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.
- 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.
- The St. Martin’s Handbook: “The Top Twenty”
- Writer's Help 2.0 for Lunsford Handbooks: “Diagnostics”
- The Everyday Writer: Ch. 1, “The Top Twenty”
- Writing in Action: Ch. 1, “The Top Twenty”
- EasyWriter: Sections 1c-1g in Ch.1, “A Writer’s Choices”
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.
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org and www.rhetoricmatters.org
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