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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 has to be last.
  10. List “True” and “False” in that order. Students expect the True-False order. There’s no reason to switch the options.


In addition to those ten tips that apply to nearly all quiz scenarios, if you are working in a CMS to build your quiz, you need to keep a few more guidelines in mind:


  • Randomize the answer options when possible if you are worried about student honesty, but never randomize the answers if the options include “None of the above” and/or “All of the above.”
  • Likewise, don’t randomize the answers if the options are “True” and “False.” See #10 above.
  • Avoid any fill-in-the-blank questions where students have to type the correct answer if you want your CMS to grade quizzes automatically. Computers don’t understand spelling errors or typing inconsistencies in answers.


That’s all I have compiled so far—at least until I write that “Rhetoric of Quiz Questions” article I mentioned. Do you have tips for writing successful quizzes? Have suggestions for using test tools in a CMS? 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 February 2nd, 2015.


In the United States comics generally appeal to those who already know how to read and write, but in other contexts sequences of images with relatable characters and stories convey important information to the illiterate about how to avoid danger or pursue opportunities.


For example, Mudita Tiwari and Deepti KC of India’s Institute for Financial Management and Research are distributing comic books about financial literacy in the slum of Dharavi in Mumbai to discourage women from relying on vulnerable hiding places in their homes to squirrel away cash. As a co-author of Understanding Rhetoric, a comic textbook, I was particularly interested to see their financial literacy tools for women, which emphasized graphic media for storytelling and sequential art as a means of communication.


As they explained to the annual conference of the Institute for Money, Technology, and Financial Inclusion, before adopting this approach they found that the lack of information about banking alternatives was compounded by apathy toward generic information that “didn’t click.”   To provide meaningful context, they developed an interactive story-telling approach using comic books that starred two major characters: Radha, who is always struggling with financial adversities, and Saraswati, her sensible money-managing friend.  Researchers actually used real-life stories to compose the narrative.

Financial Literacy for Women Entrepeneurs


The literacy problem in India is serious, because the country has 287 million illiterate adults, or 37 percent of all illiterate adults globally (UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report).  However, many countries have large populations of illiterate adults, and in the United States, public health efforts have enlisted comic books for decades (Schneider, “Quantifying and Visualizing the History of Public Health Comics”).  Even in the supposedly conservative 1950s, Planned Parenthood used comics to get out the word about family planning.


Selene Biffi was asked to write a public health comic book for Afghanistan by the United Nations.  The experience inspired her to found a nonprofit organization that makes graphically appealing storytelling-oriented print materials for the developing world, Plain Ink.  According to their website, rather than donate books manufactured in the West, their organization supports “the use of local skills in the countries where we work” and strives to “find the best authors, illustrators, printers and distributors to collaborate with” to “create employment and contribute to local economic and social development.”  A story on the organization in Fast Company includes some sample pages, which show children making a lid for a well and a sign warning of contaminated water.  These panels need to communicate information efficiently, simply, and without ambiguity.


Composition instructors can create interesting audience-oriented assignments for students that ask them to create comics for audiences lacking fundamental literacy skills, perhaps as part of a larger research project exploring a topic, such as ways to ameliorate disease or the effects of natural disasters.  As an example, faculty could show recent pamphlets with visual instructions about containing the Ebola epidemic.


Explaining complex phenomena with simple illustrations can also provide the provocation of a grand challenge to classes exploring different communication modalities.  For example, how could global warming be explained to non-literate people or discoveries about the benefits of breast feeding using only pictures?  The peer-reviewed research may use relatively advanced scientific models, but the issues you assign should be ones that affect rich and poor alike.

This blog was originally posted on April 18th, 2014.


Think 1957.  Think the inimitable Jerry Lee Lewis. Or Elvis Presley.  Both sang about a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.


I said come on over baby,


a-whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on


Yeah I said come on over baby,


a-whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on


Well we ain’t fakin’,


a-whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on


I was a high school kid in 1957, and little did I imagine that fifty-plus years later this song would keep popping into my head in relation to digital literacy and the ways it has  helped us reimagine writing as, always, multimodal.  And we ain’t fakin’!


Since I teach courses on digital literacies and the digital essay, I decided that this year at 4Cs, I would try to go to every session on multimodal writing.  Until I saw the program, that is:  there were so many panels devoted to a range of perspectives on multimodality that I would have had to clone myself several times over in order to attend them all.  That fact reaffirmed what I’ve been seeing as I visit schools across the country:  writing programs are increasingly inviting their students to produce multimodal projects, with some pretty stunning results.  Last month in Arkansas, for example, I heard a teacher describe an assignment that asked students to create and “pitch” proposals for new apps, and another teacher describe the animated smartphone mini-lessons she and her students were producing to help each other learn and retain material.  On my own campus, intructors are guiding students in doing everything from digital research projects to beautifully illustrated and published storybooks.  Most important, students I encounter continue to tell me that they are highly engaged and motivated by such projects.


So I was delighted to hear that Bedford/St. Martin’s was sponsoring a Multimodal Celebration during the 4Cs meeting, where participants could showcase their students’ projects. When I arrived at the celebration, the large room was already jammed with people eager to see what students across the country had come up with.  Lining three sides of the room were posters describing instructor assignments—along with examples of student work in response to those assignments.  Liz Losh was there talking about her students’ mini-Comic Con; Erik Ellis’s students’ fabulous storybooks were on display; posters such as the ones seen below proved yet again that today’s writers are thinking about how to use visuals and infographics to get and hold an audience’s attention. These projects testified to the imaginative, creative, and serious work being produced by students across the United States.  I was particularly thrilled, since I believe we are coming close to the point of not having to label such projects as “multimodal.”  In sum, it seems to me that the word “writing” will soon carry with it the assumption (entirely justified) of multimodality.

As we move toward that day, I see two areas that need our careful attention.  The first has to do with colleagues who are still puzzled by or resistant (or indifferent) to multimodal writing, who don’t understand how all writing could be said to be multimodal.  I sympathize with these colleagues:  after all, writing has a way of changing on us—constantly, and we  have had a steep learning curve ever since I entered the profession, as new and emerging technologies have shaped and affected what we think of as “writing.”  So we need to find ways to link what may seem new and foreboding to the tried and true principles of rhetoric and to provide support and encouragement to those who are uncomfortable with multimodality.  Second, we need more research on how to assess such projects, and in this regard we can turn to our students, creating rubrics together and testing them for accuracy.  Luckily, both these areas of concern are already being attended to by leading scholars like this year’s 4Cs Co-Exemplars, Cindy Selfe and Gail Hawisher.


From where I stand, I think it’s safe to say that multimodal writing is alive and well and prospering in writing programs across the country.  No wonder that during the Bedford/St. Martin’s celebration, participants and attendees called for a follow-up celebration of student multimodal writing next year in Tampa – to loud applause.


Oh yeah, there’s a whole lot of multimodalin’ goin’ on!

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


Last year, shortly after I returned from 4Cs in Indianapolis, I wrote Whole Lotta Multimodalin’ Goin’ On about the Bedford/St, Martin’s Multimodal Student Writing Showcase event, which featured presenters from programs of all kinds, from all over the United States.


I ended by saying, “From where I stand, I think it’s safe to say that multimodal writing is alive and well and prospering in writing programs across the country.  No wonder that during the Bedford/St. Martin’s celebration, participants and attendees called for a follow-up celebration of student multimodal writing next year in Tampa – to loud applause.”

One of the many conversations about multimodal student writing at #4C14 in Indianapolis


What a treat to be able to report that there will be a follow-up celebration in Tampa! It will include presenters from Ohio State’s composition program and their MOOC, Nova Southeastern, Metro State in Denver, San Francisco State, and Danielle DeVoss’s students at Michigan State, in addition to work you may have glimpsed in this Multimodal Mondays space from Jeanne Bohannon and Kim Haimes-Korn’s students at Southern Polytechnic State.


The event will take place on Friday, March 20, from 3:30-6:30 p.m. in Ballroom B at the Convention Center.


I’ll be there, and I hope to see you there, too!


Many attendees I talked to at last year’s event were hoping to participate in the next showcase. If you’re interested in showing off your students’ hard work in addition to seeing what your colleagues are doing in their programs, contact Karita dos Santos ( at Bedford/St. Martin’s, who tells me that she still has room for a few more projects.


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

Donna Winchell

Teaching the Tensions

Posted by Donna Winchell Expert Apr 8, 2015

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


The last few weeks have seen two threats to freedom of speech that have generated international attention. The first was North Korea’s threats against Sony if the movie The Interview was released because the comedy was about the assassination of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Although the threats were enough to delay the release, within days the movie opened peacefully nationwide and was soon available on demand. It may have been only a movie—and a mediocre one at best—but it was a matter of principle. Threats to freedom of speech became much more serious with the massacre of twelve journalists at the French weekly Charlie Hebdofollowing the publication of cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed. They may have been only cartoons, but twelve people died for the right to publish them, and hundreds of thousands marched in support of that right.


How can these episodes become teaching points rather than simply the triggers for either heated renunciation of those parties seen to be in the wrong or unexamined championing of those seen to be in the right? That’s where the terminology of argumentation can be used to force students to examine and talk about arguments instead of simply arguing.


In the Sony movie controversy, North Korea’s claim was simply that the movie should not be released. (The North Koreans had earlier argued that the movie should not be made.) The other side of that argument was that it should. North Korea backed up its argument not with rhetoric, but with threats. Once those threats were made, even to the point of hints of 9/11-style retaliation, Americans were divided about whether or not the movie should open in spite of the possible danger. Most argued that it should. In class discussion or in a writing assignment, ask students to consider the following: What type of support was offered in support of the claim that The Interview should open? In support of the claim that it should not? What needs and values were being appealed to in each case? What warrants were behind each?


We hope that no right-minded individuals would argue that people should be killed for publishing cartoons, although clearly an extreme minority hold that view. Ask students, What is the argument to analyze in the Charlie Hebdo tragedy? Consider how the elements of argument apply in that case.


[Photo by H.Kopp, Flikr]

This blog was originally posted on January 29th, 2015.


A posting on the Free Library Blog recently caught my eye, particularly the following paragraph:

Most students also don’t know that many books are indexed. Thus they are unaware that the nature of the assignment might not require that they read the whole work, but rather that they use the index to find the relevant sections which address their own topic. As long as they understand that context matters and learn to read efficiently within a work, they need not be defeated by hundreds of pages of text. Without these skills, it’s a safe bet they haven’t been introduced to bibliographies, chasing notes, or any myriad of other useful appendixes at the back of the book. (See What students (and often their teachers and their principals) don’t know about research and an enriching liberal education.)


Students don’t know books are indexed? I was mildly surprised to read this . . . until I had a chance to interview seven college students from as many different universities in the last few weeks. I was asking these students about their writing in general, as well as about their writing assignments and about how they went about fulfilling them. Since all the students were using a writing textbook, I asked about that too. The students were all bright and full of good insights—a lot of fun to talk with. And I learned a lot about how they thought about their weaknesses and strengths as writers and also about how they went about finding answers to questions they had about writing. “Where in your textbook do you go if you want to find some information?” I asked.


And that’s when I got surprised. A couple of the students said they looked in the front of the book (that would be the table of contents, though they didn’t call it that). Others said they flipped through the book or looked at the key words on the tabs that divide the book to see if they could narrow down their search. One student, who was using an electronic version of a textbook, used the search function. None of the students mentioned the index. Eventually, I asked one of them “would you ever look up something you wanted to find information about in the index?” The reply: “where is the index?”


If your textbook’s index has a listing for ‘indexes’, will your students know where to find it?


I’ve thought quite a bit about this response and should probably not have been surprised.  After all, students are so used to searching online for information, using search boxes and keyword searches, etc. Still, a great many students are using books, including reference books, and for these texts the index can be absolutely key: as the library blog notes, without an index a reader is left to sift through the volume searching for information.


So here’s one of my resolutions for 2015: I intend to make sure every student I talk with in a class or in the writing center knows where to find the index in books—and how to use it.  A little time spent practicing with an index will take up very little time, and it could end up saving a LOT of time.

Do your students know where to find a book’s index and what to do with it once they find it?

[Photo: The index of The St. Martin’s Handbook, Eighth Edition]

Barclay Barrios

3e Progress

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Apr 8, 2015

This blog was originally posted on January 28th, 2015.


I’m happy to say that we’re pretty much done with the bulk of the work on the readings and apparatus for the third edition of Emerging.  Whenever I go through a revision cycle I am reminded of just how much work it can be to put together a textbook.  Fortunately, I am also reminded of just how much fun it can be, too.


I’ve had many great and engaging conversations with my editor Sarah just talking about interesting essays: “What did you think about … ?” “I loved it but I am concerned about ….” “Yeah me too but it would work so great with ….”  That kind of work always takes me back to what I love most about teaching: the intellectual energy of shaping a course.


And we ended up with some great pieces.  I might talk about them a bit more in coming posts, but for now I will say that one of my favorites is by Yo-Yo Ma.  Why?  Because Ma.  But also because I think the essay represents the kind of work I love to see students do: it is engaged, it is reflective, it is smart, and it draws from multiple disciplines.  Awesome.


I still have to work on the assignment sequences and I pray we get all the essays we want (permissions is a byzantine process, to say the least).  But it’s nice to see the next edition coming together.