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2016

It was a rough summer here in South Florida, particularly for those of us who are queer.  The shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando hit very close to home.  As more than one friend pointed out, Omar Mateen, the shooter, lived equidistant from Orlando and my home city of Wilton Manors, the second gayest city in the United States.  He could have just as easily headed here.  And with a best friend who works security at one of the most popular gay bars in town, the whole incident was beyond unsettling.

 

One of the many administrative hats I wear at school is Director of Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  I was thus quite grateful to be able to coordinate and participate in our school’s response to the shooting.  We had a memorial, an open discussion for students (many of whom are Hispanic and many of whom are from the Orlando area), and a panel discussion.  The turnout for all of these was impressive, particularly during a summer session, and included not only our students but also many faculty, staff, and administrators.  In the wake of these events, our college has reached out to work more closely with the university’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.  It feels very good to be making a difference.

 

But I’ve also been thinking about how to make a difference in my classroom, not just for queer and Latino students but perhaps more particularly for transgender students.  If you follow the news closely, you may have noted an alarming rise in violence against transgendered people, particularly those of color.  Our school already has a list of gender neutral bathrooms, the result of a grassroots petition by a transgender student in our college, but I wanted to make sure I made my classroom a safe space for transgender students.

 

Here are some of the practices I’ve adopted:

 

  •       Preferred Name. Before calling the roster on the first day of class, I ask students to let me know if they use a name other than the one the registrar uses.  I’ve always done this because sometimes Katherine goes by Katy or Jerome by Jer.  It’s more important than ever since at our school the registrar can only change a student’s name in the system after a legal name change, a byzantine process in Florida.  Transgender students who haven’t transitioned or who don’t have the resources for a legal name change may be stuck with an official name that doesn’t match their gender identity.
  •       Preferred Pronouns. I always do a quick ice breaker activity on the first day so I can learn my student’s names.  I usually ask about their major, their experience with writing, and something really interesting about them (this last one is always a lot of fun and helps me learn names quickly).  I now also ask students for their preferred pronouns, allowing transgender students another way to claim their identity within my classroom.  I also normalize this by providing the class all the same information about myself.
  •       Modeling Behavior. I try be particularly conscious about my behavior in front of the class and particularly aware of my use of language.  Students look to me to set the standard for the classroom and I can do a lot to make sure that our class is safe and inclusive.
  •       Class Discussions. Some of the readings in Emerging are also useful for fostering conversation, thinking, and writing about issues around gender in general and transgender specifically.  Ruth Padawer’s “Sisterhood is Complicated” explores the complications that arise when transgender students transition from female to male at all-female schools.  Julia Serano, author of “Why Nice Guys Finish Last,” is herself transgender and uses her unique perspective to discuss the challenges of being a man in relation to dating and rape culture. Kenji Yoshino’s “Preface” and “The New Civil Rights” looks at the pressures to “cover” or downplay a disfavored aspect of identity.  You might also use Kwame Anthony Appiah to talk about our need to coexist with those different from us or Francis Fukuyama on the importance of human dignity or Dan Savage and Urvashi Vaid on the violence faced by queer youth.  As Yoshino points out, changes in civil rights are more likely to come through conversations than laws and as Appiah notes practices can change before values do.  Discussing queer and transgender issues in the classroom, then, offers us a way to make change even if there are no transgender students in the class.

 

Life has pretty much returned to normal here in South Florida, though there is a much more visible police presence outside the bars in Wilton Manors even now.  Classes started for us August 22 and a new wave of students are filtering through our classes. As we continue to heal from what happened in Orlando and as transgendered people continue to face horrific violence around the world, it’s good to know that in some small way I can make a difference.  You can, too.  Please share other tips you have for making your classroom a safe and inclusive space.


Goal? by Alexander Boden, on FlickrLast week was the first week of classes at Virginia Tech, so at this point, the term is well underway. I have spent a lot of time this summer getting ready for this moment, by doing research and making plans to improve what I do in my classes.

 

While I have lots of ideas, I hadn’t thought about them in an organized way until I read David Gooblar’s 4 Resolutions for the New Semester over on Chronicle Vitae. I certainly relate to the goals that Gooblar shares, but more importantly, I realized that I too wanted to write down my goals for the term. Since I do everything in lists of ten, I want to share my ten resolutions:

 

  1. Increase class participation, especially online. I’m not happy with the discussions that take place in my online class. Honestly, though, I have never been the best at leading discussions in the classroom, either. I want to make it better this year.

  2. Give students more choice. Uniform assignments rarely work for students, especially in technical writing where students are working on diverse career goals. The kind of writing a computer science major learns is quite different from what a food science major needs. I want to design a series of assignments that lets students choose the tasks that matter to their goals.

  3. Switch to Pass/Fail grading. After Asao Inoue’s presentation at the Conference of the CWPA in July and reading his research, I am convinced more than ever that the behavioral grading system I devised years ago for professional writing classes is the way to go. Naturally, the course grade has to be A to F, but most of the coursework students do can easily be graded as "acceptable" or "not," with the option to revise.

  4. Give feedback more quickly. I am notoriously slow at grading. It frustrates me, and it frustrates students. My goal is always to at least have work turned back before the next project is due, and often I barely make it. Sometimes I fail. I want to make sure students get their work back soon enough to let them revise and benefit from the feedback this year.

  5. More formative feedback. Building on the Pass/Fail grading and faster feedback, I want to spend less time justifying or editing in my feedback and put more effort into urging students to revise and improve their work—as well as giving them the support they need to make that happen.

  6. Ask students to track their own work. I started asking students to gather details on their participation in the course a couple of years ago. This year, I want to step up that practice. With students tracking their own participation, they are aware throughout the term where they stand as far as that portion of their grade is concerned, not just at the end of the term when they write their self-assessment.

  7. Encourage more (or better) reflection. I always ask students to reflect on their work, telling me about their goals they set and challenges they have encountered with their projects. I want to work on deeper reflection, however. Student reflections too often feel as if they are only going through the motions. Students write the reflections only because they have to, not because the process will help them improve their writing. I need to create more transparency in the practice so that students can find more value in these reflections.

  8. Add videos to online courses. I have been relying on websites and discussion boards for my online courses. I do point students to relevant video tutorials from Lynda.com (which students can access for free at my university), but I haven’t created any of my own video content for the course. It’s a bit of a challenge, as I don’t have the best software for the task. Still, I need to make it happen. I think it will allow me to give the students demonstrations and explanations that the resources I have been using are not.

  9. Add an AMA session. That’s an Ask Me Anything session, like those frequently done on Reddit. Particularly in the online courses I teach, students never get to see me or learn much about me. Granted they don’t need to know everything about me, but I think answering their questions will help me connect more with the class. I heard an “On Point” rebroadcast recently on how parents and step-parents function in blended families, and the speaker kept stressing “connection before correction.” That same idea might apply well to teaching.

  10. Encourage community. I want to build more community and support in my classes. I want students to be as willing to turn to one another for feedback, praise, and support as they are to ask me. My great hope is that the changes I am making to build more participation and to improve assessment and feedback will lead students to support one another and collaborate as a community.

 

So, those are my goals for this school year. It is a lot to accomplish, but I hope I can make it happen. It certainly gives me plenty of ideas to share in the coming weeks, so stay tuned—and if you have new school resolutions of your own, please share them in a comment below. Here’s to a fantastic new school year!

 

 

Source: Goal? by Alexander Boden, on Flickr, used under CC-SA-BY 2.0 license

Andrea A. Lunsford

What’s the Story?

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Aug 25, 2016

I’ve been so energized by teaching at the Bread Loaf School of English this summer that now that the term is over and the fall term approaches, I find myself thinking more and more about all I learned this summer. What I saw, over and over, were the most remarkable teachers imaginable at work: working against sometimes insuperable odds (in terms of state and local regulations and in sometimes deplorable conditions), these teachers are finding ways to reach young people and to engage them in deep, active learning through reading, writing, speaking, and performing.

 

One especially powerful demonstration came when I was introduced to What’s the Story: The Vermont Young People Social Action Team, a course that brings together students from over a dozen schools in Vermont to engage in “a collaborative process of identifying and researching local topics of interest, drafting and publishing position papers, as well as designing, creating, and using media to effect positive change." Part online and part in-person, the course pairs student learner/activists with mentors at their schools and experts in policy making, social action, environmental science, and so on. Students in this very special class earn graduation credit under Vermont’s Act 77, “which promotes flexible pathways to graduation.” The brainchild of Vermont teachers at Bread Loaf, What’s the Story has been a huge success, so much so that the leaders of the project are looking for ways to scale up.

 

Students across the state are invited to apply and each year-long course enrolls a cohort of 15 to 20 participants. And they love it. As one participant says, “I like working toward a goal in this course, seeing how the project evolves, and having the motivation to get the work done so that I will make change.” Another adds, “We are heading this project, not the teachers. If we ask for help, we get advice, but that’s it; this is our project.”

 

I’d love to see similar projects springing up all over the country, and it strikes me that college writing programs might well become partners in the endeavor as well.

Andrea A. Lunsford

Do we mispronoun?

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Aug 18, 2016

Throughout my career, I have learned so very much from my students: I think all teachers of writing feel this way since we often have an opportunity to learn about our students from all the writing they do in our classes. In the last decade or so, I have learned especially from my transgender students, listening to their stories, writing and reading with them about not just gender equity but also about what we might call sexual equity, the right to be who they are, all the time. The uproar in North Carolina over bathrooms and who can use them has made me think more and more about this issue of equity. So I was thrilled to find a video, made by middle and high-schoolers, on issues of sexuality, called Breaking Binary.

 

In this video, a group of bright and articulate young people talk directly about their experiences of claiming a sexuality/sexualities, about the misperceptions and prejudices they constantly face, and about their deep desire to learn in an atmosphere of openness and acceptance. I’ve watched it twice now and recommend it highly, for teachers and for students (I’d say for parents too!). And in watching, I learned a new word: “mispronoun.” One of the students in particular uses this word, saying that “I am mispronouned all the time,” meaning that others assign her a gender she doesn’t live or accept. I thought back over my career, and I am certain that I have “mispronouned” students without ever knowing it. Now I know better: I know to ask students to tell me their preferences, but I regret not having always done so. As the students in Breaking Binary demonstrate, I was, too often, unthinkingly caught in the binary they so thoroughly break.

 

As a result of these thoughts, here’s a draft of a section I’m writing for my textbooks, on gender and pronouns:

 

The search for gender-neutral pronouns has a very long history; literally hundreds of new words have been proposed, but none have ever caught on. Today, as writers and speakers communicate with people who identify across a wide spectrum of sexualities, the need for such new pronouns is especially great. A good option is to determine the pronouns people with to use: do they prefer she/her, he/him, or an alternate gender-neutral pronoun such as ze/zir (for example, "Ze called me" or "I called zir")? Another common option is to use they/them as gender-neutral pronouns ("I called them"). Clearly, norms for pronoun usage are evolving and changing, as language always does. While the evolution continues, use words that reflect your sensitivity to issues of gender and sexuality, and respect the identities of those to whom you are writing or speaking.

 

If you have other suggestions, please respond. And thank you for reading this.

Many basic writing and first-year composition courses require students to conduct research and integrate the sources they find into their written work. The research paper poses challenges for instructors for a number of reasons: the changing nature of information literacy, the variety of disciplinary expectations for presenting and citing research, and the complexities of managing summary, paraphrase, and quotation, problems which were highlighted in the work of Rebecca Moore Howard and her colleagues in the Citation Project. In addition, faculty from other disciplines may view research as a generalizable skill set which can and should be covered in English courses; as a result, they expect students to arrive “research-ready” in their introductory and sophomore-level courses.

 

My college recently selected information literacy and research as our new Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) topic. I was asked to lead plan development and draft a literature review over the summer. While at first reluctant, I have found the work to be directly related to what I am doing in the composition classroom and what I am reading about threshold concepts and teaching for transfer. One resource in particular stands out: The Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education, which was adopted earlier this year.

 

The Framework approaches information literacy not as a set of discrete skills, but rather as a connected set of threshold concepts which have been identified and refined by experts in the field (similar to the methods employed by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle to determine threshold concepts for writing studies). These fundamental concepts echo and complement writing instruction:

 

  1. Authority is constructed and contextual
  2. Information creation as a process
  3. Information has value
  4. Research as inquiry
  5. Scholarship as conversation
  6. Searching as strategic exploration

 

Under each concept, the Framework lists “knowledge practices,” which describe activities to foster development of the concept, and “dispositions,” which characterize emotions and attitudes of students who successfully acquire and apply the concept (the dispositions are similar to the “habits of mind” in the Framework for Success in Post-Secondary Writing).

 

I believe the Framework can lead to new avenues of collaboration, research, and reflection for first-year composition instructors and their library colleagues. The framework also provides instructors like me with new tools for assessing the effectiveness of our pedagogy. Let me provide one example.

In my composition classes, I require a researched essay.  Students begin finding sources early in the semester and build an annotated bibliography throughout the course. This 10-week search for sources is designed to emphasize reading skills, summary writing, and a sense of the on-going conversation connected to the issue chosen by the student.  Once the bibliography of ten sources has been accepted, students write the researched essay.

 

One student, after completing his annotated bibliography this summer, submitted an eight-page paper in which every sentence after the introduction was followed by a parenthetical citation. There were no signal phrases, no discussion of credentials, and no attempt to distinguish between types of sources, which included both scholarly research, online news and periodicals, and a political blog.  After reading the paper, I tried to articulate for myself—and for the student—why the paper did not fulfill the expectations of the course.

 

The ACRL framework provided two answers. First, in integrating his sources, the student did not “assess the fit between an information product’s creation process and a particular information need,” which is a knowledge practice associated with the “information as process” concept. Thus, while well-organized and grammatically sound, when addressing different parts of the research question, the paper did not distinguish between the reflections of a political blogger and the results of an academic study. In addition, the student did not meet the goal of the semester-long project to develop his “own authoritative voice,” which is a practice associated with the concept that “authority is constructed and contextual.” 

 

I must ask if I provided opportunities to develop these knowledge practices. While I focused on the thinking and writing required to integrate multiple sources in a paragraph, and while I spoke about genres and authority as students searched for sources, I did not address these two together. In other words, when we worked on source integration, we didn’t discuss types of information and how to assess whether a particular source was a good fit for the paragraph.  In fact, I used the literature review from an article by Howard, Serviss, and Rodrigue to illustrate how sources could be integrated, without acknowledging that such a literature review draws only from academic research studies.  I want to address source integration and student voice differently this fall.

 

In teaching research, it is very easy to present information literacy as a package of skills that begin with using search engines and end with punctuating an in-text citation appropriately. But a reductionist focus on the skills of information literacy, much like a reductionist focus on skills in writing, may not help students function as consumers and producers of information, even though it allows us to check assessment boxes easily enough. Students should be able to do more than plug terms into a search engine or database; they need to understand the differences between the two and how those differences can influence the outcomes research.  The ACRL Framework provides English instructors with an alternative theory of information literacy, one which recognizes the contextual complexities of research.

Andrea A. Lunsford

Shoulder the Lion

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Aug 11, 2016

shoulder the lion.pngSeems like I’ve been thinking about abilities/disabilities a lot lately. I’ve written about Brenda Brueggemann’s brilliant work—and recommended her “Why I Mind,” which is on YouTube—and our Bread Loaf class has been doing quite a bit of soul searching in terms of our relationships, as teachers, to students with varying abilities/disabilities. And now comes Shoulder the Lion, a documentary film by Erinnisse Heuver and Patryk Rebisz.  Because a good friend is featured in the film, I drove to the Rafael Cinema House in San Rafael a few days ago to see a screening.  Knowing my friend, I expected it to be good: but in fact it was so far above good that I was just stunned. 

 

This searing documentary tells the stories of three artists:  Alice Wingwall, an artist and photographer who lost her sight in 2000; Graham Sharpe, an Irish musician whose advancing Tinnitus makes it impossible for him to participate in his beloved band; and Katie Dallam, a veteran and psychologist who lost half her brain in a boxing match (“Million Dollar Baby” was inspired by this event).  The film moves back and forth among these stories, as the artists speak directly to viewers of their ongoing work and the emotions that accompany it.  In the Dallam sections, we learn that losing half her brain left her with “nothing, nothing at all.” She had no memory, and she had to re-learn absolutely everything, from eating to speaking.  Eventually, Dallam discovered art and found that her “disability” had taken away all her inhibitions.  The results are fantastical, larger than life, monstrous, fabulous, riveting sculptures and paintings.

 

Sharpe never tells us how his tinnitus developed or whether doctors have tried any treatments, but he dwells on his emotional state as he sank into and eventually accepted the fact that no matter what he would hear ringing in his ears:  the sound, he says, is like TV static, with no reception, and it’s LOUD.  He turned his talents to building a music festival in Ireland, which after ten years had won the reputation of “Best Small Festival” in the country. At the end of the film, we see him sitting in a field, strumming his guitar, and writing lyrics, something he continues to do even though he can’t really play them.

 

Alice Wingwall, a dear friend for well over a decade now, speaks eloquently of losing her vision, of her deep anger at being blind, of her realization that “seeing” is about more than vision, of her sadness that so many sighted people today do very little true seeing—bombarded by images as we are—and of her determination to keep on capturing images.  And so she does, as brilliantly and dramatically as displayed in the film.  With her husband, architect and writer Donlyn Lyndon, she answered questions after the film in her typical straightforward, witty way.  And we met Rumba, her guide dog, who took the entire screening in stride, as though she knew she was a “star” of the show.

 

This film, and the artists represented in it, give testimony to an argument Shirley Brice Heath has made throughout her career: that some form of art (music, dance, sculpture, painting, drama) is essential to human development.  Heath’s work with youth groups across the country has engaged young people in artistic endeavors, and for decades she has documented the progress they have made and the way in which art has enriched and changed their lives. 

 

Of course, I think of writing as an art—and speaking as well.  That’s one reason I want writing teachers everywhere to focus on the ART of and in writing/speaking.  The style, the rhythm, the cadences, the syntax, all of which bring a written or spoken performance to life.  As teachers, we need to remember that all people have artistic potential (just ask comics artist Lynda Barry, and check out her books!), and especially so those with “disabilities.”

This last week at the Bread Loaf School of English, my team-taught class had a visit from Professor Brenda Brueggemann (University of Connecticut) and Professor Susan Birch (Middlebury College) to talk about their experience and work with disability studies and with what Brenda called the “temporarily able-bodied.” This class session produced a series of passionate and insightful postings from teachers in the class, all of whom work with students with various disabilities, but few of whom had studied much about such teaching. They had a number of “a-ha” moments. Maya wrote:

Yesterday’s engaging lecture left me contemplating about disability narratives. I believe in the “danger of a single story” (Adichie’s term), and I was thinking that this would be a powerful way to frame lessons on identity for students and ourselves. The idea that we try to write a tale of overcoming adversity with disabilities and her use of the term “trump identity” resonated with me. I participated in few activities at my last school dealing with multiculturalism and identity (Wildwood School inspired). One of which involved selecting parts of our own identities (using gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, bodied [sic], age, religion, language, geography, education on small pieces of paper). We started out with all of the identity cards, but then had to narrow it down to the most salient identities, and eventually to a “trump” identity. It was interesting to think about and discuss which identities floated to the top and which ones we were able to let go of—and to see how we were similar or different from our own colleagues.

 

Brueggeman mentioned, “Disability is not a problem to be solved.” She described the disability problem as one that shows a limit of imagination. I loved that eloquent description, but in talking to someone else about this I had trouble articulating how disability is not a problem even if one greatly benefits from medical intervention and innovation. Just because prosthetics or hearing aids exist doesn't mean that a disability is a deficit in identity or imply that they are “less human.” But, I felt like I had an inadequate explanation. How do I convey that disability is not a problem? I realized I feel much more comfortable discussing the variety in ways that we learn as in learning differences—coming from a school that had a significant LD population (~30-40% in the class). I feel much less confident in discussing physical disabilities.

 

Amber added this:

During the talk yesterday, it was also mentioned that often our only stories about disability fit into orderly narratives about overcoming a problem. We were reminded yesterday of Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” and the need for a multitude of stories. Multiple narratives are messy, but as my Aunt Mabel used to say when she was cooking, “The sign of a good cook is a messy kitchen.”

 

Others wrote of their own experiences in teaching large classes including many students with disabilities – but with few if any resources and no real training in how best to teach such students. A few reported feeling despair. But the class discussion with Brenda and Susan, at last, gave them some good vocabulary (“well, I guess, I am ‘temporarily able bodied,’ but already I know I have pretty poor eyesight. I’m guessing that that ‘temporary’ is going to be very temporary for most people.”)

 

I’ve known Brenda Brueggemann since her graduate school days, and I’ve been inspired by her work for decades. If you haven’t read Lend Me Your Ear or Deaf Subjects: Between Identities and Places, I recommend them both, or any of Brenda’s other amazing scholarly work.

 

Perhaps I was once “temporarily able bodied,” but I’ve written before of a cognitive disability I discovered only in graduate school: great difficulty visualizing things. I learned to deal with that issue (as Brenda says, not a problem to deal with by “overcoming” but a part of my identity). As I write this, I am losing vision to macular degeneration. Another part of my identity.

 

So today feels like a good day to reassess, once again, what I know about teaching and learning with students with disabilities. Of all kinds. To hear/see some of Brenda’s insights, check out “Why I Mind on YouTube.”

Multimodality is mainstream: In their exploration of threshold concepts for composition, Naming What We Know, Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle posit that “all writing is multimodal” and “all writing is performative.”  Andrea Lunsford showcases innovative assignments in her Multimodal Mondays blog.  Articles in Teaching English in the Two Year College have addressed visual rhetoric and multimodal composition.  In the Basic Writing e-Journal, authors Thomas Henry, Joshua Hilst, and Regina Clemens Fox make the case for incorporating multimodal composition in the basic writing classroom, calling instructors to “embrace multimodal forms of knowing and communication.”

 

Despite this prominence within our discipline, for many two-year composition instructors, the term is not familiar. Recently, after I praised a multimodal assignment designed by a colleague, she appeared befuddled.  “Multimodal?  Is that what I am doing?”  Other instructors in the two-year college may be aware of multimodal composing but regard it as disconnected from their primary mission, perhaps as inappropriate for “our” students.  “After all,” they say, “we’ve already got so many learning outcomes to get through. There’s no time to do anything else.” And in some cases, without a theoretical framework for designing multimodal assignments, instructors view them as “just high-school projects, with lots of flair but no substance.”

 

This summer, as part of an on-going course redesign to emphasize threshold concepts, I have been exploring ways to integrate multimodality in my ESL, developmental, and first-year courses.  I wanted to think about ways to make multimodality accessible to community college students—and faculty. 

 

I decided to introduce multimodality via discussion of two key concepts: affordances and “re-mediation.” To begin, I brought a copy of Ron Chernow’s lengthy biography of Alexander Hamilton to class.  We discussed first impressions of the book (most of which were negative):  “It’s too long,” or “You know by the guy on the cover it will be boring.”  I then gave them the two pages of the text devoted to the Battle of Yorktown, and they reiterated their initial reactions. Most indicated that they couldn’t imagine a scenario in which they would find the life of Alexander Hamilton to be interesting. 

 

I then showed the YouTube video clip of the Battle of Yorktown from this year’s Tony Awards, performed by the cast of Hamilton.  (Only one of my students was familiar with the Broadway play.) After a quick review of the obvious similarities and differences between the page and the stage production, I introduced the concept of “affordances,” or the specific communicative possibilities offered by the different modalities of presentation.  We looked at rhetorical choices available to the creators/authors, Chernow and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and what their choices might communicate to an audience. 

 

We also discussed the concept of “re-mediation”:  Miranda’s musical is an adaption of a work in a different medium.  In other words, he “re-mediated” Hamilton’s story (as told by Chernow).  At first, students responded in “better/worse” terms:  one medium is better than the other.  After reminding them about the affordances we had already described (and with a little additional prodding), students began to talk about re-mediation as a creative choice with powerful possibilities.

 

For their assignment, I asked students to re-mediate an essay we had just completed, in which students defined a term connected to a discourse community that they belong to. There were two parts to the re-mediation assignment:  first, they needed to create a text in a different modality (PowerPoint, infographic, video, audio, etc.) that illustrated the thesis of their definition essays.  Second, students were asked to provide a reflection, listing the rationale for the medium they chose, at least five specific design challenges and how they addressed them, the source(s) of the images they used, and the influence of the audience on their decision-making.

 

Student submissions varied in quality, as I expected, but overall, I was pleased with their efforts. A Pakistani student explored the connotations of the color “brown” by contrasting ads for skin lighteners with pictures of her family and friends; in her annotations, she contrasted the message of the advertisements (that reduction of “brown” leads to happiness) with her own use of “brown” to signify belonging and safety within the U.S.  In her case, the visual text afforded a level of expertise that her essay--riddled with structural errors typical of a student who is still developing control over complex sentences and academic vocabulary—could not offer. 

 

Another student did not believe images could convey the extent to which her understanding of the word “nurse” had expanded since she began her nursing studies.  She found stock pictures to be artificial, and at the same time, she recognized that she could not obtain permissions to show photos of actual patients.   Yet it was work with real people in the most exciting and most terrifying moments of their lives – and the vast knowledge needed to do this work efficiently – that she wanted to convey.  Her final product was a Wordle; when I first saw it, I suspected that she had taken the easy way out to avoid engaging with the assignment.  But her annotations revealed the project was an apt reflection of her thesis:  one word expanded in meaning, coming at her from multiple angles and directions, until she felt overwhelmed.   In her notes, she detailed her process for selecting words to include and determining which ones to repeat and how often.  While her annotations reveal a lack of attention to audience, they also showed a clear understanding that rhetorical choices make meaning.

 

I look forward to learning how other two-year college English instructors, especially those who teach integrated reading and basic writing, are embedding multimodal assignments in their courses.  If we believe 2-year colleges are mainstream, then multimodal composing belongs in our classrooms. 

 

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