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2017

Andrea Lunsford CCCC assignment swapAt this year’s CCCC meeting in Portland, I held a workshop/discussion with a group of about 15 teachers on how best to teach students in a world of fake news and radical distortion of “facts.” We were all concerned with the sheer amount of misinformation—and even outright lies—bombarding students every day, especially from social media sites like YouTube and Facebook and Twitter, sites where any kind of traditional vetting or fact-checking is missing. Participants in the workshop came from across the country and from many different types of institutions, from high schools to research universities and community colleges: all saw a crucial need for increased attention to careful reading, fact-checking, and “crap detection,” and all agreed that our major writing assignments need to engage students in these practices.

 

In addition, we agreed that we can help students by encouraging them to make a point of listening carefully and openly to those with whom they don’t agree, of practicing what Krista Ratcliffe calls rhetorical listening, rather than staying only in the safe circles with those who hold very similar views. I came away very impressed with the thoughtfulness of colleagues in this workshop and inspired by the writing assignments they shared.

 

After the conference, several of us posted our assignments at to a public Google Drive folder in order to share them with each other, and with you. Please check them out, and let me know what you think of them!

 

Credit: Pixaby Image 336378 by Unsplash, used under a CC0 Public Domain License

In this series of posts, I’m asking all of you to offer your observations on students and teaching today so that I can begin thinking about what the next edition of Emerging needs.

 

My last question is about you: How are you teaching these days?

 

I’ve always been really proud of the instructor’s manual for Emerging, which was based on the training materials we use for teachers in our program.  But technology changes, program needs change, pedagogical theories change, and so teaching changes too.  I’m wondering what’s changed for you in your teaching, what you’re trying out, what’s really working for you, what remains a challenge.  I’d love to incorporate materials that support a broad range of teaching styles and approaches, so please feel free to share what’s happening in your practice so that we can think about how to bring it into the next edition.

 

We are entering the last week of class prior to final exams, and once again I sense a growing dread: in two weeks, I must enter one of five letter grades for each student into our data management system. The deliberations and angst which accompany this process have not diminished—in fact, they’ve increased—after over twenty-five years of classroom experience.

 

Granted, it really isn’t appropriate to reconsider how a grade is calculated at this late point in the term. The right time for devising a system for course grades is prior to the start of the semester, during the construction of the syllabus. Our dean has often reminded us (and I have reminded new teachers) that we are bound to follow the guidelines of the syllabus, so we need to compose that document with thought and care. And I do – each term I make adjustments to course policies, assignments, revision procedures, and the overall grade percentage for each assignment. With each tweak, I wonder if I will have landed on just the right balance, just the right approach. And now, as every semester, I am planning for the next set of adjustments.

 

Part of the problem, of course, is that grades mean different things to different stakeholders.  At my community college, those stakeholders include the department and teachers of subsequent courses my students must take, the division, the college as a whole (since part of our funding is determined by successful completion rates in developmental and gatekeeper courses), our transfer institutions (our students generally transfer to one of five or six universities), employers who fund coursework, federal workforce grant programs, parents, and of course, students.  In my particular local context, these stakeholders variously interpret a grade as evidence of mastery of learning outcomes, certification of readiness for the next level, completion of a certain number of required activities, engaged participation in the learning process, evidence of progress (in relation to the student’s starting point), an indication of academic promise, and evidence of effort (or even personal worth—which is often how my students see these marks).

 

Indeed, each stakeholder not only interprets that grade differently, but he or she may use that grade to make decisions with very real consequences for the student. A “C” grade, for example, is generally accepted by a transfer institution, while a D grade is not. But an employer only requiring that a student pass a course would accept the D grade. A grade of D will permit a student to take the next course in the sequence at the college, but if that D was something of a “gift” to keep a student from losing financial aid, the student could be sent forward under-prepared for the next course. The desire to help a hard-working student maintain financial aid often motivates adjustments – adjustments which we tacitly accept but rarely discuss.  And regardless of the intersecting realities that led to a grade, the final record is a highly decontextualized transcript.  A student who has made tremendous gains despite an inappropriate incoming placement could legitimately see a D as a mark of success, but the narrative that defines the grade as a success will not appear on the one official document that the student may present as evidence of learning. Many of my students need more time, and repetition of a course might be the best option; unfortunately, the F grade (and even the less stigmatized R or “re-enroll” grade in a developmental class) can mean loss of financial aid, loss of employer support, or problems with visas.

 

There is an ongoing national discussion about community college student success, a discussion that is telling a story of failure, especially for those that begin in developmental classrooms. That story includes data—an incredibly large amount of data that have led to the implementation of “data-driven” policies and reforms.  We certainly need data. But data don’t make sense of themselves; we need theory, experience, and careful thought in order to use data wisely, as emphasized in the Community College Data website. What we do with these data affects not widgets but students, as Adam Bessie and Dan Carino have demonstrated so beautifully.

 

The other community college “story” focuses on the students: students who don’t necessarily fit data patterns or trends, students for whom established courses and time sequences don’t quite work, and students whose needs conflict with well-intentioned and data-driven policies and procedures.

 

The intersection of these competing stories captures the quandaries I face in grading. So in two weeks I will look at my own evidence –my students’ work throughout the term—in the context of my college and my syllabus. And I will think of the students’ stories. And I will enter a grade. But it won’t be easy.

 

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Slack by Giorgio Minguzzi on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licenseIn the online forums for my writing courses, I ask students to conduct peer review and feedback, collaborate on major writing projects, and discuss the readings and work of the course. Since I am teaching 100% online, online discussion takes the place of the conversations and interactions that would otherwise take place in a physical classroom. I hope it is easy to understand, then, that online discussion is critical in my writing classes.

 

Because online discussion is so important, I have been on a search for the right tool ever since I returned to the classroom. Thought I have tried a number of tools, none of them does quite what I want:

 

  • The discussion tool in Scholar (our installation of Sakai) typically confused students and felt awkward to me. Our university is sunsetting Scholar in May, so it is no longer an option.
  • I set up my own bulletin board system with phpBB. The site worked well, but I was completely responsible for the technology. I worried frequently about downtime or errors. I decided that I didn’t want the technical responsibility.
  • The discussion tool in Canvas (our new CMS) supports group discussion, but I found its threading capability difficult to manage. The tool always resulted in endless scrolling to find what I wanted.
  • I switched to Piazza, which describes itself as a Q&A platform. I liked the look of the tool, and I loved that it was a company founded by a woman engineer. Unfortunately, I was stuck on its setup for Q&A-style discussions. It is great for students to ask and answer questions, but it was limited for sharing drafts and feedback. Further, I had difficulty managing messages, frequently being unable to tell what I had read and replied to and what I hadn’t.

 

So my unending search brought me to Slack at the beginning of this term. What I like about Slack is its similarity to Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels. Many of the same commands work, since the tool was originally based on IRC. I have used IRC for years, so Slack felt immediately comfortable and easy to manage.

 

Slack met all of my qualifications. It lets me set up groups easily as well as have private conversations with individuals or groups. The tool has built-in support for emoji, threaded discussions, and links to outside documents and images. Best of all, the free version has everything I need, so we can use a popular tool, endorsed by many companies, without any financial investment. I like Slack better than any of the discussion tools I have tried in the past four years. For me, it’s a great choice.

 

My students, on the other hand, are in full revolt against the tool. A vocal majority HATE it. A small group of students have mentioned that they appreciate the chance to use Slack before they enter workplaces that rely on the tool, but their numbers are dwarfed by those who are resisting the site.

 

Students’ biggest complaint is that they cannot tell when others are active in their channels. Since the class is online, they are never in the classroom, using the tool together. Instead, students visit the discussion channels whenever they have time, and they appear rarely to be online simultaneously. It is an understandable frustration: They cannot tell when others post something, so they don’t know when they need to login and respond. Several writing groups are so unhappy with Slack that they have rejected tool completely, setting up group text messaging on their own with GroupMe, even though the assignments and syllabus tell them to use Slack.

 

The students and I have come to an impasse. I want to stick with Slack, but for this term, I have given up on succeeding with student buy-in. Instead, I am taking notes on changes I can make to improve Slack discussions, and I have great hope for the future. During the next few weeks, I will share some of the specific challenges I have encountered and the strategies that I am planning to use to meet them in the future. Most of these issues could apply to any discussion tool, so I hope that you will find something you can use—and if you have suggestions for improving online discussion, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

Credit: Slack by Giorgio Minguzzi on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license

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

 

This semester has presented numerous reflective opportunities for me, especially when thinking about re/mixing writing for multimodal assignments and applying multimodal composition as DIYs across genres and contexts. This week, I offer a re/mix of a multimodal, public writing assignment from my grammar course, where students re/constructed texts across genres and platforms, culminating in vlogs for public dissemination on YouTube.

 

YouTube was part of our daily lives in this class, from serving as digital teacher (Ian McCarthy on Social Media), to digital tipster (Bohannon’s Blogging Guidelines).  As we watched to learn, students began to comment about adding their own voices to these video conversations about grammar(s) and creating content in digital spaces.  So, we crowd-sourced an idea: student-produced vlog-casts.

 

Context
This public text construction (or renovation, if you like) comes at the end of an upper-division writing course focusing on digital grammar, after students have drafted three other texts of varying formality, demonstrating their understanding of specific language conventions and associated usages in digital spaces. Throughout the course, students practice applying grammar and syntactic structures in unconventional ways across digital platforms in social and public media.  YouTube is, of course, one of the most popular of these spaces.

 

My students and I run this writing assignment late in the semester, as a re/mix of a previous one.  Prior to starting the process, the class reads, responds to, and discusses multimodalities of texts and content management across digital discourses. We read  Multimodalities for Students and Popular Media Writing Tips.  We also peer review each other’s original texts and offer ideas for relevant re/construction.

 

Assignment
Students take any analytical study, essay, or other text and re/mix it based on vlogging guidelines to produce a multimodal, public vlog-cast.

 

Measurable Learning Objectives 

  • Apply multimodal composition strategies to video productions
  • Create video blogs (vlogs) as rhetorical, content-delivery devices
  • Synthesize meaning through critical production of digital texts on-screen

 

Digital Deliverables

Please feel free to edit, revise, and use these documents for your class.

Academic Blogging Guidelines

Vlogging Guidelines

 

In Class and/or Out

During the semester, we watch YouTube instructional videos such as English Lesson with Adam and Grammar Girl podcasts.  For this class, we collaboratively searched YouTube for videos that taught us brief histories of English, helped us figure out usage (courtesy of Grammar Girl), and advised us on how to write for popular media.  Searching together as a group was a most rewarding experience; I highly recommend it!

 

After each viewing, we then analyze key rhetorical components through the Five Elements for Visual Analysis, noting what works and what doesn’t for different audiences and purposes.  We provide feedback in both large and small groups to re/vise our writing for vlog-casting Guidelines.

 

We then produce our “Grammar Vlogs” using tools such as iMovie, QuickTime, PowerPoint, and PowToon. The average time spent is about four, one-hour class periods, with production happening outside of class.

 

 

Student Examples


 

Reflections on the Activity – Students
When my students reflected on this writing opportunity, here are the words they used to describe their learning experience:

 

 

My Reflection
I think this assignment would work well across topics and courses because it doesn’t teach content but rhetorical behaviors.  It draws out rhetorical performances as well, which engenders creativity and scholarly research processes that are relevant throughout the Humanities. Instructors could re/mix their own topics and search for YouTube videos that are specific to their students’ interests and needs.  I would love for folks outside of our field to try it, so please share this post with others; try the assignment and let me know what you think!

 

 

Jeanne Law 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: jeanne_bohannon@kennesaw.edu and www.rhetoricmatters.org.

Jack Solomon

The Pepsi Consternation

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Apr 20, 2017

Some ads are born controversial, some ads achieve controversy, and some ads have controversy thrust upon them.  But in the case of the infamous Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad, we might say that this one accomplished all three attainments at once, and if you are looking for an introductory-level lesson on popular cultural semiotics, you couldn't find a better candidate for analysis than this.

 

There are a number of reasons why the Pepsi/Jenner ad is such a good topic for an introduction to pop cultural semiotics.  First, pretty much everyone knows about it, and though it was yanked shortly after its premiere, it will be available for viewing for years to come, and the dust that it raised will not be settling soon.  This one is virtually guaranteed to have legs.

 

Second, the fact that so many people responded immediately to the ad with what amounts to a semiotic analysis of it demonstrates that cultural semiotics is not some sort of academic conspiracy designed to "read things into" harmlessly insignificant popular cultural artifacts.  All over America, people who may have never even heard of the word "semiotics" instantly performed sophisticated analyses of the Pepsi ad—my favorite example is the reviewer who noted how Kendall Jenner thrusts her blonde wig into the hands of a black assistant without even looking at the woman, as she (Jenner) heads off to join the march —to point out in detail what was wrong with it.  The SNL takedown alone is priceless.

 

I hardly need to repeat all the details of those analyses here: that the ad was "tone deaf"; that it was co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement in order to sell soda (Thomas Frank would say that the ad was a perfect example of the "commodification of dissent); that it managed to tokenize non-whites while putting a white celebrity at the center of attention.  It's all there, and, all in all, I can't think of a better exercise than to play the ad in class and go through it with a fine-tooth comb to see just what it was doing, and why it failed so badly.

 

Just to offer some somewhat less-obvious things to consider while analyzing this ad, I would note, first, that it can be included in an advertising system that contains Coca Cola's famous "I'd like to teach the world to sing" commercial from 1971.  Pepsi's ad was clearly created in the same spirit, but its abject failure marks a critical difference that bears further attention.  Now, like 1971, 2017 America is in the midst of widespread, and often bitter, cultural and political conflict, so one can't simply say that those were more innocent times to explain the difference in response to Pepsi's attempt at selling soda by trying to look culturally forward and hip to the moment.  But I do think that people are much more alert to media semiotics today than they were then, and thus more able to spot what Pepsi was trying to do.  Probably more importantly, the Coke ad didn't pretend to stage a street demonstration; it put together its own event (pseudo-event, I should say), which, though smarmy, made its own direct statement without the use of celebrities.  It wasn't authentic, but it was a lot less phony than the Pepsi ad.  That may have been part of the difference in reactions, too.

 

But the key difference, I believe, was the use of an already somewhat dubious celebrity in the Pepsi ad (Kendall Jenner belongs to an ever-growing line a RTV-created figures who are "famous for being famous") that its creators (mistakenly) believed would be immediately embraced by their target audience of millennials.  Indeed that is the narrative line that the ad assumes, which, in brief, runs like this: as a large crowd of young protesters (complete with electric guitar-and cello-backed band—with break dancers!) marches through urban streets in protest of some unidentified cause, glamorous model Kendall Jenner (whom the ad's audience is expected to recognize) is working a fashion shoot, wearing a blonde wig, stiletto heels, and a lot of makeup.  As the marchers walk past her, she looks troubled, and then decides to flick the shoot—doffing her wig, wiping off her lipstick, and somehow (somehow!) changing into blue jeans and a denim jacket—to join in.  She is immediately made the center of the whole thing, with all the marchers smiling at her in joy, and then going crazy with joy when she hands a Pepsi to a young cop assigned to riot duty (where's his armor, helmet and facemask?), who accepts it and takes a drink. 

 

The whole thing reminds me of an old John Lennon music video that shows John and Yoko leading some sort of protest march, in which it is clear that the only thing being demonstrated is the star power of John Lennon.  Now, the Lennon footage may or may not have been from a real march, but in creating a wholly bogus march for Kendall Jenner (who is hardly known for her social activism), what the Pepsi ad is really saying (contrary to their publicity department's frantic, and ultimately futile, attempts to defend the ad as a fine statement of "global" consciousness) is that what matters in America is celebrity power and wealth.  Thus, there's a good reason why the ad's critics are focusing on Jenner as well as Pepsi, because the ad is as much about her as it is about soda pop.  Someone in marketing presumed that millennials (who have been product- branded from birth) wouldn't notice the implications of that.  It is thus with some satisfaction that I can see most millennials did notice (though there are a surprising number of Youtube comments insisting that there is nothing wrong with the ad).  And that may be the most significant thing of all.

 

Shirley Logan at Women, Rhetoric, and Writing conference at University of MarylandRecently, I attended a conference called “Women, Rhetoric, Writing,” held at the University of Maryland to honor Shirley Logan and Jane Donawerth, longtime colleagues and friends who are both retiring. We enjoyed two packed days of panel presentations, on everything from Elizabeth I’s gift culture to feminist editing practices, and we celebrated the work of Logan (whose scholarship on nineteenth-century African American women rhetors stands as a landmark in our field) and Donawerth (who has pretty much created the field of early modern women studies). We shared reminiscences and stories about Jane and Shirley that brought both laughter and tears.

 

The last panel of the conference was devoted to pedagogical concerns, and Nan Johnson from Ohio State had a big home run with her paper, which was the talk of the conference later that day and evening. Called “A Rhetorical Model of Social Change,” this presentation mapped for us an assignment that Johnson (who last year won Ohio State’s most prestigious teaching award!) has been working on for a couple of years, and one that is particularly relevant to the fraught political times we live in. Using this model, Johnson leads her students in tracking “the appearance and progression of a social change issue” through three distinct stages, which she calls 1) articulation and definition; 2) debate; and 3) institutionalization / cultural inscription. Often, these three stages lead to a fourth, cultural upheaval, and then to what Johnson labels a “backwave,” which can start the entire process over again. 

 

She offered several terrific examples of how this model works in her classes, one of which was on environmental issues. The students chart this movement from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which provides articulation and definition, through the enormous debate that followed publication of the book and that helped lead to environmental protection policies in stage three. As I think about environmental issues, I see ongoing attempts to roll back the changes brought about following Carson’s work: we might say that the latest attempts to radically cut the EPA is part of a “backwave” that will leave us charting yet other stages of change.

 

Jane Donawerth and Nan Johnson at Women, Rhetoric, and Writing conference at University of MarylandWhat appeals to me so much about Nan Johnson’s model—and what I see as its brilliance—is its ability to focus students not on arguing over whether an issue is “right” or “wrong” or getting stuck in the “debate” stage. Rather, working through this model focuses attention on how an issue gets defined, circulated, and sometimes eventually enacted into policy—and then possibly called into question again. It focuses on the process of social change rather than on any particular ideology. In one way, this rhetorical model of social change seems to me a streamlined and very contemporary version of stasis theory. 

 

At any rate, Johnson’s students are working very well with this model, using it to generate all kinds of critical analyses of contemporary issues. Many at the conference urged Nan to publish this work, so watch for it! In the meantime, I am indebted to Johnson for sharing this model with all of us.

 

Credit: Photos by Andrea Lunsford

In this series of posts, I’m asking all of you to offer your observations on students and teaching today so that I can begin thinking about what the next edition of Emerging needs.

 

My central question this time is: What are the most pressing challenges and problems you feel students will face in their lives today and in the future?

 

One of the things that I love most about Emerging is how contemporary the readings are.  I’ve always felt that one of the most enduring lessons of FYC is how to think critically not about this or that academic reading but about the real issues and problems that students, as political agents and citizen actors, will have to work through (and hopefully solve) as they move into their lives and careers.  That is, I think that FYC should prepare students not only for academic success, but also for success in the world.

 

Emerging has a number of readings that try to tackle some of these thorny issues such as globalization (Kwame Anthony Appiah, Thomas Friedman, Richard Manning), education (Yo-Yo Ma, Ruth Padawer, Graeme Wood, Wesley Yang), climate change (Sandra Allen), sexuality and gender (Roxane Gay, Ariel Levy, Ruth Padawer, Hanna Rosin, Dan Savage and Urvashi Vaid), and technology (the Dalai Lama, Francis Fukuyama, Chuck Klosterman, Maria Konnikova, Nick Paumgarten, Tomas van Houtryve).  But as important as these issues are, I am sure there are others we’ve not considered.

 

So, what do you think?  What are the thorny problems that most need addressing, understanding that the students of the today will be the ones to address those problems tomorrow (if not now)?

Three of my colleagues and I presented a session at the 4Cs this year, focusing on the rhetorical choices of community college students at different points in their academic programs. How did such a local study come about? The genesis of our investigation was a session at the Houston conference in 2016, where Joanne Baird Giordano and her colleagues described local research that informed local placement and program decisions. That session led us to ask a simple question: what do we want to know about our students?

 

The four of us agreed that we wanted to understand how our students develop as writers across the sequence of writing and literature courses they take at our college.  As a starting point, we decided to get a snapshot view of students at each level. Thus, in the fall, we each incorporated reflection assignments into our courses, and in the weeks prior to the conference, we began to analyze the data we had collected.  

 

My part of the investigation focused on students in co-requisite courses (ALP and ESL).  In the ideal research project I had envisioned before we began the study, I imagined myself coding texts according to neat categories confirmed by inter-rater reliability among my colleagues.  But after a week of working through my particular data set in January (and teaching five classes, reviewing a copyedited manuscript, and working on my college’s quality enhancement plan), I questioned whether I could actually find anything meaningful together before the conference, much less reliable or valid conclusions. I had to remind myself that

  • research in writing is messy, recursive, and never quite what we intended (but valuable nonetheless).
  • I didn’t need to have neatly defined coding schemes in advance of an exploratory study.
  • whatever patterns I noted in the data could inform my own teaching, if not policies at the institution or system levels.

 

I ultimately decided to look only at two sets of reflections, those that followed my mid-term and pre-final student conferences (and submission of mid-term and final portfolios). In both of these reflections, I asked students to consider specific changes they had made and the reasons for those changes, and while students mentioned a number of edits and revisions, for the purposes of my study, I counted only those that included an explicit rationale (introduced by an infinitive of purpose or words like “because” or “so that”).

 

I looked for trends in changes described and the rationales for those changes, as well as the language used to explain the alterations. Students described revisions and edits in content, organization, grammar, mechanics, citations, and document design. The reason most often cited by students concerned meaning: “it wasn’t clear” or “it wouldn’t make sense to my reader.” Moreover, in stating these rationales, students often repeated the language I had used in class, with references to “making meaning,” “making meaning clear,” “thinking of the reader,” “providing the needed context,” etc.  

What these rationales suggest is that students are engaging with the threshold concepts and the language that I have used to frame my course. In that respect, my analysis yielded encouraging results. But I must consider these results cautiously. As Glynis Cousin has pointed out, part of a student’s progress through a liminal state is mimicry; she further explains that imitation is not mastery, and that is certainly true for my students. In many cases, the final essays students submitted—the very essays where they made changes to improve clarity of meaning—seemed garbled and unfinished to me as a reader. Moreover, the extent to which my language and framing concepts will carry to the next course is not addressed in the study.

 

After meaning, my students noted deference to me (“I changed this because you said to”) and “fixing” things that were bad or wrong (“I had to fix it because it was not good”) as reasons for making changes. These comments, particularly at the end of the semester, confirm that my students have not internalized course concepts fully—and I need to examine my words and pedagogy carefully. Is my instruction hampering students’ sense of agency? What can I do differently in my assignment design or feedback to help students move past a good/bad, right/wrong conception of texts?

 

My study certainly didn’t seem very impressive as I formalized it for the conference. But one of the many benefits of attending the 4Cs is the interaction and encouragement among colleagues at the sessions—not to mention the application of session concepts to early-stage projects and as-yet unformed ideas. The post-its and notebook pages I brought back to my campus reveal how every session I attended prodded my thinking, connected me to new resources, or intimated possible answers to my questions (or at least ways to explore those questions from a different perspective). Our 2017 proposal arose from exchanges at the 2016 event, and based on the 2017 conference, I am planning now for the 2018 conference in Kansas City.

 

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Andrea Lunsford in Paris, France, with her grandniecesJust returned from eight days in Paris with my grandnieces, Audrey (almost 13, about which enough said) and Lila (9), and oh, what a treat to see the city of light through their eyes. Of course we did lots of touristy things, first among which was a trip to the top of the Tour Eiffel, full of ooohs and aaahs and gasps, and games of trying to identify sites from that height. A boat ride down the Seine let us see famous buildings from a new perspective, and long walks around our neighborhood in Montmartre (just around the corner from Sacré-Cœur) introduced them to the 18th arrondissement and to street life there. Audio bus tour—check. Portraits at Painters’ Place—check. Chocolate tour—check. Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle—check.

 

Andrea Lunsford's grandniece posing in front of statues at the LouvreBut what I enjoyed most were the art museums. Both girls draw and are interested in art, and they were, of course, most eager to see the Louvre. We made the obligatory climb to see the Mona Lisa (“Oh, but it’s so small! Oh isn’t she beautiful . . . and look at her eyes. . . .”) But what fascinated Audrey most were the Egyptian and Greek antiquities, which we explored for hours, taking notes so that we could do some more investigating when we got back to our apartment. She loved the Caryatides, and the Venus de Milo—and got down on hands and knees to touch some of the original foundation of the building. All the statues and the huge paintings of battle scenes freaked Lila out, however, and she declared she was “scared of museums.” A problem.

 

Still, we persevered, and convinced her to go with us to see Monet’s water lily paintings at l’Orangerie. Lucky for us we were there on a light day, so we had plenty of time and space to sit and soak up the peace and quiet and beauty of those magnificent paintings. Lila decided that she was no longer scared of museums, and Audrey was, to say the very least, overcome: she went from one huge curved painting to the next, examining brush strokes and color combinations, saying over and over she wished she could stay there forever. We read about Monet’s gift of the gallery and the paintings to the people of France after World War I, a gift of peacefulness and quiet. Audrey said this must have been the “best gift ever.”

 

Andrea Lunsford's grandniece posing in front of a Monet painting, Water LilliesThe Musée d’Orsay offered other treats—we saw a lot more of Monet as well as other impressionists, and took notes on several Manet paintings that seemed mysterious to us. Later we read about them on Wikipedia and listened to short lectures about them on YouTube.

 

What struck me then (as it so often does when I am with young people) is how perceptive they are, how intellectually curious, and how eager to open up to new experiences and new ways of looking at the world, as presented to us by so many wonderful artists. Audrey said she thinks all paintings tell stories, and, though the stories can sometimes seem different from viewer to viewer, they also bring people together in sharing them. As we sat holding hands and immersing ourselves in Monet’s “Green Reflections,” I thought how very right she is.

 

Over the decades, I’ve had opportunities to take students to many artistic events, from exhibitions and lectures to musical performances, plays, and films. These engagements with art enrich their lives and their understanding of the world; if every child in the U.S. could have even two or three such experiences, I am certain they would benefit, both from seeing art and then producing it themselves. Yet our government wants to radically cut funding for the arts in America, even eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts. If you have had experiences like mine with young people and engagements with art (and I know you have!) I also know you will join in doing everything in our power to eliminate these cuts. Please join in supporting the arts in America!

Andrea Lunsford's grandniece, posing excitedly in front of the Louvre in Paris

Credit: Photos by Andrea Lunsford

I’m pleased to announce that Emerging is moving to a fourth edition.  I am very excited by the prospect though also, of course (as always), daunted by the work ahead.

 

I’ve shared before some of the work that goes into making a new edition—everything from querying users about what works and doesn’t, to considering gaps in the introduction, to finding new readings and deciding which readings should leave, to crafting new apparatus for it all.  One of the overriding goals throughout this process is making sure that the book remains relevant and useful.  To that end, I thought I would use the next series of posts to solicit input from the Great Void which is the Interwebs and this blog.

 

I’m primarily interested in a series of questions that are a bit larger than the text itself but which will help us envision the directions in which to move.  The first of these has to do with the students in your classes, since at the end of the day helping students succeed is what this book is all about.

 

I’m wondering, what are the primary challenges your students face?

 

I’m mostly interested about the challenges you see in the classroom: critical reading and thinking, finding something to say, crafting and supporting an argument.  But I am also wondering about the other challenges you’ve noticed that impact student success—everything from being forced to juggle work and school to being able to afford the textbook.

 

I know that for the students I see, the challenges today aren’t that different from the ones that existed when I started teaching.  Often, I am not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.  But my experience is limited to my experience and I am interested in hearing what your experience is.  Please share in the comments.

As the semester moves toward its final month, students have asked for a final writing project that would allow them to choose their own topics. They wanted, they said, a chance to show their creativity and to find a subject that would inspire passionate writing.

 

Although students had been required to analyze and synthesize ideas from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave for most of our writing projects this semester, Allegory would not be required for the final project. Nonetheless, the project ought to evolve out of significant ideas from Allegory.

 

I was unsure how to write this final assignment. For weeks, I wrote and rewrote, thought and rethought.

 

Then, on the last Saturday night in March, I had emergency surgery to remove my gallbladder and spent the night in the hospital. Even after a few days’ rest, it was difficult to return to school. I could not stay on my feet for very long and, worst of all, my brain kept stopping. I would have a sentence neatly in my head and could speak its first half, but by the second half the words would fall away. Healing felt overwhelming and impossibly slow.

 

Fortunately, I had scheduled an open writing workshop for my first day back to class. Students could consult with me and with each other and could have in-class writing time. This workshop turned out to be just what was needed. As students worked on a project with an approaching deadline, I worked again on the final writing project. I reread my weeks-old draft and gained a bit more clarity from the processes of tweaking, deleting, composing, and revising.

 

The next week, I shared the assignment with students: 

 

Proposal

 

Propose a project to be supported by the foundation “Make the World a Better Place or Else (MWBPE),” Dr. Susan N. Bernstein, CEO. Our brand is human rights and our slogan comes from Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”: “they rule who are truly rich, not in silver and gold, but in virtue and wisdom, which are the true blessings of life.”

 

Realize that MWBPE receives many proposals every year and its CEO needs to be very discerning in selecting proposals to support. You must write your most persuasive essay of the year to convince the beleaguered CEO that your proposal is appropriate for MWBPE support.

 

As the project develops, students are beginning to imagine possibilities for a better world. Their proposal topics range from creating first-semester peer learning groups for new first-year students to improving foster care; from stopping human trafficking to supporting women who are interested in STEM majors.

 

From an internal focus on becoming better writers, the students moved outward in their discussion and engagement with each other and the world beyond our classroom. My gut still sore and my brain still slow, I felt grateful that the students had found resilience in their struggles toward academic agency.

 

Even as Plato’s Phaedrus examines Socrates’s troubles with writing, this truth remains: Writing heals. From the shadows of pain and frustration, writing holds potential to release us into the light.

 

The nomination hearing for Neil Gorsuch is the most recent reminder of the profound effect of each appointment to the Supreme Court and of some of the issues that most deeply divide liberals and conservatives. By making Supreme Court appointments life-long positions, our Founding Fathers avoided replacing some or all of the justices with each election cycle. However, when a seat on the Court comes open, the fight over who will fill it reaches monumental proportions. There are fewer political battles over appointing and confirming justices, but these battles are for some of the highest stakes in politics.

 

Ironically, the Supreme Court is where decisions should be most firmly divorced from politics. The Court’s role today is to apply the Constitution in cases that the Founding Fathers never could have envisioned. The writers of that document could not have foreseen battles over frozen embryos or surrogacy, battles over whether or not to keep a patient alive artificially, or battles over same-sex marriage. They did foresee problems caused by the existence of slavery in the new nation even as they carefully avoided all direct references to slaves or slavery. In a moving essay written on the occasion of the bicentennial of the Constitution in 1987, Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, explained that the Constitution was, from the beginning, a flawed document because even the first three words, “We the People,” did not include slaves or women. As the nation prepared to celebrate the document, Marshall pointed out that the framers of the document were not as wise as is often claimed. He wrote, “To the contrary, the document they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, that we hold as fundamental today.”

 

It is our nation’s respect for individual freedoms and human rights that makes it so difficult to decide cases that will have a profound impact on the future. Cases are not appealed to the Supreme Court unless they are the most difficult of cases to decide. They are cases where one person or party’s interpretation of individual freedoms and human rights clash clashes with another’s. America was founded on the principle of religious freedom, but the perception that it is a Christian nation and thus that Supreme Court rulings should be based on Biblical concepts clashes with the concept of personal liberty. That is why abortion is one of the most hotly debated issues when it comes to choosing a new justice. Factual evidence cannot prove that either pro-life or pro-choice advocates are right. Opinions are based on individual values, but how does a court decide whose values should prevail? America is also a nation of immigrants, yet fear of terrorism has led to the desire on the part of some to block immigration from nations most likely to breed terrorists. Again, values clash.

 

We err when we make any single issue—abortion, immigration, same-sex marriage, the death penalty—the basis for choosing the next man or woman to interpret the Constitution at the highest level. In this particular instance, we have to place one overriding value over all others, even others that we feel we have a moral imperative to endorse. That overriding value is the value of the Constitution as the bedrock of our republic.

 

Credit: U.S. Supreme Court by David on Flickr, shared under a CC 2.0 license 

Jack Solomon

Popular Classics

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Apr 6, 2017

Emily Bronte would have loved Game of Thrones.

 

No, this isn't going to be another blog post on the HBO smash hit series; rather, I would like to share some of my thoughts upon my recent rereading, purely for my own pleasure, of Bronte's weird classic, Wuthering Heights—thoughts which happen to have a significant bearing upon teaching popular cultural semiotics.

 

The foremost point to raise in this regard is that, in spite of its long enshrinement in America's high school curriculum, Wuthering Heights was not written to be studied in schools: it was written to be entertaining—to its author, as well as to its reader—for, after all, Emily Bronte had been writing to entertain  herself and her sisters and brother since her infancy.

 

More importantly, as a novel bearing the influence of everything from the Gothic literary tradition to the revenge drama to the star-crossed romance, Wuthering Heights is there to entertain, not mean.  This is where generations of literary critics striving to figure out what Bronte could possibly be getting at, and who (or what) Heathcliff is supposed to be, are missing the point. Wuthering Heights, like the movie Casablanca in Umberto Eco's estimation, is an absolute hodgepodge of often-conflicting literary cliches—a text, as Eco puts it, where "the cliches are having a ball."  And that is what most really popular stories manage to do.

 

How do we know that Wuthering Heights is popular, and not merely for school-room force-feeding?  Let's start with the fact that some forty (yes, forty, but it's hard to keep precise count) movies, TV dramas, operas, and other assorted adaptations have been made of the enigmatic novel over the years, not to mention the biopics about the Brontes themselves that continue to be churned out —most recently the 2016/2017 BBC/PBS production To Walk Invisible.

 

How do we know that it is a cornucopia of cliches?  Well, we can start with Emily Bronte's take on the star-crossed lovers theme, putting Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw in the Romeo and Juliet predicament.  But it doesn't quite feel like Romeo and Juliet because of Heathcliff's absolute ferocity.  This is where the revenge theme comes in.  There is not a little of Hamlet in Heathcliff, and there is probably a lot of the Count of Monte Cristo (Emily Bronte could read French, and Dumas' novel was published in 1844-45—in time for Bronte to have read, or at least known of it, before writing her novel).  This is one reason why Heathcliff is such a mystery: he is embodying two very different narrative traditions: that of the revenge hero and of the romantic hero.  Trying to reconcile these traditions is not only a hopeless task for critics, it appears to have overwhelmed Bronte herself, who, just as Heathcliff is about to perfect his decades-in-the-making revenge on the Lintons and the Earnshaws, suddenly decides to call it a day and kill himself (like a very belated Romeo) only pages from the conclusion of the story, in one of the worst-prepared-for denouements in literary history.

 

But let's not forget the ghost story element.  Like The Turn of the Screw a generation later (and James may well have gotten the idea from Bronte), Wuthering Heights is a ghost story, or not, because there may be no ghosts at all, only Heathcliff's feverish psychological projections.  But even as we ponder the ghost element (or lack thereof) in Wuthering Heights, there is the wholly Gothic goulishness of Heathcliff, which puts him in the class not only of vampires (Bronte herself teases us with that possibility) but of the necrophilic monk Ambrosio in that all-time 18th-century best seller, The Monk

 

Then there's the way that Wuthering Heights eventually employs one of the most common conventions of the entire English novelistic tradition:  the actual, and symbolic, marriage that reconciles the fundamental contradictions that the novel dramatizes.  Indeed, one wonders whether Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables (1851) owes something to Emily Bronte, but Bronte hardly got there first.

 

Finally, there is the character of Catherine Earnshaw Linton, which may be the most popular element of all in the novel today. A likely projection of something of Emily Bronte herself, Catherine is a strong-willed, beautiful woman with masculine as well as feminine characteristics, and who may well prefigure the ever-popular Scarlett O'Hara.  Something of an archetype of the emancipated woman, Catherine, to adapt an old New Critical slogan, is there to be, not mean.   She doesn't point to a moral: she just is, and readers love her for it. 

 

See what I mean?  Wuthering Heights is simply teeming with literary formulae.  And so, just as with any artifact of popular culture whose primary purpose is to entertain, our best approach to it is not to ask what it means, but, instead, to ask what it is in all these conventions and cliches that is so entertaining, generation after generation, and what does that say about the audience (and culture) that is entertained?

 

I won't attempt that analysis now.  Perhaps I'll come back to it some time.  But my point here is that by studying "literature," we often lose track of the role that entertainment plays in literary production, just as in enjoying entertainments we often lose track of the significance of that which is entertaining in entertainment.  Popular cultural semiotics is, accordingly, not only something for self-declared, "mass cultural," entertainments: it can illuminate what we call "the classics," as well.

 

 

It almost goes without saying that we live not only in the age of the image, but also in the age of a comics/graphic narrative renaissance. Since Art Spiegelman burst from the comics underground with his Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus, we have witnessed an outpouring of comics art, and of the very highest quality. Alison Bechdel, Lynda Barry, Gene Luen Yang, GB Tran, Dwayne McDuffie, Marjane Satrapi, Neil Gaiman, Chris Ware—all are now household names. A dozen years ago, when I started teaching a course on graphic narratives, students signed up, but with some trepidation: they had been taught that comics were juvenile, jejune, eye candy. By the time I retired in 2014, this attitude had changed: students signed up in droves, stayed on waiting lists, eager to learn about how words and images work together—or don’t.

 

So I keep an eye on graphic narrative publications and read as much as I can (though it’s getting harder and harder to keep up!) Right now I am deeply engaged with Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters, which has gotten stunning reviews across the media and rapturous shout-outs from fellow comics artists (Chris Ware calls it “Absolutely astonishing,” and Alison Bechdel a “spectacular eye-popping magnum opus”). I’m halfway through the book (it’s unpaginated but well over an inch thick), and so far I agree. Completely. (You’ll want to read about Ferris too, in order to understand the struggles she had completing this ten-year project!)

 

Karen Reyes, the 10-year-old narrator, sees monsters everywhere: indeed, she becomes a monster (werewolf) herself, off and on. But these monsters are friends, for the most part, not to be terrified of but to be learned from and with. When a neighbor, Anka, is mysteriously murdered, Karen sets out to solve the mystery and, along the way, meditate on the nature of loss and on being human. Set in Chicago in the ‘60s, Monsters weaves in historical events of the era, such as the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. And she does so in a spellbinding way, with drawings that are, as Paul Tumey describes them in The Comics Journal:

 

Sumptuous, skillful, articulate, intelligent, passionate renderings with pencil and pen lines. The cross-hatching used to both vividly delineate detailed forms and evoke a wide palette of emotion rivals the mature work of Robert Crumb and evokes numerous graphic masters (for me, Maurice Sendak, among others).

 

Ferris’s boocover of My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emily Ferrisk convinces me, once again, that if we aren’t teaching comics in our writing classes, we should be: we should be thoroughly engaged in the multimodality of graphic narratives and providing opportunities for our students not only to read but also to create them.

 

Doing so will take us toward a new frontier described and inhabited by Jason Helms, creator of a new work called Rhizcomics: Rhetoric, Technology, and New Media Composition. Available from the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative in open access form, Helms builds upon layers of multimodality, arguing that what he calls “Rhizcom(ic)position writes from the middle: between words and images, visual and verbal, author and reader, material and idea, concrete and abstract, real and virtual.”  

 

In this text, which grew out of Helms’s dissertation work at Clemson University, he demonstrates how logo for Rhizcomics by Jason Helmsfundamentally our visual and aural environments are shifting, deepening, become more and more richly layered—and he does so in a startlingly nonlinear way. In doing so, he challenges all of us who teach (as well as read and write) to join him in exploring this new landscape, and not only in our teaching but in our research and scholarship as well.

 

I have often said that during the course of my nearly 50-year career, I have had to learn a new field—from the ground up—at least once a decade. But this new challenge—and opportunity—may be the most daunting but also exciting yet. So if you haven’t already done so, go to the open access portal and enter Jason Helms’s Rhizcomics—and prepare to be changed by it.

 

Credits: Cover of My Favorite Thing is Monsters from Fantagraphics & Rhizcomics header from Digital Rhetoric Collaborative

Barclay Barrios

Teaching BREXIT

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Apr 5, 2017

I write this at the official start of Brexit, as Theresa May sent the letter officially invoking Article 50 today, the start of a long and torturous process that will result in the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.  Brexit, no doubt, feels far away for the average FYC student; I imagine most have never even heard of it and fewer still would consider the relevance of this historic moment to their lives. Yet, one of the enduring themes of Emerging is the deep interconnectedness of the world.  So, in that vein, I am thinking about how to teach some of the issues around Brexit in the FYC classroom.

 

Kwame Anthony Appiah is the obvious starting point. In “Making Conversation” and “The Primacy of Practice” Appiah proposes that isolationism is no longer an option.  The world is too big, too crowded, and too connected.  His vision of cosmopolitanism isn’t a utopian one, but it does emphasize the fact that we need to find a way to get along.  The entire notion of Brexit is an interesting challenge to Appiah’s ideas, one students can work through in their thinking and writing: what does it mean for cosmopolitanism when a major world power moves away from connection and towards isolation?  More hopefully, how might Appiah’s concepts of cosmopolitanism and the ways in which practices can change without shared values offer guiding principles to path ahead when it comes to Article 50?

 

Brexit is going to be happening for a couple of years.  We really don’t know how it will impact the world, the United States, or our lives.  But it’s worth talking about, thinking about, and writing about.

Untitled by Neil Conway on FlickrI always spend the largest amount of time on the comments when I grade students’ writing. I can frequently tell with a quick skim what needs attention. The work comes in determining the best way to help the student understand, finding resources in the text or online to support them, and encouraging them to keep writing.

 

In my post about Explaining Labor-Based Grading to Student Writers, I found an idea that inspired me to make an immediate change by stopping my practice of writing end comments and long annotations. So this week, I am not only thinking about students’ labor, I am also focusing on the labor that I bring to the course.

 

Asao Inoue, whose research has inspired me, writes about the workload involved in assessing student work on their labor in his article “A Grade-Less Writing Course That Focuses on Labor and Assessing.” Inoue explains, “Since I only read the writing, and do not grade or even respond to most of it, weekly work goes smoothly and quickly . . . I’m only looking for patterns of issues and examples to use in class discussions” (91).

 

Students know about this practice from the beginning of the course. The contract that Asao Inoue used at Fresno State discusses the “culture of support” that the course will build as they provide feedback for one another. Inoue tells students, “Always know that I will read everything and shape our classroom assessment activities and discussions around your work, but you will not receive grades or comments directly from me all of the time.”

 

Inoue’s ideas made me wonder why I was spending so much time on individual comments. Frequently, I was repeating the same basic ideas, as I wrote unique comments for each student. I was putting in a lot of work, and I wasn’t sure that students even read it carefully. Since my classes are all online, I couldn’t discuss patterns and examples in class, in the way that Inoue mentions. I realized though that I could accomplish the same thing with a grading summary post after I finished reading through students’ work on an assignment.

 

My first assessment summary was Grades on the Analysis of Writing Project. As with my end comments, I started out with comments on what students had done well and moved on to frequent errors and improvements that they could make. I don’t think it's the best advice that I will ever write, but I’m happy with it for a first try. In particular, I liked the fact that with the audience of the whole class (rather than one individual student), I could put the praise and advice in a broader context. Students were not alone in the additional work that they needed to do. They knew that others needed to make the same or similar changes.

 

I also used this grade summary page to outline the options for revision. Since I have not totally converted to a system of grades based on labor, I had a series of reasons that students might need to revise that ranged from forgetting to include the self-assessment checksheet and reflection to not turning in the assignment at all. Instead of writing specific instructions into an end comment for each student, I wrote one list that included the options for everyone.

 

I am still adding annotations with the SpeedGrader tool in Canvas (our CMS) to point out strong work and ask questions to help students revise, but I have stopped adding most of the end comments. I am saving myself a little time, since I don’t write all the individual comments. Better yet, I feel as if these comments to the whole class remind everyone about ways to improve their writing. I haven’t gotten much feedback from students yet, so I would love to hear what you think about this system. Please leave me a comment below, and let me know.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Untitled by Neil Conway on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license]