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2015

Earlier this month, Macmillan released our book An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing. Stacey, Roy, and I have been responding to several questions since the book’s release about how to teach a WID-focused foundational writing course effectively. One of the questions I hear most often is:

 

How do you help writing teachers feel comfortable with teaching a Writing in the Disciplines (WID) course, especially when those instructors primarily come from English?

 

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, one of the challenges to teaching a WID approach is the faculty members’ comfort level with the approach. For many, it feels like a departure from what they are used to teaching in a writing course. But the first step to helping teachers feel comfortable with a WID approach is helping them draw on the strengths they already possess to help students analyze and understand writing in a variety of contexts. It’s just that in this case, the rhetorical contexts are academic, cross-disciplinary ones. The second step is providing solid, ongoing professional development to help them develop expertise that will strengthen what they’re doing in the course. In this blog post, I provide a few suggestions from an administrative perspective about how to begin taking those two steps.

 

DRAWING ON EXISTING STRENGTHS

One of the break-through moments for me as Roy, Stacey, and I wrote our textbook was realizing that the importance of close observation in academic inquiry provided a connection across disciplines. Observation is one of the cornerstones of much academic inquiry, including textual analysis, a practice nearly every teacher in English is familiar with. In literary studies, careful, critical observation is essential to close reading. In the sciences and social sciences, observation is essential for collecting primary data. Therefore, careful attention to observation and what it looks like as disciplinary inquiry can provide a common thread for teachers and students.

 

I try to encourage teachers to introduce students to a range of ways to observe texts, drawing on their existing strengths in critical inquiry and textual analysis. As students hone their observational powers, they can also be encouraged to think about how those skills of critical observation can transfer across disciplines and into other contexts.

 

BUILDING RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS

Depending on the backgrounds and experience of the teachers in your writing program, a variety of ongoing professional development opportunities can help them continue to develop expertise in several areas:

  • in academic writing to draw on real examples of writing in various disciplines
  • in writing studies and rhetorical principles to help students practice rhetorical analysis of academic texts and ask important questions to understand disciplinary genres
  • in transfer of knowledge to use the knowledge they are building in your course as they encounter writing in other academic and non-academic contexts.

 

The following list offers some suggestions for providing these kinds of opportunities:

  1. Start a reading group for teachers in your writing program where you can read and discuss current work on disciplinary writing, academic genres, and transfer of knowledge.
  2. Consider highlighting the work, writing, and research of faculty on your campus by incorporating their work into low-stakes and high-stakes assignments in your writing program or compiling a reader (online or in print) of faculty research to give examples of different disciplinary genres.
  3. Host a panel for your writing faculty where you invite faculty from other disciplines to talk about their writing and the writing they assign in their classes. 
  4. Develop partnerships with faculty across disciplines. One of the most innovative I’ve seen is the SWAP program developed at North Carolina State University by Susanna Klingenberg to bring STEM graduate students into writing classes and writing faculty into STEM classes.

 

What are some other ideas you have about supporting faculty as they teach a WID-based curriculum? What are the biggest questions and concerns that you have about trying a WID approach? If you’ve tried it already, what are some of the strategies you have found to be most effective?


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Jack Solomon

Good Grief!

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Oct 29, 2015

No, this isn’t about the new Peanuts movie (though that deserves some attention too); it’s about the #BoycottStarWarsVII campaign on Twitter, which began to get media attention in places like the L.A. Times, the Hollywood Reporter, Esquire Magazine, and The Daily Show on October 20.  I do not know what the status of this thing will be by the time this blog appears—indeed, according to Fruzsina Eordogh at motherboard.vice.com and Luke O’Neil at esquire.com (among others), the whole thing was a wildly successful "troll" and should never have received so much attention in the first place.  But at the risk of feeding some trolls (especially a couple who call themselves "Lord Humungus" and "End Cultural Marxism"), I want to address the matter semiotically anyway.

 

The gist of the boycott's "complaint" is that the new Star Wars film is committing a sort of ethnic cleansing (the word being used is “genocide”) against whites because the movie features a black male lead and is directed by Jewish director J.J. Abrams, who, as the Twitter feed doubles down on its racist calumnies, is part of an international Jewish conspiracy against white people.  Yes, that’s what is really appearing: look at the “discussion” for yourself to see—if you can stomach it.

 

Given the problem posed by “Poe’s Law” (the precept that things are so goofy on the Internet that you can’t ever be certain whether someone is being ironic or wacky), it’s hard to tell whether the trolls trolling the trolls here are serious or not, but for my part, I am inclined to think that at least some of them are. Here’s why.

 

When set into a semiotic system, the #BoycottStarWarsVII caper can be seen to bear a number of the markers of the real thing—especially in the claiming of victim status by white supremacists.  If you look around the Internet you can see a lot of this sort of thing.  Consider, for example, a report from the September 19th issue of the Richmond Times Dispatch, which describes a stunt by a group called the Virginia Flaggers (this is a NeoConfederate organization that specializes in promoting the public display of the Confederate Battle flag) who recently chartered an airplane to carry a banner declaring "Confederate Heros [sic] Matter".  This was not a hoax.

 

Or consider the blatant, Goebbels-like anti-Semitism in the #BoycottStarWarsVII Twitter feed.  This also can be found all over the internet.  For an example, I'll provide a link to an anti-NeoConfederate blog hosted by Professor Brooks Simpson of Arizona State University, who specializes in exposing the activities of various NeoConfederate organizations.  Have a look at the exchange, in a screen shot captured by Simpson, between Kevin Levin (another anti-NeoConfederate Civil War blogger) and someone calling himself "Battlefield Tramper."  This too is no hoax.

 

But pointing out that the Twitter flap reveals the existence of virulent racism in America isn't much of a discovery, of course. We already knew that.  What I want to look at next is the fact that it is a new Star Wars film that is the site of such an eruption.

 

Part of the reason that a group of committed Internet trolls chose this movie, of course, is that the franchise has been criticized before on racial lines.  Jar Jar Binks, Ewoks, Wookiees, George Lucas himself, have all been the subject of racial controversies.  But that only accentuates the point I want to make here, which is that Star Wars attracts so much cultural attention because this fantasy saga of endless warfare between the forces of good and evil has become one of (if not the) defining narratives of contemporary American culture.  If the ancient Greeks had the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Rome had the Aeneid, the Star Wars narrative has replaced that of the American Revolution (I was raised on Paul Revere; now it’s Luke Skywalker) in American consciousness.  That the saga eschews history for fantasy, and substitutes simplistic conflicts between moral absolutes for the complexities of contemporary life, is a fitting reflection of a society that knows little history and is riven by uncompromising ideological divisions.  It is no wonder that, in such an environment, Star Wars itself has become a battleground, with contending forces competing for the rights to the narrative.

 

And then again, Star Wars has made so much money that it can make every news blip related to it a news mountain: because in a society wherein money increasingly becomes the sole measure of everything, anything having to do with the great money makers is newsworthy.  And this new episode in the unending Star Wars saga is going to make a heck of a lot of money, "boycott" or not.

Andrea A. Lunsford

Gifts from the Past

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Oct 29, 2015

Now that I am at least semi-retired, I am taking advantage of every chance to visit new places and to reacquaint myself with places I’ve been before. Recently, I had a chance to spend ten days in London with three friends: we rented a place on Horsemongers Mews Lane and set about visiting old haunts like the British Museum and British Library, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Modern and Tate Britain, and the Globe. We took in two plays, walked some 90 miles all told, and rode endless other miles on the Tube.

 

One highlight of this visit, however, was completely new to me. Under the tutelage of claymaker and artist Julia and archaeologist Mike, we took a walk along the Thames foreshore, at a very low tide. What a wonder awaited us! Mike and Julia sent us off in different directions, telling us simply to gather up anything that “looked interesting” to us. So we fanned out, with our plastic bags, and some 30 or 40 minutes later came together again with our treasures. Mike explained that the Thames is indeed a treasure trove of history, offering up fragments from 2000+ years ago on one shore and from Roman times forward on the other (well, that’s an oversimplification, but we were on the “Roman” side, where so much has been excavated over the centuries). Between the two of them, Mike and Julia identified everything we found, from a tiny Japanese kewpie doll that was “probably made last week” to pipe stems and bowls from the 18th century, lots of glazed pottery from the medieval period, and tiles used in Roman buildings. Here are a few of the pieces I collected:
Lunsford Blog 10 29 15 - Gifts from the Past - Combined Photo.PNG

I couldn’t help wishing that I had a group of my writing students with me to join in the fun, and I wondered what local sites might hold historical artifacts, ones I could engage students in gathering and studying and writing about. There was something magical and powerful about holding a tile that had once decorated a Roman home, or part of a teacup used in Chaucer’s time, something that pulled me back through history and connected me to it in a very visceral way. And it occurred to me that students might even be able to do archaeological “digs” in their own homes, writing about artifacts from their childhoods, or from their parents’ or grandparents’ time.

 

Such connections with the past seem especially important in our throw-away, dash-from-one-thing-to-the-next world. Our students can benefit from making these connections, writing about them, and speculating on what artifacts our civilization will leave behind for someone a thousand years from now to happen upon.

Rowland Natalie.pngNatalie Rowland teaches freshman composition at Florida Atlantic University and is an MFA candidate in the Creative Writing, Fiction program. A former writer, editor, and public relations supervisor in Chicago, she holds BA degrees in Communications and Comparative Literature (English Literature and French Literature) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

 

The multitasking and tech-centric essays in Emerging are a natural starting point for freshman composition. In their day-to-day, students regularly encounter technology and are shaped by their choices to connect or disconnect with it. Whether they’re typing up a paper, listening to Spotify, or winning a self-control battle by not texting in class, they are up close and personal with the concepts presented in Richard Restak’s “Attention Deficit: The Brain Syndrome of Our Era” (p. 411) and Alexandra Samuel’s “‘Plug In Better: A Manifesto” (ePages).

 

Yet many don’t realize it.

 

Be it the format, the nature of coursework, or the reading level, early undergraduates (and first-semester students in particular) may not feel qualified to engage with Restak and Samuel in these discussions. They can view class reading as an “other” text from the experts, rather than something to which they can, and should, relate.

 

To get students wrestling with concepts and making connections between text and “real world”, the following “experiments” push readers to apply the reading to themselves. By nature, they also inhibit summary and jump-start critical thinking by encouraging students to engage with the concepts:

 

  1. Technology Fast – For 24 hours, students commit to avoiding all forms of technology and writing about their experiences with old-fashioned pen and paper. Each time they catch themselves going to use technology, they should evaluate what they were about to do and whether or not it would have been beneficial, as well as a strategy for how to manage technology use in that particular area (as Samuel argues in “‘Plug In Better’”). Are they succeeding or falling short in their technology use? Can technology be managed? How?
  2. Technology Fest – Counter to the first experiment, students will take on the task of writing a one-page reading response to Restak (particularly his discussion in “How Many Ways Can Our Attention Be Divided?” (p. 412)) while attempting to multitask with at least three other activities. For example, a student might watch a TV show, listen to music, and Skype a friend, all while writing the response. Students must set a timer when they begin and record the total amount of time required to write their response papers. In-class discussion is a great follow-up for this: Were they successful? Who took the longest? Who was most efficient? Why do they think so? Did Restak’s arguments hold?
  3. News Assessment – Students identify and summarize a tech-related news article and apply concepts of from the readings. For example, a student might analyze Facebook’s recent announcement that more Americans are coming out on Facebook—how does this play into Restak’s section, “No Time to Listen”? Are people listening? Is Facebook a worthy or appropriate place for gender and sexuality discussion? Why or why not?

 

For each experiment, students should be writing: they might analyze their experience in a written response; debate a particular topic, with one person writing one paragraph at a time, with a partner in class; or submit a mapped-out page of written notes as an outline for their next essay. The goal is to get them writing and analyzing; and, at the end of the day, beginning to recognize the importance of their valuable role as a writer and contributor in these discussions.

 

Other related readings from Emerging:

  • Marshall Poe, “The Hive”
  • Thomas L. Friedman, “The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention”
  • Bill Wasik, “My Crowd Experiment: The Mob Project”

 

Want to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post? Or want to share this post or your own assignments? Join the Macmillan Community to get involved--it’s free, quick, and easy!

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

 

Since Traci Gardner’s insightful post in the Community about Bringing Up Accessibility, I have been thinking about ways to integrate discussions of writing for user-friendliness into my Functional Grammar course.  Most students in this course are technical communication majors, so they need to not only be aware of accessibility issues in multimodal composition but also be able to produce digital content that meets the 1973 Rehabilitation Act’s Section 508 requirements. For many of us, myself included, Section 508 is new territory in our teaching praxis.  What this means is that I am learning along with my students how and why digital writers apply the conventions of accessible texts across multiple platforms.  After participating in interactive lectures about accessible textual production, our class community decided that we would compose public blog posts that describe and apply Section 508 content for student and faculty audiences leveraging the opportunity to learn and teach in the same moments.  I have posted our process and products, which I hope you and your students will find useful.

 

Multimodal Writing Context
Students design blog posts that describe and embody foundational Section 508 requirements for digital texts.  I recommend either Edublogs or WordPress as easy introduction spaces for blogging; students majoring in technical communication at my university design content in their own web domains, which gives them greater creative and analytics control.  Either way, students compose public, digital texts with multimodal elements that serve to make informational writing both clear and interesting to read.  

 

Measurable Learning Objectives

  • Create digital documents that embody and explain Section 508 Criteria
  • Synthesize content-meaning through public writing
  • Summarize key elements of Section 508 relevant to technical writers

 

Background Reading for Students and Instructors

  • The St. Martin's Handbook: Ch. 16, Design for Print and Digital Writing, including Considering Disabilities box: "Color for Contrast"
  • Writer's Help 2.0 for Lunsford Handbooks: “Considering Disabilities”
  • The Everyday Writer: Section 3a: Plan online assignments, including At a Glance box: “Guidelines for Creating an Online Text”
  • Writing in Action: Section 6a: Plan online assignments, including Checklist box: “Guidelines for Creating an Online Text”
  • EasyWriter: Section 4a: Planning online assignments, including Checklist box: “Guidelines for Creating an Online Text”

 

Writing and Designing
In our course communities, students and I crowdsource our writing assignments to make sure we meet the specific academic and professional needs of the group.  Here is what we came up with for the Section 508 blogging assignment:

  1. Process through and write a 500+ word blog post that includes at least one of each multimodal element (image, audio, video) based on your research into 508 requirements and our class discussions about alt-text, live captioning, and color considerations. Use at least three tags per post. 
  2. Read the posts of at least three coursemates.  Comment on their blogs in approximately 100 words, using the rhetorical analysis tools you have gained so far this semester. Submit the following in our Discussion Forum for the week, folding your critique into the week's topic.  If you get to a blog that already has at least two comments, go the next blog.
  3. Finally, reflect on your and others’ work for both our digital and in-class talks. Be ready to provide dialogic feedback to your peers.

Our writing goal for this assignment is to provide well-researched, compelling blog posts that inform an audience of students, faculty, and professional content creators about key components of Section 508.  Our design goal is to construct digital pages that comply with Section 508 accessibility.

 

Student Exemplars:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on the Assignment – Students:

The assignment got me thinking about how Section 508 compliance could become more commonplace; with so many 'rules', it seems unlikely that the average content creator would bother adhering to them all. In my blog post, I wrote about how making a site accessible has the potential to lead to more views through search engines' metadata crawls, because people want to know how this is a best practice impacts their web traffic. – Celia

 

While learning about section 508 I was amazed at the amount of thought that went into the requirements and regulations. I see how having this requirement will open up your work to a wider audience. I personally use closed captions not because I have trouble hearing however, I use it more so I can have a lower volume so I won’t wake my two kids. Going through the different regulations I can see how enforcing them will actually affect other groups then the intended audience. - Jason

 

My Reflection
My goal as a writing teacher is to work with students to determine their academic and professional needs and then work alongside them as they construct texts that are relevant to them. The 508 blogging opportunity “counts” for me, in terms of multimodal composition, because it allows students to create interesting and informative digital content for a specific audience that appeals to a diversity of readers while also teaching student writers necessary requirements as they grow into professional writers.

 

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 and critical pedagogies; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at: jeanne_bohannon@kennesaw.edu and www.rhetoricmatters.org

 

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

Saxon_airport selfie 2014.jpgGuest blogger Jessica Saxon is a faculty member at Craven Community College in New Bern, North Carolina, and she teaches composition and literature courses. A former WAC coordinator at Craven, her primary interests are WAC/WID programs and creating partnerships with other community colleges and universities. She is also pursuing a PhD in narrative theory and nineteenth-century British literature at Old Dominion University.

 

This is my first semester teaching ENG 112: Writing/Research in the Disciplines, a writing-in-the-disciplines (WID) class in the North Carolina community college system (NCCCS). This is the first of a series of blog contributions will be reflections on my initial experiences tackling ENG 112 this semester. Even with well over a decade of teaching experience in the NCCCS, learning to teach a WID course has been daunting—but it has also helped to reinvigorate my pedagogy. My approach to ENG 112 this semester was to start the class with what I know (humanities writing and research skills) in order to have time to pick the brains of my colleagues and create units on areas I have less experience with (natural science and social science writing and researching skills). This first blog explores the humanities unit and its literary analysis paper—a unit that turned out to be harder than I had expected.

 

The Assignment and Schedule

Students were asked to write a three-page researched analysis of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” “Hills Like White Elephants,” “The Lottery,” “Everyday Use,” or “What You Pawn I Will Redeem.” In addition to citing the literature, they had to find and use 2-3 scholarly sources in their essays; they also had to use MLA style. They had the entire month of September to work on this project; the assignment was given on September 1 and due on September 29.

 

The class is a scaffolded class with several informal journals and workshops to help students move through the writing process: 

 

9.1

Writer’s Journal #5: Literary Studies

Introduction to Humanities Writing and Literary Analysis Paper

9.3

Writer’s Journal #6: “The Yellow Wall-Paper” Analysis 1

“The Yellow Wall-Paper” (handout)

Creating Analysis and Research Questions

9.8

Writer’s Journal #7: “The Yellow Wall-Paper” Analysis 2

Process Assignment #1: Literary Analysis Questions

Literary Analysis Questions Workshop

9.10

Writer’s Journal #8: MLA Style

Introduction to MLA Style research and Documentation

9.15

Writer’s Journal #9: Research Hunt

Process Assignment #2: Literary Analysis Thesis and Works Cited 1

Literary Analysis Thesis and Works Cited Workshop 1

Research and Documentation Workshop

9.17

Process Assignment #3: Literary Analysis Thesis and Works Cited 2

Literary Analysis Thesis and Works Cited Workshop 2

                                                                                          

9.22

Process Assignment #4: Literary Analysis Draft 1

Literary Analysis Draft Workshop 1

9.24

Process Assignment #5: Literary Analysis Draft 2

Literary Analysis Draft 2 Workshop

9.29

In-Class Work on Literary Analysis Paper and Literary Analysis Self-Reflection 

Literary Analysis Paper (Due by the End of Class)

Process Assignment #6: Literary Analysis Self-Reflection (Due by the End of Class)

 

 

Reflections

My personal comfort level with the content of the unit may have worked against me in this unit. Perhaps my anxiety over the later units on natural and social sciences (What kinds of assignments would I give them? What research sources might work well? Why, oh why, are APA running headers so hard to make in Word?) lulled me into a false sense of security over my humanities unit. Whatever the reason, I forgot to include two key elements the humanities unit: modeling and conferencing.

 

The next time I teach this course, I will be reserving two days for one-on-one conferences with my students about their drafts. By sandwiching the instructor conference between a peer workshop on the thesis and works cited and one on a revised draft of the essay, I hope to capture my students at that critical moment when they have a (nearly fully?) draft of the paper and a firm topic but when there is also still time to pull a quick turn on drafts that have gone off the rails. I will also be including a sample student literary analysis for class discussion—perhaps even two sample papers (one from the textbook and one from a previous semester of my own class). The students need to be able to see examples of finished literary analyses in order to help them better understand the work of their own essays. Moreover, the students need to have one-on-one time with me early in the semester; these individual conferences can especially help those who do not wish to ask for help in public spaces like the classroom.

 

But overall, the unit went rather smoothly, especially as I began to correct for my early errors in modeling and for the lack of conferences. In order to work in some last minute modeling and conferencing, I cut my draft workshops in half; the class spent 30 minutes in the two peer drafts workshops (rather than the full 75 minutes), and the last 45 minutes of class those days was spent with volunteers putting their draft up on the projector. In these projector conference workshops, the volunteers would ask questions about their drafts and talk through the problems they had been encountering, and the class and I would help the volunteers work through their questions and problems. While students are sometimes reluctant to volunteer, once the class sees the quality of feedback being produced by the group (and starts to see how their problems with the paper are similar to the ones being discussed in a volunteer’s paper), I wind up with more volunteers than I have time to work with (which in turn gets these students into my office…of their own free will!).

 

What did you do in your first WID course? What was your approach to the schedule and assignments? How did the successes and shortcomings of that first semester shape your WID course into a more effective and engaging course in later semesters? Share your answers, comments, and advice in the comments below.

 

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Andrea A. Lunsford

Write? Or Written?

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Oct 22, 2015

A week or so ago, I got an email message from a former student who had been in one of my classes at Ohio State some 25 years ago. That was enough of a treat in and of itself. But the message went on to describe how much this former student now writes in his position as a city planner, and also to remark on what he most remembered about our class.

 

He wrote: “I remember what I think was our second day of class. You came in and went straight to the white board and drew a thick black line from one end of it to the other. On one end you wrote, in big capital letters, WRITE. On the other end you wrote WRITTEN. Then you talked to us about the choices we were going to have to make to figure out whether we were going to WRITE, that is take action on our own and with some authority, or whether we were going to be WRITTEN by people outside of us. I remember writing those two words down in my notebook and looking at them every so often during the rest of that year. I wanted to WRITE. Looking back, I can see that I have often been able to WRITE but that I’ve also been WRITTEN, especially by my job and by some groups I belong to. I guess I’ve ended up somewhere in the middle of that line, but I hope just a little more toward WRITE.”

 

I’ve started many of my classes over the years with this same strategy and I’ve always found that students are very interested in this binary and how it applies to their lives. They don’t need to read Foucault (though that wouldn’t be a bad thing) to know they occupy various subject positions, nor do they need a lot of postructuralist theory to alert them to the fact that key elements in their lives—their families, their religious institutions, their schools, and more—are powerful shapers of their lives. In fact, these institutions are often set on writing them—making them into the ideal child, the ideal worshipper, the ideal student, and so on. They feel these pressures keenly. And while they may at first blush and claim that they have a lot of agency, not too far into our discussion they begin to see that what they thought were their own decisions were ones that had been made at least partially for them by others.

 

We often spend some time making similes or metaphors for what it feels like to write or be written. Usually we draw pictures as well, then use these materials to write what amount to brief essays on rhetorical agency and how available it is to us. This is of course a huge question today, when many feel at the mercy of huge economic and political forces it’s hard to understand, much less control. But for that very reason, it seems more important than ever to engage students in grappling with the subject agency and of looking for ways to enhance it in their everyday lives.

 

We often put ourselves somewhere along the continuum and then chart how we feel about that placement during the course of the term. Like all binaries, this one is over-simple, which students come to see. But it is a useful concept for them as they begin their college journeys. And for some—like my former student—it’s germane even 25 years later!

 

 

Andrea Lunsford and student Jelani Lynch talk about the power of writing in Write Yourself or Be Written, a video in the Macmillan Community.

 

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To keep a visual record of our class discussions for our first writing project, I took photos of each day’s class notes from the dry erase board. The photo that struck me the most was a list of qualities that the students admired about Chiminanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story”, her use of language and the message of her TED Talk.  Here is the students’ list:

 

  • Inspiring
  • Truthful
  • Thoughtful
  • Empowering
  • Straightforward
  • Reflective
  • Passionate
  • Intelligent

 

Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize,” Adichie states.

 

Reflecting on the students’ work and rereading Adichie’s transcript draws me again to that word “empower.” In my first years out of graduate school, empowerment was discussed as a laudable goal for writers transitioning to college writing. However, empowerment did not have a fixed outcome that could be adequately assessed, and eventually its use fell out of fashion.

 

Throughout those discussions of our inability to measure empowerment, I remember my frustration. What would happen to the teaching and learning of writing if we focused only on quantifiable outcomes? What would happen to writing instruction if we removed the verb “empower” from our vocabulary?

 

I need not have worried. Years later, I have my response. The students have returned what they needed to the lexicon of their own education. The root word “empower” appears both in Adichie’s talk and in the students’ list of admirable traits about Adichie’s persuasive voice. Good writing, the students agreed, must be empowering for its audience.

 

In my inbox last night was a message containing the audio file and the lyrics of a song my student, Jeffrey Hack, had written about Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story.” The student had performed the song in class a few weeks before to supportive applause from peers.  That day, the students had completed and turned in their first college writing project. The mood was celebratory.

 

Listening to Jeffrey’s voice in the song recording reminds me of our work against dispossession and dehumanization. The combination of lyrics and music portray a deep yearning for a world in which we move beyond stereotypes and begin to fathom the multiple stories of people’s lives. Even more poignantly, the song calls out to us to gain self-awareness of our role in perpetuating stereotypes.

 

Here are the lyrics and the link for Jeffrey’s song: A Single Story (audio file)

 

 

I'm tired of feeling abandoned

These words are getting to my head

There's no way out, or to come about

Judging me by who I am

Stop trying to be something else

Instead go better yourself

 

These words need to stop right now

You're not helping anyone out

I know that it's wrong to be on the other side of criticizing someone else

 

We have a single story that we can't wait to say

But the truth of every matter is it isn't there to stay

We think so much about every negative in our way

And we find out that we're awesome at the end of every day

 

We need to stop trying to create something that is fake, a disgrace to the amazing human race

 

Jeffrey’s song and the students’ words from the list offer us significant challenges as teachers of writing. The students hope for inspiration, for straightforwardness, for passion. They challenge us to become truthful, empowering, and reflective. From these thoughtful considerations, we move on to Writing Project 2 and the never-ending work of empowerment.

To me, one of the most exciting aspects of teaching a WID-based curriculum was student conferencing, which I tailored in a unique way to fit the assignment sequence and objectives for the English 101 courses I taught at NC State.

 

There are at least two ways to approach teaching a WID-based composition course. First, you can ask students to analyze texts representative of the fields in which they’re majoring. The second approach is to ask students to produce texts native to those disciplines. Of course, these two approaches are not mutually exclusive, and what I learned from other faculty in our program at NC State was that different faculty emphasized different approaches.

 

Assignment Sequence

My assignment sequence at State went like this:

1) Research Topic Proposal and Presentation

2) Primary Research Logbook and Reflection

3) Literature Review

4) Revised Primary Research Design and Academic Conference Poster.

 

For the research topic proposal, I asked students to analyze two scholarly articles (preferably empirically-based research studies) as a basis for proposing their own research questions and methodological approaches for the semester. Students had autonomy in selecting their articles, but they were accountable for explaining the methodologies and results reported in the articles when they delivered their proposal.

 

Conferencing

I conferenced with students immediately after they presented their research topic proposal, and these conferences stand in my mind as some of the most enjoyable moments in my nearly twenty years of teaching First-Year Writing.

 

Why did I find the student conferences so enjoyable?  We talked ideas. We talked about interests. We talked.

 

Far too often student conferences break down into a teacher explaining why a particular sentence is “not good” or “could be better written this way.” This kind of conferencing is just painful to me because invariably a student feels talked down to and becomes defensive. Furthermore, it promotes a hierarchy I find counterproductive to authentic learning.

 

Typically I would start a conference with small talk to get a student chatting and put him/her at ease. I’d get the spotlight off of me by asking them questions. We would talk about their research topic proposal, what they learned, what they liked, what they didn’t like. I would ask students about their background, interests, hobbies, jobs, favorite vacations, what they were thinking about majoring in, and then out of that conversation a beautiful and marvelous thing would happen.

 

We would begin talking about how to shape their interests, their expertise into legitimate and authentic research for the rest of the semester. Students would come to realize that they were experts in areas that I was not, and that they could teach me something (and others, too) about their interests. I’ll offer one example to keep it concise.

 

Michael’s Story

A student comes into my office and sits down at the table across from me. We’ll call him “Michael.” Michael is shy but obviously very bright and seems a little fearful of the teacher (me) and how this first conference is going to go. After small talk about the week and how things are going, we discuss his research topic proposal, and he says he has no idea how he’s going to conduct research this semester. He tells me he’s majoring in Materials Science, a field of which I know exactly squadoosh.

 

Ten minutes go by, and Michael is really stuck. I’m kind of stuck, too, because I don’t know anything about Materials Science. I’m a novelist for crying out loud.

 

So I ask Michael, “Do you have any hobbies?”

 

He looks at me with a sheepish sparkle in his blue eyes and says, “Not really. I play the guitar. I don’t really have any hobbies.”

 

“You play the guitar? That’s cool. How’d you get into that?”

 

“Oh, I had a buddy in high school who was a luthier.”

 

I’m thinking, What the heck is a luthier?

 

Michael breaks out of his shyness for a moment, gets kind of excited, and tells me, “He had a workshop, and we used to build guitars.”

 

And then like Bam! Pow! his research design landed on that table between us like a finely tuned Martin acoustic.

 

I said, “Well, there’s your study. You’re majoring in Materials Science. Why don’t you research different types of guitars?”

 

He thinks about it for a moment. “I could look at different types of woods, densities, strings, timbres? Stuff like that?”

 

“Uh, yeah. That would be kind of brilliant.”

 

10.10.15_photo.jpg

 

I have never in twenty years had a kid take off and run with research like Michael did the rest of the semester. Turns out he was an absolute expert on guitars and digital audio equipment far beyond my ken. And most importantly my lack of expertise in both—and in Materials Science—didn’t matter.

 

In that fifteen-minute conference, I had talked with him. I had let him know that his interests mattered. They were valuable. And that as his English 101 teacher I wanted him to teach me about what he knew and what he would come to know the rest of the semester.

 

_____

 

 

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Stacey Cochran is the bestselling author of Eddie & Sunny. He has taught First-Year Writing for nearly twenty years at East Carolina University, Mesa Community College, North Carolina State University, and most recently the University of Arizona. He lives in Tucson with his wife Susan Miller-Cochran and their two kids Sam and Harper. He is currently at work trying futilely to overcome his impostor syndrome.

James_Agee_1937.jpgI've recently reread James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (yes, the whole thing, cover to cover), which, naturally enough, has gotten me thinking about, well, James Agee.  And to think about James Agee leads to thinking about his contribution to the history of film criticism.  Which leads to thinking about the history of film criticism itself.  Which is pretty much the way that topics for popular cultural semiotic analysis get generated.

 

So here goes.

 

I am assuming that you know who James Agee was/is.  Perhaps I shouldn't, for while Agee is wildly popular among his devotees, his fame doesn't go much beyond a rather passionate circle of friends.  A mid-20th century poet, novelist, pioneer film critic, passionate muckraking journalist, screenwriter (he wrote the screenplay for The African Queen), and all-around man-about New York and Hollywood who seems to have known (or been known by) just about every famous mid-20th century writer I can think of, Agee burned out at 45 in 1955 from basically too many drinks, cigarettes, and late nights (over which I will here, consistent with the Hays Code, draw a discreet curtain). 

 

So that takes care of the introductions.

 

Agee, as I've said, was something of a pioneer in film criticism.  With no formal training in the art whatsoever, Agee wrote spellbinding reviews of popular movies, helping to pave the way for such later luminaries of the popular film review as Pauline Kael, David Denby, and Vincent Canby. These critics (and many more: don't hesitate to add your favorites in the Comments section) carved out a space for serious criticism of commercial films in the newspapers and magazines of America, addressing themselves to ordinary moviegoers rather than to an academic audience—and managed to make a living at it without academic appointments.

 

To say that the space for such a profession is drastically shrinking (along with paying journalistic careers as well) in the era of the Internet blog and movie review sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb.com—not to mention pop culture podcasts—is to say nothing that hasn't been said many times before: it is a favorite topic on personal movie review blogs whose cinephilic authors are long on movie knowledge, and very short on paying projects.  What I want to do here is situate the phenomenon in a larger cultural system, or context, to see what it might tell us about the current state of American culture.

 

When we do this, we can find a great number of intellectual pursuits today that require much learning and high-level writing ability, which are exploding with participants and imploding as viable ways to make a living.  To go back to journalism, while there are more journalists today than there have ever been before, the vast majority must make do with pitifully compensated freelance work (no benefits, no job security, no job, actually) or nothing at all (did you know that The Huffington Post does not pay its contributors?).  Now let's turn to academia—especially the literary profession. You probably do know what is happening there: what jobs exist are overwhelmingly in adjunct ranks (especially—and notoriously—in the teaching of writing).  Indeed, the figure I keep seeing is that something like 70% of the university/college teaching in this country is performed by adjuncts.  I don't think that I have to explain to you what this means in terms of job security and pay.  (For an excellent blog article describing the trials and tribulations of an adjunct professor-turned-freelance- journalist, please read Nathaniel Oliver's "Where is the Grass Greener?" at The Chronicle of Higher Education).

 

What is happening here is a massive transfer of wealth from what might be called, in general terms, the writing professions, over to the technological professions.  This transfer is part of a much larger socio-economic phenomenon that has seen an ever-increasing concentration of the world's wealth into fewer and fewer hands.  Even within what is left of the writing professions, such a division between the haves and the have-nots is occurring, with those relative few who can make a living—the last well compensated journalists, the last formally employed movie critics, the last tenured professors—often doing quite well, edging into the upper-middle class even as their less fortunate colleagues fall into poverty (note bene: I am not whining here; personally, I am doing fine).  To put this another way, the kinds of middle-class professions that certainly attracted me in the 1970s and have attracted anyone who reads the Bits blogs, have, like most middle-class professions in America today, melted away in the face of a technological economy that offers a clear path to the upper-middle and upper class for those who choose it, while effectively hollowing out the middle.  This shift in the economic infrastructure (if I may use classic Marxist terminology) is a major driver in the transformation of America from a (broadly speaking) middle-class to what might be called an all-or-none society, with an increasingly prosperous upper-middle and upper class, and an increasingly desperate everybody else.

 

So whether or not the craft of film criticism is better or worse in the era of Rotten Tomatoes is not my point. My point is that the near disappearance of the profession of film criticism is a sign, a signifier of the place of the literate arts in America today.  And given the fact that so many people are choosing to practice the literate arts today in spite of the economic consequences, it can also be taken as a sign of the continuing passion (and, I dare say, need) for writing in America—a passion and need to which our neoliberal society can only pay lip service, not a living wage.  One wonders what Agee, passionate explorer of the plight of the agricultural working class that he was, would say about that.

51MD6G1FDoL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI’ve written about Duarte before, and in particular about her books Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations and Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences. I came across Slide:ology when it was first published in 2008 and immediately introduced her ideas to the students in my second-year writing class, who were preparing presentations. Her advice about slides was contrary to the usual “no more than five bullet points per slide,” arguing that slides should be visually powerful and engaging on their own terms and that one word or one striking image can enhance a presentation much more than three bullet points. Since then I’ve watched a number of TED Talks that use Duarte’s principles and have seen students take them up to great effect.

 

41fMC4Bu6NL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThen in Resonate I learned about the extensive research Duarte has done on the structure of effective presentations. She looked at hundreds of speeches—from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” to Steve Jobs’s iPhone launch speech—and found that they all shared a similar structure. Each moved from “what is” or the status quo to “what could or should be,” often moving back and forth between the two before building up to a peroration about what should be. I then started looking at speeches myself and found this same structure at work in many of them.

 

So I’ve learned a lot from Duarte about how to help students make increasingly powerful presentations. Since Duarte uses slides so frequently, I was especially interested to read that she recommends that speakers NOT begin with slides. Rather, she prefers to use 3 x 5 cards or sticky notes and put one idea on each one, then put them all up on a wall and study them. In other words, she wants to have the arc of her argument—the story she is telling—very, very clear before she starts creating slides that will embody that story. More good advice.

 

While I’ve read most of her books, I only recently discovered Duarte’s blog, which I am now reading regularly. The most recent one, dated August 21, 2015, is entitled “Tough Audience? 5 Ways to Stay Calm, Cool, and Collected.” In it she confesses to looking forward to the next season of Downton Abbey but says that she keeps herself occupied during the wait for it by watching the British Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons.

 

So Duarte is doing more research, studying how the PM handles tough questions and “wrangles” members of the British Parliament. She gives us a good example of the kind of research a successful rhetor needs to do, and it’s the kind of research our students can also carry out. I can imagine students doing terrific analyses of how the PM handles audiences—or of doing the same thing for current Presidential candidates. Great food for thought in class. I am also now going to recommend Duarte’s blog to students so they can follow her as well. While she has not to my knowledge studied rhetoric formally, she knows a lot about it through practice!

 

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The Refugee Crisis Image_10 14 15.jpgPeace is perhaps the best solution to the Syrian refugee crisis, if also the one that sometimes feels most unattainable.  All the more reason, I think, for us to find ways to teach peace in our classrooms. At my institution, we have a major Peace, Justice, and Human Rights initiative, supported by our school’s most recent strategic plan, spearheaded by our college, and connected to our local communities and donors (see a snapshot on the right). Emerging offers some options for you to initiate conversations about peace:

 

  • Madeleine Albright, “Faith and Diplomacy” Albright’s essay examines the role that faith plays in diplomacy and thus offers students a useful grounding for thinking about a complicated global situation like Syria.  While we in the United States stringently separate church and state, Albright argues, the same is not true elsewhere in the world.  Thus, in pursuing diplomacy we must attend to the role that faith and religion plays in political situations.
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Making Conversation” and “The Primacy of Practice” Appiah’s essay is a perennial favorite because it so elegantly discusses the complex issues framing so many situations in the world today.  Appiah’s discussion of the difference between values and practices is also useful because it offers a macro model of social change that doesn’t depend on changing what people believe but on changing what they do.
  • Malcolm Gladwell, “Small Change” Gladwell’s goal is to interrogate the idea that “the revolution will be tweeted.”  In doing so, he explores the ways in which the Civil Rights movement used the ties between people to produce lasting social change.

 

Thomas Friedman’s essay, “The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention,” is also a logical choice for this sequence. Friedman’s suggestion that global economic systems promote piece, and his observation that terrorist networks use the same strategies to sow chaos, both reiterates the challenge of peace and offers some possible (if limited, given their economic nature) avenues towards peace.

 

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Haimes-Korn_Pic-150x150.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn (see bio below).

 

Rhetorical Awareness is at the center of all my classes when we talk about writing and communicating.  Today, writing goes beyond a memorization of formulae in which students fill pre-designed containers or resort to structured modes of discourse.  Instead, students can better understand their roles as communicators when they realize that composing is more complex and always situational and dependent upon the shifting variables of rhetoric: purpose, audience, subject, and context.  

 

As teachers we can introduce rhetorical awareness in many ways in our classrooms. We can have students analyze artifacts through rhetorical lenses and introduce them to classical rhetorical appeals and devices. Additionally, multimodality offers ways to easily recognize the ways we shift our language and approaches in relation to visual rhetoric, genre, and medium.  I enjoy helping students realize that these concepts move quickly beyond the classroom as we are influenced by communication artifacts throughout our everyday lives.  Although this seems simple and somewhat obvious, it takes an interesting twist when paired with a multimodal assignment.

 

This assignment is also an opportunity for students to understand the impact of visual rhetoric and the ways images and text work together to create rhetorical arguments that communicate meaning. It is important for students to understand that no communication is a-rhetorical and that there are messages and artifacts all around us -- demanding our attention, seeking our engagement and working to persuade.

 

Objectives

  • To increase students’ understanding of rhetorical awareness.
  • To introduce students to some classical rhetorical terms and devices.
  • To understand the ways rhetorical devices manifest themselves in visual artifacts.

 

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 background readings and helpful links.  I encourage teachers to add to and enrich the list.

 

 

The Assignment: Exploring Everyday Rhetoric

First I introduce students to basic rhetorical terms and devices to give them the language they need to understand the history and currency of the rhetorical strategies they already use. Then, students complete the following steps:

 

  • Research: Definitions and Visual examples.I start by introducing Aristotle’s appeals: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. The concept of Kairos is also important to understanding the context and timeliness of communication.  I have students research other specific terms, such as Analogy, Metaphor, Enthymeme, Motonymy, Anchorage and Relay, Juxtaposition, Connotation, Denotation, Synecdoche, Polysemy, etc.  In addition to finding these definitions I ask them to conduct online image searches to identify visual examples for each of the terms to accompany their definitions.

 

  • Capturing Everyday Rhetoric. Over the course of a day or two, students seek out on a journey to photograph at least 10 images/examples of everyday rhetoric.  I encourage them to work to get a variety of images – signs, scenes, symbols, instructions, billboards.  They can walk around campus, drive around in their cars, observe their workplaces, and basically immerse themselves in their worlds and spaces to see the ways rhetoric speaks to and influences them in their everyday lives.  I ask them to look for images at work, at school, home, medicine cabinet, backpack, public places: malls, department stores, convenience stores, grocery stores. . . . the list goes on.

 

  • Write an Analysis. In a blog post, students discuss and analyze their rhetorical journeys. In this analysis they must go back to the definitions and connect their everyday rhetorical artifacts the researched terms and strategies.  

 

  • Create a Digital Slideshow. For the last part of this assignment, students use their images and ideas to create a digital or video slideshow – a digital story, a visual narrative – in which they use text and image to share their experiences with their everyday rhetoric. They embed the slideshow in their blogpost and it acts as a stand-alone, multimodal piece and an extended visual example that accompanies their writing.  I give students the option of using any online presentation and slideshow tools with which they are most comfortable. 

 

Reflecting on the Activity

Students enjoyed this assignment and came to understand the impact of the many messages in our lives.  By researching and analyzing the artifacts through the lens of classical rhetorical devices it helped them realize that even the smallest visual message is strategically planned.  This kind of analysis and understanding obviously helps them improve their own writing as they gain a stronger sense of rhetorical awareness as composers and designers.

 

I have included a couple of sample reflections from my students:  

 

Caitlin’s journey, titled What Lies Beneath, used a Prezi presentation to represent and discuss her visual artifacts.  As she says,

These images are items that I see or interact with on [a] regular basis without giving much thought to the intent and the rhetoric that lies beneath. These artifacts include magazine articles, advertisements, car interiors, and even clothing. I have compiled my visual journey of everyday rhetoric into a slideshow that offers 10 images and 10 revelations of what lies beneath some of our everyday encounters.

 

Jordan, in the Signs and Sights of Everyday Rhetoric used a free, online slideshow creator, Powtoon.  He started his journey with the informational signs he uses while driving.  He says,

Some informed me that the road was one-way-only, while others dictated handicapped or reserved parking spaces. Others grabbed my attention with glaring messages over red backgrounds that signaled “Stop” or “Do Not Enter.  Traffic lights, turn lanes, crosswalks, traffic cones, emergency vehicles with sirens blaring, the list goes on and on.

 

Interestingly, he extended his journey on foot (accompanied by his dog) to walk through a park and analyze the signs and paths (defined and undefined) that literally led him on his journey.  He explains,

Together my dog Annie and I traveled to the park, where we sniffed out additional examples of visual rhetoric that were maybe less apparent. I found several examples of what I’ve personally dubbed “desire-paths,” where people forego regular paths and instead make their own, thus creating an apparent trail.

 

Britany, in her work Visual Rhetoric: On a Daily literally follows the unfolding of her day and through an environmental rhetorical approach she analyzes her living space, incorporates online communication, and recognizes unintentional rhetorical messages such as “dirty dishes in the sink.”   She set her images to music in short video.

 

All of these students approached the assignment differently –using varied approaches and tools to create their multimodal presentations to recognize the presence and impact of Everyday Rhetoric.

 

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 khaimesk@kennesaw.edu 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 leah.rang@macmillan.com for possible inclusion in a future post.

How many words do you hear your students say that are new to you? For me, they are usually acronyms: OMG I know, but OMGD? (Oh my god, dude). LOL I know, but LYLAS? (Love you like a sister.) Recently I’ve heard “BAE” a lot, meaning “before anyone else” and hence “baby” or “sweetheart.” Anyway, I am always aware that youthspeak is two or three hundred steps ahead of me, so I keep an ear out for what they are saying.

 

I also look forward to learning what new words dictionaries will include: this year Merriam Webster lists “anchor baby” and “vext” (to vent via text or text by voice) as well as “photoshopographer.” The OED says it has added roughly 500 new words already this year, including “twerk” (to move with a twitching motion), “crowdfund,” and “yarn-bombing” (covering public things like telephone poles with colorful knitted materials).

 

1024px-Cotxe_cobert%2C_yarn_bombing%2C_pla%C3%A7a_Nova%2C_Alacant.JPG

Yarn Bombing

By Joanbanjo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

I wonder if “on fleek”—as in being perfect or “on point” —will make it. Having “eyebrows on fleek has evidently become popular, at least for some.

 

I like to engage students in discussions of new words and terms and find that they love talking about the latest slang as well as words that may or may not make it into dictionaries. So I usually have a “word of the year” contest sometime near the end of fall term: we can build our vocabularies while debating what word has been so prominent in the last year that it should win the prize. The OED chose “GIF” (as a verb) as the Oxford Dictionaries USA Word of the Year for 2012, “selfie” for 2013, and “vape” for 2014. The American Dialect Society (ADS) chose “hashtag” for its 2012 Word of the Year, “because” (introducing a noun, adjective, or adverb, as in “because Monday” or “because gorgeous”) for 2013, and “#blacklivesmatter” for 2014. ADS accepts nominations for Word of the Year all year long; nominations are ordinarily announced in early January (for the year that just ended) and voting begins, with every member of the Society casting one vote. I encourage my students to submit words of the year, along with a rationale for why they should be chosen. Then when the winner and runners up are announced, we can see how our nominees fared—and learn some new words!

The Refugee Crisis Image_10 07 15.jpgCompassion plays a large role in the Syrian refugee crisis.  Given its pivotal role in many systems of ethics, I think it’s also a good concept for students to explore not simply for their intellectual growth but also for their emotional development.  There are a few readings in Emerging that you can use to frame this discussion:

 

  • Namit Arora, “What Do We Deserve?” Arora’s essay focuses on economic and social justice.  What makes it useful for a more general discussion about compassion is that he offers clear and well-defined models for thinking about economic equality.  Those concepts can help students to locate themselves, interrogate their own positions, and consider the impacts of economics not only on the Syrian refugee crisis but also on other matters of social justice.  Arora is also useful given the economic impact of refugees on the countries that take them in.  How much is compassion worth?
  • Patricia Churchland, “Networking: Genes, Brains, and Behavior” Churchland plays, in part, an adversarial role here as she investigates the origins of morality and its relation to genetics.  By delineating the contours of morality, Churchland can help students to better define their own moral systems.
  • Francis Fukuyama, “Human Dignity” Fukuyama is a challenging, meaty essay that looks at what it means to be human.  Central to this notion for Fukuyama is “Factor X,” an almost indefinable residuum of humanness.  Having mapped out their own moral and ethical systems through the previous readings, students can use Fukuyama to consider the necessary role of preserving human dignity when dealing with refugees.

 

If you wanted to substitute a reading, consider the Dalai Lama’s “Ethics and the New Genetics.”  Although his explicit concern (like Fukuyama) is genetic technologies, the Dalai Lama’s writing is saturated with compassion and his call for a moral compass in relation to technology can be applied to other world crises, including that of the Syrian people.

 

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syrian-crisis--impact-on-child-education_53406d01462ad_w1500.jpg

In this series of posts, I’m thinking about ways to teach the Syrian refugee crisis using readings from Emerging.  Infographics offer a unique way for students to think about the crisis while also engaging metaissues of visual design and data presentation.  I would start by searching the web for these infographics, which are fairly easy to find using the search terms “infographic Syrian refugee.” (The example on the right comes from Visually.)

 

You might even ask students to locate these sources, allowing them to select infographics they find particularly useful or compelling. The introduction to Emerging has material on reading visual texts that can be useful in approaching infographics but there are some readings from the text you might bring into play as well.

 

There’s a full portfolio of infographics contained in Emerging’s online content: Drake Martinet’s “Stacy Green, Will You Marry Me?,” Buckfire & Buckfire’s “Student Bullying,” and carinsurancecomparison.org’s “The Real Effects of Drunken Driving.” These online  selections (e-Pages) are useful for introducing students to the genre of the infographic and giving them a sense of the range of work it can do in terms of both rhetoric and composition.  Elizabeth Dickinson’s “The Future of Food”—contained in Emerging—is a fuller use of this genre. Dickinson’s work could be described as an infographic essay about world hunger.  Dickinson offers students additional tools for considering the rhetorical decisions involved in crafting a compelling infographic, particularly when thinking about what text to use, how to use statistics, and how to design the graphic. I think it would also be useful to have students read the selections from PostSecret in Emerging.  Though also a visual genre, PostSecret looks and acts differently than an inforgraphic. Having that contextual contrast might be a useful way into talking more about rhetoric and design.

 

Using all of these readings together, I think it would be interesting to have students compose their own infographics about either the refugee crisis or some other compelling issue.  Such an assignment would broaden students’ understanding of composition and argument while offering them a chance for advocacy. If you have any assignments or suggestions for creating infographics, feel free link to and share in the comments below.

 

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At the beginning of the semester, I proposed three writing projects that would allow new college students to engage with the cognitive dissonance that accompanies the transition to college, as well as to foster resilience to persist and to thrive throughout this transition. We have reached now reached the crossroads of midterm and our second writing project. Midterm is a busy and challenging time on our large campus. In addition to academic pressures, students may face economic, social, and familial obligations as well.

 

In this second writing project, I try to account for these challenges and obligations by inviting students to focus on the problems they have encountered with higher education. But rather than focus solely on the dissonant aspects of their education, I ask students to build resilience by concentrating on solutions as well.  Even as current events diminish the hope for easy solutions to long-standing problems, I still believe in the possibility of writing toward a more equitable future. Writing Project 2, based on “Our Universities: The Outrageous Reality” by Andrew Delbanco, an article published this past summer in the New York Review of Books, presents the problems for an audience of educated readers—precisely the audience that many students need to write for as they pursue their education beyond the basics.

 

The following writing prompts and guidelines focus our discussion through the article and into the work of Writing Project 2.

 

Writing Project 2: Education as Problem/Solution

In Writing Project 1, you considered stories and stereotypes. As you read and write about problems and solutions associated with education, build on this knowledge and learn new theories for Writing Project 2. In doing so, you will take part in a conversation that has engaged and concerned our country for generations.

 

To begin the discussion read “Our Universities, the Outrageous Reality” by Andrew Delbanco. Then, based on the article, consider an issue that poses a potential problem in education for your generation. Why would your generation consider this issue a potential problem in education? What practices, experiences, or solutions would you suggest to ameliorate this issue so that future students do not encounter the same potential problem? Why would this solution work to address the problem?

 

Select one of the following prompts to guide your writing:

  1. Focus on a problem that Delbanco presents, and/or an issue that you have witnessed in your own education, either in college or in college preparation. What solution would you offer? Why? What objections might be raised to your solution? How and why would you respond to these objections?
  2. Choose a section of Delbanco’s article that applies specifically to readiness and preparation for college or another topic relevant for high school and/or first-year English teachers. Then, write 2 or 3 connected blog posts, of at least 600 words apiece, for an audience of English teachers. What ideas in Delbanco’s article do English teachers need to be aware of? Why? What would you want your English teachers to focus on more? What would you want them to focus on less? Why? If you wish, you may submit any of these posts for consideration for publication in Beyond the Basics.
  3. Consider the quote that Delbanco chooses to begin the book review: “The spread of education would do more than all things else to obliterate factitious distinctions in society” (Horace Mann 1848). Does this quote still have relevance in 2015? What objections might be raised to your point of view? How and why would you respond to these objections?

 

LENGTH1200-1800 words (4-6 pages)
STYLEMLA
CITATIONDelbanco’s article must be quoted, summarized, and/or paraphrased with internal citations.
OPTIONALOther references may come from any of the books listed in Delbanco’s review, or any of the texts cited in the review’s footnotes.
OPTIONALYou may conduct interviews with students and/or teachers for additional supporting evidence.
GENREImagine this essay as an opinion piece written in response to Delbanco’s review. You should use the optional references sparingly, or not at all. If you find an additional source, please consult with me first. Be sure to provide me with a copy of your additional source for approval.

 

If your students have an idea for a guest blog post based on the sample writing prompt, please let me know by December 1, 2015. I would be happy to work with student guest bloggers toward publication in Beyond the Basics.

jhewerdine.jpgJennifer Hewerdine teaches composition at Arizona Western College and is a PhD candidate at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Her scholarly interests include digital literacies, administrative collaboration and mentoring, and low-stakes writing. You can reach Jennifer at jennifer.hewerdine@azwestern.edu or at her website, Writing Kairos.

 

Background

While blogs are used for a variety of purposes including research journals, portfolios, reflections, and more, I have found that blog creation offers an effective teaching moment for instructors to assist students’ understanding of audience and authorial ethos while giving them room to make choices as to how they construct an online identity. Before students begin using blogs for semester-long projects, instructors can help them understand how design and interface communicate author ethos and target audience. Additionally, students are able to consider and rhetorically analyze how online identity is constructed through the choices they make in online environments.

 

Students who participate in social media design their digital social spaces with consideration for the followers and friends who will see their photographs, videos, and writing. Blogging, however, creates a potentially wide audience that extends beyond friends. As such, this assignment asks students to first analyze the rhetorical moves of established blogs before conceiving of and designing their own blogs. In addition to better understanding audience and ethos, students can consider the integration of images, hyperlinks, video, and audio into blog design by learning more about fair use and the Creative Commons.

 

Outcomes

  • Conceive of, produce, and use digital images, video, and audio
  • Design and optimize a digital composing space for the development and distribution of digital content
  • Develop online authorial ethos through an awareness of audience, purpose, and context

 

Background Reading

While I’ve used Writer/Designer and Understanding Rhetoric, these texts from Andrea’s handbooks are useful introductions to the assignment:

 

Assignment

In preparation for the assignment, students should locate a professional or high traffic blog. In class, students will work in small groups to identify or present common features of the blogs each student found. Questions students may address include

  • What is the purpose of the blog? Is the author providing personal or professional information, advocating, or creating stories or poetry?
  • What is the tone of the blog?
  • Describe the photographs of the authors. Are they candid? Headshots? What does this communicate to you as a reader?
  • What is the balance of white space, text, and graphics or video?
  • How do readers navigate the blog?

 

Once students have analyzed blogs, each student should consider the purpose of the blog they will create. To do so, each student will compose a freewrite or will brainstorm the purpose their blog will serve and the identity they want to project to their audience. This freewrite should include a description of the writerly personas they wish to portray.

 

Following this exercise, each student can map out their plans for the design and layout of their own site, including colors, navigation, author photo and bio, blog name, and tagline. Once this has been mapped out, students should begin designing their blogs. WordPress, a free blog site that allows for user customization, has instructions for designing a blog that may be useful for new bloggers. If there is time, students in the class can rhetorically analyze peers’ blogs and provide feedback as to their perception of peers’ purpose and persona.

 

Should students choose to use background images, headers, or quotes that they did not create or author, the design can provide an opportunity to discuss citation, fair use, and Creative Commons. Students may use images without realizing that images, like text, are the creative work of individuals and groups. In order to understand copyright, discussions can begin with exploring the licenses offered by Creative Commons. From there, students can search the images, video, music, and other material available through Creative Commons licensing.   

 

PersonalUse.JPG

A screenshot from a student’s blog.

 

The student whose blog is captured above chose to make his blog public despite the disclaimer that the space is private. Additionally, he used the blog for a variety of purposes. He published poetry, composition essays, freewriting, notes from his math class, and even posts directed toward and in response to peers. The tagline was changed over the course of the semester; sometimes it included quotes. At other points he used it for warnings that his work was not to be copied. This simple element of design—the tagline or motto—reflected his growth as a writer and his increased respect for his own writing.

 

Further Consideration

Instructors can opt to allow students to make their blogs private. While this may seem to contradict an understanding of audience, opting for privacy is another element of audience awareness; students may choose to make their blog private because they are not yet confident in their ability to design a space or to portray their authorial self.

 

Reflection

Once students have completed their blog design, students should compose an analysis of their design choices. What design purpose did they intend to communicate, and what rhetorical choices did they make to communicate that purpose? Such a reflection can be repeated at the end of the semester and include how they established a tone that reflected their writerly persona, and they may also consider any changes they made to the blog design, if any, over the course of the semester.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Discipline

Some Possible Genres

Humanities

Interpretation of Artistic Text

 

Review of Work of Art

Social Sciences

Literature Review

 

Social Science Theory Application

 

(Auto)ethnography

Natural Sciences

Formal Observation Report

 

Research Proposal

 

Annotated Bibliography

Applied Fields

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

 

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

 

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Since “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace” by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld appeared in the New York Times on August 15, 2015, the behemoth company, its founder Jeff Bezos, and especially its working conditions have been taking a beating. Describing a culture of extreme competitiveness, lots of disagreement and conflict, long and grueling hours, regular sabotage of fellow employees, “unreasonably high standards,” and “purposeful Darwinism,” the authors raised questions about this workplace environment and the relationship of that environment to the stupendous success experienced by Amazon. After the story hit, others rushed to defend Amazon; Bezos himself said he didn’t recognize the company reported on by the Times. Thoughtful commentators on all sides wondered about Amazon as the face of a new work paradigm in the U.S. and about how to balance fair play for employees with what Bezos calls an “obsession with customers” and their satisfaction.Intrigued by the uproar surrounding Bezos and Amazon, I did a little looking around to find out more, especially about Bezos, declared “Businessman of the Year” by Forbes Magazine in 2012. For years I have tried not to buy books on Amazon, preferring to buy from my local independent bookseller. But I buy a lot of other things from Amazon: do I want to continue this practice?

 

I’m still trying to answer that question, but in the meantime I found a fascinating Charlie Rose interview with Bezos from November 15, 2012. The conversation was friendly and free-wheeling; Bezos came across as smart, forward-looking, and witty. But what fascinated me was his discussion of Amazon meetings. For these meetings, PowerPoint and other presentational tools are banned. Instead, the leader of any meeting prepares a six-page memo. Bezos says that presentation slides are easy for the presenter but hard for the audience because they leave out so much information, are often not logically connected, and are, hence, unsatisfying. Working out a careful six-page narrative memo, he told Rose, calls for “deeper thinking” and “clarity.” When the meeting convenes, the leader distributes the memo and a thirty-minute “study hall” begins, during which the attendees read the memo and make notes. Only then does discussion begin. Bezos said that this method saves time in the long run because 1) everyone is reading it together so it will be fresh in their minds; and 2) the kinds of questions people tend to ask—ones that are often answered in the next slide or paragraph—aren’t necessary. This process of reading and discussing the memos, Bezos said, fuels the kind of inventiveness that Amazon is known for.

 

 

When I speak with teachers around the country, I often say that one of the greatest challenges we face today is figuring out how to hold on to and honor the best of the old literacy while allowing our students to experiment with the best of the new literacies. When I’m asked what about the “old literacy” I want to sustain, I almost always respond by pointing to the ability to mount and sustain a carefully researched, carefully reasoned, compelling argument, the antithesis of the five-second advertisement or TV spot. I say this because I believe that a democracy demands citizens who can think through complex issues, look at all sides, and conduct research necessary to make—and share—convincing ideas and arguments. And we know that this is a skill that can and must be learned: children are born with the ability to make powerful arguments (an insistent cry or a feverish “no” being among them), but we are not born making cogent, sustained, research-based arguments.

 

So the jury may be out on Amazon and its workplace practices. But I am with Bezos 100% on the value of the six-page memo.

While listening to some NPR chatter about the latest Emmy Awards, I was a little startled to hear that there were some four to five hundred television programs either currently, or soon to be, on air.  I thought I would look this up for confirmation, and discovered on Wikipedia (I apologize for the source, but it was far the most relevant and useful for my purposes) that there are some 1,266 television programs currently in production, including such shows as Meet the Press (start date 1947) and the CBS Evening News (start date 1948), which go back almost seventy years.

 

Wow.

 

More detailed analysis of the data shows, not surprisingly, that the number of new programs per annum really begins to ratchet up in the past five years, as new content producers in new media (like Netflix) get into the game.  The explosion in the sheer number of TV programs has apparently caused some concern among critics that it will be impossible to produce any really great shows with so many competing for talent and attention (nota bene: this, of course, has long been a complaint about mass culture itself), along with worries among producers that their productions will wither in the shadows of a cluttered forest of competitors.

 

But that isn't what interests me.

 

What does interest me is the question of what effect, if any, this mindboggling breadth of television programming may have on cultural consciousness.  A result of years of niche marketing in American mass entertainment, as well as of technological innovation (from cable to the Internet), the TV population explosion is part of an even larger historical moment that has seen the fragmentation of mass culture (often referred to as a "common culture") into ever more customized niche market groups.  To take one prominent, and often discussed, example: when the CBS Evening News premiered in 1947, it was the sole televised news source for the entire country; now, as the traditional network news programs continue their long slide, most viewers either get their news from sources (FOX, MSNBC, etc.) that package the news as their audiences want it packaged, or from infotainment hybrids (The Daily Show, Glenn Beck, Hannity), or, with increasing frequency, from Twitter, Facebook, and other user generated Internet platforms.  One might say—to modify an old 60's saying—we now have a system of different news for different views.  Goodnight, Chet.

 

In a similar fashion, when there were only three networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) broadcasting entertainment— all of which shut down late at night (I'm old enough to remember seeing that famous Indian-head test pattern on the screen when nothing was on)—there really wasn't very much television choice.  With so few programs to choose from, everyone pretty much watched the same handful of shows, and being a Nielsen #1 (like I love Lucy, or, later, The Beverly Hillbillies) really meant something.

 

But don't worry, I'm not going to get nostalgic about all that here.  Those weren't the good old days; they were only different.  And after all, a monolithic news regime can broadcast stories that are little more than propaganda, while restricted television choice tends to reflect the ideology and interests of the dominant class that controls it.  As the ad that introduced the Apple MacIntosh to the world during the 1984 Superbowl intimated, lots of consumer choice (in the news, in entertainment, in information in general) has a lot of liberating potential. 

 

But still, there is a difference, and differences are what mark moments of cultural significance. With a "niche culture" replacing the old "common culture," we can expect changes in consciousness.  What those changes are, or will be, are not clear, but we can try to discern them by reading the signs that today's entertainments are sending.  In this respect it is significant to me that the record shattering award winner at the Emmys this year was HBO's Game of Thrones, a niche-marketed blood bath dominated by personal betrayal and sexual violence. It is equally significant that the only cable show that can beat Game of Thrones in the Nielsens presents an apocalyptic world wherein your own child can go "zombie" on you, and need to be shot.  Not many years ago House, MD proclaimed, "everyone lies"; now, the motto of some of today's most popular series could be "trust no one."

 

Has the fragmentation of American mass culture caused this apparent mistrust of everyone and everything?  No; correlation is not causation.  But, to borrow from the Frankfurt School's ideas about cultural "mediation," we might wonder whether both the niche-marketed proliferation of television programming and the appearance of such desperate shows as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead mediate a certain crisis in our society, forces that are pulling us apart as a nation rather than together.

 

Stay tuned.