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What role does research play in argumentation? Is there a place for the traditional research paper in an argumentation course? Back when most colleges and universities had a two-semester first-year writing sequence, the research paper came at the end of the second course. Sometimes it was about literature because the second-semester course also included a unit on writing about literature, and the professors who often still taught first-year writing much preferred to read a stack of research papers about literature. The research paper seemed an entity in and of itself, something separate from what had gone before, largely to be feared and dreaded. The handouts dictating all of the rules and regulations for the assignment could easily go on for more pages than one of the finished papers. Experienced teachers had learned from previous grading all of the many pitfalls of the research assignment.


A final research assignment can be a much more natural outgrowth of what has gone before in a course in argumentation. It need not be something tacked on or dreaded. One of the best ways to teach students how to write arguments is to have them read arguments and then write about them. This is most often done by assigning selections from a reader. It can also be done by drawing examples from today’s headlines.


  • An early assignment can be to analyze the types of support in an article, for example, drawing examples from the article itself. It can be an argumentative article from their textbook or an editorial from the daily newspaper. Students can learn to document the use of one source, with the ironic caveat that journalists don’t have to use parenthetical documentation – though online articles often include hyperlinks to sources.
  • The next assignment can ask them to compare the use of support in two different editorials or articles, documenting appropriately. If the thesis simply compares the two, the essay will be supporting a claim of fact. If it proclaims one better than the other, it will be supporting a claim of value, which is more challenging.


Two simple assignments, using one or two sources and simple parenthetical documentation, and even a one- or two-entry works cited page. They are learning to do a research paper and don’t even know it.


Obviously approaching documented research in this way lets the teacher quickly check documentation because the only sources are a few readings assigned to the whole class. How quickly to move away from shared readings is up to the teacher, but a series of assignments from shared readings can prepare the students for the time when they branch out into independent research. Then a series of assignments based on the same body of individual research can lead from some of the most basic research assignments to some of the most challenging. Students can summarize an article they plan to use in a later essay. They can explain in writing how the topic lends itself to supporting a claim of fact, a claim or value, and a claim of policy. If they cannot come up with examples of all three, their topic may not be an appropriate one for an argumentative research paper. This works better as a means of helping them avoid poor topics than a list of forbidden topics; usually there were better reasons why teachers arrived at such lists over the years than simply that they could not stand to read one more essay on those topics.


Many of us now assign more than one independently researched essay instead of one. We really are not being gluttons for punishment. It was always frustrating to realize what students did not understand about research and documentation only when it was too late to do anything about it because the term was over. If they instead write a claim-of-fact essay on their topic, documenting it properly, then a claim-of-value or a claim-of-policy one, they have two chances to get it right, and the second tends to be easy to grade because it is not totally new content, but rather a new slant on the material, hopefully with documentation problems corrected.


Students need to research their arguments, and if giving credit to their sources becomes a natural part of the process, the term research ceases to fill them and their teachers with dread.


[Image Source: Universität für Bodenkultur Wien on Flikr]

During my career, MLA has made four significant revisions to its document style. As an undergraduate and early graduate student, I had MLA style down pat: I knew without even thinking where every comma, period, and colon went and how to handle works cited entries as well as footnotes (yes, we used footnotes then!). When the first major change came out, I dutifully committed the changes to rote memory. But by the next revision, I had had it: My head was crammed way too full of MLA trivia: I decided not to worry about getting it all “by heart,” happy simply to look up the “rules” when I needed them.


Along the way, I wrote several reference books, all of which included MLA style. Of course, we had to get everything “just right” in the books, and that meant poring over model after model to make sure that they matched the current style. Surely the word “tedious” was invented to describe this process—in vast understatement. But also along the way, sources began proliferating at a truly amazing rate. My “tools of the trade” days (listed in my syllabus on days when students were to bring in ANY question about writing) turned into workshops on documentation, as students brought in more and more obscure and out of the way sources, wondering how on earth to document them “according to MLA.” As a result, in my teaching and in my Handbooks, I have for quite some time been advising students to use their common sense and look for a model that seems closest to what they are trying to cite and use that to guide their citations. “Don’t worry or fuss over citations,” I told them. “Just do the best you can to provide your readers with the information they will need to locate that source.”


handbook8ed-S6-B-Print-1_bookstore_large.pngNow comes a further revision, and a very significant one at that. On April 1, 2016, MLA released the eighth edition of The MLA Handbook. And I’m delighted to say that this time around, MLA has taken pretty much the route I’ve been taking for some time. Rather than providing models for each format (books, articles, DVDs, etc.) MLA now realizes that way lies madness (students have known this for quite a while!). Instead, MLA now provides a set of “universal elements,” which writers are to use to guide their documentation: author, title of source, title of “container” (an article’s title is the title of the source; a database like JSTOR is the “container”); other contributors, version, number, publisher, publication date, and location.


Student writers provide as much of this information as possible; MLA realizes that the proliferation of sources and source types and source “containers” is so vast today that it is impossible to provide models for every format imaginable.


So—URLs are back, and DOIs are “encouraged”; publisher titles are given in full (though we can omit Company); abbreviations are fewer – and words like “editor,” “edition,” and “revised” are now written out. To my chagrin, MLA now advises writers to refer to three or more authors by the first author’s name and “et al,” a practice that erases the contributions of others and continues to valorize single authorship (I am very disappointed in this particular aspect of the “new” MLA, but some things never change. . . .). Surely oddities remain: why use // to mark stanza breaks, for example? But on the whole, this is the most succinct and sensible revision to MLA documentation style in my long career.


So—bravo for common sense and for a little leeway here and there. And here’s to remembering what is truly important about documentation: that readers can use it to identify—and double check—the sources used by others. What’s your take on this revision??


[Image Source: The Modern Language Association]

Barclay Barrios

Emerging 3.0: Wrap-Up

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Apr 27, 2016

This post concludes my series on what’s coming in the third edition of Emerging.  In my next series of posts I’ll focus once again on using the text to teach current events.  I also hope to write a bit about textbook affordability, given that I will be serving on a university committee about the issue.


I’m really quite proud of the text we’ve put together.  It’s been a strenuously long process, starting with the decision to move into a third edition and then reviewing what worked and didn’t work in the second edition, to thinking big thoughts about the kind of issues we felt demanded a place in the text and finding readings to help students think through those issues, to figuring out the details of the apparatus—revising the introduction, writing the headnotes, working out the assignments. There’s quite a bit of work involved in assembling a text and it is, without a doubt, a whole team effort.


One of the things that helped me get it done was working with graduate students in my program who teach using the text.  I saw it as a chance to provide them with opportunities to work on a project like this, build on their CVs, and earn some much-needed cash in the process.  That has me thinking about avenues for professionalization and mentorship in our graduate programs.  And so I would like to wrap up by considering that issue.


In our program, graduate students with teaching assistantships are mentored in the classroom through a required seminar on pedagogy, a colloquium on teaching, and yearly orientations to discuss what’s going on in the writing program.  But I think what’s more important is the mentoring that happens outside the classroom. When I was directing our writing program I would often get overwhelmed with email and would step away from my office. I always headed down to the large common office shared by our GTAs. It was a chance to decompress but I also thought of it as a chance to spend some time “in the trenches,” talking with students about what was going on in their classrooms and in their lives. It was always rewarding.  There were times when I could help solve problems both pedagogical and personal and there were times when I could commiserate with the challenges of teaching FYC.  I like to think that those moments functioned as an informal mentorship process as well.


What sort of mentorship processes does your program have?  Are they formal or informal?  How do you connect with graduate students to prepare them for the profession and/or for life?


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It all started with a contest sponsored by Virginia Tech University Relations. Next thing I knew, I was seeing options for Instagram assignments everywhere.


At the beginning of the month, I was checking email before class, and I found details on the #SeeVT: Pic – Post – Win contest in the daily news email. The contest seemed on topic for my Writing and Digital Media course, so I quickly edited the day’s post to add this note:


Prove that you are a smart user of digital media. Participate in the #SeeVT contest, adding the hashtag #Engl3844s16 to your post. We will bring up the photos in class. If you win a prize, you win two excused absences. If you have perfect attendance, we will negotiate an alternative.


NOTE: You will have to give me your Instagram name if you win. Don’t worry; however, I won’t follow you or stroll through your old messages.


Gardner_Apr26_223b.jpgSeveral students participated, though not as many as I had hoped. Since it was only for extra credit, I didn’t worry about it. I mentioned it at the three class sessions the week of the contest and pulled up the submitted images with the course hashtag. The winners were random, so I did stress that everyone had a chance. Happily, I can tell you that one of my students (shown right) won one of the daily contests, winning a t-shirt.


After the contest that week, I am seeing Instagram and hashtag-based activities as a possibility everywhere. Most recently, I was in a meeting where a Crops and Environmental Sciences professor was describing how she wants students to learn more about how the grains they study are used in their food as well as how those crops related to different cultures and festivals. Immediately, I thought about how much students love to take photos of their food. So why not ask students to post photos of what they eat, tagging the crops that are involved and if possible connecting to any relevant cultures and festivals?


As I think about my own classes for next term, I have been thinking about challenges to post images that relate to whatever we are covering each week. For my Writing and Digital Media class, students could simply post photos of any well-designed multimodal texts, and I will probably encourage that. Very specific challenges, however, will ask students to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts. Further, we can pull up the images in class and review the ideas.


Generally, students will take photos of texts that demonstrate specific concepts from class. Along with the image, they will post an explanation of what makes the example effective as well as the relevant hashtags (one for the challenge of the week and one for the course). I’m thinking of the activity as a kind of semester-long scavenger hunt. Here’s the first draft of the challenges (in a list of ten, of course):

  1. Great use of color
  2. Multimodal text focused on performance
  3. Simple effective design
  4. Effective use of negative (white) space
  5. Strong use of visual emphasis
  6. Convincing use of a weblink (not on the web)
  7. Eye-catching poster or flyer
  8. Effective multimodal text with no linguistic text
  9. Strong multimodal text that uses only two colors
  10. Powerful use of photography


I have a few goals for the list. First, I hope to encourage students to think beyond the comfortable understanding of texts as equivalent to words. Second, I want students to document only positive examples to avoid creating a critical tone in the course. I don’t want to unleash a squad of design police on the world.


Next week, I will consider the logistical issues, like tracking and grading students’ submissions. Have you used Instagram or other shared photos in the classroom? Do you have suggestions to share? Let me hear from you by leaving a comment below.

The regular academic year is quickly coming to a close. As usual, I’m experiencing a mix of emotions. There’s certainly excitement about the possibilities of summer and other new beginnings. Really, who isn’t already thinking about a warm day on the beach with a good book in hand? These warm fuzzies, though, are always tinged with a little bit of sadness for the ending of a thing.


It’s at this time of year that I begin to reflect on the semester that is ending and to consider carefully what I hope to achieve with my students in the final days of the term. More than ever, this time of year compels me to reflect on what we’ve accomplished as a class. At the same time, I know there’s still work to be done. 


I know, for instance, that there are central concepts from my course that I want to revisit and highlight again in our remaining class sessions. These are the bedrock concepts of my course, the ideas around which the rest of their experiences in the class have been organized. These are also the concepts and skills I believe will benefit students the most as they move forward in their academic careers, and as they look ahead to their professional lives.


More than anything else, I’m hopeful that my students will take with them more refined skills in assessing the dynamic complexities of various rhetorical situations. I hope I’ve provided them with transferable frameworks for analyzing and understanding these rhetorical situations no matter where they find themselves, whether in an academic, social, or professional context. 


In this blog post, then, I’d like to share a couple of assignments I’ve used over the years to “wrap up” my WID-based first-year writing courses. I designed these “capstone” assignments, in both cases, to reach backward, to take students back into the heart of the course, as well as to reach forward, or to move them to consider their own futures as academic writers or professionals.


Rhetorical Analysis of Student-Generated Academic Text


Throughout my course, students rely on various frameworks, or lenses, to engage in rhetorical analysis. In this specific final course project I ask students to select a text, a specific genre they produced as part of the course (e.g., an interpretation of an artistic text, a literature review, a lab report), and to analyze the rhetoric of their text as a form of self-analysis and reflection. 


As the assignment sheet indicates, students are directed to select for analysis one of their previous projects completed in the course, and to consider their audience for the project carefully before explaining (by citing and analyzing specific examples of their rhetorical decisions) how their texts were crafted (at both the global and local levels) to accommodate the needs and expectations of the particular academic community in which their work was situated. 


For example, if a student selected her social science theory response project to analyze, then her task is to study closely how she constructed her own text, and to make a case for how that text (through its rhetoric--the structural, reference, and language features of the text) would satisfy the needs of a target audience of other social scientists.


I like this assignment very much, partly because it reinforces many of the basic principles of rhetoric that are the heart of my course, but also because it asks students to recognize that their own, self-constructed texts are themselves complex rhetorical events that communicate specific disciplinary values via the elements through which they are constructed.


I also just love the look on my students’ faces when I tell them they’ll be analyzing their own rhetoric for their final project in the course. Initially, many of them have a difficult time understanding how their own texts are “worthy” targets of rhetorical analysis. By positioning their own texts as “worthy” subjects for these kinds of investigations, though, I hope my students leave the course a little more able to see themselves as actual scholars who are capable of producing disciplinary texts that allow for authentic engagement in differing academic communities.


Rhetorical Analysis of a Self-Selected Genre in the Applied Fields


Another “capstone” project I use in my WID-based FYC course asks students to identify and explore an applied field of interest to them. As part of that exploration, I further ask students to identify a specific genre of (written) communication through which members of a selected applied field community often engage with one another.

After identifying such a genre, and locating and reading examples of that genre, students are then asked to write a rhetorical analysis of the genre in which they identify the conventional expectations for the genre itself. More specifically, I ask students to answer the following question as the core of their analyses: what structural, language, and reference features does the genre conventionally rely on?


Like the assignment described above, wherein students analyze a text they produced, this project requires students to engage in basic rhetorical analysis, to notice rhetorical features conventional to a applied fields genre. But this assignment also allows many students to reach into their own futures by investigating a genre they may produce professionally as a member of the specific applied field of interest to them. I’ve found that my students are really excited to have the opportunity to investigate the kinds of writing they may be asked to do as professionals in a specific applied field, as well as to get a chance to apply the rhetorical principles they’ve learned throughout my course to a more “real-life” situation.


These two assignments reveal a couple of the ways I’ve tried to “cap” my first-year writing courses. I’d be interested in hearing about the ways others “cap” their own courses. What kinds of assignments do you find most appropriate for course endings? What makes them good “capping” projects? What do you like most about those assignments?


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Jack Solomon

The Walking Dread

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Apr 21, 2016

The Washington Post has been running a number of stories on the rising death rates of rural white women, including "Why Death Rates..." and "'We Don't Know Why It Came to This".  Such articles echo similar recent reports on the rising death rates of rural white folk generally, and all of them tend to note the role that a diminishing belief in the reality of the American dream plays in the declining lifespans of rural and working-class whites.


At the same time, I've been seeing a number of Washington Post columns about the TV series The Walking Dead, including Daniel Drezner's “Why I'm Quitting the ‘Walking Dead’ Franchise”, all of them complaining that the series (and those like it) seems to have abandoned its original dedication to nuanced storylines and character development in favor of ever-more ramped-up violence and mayhem.  Goodbye Mad Men Meets the Apocalypse and hello Georgia Chain Saw Massacre.


The thing is, I don't think that these two Washington Post article trends are unrelated.  Here's why.


In the eighth edition of Signs of Life in the U.S.A., I observe that The Walking Dead, like Game of Thrones, constitutes an example of what are often called "the new Westerns."  Whether in movie, television, or graphic novel form, the new Westerns represent an evolution in the history of the genre, abandoning the "cowboys and Indians" scenarios of the past while maintaining the fundamental setup involving perpetually armed people struggling for survival in some kind of lawless (or nearly lawless) wilderness.  One might say, in effect, that zombies are the new Indians.


This shift, of course, can be explained by the culture industry's belated recognition that the Western's tradition of demonizing and dehumanizing Native Americans just won't do anymore.  Movies like Little Big Man and Avatar changed the narrative simply by turning it upside down and making the "white man" the bad guy, but The Walking Dead's thinly disguised revival of something suspiciously like the old cowboys and Indians shtick suggests that something more than evading old stereotypes is going on here.  What we are seeing, in short, is what happens when mass culture has given up on the future.


Look at it this way, for better or for worse (and you are perfectly justified if you think "worse") - the old Westerns reflected a fundamental Anglo-American confidence in tomorrow.  "How the West Was Won" was not only a famous movie title, it was a fundamental cultural ethos.  Manifest Destiny meant manifest "westering," which was equivalent to manifest economic opportunity.  Bleached bones may have littered the trail, but victory was always in sight.  In contrast, there is nowhere to go and no victory to achieve in the new Westerns.  All you can do is fight for basic survival, and you are likely to fail in the end, as the regular killing off of major characters—quite in contrast to traditional Westerns—demonstrates.


Such stories reflect a culture not only in crisis but also in despair.  Seeing little hope for themselves, large numbers of Americans, especially rural working-class whites left behind by economic restructuring and international trade deals, are apparently responding to fantasy narratives that present them with a vision of people who are even worse off than they are (misery not only loves company, it also wants to see someone even more beaten down).  But at the same time, these victims of the apocalypse all are embarked upon a vast adventure and are having an exciting time.  Instead of worrying over where the money for the next rent check is coming, they're fighting back, carrying weapons, blowing away the enemy.  And did I mention guns? 


In short, there's something exhilarating in fantasizing about losing it all (including the law) for a culture that has always leaned towards a kind of conservative anarchism anyway.  It's all open carry here, and if you can't win, at least you get to shoot back. This is a long cry from the era of Gunsmoke and Bonanza, when working-class whites who were rising with the tide of American prosperity could enjoy Westerns that wrote "law and order" into the narrative.  Today, in the dismal aftermath of the Great Recession, some folks feel that they are being eaten alive, and it's a comfort to imagine that, with enough ammunition, you can resist.  In reality, however, a lot of people are dying young.

Since the fall, I’ve visited several colleges and universities to review writing programs and their curricula, and I’ve had a chance to see many outstanding course descriptions, syllabi, and related materials. The teachers and administrators I’ve spoken with were all thoughtful, engaged, and committed to students and to student writing. They had worked hard to craft assignments and choose texts that students could enjoy, as well as learn from.


But in looking at syllabi, one thing in particular leapt out at me: while all these programs listed a handbook as one of the class texts, that’s about as far as it went. Nowhere did I see a handbook even mentioned in daily class work, much less fully integrated into the course. Now maybe I’m touchy since I’ve written some handbooks myself. And maybe teachers are using their handbook in class but not showing it on the syllabus (I didn’t ask teachers about this issue, though perhaps I should). At any rate, I expect that more often than not, the handbook is assigned—but not taught. If this is the case, it’s no wonder students complain about textbook costs: they don’t want to spend money on a book they never use.


I wonder if others have encountered this situation or have thoughts about it. In my experience (50 years of it now!), I need not only to introduce my students to a handbook, working through front matter and previewing in detail the parts of the book and how to use them, but also to work with the handbook in class, modeling for students how it can serve as a support for all their writing. I’ve written earlier about a series of interviews I did with first-year writers across the country about a year ago, interviews in which a number of students said, for example, that they didn’t know where the index was or what to use it for.


So I remind myself frequently that my students don’t know what I take for granted—like where to find an index. In fact, I try not to take much of anything for granted, remembering what I felt like as a bewildered first-year college student trying to learn the ropes of academic discourse. And that means that I look for ways to get students into a handbook and to use it in class. Here are just a couple activities that have worked for me:


1. I introduce my students to our handbook on the first or second day of class and walk them through it so they will begin to be familiar and “easy” with it. I try hard to engage students by asking them to work in pairs or small groups with their handbook to answer questions like these (and I like to give a little prize of some kind for the group who finds the information most quickly and successfully):

  • Where do I find information on using italics for emphasis?
  • How do I cite a TV program using MLA style?
  • How do I use quotation marks with poetry?
  • Where can I find advice on working collaboratively?
  • Should I say “compare to” or “compare with”?
  • How can I find help in moving from a topic to a thesis?


2. I hold “tools of the trade” days, and include them in my syllabus: 15 minutes once a week (or more if it feels necessary) when students bring in every question they have about grammar, usage, punctuation, or any other aspect of writing. No question is too small or too “dumb.” They also bring questions they have about a particular choice they need to make in a draft they’re working on. Then we break into groups to answer the questions, documenting just how we have come up with tentative answers. Finally, we share information and discuss what we’ve learned.


3. I teach writing and research processes with the handbook, and we all have our handbooks ready at hand during every revising and peer reviewing workshop.


Of course, any textbook is only as useful to our students as we make it, but that seems to me to go double for handbooks. We have to use it—or they will lose it!


[Photo credit: Lendingmemo on Flickr]

We’ve always had readings on race and ethnicity in Emerging and some of our favorites will be returning for the third edition, including Steve Olson’s “The End of Race: Hawaii and the Mixing of Peoples,” Jennifer Pozner’s “Ghetto Bitches, China Dolls, and Cha Cha Divas,” and Wesley Yang’s “Paper Tigers.”  But for this addition we are adding in Maureen O’Connor’s “Race, Ethnicity, Surgery.”


O’Connor explores the world of “ethnic plastic surgery,” a range of niche procedures available to non-Caucasians usually to give them more Caucasian features.What’s great about this essay is that it considers the intersections of race, ethnicity, medicine, beauty, vanity, and aesthetics. One of O’Connor’s central questions is whether these practices serve to further blur racial borders or instead act to enshrine white standards of beauty.  I love that it’s an essay that gets at race and ethnicity from a different angle, through the notion of beauty.  I am hoping that might provide a broader avenue for students to enter into this conversation.


O’Connor is another one of those essays that can be sequenced a few different ways.  It will work really well in any series of assignments about race and ethnicity but also works in sequences on beauty or considerations of ethics and medicine.  I like that versatility and I hope you will too.


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Steve Bernhardt

Start with a Plan

Posted by Steve Bernhardt Expert Apr 19, 2016

Good writing begins with good planning. I like to formalize planning with a required document—a project plan. You might do something similar.


For a researched argument, I’ll have individual students complete a worksheet I call “Nutshell Your Argument.” In this one-page document, students identify the topic, the thesis, the audience, the main lines of argument, the counterarguments, and the sources of evidence. The assignment helps students get a fix on just what they are going to accomplish. They must consider the difference between topic (or subject) vs. thesis (or argumentative stance or purpose). They develop ways of thinking and talking about “lines of argument”—what that means and how to apply such thinking to their writing. They think about intended audience and the counterarguments an audience member might launch.


The nutshell provides me with an early check on assumptions about source requirements, allowing me to guide students toward academically respectable source material, and gives me a chance to intervene early in the assignment process. When we have time, each student briefs the class on his or her nutshell, offering a chance to clarify thinking through oral presentation and Q/A. I keep the presentation low stakes—everyone who does it gets credit.


With team assignments, I ask for something similar—a team project plan that presents the following:

  • Problem statement: what issues are being addressed or what problem is being solved
  • Significance or importance of project
  • Team information: contact information and team roles
  • Team rules or work expectations
  • Task breakdown
  • Schedule of work (typically as a chart or table) with project milestones
  • Anticipated hours to be spent on project (budget)
  • Cost (hours x hourly rates)


Writing a team plan accomplishes a number of goals. It forces teams to plan ahead and start to formulate individual commitments to team goals. It helps them think through how successful teams reach shared goals. It clarifies the anticipated outcomes and scopes the work to be accomplished. It ensures students know how to contact each other and helps them think about who will do what. It also underscores the adage “Time is money.” Students consider what the project is worth and what time they are willing to commit over the course of the project.


The team plan also works really well as a document design project. I ask students to use headings and to tag those headings, paragraphs or other elements in the style sheet. I encourage a visual presentation, with sections presented in tables or charts. I show students (in a mini-lesson) how to set up a document template, select or create styles, and format headers and footers. These are skills every writer needs. We post our plans to our discussion board so teams can see what other teams are up to and can “borrow” good ideas or design elements.


A formal plan can be updated for major projects in the form of a progress report. That allows teams to think through the difference between a prospective plan and a progress report, considering what to reuse and what new information should be added. The repurposed document can later be used as the backbone of the final report or an oral presentation. The final document can also chart the hours spent on the project and compare cost estimates to actuals.


We often think of planning and invention as synonymous. But a conceptual move from planning as gathering ideas to planning as project management will equip students with a valuable toolset and encourage them to see writing as a way to manage various activities, either individually or as a team member.


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Traci Gardner

Remixing Hamlet

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert Apr 19, 2016

About a year ago I shared a student’s work focusing on Remixing To Kill a Mockingbird in response to the Remix a Story assignment in my Writing and Digital Media course. In this project, I asked students to choose a story (fiction or nonfiction) and retell that story using digital composing tools. I’m long overdue in sharing more of students’ work in response to this assignment, so this week I’m sharing the work two students did to remix Hamlet.


Inspired by the Emmy Award-winning Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Amelia and Kayleigh set out to rethink Hamlet from the perspective of Ophelia and Gertrude. To fit the tone and format of their model, they changed the characters to modern-day sisters. Gertrude, or “Gigi” (because “Gertrude is so awful [she] wants to throw up whenever she hears it”) becomes Hamlet’s sister. Ophelia plays the role of Hamlet’s love interest and Gigi’s future sister-in-law.


The two characters are in college and completing a series of videos that document their life for a month, for their Writing and Digital Media course, taught by Mr. Fortinbras. The first video shows them introducing themselves and their YouTube channel RosemaryRemembering:



The following three videos work through remixed versions of the plot points, sarcastically commenting on Greek life and the bro code along the way. In the second video, starting at :47, they edit together a series of fast words and images to illustrate a portion of the story that they are telling:




Overall, the project showed me that they understood the demands of digital storytelling, and segments like the fast series of words and images demonstrated their skill with iMovie.


Just like the To Kill a Mockingbird project, I smile every time I look at these videos and I’m so happy that Amelia and Kayleigh have allowed me to share with you. I hope to share more student work in the future. What would you like to see? Tell me more by leaving a comment below.

Haimes-Korn_Pic.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn (see end of post for bio).


I am a digital storyteller. This is what I now say when people comment on the number of pictures I take. I have always taken many pictures. When I was younger, I would capture and archive my memories on film and compile them in photo albums. Reflecting back on these albums, I recognize the ways I captured a time in my life, connections to others and visual evidence of the details that make memories significant. Today, however, I tell digital stories. I remember when I first heard the term Digital Story – my research led me to the pioneering work of Joe Lambert and the Center for Digital Storytelling – now called the StoryCenter – a non-profit digital arts organization at UC, Berkley. This group’s tagline is:


Listen deeply – tell stories. 


Their mission includes

Methods of group process and story creation [that] serve as a reflective practice, a professional development tool, a pedagogical strategy, and as a vehicle for education, community mobilization, and advocacy.”


It was this interaction that helped me connect to the robust value of digital storytelling in my writing classes.  These were things I was already doing – teaching the reflective processes, community engagement, and the relationship between text and image to communicate meaning. I have emphasized the processes of essaying in which events and experiences – narration and exposition – work together to tell stories and communicate ideas to others. Today, with our multitude of digital affordances, we all are already digital storytellers. Much of our work with social media is about sharing stories in this way; Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat (among others) have pushed storytelling into mainstream formats inside and outside of the writing classroom. As Lambert and members of StoryCenter acknowledge, “The process of creating digital work is just as meaningful as the stories created."


Lambert’s model shaped a methodology that emphasized stories with a personal, narrative focus and the possibilities for storytelling to transform, but the genre has expanded to include other purposes as well. There are countless educational uses for digital storytelling as described on the University of Houston’s Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling site, which broadly defines Digital Storytelling as



. . . the practice of using computer-based tools to tell stories. There are a wealth of other terms used to describe this practice, such as digital documentaries, computer-based narratives, digital essays, electronic memoirs, interactive storytelling, etc.; but in general, they all revolve around the idea of combining the art of telling stories with a variety of multimedia, including graphics, audio, video, and Web publishing.



Digital storytelling goes beyond just taking pictures. It encompasses narrative structures and theory that involve beginnings, endings, context and meaning. When students tell digital stories they must consider rhetorical components such as invention (storyboarding), arrangement (order and selection), style (composition, point of view, transition, connection), memory (content and reflection) and delivery (genre, multimodal combinations).  They must take into consideration the rhetorical situation that allows them to tell a story in different ways for different subjects, contexts, purposes, and audiences. Digital stories get students to think about the relationship between form and content, or as John Seely Brown, digital culture analyst says, digital storytelling has writers “sculpture the context around the content.”  They go beyond traditional storytelling as they combine text, image, sound, and motion.


The Assignment

  • Introduce students to the concept and history of digital storytelling.
  • Conduct an online search to find digital stories.  Students can start exploring examples on the StoryCenter or the Educational Uses for Digital Storytelling site. Both of these sites include many examples and allow users to search by category. I also send students to the Web to find digital stories of their own to expand our definitions and recognize the types of stories.
  • As a class, discuss the ways that we already tell digital stories. Ask students to share some of their own rough stories created through social media sources such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.
  • Introduce Lambert’s 7 steps of effective digital storytelling:
    1. Point of View
    2. Dramatic Question
    3. Emotional Content
    4. The Gift of Your Voice
    5. Power of the Soundtrack
    6. Economy
    7. Pacing

These elements are explained in detail in the Digital Storytelling Cookbook (check out the PDF preview for an introduction) and Lambert’s Seven Steps of Digital Storytelling presentation to set up a framework and a process for building the story.

  • Students engage in the process that includes developing story topics, composing their stories, creating storyboards, gathering images, organizing and recording soundtracks, and editing their stories together. Note that there are many possible media options for accomplishing this task such as presentation software, video editing software or other online applications.
  • Share story drafts with others and take them through peer revision workshops. Revise and post to individual or class blogs.

You can organize this assignment within the boundaries of a couple of class periods, an extended unit, or over the course of a semester. It works well as either an individual or a collaborative project. Students can draw from a range of possible approaches that involve “personal narratives rooted in their own experiences,” such as defining moments, education, community, personal or intellectual journeys, sense of place, accomplishments, family, identity, relationships or many more.


Ultimately, it helps students realize that today we all are digital storytellers – we all have stories to tell and many new ways to tell them.




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

Andrea A. Lunsford

CCCC 2016

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Apr 14, 2016

In the introduction to her Chair’s address, Joyce Carter noted that scholar/teachers in the field of rhetoric and writing studies are “on the vanguard and in the crosshairs” and she charted us to take on this challenge: we should, she said, “celebrate writing innovation, and encourage innovation in writing, writing research, writing programs, and writing organizations.”


I saw and heard plenty to suggest that participants in this 67th Annual Conference on College Composition and Communication are heeding Carter’s words. Linda Adler-Kassner’s (and her colleagues’) vibrant and engaging program was packed from beginning to end with a variety of sessions (from the Taking Action Hub and Taking Action Workshops to the Research Network Forum, the participatory meeting of the coalition of Women Scholars, the half-day and day-long Wednesday workshops, Poster Sessions, and hundreds of panels and roundtable presentations, (not to mention all the meetings of the special interest groups), all of which provided an ongoing and moveable intellectual, emotional, and spiritual feast.


Andrea and Keith Walters_CCCC.jpg

Keith Walters and I at our Everything's an Argument meet and greet at the Bedford/St. Martin's booth.


I attended events at almost every time slot from Wednesday afternoon to noon on Saturday, to the point that I was reeling with new ideas and enthusiasms, along with aching feet. As always, I came away inspired, especially by undergraduate and graduate student presenters. And conversations in the “sky walk” and corridors were equally provocative and instructive, showing that this field is alive with talent and innovation.


Andrea at Handbook IdeaLab.png

Speaking with the wonderful attendees at the Handbooks IdeaLab.


During the first session on Thursday morning, following Carter’s inspiriting Chair’s address, I heard Karen Jackson, Melissa Pearson, Hope Jackson, and David Green talk about “Moving beyond Conversation to Integrate HBCU Contributions into the Field of Composition,” which reinforced my desire to learn more from HBCU faculty and their magnificent students (and to visit other HBCU’s following a fabulous trip I made to Florida A&M University.


Throughout the next two days, I listened to panelists discuss studies of how best to engage students in discussions and performances of style; about storytelling as a means of achieving social justice; about how to deploy anti-racist practices in our classrooms; about organic gardens and sustainable food literacy programs; about cross-border interdependencies and networks of Canadian and American scholars and research; about feminist activism in a range of venues and situations; about empirical studies of using social media for professional purposes, and about improving writing instruction on the Mexico/U.S. border. And I saved one of the very best for the last session I was able to attend: Historiographic Participatory Action Research: Reciprocity and Benefits in “Sweet Home Alabama.” This Saturday morning session featured Michelle Robinson and two of her graduate students (Margaret Holloway and Khirsten Echols) from the University of Alabama describing the research projects that have grown out of a chance meeting with the Mayor of Hobson City, Alabama, at a meeting they attended in Zora Neale Hurston’s hometown of Eatonville, Florida. There they learned that Hobson City is the second oldest all African American city in the United States, after Eatonville, and they subsequently embarked on a multiyear project to partner with officials and citizens of Hobson City to organize and set up an archive of historical records; to create a genealogical cemetery database; to establish a mentoring project (PhotoVoice) with middle school girls that will culminate in a presentation at Hobson City’s Founder’s Day as well as an exhibit of the girls’ work at the University of Alabama’s Paul Jones Collection of African American Art; and to create a community cookbook that can help fund the library. And. More.


This embodied partnership shows what one moment of serendipity combined with the vision, energy, and talent of African American scholars and researchers can build. Talk about being in the vanguard. Talk about celebrating “writing innovation” and “innovation in writing research, writing programs, and writing organizations.” Talk about partnering to foster change and build bridges between colleges and home communities! This session summed up for me all these goals and left me breathless with inspiration and gratitude. BRAVA to all!

Ethan Watters almost made it into the second edition of Emerging with a piece about the Westernization of mental illness, looking at how Western psychological conditions and understandings of mental illness have been exported around the world as part of globalization.  But we had so many good pieces for that edition, and Watters didn’t make the cut.  I was quite pleased, then, to come across another one of his essays, also about the peculiar impact of the Western world.


In “Being WEIRD: How Culture Shapes the Mind” Watters looks at the work of anthropologist Joe Henrich, whose work with the “ultimatum game” experiment in isolated small-scale communities around the world revealed that much of what social scientists, economists, and psychologists assumed to be “universal” human behavior was in fact a reflection of a distinctly Western psyche. Henrich and his colleagues use this work and other research to argue that Westerners are “weird”: Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. Far from serving as examples of the universal, Americans (who form the subjects of many experiments in fields such as psychology) are the “weirdest” of all, with responses indicating that they are the outliers among the outliers. Watters examines the implications of these claims, which threaten the foundation of many disciplines.


This essay is a great piece for looking at social science, universality, and globalization.  It interrogates the ways in which we take the American mind as the default mind.  I’d sequence it with Restak to think about science, Fukuyama to think about universality, and Friedman to examine globalization.  Check it out some time.



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I want to report this week on the documentation classroom activity that I proposed last week to help students understand how to cite the various resources that they include in multimodal projects, like videos and audio recordings (see Documentation Troubles, or Can I Just Link to It?). I was particularly interested in helping them learn how documentation works in situations where MLA bibliographic form isn't appropriate. Let’s say that it’s been educational.


I introduced the project as I described it last week. I talked about fair use and creative commons, and we reviewed the Best Practices for Attribution from Creative Commons page. I thought that would give students enough context. I shared this list of resources to evaluate, without the details I have added on why I chose them:


  1. Photo of a Winter Bee (public domain)
  2. Cartoon on Duck and Cover (public domain)
  3. Photo of a SuperCat (CC BY 2.0)
  4. Audio of Birds (CC0 1.0)
  5. Wikipedia article on The Undertaker (CC BY SA 3.0)
  6. The 1932 film of A Farewell to Arms (copyright not renewed, public domain)
  7. The book Writer/Designer (copyrighted)
  8. Sound effect of creepy music (Royalty Free)
  9. Video of The New Day entrance (copyrighted, embeddable via YouTube)
  10. Article on National Poetry Month (copyrighted, audio embeddable)


I assigned groups the resources and asked them to send me their work at the end of the class. When I checked their work, I found that I didn't begin to give them enough help. Every one that I opened was incomplete or inaccurate. So I redesigned the activity and tried again.


In the next class session, I explained that there had been problems and that I was going to demonstrate the process. I have three sections, so I selected three images by Dorothea Lange that are available on the Library of Congress site:


I used a think-aloud protocol to explain exactly how I would complete the citation activity if I were a student, creating the Google Docs that are linked above in the process. My think-aloud even revealed the shortcuts I could take, like copying the entire series of citations from the Best Practices for Attribution from Creative Commons page and then replacing the information with the details for the photos that I was working with.


I added the modified and derivative photos to the documents later, to help make the example more relevant in the future. Students were not required to create modified or derivative examples (though some surprised me and did so anyway).


I extended the activity by creating examples of citations for other media. The Best Practices page seems best suited for text-heavy publications, like webpages or blog posts. I created another Google Doc that demonstrated how to cite one of the Lange photos in a video or PowerPoint and how to use the Birds in Aviary sound effect in an audio recording. For citation of the Lange photo in the end credits of a video, for instance, I demonstrated how to create this citation, following similar music credits on p. 74 of Writer/Designer:


Along the highway near Bakersfield,

California. Dust bowl refugees

Photographed by Dorothea Lange
Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
Prints and Photographs Online Catalog
Licensed under Public Domain


After talking about how and why the citations changed for different uses and genres, students practiced by adding citations for other genres to their best practices pages. I spot-checked their work in the classroom, and they seem to finally get it. I won’t know for sure, however, until I see their next project. I’m hopeful!


How do you teach students about documenting multimodal resources in their projects? I would love to hear more ideas and activities, so please leave me a comment below with your suggestions. I look forward to hearing from you.


[Photo: "Along the highway near Bakersfield, California. Dust bowl refugees" by Dorothea Lange, photographer, is under Public Domain.]

Gaddam.gifToday's guest blogger is  Amanda Gaddam (see end of post for bio).


This year has presented unlimited opportunities to bring political discussions and assignments into the first-year composition classroom. The following assignment sequence provides students with a real, visible outlet for their political fervor by making use of an old favorite, the rhetorical analysis, combined with a newer multimodal component, the social media infographic.


Infographics are visual ways of representing information or data, and they are a favorite of political pundits and analysts communicating with readers on social media.  They are designed to make a memorable and lasting impact, and they typically present multiple pieces of information in a small and concise space. The Coffee Facts is an example of an infographic circulating on social media space.


Source: Med ness and ONO Creates


The authors make use of specific arrangement strategies and visual design principles to present facts, quotations, and beliefs about coffee to its viewers. As evidenced by this example, infographics don’t just focus on numbers-driven data; these images can be used to express a variety of information and claims about a particular topic. For this assignment, students could use a similar design to present their claims about the demographics, beliefs, and values of a particular cross section of voters. 



The purpose of this assignment is to get students to theorize about candidates’ voter bases and express their ideas for real audiences on social media. Through performing rhetorical and audience analyses and packaging the information in visual texts, students become political actors both inside and outside of the classroom. 


Background readings



1. Students perform a rhetorical analysis on a chosen presidential candidate’s stump speech.  As rhetorical analysis assignments are fairly standard in first-year composition, you probably already have a prompt that will work.  In the past, I’ve used various iterations of the rhetorical analysis assignment prompt given to me in my graduate teaching practicum.  Students’ analyses should focus on candidates’ ideology as expressed through language, tone, logical construction, or even delivery, if you ask students to analyze a performance of the stump speech.


2. Students write a short audience analysis based on the claims they made in their rhetorical analyses.  Who does the stump speech appeal to and why?  Students should take the opportunity to creatively theorize—and justify their theories—about what a candidate’s core voter base looks like based on what they learned from analyzing the speech.  This activity works best preceded by a class conversation about why audience matters and how speakers appeal to their audience through ethos, pathos, and logos appeals. This short assignment could certainly be completed as a solo project, but you might consider grouping students with the same assignment candidate together to facilitate conversations and knowledge-making about these important rhetorical concepts.     


It is also useful at this point to introduce students to reputable outside sources that engage in this kind of theorizing throughout election season in order to showcase the processes and detail involved in analyzing a voting base.  Websites like FiveThirtyEight, Politico, and the New York Times often provide verifiable, up-to-the minute, and in-depth coverage of these issues. 


3. Create an infographic for social media that distills the most important information about the audience for an interested social media reader.  Introduce this multimodal component of the assignment by discussing examples of infographics found on Pinterest, Twitter, or Instagram as a class.  The goal of this discussion is to get students to articulate the rhetorical choices involved with creating one of these images—design, content, arrangement, context, etc.  As most students are experienced social media users, you can also ask them to bring in their own examples of effective and ineffective infographics they’ve encountered on their own online feeds, and they can work together as a class to generate a list of best practices for creating these visual texts. 


Working solo, in partners, or in groups, students should identify the information about their candidate’s core audience that they want to present in their infographic.  These data might include education level, demographics, beliefs, fears, or critical issues.  Once students know what they want to present to their social media readers, there are multiple free resources available on the web for actually creating these infographics, but Piktochart, with its easily edited templates, is probably the most user-friendly and involves the least amount of unnecessary sign-ups and log-ins.  Students can also create infographics from scratch by taking advantage of the simple graphing and design powers of PowerPoint or Word.


4. Publish to class or department Twitter or Facebook pages, and encourage students to do the same on their own social media accounts.  Engaging with real readers about their work makes this a timely and relevant assignment—one that highlights the ways in which skilled and thoughtful rhetorical analysis and audience analysis come in handy in the world outside of the classroom. 



Interested voters rely on Twitter and Facebook for current coverage of political events, and information must be packaged differently for those audiences.  This sequence of assignments builds on a standard of first-year composition, encourages multi-layered and complex conversations about audience and exigence, and provides a real-life publishing outlet for students’ important ideas about this significant and ever-changing election season.  If the reports about the political activism of first-year students are true, students will welcome this opportunity to sound off about issues most important to them.   


Guest blogger Amanda Gaddam is an adjunct instructor in the First-Year Writing Program and the School for New Learning at DePaul University. She holds a B.A. in English with a concentration in Literary Studies and a M.A. in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse with a concentration in Teaching Writing and Language from DePaul, and her research interests include first-year composition, adult and non-traditional students, and writing center pedagogies.

When a program or an individual teacher initially makes a turn toward focusing on writing in academic disciplines, inevitably it involves rethinking how the course progresses. Often we immediately think about the big, high-stakes assignments first:

  • What major assignments am I going to give students?
  • Will I need to rethink the kinds of writing projects students do in my class?
  • What assignments can I adapt from my previous curriculum?


It’s also important, though, to think about how to support students through low-stakes writing assignments and activities. The work that students do every day helps them build toward the bigger assignments in the class, and often a change in curricular focus means rethinking some of the kinds of go-to activities teachers use to support student work in the course.


I argue that we should also be asking these kinds of questions about how to support students in everyday, low-stakes assignments:

  • What kinds of meaningful exploratory activities support understanding writing in different disciplines?
  • What kinds of low-stakes activities anticipate and help students work through places where they often struggle with a WID-based approach to writing?


I thought I would share a few low-stakes assignments that I have found to work when introducing students to disciplinary genres and writing about the disciplines.


Writing mini-academic literacy narratives

Have students interview each other and write mini-literacy narratives about how they have learned what they know about academic writing. This can be a fun, low-stakes way to begin to understand what your students bring with them to class in terms of prior (academic writing) knowledge.


Analyzing writing from other classes

Ask students to bring in writing that they have done for other classes to analyze how they understand the expectations, similarities, and differences in writing in different subject areas. One of our graduate students at the University of Arizona, Rachel Buck, has collected data about how having students analyze the assignment sheets from other classes can help students understand how disciplinary writing varies. See also Dan Melzer’s outstanding study of writing assignments across the curriculum.


Translating a scholarly article into a new form

An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing provides an example assignment for having students translate a scholarly article into a new form or genre. Consider having students translate the article for social media as a low-stakes assignment. A more intense assignment might be to translate the article into a press release or a news story.


Playing around with citation styles

Instead of asking students to memorize citation styles, I ask them to analyze the style guide to understand how it works. Then we talk about how citation styles reflect different disciplines. I might ask students to role-play scholars from different disciplines to argue for some of the idiosyncrasies of their styles or stump each other with sources that are difficult to find in style guides.


Are there other approaches you’ve considered for teaching 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


Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Apr 7, 2016


Now that superhero season is upon us again, it's worth a moment to consider the cultural significance of what might be called (if I may borrow a term from Marxist cultural theory) the mode of production of the phenomenon.  You are almost certainly aware, for example, that while Superman, the first of the superheroes, was the creation of a couple of high school boys, he is now owned by the Disney Corporation, along with Batman, Superman's first commercial clone. Iron Man, along with Captain America and the rest of the Avengers crew, for their part, are owned by Time Warner. In other words, all of these characters have long ceased to be grounded in a creative enterprise analogous  to that of the novelist or the short story writer; they are brands, pure commodities, cranked out like any other consumer product—and that calls for some semiotic interrogation.


The most famous semiotic analysis of Superman is unquestionably the late Umberto Eco's "The Myth of Superman."  In that essay, Eco compares the character of Superman to the characters in conventional novels, noting how novelistic characters are "used up," so to speak, by their stories, while "mythic" characters, like Superman and Hercules, aren't.  That is, if, say, Dickens had written a sequel to Great Expectations, it would have to begin with a mid-fortyish Pip, who had reached that age at the end of the novel in which he initially appeared, and go on from there.  Mythic stories, on the other hand, don't work that way: every new tale about the hero can take him (or her) at the same age as the last time around, unaffected by any prior experience, or even by time.


The era of the branded superhero takes Eco's analysis to a whole new level, however.  Now a commodity rather than a myth, the superhero can be entirely redesigned like a new automobile model.  Your father's (or grandfather's) Superman may have fought for "truth, justice, and the American way," but today's model is an ambiguous threat to America, with immigration-controversy overtones.  Adam West's colorful Batman is now Frank Miller's, sold entirely in black. In short, the story goes wherever the market takes it.


What doesn't change is the brand itself—today's redesigned Mustang is still a Mustang; the latest model Superman is still Superman—and the fully branded market responds accordingly, as we can see in the extraordinary box office success of Batman v Superman, one of the most critically panned films in recent (and not so recent) memory.  This is why, in spite of some critics' pleas that a stop finally be put to it, the superhero genre will continue to dominate the movie industry for the foreseeable future. Like consumers flocking to purchase such perennially Consumer's Reports-condemned brands as Jeep Wrangler and Land Rover, audiences will break records to see any major superhero brand in its latest incarnation.


This is not trivial.  Branded behavior is the passive product of advertising and marketing—a kind of behavior modification, which is just the opposite of critical thinking. When a society's leading stories are brands rather than stories, one should not be surprised to hear—as can be heard all the time on college campuses— that critical thinking skills are declining, or simply missing altogether.  Which is why comic book superheroes are very much worth thinking about critically, not as if they were equivalent to literary characters but precisely because they are not.


[Image Source: Zient on Wiki Commons]

This week is the run-up to CCCC,so writing teachers across the country are working on panel presentations, workshops, and other activities related to that annual meeting-- and arguing about how to make CCCC and NCTE more politically active for social justice. Some prominent members of CCCC have announced they will not renew their memberships over what they view as the C’s refusal to stand up for faculty rights in the Salaita case, among other things. I’m attending the meeting and will be writing more about that in coming weeks.


But this week it was refreshing to turn down the volume, ignore the media frenzy over Trump, and go to New York for some outright joy. I was in town for a meeting (of course!), but also to see/hear the Kronos Quartet at Carnegie Hall. Stepping into Zankel Hall on Saturday night was like stepping into a rather large family love fest: the sold-out audience swirled down the aisles and into their seats in anticipation. This was a youngish crowd, and all around I met smiles and greetings—as if we all knew one another. What we all did know, of course, was Kronos music, and we certainly got that in spades. The quartet played some brand new pieces that are part of Kronos Quartet.pngtheir Fifty for the Future project, a joint program between Carnegie Hall and Kronos to commission 50 works (25 women and 25 men—and that got applause!) over five years. All of this music (the first ten commissions will launch on April 15) will be open-source: free and open to musicians all over the world to use and play for free. These new pieces were deeply thrilling, full of such complex musicianship that it was hard to imagine they were being presented for the first time ever. There were older pieces as well, including Pete Townshend’s rip-roaring “Baba O’Riley,” that brought us all to our feet. And their encore—Geeshie Wiley’s “The Last Kind Word”-- is one of my all-time favorites. While introducing it, Kronos’s David Harrington said the quartet felt it was about time that the fabulous sound of this ignored and long-forgotten Black woman’s music played at Carnegie Hall.


So, a great night was made even more special by the fact that next door, youth choirs from around the country were performing. On the way out, I passed crowds and crowds of them in their black suits and long royal blue dresses, triumphant and cheering each other after what must have been a hugely successful evening. Seeing these throngs of young people, happily dressed to the nines and celebrating their music, brought another surge of joy and of thankfulness for music. As we all know, art has this great gift to give to all. Kronos believes that music can heal, can bring people together, can reach across boundaries and barriers of all kinds. Today, we need that kind of gift more than ever.


[Photo: Kronos Quartet by Radek Oliwa, on Flickr]



I was parking my car to go to work as an Assistant Director of the Rutgers Writing Program when I first heard about the planes hitting the towers on September 11, 2001.  I recall it quite clearly because it was 8:58—traffic on the eights on news radio—and they were making a report about it as it happened.  I remember the numbness that crept over me as that day unfolded, that haunting sense that my world had irrevocably changed.


Katrina was a nasty tropical storm when it passed over us here in South Florida but Wilma was a different story.  It devastated the region and I was without electricity for weeks. Our school was closed for ten days. I was dealing with so much here that I didn’t quite realize that Katrina was painting a bullseye on my hometown of New Orleans until after the damage had been done.


Trauma was very much on my mind when I first started assembling the readings for Emerging.  I wanted a collection of very contemporary readings to reflect the fact that important conversations had changed in the wake of massive tragedies like 9/11 and Katrina.  I also wanted to provide students tools for dealing with a world in which bad things happened, even though those bad things might feel very far away to invincible youth.  For the first edition, we included Joan Didion’s “After Life” about the sudden loss of her husband, John Gregory Dunne.


“After Life” didn’t last past the first edition; it just was too thin on ideas.  But in this edition we’re returning to the notion of trauma with two readings, Sarah Stillman’s “The Atomic Bomb and the Genetics of Trauma” and Sharon Moalem’s “Changing Our Genes: How Trauma, Bullying, and Royal Jelly Alter Our Genetic Destiny.” Both of these essays sequence well with entirely different readings.  Stillman examines the continuing aftereffects of the bombing of Hiroshima by looking at the lives of hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombing.  It’s great for any sequence on war and conflict.  Moalem instead is studying epigenetics, the ways in which environmental factors impact the expression of our genetic code.  It’s great in sequences on science and technology.  And yet both make the argument that trauma can be inherited, that its impact is so great that it can change our genetic code.


These readings both feel so very relevant to me.  I’m writing this just after the terrorist attacks in Belgium but there’s a good chance I can check the news any day of the week to find some trauma or other, not to mention the epidemic of bullying that continues to plague our schools.  I hope that readings like these will help students to engage these issues.  For many students trauma might feel very far away, but it never really is.


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Gardner_Apr05_220.jpgIt’s that point in the term when I try to convince students that they can’t just download and reuse images, videos, and audio clips wily-nilly, that there are permissions issues to consider and that attribution is important. It’s always a hard battle.


Longer explanations haven’t seemed to work. Too much information bores them, and they tune out. I shifted to sharing a streamlined version of the details. I explain that the point of documentation is to give credit to the author/maker and to show the audience where to find the original version.


I thought some humor might help, so I created the flowchart on the right. I explain that while the flowchart is a little reductive, it is generally accurate. We talk about scenarios that do and don’t work for the chart. We use the flowchart on the blog post Can I Use that Picture? The Terms, Laws, and Ethics for Using Copyrighted Images, by Curtis Newbold, to decide what to cite and whether the use of the resource falls under fair use.


We also discuss how to cite various assets. Inevitably, when we come to the question of how to cite webpages, images, videos, and audio clips, someone asks, “Can I just link to it?” So I summon that Esurance commercial that explains, “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.” We talk about the fact that linking is useful, but you still need to indicate the author/maker, where the source came from, and when it was made. Part of the reason for my sassy flowchart is to point out how the citation for an image can be included in the image itself, as shown in the gray bar below the flowchart.


I share the Best Practices for Attribution from Creative Commons page, which works through sample citations for an image. What I like about the page is that it shows the differences between a range of citations, from ideal to incorrect, as well as how to manage situations where there are multiple sources and derivative works.


Still my activity isn't working the way that I would like. Usually, students are trying to figure out the citations for their work in the context of a larger project. Perhaps there is too much going on for them to think both about the content for their project and citations strategies that they are not used to. This week, I want to add something new.


We’ll still go over the basics as always, then I’ll arrange the class in groups, give them a random resource, and ask them to create a Best Practices for Permission and Attribution page for that kind of asset, using the Creative Commons page as a model. So for instance, one group might do a public domain photograph by a government photographer, another might do a clip from an oral history recording on the Library of Congress site, another would do a still from a Disney cartoon, and so forth. The pages from all the groups will form a class resource.


Will students find the activity deadly dull? Interesting? Will they get the idea that they can’t just take anything they want? I will let you know next week. Meanwhile, if you have some advice on how to help students understand documentation for multimodal project, please leave me a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

“We couldn’t talk about politics in high school,” my students tell me. “They said it caused too many arguments.” This experience is not universal among my students. Many of my students are activists in their communities and on campus. But as we read and write together about Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the students consider the relevance of this germinal text as it applies to and contrasts with current events:


As we begin our study of the “Letter,” I offer supporting background for kairos, the rhetorical term that foregrounds our work. Kairos is context, the rhetorical setting or occasion for writing. We watch a video of George Wallace delivering his inaugural address as the new governor of Alabama in January 1963. Wallace proclaims, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” We listen to a BBC interview with a demonstrator from the Birmingham Campaign’s Children’s Crusade, speaking of her experiences on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Birmingham actions. We watch raw footage of the demonstrations themselves, the children marching in the streets of Birmingham, their arrest, their incarceration, and barking dogs and the fire hose blasts. I offered a trigger warning for this video because the footage is so powerfully disturbing, and in offering that warning, I apologize for not alerting students to the strong words and images in the other videos.


On another day, for a discussion on the power and possibility of topic sentences, I bring in one of my t-shirts from the Occupy Wall Street Screen Printers. The t-shirt has a dot matrix photo of Dr. King’s mug shot from Birmingham. In place of his actual booking number, the placard reads “OWS 99.” The caption for the photo is taken from “Letter”: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.” Occupy Wall Street unfolded nearly five years ago, and some of the students are not familiar with the events of the autumn of 2011. As we break apart the different images of the t-shirt’s meme, I offer details. In one class, I speak while sitting on the classroom floor, to offer a face-to-face demonstration of direct action, and to show the possibilities of thinking outside the box.


Another day, an itinerant preacher is speaking on our campus, surrounded by a crowd of students. The preacher’s style includes language that attacks the bodily integrity of women students. We can hear the preacher’s voice through the walls of our classroom, even as he speaks a half-block away with no megaphone. Later I will file a noise complaint with the police. I know from participation in Occupy Wall Street about the power of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and how those basic tenants from the Bill of Rights apply to all of us. I would not, I suggest to the students, want to keep Occupiers from speaking. 


Nonetheless I apologize for the preacher’s hurtful language against women, that in 2016 such language is still considered acceptable. “We’re used to it,” the women tell me, and I express regret that conditions have not improved since my own years as an undergraduate. Subsequently some of the students decide to write about this preacher, in order to contrast his style and intention to Dr. King’s use of language. Like the itinerant preacher, Dr. King also carried the gospel wherever it was needed. We identify the passage in “Letter” where Dr. King addresses this point.


All the while, the presidential primaries and caucuses play out. We have useful discussions that connect “Letter” to the political discussions of our current time, and to the candidates that, like Dr. King, offer specific messages for specific purposes in specific settings. I have the opportunity to attend a rally for one of the candidates, and the privilege of shaking the candidate’s hand at the end of the rally. Our state’s votes are considered significant, and several of the candidates visit nearby cities and suburbs. We discuss a protest held against one of the candidates in which demonstrators blocked the main road to the town where the candidate was speaking. Students decry these tactics, suggesting that people not risk their own lives and inconvenience others just to make a point.


Working hard to practice nonjudgmental awareness in my tone of voice, I remind students of the tactics of the Children’s Crusade, and the anger that Dr. King’s methods often provoked. We agree to disagree. Days later, after a peer review session, a student who disagreed with the 2016 protest offers that Dr. King’s “Letter” inspires writers to elevate their own standards. Dr. King’s use of language, and the intent of the “Letter,” written by hand in the margins of newspapers, forces all of us to grapple with the power and possibilities of language.


Later that week the unthinkable happens. Our state makes national news for voter suppression. My husband and I had to cast provisional ballots because the state claimed that we had registered our political party as “none.” Many voters found themselves in this situation, and none of these provisional ballots were counted. I detail for the students how, when we switched our registration from New York State, we knew about the closed primary system and registered with the DMV using the party affiliation that both of us had used for our entire lives. In order to do this, I break the rule that I learned in graduate school about not disclosing party affiliation to students.


But my affiliation is not shocking to the students, and I offer additional details. For instance, some voters in the county where our institution is located stood in line for five hours, and discovered the winners of our state’s primary before they had had a chance to cast their vote. I note that my husband and I will attend a hearing at the state capitol to register protest over the suppression of our votes. We discuss the connections to “Letter.” We spend time writing. The essay is due shortly thereafter and our unit on “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” comes to an end.


The following writing prompts and videos helped to foreground our discussion as our state continues to remain in the headlines.


Writing prompts

  1. Is “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” still relevant for 2016? Why do you think so? What circumstances make the “Letter” relevant? What questions arose for you in your readings of the “Letter” and what did you do to answer those questions?
  2. How would you translate “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to fit the circumstances of your community (either an ASU community or a home community)? What examples would you use? Why? What questions arose for you in your readings of the “Letter” and what did you do to answer those questions?
  3. What did you find surprising about the circumstances of “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”? Why were you surprised? What questions arose for you in your readings of the “Letter” and what did you do to answer those questions?


Readings and videos




A dot matrix photo of Dr. King’s mug shot from Birmingham. In place of his actual booking number, the placard reads “OWS 99.” The caption for the photo is taken from “Letter”: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.”


Today's guest blogger is Jeanne Bohannon (see end of post for bio).


This semester has been all about comfort zones for me, both in how I connect with my student audiences and also how I participate in my own research. As are many of you, I am attending CCCCs (#4C16) this week and am conducting an interactive workshop similar to a feminist Wiki Write-in, with the topic "Mis-represented Women in STEM fields."  For this week's blog, I want to reflect on a democratic learning opportunity that initially took me out of my comfort zone as a new teacher.  The assignment I describe below is the inspiration for my #4c16 workshop, a set of brainstorming sessions of a wiki writing project that I did with a group of English 1102 students using Andrea’s ideas of writing to the world and writing for value. 


Context for Working the Assignment
The seed of a public, crowd-sourced text for recovery of misrepresented women throughout the history of STEM fields germinated in a democratic class community and an idea that students want their writing to have meaning and value to others. The original document lives at our English 1102 Women in STEM Wiki.  Here is how we brainstormed as a class for the assignment:


Our project goals were to recover the life experiences of 20 women who contributed to STEM fields, research digital and physical texts and visuals associated with them, and produce encyclopedic entries that highlight these forgotten women, with the ultimate goal of disseminating the digital wiki document to Science organizations and schools for curriculum enrichment. 


As a large group we used Google Docs and the Internet as invention heuristics, completing a “speed”-date” process to decide on our top twenty list of forgotten women in STEM. We researched and drafted facts in 10-minute  spurts using a style template.


By the end of the class hour, we had the beginnings of 20 entries.


Pacing for a Wiki Brainstorm
10 minutes total for each entry:

  • Choose an entry subject: 1 minute
  • Technology-driven brainstorm: 2 minutes
  • Research and draft pages: 6 minutes
  • Plan next steps for shared writing and next entry: 1 minute


Measurable Learning Objectives

  • Practice research methods in digital spaces
  • Analyze and create meaning from a diversity of live experiences
  • Synthesize content-meaning through dialogic writing and shared semantics
  • Create a collaborative, public document for multiple audiences


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 Everyday Writer: Ch. 13, Doing Research; Ch. 25, Writing to Make Something Happen in the World
  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 11, Conducting Research; Ch. 26, Writing to Make Something Happen in the World
  • Writing in Action: Ch. 3, Writing to Make Something Happen in the World; Ch. 13, Doing Research
  • EasyWriter: Ch. 6, Writing to Make Something Happen in the World, Ch. 37, Conducting Research


Reflections on the Original Assignment – Student
From 1102 Wiki Co-Editor Amelia Dunbar: "Who knew an English 1102 class would lead to a collaboration with others to produce an educational Wiki about the “forgotten” women who have had major accomplishments in STEM?  The idea of the wiki was to create a scholarly resource about women in STEM fields, to be used as a learning tool for middle- and high-school readers. This assignment was a crowd-sourced effort for the entire class.  I enjoyed the opportunity to help others revise and edit their articles. Editing other student’s articles also helped me improve my proofreading and editing skills. I also helped students with English as their second language. It was a great experience to work with students of different backgrounds and have more meaningful types of interactions than I would encounter in a typical general education class."


My Reflection
I am excited to take Andrea's idea of "writing for value" and apply it to the #4C16 Wiki-Workshop.  I hope that this fledgling project will grow into a global write-in effort to recognize women's contributions in STEM fields and to recover the life experiences that influenced them along the way.  What makes Wiki-Work meaningful to me is that its digital and public nature creates opportunities for feminist scholars across the world to contribute to collaborative knowledge productions and to bring women's work to the forefront of our shared, cultural heritage(s).


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


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

Blogging started for me with the desire to enter our vast digital public square for conversation. As a writing teacher, I love watching my students’ fearlessness as bloggers. They understand the blogosphere as an open, experimental space, where they can self-publish, posting their passions and opinions.  As a writer, I wanted to experiment with new subjects, improvise with new forms, and write to the world to see what the world has to say back.


When given the chance to blog for Huffington Post’s lifestyle page—“Life Begins at Fifty”—I started, tentatively, writing more of a 600-word exploratory essay than a blog.  And, mostly, I got blogging wrong, in that first post, by violating the first principle of composition—know your audience! But I was immediately hooked—hooked on the freedom of the form and the opportunity to test and try out ideas.


My subject, in that first blog, was choosing a name for myself as a grandmother. It turns out, in the world of grandmothers, you get to choose an affectionate name for yourself, a name like a stuffed animal with comforting sounds—Granny or Gammy, Bubbe or Omi—names that didn’t fit comfortably when I tried them on.  As I started thinking about the subject, it occurred to me that my knowledge about grandmothers comes less from my memories as a granddaughter and more from the decades of reading students’ essays about their grandmothers.


I wrote the blog in the familiar voice of a composition teacher who loves reading students’ essays about their storybook grandmothers handing down family history while standing at the stove.  And I wrote to an audience I know—my fellow composition teachers—who have also read hundreds of grandmother essays and understand why students don’t easily revise essays about grandmothers: grandmothers aren’t a venue for critical thinking.  What I didn’t do is to write to Huffington Post’s lifestyle audience or shape the purpose of the blog to meet audience expectations.  It would take further experimentation to learn how to write to the thousands of anonymous readers on the other side of the screen.


Since that first post, I’ve blogged about a range of topics— family and food, birth and death, exercise and health. What I’ve learned is that successful blogs convey one point, a single idea clearly, concisely; they do not begin mid-conversation, as essays often do. They are ephemeral, intended to be read in a minute or two, and to vanish from the Huffington Post within a day or two.  And to be successful, they need to create a role for the audience to participate in the blog—whether as a reader who likes and links it, giving it thumbs up, and passing it forward to friends, or a more basic, human role to converse with a writer whose voice and sensibility are simpatico.  Without an active role for readers, there is no conversation around a blog. Readers move on.


Yet something quite wonderful happens for a writer in those few moments when a blog is most alive.  That something, it seems to me, is the essence of why I write. It is the pleasure of finding an audience who will run with my words, add their own, amplify and expand my story.  Blog readers want to participate in this public, collective, conversational form of writing. And as a writer, I want to create roles for them to participate.


At CCCC, on April 8th, 2 PM, I will be talking about blogging  and what I’ve learned as a writer from the freedom of the form and the pleasures of writing for a new audience.  I look forward to seeing you in Houston!