Today's guest blogger is Amanda Gaddam (see end of post for bio).
Like most first year composition instructors, I talk about audience early and often in my classes. We theorize audiences for assigned readings, we analyze audiences for political speeches, and we talk about the role of the audience for various genres of writing. When it comes to their own writing, however, my students sometimes ditch the idea of writing for an outside audience because they know that, in most cases, I’m the only person outside of peer review who will read their texts.
The following multimodal assignment framework provides an opportunity for getting students to invest in the idea of audience by selecting their own subjects, defining their own exigences, and determining their own deliverables for their projects.
These texts from Andrea's handbooks are useful introductions to this assignment:
- The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch 2e, “Analyzing audiences”; Ch. 11e: “Conducting field research”
- Writing in Action: Ch 4e, “Analyze your audience”; Ch. 13e: “Conduct field research”
- The Everyday Writer: Ch 3d, “Analyze your audience”; Ch. 13e: “Conduct field research appropriately"
- EasyWriter: Ch 1f, “Reaching appropriate audiences”; Ch. 13e: “Doing field research”
- Perform a genre analysis on sample profiles of places. Reading profiles is a good way to begin talking or continue conversations about audience, exigence, and context, and there are countless sample profiles available freely on the internet, including “A National Treasure: Wrigley Field Turns 100 Years Old” and “Seeing Trump in Trump Tower.” I like to have students investigate genre conventions in small groups using a handout with genre analysis questions adapted from Bawarshi and Reiff (see also my previous post, Multimodal Mondays: A Low-Stakes Assignment for Understanding Blogs as Genre ). The large-group discussion can and should focus on theorizing the various connections between audience and the genre conventions and contextual conditions they’ve identified.
- Introduce concepts of multimodality and visual rhetoric. Use print ads, commercials, movie trailers, and other multimodal texts to continue conversations about genre and to focus on how visual features complement and complicate content. This is usually an ongoing, weekly discussion in my classes; we talk about issues of arrangement, imagery, fonts, typefaces, colors, etc. and how these concepts are related to audience, context, and purpose.
- Students choose a local location to profile. They visit the location at least once to conduct interviews, write observations, and take photos or videos. They should bring their notes, photos, and videos to class for collaborative in-class workshops in which their peers help them articulate a purpose, audience, and direction for their projects.
- Students write a proposal detailing their exigence, audience, and proposed mode(s) for the project. This is a good time to check in with students, either via informal feedback on their proposals or in quick conferences to make sure they understand the concepts discussed in class and have a clear sense of how they will be putting those concepts to work in their project.
- Students create drafts of their profile projects for peer review. For assignments where the deliverables vary greatly from one student to the next, it may be useful to have the students design the parameters of peer review: the kinds of feedback they want to receive, the size of the groups, and other logistics.
- Students present revised piece to the class and/or the audience they identified at the beginning of the project. Students might submit pieces to websites, film or art festivals, newspapers, or a number of other places in order to reach a real audience for their work. Submission guidelines are good points of discussion to address during the proposal phase, and having an audience in mind beyond a classroom fosters more buy-in for the project from students.
- Follow up with a short statement of rhetorical objectives (SORO) for guided reflection. Students’ rhetorical choices may not always be perfectly executed or perfectly clear, but the SORO gives them an opportunity to discuss and justify their choices. Understanding what students actually worked on during the project may help instructors provide more helpful and individualized feedback. DePaul University’s Office for Teaching, Learning & Assessment provides a sample SORO that instructors might use for this project or future assignments.
This project provides a lot of room for customization based on individual course goals and learning outcomes. Instructors can provide word count requirements or other boundaries for the project as they see fit and/or deem appropriate for their students.
Because of this and the probable variety of projects’ structures, instructors may find it productive to develop a rubric for evaluation with their students, taking into account the components of the project that students worked on the most and focusing on the reflection and process elements for the project.
I’ve done open-topic essays in my classes in the past, but I’ve always run into the same problems with the fabricated or imaginary audiences—students just don’t seem to consider them in any authentic way because they know that I’m the only person who’s going to read their writing, or the audience that I’ve instructed them to write to doesn’t necessarily align with their reason for writing. Audiences are so closely tied with exigence that it makes sense in an open-topic assignment for students to identify their own audiences once they’ve figured out what they want their work to do for and to their readers.