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2009/365/342 Office on the Road, by Alan Levine on FlickrThis year, I want to improve the communication in my classes. Since my classes are all online this term, it’s critical that I find the best way for students to connect and collaborate. My students will never all be online at the same time and they will never all be in the same place. That reality makes it difficult to build connections and conversations.


In the Fall Semester, I relied on Participation Logs to ask students to take responsibility for how they interact in the course. The logs do build student agency, but I know I need to do more to encourage collaboration and interaction. Students checked off the bare minimum, and many waited until the last minute to work on their goals. I want to continue using the participation logs, but I have been searching for a complementary strategy that would build in more consistency and engagement.


My research took me to the Digital Storytelling course (ds106) at Mary Washington, a very popular and successful online course, which led me to the resources from Kris Shaffer’s online section for the course from Fall 2016. That’s where I found Shaffer’s Self-Reflection Template. Each week, Shaffer asks students to complete a number of activities related to the course. For example, they post their work, comment on the work of their classmates, and share ideas. Students fill out the Self-Reflection Template to report on the work that they have finished, adding links to their work where appropriate.


I liked that the strategy paralleled with the participation logs, asking students to track and report on their accomplishments in the course. Students could still summarize their best work in their participation logs, but they could track everything they did in weekly checklists, modeled on the one that Shaffer uses. Additionally, the strategy asks students to find and report on their work. I would not have the burden of finding and validating the work of all 90 students. They could turn in a summary of their work each week, giving me the luxury of spending more time engaging students and less time on bookkeeping.


Last week, I tried out the weekly activity points checklist for the first time. The blog post for the week outlines the activities that students need to complete. The last item students are to complete is to download and complete the 01/23 to 1/27 Template to submit details on their work for the week. As I have checked their work in the last week, I found that they had jumped into the online discussions immediately. Few waited until the last minute. So far, the strategy feels like a successful one.


I am hoping to see the same response this week, as students begin their first major writing project. I’ll let you know what happens. In the meantime, what do you do to encourage consistent engagement and communication in your classes? Leave me a comment below and let me know.




Photo Credit: 2009/365/342 Office on the Road, by Alan Levine on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

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


It's here, readers. January and the first few weeks of spring semester are upon us. As I planned my syllabus, recent pivotal events got me thinking about communities and what we mean when we say we're part of one. I wanted to share with you this week an emerging idea about community learning with which my student-scholars and I experimented and provide you with opportunities to create your own sense of class community right in your syllabus as a contracted statement.


Context for Assignment
The best time to work through a community statement is usually after the first week of drop-add, when students have settled into class and enrollment numbers have been relatively balanced. My notion is that students have also become acquainted with each other and me, while they also have glimpsed a bit of my teaching style. This is a good time to introduce community-learning precepts.


This writing assignment is an in-class, crowd-sourced opportunity that can serve as a framework for class discussions and a baseline for creating common ground among different student groups.


Measurable Learning Objectives for the Assignment

  • Synthesize peers' writing styles into a communal product
  • Apply impromptu peer feedback as recursive writing process
  • Create a crowd-sourced public document


Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in dialogic, digital writing assignments. Below, I have listed a few foundational texts. You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.

  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 6, “Working with Others”; Ch. 28, “Language that Builds Common Ground”; Ch. 4, “Reviewing, Revising, Editing, and Reflecting”
  • The Everyday Writer: Ch. 27, “Language that Builds Common Ground”; Ch. 7, “Reviewing, Revising, and Editing”
  • Writing in Action: Ch. 18, “Language that Builds Common Ground”; Ch. 5, “Exploring, Planning, and Drafting”
  • EasyWriter: Ch. 1i, “Collaborating”; Ch. 18, “Language that Builds Common Ground”; Ch. 4, “Reviewing, Revising, and Editing”


In-Class Work

You will need a few supplies for this assignment. Bring a selection of sticky notes to class. After students have arrived, begin the class session by providing a definition of community writing/learning and why collaboration is important for writers across disciplines and professions. I use Andrea's Principles to emphasize that writing itself is inherently collaborative, whether we think of it in terms of digital or face-to-face interactions with various audiences and co-authors or as a kairotic moment to bring people together. After you have completed this activity once or twice, you will have a starting point for future iterations of your community statement.


After students have worked through an understanding of both the base meaning and the value of community writing, pass out the sticky notes, giving each student one or more. Ask students to generate a word or simple phrase that exemplifies their personal understanding of what community writing will denote in your class, then place their sticky notes on the wall -- no particular order necessary.


Next, invite students to offer reasons for their word choice. Encourage them to discuss what communities they are or have been part of and why collaboration is key in both academic and professional environments. The University of Connecticut Writing Center offers some good collaborative writing tips that may help you here. As an extension, you may also arrange words in topical order, before you start typing up your community writing statement in your chosen format. I have had equal success with handwritten (use document camera) and electronic versions. I have also asked students to volunteer to lead the group composing with limited success.


After you work through this assignment a couple of times, you will have a relevant and rhetorical document that you can include in your syllabus and use as an icebreaker as well. This assignment lends itself to digital, democratic writing and unique contributions across types of classes because students choose their methods of composition, reflect on their process, and have the opportunity to present their work to their peers and publics.


Community Contract Example

Below is an example that came from my past two semesters of course communities and large group processing of this crowd-sourced, in-class writing opportunity. We decided to phrase our statement as more of a "you-driven" manifesto. What comes out of your experiences might be similar or completely different. Please try out this assignment and leave comments to let us know how your experience went!



Want to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post? Join the Macmillan Community to get involved (it’s free, quick, and easy)! If you have ideas for Multimodal Mondays or would like to write a guest post, contact Leah Rang.


Jeanne Bohannon is an Assistant Professor of English in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth though authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies and critical engagement pedagogies; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at: and


Donna Winchell

Rhetoric of Protest

Posted by Donna Winchell Expert Jan 27, 2017

“THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!” That chant rang out throughout the day from protestors at the recent Women’s March on Washington, a reminder that part of the argument made that day was visual argument. Many of us who were there had no idea how large the crowd really was until we got back to our buses and started seeing news coverage on our cell phones. Aerial shots showed the estimated 1.3 million people who, simply by their presence, were making a statement. President Trump’s response to the size of the crowd shows that that statement was heard. In spite of Indiana Senator Jack Sandlin’s claim that the march was a bunch of “fat women out walking,” democracy that day looked like women of all sizes, ages, colors, sexual orientations, and religions, but it also looked like men and children. One of my favorite signs, worn by a young boy, said, “Now You’ve Pissed Off My Mom.” A thirteen-year-old boy on our bus who was attending the march with his mother told a reporter, “I’m here to make history.”


Some people said that before the march they didn’t quite “get” the silly pink hats being knitted by people across the country, many contributed by women who couldn’t attend. Some of those same people admitted the impact, though, of the sea of pink that day. Okay, maybe wearing a pink cap with cat ears is a bit silly, but it worked as another part of the visual rhetoric, as did all of the signs stating, “Keep your laws off my . . .” followed by a silhouette of a cat or those showing the image of a pink cat attacking the blue Twitter trademark. No one could claim that pictures taken that day were really taken at some other time, because when else has a group looking like THAT covered the mall and all surrounding areas in our nation’s capital? Of course, there were groups with their silly pink hats marching on every continent on the globe.


As we traveled the long hours to and from Washington, our pink hats became a sign of solidarity, as did our official t-shirts for the march. At gas stations and rest areas along the Interstates, marchers from different states saw kindred spirits and greeted each other with words of encouragement and excitement. As we neared the rally point, masses of buses from all over the country backed up traffic around the city.


There was the overall statement made by simply attending the march, but no one would argue that everyone was there for exactly the same reason. Critics afterwards wrote that the women didn’t know what they were there for. A written mission statement that put into words what the organizers believed was the reason. Each individual person knew, though, what he or she was there for. Each person who arrived on one of the buses registered with the march was given a paper bib to pin on his or her clothing that declared, “Why I March,” followed by a blank space for writing down the reason(s). (We were also given a form to record our emergency contacts to carry on our person and were told we might want to write our emergency information in Sharpie on our arm. We were also told any signs could not be on sticks that could be considered weapons and that any backpack had to be clear.)


Those statements and the statements made on thousands of signs are the subject of another blog post, one about the verbal arguments expressed during the march.


Photo Credit: Donna Winchell


Where were you on January 21, 2017? There’s a good chance that many readers were marching that day, with the Women’s Marches taking place not only all over the United States but all over the world. My sister and fellow teachers rode all night on a bus from central Florida to be on the Mall in Washington, D.C., along with so many other colleagues and friends from our field of study. My grandnieces Audrey and Lila marched in Raleigh, and I knew marchers in Denver, Chicago, New York, Boston, St. Petersburg, Seattle, Portland, Austin, and Miami . . . and I bet you did too.


Since I’m facing knee surgery in a week or so, I didn’t make it to D.C. but instead joined a crowd of thousands of women, men, and children rallying and marching in the town of Santa Rosa, California. (Sister marches in Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles drew more than a million others.) I drove the two hours to Santa Rosa with Shirley Heath and her son Brice, visiting from Chicago, and we joined a positively upbeat crowd heading toward City Hall, bearing signs saying “Make America Think Again,” “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” and one of my favorites, held by a girl of about 10, saying “GIRLS ARE STRONG.”


We stood shoulder to shoulder amid a downpour (that eventually cleared) and listened to speakers like Representative Jared Huffman (wearing a pink hat of his own). But more powerfully, we listened to music and to song. We held hands and lifted our voices in “This Little Light of Mine,” “We Shall Overcome,” “If I Had a Hammer,” and “Hallelujah.” The music brought us closer together and took me back to my college years in the sixties when I was marching to support the admission of African American students to the all-white University of Florida Law School. Not to mention other issues related to civil rights.

Marty Rutherford, me, and Shirley Brice Heath

A sign that gave us a chuckle

Fifty-some years later, I marched and sang again, thinking all the while of the generations of students I have had the privilege of teaching: I always remember that teaching students to write also means teaching them to sing, to craft words and messages that contain truth, to be sure, but truth that is beautiful, that is creative, that ripples out like a smooth stone skipping across the water. I don’t expect (or want) students to send the messages I want or need to send; I can do that on my own. I want them to bring the spirit of song, of music, to their own messages—and I love it when they do so not in prose alone but in poetry set to music, whether it’s folk, rock, hip hop, or jazz.


So as I was marching for women’s rights, for human rights, and for social justice for all, I was thinking about the songs we were singing and about the effect music has on all of us, on the power of music to help bridge our differences or to explain ourselves to each other. I came home and listened to the Kronos Quartet playing Terry Riley’s minimalist classic “One Earth, One People, One Love.” And I listened to a CD of some of my students’ spoken word poetry, including wonderful vocal sound effects.


Later that evening I heard from a friend who had been marching in London, and she sent along a link that I want to share with you and that I hope to pass on to students for years to come. It’s by Karine Polwart, a Scottish songwriter and poet, performing at the January 20 opening of the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow, with a song composed especially for the event called “I Burn but I Am Not Consumed.”  I won’t spoil it by describing it because I want everyone to hear this beautiful and haunting voice unmediated. As you listen, think about the research that went into composing this song/poem/essay. Think about the craft and care with which each word is chosen. Think about how the creative spirit can give us a new perspective on the most contemporary of events, such as an inauguration. And think about passing on a love, even a passion, for words and for music to our students who will be making their own marks on our world.

So here is “I Burn, but I am Not Consumed.”

Jack Solomon

La La Land

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Jan 26, 2017

If the Golden Globe awards are anything to go by, La La Land is the greatest motion picture ever made.  Or something like that.


If we go by the most recent box office totals, it isn't half bad, either—but the Oscars haven't weighed in yet and that verdict could do a lot to boost the bottom line even further.


But if we look at La La Land semiotically, a different picture emerges, revealing not its quality or ultimate profitability, but rather what it says about America today.  Not surprisingly, that turns out to be a rather mixed message.


Let's start at the beginning, which, in a semiotic analysis, usually begins with a determination of the immediate system, or context, in which our topic appears.  In this case, that system is the history of Hollywood musicals, romantic drama division (the studio calls it a "comedy-drama," but the "comedy" part of the categorization has been questioned).  This simple act of situating La La Land within its most immediate context takes us right to our first signification, because the era of the Hollywood musical (evoking any number of cinema classics, with Singing in the Rain taking honors as the most cited of La La Land's predecessors) has long since passed, and so the appearance of a musical now marks a difference.  And that difference means something.


I see a number of significations here.  The first might be called the "when the going gets tough, America goes for uplifting distractions" precept.  Especially prominent during the Great Depression (which, not coincidentally, coincided with the true Golden Age of Hollywood), feel-good movies have always provided a distraction from the slings and arrows of outrageous reality, and nothing can beat a musical—especially a romantic musical—for making people feel good.  So it should come as no surprise, as we wallow in the wake of a Great Recession from which only a small portion of America has really emerged, that Hollywood gave the green light to a nostalgic film like La La Land, and that audiences, if not quite in blockbuster numbers, have been lining up to see it. 


But if audience nostalgia accounts for a good deal of La La Land's success, there is also the enthusiasm emanating from the Hollywood community itself to consider.  The nostalgia of a movie like La La Land is very much an insider's emotion, an evocation of memories of the sort that those fortunate few who really did emerge from the madding crowd to reach the heights of the gaudiest version of the American dream can experience as their own.  For them (especially for La La Land star Emma Stone) the movie is scarcely fiction at all.  No wonder Hollywood loves it.  


A less sunny side to Hollywood's self-celebration in La La Land, however, can be found in the film's use of jazz, a multicultural art form that (as a number of critics have noted) La La Land effectively whitewashes.  There is something of a Mad Men effect going on here, as if part of the film's nostalgia is for the days when the racial politics of filmmaking were more easily swept under the red carpet and white actors could be smoothly inserted into what many regard as black roles. After all, The Jazz Singer is also part of La La Land's genealogy.


Finally, to discover what may be the most profound signification of La La Land, we need to return to the fact that ordinary people are watching it and giving it high marks on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb in an era when much darker movies (e.g., anything with Batman in it, but don't forget Deadpool) are really breaking the box office.  Sure, a lot of this popularity is probably coming from viewers who are profoundly grateful for a movie that isn't some sort of superhero or sci-fi fantasy, but the fact remains that La La Land—for all of the much- ballyhooed "realism" entailed by its protagonists' less-than-professional dance chops—is a fantasy too for the vast majority of its viewers.  Which is to say that its starry-eyed "message" about "pursuing your dreams" is completely out of touch with the reality faced by Americans today.


Because (you knew I'd get to Donald Trump eventually, didn't you?) one of the indelible takeaways of the 2016 presidential election is that a substantial number of Americans have begun to lose faith in that American exceptionalist belief that America is the place where dreams do come true, where everything does turn out the way you want it to in the end if you only show enough grit and determination.  This essential optimism—what Barbara Ehrenreich calls American "bright-sidedness" (look for her in the 9th edition of Signs of Life in the USA on just this topic)—is badly fraying at the edges as the American dream falls further and further out of reach for most of us non-one-percenters.  And while this new reality is not something that the Hollywood dream machine wants to reveal in the nation's movie theaters, it certainly is showing up at the polls.


Which is to say that La La Land's success is a reflection of an America that is passing.  Its follow-your-dreams faith may have worked for Damien Chazelle, but the odds aren't favorable for the rest of us.  Guns N' Roses was certainly closer to the mark for those who do succeed in Hollywood with "Welcome to the Jungle," but the words of a Raymond Carver character (whose family has lost everything) from a short story called "The Bridle" are probably a lot more relevant for much of the rest of America: "Dreams," she says, "are what you wake up from."

Oh wow, how amazing.  I am writing this just shortly after women marched not only in DC, but around the world.  Some of our students and faculty participated in local marches, returning renewed and re-energized and ready to continue the fight for basic human rights for all women everywhere.  What began as a response to a particularly difficult election cycle ended up echoing around the world.  What a great event to bring into the classroom.  Emerging is full of essays for teaching these issues.


Roxane Gay’s “Good Feminist?” challenges the stereotypical notions of what a feminist is, broadening the realm of feminism while debunking notions of what makes a feminist “good” or “bad.”  Ariel Levy’s “Female Chauvinist Pigs” is similarly complex.  In exploring raunch culture, Levy asks important questions about gender and feminism.  Students will have to dig a little to find it all, which makes for good critical reading.  Julia Serano’s “Why Nice Guys Finish Last” takes on questions of masculinity while interrogating rape culture.


Many other essays would be useful for this discussion, include Kwame Anthony Appiah (focused on how to get along in a complex world), Kenji Yoshino (discussing how to build a new model of civil rights), and Charles Duhigg (on peer pressure and the connections that enable social change).


It’s a shame the march was needed at all; it’s a reminder that we all have a long way to go.  Perhaps bringing this issue into the classroom will add to the momentum of change.

Barclay Barrios

Fostering Failure

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Jan 25, 2017

I’ve been reflecting on my recent experience chairing our department of Visual Arts and Art History, and in particular the work I was able to do on a thesis committee for one of our MFA students.  I found it deeply intellectually rewarding (and also a bit of a luxury) to think about his work and the way it engaged the world, and it was stimulating to have conversations about the ideas behind that work (many pieces connected to issues of queer identity) with colleagues from another discipline.  One of the most surprising and interesting things the other committee members repeatedly suggested was that the student try to fail more.  And that’s the suggestion I’m contemplating now.


Indeed, from chats I’ve had with colleagues in the Studio Arts, failure is one of the primary goals of graduate study towards the MFA, and with good reason.  Failure means that an artist is trying something new, stepping beyond the safe boundaries of already-mastered practices.  Failure means finding out what works by finding out what doesn’t work.  Failure means exploration and experimentation.  By failing and by making mistakes (sometimes on purpose) graduate studio artists often make surprising discoveries they can then bring back to their body of work.


I’ve been thinking how truly wonderful it would be to use this approach to failure in the writing classroom.  Failure in my classes has a completely different valence, mostly because FYC is a requirement for students at my school and failing anything in the class means risking failing the class as a whole, means a delay in progressing into their majors or a delay in graduation even.  The truth is, we don’t really have time or space in our class to fail playfully.  Writing is due every week, most of which is graded and all of which contributes to the final grade.  When we would have time to fail on purpose?  And how could I encourage students to take that kind of risk?


Still, I would love to have an assignment that asks students to write a really bad paper.  Not only would it encourage them to take risks, but in demonstrating they know what “bad” is when it comes to papers, they also reveal that they know what “good” is as well.  I suppose this could be scaled down a bit to some in-class work (maybe even group work) asking students to write a really bad argument.  And I often like pairing this work with discussions of readings so I suppose I could also ask students to locate the argument of the current reading and then make it a bad argument.


I guess I would call this an exploration of micro-failure.  It’s rather contained though, isn’t it?  I think what’s missing is the free-flowing invitation to dangerous experimentation that comes in the studio arts.  I’m just not sure how to promote that in the writing classroom.

Any ideas?

This week I am inspired by Daniel Rarela, an artist whose work I found highlighted in the News.Mic article “Artist creates ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ memes to stop people from whitewashing MLK” (found via Virginia Kuhn’s post on Facebook). Rarela’s memes juxtapose quotations from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s text with images of King from the time period and with contemporary images.


Rarela’s image of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is one of my favorites. The meme pairs an image of Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem as a protest against racism with King’s comments on the purpose of direct action. Together, the words and image communicate a powerful message about Kaepernick’s direct action, about the on-going battle against racism in America, and about the timeless relevance of King’s words:


Daniel Rarela's Tweet of meme of MLK's statement on direct action


Beyond the message that Rarela’s memes communicate, they also make a great model for classes working with historical and literary texts. After discussing the visual argument strategies of Rarela’s memes, students can create their own memes, illustrating or commenting on quotations from the texts that they are reading.


Students can use use a free online tool like Canva or PicMonkey to edit their images. I would take time in class to demonstrate how to work with text and images. In particular, students need to understand how to create contrast between the image and their text that they add in the image editor that they use.


To demonstrate the idea, I created the two images below, matching comments from Coretta Scott King with photos taken recently. This first image pairs a photo of Bree Newsome removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse in 2015 with a comment Coretta Scott King made on the Confederate flag:


On the Confederate Flag


My second image matches an image of the Women’s March on WDC by Mobilus In Mobili, on Flickr, with a comment Coretta Scott King made on the role of women in America:


Women as the Soul of the Nation


I’m pleased with how these images turned out. In addition to using this strategy for literary and historical texts that students are reading, I am considering how they might be used in other contexts. In a professional writing course, for instance, could students pair comments from a company’s mission statement or annual report with images of workers in the company or its products or services in action?


I think there are a lot of possibilities. What do you think? I’d love to hear about the texts you might ask students to concentrate on with this classroom activity. Please let me know by leaving a comment below.

On Inauguration Day 2008, I was with a group of my students. We couldn’t really stay seated, so we hopped up and down, constantly moving to the beat and exhaling at last. We had all worked on the Obama campaign; many students had traveled to neighboring states or returned home to help get out the vote; I had made hundreds of phone calls to voters in Florida and Ohio, places I had once called home. We had been holding our breath for what felt like months. But on this day, we breathed clear and easy. I felt pride in our country and our new President; felt tremendous hope for the future. “Hope,” of course, had been one of the campaign’s signal watchwords.


Inauguration Day 2008 was one of the high points of my life. Inauguration Day 2017, not so much.


So as the day approaches—tomorrow, in fact—I am suiting up not to watch with my students but to march the following day, with women and men and children all over the country, advocating for human rights and social justice for all. I will be part of the Women’s March on Washington here in the Bay Area, but I have friends and colleagues who will be in Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Diego, as well as in cities across the country: Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Atlanta, Miami, Boston, New Orleans, Birmingham, New York. And, of course, Washington D.C. My sister, a high school teacher in one of the poorest counties in Florida, will leave after school tomorrow to board a 5:00 bus and travel all night to the capital, arriving in time for the biggest march of all and then riding the bus back to central Florida that night. “I have to be there,” she says, “for my students and for all students.” Others from all over the country will be joining her there.


Much has been made in recent years of what Henry Jenkins has called our “participatory culture,” one in which people want to take action, to DO rather than simply absorb or respond to the actions of others. Jenkins is thinking in terms of digital technologies and the opportunities that provide for participation. But the January 21 march offers another chance to participate, to take action in support of human rights and social justice—for all. I wouldn’t miss this chance to participate for anything, and I hope teachers of writing all across the country will be participating as well.


On November 21, the New Yorker ran an article, “Sixteen Writers on Trump’s America.” I read all with interest (some with amazement) but was particularly taken with Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Díaz’s letter to “Querida Q,” called “Radical Hope.” In it, he urges us to go beyond sadness and mourning:



And while we’re doing the hard, necessary work of mourning, we should avail ourselves of the old formations that have seen us through darkness. We organize. We form solidarities. And, yes: we fight. To be heard. To be safe. To be free. . . .

But all the fighting in the world will not help us if we do not also hope. What I’m trying to cultivate is not blind optimism but what the philosopher Jonathan Lear calls radical hope. “What makes this hope radical,” Lear writes, “is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is.” Radical hope is not so much something you have but something you practice; it demands flexibility, openness, and what Lear describes as “imaginative excellence.” Radical hope is our best weapon against despair, even when despair seems justifiable; it makes the survival of the end of your world possible. Only radical hope could have imagined people like us into existence. And I believe that it will help us create a better, more loving future.


I’m grateful to Díaz and to so many others who have written and spoken about the need for hope. And I’m grateful to the gracious and generous and beautiful and brilliant First Family who still inspire that hope in me. That’s a big part of why I’ll be marching on January 21, 2017.

A piece in Inside Higher Ed caught my eye this morning: "What's Your Word for 2017?" Shakti Sutriasa gives advice on how to select such a word in an article in the Huffington Post. There’s even an online community for people who want to choose a word for this year and share it through blogging. And on this Community, Andrea Lunsford has reviewed dictionary picks for Word of the Year.


As a self-designated logophile, I couldn’t help but give this some thought. I’ve got three options, each of which hover around the theme of slowing down: margin, deliberate, and savor.


With a calendar full of back-to-back appointments, classes, and meetings, I have reduced and narrowed the white spaces of my time. I know better: I know that a lack of margin leads to clutter, to texts that are difficult to read, with cramped and pinched letters. Decisions are rushed; reflection is set aside. At the end of the day, without adequate margin, I teach less effectively. I respond to writing less thoughtfully. I read less critically.


Margin is never haphazard or accidental; it must be set and maintained by deliberate choice.  And it has to be valued. After all, margin is not just white space. Important thinking happens in the margins of the texts I read – and in the marginal minutes I create for myself.  Margin allows for possibilities otherwise lost.  Amazing people exist in the margins, too. I must make a deliberate decision to see them there, to linger there with them and learn from them.


And when there is margin, there is an invitation not merely to see or taste, but to savor. Yesterday, I set aside the myriad tasks of the new semester, and I read Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Renascence.”  Then I read it again. I read parts out loud, playing with sounds and rhythms. I made enough margin in my evening to savor a poem; I do not do this often enough.


In my writing classes this spring, I will once again be framing my courses as “Writing about Language,” my variation on writing about writing. As part of introductory activities designed to build a community of writers, I think I will ask my students to choose their own words for the upcoming semester.  And I will create some margin, deliberately, to read and savor—not just grade—their choices.

As I write this post, the situation around the live video of four young black people attacking and torturing a special needs white teen continues to develop.  When I first heard about the video, I thought of another Facebook live video that made headlines, the police shooting of Philando Castile, streamed to the world by his fiancée Diamond Reynolds.  Both are powerfully disturbing and quite frankly difficult to watch.  Both also suggest a potent intersection between technology and social media and race.  I’ve been thinking about how to teach these issues using Emerging, and here are some essays I would suggest.


Peter Singer’s “Visible Man: Ethics in a World without Secrets” is the logical starting point, since Singer explores not only our willingness to sacrifice privacy for panoptic security but also (and crucially for examining the Castile shooting) Singer discusses “sousveillance,” or the ways in which the watched watch the watchers, precisely what Diamond Reynolds was able to do.


Nick Paumgarten’s “We Are a Camera” is useful, too.  His discussion of the GoPro phenomenon isn’t just about the ubiquity of video technology, but also about the ways in which our experience of life changes by looking at it through a video lens.  It might be a way for students to think about the consequences of ubiquitous live video.


Bill Wasik’s “My Crowd Experiment: The Mob Project” is a great essay for thinking about the viral nature of digital media and Torie Rose DeGhett’s “The War Photo No One Would Publish” considers the power of images by examining a case of censorship.  Both of these offer additional ideas that students can use to think about the power and circulation of digital images.


Of course, race is even more central to both videos and so you might also consider Maureen O’Connor’s “Race, Ethnicity, Surgery” or Steve Olson’s “The End of Race: Hawaii and the Mixing of Peoples” or Jennifer Pozner’s “Ghetto Bitches, China Dolls, and Cha Cha Divas,” all of which consider the enduring persistence of race in America.


Since these videos also implicitly call us to action, inviting us to advocate for social justice, you could find Charles Duhigg’s “From Civil Rights to Megachurches” a valuable addition for thinking about the necessary elements that enabled the civil rights movement or Kenji Yoshino’s “Preface” and “The New Civil Rights” for exploring the future of civil rights and the kinds of actions that might be needed to bring new models of rights into being.


We’ve always wanted Emerging to be contemporary enough to engage with the world students live in.  I believe it offers ideas and concepts that can help them thinking critically about their world.  Facebook live certainly isn’t going away and our country’s racial tensions aren’t, either.  Hopefully students will gather the critical thinking skills they need to make that world a better, safer place by working with and through some of the readings in this text.


TAGS: social media, race, facebook, video, assignment idea, Peter Singer, Nick Paumgarten, Bill Wasik, Torie Rose DeGhett, Maureen O’Connor, Steve Olson, Jennifer Pozner, Charles Duhigg, Kenji Yoshino, Emerging, Barrios

Four years ago in the Bronx, I taught Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” in a first-year writing course. New York City was still emerging from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, and the trauma of unanticipated change was very much on all of our minds that spring. “Allegory” was a required text in this student cohort’s Introduction to Liberal Arts class, as well as in our writing course. In our course, the program required that we read a novel from a preselected list. That was how I came to teach The House on Mango Street with “The Allegory of the Cave.” Our focus, growing organically out of students’ writing and class discussions, became the significance of education, and the development of resilience in difficult times.

Four years later, “Allegory” seems equally relevant, and brings back memories of studying this text as a first-year student many years ago. My first-year liberal arts education did not include a first-year writing course. Instead, I wrote weekly papers for Introduction to Philosophy, gaining an understanding in basic concepts of theory and rhetoric that has kept me grounded both in and out of the academy.  As a result, I remain convinced of the value of a liberal arts education for all students, across majors and disciplines.

From that experience of education emerged a key question that still holds value for a first-year students: “What is truth?”

Because students enrolled in our institution’s Stretch program have the benefit of having the same teacher and cohort across two semesters, I already had an awareness of students’ concerns with growing as writers. Indeed, as I read students’ reflective writing after the election this past November, I began to brainstorm readings for the spring semester. My goal was to begin in January with a reading that would take up the themes of change and transitions with the question of “What is truth?”

In the fall, we had briefly discussed Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize, and over break I listened again and again to Patti Smith’s rendition of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” which she performed in Oslo as part of the Nobel ceremonies. “Hard Rain” is the story of a prodigal son who has returned to his community to tell the truth of his experiences. “Allegory” is the story of leaving the Cave for the light outside. When a person returns to the Cave, the Cave’s inhabitants do not believe the truth of the world in the light outside.

Different experiences, different truths: How does the audience for “Allegory” make sense of these differences? In other words, “What is Truth?” remains both a contemporary issue and an ancient rhetorical question.

In teaching and learning Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” or any difficult text, an important strategy is not to abandon the text at the first signs of students’ struggles. Indeed, those struggles can become significant points for discussion and close re-reading. At the same time, it can be helpful to pair the text with more contemporary and accessible sources so that the students can synthesize rhetorical and thematic relationships across time and place. Those sources may be required by our writing programs, open for us to choose, or selected by students in collaboration and on their own. In any case, the search for truth continues and I look forward to why and how we will address this subject in class this semester.


With these thoughts in mind, we completed the follow activity on the first day of the course, in preparation for taking on the first writing project of the semester:

Consider the meaning of this following passage from Plato's "The Allegory of the Cave."


And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads? (Plato)

Then consider the connections to these two interpretations of the song "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" by Bob Dylan. The first interpretation is sung by Bob Dylan in 1963. The second interpretation is sung by Patti Smith in 2016.

What connections do you find between “Allegory” and the two interpretations of “Hard Rain”? Make a list of those connections, offering specific examples to support your ideas. Use this list as your study guide for your first reading of “Allegory.” When you reach a difficult place in the text, consult the list. We will discuss and write about “Allegory” in our next class.


Image source: By Veldkamp, Gabriele and Maurer, Markus [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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


Before November 8th last year, my students and I talked at length about the election: the powerful role of rhetoric throughout the campaign cycle, different paths of civic engagement, and how to productively engage people with different political beliefs. (See Multimodal Mondays: Using the Election and Twitter to Teach Exigence and Audience ) Classroom discussions came relatively easy leading up to the election—there was always something new to talk about, and my first-year students and first-time voters were fired up about finally being able to take part in these conversations.


The day after the election, however, I found myself speechless, and many of my students were, too. I struggled with finding the right way to address their feelings in the classroom without alienating students with diverse political beliefs and making sure our discussion was constructive and in service of the course learning outcomes.


With the inauguration right around the corner, this project, a take on the six-word essay and adaptable as an in-class activity or take-home assignment, can be used effectively to get students thinking and talking about their hopes, fears, and visions of the future.



  1. Before starting this assignment, it might be helpful to look at examples of six-word essays with students. NPR and the Race Card Project have lots of excellent multimodal examples that incorporate audio components. Talk to students about the challenges and opportunities the format presents for tone, word choice, and rhetorical grammar and syntax choices.
  2. Ask students to participate in a long free write about their reactions and responses to the election results. Emphasize that they don’t have to share this free write with anyone, including you, if they don’t want to. This assurance of privacy is integral to getting students to genuinely engage in honest reflection. If they are required to share these personal, often raw, free-written texts, they may hold back for fear of judgment or reprisal. I gave them about twenty minutes in class, and most students used the entire time.
  3. Students then read through their reflective free writes and identify ideas or themes to represent in their six-word essays. The essays can be a cohesive sentence, a couple of phrases, or a group of individual words. Refer students back to the examples discussed in class for successful uses of ethos, pathos, and logos in short texts.
  4. Once students have a working draft of their six words, task them with representing their essay with complementary media. My students who completed this project over the course of a three-hour class created short videos, digital collages, PowerPoint presentations, and Prezis using images, video, audio, memes, screenshots of social media posts, and excerpts from articles and speeches. A couple of examples appear below:



    Six-word essay: “I’m so tired. It’s only begun.”


    Free write:

    I am tired.  I am so tired.

    I am




    in pain- physically and emotionally

    sad music has been my escape


    This isn’t about me being upset the democratic party lost. No. If I see that argument one more time, I will scream. This means way more to me. This is a loss for humanity. This is a leap backwards in history- in progress. All the progress made since the civil rights movement will be unraveled and our country will GO NO WHERE.


  5. As with other multimodal projects, I ask students to reflect on their rhetorical choices in a Statement of Rhetorical Objectives (SORO). I usually use some version of the template I’ve shared on this blog before, available at the DePaul Office for Teaching, Learning & Advancement. The student who created the PowerPoint slides featured above wrote about the particular emotions they wanted to elicit from their audience when choosing their media, and they had an interesting and insightful justification for using less-than-credible sources for their screenshots of tweets in the “Hate & Injustice” slide: 

“The one slide that may be lacking in ethos is the Facebook posts about people’s personal experiences of being discriminated against post-election. I found these posts through tweets from political commentators, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily credible. This aspect of my six word essay does tie into logos because it appears to be unsupported by other evidence. However, the point of using those posts was less about credibility, and more about making the point that Trump’s election has validated peoples’ hateful ideologies.” 



This assignment did exactly what I hoped it would do, which was provide both private and public spaces for students to reflect on their feelings about and responses to the election while maintaining one eye on the course goals. The flexibility of the assignment, in terms of requirements, deliverables, and timeframes, make it easily adapted to multiple different course formats and schedules. Students appreciated having the time and space to work through their complicated reactions to their new reality, and this assignment helped to prepare them to talk productively about this complex situation with others outside the classroom.


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.

Want to be a guest blogger on Multimodal Mondays? Message Leah Rang for more information.

Donald Trump has made it clear during his days as President-elect that Twitter is his medium of choice when it comes to  expressing his opinions. We will see if that changes once he is inaugurated. Apparently, when he uses the official Presidential Twitter account, his messages will have to be approved before they can be transmitted, which could dampen the spontaneity of his late-night proclamations. The problem is that they are just that—proclamations. They are essentially claims, but the very medium, with its 140-character limit, does not allow room for support. The more controversial the claim, the more need for support. A press conference would allow members of the media to push for support for his claims, but Trump has delayed for weeks meeting with the press, a delay unprecedented in recent history. He based his campaign on distrust of the media so that his supporters would believe what he said, instead of what they could read online or hear on the news or read in print. Americans now know that they were right not to trust everything they read and heard because some of it was being fed to them by the Russians. Perhaps Trump should have told Americans to believe the media, since some sources were being hacked by a foreign power that wanted him to win.


What to believe...Trump has proven himself a sophist; time will tell if in his presidency he can grow into an orator, to use two very ancient terms. In ancient Greece, sophists were teachers. Today, they are those who reason by means of fallacious arguments. A sophist will tell an audience what it wants to hear, when it wants to hear it. On his recent Thank You Tour, Trump recently admitted that he didn’t mean what he said during the campaign: “That was the campaign; this is now.” He is no longer interested, for example, in sending Hillary Clinton to jail, in spite of the many times he led audiences into a frenzy of cries to lock her up. She is no longer a “nasty” woman, but rather a good person whom he doesn’t want to hurt. The Wall Street Journal has had to come up with a policy for how to deal with the new President’s untruths: “The Wall Street Journal does not refer to President-elect Donald Trump’s ‘challengeable’ and ‘questionable’ statements as ‘lies,’ no matter how false, because doing so would imply ‘moral intent’ and runs the risk of looking biased, the paper’s Editor-in-Chief Gerard Baker said Sunday.” A rather unusual view of the role that definition plays in argumentation. Certainly a lie implies moral intent, no matter what it is called.


The classical definition of an orator was a good man skilled in speaking. Our hope should be that our new President will grow into an orator, in the classical sense, as he grows into his office. His goal in speaking to the nation and the world should be that perfect blend of logos, ethos, and pathos that characterizes the orator. He’s center stage, and the world is listening.


 Credit: Donald J. Trump screenshot from Republican Debate on January 14, 2016 by Bill B on Flickr 

One of the key components of modern writing instruction is the rhetorical attention paid to the question of audience.  And I hardly need to tell whatever audience I may have here what that's all about and why it's important—especially in the era of socially-mediated inscription.  But there is another angle to the matter that, if a great many recent news stories are of any significance, appears to require some attention too, not only by students, but by instructors as well.


 I am referring here to the seemingly endless stream of news reports—both from such sources as Inside Higher Education and the Chronicle of Higher Education, on the one hand, and numerous mass media news sources on the other, if the story is shocking enough—concerning college instructors who appear to forget that when writing on Internet-mediated platforms the whole world is your potential audience, because no matter how you may set your privacy settings on Facebook, or no matter how obscure you may assume your Twitter account to be, there is always someone out there ready to take a screenshot, no matter which side of the political divide you may find yourself.


The most recent cause celebre in this regard involves the Drexel University professor whose "All I want for Christmas is white genocide" tweet particularly lit up the holiday season this year.  The point of my analysis here has nothing to do with academic freedom and the related question of what Drexel administrators should or should not have said about it: I'll leave that to the innumerable online commentators who have been doing battle over those matters.  Rather, what I am interested in is the question of audience, and how a failure to consider that question can lead to all sorts of unintended consequences.


The crux of the matter here lies in the assumption that everyone who read the tweet would be aware that the phrase "white genocide" has become a special term of reference for alt-right sorts who use it to deplore the rise of multiculturalism and the impending loss of a white racial majority in the United States.  Those who have rushed to the defense of  the offensive tweet—along with its author—have assumed that everyone would have seen that the tweet was a sarcasm-inflected endorsement of a multicultural, multiracial society, not a call for a massacre.


But here is where the question of potential audience comes in, because while the author of this tweet and his intended audience of Twitter followers may be well aware of the alt-right meaning of the phrase "white genocide" these days, the majority of potential readers of the tweet are not, and to such readers the tweet is going to look appalling without some sort of semantic clarification.  But that is something that you can't do in the text-restricted medium of Twitter, and no amount of after-the-fact backfilling can repair the damage that may be done after a careless tweet. This brings up another, related point.


This is the fact that social media in general—but especially those of the Twitter and Instagram variety—either require or encourage writing in a kind of shorthand.  Unlike the blog form, which allows a writer to stretch out and elucidate when the inevitable semantic and rhetorical ambiguities of discourse threaten to fill the air with confusion, the preferred modes of digital communication today almost presuppose a homogeneity of audience, a readership that understands what you are saying because it already agrees with you and shares your perspectives.  Hence a writing in shorthand, even when the platform allows for discursiveness.


And that raises a risk.  For there is something about social media that seems to encourage provocation rather than argumentation, especially in the form shorthand-ed jabs.  Certainly this is the case when writers assume that they are writing in safe echo chambers wherein those who "belong" will nod their heads in agreement and those who don't will be offended.  But while offending those who aren't on one's side in a dispute may be "fun," it sure doesn't make for an effective argument.  In fact, it is likely to backfire—which is one reason why social media do not provide a sound platform upon which to learn university-level writing.


This matters, because at a time when America is tearing apart at the seams, it behooves us as educators to be doing everything that we can to encourage careful argumentation rather than reckless provocation.  I am not so naïve as to believe that simply resorting to rational argument will always win the day (Aristotle himself made no claim to guarantee this in his Rhetoric), but a carefully developed, audience-aware argument will, at least, have a far smaller chance of backfiring than a provocative tweet will.  Thus, it doesn't really matter whether the Drexel tweet was intended to be provocative or not (I suspect, however, that with its openly-avowed sarcastic intent, provocation certainly was part of its composition); what matters is that its disregard for audience has produced a situation that puts higher education on the defensive, not those whom the tweet meant to ridicule. In short, the thing has backfired, and, in the context of a number of similar recent backfires, this is not something that higher education can well afford.

As one who loves language and is fascinated by words, I spend some time every year thinking about the words that have seemed somehow to capture or define the year. And what a year 2016 has been for words! Unfortunately, many of these words have been full of hate, ridicule, or misinformation: “lock her up,” for example, or “loser,” or words appearing on social media that I won’t repeat here.


So groups who regularly decide on a “word of the year” had their work cut out for them this year. Merriam-Webster ended up choosing “surreal,” which they define as “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream” – or a nightmare. The folks at Merriam-Webster traced the spike of “lookups” of various words, finding that people looked up “surreal” in large numbers beginning with the terrorist attacks in Brussels last spring and then spiking again with the coup attempt in Turkey, the terrorist attacks in Nice, and then the biggest spike of all following the U.S. election in November. Surreal.


The Oxford Dictionary chose “post-truth” as its word of the year, an “adjective defined as relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” chose “xenophobia” and the Cambridge Dictionary “paranoid.” Another nominee high on most lists was “fake news.”


It’s a pretty depressing list: surreal, post-truth, xenophobia, paranoid, fake news. In fact, so depressing that Dennis Baron, whose instructive blog “The Web of Language” is a must read for me, decided that the word of the year was “too terrible to name.” Tongue firmly in cheek, Baron writes:

President-elect Voldemort announced that when he takes office on January 20, his first official act will be to deport all foreign words. Voldemort told supporters at a rally in Ohio this week that he will build a wall around the English language, and make the lexicographers pay for it. Which they greeted with an enthusiastic chorus of, "Build the wall." And then they shouted the 2016 word of the year, the word that shall not be named.


I appreciate Baron’s humor and would just note that many countries have tried to build a wall around language (see France, for example). So the U.S. wouldn’t be the first to try to deport foreign words. Or the last.


All this thinking about words of the year left me confused as well as depressed. So what would I choose as word of the year 2016? I’m very tempted to go along with post-truth or fake news, because these phenomena pose such a serious, terrifying threat to rational discourse and to any kind of true understanding. But instead, I keep coming back to a phrase rather than a word: the Saturday after the election, Kate McKinnon sat at a piano on Saturday Night Live, in her Hillary Clinton outfit, and sang several verses from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” They were poignant at the least, elegiac and elegant too. Then she turned toward the camera and said “Don’t give up. I won’t and neither should you.” So I think I’ll choose “don’t give up” as my phrase of the year: it should give me good company as we head into 2017. What’s your word of the year?


Source: Saturday Night Live,  Election Week Cold Open - SNL - YouTube