Skip navigation
All Places > The English Community > Bedford Bits > Blog > 2015 > August

What if we experienced every classroom, and every moment spent in that classroom, as holding the potential for transformational teaching and learning? I try to remember this question at the beginning of every semester, and to revisit the question in challenging times. Last semester, pigeons built a nest underneath the sunshade blades in the window well of our classroom.  All spring, we watched the parents nesting, observed the mother sitting on the eggs, witnessed the arrival of the baby birds, and reveled as the entire family spent time together. The semester ended before the babies tried to fly on their own, but the lesson reinforced the work of the classroom: take notice of the details. Pay attention to transformational moments.


This year, as I revised the Basic Writing Practicum course, I considered how to create a literacy autobiography assignment that would prove meaningful for teachers of Basic Writing.  Perhaps as teachers of Basic Writing, we can easily point to those moments in our personal histories that led us to become teachers. But what happens when the teaching honeymoon ends? What causes us to stick with our careers, especially under the difficult labor conditions of engendered by economic austerity—low pay, limited or non-existent benefits, crowded classrooms, and too many duties within those classrooms seemingly unrelated to the teaching of writing? How do we avoid burnout?


Throughout the many years I have spent in classrooms across the United States, those transformational moments have helped me to stay focused.  In writing about such moments, I find that the deep concentration on specific details helps me to tease out the larger lessons from everyday circumstances. Indeed, in charting the progress of the pigeon family last spring, I remembered again the awe I felt at each separate stage, especially that moment so late in the term when we realized that the babies had arrived.  Suddenly the wonders of the natural world became visible up high in the window well, and the mood in the classroom brightened.


That memory, germinating throughout the summer, has inspired a new version of an older assignment in my teacher education toolkit. The new version is copied below. I look forward to reading the response.



Literacy autobiography: Transformative learning experience with implications for BW pedagogy (theory and/or practice)


RATIONALE: The literature of writing studies pedagogy offers many accounts of “teachable moments”—epiphanies that led the teacher/writer to a deeper understanding of pedagogy (theory and/or practice). Such moments fall outside the category of “lore,” which concentrates mostly on the “how to” and may present the teacher as hero or savior. Instead, transformational moments connect to the larger systemic and historical contexts of teaching and learning, and are more accurately described as epiphanies—transformational moments that lead to a change in theory and/or practice. Examples of transformational moments are offered below. Here are the details:


TASK: Describe a transformational moment and/or learning experience in your life as a teacher that caused you to reflect more deeply on theories and practices of teaching writing. This piece should include references or hyperlinks that demonstrate the systemic and/or historical contexts of this moment.


AUDIENCE: Imagine that you are writing a piece for submission to the “Instructional Notes” section of Teaching English in the Two-Year College, a guest blog for Bedford Bits, or another venue that publishes narratives of theory/practice.


PURPOSE: To become more mindful of the exigencies of teaching and learning, to foster deeper awareness of the student-centered classroom as a site for developing theory/practice, and to add to the pedagogical literature in writing studies.


FOCUS: For a central focus, your piece could concentrate on:

1.       A specific writing assignment;

9780312602512.jpg2.      A specific reading assignment;

      • "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You": Self-Disclosure and Lesbian and Gay Identity in the ESL Writing Classroom” Teaching Developmental Writing

3.      A specific class discussion;

4.      An outside-of-class moment;

5.      Or some combination of the above.

      • “Wounded Healing: Forming a Storytelling Community in Hip-Hop Lit” TDW 4e
      • “Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan” TDW 4e
      • “Raw Material” TDW 4e


Want to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post? Join the Macmillan Community (it’s free, quick, and easy) to get involved!

Bohannon_Pic-150x150.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law Bohannon (see end of post for bio).


Where did summer go? As I write this first post of a new academic year, I am looking forward to trying out some digital, public scholarship with my students and also reflecting on a first week icebreaker, in which my upper-division writing majors participate. In my classes we call it “No Fear Gramm(r),” deciding to intentionally misspell/(re)spell the word in order to indicate the no fear aspect of the label.


No Fear Gramm(r) is a low-stakes opportunity to use traditional diagnostic tools to create dialogic growth and community.  In a class of eight professional writing majors, students not only take the diagnostic, but they share their top five grammar issues with each other in a discussion forum, responding to coursemates and finding commonalities among everyone’s usage mistakes.


Students take a Grammar Diagnostic from Writer's Help 2.0 for Lunsford Handbooks. I don’t assign points to this assignment, but I talk with students on the first and second days of class about how we will use the results as departure points for the entire semester to grow specific qualities of our grammar usage. Although I don’t use the Gradebook option, Writer's Help does have one, so you can assign and grade the Diagnostic as well as the accompanying grammar exercises.


Learning Objectives

  • Examine results of a grammar diagnostic for areas of improvement
  • Compare diagnostic results to others’ in an open discussion forum
  • Synthesize content-meaning through dialogic writing and shared semantics


Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in dialogic, 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
My students and I run this writing assignment during the first week of the semester as a low-stakes icebreaker and departure point for semester-long evaluation. To prepare, I embed the Writer's Help link in our class LMS as a Newsfeed item; I also email students before the first day of class with the same link and an explanation of what we are going to do.


In Class and/or Out

Students begin by joining our Writer's Help course and then take the Diagnostic I have assigned.  You can either have students complete the diagnostic in-class if you teach in a writing lab or have students complete the assignment on their own.  I have tried both and have found better results when students work on this assignment outside of class.  Since this assignment is low-stakes, I really only care about their authentic participation, however I can get it. After students receive their results (immediate), they write up their top five grammar issues and post them, along with a reflection, in our online discussion forum. Then, they interact with classmates in the forum, seeking out connections and discussing why these issues exist. We re/group in our face-to-face class the next week and examine interesting conclusions together.


Anecdotal Results

This semester I have eight students, two are non-native speakers, and the results showed many commonalities.  The Top Five below represents elements of grammar reported by all students, in order of descending occurrence.


1. Pronouns

2. Parallelism

3. Semicolons/apostrophes

4. Specific uses of Punctuation

5. Sentence Structure/verbs


Students will keep their Top Fives at-hand as they work through informal and formal writing opportunities during the semester.


Reflections on the Activity – Students

“As we talk about grammar and communities, I am beginning to connect how integral the use of grammar is to rhetoric and writing style.  In fact, one of my favorite stylistic elements in fiction is how an author can use "improper" spelling and contractions to communicate accents.  If only I had known how to link grammar to the beautiful Welsh accent from Burnett's The Secret Garden.”

-- Caitlin H.


“Grammar to me before I started this class meant rigorous rules about sentence structure, subject/verb agreement, and proper punctuation placement. I'm now starting to view it as a living concept that isn't solely focused on ‘proper writing,’ but rather what becomes socially acceptable within a given discourse.”

-- Sam C.


“This diagnostic showed me that I need to be more natural and professional in my writing.” – Xao L.


My Reflection
For me, low-stakes writing means “no worry” opportunities, where students write openly, without fear of grading or making mistakes. This assignment is multimodal because students use real-time tech to see a snapshot of their grammar issues and then participate in digital forums to connect with other students about the same issues. “No Fear Gramm(r)” counts for me, in terms of multimodal composition, because it encourages students to reflect on their own writing practices and become active participants in community-driven, digital conversations about writing. Try the assignment and let me know what you think.


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 offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post? Join the Macmillan Community to get involved (it’s free, quick, and easy)!
  • Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Mondays assignment or be a guest blogger? Send ideas for possible inclusion in a future post.

I may be the last person in the country to have heard about Anand Giridharadas’s The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas, but I spotted the striking cover when I was walking through an airport a week or so ago and immediately went over to check it out. The first part of the title caught my attention because for years I had intense discussions with students in my writing classes about how to define an “American.” We’d read what Alexis de Tocqueville had to say by way of defining the people he met when he visited the country in 1831—along with several later attempts at definitions and then eventually our own try at this task. Along the way we were learning about the characteristics of good definitions, but the conversations over this particular definition were always beyond lively, often continuing far after the class discussion closed.

51ZIYeh-6ZL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg Of course, the second part of the title is also arresting, so I grabbed the book from the shelf and took it with me onto the plane. The opening is as riveting a piece of writing as I’ve read in quite a while, and it’s based on a true story. It begins ten days after 9/11, when Mark Stroman, a tough guy covered with tattoos, enters a Dallas mini-mart, marches up to the counter, and asks the brown-skinned man behind, “Where are you from?” Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a well-educated immigrant from Bangladesh who has come to the U.S. in pursuit of his own American dream, sees that the man holds a gun and expects a robbery. But the question startles him and before he can find an answer, Stroman shoots him in the face. As he lies in a pool of his own blood, he thinks that if Allah spares his life, he will dedicate what he has left of it to serving others.


The rest of the book explores the road that brought each man to this particular spot on this particular day, moving back and forth between the two and bringing both into remarkable focus. Bhuiyan doesn’t die, though he loses an eye and has many surgeries. Stroman is caught, tried, and convicted of this and two other assaults, including a death, and sent to death row. So far, a remarkable pairing of stories. But Giridharadas goes far beyond any simple linking of good and evil. With grace and great insight, based on hundreds of hours of interviews with both men and their families, he paints a more and more complex picture of what motivated and continues to motivate each man. Eventually, Bhuiyan not only forgives Stroman but mounts a campaign to save him from the death penalty; Stroman for his part undergoes a transformation that leaves him remorseful—and connected to Bhuiyan in several ways.


I won’t say more because I really hope that teachers everywhere read this book. What I think you will find is a subtly nuanced as well as gripping tale that raises questions about just what a “true American” is and that refuses to provide any simple answers. I can imagine using this book as a key text in a course that invites students to do research on a whole range of issues related to “murder and mercy” and the American psyche. I’m so glad for that chance find in an airport bookshop and for an extremely rewarding summer read. Check it out to see if you agree.


Want to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post? Join the Macmillan Community (it’s free, quick, and easy) to get involved!

Cassandra Stephens Bishop.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Cassandra Stephens (Bishop), a PhD candidate in rhetoric and composition at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where she is writing her dissertation on an empirical classroom study. Her project combines an identity theme and a quest narrative essay format in a research writing course; the model was designed to bridge potential disconnects between narrative writing and formal academic writing. Her academic interests also include tutoring and teaching ESL students, mentoring graduate students, and advising undergraduate students.  The study described in this blog was presented at the 2015 CCCCs in Tampa. Contact Cassandra at


During the fall of 2013, I taught a technical writing course in which students collectively requested to try something innovative.  My developing interest in digital media and multimodal literacies led me to propose that we incorporate video résumés as a tool for the revision of the students’ written résumés.  I obtained IRB approval from my university and proceeded with a formal study. A comparable alternative assignment was offered to students with concerns regarding videotaping. One student chose to complete the alternative assignment.


Learning Objectives

  • To become familiar with current technological practices in the student’s field of study.
  • To encourage a reflective written revision of documents through visual presentation of the student’s résumé content.
  • To have the student complete and assess a visual artifact of his or her current presentation style so that he or she possesses a digital tool that allows him or her to hone strengths and practice areas of weakness for future interviews and presentations.


Origin of Idea as a Visual Teaching Model

The idea originated after I recalled a television sitcom and its use of the video résumé; the concept had a resonating appeal, and I was certain that it had a place in the classroom.  That particular episode titled “The Possimpible,” from the popular television series How I Met Your Mother, aired in 2009.  Robin Scherbatsky, one of the lead characters, distributes her flamboyant video résumé to potential employers. It is a desperate effort to quickly find a job and maintain her visa status; it works.


The episode references a real life dissemination of a video résumé that did not end quite so well. In 2006, a Yale graduate, Aleksey Vayner, distributed his “over the top” video résumé titled “Impossible is Nothing” to prospective Wall Street employers. Instead of setting him apart from other candidates, the video went viral on the internet, leaving Vayner widely ridiculed and ostracized from Wall Street. While the approximately seven minute video is still available on the internet, it tends to change locations. (You can likely find a version by doing a quick YouTube search.)


As it turns out, Vayner may have just been a bit ahead of his time. After all, he was the catalyst that inspired a television show episode, which in turn may have had an effect on the manner in which many job seekers market themselves to employers through media. In 2010 and 2011, career websites offering to host video résumés attained a larger internet presence.  However, while many multimedia career websites utilizing videos are operational, they have not yet gained a strong grounding or reputation due to affirmative action concerns and other liability issues.  Even with reservations regarding current market viability, these videos still offer students the opportunity to approach their writing and revision in a multimodal manner that encourages the use of digital rhetoric as a valuable tool for revising their essays.


Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Ask students to prepare for class by reading relevant content from your handbook or rhetoric:


Classroom Application of Video Résumé Overview

After reviewing and revising their graded written résumés, students planned one to three minute presentations for the filming of their video résumés. They were encouraged to capitalize on information from their written résumés in designing their oral presentations and were reminded to remain focused on an audience of potential employers. The university’s Center for Teaching Excellence staff offered to film a professional recording; however, some students chose to film their own, using computer or cell phone cameras. 

  • First, students rehearsed these presentations and decided on a style, either formal or creative, before they recorded their monologue, designing video résumés that would only be used for their own personal benefit and only viewed by myself or other academics interested in further research. Thus, students felt comfortable being as imaginative as they wanted without fearing that their videos might become viral on the internet. 
  • The video recordings were returned to students, and they watched and reflected on the differences between the visual representation and the written version of their credentials. Students were asked to address what changes they would make to their documents and video; they also were asked to examine how their perceived strengths and weaknesses  of their video presentation affected their overall assessment of the project.
  • The students then revised their original written résumé and cover letter or statement of purpose as the last step of the video résumé project.
  • For the final exam, students completed a post-write reflection on their experience with the project in which they were asked to elaborate on any changes that they made to their written materials, specifically highlighting how the changes in medium altered their rhetorical choices.


Scaffolding of Major Assignments and Group Work

The first assignment required students to complete a written résumé.  The final assignment was a threefold project that included a video résumé, a revised hardcopy résumé, and a reflection on any changes in perspective or presentation of the written résumé after creating and viewing the video résumé.  The course design allowed the students separation and incubation time away from their written résumés after the first round of revisions while they moved on to other projects.  

The interim assignments included

  • A semester long group project in which students were grouped by majors to research, compile, and present information on the prevalence of digital hiring methods in their fields e.g., Skype or video résumés. Students divided up the 20-page written paper requirement, depending on the number of people in their group, typically four or five, and they then collaboratively prepared and executed the presentation component of the group project at the end of the course.
  • A cover letter or statement of purpose, written to a particular job ad or degree program of each student’s choosing.  This was a practical assignment since most of these students were either in the midst of applying for part-time work, full-time work, or to graduate school.
  • An interview with advisors, professionals, or teachers in their fields of study.  Students attached those transcripts to their completed prose document.


Recommended Guidelines for Recording Sessions

  • Limit edited video résumé time to 90 seconds.
  • Encourage students to memorize an outline of their talking points.
  • Ask students to dress as they would for an interview in their field.
  • Suggest that students participating in a formal recording session provided by the school become familiar with the selected recording location.
  • Prepare students for the awkwardness of speaking to a camera and of viewing themselves on tape by encouraging them to practice during the weeks preceding the formal filming.


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


Want to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post? Join the Macmillan Community (it’s free, quick, and easy) to get involved!

I’m writing this post the day after receiving an Honorary Degree from Middlebury College, home of the Bread Loaf School of English where I have taught off and on since 1988. I am deeply honored by this award, but I didn’t expect to be positively thrilled by it. But I was, first of all because the Bread Loaf Commencement is a wonderful annual ritual, as each graduate receiving an MA or MLitt is greeted by the president of Middlebury and director of Bread Loaf and presented not only with a hood and diploma but with a replica of the founder’s cane to boot! The small theater on the Bread Loaf campus is bursting with proud family and friends who have joined together for a truly sumptuous meal beforehand and who will spill out of the theatre afterward for dessert, good fellowship, and New Orleans jazz piano in the Barn.


But this year’s ceremony was made even more special by the speaker of the evening. Each year the graduating students (almost all of whom are teachers) choose a faculty member to be the Commencement Speaker—and it is a big and well-kept secret all summer. I still remember the year the honor was mine: I never worked harder on a speech in my life! This year’s speaker was multitalented playwright and 27-year Bread Loaf faculty member Dare Clubb. For 30 minutes he held all of us spellbound as he moved from a meditation on the unconscious drives that matter so much in our lives. Along the way he told a story of watching a tiny waxwing out in a devilish storm earlier this summer. Dare went out onto his third-floor balcony to watch the wind and rain lashing the trees and blowing limbs around, only to see the little bird battling against the storm time after time in search of food for her young ones waiting in a nest right above Dare’s door. So he watched as she skittered and darted and fought her way in the lashing rain and high winds, a “gentle warrior” with a singular, defining, instinctive goal: freedom and food. And he marveled at her perseverance and determination, then paused as she seemed to say to him, “This is how you do it.”



"Cedar waxwing Courtship" by Minette Layne from Seattle, Washington - Courtship. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons -


Dare then segued into a parallel meditation on the word “forgive” and the role it played in the aftermath of the killings at the Emmanuel AME church in Charleston. I cannot capture the lyrical power of this meditation, but it transported all of us to a higher level of consciousness and inspired all to accept Dare’s challenge to dive deep into the spirit of forgiveness embodied by Nadine Collier, another gentle warrior, when she said to the killer, “I forgive you.” With those words and that act, Dare said, Collier was also saying to us, “This is how you do it.” Turning to the graduates, he said “Oh my gentle warriors,” please “go in peace, go with peace, go toward peace . . . always.”


I’ve heard a number of eloquent and moving commencement addresses at Bread Loaf, though none more so than this one. But equally inspiring to me is the work done by Bread Loaf students and teachers. As we were gathered in the cool, sunny Vermont mountains, Bread Loafers were convening a conference in Mumbai, organized and led by Bread Loafers Lee Krishna and Rich Gorham. Working together with other Bread Loafers from around the globe and some 60 Mumbai teachers, they led writing workshops for middle and high school students followed by extensive discussions and debriefings about teaching in culturally sensitive ways. Similar meetings have been held in Haiti and Karachi—and others are in the planning stages. These gatherings are part of the ongoing work of the Bread Loaf Teachers’ Network, the country’s oldest teacher network and one that provides a model for teacher agency and advocacy, effective teaching and learning.


So even as I savored the celebration in Vermont, my thoughts moved forward, to the work this year’s graduates will undertake when they return to their classrooms. They will face challenges, roadblocks, hurdles, obstacles of every kind. But they will also persevere, guided by the principles of freedom, forgiveness, and peace. And like the tiny waxwing and the mourners in Charleston, they will hope one day to say “This is how you do it.”

Michelle Stevier-Johanson photo.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Michelle Stevier-Johanson, who teaches Basic Writing and coordinates the Writing Center and other tutoring at Dickinson State University in Dickinson, North Dakota.  She has taught developmental writing and first-year composition, writing about the environment, and women's studies courses since receiving her master's degree in composition and literacy studies from Indiana University in 1996.  Her scholarly interests include writing as empowerment, civic literacy, and activism; writing course/writing tutor partnerships; and rhetorics of resistance.


Last fall, one of my Basic Writing students – I’ll call him Brandon – wrote about his experience with the Bakken oil boom.  Brandon supports North Dakota’s oil industry, but he’s dismayed by what he sees as an injustice inherent in mineral rights. In his third essay, Brandon was able to research and clarify his thoughts and concerns about this injustice.


This third essay, what I call the “explanation of opinion” paper, arises out of a pedagogical struggle of my own. In previous courses, I found that no amount of discussion of reader-oriented prose was enough to make sure that students used our final paper, a Toulmin-based argument, as an opportunity to persuade rather than preach. The “explanation of opinion” paper is designed to put a brake on the tendency to articulate our beliefs before we consider the beliefs and experiences of others. In Essay 3, students state their opinion as their thesis, but the task of the essay is to discuss how they came to this belief. How did family and friends’ beliefs influence them? What specific life experiences shaped this opinion?


For Brandon, Essay 3 offered a significant opportunity to learn more about the injustices he perceived in his community. Although Brandon knows farmers and ranchers who own the mineral rights to their land, Brandon’s family had to buy their land without these rights in place. In his essay, Brandon addressed the complex consequences of this difference:  His family’s livelihood is tied to their farmland, and yet that livelihood can be undermined at any moment by a mineral rights owner who wants access to “drill, baby, drill.” As a result, while the oil industry booms all around, landowners like Brandon’s family don’t experience the same economic growth. Instead, their rights are thrown into question.


As I worked with Brandon, I found myself struck not just by his eloquent depiction of his family’s situation, but by the way in which this story provides a metaphor for Basic Writing itself. Like many Basic Writing teachers, I spend a lot of time thinking about place, politics, and ownership. These things are central to Basic Writing whether we want them to be or not. Whenever I try to argue with the politics of administrators, colleagues, and others who characterize the work of Basic Writing as remedial and perceive our students to be outsiders to the academy, I realize the enormity of our marginalization and separation – our students’ and our own.


Worst of all, at least in my opinion, there is that seemingly inexorable belief that enables the perception of outsider status:  the idea that the “basic” in Basic Writing refers to grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, and formatting, not to the real writing students will do in first-year composition and elsewhere in their undergraduate careers and lives. My students and I are repeatedly turned into mere observers of changes to the land we thought was our own.


In just the last six years of my career, the “place” called Basic Writing has been radically altered without much input from me and without any input from the students whose lives are profoundly affected. For example, there’s the course credit we lost a few years ago when my university system decided that Basic Writing is “pre-college” material. There’s the course name change that took us out of the English Department and linked us to “academic success” rather than the discipline of writing.


As he worked on his essay about compromised land rights, Brandon kept coming back to a simple question: “Why can’t people understand that this is about rights and fairness?” It’s a question that plagues me with Basic Writing as well. How do we help outsiders to our field understand that, in the American academy, Basic Writers are not tenants without rights but landowners? Why must the power of certain stakeholders come at the expense of the power of others?


Indeed, any unthinking chant of “drill, baby, drill” is as irresponsible an approach to Basic Writing as it is to this nation’s energy problems. Marked by the always-already compromised turf of Basic Writing, my students are not simple observers of fences, gates, and rights-of-access issues:  they are, and they can remain, the fenced and the gated. Furthermore, unlike issues of land ownership in the Bakken – the agricultural and industrial prairie that once belonged to Native peoples – Basic Writing students’ access has no ugly consequences. No environmental damage can occur from Basic Writers’ full participation in American higher education.  Just like Brandon, these students have vital stories to tell and talents that need to be supported, even prized.  As a space for some of the academy’s best direct action, Basic Writing must be liberated from compromised status and assume its rightful place:  a guardian of students’ rights and a central location for academic and civic empowerment.


  Want to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post?

Join the Macmillan Community to get involved (it’s free, quick, and easy)!

I’ve been spending some time with the 14-year-old grandson of a good friend, who is visiting. He came out to California fired up about learning to play golf and intent on keeping up with baseball (he’s a Cubs fan but checks other box scores daily). He’s also been glad to help out with gardening and other chores. What he has NOT been excited about is READING.


Listening to him complain took me back to an encounter with my nephew, then in middle school. It was summer time and he had a big reading assignment: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He was reading it, but very reluctantly, and with a certain amount of disdain. I remember his saying, voice dripping sarcasm: “I don’t know why people say this is a great novel. The girl that wrote it is sure wordy.” I did wonder about that choice of text, certainly not one I would have thought would have great appeal for middle schoolers!


Well, at least my friend’s grandson isn’t assigned to read Frankenstein. Instead, his obligatory summer reading is of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies. I looked up the book and found out that it’s YA novel set in a society where everyone gets extreme cosmetic surgery at 16 to become “pretty.” You can imagine the complications and tensions (and triumphs?) this premise leads to, and I read a few pages, enough to see I could easily read more. But not my young friend. He declared it endlessly boring and not what he wanted to be doing during his summer holidays.


So—is it the fact that it is required reading that makes this task so objectionable? In this case, that seems to definitely be part of the problem. I have seen the same kind of resistance in Stanford students, who are assigned three books to read before they arrive on campus for their frosh year. When I had an opportunity to choose the three books, I selected Lynda Barry’s 100 Demons!, Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and ZZ Packer’s Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. But I and the other faculty members who have chosen these books have a good ace in the hole: the authors of the books come to campus during orientation for interviews and Q & A with the frosh. The year I chose the books, some of the first year students confessed that they hadn’t read the books during the summer. But the session with the authors was so riveting that they all rushed back to their dorms to read them after the fact.


So. If we want kids to be reading books during the summer, it would seem like a good idea to provide some hooks. One might be to let them choose the books they want to read. That’s worked well with my grandniece Audrey, now 11 and reading away this summer at five books of her choice. Another might be to engage the students with the authors in some way, most likely online. Still another might be to assign a graphic novel or narrative, or a book along with a movie version.


There are probably lots of other good reading programs out there, along with hooks to get students engaged in reading. If you know one, please write!


Want to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post? Join the Macmillan Community  to get involved (it’s free, quick, and easy)!

The academic year is fast approaching. I’m looking forward to meeting my students and returning to the classroom. One of my goals during the first weeks of the semester is to Ref 8e.jpgintroduce students to the handbook we’ll be using, A Writer’s Reference. I tell students on the first day of class, Everything you need to become a successful writer in any college course is in A Writer’s Reference; become friends with it. I want students to learn, right from the outset, that questions are a natural part of learning how to write; and I want to show them how their handbook is designed to answer their writing questions. 


This year I’ll be introducing the handbook to students with these first-week activities—scavenger hunts, editing exercises, and open-book quizzes—to help students become successful college writers. The activities are designed to promote collaboration, too, so that students can work together as fellow writers while learning to navigate their handbook. 


I think students will have fun with the scavenger hunts because they provide real writing problems—“you are writing a research paper and are uncertain how to punctuate quotations”; “you’ve received feedback that your paragraphs need clearer topic sentences”—and ask students to work with classmates to find the answers in their handbook.  Once students learn to navigate the handbook, they see how quickly and efficiently they can find solutions to their writing problems.  


We know that the more comfortable students become using their handbook, the more confident and successful they will become as college writers. If you’re using A Writer’s Reference, you’ll find these first-week activities a great way to help your students become confident college writers.

Bohannon_Pic-150x150.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law Bohannon (see end of post for bio).


This summer I have written about flipped classroom models and dialogic discussion forums in an effort to open up potential for what “doing multimodal” can mean across varied curricula.  In my last summer post, I want to bring this discussion full-circle with a low-stakes assignment about digital copyright that can be tweaked to work at the beginning, middle, or end of a course.  And, like I always advocate, instructors don’t have to be specialists on the subject or experts in multimodal text production to elicit metacognition and rhetorical growth in students. We just have to be willing to explore the subject with them.



Issues of copyright have long been interrogated in writing classrooms.  As early as 1996, Andrea Lunsford and Susan West challenged writing teachers to re/envision copyright in terms of public, collaborative writing and to reimagine what authorship means in digital writing spaces. Following Andrea’s lead, I think that offering students the opportunity to muddle around in the copyright swamp not only makes them more sensible digital content creators, it also makes them stakeholders in their own writing outside of the classroom, where public, crowd-sourced writing is increasingly common across a diversity of digital platforms.



After reading texts (noted below) and paying special attention to Henry Jenkins responses and current issues with independent artists, think about creative commons and copyright licensing of digital writing.  Draft a digital document (podcast, video, animation, etc.) that synthesizes your argument of each concept and situates you as a scholar within this issue.  Then, view and evaluate what your colleagues have posted. Note: this was an assignment for graduate students but can be modified for undergraduate courses.


Goals and Measurable Learning Objectives

  • Articulate arguments for and against creative commons publishing.
  • Create a digital production as an argument for creative commons or copyrighted publication.
  • Evaluate yours and others’ positions on digital copyright issues.


Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of meaningful, textual performances 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.



In Class and Out

In addition to reading our handbook’s explanation of academic integrity and discussing what that means for emerging writers, we tackle the hallmark, government text DMCA and several introductory articles about how academic integrity in the classroom transforms into copyright in public writing.  These include Henry Jenkins blogposts on individual copyright issues and the Digital Media Law Project, as well as applications of copyright with Creative Commons and Digital Commons. I prefer to front-load the content, especially in a face-to-face course, and assign it first as a lower-level Bloom's Understanding behavior. At the next class meeting, we perform a dialogic, participatory lecture as a whole group about our content understandings.  Then, we explore our individual content synthesis by creating videos that depict our own “takes” of digital copyright. I have included what students produced here. These are public videos, so please feel free to cross-post and use them in your own classes.


Examples of Digital Copyright Synthesis


John Mindiola on Born-Digital Documents & Copyright


Kris Spadaccia Defends Artists' Rights in Digital Spaces


Nathan Atkins on Creative Commons


Reflections on the Activity – Students

Here are some excerpts from students regarding their experiences with producing low-stakes videos to synthesize the concepts related to digital copyright:


Nathan: Some things I used the video to start a discussion on: 1. What do you think of the USG's Fair Use checklist? 2. Do you think the final example is creative commons, copyright licensed, or something in need of a checklist? 3. Do you think that transnationalism benefits from or slows when applied with copyright licensing?


John: I used this video to appeal to my own students’ information designs. I want them to know that lifting others’ work doesn’t just insult the creators, but it insults the students themselves. What will they show that they actually created? What can they expect employers to think if they show them mostly lifted material? And if they lift, then what’s the point?


Kris (defending artists’ rights in digital spaces): Curating and remixing both have merit, but employers want creators, not collectors. However, the professional (though often struggling) artists who create these pieces own those pieces. The songwriters, movie producers, and authors get to decide how to connect with other people and share their work. Hey—listen to my song! Check out my cool video on YouTube! I wrote a book, so please download a copy! The people who create these pieces own them, period. That’s called artistic license; the artist controls how you get to the product, which is theirs to control and copyright.


My Reflection

For me, low-stakes writing opportunities are just that – “no worry” opportunities, where students can flex their rhetorical muscles and create pieces that are both meaningful and evocative. Multimodal productions stretch their creativity even further.  Exploring copyright issues by creating video texts to create metacognition opportunities “counts” for me, in terms of multimodal composition, because it encourages students to use digital tools to become active stakeholders in their own learning and active participants in community-driven, new media conversations. Try out the assignment, use my students’ videos if you want (they’re public), and let me know what you think.



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 at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Reach Jeanne at and


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


Want to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post? Join the Macmillan Community (it’s free, quick, and easy) to get involved!

Cincinnati is on my mind as I write this post. In the spring of 2007, I tutored elementary school students in Cincinnati’s Mount Auburn neighborhood, the same neighborhood where, after a traffic stop, Sam Dubose was shot in the head at point blank range and killed by a University of Cincinnati police officer on Sunday July 19, 2015.


The first day of tutoring, I was greeted in Mount Auburn by a laminated sign that announced this neighborhood school as a “failing school,” using the terminology from the No Child Left Behind Act. The sign was displayed prominently at the entrance to the school. The school was nearly 100% Black, and I was the nice white lady who had come to tutor the children for Ohio’s state exams in reading and writing.


Later that spring, I entered the school only to discover that the students were working on benchmark practice exams. I was taken to the cafeteria to help supervise children who had arrived late to school and, according to the rules, were not allowed to take the practice exams. A casual observer of that cafeteria scene might have described the students as rowdy and resistant. Yet that picture remains incomplete. The children were not sitting in their usual classrooms and they were not following their usual schedules. When I spoke with the children one-on-one, they shared their anger, their fears, and their passions. In other words, the children and I shared with each other our common humanity.


On that spring day in Mount Auburn, I learned what happens when we begin with stereotypes and work through the resulting cognitive dissonance. I also learned the importance of approaching our practice by “[developing] flexible strategies,” and moving forward with an open heart. In preparing for the new term later this month, the children of Mount Auburn remind me of the positive potentials of transformation—not only for our students, but also for our classrooms and ourselves.


Below, you’ll find three lists to help prepare for the fall semester’s first new writing project. As detailed in my last post, the first project focuses on “forming and transforming stereotypes” and is based on a TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The first list is a set of criteria that presents several course goals that students will undertake for the Writing Project 1. The course goals are taken from the Framework for Success in Post-Secondary Writing. The second list focuses on course actions toward completing the assignment, using Bloom’s Taxonomy. The third list offers foundational assumptions behind course goals and actions.



1. Course Goals

  • Be aware that it usually takes multiple drafts to create and complete a successful text
  • Develop flexible strategies for generating, revising, editing, and proof-reading
  • Understand writing as an open process that permits writers to use later invention and re-thinking to revise their work


2. Course Actions


  • Applying basic disciplinary knowledge in a similar but unfamiliar context
  • Evaluating a theory for the validity of its implications for college students and their instructors
  • Creating a new interpretation


3. Foundational Assumptions

  • The course is not remedial, and all students can learn to build on strengths. If writing leads to thought and action, then all students have basic disciplinary knowledge that can be applied to writing in the college classroom. All students in our courses have thought about matriculating to college and taken action to enroll in the course. The steps that led to those thoughts and actions hold the potential for success.
  • To confront stereotypes and to deal with cognitive dissonance, students and instructors alike need to develop flexibility, re-think our work, and create new interpretations. We can practice these skills through steps in the writing process, and in completing the writing process to create a new essay that has never before existed.
  • This practice is not necessarily easy, and the results may not become visible until long after the process has ended. As we practice editing and proofreading in a classroom community, we learn to read more closely and to pay more careful attention to the world around us. Every person who attempts this process will carry different strengths and discover different struggles. The struggles can become short-term goals for continued practice. This process is equally true for students and instructors.


I still remember my first experience with “professional development.” The year was 1966 or 67 and I was a new high school teacher, working with 10th and 11th grade students. A couple of years out of undergraduate school, I was thrilled to have a “real job” at last. So there I was, with a string of 30+ classes and tattered hand-me-down Warriner’s books, supposedly teaching “world literature” and “American literature.” I was a reasonably good reader and writer myself (stress on “reasonably”), and I’d been lucky enough to get an NDEA Fellowship to take summer courses on dramatic literature that offered some “development,” but I had very little understanding of how to teach others. In short, if anyone ever needed professional development, I was that person.


So I was looking forward to an afternoon program on one of our teacher days—but not for long. Once there, our principal announced that we were going to take up “behavioral objectives” and would learn how to do so that day. There followed an incredibly tedious lecture by an “educational expert” about what in fact turned out to be an incredibly tedious and unrewarding task. For every class, every day, we were to write behavioral objectives (immediately referred to as BOs) describing each expected outcome in learning—in behavioral terms. These were to guide all of our classroom activities. I was too green at the time to understand why this process seemed so counterproductive and completely beside the point to me, and I didn’t yet have the knowledge to know why one might resist a behaviorist approach to learning. So I learned to crank these things out in no time at all—and then set them aside to make my real plans for each day. From that day on, I took a fairly dim view of “professional development.”


But times have changed, and sometimes for the better (though not always). I’ve long been associated with the Bread Loaf School of English, which I regard as the best professional development program for teachers in the country. For six and a half weeks for five summers, teachers at Bread Loaf take a series of heavy-duty content courses that focus on helping young people read, write, listen, and speak with growing sophistication and depth. We live together, study together, eat and party together, and spend our time doing pretty much nothing but reading, writing, and talking about learning and teaching. I’ve seen this program change teachers’ lives and ripple out to affect tens of thousands of young people.


Of course, not everyone has access to such in-depth professional development; while Bread Loaf has quite a bit of financial aid, it’s still an expense—and it demands being on campus for all those weeks during the summer. Fortunately, teachers have other good opportunities. I think of all the Writing Projects around the country, for example, and of how successful many have been.  Most recently, I have had a chance to meet and talk with teachers who are part of Stanford’s Center to Support Excellence in Teaching’s Hollyhock Fellowship Program:


The Hollyhock Fellowship Program aims to help stop this revolving door [for teachers] by encouraging, supporting, and recognizing highly motivated early-career teachers and providing them with rich learning opportunities with colleagues nationwide. The program brings 100 teachers from high schools across the country with low-income student populations to Stanford University for two weeks of residential workshops -- for two consecutive summers -- that feature courses caught by university scholars and expert practitioners. Fellows also receive online coaching and mentorship for two school years. Teachers are awarded a stipend for participation, and the program covers all travel and boarding expenses.


So almost fifty years ( ! ) after I started teaching, I am encouraged to see such programs—and I’d like to hear about others you know of. But in my ideal teacher world, these programs would be ongoing—not just for two weeks during two summers. Rather than being regulated to the nth degree and boxed in with testing, testing, testing, teachers today deserve not only gratitude and a living wage: they deserve opportunities for ongoing and truly professional development.

Gardner_Aug04_210.jpgSince I attended the West Virginia University 2015 Summer Seminar: Access/ibility in Digital Publishing, I have been thinking about what I do to make resources accessible in the classes that I teach.


Like most teachers, I include a policy that tells students to visit our campus center for Services for Students with Disabilities for verification of their needs and resources to help them in the class. I’m not doing the best job with that statement, however. Tara Wood and Shannon Madden’s “Suggested Practices for Syllabus Accessibility Statements” on the Kairos PraxisWiki explains how much more can be done to provide students equal access. Go read it.


Beyond the syllabus, there is the content of the course itself. I post either PDF or web-based versions (or both) of all the course documents so that students can magnify the text, if they need support for a visual impairment. I think the pages will all work with screen reader software, but I have to admit that I haven’t tested them. I add ALT attributes to all the images that I use on the course website as well, to ensure students who cannot see the images still understand what they are. I use videos, which have high-quality transcripts.


That’s about it, and it feels very much like a piecemeal, minimalistic approach. There is more that I could and should do. As I have been developing resources for a more visual syllabus, for instance, I worry about the potential for the visual presentation to fail, whether because of a student’s visual impairment or because of her lack of familiarity with the layout and organizational structures I am using. Even students who will say that they need no special accommodations can have difficulty navigating text that does not conform to traditional paragraphing conventions and syllabus layout structures.


So in the coming weeks, I plan to keep bringing up the issue of accessibility as it relates to the course materials that I create and to the classroom activities that students complete. Students need to learn to create accessible texts, too. My first task will be improving accessibility to the information I present on the first day of the course. Time to revise that tired boilerplate I have been using for my equal access policy!


How do you address accessibility in the classroom? Please share any strategies or resources that you have found particularly effective. Just leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.


[Photo: Handicap Sign by sterlic, on Flickr]

Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn.



Many teachers are turning to academic blogs in their classrooms to provide productive online writing spaces and places to archive student work.  Writing teachers have defined and redefined what we mean by academic discourse.  Digital formats give us new opportunities to revisit these definitions.  Academic blogs are a great way for students to share ideas with others but they also provide a great place for critical reflection and the incorporation of multimodal components. The availability and ease of student commentary creates opportunities for dialogic discussion and interaction with a live audience of interested peers. 


As I have become more comfortable with this form, I have found myself struggling to define these spaces within my classes.  I use student blogs for  different purposes across my classes.   For years, I assigned regular exploratory essays (in most of my classes) and  reflective research journals that encourage writers to try out their ideas and engage with outside sources.   The blog format provides a new space for this kind of academic essay and, once again, has writers moving to explore new rhetorical situations that combine criteria for exploratory and research writing with digital writing for participatory, online contexts. 



  • To define academic writing for digital contexts
  • To help students organize and draft longer research projects
  • To create dialogic spaces for participatory learning.


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.

Lunsford Handbooks.PNG


Exploratory Blog Posts

The term blessay, coined by Dan Cohen, describes a form that is longer than a blog post and shorter than an essay. It speaks to some of the conventions of academic discourse such as inclusion of other sources, critical reflection, and establishing authority through substantiation.   Although this type of scholarly essay is generally written through the lens of curiosity and discovery for the writer, it is also shaped for both an academic and general audience.  It blends academic and public writing and often includes images, links, graphics, and other multimodal components.  Students share and comment on one another’s post inviting their ideas into dialectic conversation with others.   


It is important for teachers to clearly define criteria for this kind of writing that takes the idea of a traditional paper essay and places it in this new rhetorical context. I have incorporated Cohen’s criteria for the blessay with my own work with exploratory writing to establish and define clear criteria for students so they understand the expectations of writing in digital contexts.  I have included Exploratory Writing for Multimodal Blog Posts   in which I explain the purposes, features and guidelines for this kind of academic writing in my classes.  


Becca Tuck’s blog posts  from January 2015 show several strong examples of this kind exploratory blog post.  She does a good job of referring to the original reading from our textbook and successfully integrates it with outside sources through embedded links and multimodal components. Her writing is engaging and invites conversation. They demonstrate curiosity, understanding and the testing of intellectual ideas along with her own experiential connections to her subjects.  They are interesting to read and they reflect a visual, rhetorical awareness.


Research Blogs 

Many of us work with students on long-term projects that involve research, reflection and drafting towards larger academic projects such as theses, dissertations, or extended capstone projects.  For example, I worked with Liz Melendez, an Honors student completing her interdisciplinary thesis, Math as Text: Rhetoric As Reason, created a research blog for invention, inquiry and drafting. Although Liz’s research blog is password protected you can view the opening video (a multimodal treatment of her proposal and abstract; see below), her digital identity and her categories and sections.



This digital format  creates a dynamic space in which the project is broken down into categories on the blog that include a collection of stand-alone essays (blessays) on particular ideas, archives for collected work, sources, and multimodal artifacts.  I respond to the students’ developing ideas in this format both in writing and in face to face discussions.  Eventually, we will go back to these essays and revise and expand them into the more traditional thesis format or other academic projects such as this Undergraduate Symposium handout she created for a symposium for student scholars on our campus or other academic conferences and scholarly presentations.   She is simultaneously creating multiple documents and artifacts for different rhetorical contexts and purposes.  As one of our digital writing students, she will also revise the blog itself and to act as a multimodal representation of the thesis that will accompany the more traditional library bound copy. 


The purpose of this particular academic blog is for students to create a reflective research and curation space for the project.  I ask them to shape a digital identity so the page establishes itself textually and visually and speaks to the overall purposes of their research project. It serves as an academic research blog in which students write and reflect upon their ideas, connections, sources, and a place to post their work.  This format also provides an informal space for students to invent and discuss (with their professor or classmates) emerging issues and developing ideas that they eventually revise (or parts of it) into their final projects.  Many students resist the feeling of the looming, large, high-stakes academic projects.  This approach takes some of the pressure off and gives them an intellectual sandbox in which they can experiment, risk, and explore their ideas before they revise them for the more formal contexts.


I ask students to include at least the following categories (add more based on individual project guidelines):

  • Research Proposal Here students post their proposal for their projects.  This portion can include research questions, timeline, possible sources and approaches.  Students eventually revise this portion into their abstracts.
  • Annotated Bibliography Students can create lists of references or annotated bibliographies in which they review sources and connect them to the larger purposes of their projects.
  • Exploratory Research Journal/Log/Entries This is the place where students include a series of exploratory writings in which they synthesize sources material, analyze their results, and hypothesize and speculate on their ideas and conclusions.  These writings are eventually revised into chapters for their final projects. These entries should include embedded links that connect to their sources. 
  • Multimodal Components This area is a storehouse for related multimodal components of their projects.  Students can remix versions of their research into contextualized projects that speak to their research in different ways (videos, infographics, illustrations, charts and graphs).


Reflections on the Activities

Once I shifted to academic blogs for exploratory writing and research projects, I found that students took on a strong sense of ownership and a strong desire to keep their audience engaged. They enjoyed reading each other’s posts and having their posts seen by others.  Like everything I do with multimodal composition, I had to return to what I believe as a teacher and see it through these new lenses.  One of the best parts of these kinds of projects is that they allow students to share and analyze different artifacts that represent ideas in the class I have enjoyed seeing strong examples of the class concepts substantiated through digital examples and cultural connections.  I have added many of their thoughtful examples to my own storehouse of digital resources for future students.  The response components allow for engaged conversations in which students are placed in real rhetorical contexts and bear the responsibility of speaking to and engaging their audiences in intellectual ways.  This kind of participatory communication is redefining academic discourse and the ways we interact with and present ideas.


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 Acts of Composition. 


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