Today'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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
I am tired. I am so tired.
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.
I AM A WOMAN. I AM HISPANIC. I CANNOT HAVE THIS MAN BE IN CHARGE OF MY COUNTRY.
- 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.
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