risks of Contemporary Black Feminist Discourse,” which revealed that when a Black woman makes even a small misstep, the consequences can be quite severe, ruining careers and blocking further advancement.  These sobering findings indicate how badly we need research like Carey’s. Another fabulous presentation was Patty Wilde’s “Cross(dress)ing the Mason Dixon Line: Recovering Rhetorical Histories that Disrupt Narratives Notions of Gender,” a study of some of the five hundred to a thousand women who crossdressed in order to participate in the Civil War.  The fascinating and very complex stories of some of these women were illustrated with archival photos showing them as women—and as men—and raised questions about the way gendered identities can and do shift over time and circumstances.  This showcase was a veritable feast of exciting new research!


  • And all this before the conference even opened! That happened Thursday morning with the General Session calling the meeting into being, presenting various awards, and featuring Adam Banks’s Chair’s address.  These addresses, in my experience, are always more than worth the price of admission, giving the current leader a forum to discuss the issues he or she sees as most salient to our organization and ideals.  Over the decades, I have heard marvelous Chair’s addresses, but Adam’s talk—“Ain’t No Walls behind the Sky, Baby:  Funk, Flight, and Freedom”—took this difficult and challenging genre to a new level.  Mixing hip hop, funk, and jazz elements of African American sermons, personal stories with analytic critique, lyrical incantations with bullet-point lists, and great wit with great passion, Banks asked everyone there to join him in meditating on three key words:  “funk, flight, and freedom.”  His talk was a brilliant embodiment of all three concepts, eliciting the longest and loudest standing ovation I’ve ever seen at our annual conference.  I can’t wait for this presentation to be published—and to be posted on the CCCC website and/or on YouTube. Do not miss it!!


  • I attended a number of standout sessions, including a very informative panel on current issues of intellectual property and their implication for writing and the teaching of writing, and a terrific set of talks on the history and mission, working conditions, and successes and challenges of HBCUs. Listening to Faye Maor, Dawn Tafari, Hope Jackson, and Karen Keaton Jackson reminded me once again how instrumental these institutions are to higher education in the United States and to the lives of their students.  BRAVA to all.


I could go on and on about all I learned at this conference and how good it felt to be with this group of people.  When I got back to California, Jaime Mejia wrote to me about his experiences, saying that CCCC simply “feels like home.”  It does indeed, and for thousands of us.  But it’s a home full of challenges and wake-up calls, including Adam’s injunction that we not be too tidy, not too antiseptic and proper, but that we take to heart the lessons of funk—to be a little messy, a little way beyond the lines and boundaries, a little “wild.” As Emily Dickinson puts it, “A little madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for a king.”  If this other March madness is good enough for Adam Banks and Emily Dickinson, it is certainly better than good enough for me.  So I plan to heed this call and to bring some of that madness, that wildness, into my thoughts and actions.

This blog was originally posted on April 8th, 2015


Though we have diverse approaches to teaching writing, my experience suggests that one of the commonalities we all share is some sort of peer feedback. Whether we call it peer revision or peer editing or something else, there seems to be wide agreement that seeking feedback is an important part of making writing better. The creative writers in my department would perhaps call this part of the “craft” of writing.  We are more likely to call it part of the writing process.  Regardless, in this series of posts I want to riff a bit on that notion of “craft” by sharing some peer revision strategies I use that are “crafty.” These exercises are all class-tested and Barclay-approved.  I have some theories on why they tend to work so well, which I will share in a later post. For now, though…highlighters!


In my office I keep a bag of inexpensive highlighters in every color I can find—at least thirty or so.  It was a modest investment at the office supply store but it’s paid wonderful dividends.  At least once a semester I bring that bag in for students to use during peer revision.  Here are some of the things I do:


  • Have peers highlight the argument and each key sentence related to the argument in a paper.  Peers tend to read the paper with more care to locate these moments, giving them practice in doing the same sort of work when reading the essays of the class; authors see whether or not readers are able to follow their arguments, where particular moments of support might be missing, if sections of the paper are just “fluff,” and how what they wrote reflects what they wanted to say.
  • Have peers highlight each quotation used in one color and all analysis of quotation in another; alternatively, have peers highlight all analysis one color and all summary another.  Authors can immediately see if there is a particular imbalance, if they just sprinkle quotations without working with them, and if particular parts of their paper are under-supported.
  • When papers include multiple readings, have peers highlight work with each reading in a different color.  Authors will be able to see immediately if they tend to use one reading too much or another not enough.
  • Have peers highlight each transition.  Authors will be able to see where they are missing or where they are so ineffective that readers can’t see the transition.
  • Have peers highlight any patterns of error so that authors can see how frequently they make it.


I’m sure you can imagine more uses for this general technique.  The key is that highlighting highlights particular parts of the paper, allowing students to visualize parts of it instead of just seeing lines of black that blur together.


And, well, it’s fun too.

This blog was originally posted on March 25th, 2015.


There is one more approach to sequencing you can use.  I don’t tend to use because, well, I think you’ll see…


We’ve included nine sequences in Emerging, many with options built in for alternate readings and assignments.  So a third method of making your “own” sequence is to modify one of the sequences that’s in Emerging.(And I don’t use this method because it’s not really modifying when I wrote the sequence in the first place [g].)


This might be a particularly good option if you just want to try this approach to teaching or if you’re getting your feet wet with sequencing.  We’ve already figured out what readings work together, which themes emerge from them, and what kind of work students might be able to do.  In turn, you can tweak individual assignments or the whole sequence based on your experience with teaching and your understanding of your students.


There’s a bonus to this method.  You cut down, I suspect, on plagiarism.  I imagine there are many papers floating around out there on the Interwebs that respond to the standard sequences.  Changing just a few aspects of the sequence encourages students to work without that virtual help.


Even if you don’t use or modify one of the existing sequences, I think they can still be useful in terms of inspiration and modeling.  Reading through them might give you ideas about sequences of your own.  Seeing how we’ve fit them together offers a useful model for how to sequence your own assignments.

This blog was originally posted on March 18th, 2015.


Last post I talked about why I choose to sequence assignments.  In the next several posts I’d like to offer some techniques I’ve found useful in designing sequences so that you can create your own.


One of the methods I use is reading centered.  I start with a reading I really want to teach and then I build out the sequence from there.  Given the shape of our semester we can usually cover four readings.  I like to use the following pattern for assignments:


  • Paper One on Reading One
  • Paper Two on Reading One and Reading Two
  • Paper Three on Readings One, Two, and Three
  • Paper Four on Reading Four and one other reading of the student’s choice


You might select a different pattern but I will say that having students work with more than one reading offers good opportunities for analysis, synthesis, and critical thinking.


So, before the semester I will skim the table of contents and think about a reading I’d really love to teach because it’s interesting or has good ideas or would work well in the classroom.  The quick annotations in the table of contents of Emerging can help with this part of the process if you’ve not experienced a reading before.


For example, let’s say I select Michael Pollan’s “The Animals: Practicing Complexity.”  From experience I know that students love this essay.  I love it because it deals with complex adaptive systems, which I love thinking about.  I know it works well in the classroom so it’s a good choice.


My next step is to jot down all the ideas and themes in Pollan’s essay. Emerging offers a number of tools for this, from the tags in the table of contents, to the questions accompanying the reading, to the thematic table of contents, to the existing sequences, to the Instructor’s Manual.  All of these tools help me see what Pollan does and what readings connect easily to his. My list might look something like this: organic farming, food, holons, ecosystems, education, agribusiness, industry, nature, economics, systems, health, eating, animals.


That last term, animals, is appealing to me. I’ve never taught a sequence with that focus so I think I will pursue it this time.  My next step is to use all the same tools to look for readings that have some connection to the idea of “animals.”  That list might look something like this: Dalai Lama (genetic engineering with some discussion of animals), Hal Herzog (ethics and animals), and David Foster Wallace (ethics and animals again).  I broaden the list to include useful counterpoints; in this case what it means to be human: Brian Christian (humans and artificial intelligence), Patricia Churchland (genes and behavior), Francis Fukuyama (genetic engineering and what makes humans human), and Richard Restak (brains and technology).  Finally, I look for “universal” essays, ones with ideas that apply to just about everything: Kwame Anthony Appiah (how change happens) and Daniel Gilbert (how to be happy).


Now I have a list of possible readings to use in the sequence.  The complete list looks like this:


  • Appiah
  • Christian
  • Churchland
  • Dalai Lama
  • Fukuyama
  • Gilbert
  • Herzog
  • Pollan
  • Restak
  • Wallace


I know I am going to use Pollan.  I want to also use Wallace because he’s so fun to read.  Herzog is a natural match because his ideas work so well with the other two.  I sometimes choose a final reading from what seems to be left field, one that picks up on something entirely new and offers students completely new perspectives.  In this case, I might choose something about education.  But instead I am going to stick with the emerging theme and select Fukuyama, who talks about what it means to be human and why, for example, we don’t eat grandma.


See the readings together, there’s a clear theme: the ethics of eating.


Now I consider the order.  I’ll start with Pollan.  He has a few ideas but also a lot of narrative.  For my second essay I will want something with more ideas in it.  I’ll go with Herzog.  It’s brief but has a good central idea about ethics.  Wallace will work well as third since it’s so cohesive.  Fukuyama will end to open it up to larger issues about what it means to be human.

Final step is to write the assignments.  I’ll write the first two, perhaps, and then see how they go, adjusting later assignments as needed.


I wrote recently about the intellectual work of sequences.  I think it’s distinctly pleasurable work.  Hope you will give it a try.

This blog was originally posted on March 24th, 2015.


Have you ever asked students to brainstorm without words? Thanks to a recent discovery, I’m imagining new possibilities for visual collaboration and sharing using Padlet.


Padlet is a free, online white board tool, which can be used anonymously and collaboratively. I typically set up a board for each class, and students then brainstorm ideas related to recent projects or readings.


Padlet isn’t limited to words however. You can post links, videos, and images. I used the feature last fall when my students used Padlet to brainstorm about a project on Talk Like a Pirate Day. I had included an image to make the Pirate Translator easy to find. I just never thought about the implications until recently.


First let me explain logistics, and then I’ll share some ideas for using this feature. Students can upload an image or add a link to a video. A thumbnail of the image or video shows up on the Padlet. You can grab the corner to resize the image, or click on it once to open the image or video in its original size. You can click on videos to play them.


With Padlet, then, students can post images and videos all on one screen, and you can then compare the thumbnails and explore each item in more detail. There’s no need to open a file or page for every student in class. One page has everything you need.


So, next, how can you use this feature? Here are ten things you could ask students to post using the image or video sharing capabilities of Padlet:

  1. Brainstorm using images found by searching for the topic online.
  2. Share digital badges for simple class presentations and discussion.
  3. Upload images of students’ writing spaces or tools and discuss similarities and differences.
  4. Post signs from campus or the local area for writing inspiration.
  5. Share “getting to know you” videos.
  6. Post word clouds for the class to discuss.
  7. Upload Writing/Learning Memes students have created.
  8. Create a classroom film festival by posting videos on a related topic.
  9. Post revision doodles and discuss the varying definitions of revision.
  10. Share some Do-It-Yourself Visual Appeals.


Essentially, anytime students have images or videos to share, you can do so on a Padlet to simplify the process of gathering links or texts. You can then compare the thumbnail versions and talk about first impressions, or you can work though the images or videos one-by-one and discuss what you find. I can’t wait to try this feature out in the classroom.


How could you use the image and video sharing abilities in Padlet? Please share your ideas with me. Just leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

This blog was originally posted on November 20th, 2013.


When I left the classroom for the world of educational software and web development in the mid-90s, classroom brainstorming was either done on the chalkboard or in Daedalus InterChange. Those two options were the only way to collect student ideas in one place that everyone could easily access. Both, of course, came with their limitations. Chalkboard notes were (and are) fleeting things that someone has to transcribe, and InterChange discussions scrolled quickly up the window, leaving students and me unable to see all the ideas on one screen.

Image link to Padlet homepage.

In the intervening years, I have recommended Padlet (which used to be named Wallwisher) to many teachers as a perfect tool for class brainstorming. Just last month I mentio
ned the site in my post on Blue Sky Thinking. Ironically, however, I hadn’t had the opportunity to try it out in my own classes.


This week, I decided to give Padlet a try. Students are beginning their fourth and final assignment, persuasive group oral presentations. Their job is to create a 5 to 7-minute oral presentation—much like a public service announcement (PSA) or a commercial—aimed at persuading college students at Virginia Tech to do something. Before they got into their groups to choose topics, I wanted them to brainstorm some possibilities as a class. I had them all visit a Padlet page I set up for the activity, and within five minutes we had a screen full of possibilities, as shown in the partial screenshot below:



Brainstorming phrases in white boxes on top of a grey background.

You can see the full screen of ideas from my 9 AM class and ideas from my 8 AM class on Flickr. Granted, there are some silly ideas listed. I’m personally entertained by the 8 AM class’s juxtaposition of the ideas “Give blood” and “Join the Rugby team.” They’ve been reading their bumper stickers. Alongside a few comic suggestions, there are a number of quite strong ideas.Encouraged by my success, I played around with Padlet and found the ability to post images and videos in addition to traditional words and phrases. As I think about incorporating Padlet in classes next semester, I have a vision for multimodal brainstorming that I want to try out. I haven’t figured out all the details, but I imagine students building a screen full of images rather than words to express their ideas. Thank goodness I finally got around to trying Padlet out!

This blog was originally posted on March 23rd, 2015.


Jessie Miller is a Master’s Candidate in Written Communication at Eastern Michigan University, where she teaches first-year composition and consults in the University Writing Center. In her Master’s project, she uses discourse analysis to analyze the language First-Year Writing instructors use in assignment sheets where they ask their students to compose digitally. Her research (and her Master’s degree) will be completed in April 2015.


Since I began teaching, I have been increasingly interested in the role technology plays in the composition classroom. Last year at Cs, I presented a digital pedagogy poster on how I engaged with social media and technology in my classroom. For one of the large projects of the semester I assigned a multimodal transformation of my students’ research essays. They had to re-envision their essay on a social media platform of their choosing (i.e. Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.). As I worked through this assignment with my class, I found myself negotiating the affordances and limitations of each platform with my students. Digital multimodal projects, I had realized, could easily become unwieldy.


So this year, I decided to thematize my first-year writing class around “new media” and its role in composition. Instead of having one large multimodal project at the end of the semester, I integrated several multimodal elements on an incremental basis throughout the semester, one of which I want to share with you today: “The Prezi Presentation,” a multimodal version of an annotated bibliography.




The goal of this assignment was to get students to see source use as an engaging and active practice.




For the second unit in my class, my students write an 8-10 page essay I call “The Rhetorical Research Argument.” In it, they pick a topic under the theme of “new media” and contribute to the discourse (or debate) surrounding that topic. Since their arguments must be rhetorically compelling, we naturally spent several weeks discussing effective source use before they began writing their essays. This discussion built up to “The Prezi Presentation,” a low-stakes in-class presentation conducted in small groups. Instead of completing a traditional annotated bibliography, I had my students use Prezi to visually map the relationship between their sources.


The guidelines for the presentation were as follows:


  1. Introduce the topic you plan to discuss in your essay
  2. Provide your specific thesis statement
  3. Discuss/Integrate the 7 (on a minimum) different sources you plan to integrate into your essay (you have creative freedom with how they introduced the sources, so this could be done in a number of ways)
  4. Provide a brief explanation of how you plan to use these sources to support your essay’s claims

         1. This should include some specific examples from the source’s text (i.e. Direct quotes or paraphrases)

   5.  Provide a brief explanation of how the sources relate to one another

          1. For example, which sources support one another? Which sources disagree?


I told my students that they had creative liberty over the design of the presentation and the way in which they introduced their information (ex. Reading a quote versus pasting it directly into the Prezi). I also asked that they try to stay under ten minutes, but that was a loose estimate.


Instead of grafting a quote or two from a source, my students used a visual display of information to map out the interplay between their sources. I chose Prezi as the platform for this assignment because it does not have to be constructed linearly. In an essay, students won’t necessarily use sources in a linear way; instead, many sources have relationships to one another—they “talk to” one another. I wanted my students to use Prezi to help illuminate those connections for them.


In-Class Preparation
I introduced this project two weeks ahead of time. One the day I first introduced it, I provided laptops for my students and showed them how to use Prezi. Then, for homework I had my students write a journal entry in their Google Drive folder in which they responded to the following questions:

  1. Write down the title of each of your sources and provide the URL if it’s an online source.
  2. Write a 1-2 sentence summary of each source, then provide two paraphrased passages, and finally provide two direct quotations.
  3. At the end of the journal entry, write a paragraph in which you answer: How do these sources relate to one another? How will I use them in my essay?


This journal entry provided much of the framework for their Prezi.


During our next class period, we had an in-class workday where my students got feedback on their works-in-progress. Then, on the presentation day, I put students into groups of three or four, and each took turns presenting their Prezi while the other students graded them based on a rubric created from the assignment guidelines listed above.


Here are some student samples:


Internet Linguistics by student Keinan Slater


Citizen Journalism by student David Finquelievich


Children Learning from Apps by student Andrea Murphy

As I walked around the classroom while my students were giving their presentations, I was surprised to see how interactive my students were. Instead of sitting there silently during a presentation, students in the group often asked questions and offered feedback during the presentation itself. Likewise, the presenters would explain their sources, while also asking for help or direction as needed. As an instructor, I played little part in this final presentation day. I let my students work independently, which built their self-efficacy and helped shape their peer-to-peer relationships.


I am pleased with the results of this assignment. After the Prezi presentations, my students wrote a half draft of their essay, and in them they are already demonstrating a strong command of their sources. I am excited to see how their writing will progress from here.


Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

Jack Solomon

What Color is This Dress?

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Apr 10, 2015

This blog was originally posted on March 19th, 2015.


A few weeks ago the Internet was lit up by one of the most earth shaking questions of our times:  Was a widely disseminated photograph of a woman’s dress an image of a blue- and-black or of a white-and-gold garment?  A lot of A-list celebrities weighed in on this weighty matter and the outcome was a lot of clicks on a lot of story links that certainly resulted in a lot of successful data mining.


But while a semiotic analysis of the power of celebrity Tweeters could ensue from this story, (you may find the beginning of such an analysis here) that’s not what I want to explore.  What I want to look at is a far, far deeper problem that this amusing little episode points to.  I will call this problem the question of “whatness.”


“Whatness” refers, if I may use a fancy term, to the fundamental ontology of something: what, basically, something is.  Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?  But as I contemplate the problem of defining, and teaching, the nature of critical thinking, I am increasingly coming to realize that it is precisely the difficulty in defining, much less agreeing upon, what something is that poses the greatest challenge to critical thinking, and to anything resembling social harmony.


Let me try to put it in semiotic terms.  A semiotic analysis characteristically moves from the denotation of a sign to its connotation—that is, from a description of the sign (or its referent) as an object to an interpretation of the sign as a subjectively constituted cultural signifier.  This movement, which involves the situating of the sign into a system of associations and differences, is what semiotic analysis is all about.  But as the blue/black or white/gold controversy trivially indicates, deciding exactly what we are talking about can involve an act of critical thinking prior to that which takes us from denotation to connotation.  If this sounds unnecessary, consider the recent kerfluffle over whether or not Governor Rick Scott did or did not order state workers in Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection never to refer to “global warming” or “climate change,” whereby both thewhatness of the prohibition and the whatness of global warming and climate change are both put into question.  In other words, determining denotation gets us caught up in connotation as facts get tangled up in values so badly that it can be very difficult to decide just what one is talking about.


I realize that we are looking here at a potential deconstructive mise en abyme—that is to say, an endless series of prior interpretations before we can get to the interpretation we wish to conduct.  But I do not want to counsel such despair.  Rather, I simply want to point out the need to think critically and carefully about the whatness of a cultural semiotic topic as an essential part of its analysis.  It would be nice to take facts for granted, but that, in this profoundly divided world, is something that we cannot do.


[Image source:]

Andrea A. Lunsford


Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Apr 10, 2015

This blog was originally posted on March 19th, 2015.


On March 9, I had the great good fortune to visit Colorado State University, where my friend and former student Sarah Sloane has been directing the writing program. Her graduate seminar on composition studies was meeting that evening from 4:00 to 7:00, and since they were reading an article of mine, I got to drop in on the class as a “special mystery guest.” Then I got to hear about the work these grad students are doing—on everything from disability studies to multimodal projects to curricular design. They were GREAT. While I was there, Professor Tobi Jacobi said, “I have a present for you,” and handed me a slim volume of writing published by incarcerated men and women. I didn’t have time to do more than thank her—but later that night, on the long flight back to San Francisco, I read every word. I was heartened by the words of these writers, who for the most part had rejected nihilism and negativity in favor of hope and commitment to a better future. But they weren’t sugar-coating anything: their experience in prison had marked them deeply, and these pieces of writing reflected that reality as well.


This was a gift I will treasure, and it reminds me once more how many teachers of writing across the country are doing similar work: going into shelters, half-way houses, prisons, and community centers to engage people in writing about themselves, their lives, their hopes, their dreams. These efforts—almost always done “on top of” a full load of teaching and administrative work and scholarship—are a hallmark of work in rhetoric and writing studies, a sign of how much teachers care and how much they believe in the power of writing and reading (and speaking out!) to change lives for the better.



When I got home, I ordered Jacobi’s book, Women, Writing, and Prison:  Activists, Scholars, and Writers Speak Out (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014).Edited with Ann Folwell Stanford and with a preface by Sister Helen Prejean, this volume introduces the project and the narratives from prison that follow. Now that I’ve read the pieces printed in We Make Our Future: SpeakOut!,the gift from Tobi, I am looking forward to getting this volume and studying it as well. Check it out for yourself—and let me know other similar efforts you may know of.

This blog was originally posted on March 25th, 2015.


Last time I talk about forming a sequence around a particular reading, but one of the things I love most about this approach to my teaching is that it allows me to respond to things going on in the world right now.  And so a second approach to sequencing is to start with a current event or topic and then build a sequence that explores that issue.  Not only does this method help students to see how what we do in the classroom connects to the world around them but it also offers me the chance to bring in any number of small supplemental texts from the media.


I’m writing this soon after the Oscars.  I was struck by racial discussions around the awards ceremony as well as racially inflected comments about Zendaya’s hair on the red carpet.  If I were assembling a sequence right now, I might choose something on this topic.  I think I would title it “Hollywhite: Race and Media.”


Having a topic in mind, I use many of the same steps I use when starting with a reading.  I start by locating all the readings that relate to the topic, including readings that are near to the topic and readings that are “universal.”  Emerging offers a number of tools to help in this process: quick annotations of the readings, tags in the table of contents, questions accompanying the reading, thematic table of contents, existing sequences, and the Instructor’s Manual.  When I’m done I would end up with something like this:


  • Alvarez (ethnic identities and economics)
  • Appiah (mechanism of social change)
  • Fukuyama (what makes us human)
  • Gilbert (determining happiness)
  • Muñoz (assimilation)
  • Nathan (education and diversity)
  • Olson (the persistence of race)
  • Pozner (race and media)
  • Savan (race and advertising)
  • Yang (racial stereotypes)
  • Yoshino (civil rights and assimilation pressures)


Last time I went for really obvious pairings.  This time, however, I think I want students to think about this issue from a few different angles.  I would want to use Yoshino because he mentions the ways in which Hollywood stars have changed their names to “cover” their ethnicity.  Muñoz would be a good pairing since his whole essay is about Anglicization of names.  Pozner talks explicitly about race and television so I would want that.  And then I think Appiah so that students could think about how to make changes to the situation.


Of course, I could also see Savan / Olson / Yang / Alvarez or Fukyama / Olson / Nathan / Gilbert or Pozner / Savan / Yang / Yoshino.  The essays I select are determined by my sense of where I want the sequence to go, as well as some sense of which offer ideas that students can work with.


Having selected my readings, I would then spend some time thinking out the order of the assignments.  For me, this is almost an exercise in narrativity.  That is, I am assembling a series of causes and effects in order to locate a central “story” about race and media.  This central narrative then offers a spine upon which students can build their own structures relating to the topic, based on their interests and their critical thinking.


In this instance, my central narrative would revolve around pressures to conform, the power of negative stereotypes, and the possibility of change.  Having determined that, then it’s a matter of writing out the assignments, leaving some room for adjustments along the way and perhaps building in assignments that allow students to bring in current events.


I like both approaches.  I’m not sure which I tend to use the most since I feel like both offer me good advantages.  I will say, if you’ve not written your own sequences before, I hope you will consider giving it a try.

This blog was originally posted on March 17th, 2015.


What do you do when a class you are teaching has to be cancelled at the last minute? Maybe you are sick or your car’s battery is dead. Perhaps you are dealing with a family emergency or a foot of snow. Even the best planners among us sometimes find at the last minute that we cannot (or should not) meet students in the classroom. So how do you let students know?


That question inspired discussion on the Writing Program Administrators Discussion list (WPA-L) last week. The conversation began with a question on how to deal with a student prank. A student wrote a “Class cancelled” message on the board, and others in the course, who arrived later, believed the message and left. The question was how to deal with the absences and missed work for the students who were pranked.


The discussion list, as usual, replied with some great advice, and you can check the messages in the list archive to read more. For me, the conversation led me to two realizations: (1) I have been lucky, and (2) I need to add a policy to my syllabus.


Luckily, I set a policy to avoid class cancellation confusion. On the first day of class, I tell students about the importance of checking email before they come to class each day, as that is how I will let them know if anything out of the ordinary has happened since we last met. If I’m sick or the like, I try to let them know the night before and give them an alternative assignment; but I do tell them about a morning last fall when I got up to go to school and found that my mother had fallen, so I had to send out a cancellation/new assignment just an hour before class met. I do not announce last-minute class changes in any other way.


The conversation, however, made me realize that I need to add that policy to my syllabus. It’s common for a student or two to miss the first class meeting or to add the class after that first meeting. I’ve been lucky that none of those students ever became confused about class meetings. I’m not a fan of legalistic syllabus, full of policies, but I am convinced that I need to address this issue.


How do you handle cancelling or rescheduling class meetings at the last minute? What strategies work for you? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

[Photo: Today Has Been Cancelled Pillowcase by Wicker Paradise, on Flickr]

Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law Bohannon.



As I wrote in my recent post, this semester has been a reflective opportunity for me, in terms of re/vising multimodal writing assignments and how we can apply multimodal composition across genres and contexts.  In keeping with my theme of re/mix, I want to discuss how a multimodal composition looks when applied to a graduate school context.  Most of us have taught or currently teach first-year writing.  Accordingly, we discuss our pedagogies that apply to those classes, which provides a wealth of sharable information for our peers. Too often, however, I think we anchor composition pedagogies to first-year experiences only. This week, I offer a re/mix of multimodal blogging, contextualized for an online graduate course in information design. The re/mixed blogging project could also be easily re/vised to work in most writing or technical communication courses.


Online courses offer their own rhetorical challenges for certain, and an online graduate course frequently compounds them.  As praxis-ioners of critical composition, however, we can still employ many of the strategies from our face-to-face teaching.  I also believe that students in these online spaces are grateful for multimodal writing opportunities that have “real-world” connections to their lives.  I teach a mix of students, some digital natives and some who are return-to-college learners.  Our motley crew, as one of my students dubbed our online community, sometimes requires additional resources to engender success in digital literacies.  The entire crew, however, appreciates and even seeks out multimodal writing opportunities because this type of assignment stimulates critical thinking and critical production of public texts.


A DIY blogging assignment that encourages students to construct multimodal technical writing (how-to and step-by-step posts) in digital spaces, using rhetorical cues from composition praxis


Assignment Goals and Measurable Learning Objectives

  • Apply multimodal composition strategies to technical writing
  • Use multimodalities as rhetorical delivery devices
  • Synthesize meaning through critical production of digital texts on-screen


Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in democratic, digital writing assignments. Below, I have listed a few foundational texts. You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.


Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation
I run this project early in the semester.  Prior to starting this project, the class reads, responds to, and discusses multimodalities of texts that we produce across digital discourses. We read Bohannon’s Multimodalities for Students, Popular Media Writing Tips, Writing Better Blog Posts, Rhetorical Considerations for Blogs to prepare us to build our blogs.


In Class and/or Out
“In-class” is an interesting experience in an online learning environment.  In my online courses I blend asynchronous discussion forums with synchronous class meetings.  Many of the Handbook readings for this assignment are reviews for both content and rhetorical strategies that many of my graduate students need to re/mediate.  In most cases, we read, respond, and discuss, either in Blackboard Collaborate or on our class forums.  Our online community requires members to post an initial 500-word response to my thread by the third day of each class week, with ensuing 100-word posts at least once to each course member by the end of the week.  Our motto is “post early and post often.”  By the end of each week, students have written more than 1,000 words!

We spend one week (module) reviewing rhetorical terms and applying them to our course objectives.  Then, in the next weekly module, I introduce the blogging assignment. We talk in our forums and in Collaborate, providing each other with additional resources and rhetorical support.  We read draft posts and offer feedback based on organization, content, ideas, syntax, and style.


After using our drafting exercises as sites for collaborative feedback, students take the next weekly module to finalize and publish their four blog posts, each containing at least one visual and/or audio component per post.


Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity
This assignment asks students to balance rhetorical invention with public technical writing.  When my students reflected on this writing opportunity, here’s what they said:


“I enjoyed making this blog. It gave me a chance to take a big part of my real life, and share it with others. I really had to think about my writing, and how it corresponded with some of the multimodalities included.”

– Allison Feldman, Allison’s DIY Wedding Blog


“[The] assignment definitely allowed for creative expression. Not only were the ideas flowing, but I had to work with different technologies, and to make them work properly. I love the fact that this assignment pushed me to think about how effective blogging can be. I’m hopeful to use these strategies to drive traffic to the site.”

– Jeffery Jackson, Jumper Jacks Essay Contest


My Reflection

This assignment works especially well in graduate courses, where students evaluate and compose rhetorics for professional portfolios. I have found also that graduate students often need to review composition conventions, for which “how-to” blogs serve as excellent, low-stakes writing opportunities.


Across courses and academic levels, students are far more likely to engage in authentic rhetorical performances, if they feel that they can exert their agency to improve their writing and meet learning outcomes.  For us as instructors, a vital part of our teaching is our ability to let go of our authority and guide students towards enduring understandings of content, which they research, design, and construct. When we re-focus our efforts around digital, authored performances in these environments, we facilitate rhetorical growth for our students, helping them develop informed voices as they become fluent in multiple discourse communities.


Try this assignment and let me know what you think. Please view/use the project guidelines (edit as you need) and view student samples here: DIY Blogs


Also, please leave me feedback at


Guest blogger Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) department at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth though authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies, critical pedagogies, and New Media theory; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at: and

This blog was originally posted on March 12th, 2015.


Bedford/St. Martin’s editor extraordinaire Carolyn Lengel and I have been interviewing student writers as we’re working on a new edition of The Everyday Writer. We haven’t met these students; all we knew is that they had used Everyday Writer in one of their writing classes. As we talked, the students told us when and why they used the book, what they thought it had been helpful for, what about it they liked—or would like to see improved. But we were also interested in HOW they used the book. So we asked them to walk us through one time when they wanted to find information in their handbook—step by step. What they did first, and so on. To our surprise, several students said they began by looking at the words on the tabs to see if it looked like one or more of them contained the information they wanted. A couple of other students said they started by looking at “that list in the front of the book,” a.k.a. the table of contents. Finally, we asked a student if he had checked the index to help him locate what he was looking for. “So, where’s the index?” was his response.


Back in January, I resolved to spend more time introducing students to their indexes, and here was an ideal opportunity. We subsequently asked all the student writers about the index, and most seemed only vaguely familiar with it. The online sources they go to, they pointed out, don’t have indexes. These students, bright and generally school savvy, are not completely savvy about print book conventions. “So, where’s the index?” is a question worth listening to.


I’ve always urged teachers using one of my textbooks to spend class time early on getting the students into the book, showing them what’s there (these books are packed absolutely to the gills with what I’ve learned about teaching writing over 40+ years, so I know they can seem dense!) and how to find information. When I teach with one of these books, I use it frequently, often kicking off my course with the chapter on “Writing to Make Something Happen in the World.” I want students to read this chapter, to hear about the students featured in it, and to ask themselves how they define good writing and how often their writing makes something happen in the world. (I’ve found that students have fabulous stories to tell about such writing!) So we talk about writing as a performance, as active, as something that makes things happen. That’s writing, I find, that they can be committed to.

Keep your handbook close at hand so your students learn to do the same!


I also love to focus some class time on style, using chapters on sentence structure, on language, on word choice, and so on as a platform for workshopping some of their own work. I love working on sentences, taking one from each student and working together to make that sentence “sing.”


What I’ve learned over the decades is that if I want students to get the most out of a textbook, I have to bring it into class on a regular basis, showing them how to make it a valuable friend to their writing and their writing processes. And now I know not to take anything for granted! So early on I’ll ask a series of fairly abstruse questions and ask students to work together to answer them, using their handbook to help. Then we map the processes they used to find the answers, including false starts and missteps as well as successful moves in locating the needed information. And along the way, I make sure to ask, “So, where’s the index?”


[Illustration by GB Tran from the instructor’s edition of The Everyday Writer, fifth edition. Tran’s art will continue to be an intrinsic, exciting part of the forthcoming sixth edition.]

I chose a sequencing approach to the assignments in Emerging.  I thought it might be useful to talk a little bit about why I made that decision, so over the next few posts I hope to offer you an introduction to assignment sequencing—and also some tips on how to make your own sequences.


Sequenced assignments are a series of assignments in which each new prompt builds on the work that was done in the previous assignment.  Students start by working with one essay in one assignment but then return to that same essay as well as a new one in the second assignment and then return again to those readings in the next assignment and so on.  Most sequences are organized around a central idea or theme and students develop their understanding of that idea or theme by working with the different readings repeatedly.


Deciding to use sequencing in Emerging was a bit of a natural choice for me since it’s the approach I learned when I started teaching—I’ve always sequenced assignments.  But I think there are very good reasons for taking this approach:


  1. Critical Thinking. I like the way that sequencing allows me to help students develop their skills with critical thinking.  By using different readings to examine a central theme, students are offered a variety of tools to explore the ideas of that theme.  Sequencing also allows students time to develop more mature understandings of the ideas of a reading since they work with that reading multiple times.  And sequencing presses students to think critically about how they understand readings.  They may feel one way about an author after first reading an essay but by placing that essay in the context of other essays, students are often forced to reconsider their understandings.  Bringing new ideas into play constantly prompts them to think more critically.
  2. Coherence. Sequences bring coherence to my class by establishing a central theme for the semester.  Students spend the class exploring that theme and developing their ideas around it.  It offers them help in terms of writing their assignments, since there emerges a common vocabulary drawn from the readings.  It also then serves as a kind of touchstone for us to consider the world outside the classroom, as current events often reflect and rebound on the theme we’re working on.
  3. Depth. Students develop a depth of understanding because they spend weeks working on the same readings.  Often, on the first assignment working with a reading, students “flatten” the ideas to their simplest dimension.  But as they continually return to and reread the essays they are forced deeper into the ideas of the essay, as well as their limitations.
  4. Scaffolding. I imagine that as they enter their disciplines, students will be expected to produce writing that works with multiple authors (perhaps as a researched assignment but perhaps also just in the context of a final exam).  Sequencing offers them some scaffolded experience with this skill.
  5. Springboard. Similarly, sequencing can serve as a springboard to researched writing.  Students develop two kinds of skills that will serve them in contexts of research.  Not only do they learn to draw from multiple sources in support of their arguments but they also gain experience with sustained work, both within a paper and across the semester.


I don’t think sequencing is for everyone.  And I can tell you now that it has some drawbacks too.  Students, for example, become quite tired of some readings as the semester progresses, though I offer them options in later assignments so that they can jettison works that they have chewed through thoroughly.  Still I do feel that this approach serves students well.  For me, it remains the right choice in my teaching and for Emerging.


Next post: some tips on making your own assignment sequences.

Word clouds highlight the most frequently used words in a text, using larger font sizes for the words used most often and smaller sizes for those used less often. The word cloud below, created with Wordle, highlights the most frequently used words in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18:

These word clouds can become analytical tools as students look at the words used most frequently and notice which ones stand out.

In my technical writing class, I had students create word clouds using the text from their job application materials (like the example below), and then asked them to think about whether the words that stand out lead to the impression they want to make.

Students noticed some obvious repetition, like the university’s name and cities where they had lived and worked. They also identified words that they repeated too frequently. In the image above, for example, the word enjoy was larger so the student checked her job application materials to decide if she should revise for more variety. The analysis can also help students recognize use of buzzwords or jargon.


Want to try word clouds as revision tools in your classes? Here are the instructions that I gave students. Just adjust them for your students.


  1. Go to the Wordle site and read a bit about how the tool works. Wordle is a free, Java-based tool that can make a word cloud out of any text that is pasted into a form or by using the text on a webpage. It includes some choices for formatting, so that you can change the color and layout of the words. You can also omit commonly used words. The final cloud can be printed or saved.
  2. Click the Create link, and you’ll end up at a form where you can analyze some text.
  3. Go to your job application materials and copy the text. You might copy your résumé and cover letter or the information from your LinkedIn profile, for instance. Ideally, do not copy your name, address, or other contact information to protect your privacy.
  4. Paste what you’ve copied into the form on the Wordle site.
  5. Click the Go button, and the site will present you with a Wordle word cloud, using a random format.
  6. Use the commands under the Layout menu to create a design you like. In particular you might want to change the maximum number of words and whether they words show up as horizontal, vertical, or both.
  7. Use the Color menu to modify the color palette if you’d like.
  8. Get a copy of your Wordle word cloud that you can share by using one of these methods:
    1. Take a screenshot and crop it to just the word cloud.
    2. Print a PDF of the word cloud.
    3. Save to the Public Gallery and grab the URL to your word cloud. If you included your name in the word cloud, this probably isn’t the best choice.
  9. Look over the word cloud and evaluate what you have found: Which words are the largest? Are they the words that you want a recruiter to notice? Does the word cloud inspire you to make any changes?


I had students post their word clouds and observations in the online discussion forum for our class. Once they posted their own word clouds, they reviewed the clouds of their classmates and let them know what stood out in the clouds.


Overall, it was a simple and successful way for students to see their drafts from a different perspective. Do you have a revision strategy that helps students see their drafts from a new point of view? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

This blog was originally posted on March 9th, 2015.


As the semester progresses, it’s tempting to dive into the deep end of the multimodal pool. That is, it’s tempting to build increasingly complex assignments as our students’ skills grow, full of new technology and fascinating online resources that create new ways of composing.


Of course, I’m fully supportive of creating these opportunities! But as the semester workload grows, it’s also important to remember that introducing multimodality into the composition classroom can happen in small doses, and with everyday activities that are the building blocks of good writing.I’m reminded of one of our Multimodal Mondays posts from last year. Guest Blogger Molly Scanlon wrote about using email to introduce the academic environment at the beginning of the semester. We all rely on email at this point, but what’s important as using the tools right in front of you to get students thinking and composing in different environments.


Speaking of Molly, she’ll be attending the Multimodal Showcase at 4Cs in Tampa this year (3:30-6:30 on Friday in Ballroom B at the Convention Center) and showing off some of her students’ work. Will you be there? I’m looking forward to seeing all of the wonderful multimodal work instructors are doing in their classrooms this year.

This blog was originally posted on February 3rd, 2014.


Today’s multimodal assignment comes to us from Molly Scanlon, an Assistant Professor of Writing at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


Shanti Bruce, Associate Professor of Writing at Nova Southeastern University, found that her colleagues were turned off by the informal and unprofessional writing in student emails, so she designed an assignment that would be taught in all composition courses in the first week of classes each semester. I embraced this assignment and combined it with some of the email writing tips I’d shared with students in the past. Making professionalism a habit of student writing can be difficult. For incentive, I give a “professionalism” grade, which measures whether they come to class regularly and on time, collaborate well with colleagues, and conduct professional correspondence throughout the term–all habits which will be useful no matter which field they enter after graduation.




Distinguish between professional and informal writing with an email assignment.


Background reading before class


  • The St. Martin’s Handbook, section 20a, “Composing academic and professional messages”
  • The Everyday Writer, section 2e, “Use media to communicate effectively”
  • Writing in Action, section 2f, “Use media to communicate effectively,” pp. 18-19
  • EasyWriter, section 4a, “Interactive digital communication,” pp. 46-47


In Class


Lead your class in a discussion about how composing an email is a rhetorical situation like any other, requiring writers to think about their audience, purpose, and context.


As a class, develop a list or chart with examples of informal writing devices and academic or professional writing strategies. Then, discuss why each of these is a rhetorical choice the writer makes to appeal to his or her audience. Here is an example:


Key Differences:

You may also want to address practical strategies for sending professional emails that can be accomplished by adjusting e-mail settings. For example, students should ensure their names are displayed professionally so that when people receive an email from them, it displays the full name, not “jd420” or “QTpie2014.” Or, suggest that students create an automatic signature.


One-and-Done: Email Settings


These tips can be consulted and fixed in one trip to the email account settings.  Since email providers vary, ask a student to show you the interface for their email account and walk through the steps before presenting them to the rest of the class.


From: YouMadBro?
Ensure your name is displayed professionally so that when people receive an email from you, it displays your full name, not “jd420” or “QTpie2014.” Usernames can come off as incriminating and extremely unprofessional. This is particularly important if you use an email account for both personal and professional business.


Kim Anthony, Furby Collector:
Include a formal signature below your name that includes your vital contact information: Full name, title, organization/school, phone number, email address. While it may seem silly to include your email, your message may be forwarded to another recipient and may lose the metadata of your message in transit. It’s helpful to provide your email just in case.



Ronald Weasley
Auror Major
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Phone: 1234567890




Develop a professional email-writing checklist for yourself that identifies elements of a good email and explains why each is important to your ethos as a writer. Molly Scanlon provides the following as an example.


Professional Email-Writing Checklist
Every time you write a professional email, consult this checklist:


Make sure you have the correct email address of the recipient. I once thought that a colleague was ignoring my requests for an interview. There was really no need for this drama; I had misspelled her email address!


Carbon Copies and Reply ALLs:
Be conscious of forwarding, CCing, or the career-killing “Reply All” button when corresponding over email. If you choose to copy (CC) someone on an email, double check that the messages contain no sensitive information. Some email providers chain emails together so you may think you are forwarding a single message when really you are sharing an entire back-and-forth with someone. Lastly, always acknowledge a CC: “Thank you for answering my questions regarding this group project, Dr. Concannon. I have CCed the other group members on this email so that they can benefit from this explanation as well.”


(no subject):
An informative subject line can help to catch the attention of your receiver. Be brief but specific: “Request for Recommendation,” “Question Regarding Journal #4,” or “Setting an Office Hours Meeting.” These provide information that the reader can use to anticipate the purpose of the email as well as its contents.


“Hello Mr. Bond,”
Begin with a respectful and professional salutation such as “Dear Dr. Vanguri,” “Hello Ms. Doeringer,” or “Hi Professor Ekoniak.” If you are unsure if your professor has a Doctorate, then you can always use “Professor.” This is a formal title that denotes respect and doesn’t require you to know their credentials.


“I have a question.”
State the reason for your e-mail concisely and accurately. Remember that people in some positions receive hundreds of emails each day. Long form emails may get starred to read later and then buried under the next day’s influx, only to be forgotten for days or even weeks. Be respectful but direct in stating your purpose for writing.


The 411:
Be sure to consider any information your recipient might need to understand and respond to your email. For example, at the beginning of the semester, before I have mastered each student’s name, I ask that they include which class and section that they are in. Since I teach four courses, this saves me time from consulting my roster and allows the student to get their questions answered more quickly.


End with a formal closing such as “Sincerely,” “Thank you,” “Best regards,” or “Best.” This is the last opportunity it make a good impression to your recipient. Make it count.


Sent Mail:
Each time you send a professional email, check your Sent Mail folder to ensure that the message was processed and, if you attached a document, that it accompanied the message.


Consult the syllabus for the course. Using the checklist you developed, send your professor a professional email in which you confirm your understanding of an upcoming assignment or reading and pose a related question or two.


Reflection on the Activity


Ask students to reflect on the activity, using questions like these as prompts for discussion or writing:

  • How did you develop your checklist? Did you use past experience with online communication?
  • Was it difficult to adjust your writing to a professional tone?
  • Is it easier to ask your instructor questions in person or by email? How do you change your approach accordingly?
  • How would your writing have differed if you were sending this email to a classmate? To a different professor?
  • Describe your revision process. How much did you reread the email before sending it? What elements or words did you revise?


Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

This blog was originally posted on March 6th, 2015.


A few months ago Nick Carbone pointed out one of the most interesting and sophisticated examples of student work that I’ve ever seen in a graphic novel format, “What is Engineering?”  by Mallory “Mel” Chua, who blogs at


In a Skype interview, Chua provided some of the context that inspired her to create this dazzling graphic essay. “Visual rhetoric is something I can’t stop doing. I’ve been a visual thinker for a long time. I wanted to be an art major in high school, but my parents wanted me to study engineering instead. Fortunately, I liked it… and now I draw comics about engineering, so that worked out.” Chua has no formal art training, but has been informally experimenting with graphical communication for many years; a scan of her high school physics class notes shows a similar comic-book sketch style:

During her years in industry, Chua used her visual skills to insert herself into team conversations. “I would be the first to go to the whiteboard and start sketchnoting what we were doing, and people would start telling me things and explaining things because they wanted me to draw them. It was a strategy to keep myself in the loop, to get people to teach me what was going on, even if I was the most junior engineer in the building.” A good deal of her work involved international collaboration, and the visuals translated well across language boundaries. “It’s just the way I think,” she observed, “even though I am usually supposed to translate myself into words afterwards.” She described her typical approach to a writing prompt as being “doodle doodle doodle, then reluctantly think about writing the real paper. It never occurred to me that the sketches could become the real paper. What if you didn’t have to translate things into words to have them count?”


“What is Engineering?” was written during Chua’s first semester of graduate study at Purdue’s School of Engineering Education in a course on the History and Philosophy of Engineering Education, which she described as her “first delving into social sciences” in which they were asked to write papers defining “engineering,” “education,” and “engineering education.”  Rhetoricians, familiar with the concept of an “argument of definition” will recognize the assignment as an ancient one, of course.


As Chua explained, “I sketched and sketched as I thought, but could not find a way to translate my thoughts into writing. Before I knew it, the paper was due the next day, but the visual format was too important to my thoughts. I sat down and inked out the written pieces in my sketchbook so I would at least have something to turn in. I thought for sure I would fail the assignment, that my professors would say it wasn’t written properly.” Instead, she was surprised at the positive reaction to the piece, which has since been downloaded thousands of times from around the world. “My advisor went to South Africa and mentioned the names of her students, and another professor reached into their bag and pulled out my comic. We were stunned.”


Despite the spontaneous character of the work’s initial composition, she acknowledged the need to reflect and consider many of the aspects of doing nonfiction work in a graphic format. “How to I cite things? What tools do I use? I didn’t know anyone else did this, so I thought I had to invent all the visual rhetoric devices on my own. And validity. I worried so much that the approach wouldn’t be seen as serious or valid, so I came up with defensive arguments for everything.


In response to a question about how eyeglasses were an important visual motif that ran through “What is Engineering?” and “other frames, lenses, and viewfinders” that she might have been conscious of deploying, Chua laughed about how she had initially overlooked the importance of the trope as an assistive technology. The use of the eyeglasses metaphor was not a “rhetorical or political decision,” according to Chua, although she also says that “the personal is political.” “We use the word ‘lenses’ to describe our theories all the time, so I just drew them –remember, it was 2am the day the paper was due, so I wasn’t thinking too hard about it. The visual metaphor worked, so I kept using it as I continued to draw the piece. There can be many kinds of engineering eyeglasses, and they can coexist with other disciplines. I might wear my engineering eyeglasses, my anthropology hat, my journalism coat, and my social activist boots all at the same time.”


Chua admitted that drawing diversity – age, race, gender, and disability – into the engineers portrayed in “What is Engineering?” was important for broadening the perspective of engineering students. She added that there are many other kinds of diversity that aren’t as easy to draw. In thinking about “disability as a site for engineering education work,” Chua wonders in hindsight if she could have chosen a different sort of visual rhetoric, especially since many engineers have disabilities that are hidden or invisible. “The wheelchair has become the handicapped poster symbol. I might think about it differently if I redrew the piece, try to mix it up a little.”


Using engineering graph paper as a choice of medium was completely accidental. “The assignment was due in 10 hours, and that was the paper I had on hand, but it was a nice effect for this particular piece. I have worked in other mediums since then, but they’re all pretty primitive – it’s usually an ordinary writing pen on printer paper or in my notebook, or sketching on my phone.” When asked for her ideas about how to best design a graphic assignment for engineers, she emphasize the importance of formative assessment. “Drawing is an unfamiliar and intimidating language for lots of people. It has to be okay to get out these awful, incomplete, sketchy things to think with. We work with prototypes of machines and drafts of papers all the time, but there’s not a lot of examples out there of draft sketches outside of art class – of what visual thinking in other disciplines looks like before it becomes the polished, final piece.” Fortunately, this format also has “a different sort of hermeneutics built in… it’s more generative, more expansive, and supportive of more divergent ideas, once people are accustomed to doing dialogue with pictures rather than words.”

This blog was originally posted on March 6th, 2015.


Language has made the headlines once again. We teach our students that word choice affects their arguments. President Obama has drawn criticism over the last few weeks, mostly from Republicans, for being what some critics consider overly cautious. He has chosen to carefully avoid use of the word “Islamic” in referring to ISIS terroristswho have horrified the world by beheading individual British, American, and Japanese captives, by burning alive a Jordanian pilot, and by beheading en masse twenty-one Coptic Christians.


Doyle McManus has written clearly and succinctly about the wisdom of Obama’s choice in an LA Times article entitled “’Islamic’ extremists or ‘violent’ extremists? The president is mincing words and there’s a reason for that.” McManus quotes Ted Cruz (R—Texas): “The president and his administration dogmatically refuse to utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ You cannot defeat an enemy if you refuse to acknowledge what it is.” McManus lets Obama explain in his own words why he is doing what McManus calls “walking on semantic eggshells”: “Al Qaeda and ISIL [Islamic State] and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam,” Obama said. “[They] do draw, selectively, from the Islamic texts. They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith.” His main point: “We are not at war with Islam.” If the battle against ISIS is to be won, it will be with the help of Muslim-led countries that do not share the radical beliefs of ISIS. Cruz may be right that you must acknowledge your enemy to defeat it, but you do not want to lump together under the same label that enemy and those who share your horror at what is done in the name of religion.


We teach our students that it may be necessary to stipulate the meaning of a term in the context in which they are using it. If communication is to take place, a reader or listener has to understand how a term is being used if there is to be any hope of reaching common ground, starting with agreement about what key words mean. Sometimes terms that seem to be cut and dried are the basis of heated argument. Is a child a child from the moment of conception? If not, when can that term be applied? Such questions affect legal and moral decisions. Is passive euthanasia equivalent to murder? Again, there are profound legal and moral implications.


By choosing NOT to use the term “Islamic,” Obama is making a conscious decision not to group the brutal members of ISIS with the much larger group that is all Muslims. We teach our students that the destructive power of stereotypes is the fact that they lump all members of a group together, in spite of individual differences. Cruz stated, “You cannot defeat an enemy if you refuse to acknowledge what it is.” What Obama is refusing to do is to suggest that all Muslims are America’s enemies. Whatever our students’ politics, they need to understand word choice as part of rhetorical strategy.


Source for photo: [Bird Eye, "Muslims in Mumbai protest against terrorism" on Flikr]

This blog was originally posted on March 5th, 2015.


When I say I am a teacher of writing to a new acquaintance, I often get the response no doubt familiar to you: “Oops; better watch my language.” This stereotype of the English teacher as a nit-picker extraordinaire is widespread and seems to be deeply ingrained in the national psyche as “Miss Fidditch.” This character’s name seems to have been coined by linguist Henry Lee Smith in the early 1950s—though H. L. Mencken had earlier referred to “old maid schoolteachers who would rather parse than eat.” So the stereotype is surely an old one.


I became familiar with Miss Fidditch, however, when I read a book on style, Martin Joos’s The Five Clocks: a Linguistic Excursion into the Five Styles of English Usage (1967). Joos’s book (along with a brilliant and witty introduction by Albert Marckwardt) left a lasting impression on me, introducing me to the notion of contextual appropriateness and convincing me that where English is concerned, there is never one solitary right way to proceed: everything depends on the rhetorical situation and the intended purpose. Joos describes five styles: intimate, casual, consultative, formal, and frozen or formative, the last the kind of language that needs to remain the same in all situations: a phrase from the Bible, for example.


Apparently, Joos was inspired to write this book when he was teaching a grammar course to a group of teachers. When he asked them to respond to a short passage, they set at it with a vengeance, marking it up in every direction and finding it woefully lacking. Joos then had to tell them that it had been written by a Pulitzer prize winner (!). What he also no doubt told them was a lot about the importance of purpose and situation in style, from the intimate language appropriate to spouses or partners to the formal writing of the business world—and everything in between.


You may have run into Miss Fidditch in the work of Ken Macrorie or Peter Elbow, for she makes appearances there. But it’s worth going back to Joosas well; his is an important work in understanding how to talk to young writers about style.


Miss Fidditch was (is) no doubt a “comma queen,” a phrase that Mary Norris applies to herself in “Holy Writ: Learning to Love House Style,” which appeared in the February 23, 2015 issue of The New Yorker. Norris is a grand stylist herself, straightforward, witty, self-deprecating in just the right way, and friendly: she takes us on a journey through her life, from “foot checker” at a local swimming pool, to milk truck driver, dishwasher, mozzarella cheese packer, and eventually as a minor clerical worker in the editorial library of The New Yorker. There she has remained, working her way up from one job to the next and honing her love of style—and especially of the comma. She began reading everything as if she were copyediting it, and commas were her special territory: she could spot an errant one a mile away. But she learned to control her ardor, remembering that commas don’t bow to hard and fast rules but are situational and contextual. Backing up a bit, she tells us that

The comma as we know it was invented by Aldo Manuzio, a printer working in Venice, circa 1500. It was intended to prevent confusion by separating things. In the Greek, komma means “something cut off,” a segment. (Aldo was printing Greek classics during the High Renaissance. The comma was a Renaissance invention.) As the comma proliferated, it started generating confusion. Basically, there are two schools of thought: One plays by ear, using the comma to mark a pause, like dynamics in music; if you were reading aloud, the comma would suggest when to take a breath. The other uses punctuation to clarify the meaning of a sentence by illuminating its underlying structure. Each school believes that the other gets carried away. (Paragraph 21, if I counted correctly in the article, which you can find here.)


A corps of commas ready to serve comma queens and comma commoners alike


Later, Norris tackles the question of the use of commas in a series (often referred to as the “Oxford  comma”), coming down on the side of those who advocate putting that final comma in, before the final item. I’ve always told students that putting that last comma in is easiest because then they can be consistent, not having to stop and think whether they need it there or not. Norris agrees, as indeed does New Yorker house style, and she gives some goofy examples to prove the point that leaving that last comma out can indeed sometimes produce confusion, consternation, or worse:

“We invited the strippers, J.F.K. and Stalin.” (This has beenillustrated online, and formed the basis of a poll: which stripper had the better outfit, J.F.K. or Stalin.)“This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

The example I always use is “She ordered several sets of colorful socks:  banana yellow, turquoise, magenta, orange and lime.” Did she order four sets—or five? The comma makes the difference. Later in the essay, Norris tells readers of her fascination with comma usage in the work of James Salter, who uses a comma where she ordinarily would not put one, as in this sentence:

“Eve was across the room in a thin, burgundy dress that showed the faint outline of her stomach.”

Eventually, Norris runs across a number of such usages in Salter’s work, enough to let her know that they are intentional uses of the comma. She frets about this for some time and eventually writes to him. He gives a response that underscores how individual comma usage can be and especially how tied to purpose and situation it is:

As I had suspected, with the comma in “Eve was across the room in a thin, burgundy dress that showed the faint outline of her stomach,” [Salter] was trying to emphasize the contours of the stomach under the dress. “It wasn’t a thin burgundy dress,” he wrote. “It was a thin dress, burgundy in color. I wanted the reader to be aware of the thinness.”

Across the decades of my teaching career, I’ve met students whose comma use ranged from the “sprinkle in a few for effect” to as carefully chosen and deployed commas as the ones in Salter’s fiction. And I have certainly talked with students about the need to choose all punctuation with an eye to what is appropriate and effective in their particular rhetorical situation: which one of Joos’s five clocks they are telling time by. But I don’t think I have spent enough time demonstrating to students the full range and power of the lowly comma. Maybe I can be a “comma queen” without turning into “Miss Fidditch”!


[Image: a row of commas by Moira Clunle on Flickr]

Jack Solomon

Cinderella... Again

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Apr 9, 2015

This blog was originally posted on March 5th, 2015.


So Disney is returning once again to that old standard, the story of Cinderella, doing it over but with live action this time.  And therein lies a semiotic tale.


Because the Cinderella story provides a very good occasion for teaching your students about cultural mythologies, and the way that America’s mythologies often contradict each other.  In the case of Cinderella, one must begin with the fact that it is a feudal story in essence, one in which a commoner is raised to princess status, not through hard work but through a kind of inheritance: her personal beauty.  Such a narrative very much reflects the values of a time when social status was usually inherited rather than achieved.


Thus the fact that the Cinderella story (and don’t forget Pretty Woman) has been told with popular success again and again in post-feudal, bourgeois America, is significant.  As I noted in my blog on Frozen, what makes the reprise of such stories meaningful is the way in which they contradict the bourgeois mythology that links social status with hard work—something that sociologist Max Weber called the “Protestant Work Ethic”—while simultaneously contradicting the American mythology of social egalitarianism.


In effect, we find a striking contradiction here between ideology and desire.  Most Americans, I believe, would still claim a powerful allegiance to the ideologies of hard work and of social equality: those mythologies are very much alive.  But at the level of desire, Americans flock with their children, again and again, to feudal Cinderella stories that neither challenge a world of princes and paupers nor question a happy ending of social status achieved through... small feet.


Widening the cultural-semiotic system in which the Cinderella story functions, we can see that America has a lot of high cultural literary productions that openly challenge the ideology of the work ethic, but from a very different angle.  From The Rise of Silas Lapham to The Great Gatsby,The Rise of David Levinsky to An American Tragedy, we find tales of the corruptive effect of social success achieved through effort.  The pursuit and possession of wealth in these stories is presented as spoilers of what America should be about.


So, we have a tradition of high cultural questioning of a crucial American mythology (an “American Dream” achieved through hard work), and a string of highly profitable low cultural appeals to glamorized feudalism (and don’t get me started on The Lord of the Rings, a story that I adore but which is, nonetheless, one long paean to the divine right of kings).


But it gets even more complicated when we bring gender codes into the analysis.  Because it is no accident that the feudal fantasies involved in the Cinderella story invariably involve girls and women as the rising protagonists, while the literary critiques of the money-corrupted capitalist always involve men.  So from a gendered point of view, all these Cinderella narratives are telling the little girls who are taken to see them that what they should work on is their personal beauty and personality, and some “prince charming” will take care of the rest.


Little boys, on the other hand, are being told, in effect, to ignore the warnings of Fitzgerald and Dreiser, because what matters for men is to achieve princely (meaning moneyed) status.  In short, the most conservative of gender coded behaviors are being promoted through the endless reprising of the Cinderella story, and this matters a lot at a time when the most probable real-world avenues to economic success in America involve hard study and hard work in technical disciplines that are traditionally coded as male.


It’s the same old story.

This blog was originally posted on March 5th, 2015.


Work on Emerging 3e is, thankfully, coming to a close.  Don’t let anyone ever, ever tell you that writing a textbook is easy.  It’s much more work than I ever imagined.  Right now I am working on the new sequences.  We’re going with eight brand new sequences, touching on every reading in the book and including two new research-based sequences.


What’s on my mind is the nature of intellectual labor, particularly in relation to teaching.  You know, one of my colleagues pointed out that when someone asks us about our work we’re likely to talk about our research, but the truth is that the bulk of the actual work we do is connected to teaching.  For me, working within composition, pedagogy, and writing program administration, the relation between my research and my teaching is even stronger.


My passion and my intellectual labor—my work—is deeply connected to teaching: to the classroom, to the design of courses, and to the shaping of assignments.  I’m not sure the depth of this intellectual labor is always recognized by departments or the institution, which is a real shame.


I will say that crafting each sequence for Emerging involves re-reading each essay I plan on using, thinking about the ideas of each, thinking about the ideas of each in relation to each other, considering how these ideas sequence, carefully wording assignments to guide students to explore those connections, crafting questions to prompt students’ thinking, integrating work from other assignments connected to the readings.  That’s a lot of thinking.


So much has been written about the status of composition and its laborers within the institution.  I can’t help but think that if we continue to foreground not the work but the intellectual work we do then perhaps we can begin to shift the conversation and then the culture.


Or maybe I am being totally unrealistic.  Thoughts?

This blog was originally posted on March 3rd, 2015.


We had a faculty development workshop at UD over three days in early February, where we welcomed keynote speaker Ann Hill Duin from the University of Minnesota. Ann is in technical and professional communication and has held various administrative positions at UM, especially focused on teaching and learning with technologies. Ann’s talk was about how central connections, connectivity, and connectionist theory relate to learning.


An activity she suggested is likely to have high value in one or more of the classes you teach. She suggested having students draw a personal learning network (PLN), a diagram of where a person’s learning connects to resources, groups, situations, individuals, experiences. She helpful suggested two tools: and Both are free and simple apps that support drawing networks—nodes and connectors.


My colleague, biochemist Hal White, and I started drawing Hal’s PLN—connections to research labs and fellow scientists, to people at the National Science Foundation, to journals and books, to editorial and review roles he plays, to online communities to which he belongs, to conferences and symposia. The act of drawing triggered engaging conversation about where and when and from whom we learn. We started talking about Hal’s students and what their PLNs might look like.


Hal’s Personal Learning Network


Hal has always been a big mind-mapper, having students draw connected understandings of some specific biochemical phenomena, some cellular or molecular process, or some complex system, like blood chemistry. He uses mind maps to figure out what his students know, where their concepts are faulty, and what he should be teaching. He also uses mind maps as semester exams because he can see what students understand.


I used a similar approach in a “rhetoric of the professions” course, having students create a knowledge network on the first day of class. I collected their work, put it away until the end of term, and then had them re-do their network diagram to show what they had learned about rhetoric and what they understood to be the important connections and relationships. It was a fine way to see (some portion) of what students had learned. It also helps students reflect upon and consolidate what they know into an organized space.


My thinking here is influenced by a recent Bits posts by Traci Gardner’s on digital identity mapping. Read her post—it’s all about having students map themselves, with a focus on how they live digital, connected lives. Traci’s approach provides a nice alternative to literacy narratives, a genre covered in Writer’s Help.


It’s not hard to think about how a class or sequence of classes ought to extend a student’s PLN, or their digital identities, or their understanding of blood chemistry. In all cases, students ought to be better learners, better researchers, with more connected and complex networks for learning what they need to know. They ought also to be more self-aware of what they do when they need to learn something. That’s one outcome worth measuring.

This blog was originally posted on March 3rd, 2015.

Meme showing grandmother at computer with the text 'Grandmaster Flash'Last fall, the Tumblr account Love, Grampa and Grandmaster Flash made a splash with its humorous screen captures of autocomplete gone awry. If you use Facebook, you know that the site has an autocomplete feature for user’s names. As you type a status update, the feature pops up suggestions of user names that it thinks you are typing, with a built-in link to the person’s Facebook profile.

The feature simplifies the process of connecting users on the site. Unfortunately, it can also change Grandma into Grandmaster Flash, as the Facebook feature guesses that if you type Grandm, you might want to tag Grandmaster Flash in your status update.The results are humorous status updates like this one:

Example of Autocorrect Text: asf

Just read a few entries from the website in class, and students are sure to giggle. You can use the site in any class to talk about the value of editing and proofreading. The site can also launch a discussion of doublechecking the corrections that spellcheckers or grammar checkers suggest.

I used the site last week to engage students in my Writing and Digital Media course in a conversation about affordances and constraints. Nearly every student will have an experience with autocorrect or autocomplete going wrong, so students have personal experience to tap as they participate in the discussion.

Before class, students read chapter 1 of our textbook Writer/Designer, which covers the concept of affordances. Students also read a Rolling Stone article about Grandmaster Flash and Grandmas, and a recent New York Times article on time “When Autocorrect Goes Horribly Right.” In class, we read through a few of the examples on the Love, Grampa and Grandmaster Flash site.

I reviewed the concepts of affordances and constraints, and then students opened up one of the Padlet boards linked below, where they brainstormed affordances and constraints of autocorrect and autocomplete:

As you can see if you look at either of the Padlets, students posted some strong observations. After we discussed their ideas in class, I used the activity as a springboard for their next assignment, which asks them to analyze a web-based tool for, in part, its affordances and constraints.

The classroom discussion was a perfect intro for the work they are doing now—and to think we have Grandma and Grandmaster Flash to thank for it! Do you have a particularly successful to introduce a topic in class? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave me a comment below.

This blog was originally posted on October 24, 2013.


Prezi.  Either you love it, hate it, or have no idea what it is.  If you’re in the last category, go check out  Me? I’m in the first category.  I love its Web 2.0-ness, its fluidity, its boundlessness, its exploration of virtual space.  But haters hate and not without reason.  I’ve had more than one colleague complain about “Prezi-sickness” from endless zooming and swirling.  I point out that dismissing Prezi because of bad Prezis is akin to dismissing PowerPoint, which is almost always bad.


I’m thinking about the question now because the Dean needs a snazzy presentation for a donor event.  “Prezi!” I say.  “No!” my colleague says.


And what say you?

This blog was originally posted on September 25th, 2013.


As I write this blog post, Doug and I are in the thick of editing page proofs for the second edition of Writing about Writing, which will be out in January. We are excited about this new edition and all of the changes in it. We hope you will be excited about it, too. The second edition has been entirely re-arranged around the idea of threshold concepts—concepts central to understanding writing that we think are relevant to all writers, whether they ever take another writing class or not. And we’ve tried to order the threshold concepts so that each chapter builds on the concepts in the previous chapter.


However, as we are doing this editing work, my own teaching attention is elsewhere. For the first time in many, many years I am not teaching a composition course. Instead, this fall I am teaching an upper-level undergraduate course, Writing with Communities and Non-Profits. In the spring, I will teach another undergraduate course, Rhetoric and Civic Engagement, which is a required course for all of our writing minors.


So what is on my mind right now is the connection between theory and practice, between learning in the classroom and learning in civic and professional settings. Really what is on my mind is what is usually on my mind: how to help students see the value and relevance of what we discuss in the classroom and know how to use it in their writing lives outside the classroom. Even though this issue of “transfer” is my primary research area at the moment, I never cease to be surprised at how difficult this can be for students to do, and for me as a teacher to facilitate.


As an example, this semester we started the Non-Profit class by learning some analytical lenses for looking at texts in context: rhetorical analysis, genre analysis, and activity analysis. We spent time looking at texts used by local non-profits and examined their features across organizations and settings. For example, what is an annual report? What does it do? What are its features? What is an appeal letter? Why do these genres exist? What moves do they always make, and what moves seem optional? Students struggled with this analysis, as they usually do at first. But they seemed to be catching on.


Then we began having guests come to class. On Tuesday, a Communications Director from a local non-profit visited class and shared a number of texts she had composed. She brought three examples of appeal letters that she had written, and she had taken the time to highlight three rhetorical “moves” that she always makes in every appeal letter, no matter who the audience is or what the “ask” is for.  The students were mesmerized, fascinated, and utterly surprised when I pointed out that our guest had just done a partial genre analysis for them. They didn’t make that connection. What I had asked them to do in class prior to her visit was a “school activity,” and they didn’t see how it related to what seemed to them to be a “real-life activity.”


I had spent the first few weeks of class teaching them to find and analyze texts used by different non-profits and to determine where they were more and less effective and which strategies they might borrow in their own professional work. They had dutifully done what I had asked but, quite honestly, they had not done a very good job of this. They clearly thought I was giving them “busy work.” Yet when they asked our non-profit guest how she learned to write the texts she was sharing with them, she said, “I looked at all the examples I could find of successful texts used by other non-profits, and then I modeled my own texts after those.” The students all nodded and smiled and wrote in their reflective statements for the next class that what they had learned that day was that they should analyze sample texts in order to get good at writing their own. The fact that I had shown them how to do the same thing just a week before didn’t register.


So I continue to wonder: how can we make school activities meaningful enough so that students see them as relevant and helpful when they are working outside of school? I do all I know how to do to encourage this: I explain connections, use real-world materials, ask students to analyze and reflect, etc. Yet still far too often, when students get to the “real world” project, they don’t think to connect and apply what we’ve just done in the classroom. But some students do make these connections. Why? What accounts for the different reactions by different students? I have explored this question in a recent article in Composition Forum, but I am curious to hear your thoughts on the question.

Traci Gardner

When To Prezi

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert Apr 8, 2015

This blog was originally posted on October 29th, 2013.


In his post last week, Barclay Barrios asked whether “To Prezi or Not to Prezi." Coincidentally, the day before Barclay’s post was published, one of my colleagues on Facebook also questioned using Prezi, and the response was rather negative. It appears that my friends just aren’t crazy about using Prezi.


When Prezi launched, I wasn’t crazy about it either. The cloud-based tool was often described as an alternative to PowerPoint, so I mentally added it to the list of tools like Keynote and Presentation in Google Docs. When I ultimately looked at the Prezi site, I realized that it was nothing like those other tools.


Where a PowerPoint presentation is moving through a stack of index cards in chronological order, a Prezi tosses those index cards into the air and asks the reader to run around the room, zooming in on the content as she comes to each card. I understand reader-driven, choose-your-own-adventure style organizations, but for most of the Prezis I looked at, I couldn’t find a reason for all the zooming around the text.


I put Prezi on my list of things to explore later, and it stayed there until July when I was working on an assignment for the Making Learning Connected MOOC. As I read through the Prezi documentation to make a presentation myself, I realized why all that zooming around hadn’t made sense to me. The Getting Started video on the site explains that Prezi’s templates “help you express your ideas as a visual metaphor.” If the writer chooses the wrong template then, the underlying metaphor will be obscured or irrelevant. In such a case, the zooming around is a gimmick rather than a rhetorical strategy.


The secret of when to Prezi, then, is to consider the rhetorical relevance of the underlying template and the zooming movement. If the background image and layout match the topic, Prezi can be a great choice. When a presentation will focus on the relationship among ideas, for instance, a Prezi can zoom out to show the connections and then zoom in on specific ideas. A map might serve as the background, and then the difference ideas can be plotted on that map, showing the geographical relationship among the ideas. A discussion of an organizational chart for a company might start with an overview of the full chart and then zoom through the different levels of the chart. The options can be more metaphorical, of course. In one of my Prezis, I used a template with footsteps on a path to illustrate my journey in learning more about a topic.


So when to Prezi? Whenever I can lay the ideas out on a background that adds rhetorically to the presentation, I go with a Prezi. If all I gain from using a Prezi is cool zooming around, Prezi isn’t the right choice. That’s how I decide anyway. What’s your stance on Prezis? Please leave a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+ and let me know how you feel about zooming around in presentations.


[Photo: prezi in spotlight by nyuhuhuu, on Flickr]

This blog was originally posted on September 29th, 2014.


Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Southern Polytechnic State University.  Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things.  She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. This week, Kim shares her multimodal visual timelines assignment and some student projects. You can reach Kim at or at

“I felt that our Timeline project was the most intellectually involved assignment I’ve had in a long time. I felt more inclined to give my full attention, and express myself more than I would in a typical task. I especially felt free in not being afraid to show who I am” ~Jacob ~

Composition teachers have long used literacy narrative assignments to promote rhetorical awareness and critical thinking about the ways our literacy experiences shape our lives and academic work.  I extend on this assignment expanding our definitions of literacies to include all kinds of texts and discourse communities (both traditional and digital) that have impacted our lives.  Our class discussion focuses on the ways one is considered “literate” in this day and age.  In this Literacies Experiences Timeline assignment, my students explore and reflect on these types of literacy experiences and use a multimodal, visual timeline to help tell our stories.


The assignment asks students to place their literacy experiences on adigital visual timeline.   Most of the students use Dipity, an online timeline creator, but they can choose other timeline and presentation applications as well.   In the timeline creator, students place their experiences in chronological order and compose descriptive bubbles to accompany each entry.  Each bubble contains a description of the literacy experience along with a multimodal representative image (a photo, drawing, video, animation, podcast, screenshot, etc.).   I encourage students to move beyond mere information about their digital artifacts, explore the ways their own experiences overlap with the artifacts they described, and connect the artifacts to their overall messages and purposes.   The selection of the artifacts is important as it asks students to think critically and selectively about their literacy experiences.  They have to look at the design of their lives and realize which events were meaningful and which ones shaped their developing perspectives, decisions and identities.


After students create and revise their timelines (through peer feedback), they  compose a contextualized authors’ statement in which they describe their literacy experiences as a whole, analyzing the isolated bubbles on the timeline. The purpose of this part of the assignment is to consider a larger audience and to rhetorically contextualize their timelines (they will later embed these as part of their blogs).   In other words, they have to bring purpose, audience, voice, and perspective to their timelines to situate them in a different rhetorical context.  The assignment calls for them to bring together the textual and the visual in meaningful ways for this multimodal form.


Assignment Goals

  • Explore the broad definition of literacies including digital literacies and discourse communities.
  • Help students gain rhetorical awareness as they compose for different audience, purposes, genres and contexts.
  • Introduce multimodal peer responding techniques.
  • Engage students in ethical digital practices through online citation instruction and introduction to public domain and creative commons resources.


Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of textual and visual design using multimodal elements are on-going learning opportunities for instructors.  Below, I have listed a few foundational texts and helpful links.  I encourage teachers to add to and enrich the list.


  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 21, “Online Texts”; Ch. 2, “Rhetorical Situations”; Ch. 23, “Design for Writing”      
  • The Everyday Writer and Writer’s Help E-Book: Section 3a, “Plan online assignments”; Ch. 5, “Rhetorical Situations”;  Ch. 9, “Making Design Decisions”            
  • Writing in Action: Ch. 6, “Multimodal Assignments”; Ch. 4 “A Writer’s Choices”; Ch. 8, “Making Design Decisions”              
  • EasyWriter: Ch. 4, “Multimodal Writing”; Ch. 1, “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 2f, “Designing”
  • Timeline Creator: Dipity (Note – we did find that this application worked better with certain browsers – another lesson in digital pedagogies)
  • Creative Commons and other public domain sites
  • Mark Prensky, “Digital Immigrants, Digital Natives
  • The Idea Channel, Are there Internet Dialects? (video)


Steps to the Assignment

  1. Introduce students to the concept of multiple literacies – traditional, digital and discourse communities.  Ask them to compose an exploratory writing in which they identify, define and give examples of their literacy experiences.  Encourage them to interact with the ideas of others, including their classmates and online sources.
  2. After the class has shared ideas and discussed all kinds of literacy experiences I have them list as many of their own defining literacy experiences (traditional, digital, discourse communities) that they can recall.  I encourage them to think about experiences from their young childhood (reading aloud, learning to read, parents sharing stories, favorite books, television shows, magazines, etc.) and those that developed and defined themselves as they moved into adulthood (first phone, social media, video projects, music, impactful movies, important groups, etc.) .
  3. Send students to a timeline creator tool such asDipity(or one of their choosing) to start adding the items from their list onto the timeline.   Have them select and focus on defining moments in this timeline to create a portrait of the ways they use digital literacies in their daily lives. For each of the entries they will need to add a short textual description that speaks to the source and why it is part of their literacy timeline.  They should include a multimodal, representative image for each of the selections. They should include both literal images and representative images in multiple modes.  The descriptions should include more than information and should also address their experiential overlay as they bring meaning and purpose to their selections.
  4. This is a good time to introduce ethical citation practices for the internet.  Include introductions to Creative Commons and other public domain sites.
  5. Next, students work in peer response groups to give each other feedback towards revision.  As a class,  work to define and identify the rhetorical expectations of this mulitmodal composition.  Click this link to a sample multimodal rubric to see the one I used for this assignment.  After workshop, students revise based on feedback.
  6. For the final step, have students compose an accompanying contextual author’s statement for their visual timeline in which they reflect on their literacy experiences as a whole.  Basically, they should write a narrative essay that includes some of the particular experiences (from their visual timeline) along with overall observations of what it means for them to be “literate” these days as a digital native.  Have them examine the connections between their experiences to create a portrait of the ways these experiences shaped them as people.  Ask them to reflect upon how their individual experiences have defined them, their communities, or their worldview.  In the end of this reflective piece, have students introduce their visual timeline and include the link to access the visual work.  This assignment works easily into a blog post and shows students how the visual and the textual work together to create context and meaning (I usually take these through a round of peer response and revision as well).
  7. I always have students share finished projects with their classmates.  Bringing their ideas to a larger audience is a big part of this assignment. You can feature some for whole class or small group viewing and discussion.


Teaching and Reflecting Through the Multimodal Lens
Many times when I create multimodal assignments I move from the textual to the visual.  In this case, however, I reversed that idea and had students compose the visual first.  I think this is a product of that little voice in the back of our heads that still tells us that we should do thetraditional writing first and then follow with the “fun” stuff.   As we move deeper into multimodal composition we recognize the recursive nature of revision—that we can revisit parts of the process any time during the process.  Multimodal composition teaches us that all of these modes of communication are on the same level but just require different rhetorical approaches and practices.  Textual and visual composition now work together to construct and communicate meaning.

It was interesting to notice that students engaged immediately with this project when starting with the visual.   They enjoyed learning about each other through the visual timelines and connected through common cultural references.  The fact that they shared experiences such as getting their first phone, reading Green Eggs and Ham, posting on Facebook or playing World of Warcraft helped them to reflect on the ways these experiences have the power to both define and invent.   Many also noticed connections between their early literacy experiences and their choice of major.  The timeline acted as both an interesting final product and also a dynamic tool for rhetorical invention and idea generation.   Students reported that the author’s statements (the literacy narrative portion) were much easier to compose because of the visual literacies timeline and saw these modes working in concert to communicate in ways they had not previously considered.  One of my students states it nicely:

This assignment made me think about how literacy is in a lot more life experiences than I originally thought. It’s not just reading and writing — it is an understanding for certain things. We had to look back on our past experiences that have led us to learning and literacy, be it reading your first few books or sitting down to watch your favorite movie, and we organized it through internet media. The timeline was a visual representation of our ideas put into chronological order. Then our author’s statement just explained it a little more. I think the assignment was engaging and great for visual thinkers. ~ Alfredo

Check out the Assignment Shout-outs for more student feedback on the assignment.


Student Timeline Examples
My students generously agreed to share their visual timelines on my page.   Enjoy and share these samples with your students as they create their own Literacy Experiences Timelines. Check them out at Literacies Experience Timelines (Fall 2014 Composition I)

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

This blog was originally posted on March 2nd, 2015.


Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn.


I have been thinking quite a bit about my amazing colleague, mentor, teacher, friend – Wendy Bishop.  Although Wendy is no longer with us, her voice still ripples  through composition studies and whispers in my head as I carry on the many lessons she taught me (and a slew of others) in her short, prolific life.   Wendy’s impact on composition studies is vast and she authored many books and articles, but she is well known for the ways she blended and blurred the boundaries between creative and critical writing.


Way back in 1995 she introduced me to the term, Radical Revision, which she defined as an act of revision in which writers re-see their ideas through new perspectives.  The idea of radical revision encouraged students to use ideas generated in an essay or writing project and recast them in a different format, genre or perspective.  She asked students to produce a second version of their writing that was different while clearly growing out of their first version. They were not instructed to produce an entirely different text that is only tangentially related to the first—which is not a revision at all—but a recognizable version of the first paper that has been “radically” changed (Alternate Style).


I modified (or radically revised) this assignment and had students move even further as they reshaped more traditional essays into visual representations that combined multimodal elements to re-see their ideas in new ways.   I wrote an article on these experiences in 1997 as part of Bishop’s edited collection, Elements of Alternate Style:  Essays on Writing and Revision*.   In my essay, “Distorting the Mirror: Radical Revision and Writers’ Shifting Perspectives,”  I discussed revision as invention and the relationship between form and content as rhetorical impact.


At the time we wrote these texts, the title Alternate Style called up assignments that stood outside the “normal” framework for teaching and needed their own book and place.  Today, the concept of alternate style and radical revision are reframed through multimodal lenses as new digital forms and audiences are central to the concept of multimodal composition.  These ideas are no longer lurking behind the curtain and considered “radical” but are essential to current composition pedagogy.   This is an exciting time for those of us who teach writing and ask students to regularly blend creative and critical expression as they explore the relationships and rhetorical connections between the textual, visual, and other digital content and forms.


Today, as I talk about radical revision, I am called back to re-see many things in my own teaching history.  I realize and have always considered the act of teaching and writing themselves as continuous acts of revision.  I would like to suggest that the term Radical Revision is important for teachers of writing today looking to bring multimodal composition into their writing classes.  We radically revise our writing classrooms and assignments in new ways and through new perspectives on digital culture and through the integration of digital writing projects.  As some teachers fear, this does not necessarily mean throwing out tried and true assignments and classroom activities in favor of new replacements.  Instead it involves going back to these assignments and seeing the ways we can radically revise them and still maintain the important composition theories and practices that make for strong, rhetorically appropriate communication in new contexts.


Once I realized that I was radically revising my teaching and writing assignments through these digital lenses, I was able to productively extend assignments that I have successfully used over the years.  An example of one of these assignments was detailed in an earlier Multimodal Mondays post in which I took the assignment of the Literacy Autobiography and had students recast it through the creation of a digital, visual, interactive timeline.  The assignment also asked them not only to return to traditional definitions of literacy but to radically revise their notions of literacy within digital contexts and to recast their ideas in a new, multimodal form.


I have many colleagues who are radically revising their writing classrooms through this multimodal lens. I am interested in seeing how other teachers have taken on this challenge and have come to see traditional assignments in new ways.  In another one of my Multimodal Monday posts, I wrote about the concept of Lifehacking.   As I explain in that post, lifehacking is a phrase that “describes any advice, resource, tip or trick that will help you get things done more efficiently, effectively” or in a way that addresses everyday problems or issues in an “inspired or ingenious manner.”   Like the concept of radical revision, teachers have had to find hacks that help students re-see their ideas through the lenses of multimodal composition.  Although some teachers are hesitant to make these shifts because they feel they are hard pressed to let go of the tried and true, I have talked to many teachers who have revised their writing classrooms through teaching hacks in which they radically revise their assignments through simple digital extensions and multimodal projects.


Call for Perspectives


Over the next couple of weeks I plan to venture out and get some “comp-on-the-street perspectives” and talk to my colleagues and collect their best teaching hacks for enriching their curriculum through multimodal assignments and digital literacies.  I encourage others reading this post to send me your best teaching hacks @ as well.  In my next post, I will share some what I learn through these multimodal teaching hacks.


Although some of these assignments involve multiple steps and processes, for this project I am looking for quick, radical revisions that can help teachers shift their perspectives and easily integrate digital forms and thinking into their composition classrooms.  Each description should be no longer than one or two paragraphs (remember – the lifehack format calls for short, efficient methods).  Include a short reference to the original assignment and the way you “hacked” it for the multimodal composition classroom. I am going to look for assignments that productively blend the creative and the critical through simple shifts that demonstrate the kind of radical revision in its truest sense.  Stay tuned for what I turn up through this exploration.


*Bishop, Wendy. Elements of Alternate Style: Essays on writing and revision. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things.  She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity.  You can reach Kim at or visit her website:


Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

This blog was originally posted on October 27th, 2014.


Today's guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn.


Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Southern Polytechnic State University.  Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things.  She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. This week, Kim shares her “lifehacking” assignment and some student examples. You can reach Kim at or at


I have my students use blogs to shape their digital identities and provide a space for them to share their work and ideas with others. I encourage them to go out into the world and critically examine their place within it through weekly exploratory blog posts. Many of these assignments are open ended and based on their observations and perceptions. However, I like to switch it up every once in a while and ask them to use a particular style or format as a rhetorical device to shape and deliver their ideas. I draw from ancient rhetorical strategies of heuristics —

topics of invention to vary their discourse and provide different types of critical and visual arguments. It is this idea that led me to this assignment about “life hacking.”



  • Teach students how to compose critical, textual and visual arguments.
  • Teach an awareness of audience beyond the classroom.
  • Use a heuristic structure to increase rhetorical awareness.
  • Encourage students to understand how to balance narration and exposition.


Background Reading for Students and Instructors


Acts of textual and visual design using multimodal elements are on-going learning opportunities for instructors.  Below, I have listed a few foundational texts and helpful links.  I encourage teachers to add to and enrich the list.


  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Sections 8a-e, Analyzing Arguments; Chapter 24, “Writing to the World”
  • The Everyday Writer and Writer’s Help E-Book: Sections 13 a – d, Analyzing Arguments; Chapter 20, “Writing to the World”
  • Writing in Action: Sections 10a-d, Analyzing Arguments; Chapter 17, “Writing to the World”
  • EasyWriter: Sections 3b-3d, Analyzing Arguments; Chapter 29, “Writing to the World”
  • Lifehacks Website:
  • Creative Commons and other public domain sites.


The Assignment

Students compose this post using the “lifehack” format to deliver their ideas. The parameters define the requirements for them to include images along with a numbered entry in their list. The list must be substantiated with their numbered entries along with a textual explanation that supports their lifehacks and reveals their perspectives and ideas. According to Wikipedia, lifehacking refers to:

[A]ny trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life. It is arguably a modern appropriation of a gordian knot –in other words, anything that solves an everyday problem in an inspired, ingenious manner.

I send them first to the site to familiarize themselves with the format, style and language of the genre. Here is an excerpt from the Lifehack website that defines their purpose:

Lifehack is your source for tips to help improve all aspects of your life. We are widely recognized as one of the premier productivity and lifestyle blogs on the web. This site is dedicated to lifehacks, which is a phrase that describes any advice, resource, tip or trick that will help you get things done more efficiently and effectively.

Once students are on the site, I guide them  to explore and  familiarize themselves with the voice, style, audience, format, and the ways the bloggers use visual rhetoric. When students look at individual posts, they will notice that all of the posts have a similar structure and purpose, but it is in the content and the composition choices the bloggers make to construct their critical and visual arguments that make the posts unique and interesting.


Students will notice that the sites have some things in common:


As students compose their lifehacks, they follow the format on the site and must come up with an appropriate, engaging title, a purposeful introduction to their subject, and a list, which includes images and an explanation in which they overlay their own perspectives.  It is not enough for them to just list and describe.  Instead they must substantiate through the lens of their own experiences and demonstrate a strong sense of audience awareness. I have them compose  visual images of their own photographs and also allow them to use copyright-free outside images and other multimodal artifacts (with attribution).  Students then work in small group peer review sessions to gauge audience response and provide suggestions for revision.


Reflections on the Activity

Students really enjoyed this activity.  It enabled them to connect with a familiar internet, multimodal format and engage in their own life learning through the lifehack mission.  The assignment gives them a chance to take authority and describe things that they know to be true and shows them how to take information and ideas and overlay their experiences and perspectives.  The peer review sessions help them develop additional criteria for revision that demonstrate their rhetorical awareness towards this act of composition.  Students observed that many of them share similar experiences and that there is humor and wisdom in sharing these ideas with others.Some of the students, like Phillip and Andrew, focused on the lives defined by their majors.  I included both to demonstrate different perspectives and rhetorical approaches on the same subject.  Others like Kyle explored a personal issue within a larger framework.  Rafael, an exchange student from Brazil, chose to share some of his culture, and Asante chose a current topical issue to critique.


Check out these students’ lifehack projects on their blogs:


Or, check them out on my teaching blog: Acts of Composition.


Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

This blog was originally posted on February 26th, 2015.


At the end of last year, I went to hear students in PWR 2 at Stanford (that’s the second year writing class) participate in a conference, during which they gave presentations based on their research this term. As I expected, the presentations were all fun to listen to and packed with information: the students were dressed up and doing their best to get and hold their audience’s attention. (Of course, I wouldn’t be a teacher if I didn’t have some suggestions for improvement—and all the presenters I heard could have used more work on transitions: “and now,” for instance, isn’t a very helpful transition for listeners, especially if it’s repeated over and over!)


But the presentations were all engaging, and after a while I began to notice that some of the students were using very intriguing icons to mark call-out items or ideas on their slides:  no bullet points for these speakers. After the presentations were over, I asked one of the students about it and she said, “Do you know The Noun Project?” I did not.


But now I have checked it out and discovered that the Project was founded by Edward Boatman, Sofya Polyakov, and Scott Thomas in 2010, when they produced a catalog with several hundred non-copyrighted icons. Since that time, the Project has grown exponentially; now designers around the world contribute new symbols and icons. Their website (see announces their goal as “Creating, Sharing and Celebrating the World’s Visual Language,” inspired by Edward’s insight that “It would be really great if I had a drawing of every single object or concept on the planet.” Such drawings, symbols, and icons can help foster communication across languages, cultures, and space.

The student I spoke with was using a fish from the Project to act more or less like a bullet point, only more interesting—and appropriate since she was talking about marine biology.  Good idea—but once I was on the Noun Project site, I could imagine many other uses for these symbols, which the creators refer to as “a silent language that speaks louder than words.”


I’m not sure I would go quite so far: I don’t think visual symbols will replace words any time soon (and besides, words are themselves visual images when they are written down). But they work beautifully with words to help get messages across clearly and succinctly. Check out The Noun Project website—and be sure to click on the short video embedded on the home page!

Barclay Barrios

Online Classes

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Apr 8, 2015

This blog was originally posted on February 25th, 2015.


It’s always surprised me that I don’t teach online.  I am a tech-heavy guy, often an early adopter, and much of my work has involved computers and composition. But I tried teaching a writing course online once and, frankly, I thought it was a disaster.  Granted, I was doing it somewhere around the turn of the millennium; I’m certain the technology has changed since then.  But I’ve been stubbornly dead set against writing instruction online for most of my career.

That must change.


In part, it’s my whole “teachability” thing: I think I need to look back and reexamine old conclusions.  A more pressing part, though, is a new mandate from our school to get our FYC courses online.  It’s not entirely clear where the pressure is coming from: eLearning, the Dean of Undergraduate Studies, the Provost.  Dunno.  But the orders have come and now the challenge is making it happen in a way that maximizes student learning and success.


My basic objections have always been related to two points.  First, composition classes are process-based classes, not content-based.  Sure, I can see how it would be easy to put a video lecture on Blackboard, toss up some quizzes, add an exam and be done with it.  It seems easy to me to deliver content through Content Management Systems (duh). But how does one teach process online?  It strikes me as being as odd as trying to teach sculpture online.


My limited experience suggests that any attempt to do so triggers my second objection: time.  Specifically, it feels like writing courses takes a lot more time online.  If I am having discussion in a 50-minute class it takes 50 minutes.  Move that discussion onto a discussion board, though, and I have to read each student response, engage appropriately, and redirect or respond, a process which I think ends up taking a lot longer than 50 minutes.


Maybe I am wrong.  I have to be.  I know that lots of schools teach writing online.  I’m just not sure how they do it effectively.


I may be signing up for the Cs workshop on the topic and you can bet I’ll be reading widely in the field.  But if you’ve taught online and feel that you’ve found a way that really works, let me know, OK?

This blog was originally posted on February 24th, 2015.


Ever have one of those days when you wanted to connect with colleagues who were teaching the same things you were?


A new online community has formed that provides just that kind of connection for me. The Teaching the Rhetoric of Social Media group on Facebook was founded two weeks ago by Christina Fisanick. Born from a discussion of resources on the Writing Program Administrators discussion list, the Facebook group has this simple



Teaching the Rhetoric of Social Media is a group focused on helping students understand how to analyze and create artifacts for social media.


Anyone can join the group, though new members do have to be approved (to avoid spambots). Facebook groups are separate from your personal timeline and news feed, so you can participate in the community without posting the information to everyone you know on Facebook.


So far, group members have shared assignments and syllabi, collaborated to answer questions, discussed online identity profiles, and posted links to relevant resources. The group may be only two weeks old today, but it’s already a wonderful resource and supportive community.


Please consider joining in the conversation. All you have to do it log into Facebook, visit the Teaching the Rhetoric of Social Media group page, and click the Join button. Someone will approve your request (usually in a few minutes), and you can post a self-introduction and begin connecting with the community. We’d love to have you.


[Photo: Social Media Class by mkhmarketing, on Flickr]

This blog was originally posted on February 23rd, 2015.


In many classrooms, multimodal presentations are becoming par for the (composition) course, and other Bits authors and Multimodal Mondays bloggers have shared ways to take presentations beyond PowerPoint (see "Multimodal Mondays: Composing Identities with Literacies Experience Timelines" and "When to Prezi" for examples).


Instructors are thinking not only about different types of presentations but about different ways—and contexts—to use presentations. Traditionally, presentations have been cumulative, a capstone on a well-developed research project. But presentations can also be useful tools for invention and for establishing a writing community in your classroom. Added benefits are building visual literacy and giving a platform for visual learners to brainstorm and share their ideas.




To present research proposals and build a writing community in a class PechaKucha Event.


Background reading before class


Ask students to plan for the presentation by reading relevant content from your handbook or rhetoric:


In class


For this activity, students will prepare a PechaKucha to present their research project proposals. (If you decide the 400 seconds of a full PechaKucha is too long, you may opt to have students collaborate on a presentation, or pair students who have similar topics and can be responsible for equal portions of the slides).Take the time in class to explain the PechaKucha format and show some examples of the presentations, plenty of which are available at the PechaKucha website; it’s likely you’ll find a presentation on the theme of your course or your assignment, if you have a limited focus. It might be useful to share that the PechaKucha format was developed by an architecture firm to prevent architects from talking too long about their work. This means that this kind of presentation has real-world implications and a place beyond the classroom, and that it can be exploratory and perhaps even a bit informal. PechaKuchas are also developed to be events, featured in global PechaKucha Nights, which means that the social context of the format is one of its essential aspects.


In class, students should approach this activity in two ways:


  1. Students should use the guidelines from your research project to consider their argument, the sources they will research, and their ideas for how they might support their arguments: giving context, offering rebuttals, exploring entry points into the conversations, explaining why the topic is relevant, etc. Remind students that this stage is exploratory; they can provide several options they might pursue.
  2. Students should also think about how they might present their ideas visually in the PechaKucha format. They might consider photographs from news sources, data charts that piqued their interest (and might be used as sources later), abstract images that represent their ideas or research plans, even “selfies” in which students position themselves in the context of their arguments. Encourage them to be creative!


Together, develop criteria for a good PechaKucha proposal. For example, you might consider questions like the following to develop your guidelines:

  • What is the benefit of providing visuals to share your ideas?
  • What counts as a “visual”? Pictures?  Words? Something else?
  • How should you organize your proposal to have the most impact on your audience?
  • What are the benefits to presenting your proposal in this format rather than writing a formal proposal? What are the challenges?
  • What are the advantages of presenting to your classmates? How should the audience engage with your presentation?




Ask students to develop and present (or record) their research project proposals in a PechaKucha-style presentation that they will share during your class’s PechaKucha Event.


You can choose to structure your Event as a continuous presentation, with students jumping up to give their ideas when it’s their turn, or you can choose to have students present individually or in small groups. Adding in breaks allows for questions, while a continuous loop might make students feel like they’re all part of the same presentation and might add to a looser atmosphere. Before the Event, have students submit their slides to you, and you can combine the slides, inserting a slide with the presenter name(s) before each proposal. Set the slides to advance every twenty seconds (check out the YouTube video below to learn about the basics of setting up a PowerPoint for the PechaKucha format).



Depending on your resources or goals, you might consider making the PechaKucha Event an occasion that expands beyond the classroom, much like the official PechaKucha Nights that occur in cities around the world. Perhaps you could schedule an event for multiple sections or your course so that students in different classes can share their ideas. It’s up to you! Regardless, making the proposal presentation more of an event will stress the importance of early planning and thinking for a research project and remind students that it’s not just about the final product—each step is important and event-worthy.


Reflection on the activity                 


Ask students to reflect on the presentations they and their classmates have created, using questions like these as prompts for discussion or writing:


  1. How did setting up the proposal in a PechaKucha format help you conceptualize your writing project? How did it challenge you?
  2. How will you use the audience’s interactions and questions as you move forward with your project?
  3. What would you do differently if you were to present your proposal again?
  4. What advice would you give to other students who are asked to do this assignment in the future?


Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

This blog was originally posted on February 19th, 2015.


You may have seen an article in the New York Times called “Writing Your Way to Happiness.” This essay corroborated earlier research that has connected writing with improved health, though the author here focuses on if and how writing can lead to behavioral change and “improve happiness.” A number of studies indicate that writing can indeed lead to such changes. As the author puts it, “by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.”


I found the article fascinating, and encouraging, although the behaviorist leanings of some of the studies reported on left me less than thrilled. But closer to home, I have seen the benefits of life writing/revising at work. Bronwyn LaMay’s (brilliant) dissertation reported on an ethnographic study she had done of students of color who attended a very tough high school. She followed one class for an entire year, during which they read Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and wrote about love in their own lives. Bronwyn is working on a book that describes the study and her students, and I’ll be reviewing and recommending it to you as soon as it is available, because the results were truly remarkable. Bronwyn led her students in reading—word for word, line for line—Morrison’s book, and talking about the kinds of love represented there—and about the way that some characters attempted to intervene in the plot lines of their lives. Slowly the students began to apply this concept to their own lives: what stories or plot lines could they see their own lives taking—and how might they write their way toward interventions and changes in those stories? They tackled this question with energy and passion and commitment.


Recently, Bronwyn and I had a chance to introduce the same questions to a group of students participating in Stanford’s Project WRITE, which brings students from East Palo Alto high schools to campus on Saturday mornings during the winter for writing workshops of all kinds. The one Bronwyn and I led began with a simple question: what is love? We showed the group some things Toni Morrison has to say about love (“actually, I think all the time when I write, I’m writing about love or its absence”) and some quotations from Bronwyn’s former students, like this one:

As I was growing up all I heard around me was “I love you,” “te amo,” without showing it. My definition of love when I was growing up was somebody hurting you physically and emotionally, but that was just a way of them showing their loved ones love.


The students then wrote on their own in short spurts about their definitions of love, and during discussion we asked them what kind of a story these definitions told about their lives. Once we got there, the students were hooked: they talked to and often over one another, and then they wrote. And wrote some more. We left them with the assignment to carry on this piece of writing during the week and to return to the workshop the following Saturday. I was certain they would come prepared as never before.


As Bronwyn points out, students in their high school years are focused (inevitably and as they should be) on themselves, on who they are and who they might be. Writing that guides them in exploring these questions is the kind of writing I think of when I hear about “writing your way to happiness.” Writing alone can’t change the cold hard facts of many young people’s lives. But it can begin the work of interrogating those facts, of interpreting them and shaping them. And revising their lives in the process.

This blog was originally posted on February 19th, 2015.


My candidate for the hands-down “what were they thinking?” award for Super Bowl XLIX is GoDaddy’s now-notorious “Puppy” ad, which was pulled from the broadcast schedule days before the game.


The ad, of course, was a parody of last year’s Budweiser puppy ad, highlighting something (oddly enough) that I pointed out in my Blog analysis of that ad—namely, that for all the heart warm, the Budweiser puppy was, in effect, a commodity for sale.  GoDaddy’s version made this its punch line, with the adorable Golden Retriever pup returning home only to be shipped out again by his breeder, who smugly observes that the sale was made possible by her GoDaddy sponsored web page.



Indeed, I’m really beginning to wonder whether the GoDaddy ad team read my analysis of last year’s Budweiser puppy ad, because I also discussed there how Budweiser’s puppy narrative fit into a system that includes the movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, and, sure enough, the GoDaddy ad is packed with Hachi-like music and imagery.


But that’s not the point of this blog.  I’m much more interested in noting how the GoDaddy debacle illustrates a fundamental principle of conducting semiotic analyses of advertising.


That principle is that advertisements characteristically try to associate some unrelated emotion with a product in order to move consumers towards purchasing it. The 2014 Budweiser puppy ad does this by appealing to its intended audience’s affection for cute animals (horses as well as dogs) to sell beer. The emotions stimulated in the GoDaddy ad are a great deal more complex, however. Audience affection for puppies isanticipated, but it is undercut by the pratfall-like reversal at the end of the ad, which turns upon a doubly humorous revelation: first, that the ad is a parody of the famous Budweiser ad; and second, that it is a satire of the sort of person who breeds dogs for profit.


Now, as an ad that plays upon viewer awareness of the prior ads that are being parodied, the GoDaddy ad joins the tradition of such campaigns as the Energizer Bunny series.  Ads of this kind play upon their intended audiences’ disgust with advertising itself, and thus make viewers feel good about the product because the ad that is pitching it is also ridiculing advertising.  Given the track record of such advertisements, the GoDaddy ad should have been a success.


But the strikingly unsympathetic character of the dog breeder in the GoDaddy ad is much more ambiguous. We are clearly not supposed to like her (an emotion that can be anticipated in an audience full of dog lovers). But, strangely enough, the dog breeder is also the one who is identified with GoDaddy, when she happily exclaims that it was her GoDaddy-hosted web site that enabled her to sell the puppy in the first place as she packs it off again into exile.


Um, what were they thinking?  No wonder they pulled the ad—but the damage had already been done.


Moral of story: if you are going to advertise a product on the basis of unrelated emotions rather than on the objective facts of the product itself, you’d better get your emotions straight.  Satirical humor can be a very effective way of moving the goods, but there are some things you mess with at your peril—puppies come to mind.

Barclay Barrios


Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Apr 8, 2015

This blog was originally posted on February 18th, 2015.


I just made my reservations for the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC).  Wow, some lessons learned.


The first lesson: reserve rooms early.  I couldn’t get into the host hotel or the backup hotel or even the backup, backup hotel.  I’m only about a mile away from the conference but I know from past experience there is no greater pleasure than getting through a long day of panels and then simply stepping into an elevator and collapsing in my room. This year I will be taking a hike before collapsing.  I have to admit I was really kind of shocked.  I just never expected it to be that hard to find a hotel room in Tampa of all places.


The second lesson is closely connected: CV lines are expensive.  I tried every traveler’s trick I know, including Kayak, Orbitz,, AAA discounts, state government rates—everything. I still can’t believe it costs $250+ a night to stay in Tampa. When all is said and done, I will be spending about $1,000 to attend the conference.  Luckily, it’s just across the state from me so I can drive there.  If I had to fly in, that cost would be even higher.  That’s a lot of money, it seems to me, for a line on one’s CV (especially since I am not presenting this year and so, really, it’s not a line on my CV).  It prompts me to think about the costs of tenure: the money we invest while on the tenure track to get our work out there, to stay current, to connect to others, and to move towards tenure.  The cost problem is compounded for me since I won’t be getting department funds to travel this year, as I am technically “out of unit” and up in the dean’s office.  I’m trying to think of this as a critical investment in my career but it’s a tough sell to my bank account.


Third lesson: they do an awesome job with the conference.  Yes, I’m in sticker shock thinking of what I am paying for where I am staying.  But in getting things together for the conference I was really impressed with all the work they’re doing.  I watched some YouTube videos about the location, I see they have more poster sessions (with cash awards!), and super kudos to Joyce Carter for all that work—there are a ton of new features to look forward to.


I’ll be sure to enjoy many panels and will delight in seeing professional friends that, really, I only see at Cs.  But I have to admit what I look forward to the most is the Bedford party.  For me, it’s the highlight of the conference.


Hope to see you there.  And you can bet I will be taking these lessons with me as Cs moves to Houston in 2016.  I’ll be saving up, booking early, and thinking about some new formats to share my work.

This blog was originally posted on February 17th, 2015.


As I prepare for any class I teach, I post the planned activities on a WordPress blog and send out updates on Twitter. My blog post typically includes a photo I have found on Flickr, using Creative Commons search. In class, we are likely to talk about Facebook, Flickr, or Pinterest. We build LinkedIn profiles, and we discuss online personas.


Social media has become a significant part of what I teach and how I communicate with students for these ten reasons:


  1. It provides an authentic audience (often with instant responses).
  2. It builds community among students as they connect in writing.
  3. It creates a simple discussion space for classroom brainstorming.
  4. It supports back channel conversations.
  5. It lets me share information easily when students are not in the classroom.
  6. It teaches skills students will use in their job searches and ultimately in the workplace.
  7. It stresses the value of multimodal composing.
  8. It can create archives of course work and class discussions—and it’s much easier than copying everything off the board.
  9. It provides great spaces for collaborative projects.
  10. It’s fun! Anytime learning is fun, everyone wins.


Now that you know why I use social media, would you like to learn more about how? Join me during Macmillan’s #EdTechWeek for my presentation on “Ten Ways to Use Social Media in the Writing Classroom.” I will share some general strategies as well as specific assignments and activities that focus on bringing the connectivity of social media tools in the writing classroom. I will be presenting Wednesday, February 25 at 2 PM Eastern. I look forward to seeing you there!

This blog was originally posted on February 13th, 2015.


Because my son Jonathan is a film scholar, I am probably even more aware than most that this is awards season. The Academy Awards ceremony each year is for our household what the Super Bowl is for others. Jonathan recently posted on Facebook that in his lifetime he has seen 2,502 movies. The fact that he knows that speaks volumes about his obsession, along with the fact that he was watching classic silent movies before he could read the subtitles. I came naturally to use the movie review as a means of teaching the claim of value, but my approach can be adapted to other types of evaluative writing as well.


First, I ask my students to bring in or upload examples of movie reviews that are essay length. My goal is to let my students discover the conventions of the genre. I put them into groups to share the reviews and ask them to come up with a list of rules for writing movie reviews. An example would be that one never gives away the ending. More useful is the observation that a good review is focused—it has a point more specific than that the movie is good or bad. After the group work, we work as a class to come up with a master list of rules, and I ask them to share some of the best examples of claims that they discovered. They can use the list of rules as they write their own reviews and can model claims for their own writing on the best examples we have discovered.


Second, I find it useful to check students’ claims before they write their essays so that I can head off problems such as claims that are too broad or that are not actually claims of value.


Third, I have them write their review for a specific publication. It makes a difference if a review would appear in Parents magazine rather than Rolling Stone. They can adapt their content and their language to their audience, and I can evaluate their writing accordingly.


Through this process I am trying to teach them an important point about all evaluative writing—that a work of art, or anything else, is evaluated according to a set of standards.  Readers are not going to agree with a review if they do not agree with the standards the writer uses to judge it. It is widely believed that the Academy Awards are slanted to the perspective of “old white guys” because of the make-up of the organization. They are more conservative, for example, than professional critics, who err on the side of rewarding risk taking. Whatever the audience, whatever the standards being used to judge a work of art, it is ultimately the responsibility of the reviewer to build a convincing case, using specific references to the work, that it meets or does not meet a clearly established set of standards.


[Photo source: Loren Javier, "Academy Award..."]

This blog was originally posted on February 12th, 2015


At the 2015 MLA meeting in Vancouver, John Schilb chaired a session on “Composition after the Neuro Turn,” which he identifies as the move the field has taken beyond the social and toward an encounter with contemporary work in neuroscience. As Schilb pointed out in his proposal for the session, composition engaged deeply with cognitive studies in the ’70s and early ’80s, before social constructionist theory took center stage.


Panelists included Shirley Brice Heath, Kurt Spellmeyer, Steven Shoemaker, along with me, and together the papers made a strong case for paying attention to the findings of neuroscience today. We had only 15 minutes to speak, so all remarks were cursory. But I used my time to review research on the role of emotion and feelings in learning, citing work by Antonio Damasio, Douglas Massey, Joseph LeDoux, and Candace Pert. These scholars take very different tacks in their studies, but as a layperson, I’ve gained a great deal from reading them. My big “takeaway” is the deeply intertwined relationship between memory and emotion and the crucial importance of both to learning in general. To oversimplify wildly, this work counters Aristotle’s claim that “Man is the rational animal.” Not so. Of course, that’s not to say that rationality doesn’t figure in human behavior. But it is only one part of how we come to decisions—and often a very small part indeed. As Massey puts it:

Because of our evolutionary history and cognitive structure, it is generally the case that unconscious emotional thoughts will precede and strongly influence our rational decisions. Thus, our much-valued rationality is really more tenuous than we humans would like to believe, and it probably plays a smaller role in human affairs than prevailing theories of rational choice would have it.  (Douglas Massey, “A Brief History of Human Society: The Origin and Role of Emotion in Social Life,” American Sociological Review 67 [2002]: 1-29)


So Joseph LeDoux speaks of the “emotional brain,” arguing that all of our perceptions and decisions are swayed in emotional states. Emotion, in his view, organizes all brain activity. Antonio Damasio rejects the mind/body dichotomy, citing research that demonstrates the degree to which the mind is fully embodied. And molecular biologist Candace Pert goes further still in showing that what she calls “molecules of emotion” are distributed throughout our bodies, not restricted to our brains.


I went on to connect this research in neuroscience to studies of student writers I have conducted. In short, I argued that emotion (which neuroscience tells us is largely unconscious) and feelings (which are conscious) are deeply implicated in the writing and writing processes of students (and the rest of us!), and that as teachers we would do well to recognize this fact of life. So while we work with students to learn new rhetorical moves and strategies, we need to be aware that unconscious emotions may be stirring feelings that impede their progress.


What to do? Certainly we can’t and shouldn’t try to be therapists! But what we can do is discuss these findings from neuroscience with students, asking them to track their feelings about writing as best they can and to articulate those feelings wherever possible. And we can help them develop strategies for countering negative feelings by building up—and repeating, repeating, repeating—positive ones.

I think most writing teachers probably take these steps anyway: we have always thought of our students not simply as minds (or brains) but asembodied minds, which we have the rare privilege to engage—and perhaps help shape.


[Image: Brain by dierk schaefer on Flickr]

Barclay Barrios

The Teachable TOACA

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Apr 8, 2015

This blog was originally posted on February 11th, 2015.


I’ve recently come to realize that I am now what I would consider a “TOACA,” a Teacher of a Certain Age.  Granted, that has more to do with chronobiological age than professional longevity.  And let me be clear that it’s not that I feel like things are “over” (thank goodness). Still, there is a certain sense that I am reaching the top of the hill, so to speak, no matter how long it may be on the other side.  This realization has prompted quite a bit of reflection about my life and career. One of the things I’ve decided is that it is time for me to be teachable again.


Curious, I think, for a teacher to seek teachability.


I’ve been teaching for quite some time now, successfully.  I say “successfully” but I am now coming to wonder how much of my success results from a certain kind of inertia, the simple fact that I have kept doing what I always did.  Maybe it’s time for that to change.  I’m committing myself to exploring new things in my teaching: new methods and approaches, new kinds of assignments, new approaches to the classroom, new pedagogies.  For so long I thought I knew the answers; maybe it’s time to ask new questions.


I’m not entirely sure what this is all going to look like but, as a quick example, I have been thinking a lot about a conversation I had with our point person for student success across the entire university.  She explained that studies show that student learning increases when a teacher takes just a couple of minutes at the start of class to discuss what was covered last class, what will be covered this class, and why it matters.


It seems a pretty low stakes change for me and so I feel it’s worth a try.  I can picture myself saying something like “Last class we worked on how to make arguments more specific.  This class as you read through your peers’ papers I want you to focus on arguments to see how specific they are.  Not only will this help your peers to improve their papers but it will give you practice that can help you with your argument as well which will help you improve your writing and your grade.”  So simple, really.  It’s a small change in my teaching but one that may have a large impact.


I’ll try to share other little shifts I make in the classroom but the most important shift, I think, is that I am ready to shift.  I’m wondering if I am alone in this.  Well, really, I am wondering if I am the only one with so much hubris as to think that what once worked will always work.  How often do you switch up your teaching?  How teachable are you?

Nancy Sommers

Finding a Voice

Posted by Nancy Sommers Expert Apr 8, 2015

This blog was originally posted on April 21st, 2014.


Voice is that elusive category we talk about with students—“find your voice,” we urge, as if they left it somewhere, in a dresser drawer, perhaps, or as if they could purchase it on Amazon.  But there is no lost and found drawer for voice, no way to shop for it, or seek it out.  Voice is something students have to write their way into, something that takes practice and play, and numerous attempts while listening for their own idiosyncratic take on the world.


Teaching creative nonfiction this semester has given me an opportunity to talk more about voice, something that too often seems missing from the over-crowded academic writing class, with its rush from analysis to argument to research writing. There’s plenty to teach about voice in academic writing, especially its absence in stilted, dull prose, or its presence in particular genres, but, unfortunately, in first-year writing the subject of voice often takes a back seat.  A creative nonfiction course is over-crowded in its own way, as we move from one assignment to the next, practicing dialogue and crafting scenes in one exercise, handling the passage of time with back-stories and reflections in the next, and always reflecting on what draws us into the world of the essays we read or those which students write. Voice is center stage in every discussion about subject, style, shape, and narrative technique; it is always on the page and in our workshops as students figure out who they are—and who they want to be—in their own narratives.


One way to approach the elusiveness of voice is by not talking about it at first. Instead, I talk with students about the ways in which all good creative nonfiction—and all good academic writing, too—has, at its center, a writer trying to figure something out— struggling with a problem,  a dilemma or contradiction—a “not knowing” which gives the writing its reason for being. As students plan their narratives, I ask them to write from curiosity:  What is it you want to understand—what doesn’t make sense—what pieces don’t fit together?   These questions and the spirit of exploration they engender don’t guarantee that students will write their way into an engaging, compelling, genuine voice, but they encourage them to write away from certainty and cliché, and into complexity.


In writing creative nonfiction, students discover a freedom of form that often leads to the kind of explorations that bring them closer to a voice they recognize. In handling the passage of time, for instance, they often need to question the reliability of memory—a subject in itself– or think against themselves and test assumptions in order to see perspectives other than their own.  Or in wrestling with the complexity of family secrets, for example, they often need to interview relatives, examine evocative photographs and objects to understand the personal and historical back-stories behind these secrets.  It requires plenty of practice and play to be comfortable on the page, and doesn’t happen with a single assignment or writing course, but when students explore a question or problem that really matters to them, they start listening for their personal, quirky, idiosyncratic take on the world.


Dear Readers:  How do you talk about voice with your students?  What exercises or assignments help your students find a comfortable voice on the page? Please share your ideas by leaving a comment below.

This blog was originally posted on February 13th, 2014.


Dear Readers: Here’s a question for you:  How do we reinvent ourselves, semester after semester, to keep our teaching fresh and new?


This is a question I’m pondering as I mentor new teachers, their passions palpable, their enthusiasm unbridled; they can’t imagine a more perfect calling than teaching writing. I ask them to reflect on what brought them to education, and I find myself asking, after thirty-some years of teaching, what has kept me here? How do I find those corners in myself, year after year, that rhyme with my students—and subject matter—and that keep me passionate about teaching?


Flashback to my first teaching experience: I imagined teaching to be nothing more than bringing my love of Walt Whitman to students, eighth graders brimming with the rhythms of Chicago’s urban life. I thought the only way to love Whitman was to read poetry outdoors, to luxuriate in the grass, marveling at the conjugation of the color green.  My students, though, had no desire to celebrate leaves of grass.  They had plenty to say, their bodies electric, but I wasn’t listening to the call of their stories. Looking back, I realize how much of the year was a song of myself, more soliloquy than an exchange of voices, more my performance than theirs.

                                                                                                   Nancy Sommers, circa 1978

It took a decade or more for me to understand that teaching requires both humility and leaps of faith—and, most importantly, the willingness to listen to and learn from students—a back and forth exchange that comes from helping students to give voice to their own ideas, and not impose passions, literary or political, on them.


What I learned from my students, when I started listening, is how to write— a preposterous claim, I suppose, since I’m the one who is supposed to be the teacher.  But their struggles to revise and my difficulties responding to their drafts revealed my own limitations as a writer and provided a subject to write about. It started with revision, watching students sabotage their own best interests as they moved words around, their successive drafts weaker than their first.  I started researching and writing about my students, their questions and challenges, curious about why some prospered as college writers while others lagged.  My students gave me a subject and, in doing so, invited me to join them on the page, not as the critic in the margins of their work, but as a fellow writer, compassionate and less judgmental.


These days I consider myself as much a writer as a teacher, although there are plenty of years in which the balance between teaching and writing is lopsided, the teaching taking precedence, and I need to write my way back to balance the equation. Humility comes from teaching writing as a writer; and a loss of certainty comes, too.  I am less likely to impose my interpretation upon a student’s draft and more likely, as a fellow writer, to recognize vulnerability, especially when students are asked to put their first drafts aside and start anew.

Each semester I am inspired by my students’ stories, their writing struggles and successes as they compose essays about complex subjects that matter to them.  Helping students develop as thinkers and writers is a calling, one that is renewed each semester by students. I can’t imagine work more important than this.


Dear Readers: Whether you’ve been teaching writing for two years or thirty-two, how do you keep teaching fresh and new?  Share your stories and ideas below.

This blog was originally posted on November 17th, 2014.


Guest blogger Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Southern Polytechnic State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become accountable for their own growth though authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies, critical pedagogies, and New Media theory; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing student scholars. Reach Jeanne at:


Many of my students are gamers. They define themselves by the characters they embody in RPGs (role-playing games), by the interactions between characters who are also their peers, and by their own “mad” gaming skills. Accordingly, the amount of time they spend in digital gaming spaces outdistances the time they spend studying. Students often hyper-identify with these digital spaces, so I asked myself if I was missing an opportunity to reach out to them in their e-world and use their embodied identities as rhetorical learning tools in the p-world (physical world). In an effort to meet students where they reside, I developed a multimodal assignment that asks them to choose, play, and analyze their favorite game; record themselves doing so; upload their videos to YouTube; and present their findings to their course mates.


Assignment Goals:

  • Produce YouTube videos as multimodal arguments
  • Learn to effectively use video software as a meaning-making tool
  • Produce transcripts as texts that guide elements of essay writing
  • Learn to rhetorically analyze video game play as text
  • Achieve meaning through critical delivery of digital texts on-screen
  • Evaluate oneself and others for rhetorical delivery and invention


Background Reading for Students and Instructors:


Acts of reading and viewing visual texts on rhetorical elements are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in democratic, digital writing assignments. Below, I have listed a few foundational texts. You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.



Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation


Prior to assigning this project, the class discusses multimodalities of texts that we produce across digital discourse communities. We read Bohannon’s Multimodalities for Students and watch examples of videos from YouTube (Idea Channel) and TEDTalks (John McWhorter on Texting). Then, using our Pod/Vlogcasting Guidelines, we analyze the rhetorical techniques used in the videos and evaluate them based on elements common in writing, such as introductions, arguments, evidence, and conclusions. After the group is comfortable with both terminology and product, we choose our individual games for analysis. Students may choose either digital or board games, with or without rating limits on their choices. The class chats about the methods for making and uploading videos to YouTube. We brainstorm possible video-makers and test them out in low-stakes collaborations.  Google offers a helpful file converter that also lists YouTube-compatible files: Is My Video YouTube Ready? A foundational component of this assignment is the community-building aspect. Although each student produces her/his own video, we all spend class time working out “technology issues.” Most of our digital natives are proficient in e-consumption; some are fluent in e-production. The mix of expertise levels makes this assignment different each time!


In Class and/or Out:


Students choose and work through how they will play their video game, in terms of the Guidelines and Aristotle’s Triad of Appeals. They develop an outline that begins with an introduction, flows into an argument with evidence, and ends in a YouTube conclusion. In vlogcasting, authors/hosts sign-on to establish their ethos, present their material, then sign-off. The outline will become a transcript that students write before they record their vlogcast.


Finally, after producing the morphemic texts, students record their videotexts and upload these as vlogcasts to YouTube. They may adjust privacy settings and send their vlogcasts to me via e-mail as well, and I can then upload the videos to my channel.


Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity:


At the next class meeting(s), students present their vlogcasts and justify the rhetorical choices they made in their analyses. They evaluate their delivery and the Elements of Multimodalities. The entire community provides feedback after the video presentations, engendering synthesis of the elements of rhetoric for everyone.


This assignment requires instructors to be a bit tech-savvy. You need to know what movie-making programs your students have access to (most likely Windows Movie Maker and iMovie). However, you don’t necessarily need to know how to use these programs. You can run this assignment using the Help Pages from various websites. You can also run parts of this assignment both in-class or out. Try it and let me know what you think. Please view/use the project guidelines (edit as you need) and view student samples here: Vlogcast Student Examples. Also, please leave me feedback on this page!


Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

This blog was originally posted on March 16th, 2015.


Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law Bohannon.


When I begin a new semester, I try to make time to reflect on my pedagogy and its implications/opportunities for student-scholars across my courses and across disciplines.  This semester, I have actually done it! You may recall that last fall I blogged on a Multimodal Monday about Video Game Vlogcasting. I wanted to take that assignment and re/mix it for a different audience and purpose.


Because I practice at a large state university, the core classes I sometimes teach feature a majority of students who are NOT English majors.  In fact, fall semester of last year is the first time I have ever had an English major in a literature course — ever.  Like other 2000 level literature courses, American Literature 1860s – present at my university is one that attracts students based not on subject, but on scheduling.  Finding a balance between getting students to write authentically about content and going bust on Bloom’s taxonomy is a challenge for all of us.  I have found that digital writing assignments pique student interest and challenge them to employ skills that elicit critical thinking and measurable rhetorical performances.  Hosting a vlog/podcast (we call them vlog/pods) on a subject that they have already successfully written about in traditional academic form (for us, Annotated Bibliographies) gives students a composition opportunity that also engenders creativity and digital literacy.



A DIY vlog/podcasting assignment that encourages students to apply researched texts to digital environments and create their own auditory and visual representations of previously researched materials.


Assignment Goals and Measurable Learning Objectives

  • Apply an annotated bibliography to a digital literacy
  • Employ multimodalities as rhetorical delivery devices
  • Analyze meaning through critical production of digital texts on-screen


Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in democratic, digital writing assignments. Below, I have listed a few foundational texts. You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.


Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation
The vlog/pod project works well on its own or bridged with other assignments.  In my course, we produced vlog/pods based on Annotated Bibliographies that students had written on a subject covered in our readings.  All of our readings came from marginalized authors and performers, and students chose among those subjects for their two assignments.  However, you may want to use this project as a stand-alone; either way works.  If you want more information on the Annotated Bibliography assignment, click here.


I run this project mid-semester.  Prior to starting this project, the class discusses multimodalities of texts that we produce across digital discourses. We read Bohannon’s Multimodalities for Students, MIT’s Podcasting 101,PC Magazine’s “What is a Vlog?”, Class Blog Space, and Bohannon’s YouTube Channel to prepare us to produce.


In Class and/or Out
Much of the readings for this assignment are already embedded in coursework.  Those of you who have taught core literature courses will have your own content requirements.  Some of us even have this content prescribed by our departments or colleges. Either way, this assignment gives instructors and students some creative freedom to create their own content.

If you teach in a computer lab, then you are LUCKY!  For those of us who don’t, we can work around it. In groups of two or three, students read resources and write outlines for their vlog/pod transcripts over three class periods.  I require them to post their final transcripts with their uploaded vlog/pods. Since students are working with individual topics, they group themselves around genre or time period.  They brainstorm, workshop their storyboards/outlines, and edit in class.  Production happens outside of class.  Many universities have vlog/podcasting studios available to students; check with your IT folks to see if your students have access to a studio.  My students have successfully produced vlog/pods using, iMovie,QuickTime, Movie Maker, and Garage Band on their own.


After they draft, edit, and produce their vlog/pods, students either upload them to my YouTube channel or submit their work directly into our course LMS. You may want to give your students a choice for either public or private (class only) vlog/pod dissemination.  I have found that most students are excited for others to see their work, but it’s nice to have a choice.


Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity
At the next class meeting(s), students discuss and show their vlog/pods to the class, arranged by genre and time period.  We bring popcorn (maybe not a good idea if you’re in a computer lab) and sodas and make it a red-carpet event by inviting friends and colleagues.  You can either show vlog/pods in class or arrange for a larger venue on campus.  Next time I run this assignment, I am going to book our library multimedia room, which holds more people and has a place for setting up food and drinks.


Truthfully, though, this assignment requires students to balance traditional academic invention and public, digital text productions. In my experience I have found that learning success closely follows authentic student engagement, including democratic and digital textual productions informed by student choice. Students are far more likely to engage in any course, composition, literature, or otherwise, if they feel that they can exert their agency to affect writing and learning outcomes.  For us as instructors, a vital part of our teaching is our ability to let go of our authority and guide students towards enduring understandings of content, which theyresearch, design, and produce. When we re-focus our efforts around digital, authored performances in these environments, we facilitate rhetorical growth for our students, helping them develop informed voices as they become fluent in multiple discourse communities.


Try this assignment and let me know what you think. Please view/use the project guidelines (edit as you need) and view student samples here: Vlog/Pods from AmLit 2132

Also, please leave me feedback at Bohannon’s AmLit 2132.


Guest blogger Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth though authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies, critical pedagogies, and New Media theory; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at: and


Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

This blog was originally posted on February 15th, 2015.


It is hard not to be aware of the kerfluffle over the many Oscar nominations for the movie American Sniper—especially its nod for Best Picture.  The whole thing was quite predictable: take a controversial book about a controversial topic and have it directed by Hollywood’s successor to John Wayne in the hearts of American conservatives, and you have all the makings of a Twitter Tornado (just ask Seth Rogen and Michael Moore).  Thus, American Sniper is a natural choice for semiotic attention in your popular culture classes.  The only question is how to approach it.


Here’s what not to do: a semiotic analysis should not begin with the presumption of an ideological “right answer.”  Whether you, or more importantly your students, are ideologically inclined against or in favor of the film must be set aside because a semiotic analysis decodes its topic rather than celebrates or condemns it, and while that decoding involves the analysis of ideological and mythological signifiers, it must be open to all possibilities.  Thus, an analysis of American Sniper would consider the signifiers both within the film and outside it in order to describe why it is controversial and what is at stake.  Such an analysis must take nothing for granted, objectively considering, for example, just why the names “Clint Eastwood,” “Michael Moore,” and “Seth Rogen” signify a lot more than the mere referents of three proper nouns.  It must not simply dismiss one side of the controversy or the other, because the primary purpose of a cultural semiotic analysis is to reveal cultural significance, not present uncritically assumed ideological conclusions.


In short, when placed within the systematic context of contemporary American culture and politics, American Sniper is a sign—a sign of just how divided America is these days.  When restaurant owners feel the need to “ban” Michael Moore and Seth Rogen from their premises because of a few tweets about the film, you can see just how emotional people are getting over the matter—and that emotion is a semiotic component of the larger system.


What is true for the analysis of American Sniper is true for the analysis of any popular cultural phenomenon.  While it is true that one can always move from a semiotic analysis to a political or ethical argument within an essay, the semiotic analysis itself must not presuppose a right or wrong answer or position.


But one thing certainly is true: in the current social environment, hardly anything in America is without political significance.  There is very little entertainment that is “merely entertainment.”  Semiotics uncovers the politics behind the often trivial looking surface of popular culture, and given the investment that so many people have in taking their own positions for granted, that uncovering can be the most controversial—but, I think, useful—politics of all.

This blog was originally posted on February 5th, 2015.


Flying across the country a few weeks ago, I read Diogo Mainardi’s The Fall: A Father’s Memoir in 424 Steps (you can hear an interview with the author here). It’s a slim book—166 pages—so I had time to read it twice through, which I did with pleasure and gratitude. While the story of Mainardi’s son Tito’s botched birth in a Venice hospital, which left him with cerebral palsy, is gripping from first to last, what fascinated me most about the book was its structure: it is divided into 424 brief passages, some as short as a four-word sentence (“Tito has cerebral palsy,” which opens the book), others as long as half a page.


Why 424 steps? As Mainardi reveals, “four hundred and twenty-four steps” is “the farthest that Tito has ever walked” without falling. In these 424 brief passages, Mainardi introduces readers to his family and most of all to Tito in a way so full of love that I was quickly drawn in and wanted to linger there with them long after my plane had touched down. I wanted to hear about more and more steps, get to know Tito even better (the photos of Tito that accompany the text are breathtakingly beautiful).


But The Fall is more than a father’s memoir and a love song to his first son; it is also a tightly woven meditation on the web of associations that circle Tito, from the Scuola Grande di San Marco’s façade, designed by Pietro Lombardo in 1489 which now stands at the entrance to Venice Hospital—scene of many mistakes, including the one made during Tito’s birth—to Ezra Pound’s praise of Lombardo and the “stupid aestheticism” that Mainardi had shared with Pound before Tito’s birth. The web gets more dense and full of cross-references as the steps proceed.


This 424-step-long meditation on disability and on love got me thinking about Winston Weathers, whose book An Alternate Style (1980) introduced us to the Grammar A of school discourse and the Grammar B of, well, everything else. One of the alternates Weathers showed readers was a simple list; another was a series of what he called “crots”: bits or fragments of text. But it also reminded me of David Shields’s much more recent Reality Hunger, a manifesto made up of brief snippets of text, many of them copied verbatim from other people’s work without acknowledgment.


This musing led me to consider whether the time is ripe for this particular kind of fragmented or fragmentary writing (my experience with social media writing makes me say “yes!”), and also made me want to experiment with this form, and to engage students in experimenting with it. So now I am imagining a writing assignment that would begin: “Create a series of very brief passages, all related to one topic and arranged so that they reach a climax or make a very telling point by the end.” I’d start out with low stakes—just a few pages and meant for in-class sharing rather than a formal grade. But now I’m thinking that many others may be way ahead of me and have perfected such an assignment. If you have, please share now! In the meantime, check out Mainardi’s book and get to know the amazing Tito.


[Image: The Fall: A Father’s Memoir in 424 Steps by Diogo Mainardi. From Other Press.]

Barclay Barrios

Video? Video!

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Apr 8, 2015

This blog was originally posted on February 4th, 2015.


I’ve been playing around with video since the Flip cameras were big—so about 7 or 8 years now.  As the cameras on cell phones got better and better, I moved to just using my iPhone 5s to capture video.  iMovie has given me good results for the longest time but having just purchased a Retina 5K iMac, I’ve decided to take the plunge and move to Final Cut Pro X.  Prosumer ho!


I’ve been thinking about how to harness what, till now, has been a hobby.  I thought perhaps I would make some videos about Emerging and its essays and how we use it here at FAU.  I talked with Bedford folks about it and they think it’s a good idea, so I’m going to work on a couple and see how it goes.  I was thinking I would start with my take on sequencing assignments—why I chose that approach for Emerging and how I come up with my sequences.  I figure it might be a good way to spark conversations about that aspect of the book.


Given that I am going to dump some portion of precious free time into this, I am wondering how to maximize usefulness.  What do you think about video discussions of a book?  Useful or too infomercial-ly?  What topics might you like to see me talking about?


I’m open to suggestions, so please jump in!

Traci Gardner

Buying the Textbook

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert Apr 8, 2015

This blog was originally posted on February 5th, 2014.


During the last weeks of the fall semester, I heard students talking about trips to the bookstore and the cost of texts. It was the wrong time for the term for those conversations, so I wondered the topics were coming up. When I asked, the majority of students confessed that they hadn’t bought the book until they began work on the final course project and determined they needed it.


I assigned readings from the textbook all term. I pointed to examples and model texts from the book. When I marked grammar, punctuation, and style errors in their work, I included the page number in the book where students could find more information. None of that practice benefited students however. They just relied on what I shared in class.


I realized that I probably enabled their behavior. I used the PowerPoint slides that were available on the Bedford site, and I posted those slideshows on the closed class site (a custom version of Sakai) for students who missed the class or had trouble taking notes in class. My guess is that students decided to use the slideshows in lieu of buying the book.


Their decision came to light during the last weeks of class because I provided less explicit support (and no slideshows) for their last project, a group oral presentation and written recommendation report. I wanted to give them the majority of class time to collaborate on their project, and I wanted to see if they could find and follow the information they needed on their own. In the workplace, your boss rarely gives a slideshow presentation on what she wants you to write. Without my overviews, students were left with no option but to get a copy of the book, even though it was quite late in the semester.


I was annoyed when I realized that so many students had gone without the textbook. It’s not a book that I wrote. It’s not a question of royalties. It was that I thought they had access to information that they didn’t. I began to understand why students asked me to review information so often and why they were confused on basic concepts. More importantly, I resolved to change my strategies so that students would buy the textbook for the spring semester.


This term I’m not using the slideshows that come with the book. Instead, I’m showing the e-book with the projection system, and pointing out significant passages that I want students to remember. I’m using the highlight tool in the e-book to mark those passages. Here’s an example of what students see, marked with a red arrow:

Using this method, I am also able to demonstrate reading strategies and how to use the features of the text. For instance, I’ve pointed out how to use the Writer’s Checklist at the end of each chapter and I’ve demonstrated how to take advantage of the marginal links to online resources for the book. Students have to consult their book to get the information, and I hope they’ll also read the additional details that I point out to them as I review the highlights.


I’ve also changed my in-class writing activities slightly. I hate pop quizzes, and I’ve never been in a workplace where the boss began with a quiz on the reading. I want students to write every class period, but I want the writing to be meaningful. So far, they have been writing about various webpages that I ask them to evaluate for audience, purpose, effective writing strategies, and so forth. The writing prompts are similar to those that I used last term, but I made one small change. I make explicit references to the textbook in the questions—and as a result, I’ve seen students consulting the book while they were writing their answers. They not only bought the book, but they’re also using it. That feels like a success.

Traci Gardner

Ten Quiz Writing Tips

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert Apr 8, 2015

This blog was originally posted on February 3rd, 2015.


Last week, I wrote about my experience using quizzes in a writing class to help students identify and (I hoped) recall key details from course readings. The low-stakes quizzes were relatively simple to manage because the textbook I was using included quizzes that I could import into our CMS. This term, however, I will have to generate my own quizzes for one course.


I began investigating the use of quizzes late last year by looking for resources on how to write effective quiz questions. Most of what I found focused on technical instructions for specific scenarios, like how to write questions in Blackboard. I was searching for something more like “A Rhetoric of Quiz Questions,” and I never did find what I was looking for. Perhaps I will have to write it myself. In the meantime, however, I have come up with these general guidelines as I read and edited the questions I was using from my textbook’s ancillary materials.


  1. Focus on information significant to comprehension of the material. Avoid questions that focus on random details, tricks, or gotchas.
  2. Write short questions rather than lengthy paragraphs.
  3. Avoid adding irrelevant details to the questions. There’s no need for the obfuscation of a Car Talk Puzzler in a reading quiz.
  4. Use the same grammatical structure for answer options (e.g., all gerunds, all nouns, all adjectives).
  5. Make sure that fill-in-the-blank answer options fit the grammar of the question. In other words, if the sentence structure requires verb to complete the sentence grammatically, the answer options need to be verbs.
  6. Distribute articles within the answer choices rather than including something like “a/an” in the question.
  7. Avoid lopsided options where one answer choice is several words longer than the others. Answer options should be approximately the same length to avoid confusing students.
  8. Choose answer options that are all plausible solutions. None of the answers should be obviously incorrect.
  9. If you use it, include “None of the above” as the LAST answer option. Logically, it