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Today's guest blogger is Daniel Lambert, an educator, writer, editor, proofreader, and photographer. He teaches English courses at California State University, Los Angeles and East Los Angeles College as well as an online Literature course for Colorado Technical University. He was nominated for the Distinguished Faculty of the Year Award in 2017 from CTU and is the recipient of The Shakespeare Award for poetry from the City of Torrance, California."


“Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.”


This quotation is from Stephen King’s 1999 book, On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft. I recommend On Writing to my composition students, despite the fact that it is written by a fiction writer. Throughout their educational and professional careers, my students will be called upon to write essays, memoranda, and reports: all examples of nonfiction writing. So, what can students learn from a fiction writer? What can writers like King teach us about writing nonfiction?


The answer is simple: “plenty.” Concepts such as process, structure, tone, style, and description are as important (if not more important) to fiction writers as they are to nonfiction writers. King covers these concepts (and more) in On Writing. Even better, he uses examples from his vast library of published novels. These novels are widely-available sources that students can use as examples when reading King’s book.


Have I ever assigned On Writing in a composition class? The answer is “not yet.” However, I often refer to King’s book in my lectures. In fact, King’s quotation from the beginning of this post appears at the beginning of my freshman composition syllabus. I routinely ask students on the first day of class to interpret this quote. Their answers vary, but they always lead us to a discussion of the importance of writing. New college students need to reflect on the everyday presence of writing as a communications tool: they already use writing to communicate on a daily basis before they set foot in my class.


King likens a writer’s skills – essentials like grammar and style – to the contents of a toolbox. By way of an analogy, he recalls as a boy accompanying his uncle to fix a broken screen. King’s uncle brought a giant of a toolbox with him to do the job. King asked why his uncle would lug such a heavy toolbox to complete a simple screen-mending: “It’s best to have your tools with you,” King’s uncle replied. “If you don’t, you’re apt to find something you didn’t expect and get discouraged.” This is a useful analogy for composition instructors to ponder: one of our tasks as instructors is to provide our students with the tools they require to write college-level essays. 


On Writing is a breath of fresh air in a sea of writing manuals that students often struggle with. This book proves what King’s readers have known for years: the man is about much more than horror fiction. On Writing not only helped me hone my craft, but caused me to reflect upon the writing tools I share with my students.


Do you have any writers that have inspired you as you teach? Or any go-to writers or advice on writing you share with students?

a bit of godiva happiness by Janine, used under a CC-BY 2.0 licenseBefore Winter Break, I began a series of activities on digital literacy, inspired by Virginia Tech Libraries’ digital literacy initiative. I first asked students to create definitions of digital native and digital literacy and to explore the relationship between digital literacy and online identity. With these basics taken care of, I challenged students to research a public figure’s online identity and then to map their own online identities. This week, I begin sharing writing assignments and activities that ask students to explore their personal connection to and perspectives on these ideas.

I particularly love writing activities that ask students to explore and share their backgrounds as writers because they allow me to learn so much about what students need to succeed in the class. Similar activities that ask students to tell us about their backgrounds with digital literacy can teach us volumes as well.

When we think about how students adopt and interact with technology, we can easily be tricked by stereotypes and general beliefs rather than exploring the diversity of strategies and practices that students employ. In this week’s activity, I ask students to share their beliefs and experiences with digital literacy creatively by choosing metaphors that represent their use of digital literacy tools and then explaining themselves in an extended digital literacy narrative that focuses on that metaphor.

Discussing Extended Metaphors

I know composition students are familiar with metaphors from their previous English courses, but they will do better with this assignment if we spend some time exploring how the symbolism works with these figures of speech. An easy introduction is the famous Forrest Gump bus stop scene, where Forrest explains that “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.” A short clip of the scene is included below:

The clip should quickly activate students’ prior knowledge of metaphors and how they work. The Purdue OWL’s Using Metaphors in Creative Writing provides a summary of how metaphors work with examples from literature. You can continue the conversation about metaphor, if you like, with a classic literary example, such as these poems:

Choosing Digital Literacy Metaphors

Once students are confident about how extended metaphors work, they can begin thinking about their own metaphors. Here are the steps I use:

  1. Begin in one of the following ways. If students are not comfortable writing about their own experiences, ask them to write about their general impressions or about the identity or experiences of someone they know or have heard about.
    1. If students mapped their own online identities, you can begin with their maps, asking students to identify information on their maps that could be represented by metaphors. They can think about the way that they work in or interact with others in one or more of the places they have mapped.
    2. Ask students to brainstorm about places they go online and the ways that they (or others) work or interact in these places. Once they have some ideas in mind, ask them to think about how they might represent the work, interaction, or places with a metaphor.
    3. Have students brainstorm about specific interactions or experiences they have had in digital spaces. Once they have some ideas in mind, ask them to think about metaphors they might use to represent these experiences.
  2. Consider the ways that metaphors are typically used to discuss our use of digital technology. The following articles provide useful observations for your discussion with students:
  3. To inspire students, share these categories of metaphorical comparisons, emphasizing that any metaphor will work as long as students support the comparison with specific details:
    1. an animal (such as a cheetah, a chameleon, a panda, or a shark)
    2. a pet (such as a bulldog, a kitten, or a betta)
    3. a vehicle (such as a tractor trailer, a backhoe, a hybrid car, or a bicycle)
    4. a sports-related object (such as a snowboard, a bowling ball, a softball bat, or a
    5. a sports event (such as a basketball game, an Olympic competition, a NASCAR race, or a triathlon)
    6. an everyday action (such as cooking a meal, cleaning out a closet, playing a game, or weeding a garden)
  4. After you share some of the basic comparisons above, invite students to brainstorm additional categories and comparisons of their own. Once they finish gathering ideas, students should have plenty of options to choose among for their project. Naturally, encourage students to feel free to make their own choices as well. Emphasize that they are not limited to class list.

Writing about Digital Literacy with Metaphors

Once students have explored how metaphors work and collected a list of possible metaphors, ask students to create a project that explains or presents their metaphor to readers. Students might pursue any of these options:

  • an academic paper that explains the metaphor
  • a poem that presents the metaphor
  • a collection of quotations from news outlets, pop culture resources, and other media that invoke the metaphor
  • a fable that tells of an event, interaction, or experience, using the metaphor
  • a child’s picture book that explores the metaphor
  • an infographic that presents the metaphor
  • a mythic creation tale that describes how the writer learned about a digital literacy practice
  • a series of Instagram posts that explores the metaphor
  • an online museum display that demonstrates the metaphor
  • a movie trailer that teases viewers about a feature presentation of the metaphor

The class can brainstorm additional options if desired. Alternately, you might narrow the options available to focus the assignment more tightly. Whatever option you choose, encourage students to explore their own understanding of digital literacy and their experiences in digital spaces.

Any Ideas to Add?

I would love to hear how you would try this activity with students. Please tell me! Just leave a comment below with the details, and come back next week for another writing activity that explores digital literacy.


Photo credit: a bit of godiva happiness by Janine, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Collaboration is a key theme in the second edition of Understanding Rhetoric, and we devote an entirely new chapter to this important topic. So it was exciting to travel to Kennesaw State University in Georgia to see students in college composition class demonstrating many of the best practices we’ve identified.


As the academic year was getting off to a busy start, I noticed an email in my inbox from a person with an unfamiliar name: Matthew Tikhonovsky.

Dear Professor Losh,


My name is Matthew Tikhonovsky, and I am a student at Kennesaw State University. I am contacting you to inquire if there is a student committee that makes recommendations and suggestions for your textbook Understanding Rhetoric. Your wonderful textbook has been welcomed with open arms on the campus of KSU and is currently required reading in many first year English classes! Nevertheless, many students, myself included, believe that a student committee that offers students' perspective on rhetoric would be an invaluable resource for Understanding Rhetoric. I look forward to hearing back from you!



Matthew Tikhonovsky

Rhetorically this student was doing everything right in addressing a stranger at another institution!  The email was brief and to the point, adopted an appropriate tone, provided context, and made a reasonable request. I responded positively and expressed my enthusiasm for meeting with a student committee.


A few weeks later I found myself at Kennesaw State meeting with an amazing delegation of students. They were all from the project-based learning class of writer Christopher Martin in a course that encouraged them to use writing to change real-world conditions close to their own lives. 


Although Martin was the instructor, the students were clearly in charge of the session with me. They collaboratively authored a PowerPoint and matching handout and used graphic design to amplify their messages.


The team presentation was fluent and professional, perfect for communicating effectively with a guest author. I was impressed to see how tasks had been divided up to capitalize on every student’s expertise. Each student volunteer tackled a specific aspect of the textbook and offered practical suggestions for ways to make the third edition even more student-centered.


In addition to a flawless demonstration of the power of joining forces, the students modeled all of the advice we offer in Understanding Rhetoric about reading critically, using evidence to support an interpretation, getting beyond confrontational styles of argumentation, actively embracing revision, and making information more dynamic with visual appeals. The student journalists who attended also gave the exchange a rave review.


With company representatives available to answer questions about the publishing process, the students also learned a lot about how ideas get into print and about how much revision went into the first two editions of the book. I was happy to see that their overall evaluation of the book was quite positive.


I look forward to keeping in touch with this great group of writers and communicators. Just before Winter Break Matthew came to my campus to present his findings at the William and Mary Writing Resources Center on the campus where I teach. Using empirical methods, he is now conducting undergraduate research with a faculty mentor in psychology to examine his research question about how words alone and words with related visuals compare when it comes to retaining information about principles for good writing. Matthew’s experiment also uses a control sample with words and unrelated visuals.  Now he’s a great exemplar for the research chapter too!   


Today's guest blogger is Tiffany Mitchell, a Senior Lecturer of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.


In May 2017, a colleague and I attended the Digital Media and Composition (DMAC) Institute at The Ohio State University: a weeklong workshop designed to help bring digital media tools and assignments into composition classes. Over the week, we had an intense crash course on multimodal projects that we could use in our classes. We learned about projects that people had recently completed in their classes and how well those projects worked, what kinks they encountered, and how to possibly resolve the kinks. We also completed our own projects. It was extremely informative and tons of work, but also a lot of fun.


The first project we completed at DMAC was an infographic. I'd always wanted to assign infographics, so I was quite excited at the prospect of this. I was less thrilled when the beginning of our infographic was purposely designed to be in analog form. We were asked to use arts and crafts supplies to first make an infographic by hand, then later make one digitally. We were offered all sorts of supplies: construction paper, markers, tape, colored pom poms, crayons, rolls of string, scissors, ribbon, etc. Making an infographic by hand seemed completely antithetical to an Institute with the word digital in its name. Initially, we laughed and rolled our eyes at the childlike assignment for a room of adults. As we worked, however, the value in the analog infographic took shape: it was designed to get us to slow down, cherish, and invest in the creation and design process. I hope to get my students to do the same and to help fellow colleagues and peers to see this, as well as to help them move into multimodality.


For our project, we chose to create an infographic that mirrored the purpose of creating the analog infographic in the first place: the multimodal composition process. In order to get students and apprehensive instructors to see that the multimodal process isn’t anything to fear or scoff at, we wanted them to see how the multimodal creation process mirrors the writing process. The writing process is like muscle memory for comp instructors. But for luddite-leaning instructors who are suddenly faced with becoming multimodal and teaching multimodality to students who might not always see the value in multimodality in a composition class, sometimes they all need to be reminded that the process is the same. If the instructors can see the similarities, then they can teach this new world to their students using a world (writing process) that they are very comfortable in. Slowing down the process helps with that. Looking back, I now realize the same doubtful reaction I had to the analog infographic project is the same reaction students often gave me when I told them we’d be using social media or other digital platforms to reconfigure their text-only arguments. They doubted the validity and purpose until the project was done, and then they realized it was and could be another form and medium for arguments.


So, we set out to design an analog infographic that demystified the multimodal composition process. We used terms that are common in the writing process to describe the multimodal process, such as brainstorm, research, edit, revise, etc. Feedback is so important to any type of composing process, so that term was centralized and linked to all other points of the process. We added related terms to each part of the process to help students and instructors understand what steps would be taken with each part. Creating this infographic in analog helped us create a map of what we wanted to do digitally. This would be similar to outlining for a text.



Shifting to the digital version of the infographic, we used Piktochart, but the Institute also showed us how to use Powerpoint and Canva to design digital infographics. Once we digitally recreated the infographic, we could see more options that we hadn’t considered in the analog mode. For instance, we could select images of shapes from templates rather than cutting them by hand, easily edit and revise any content, and even potentially add hyperlinks to the steps of the process. Slowing down the process and creating by hand forced us to appreciate the digital options and conveniences we have all the more.


All that I learned and experienced at DMAC translates into an infographic assignment for my students. Their infographic is designed to work with and accompany their researched argument essay. So, as they are forming their argumentative ideas from their research, they will also be forming the ideas for their infographics. In class, we will discuss how ideas, bits of data, images, tips of awareness, pie charts or bar graphs within their sources can all be turned into infographics for their arguments. I want them to slow down the multimodal composing process but also have it align and mirror the writing process. Just like they will plan, outline, and design their argumentative claims, they will also plan, outline, and design their multimodal infographics. Hopefully, they will see the value and beauty in creating in analog and digitally.


When applying the elements of argument to today’s headlines, once a claim is clear, a second critical step is to consider the support available for that claim. Support can take the form of factual evidence, or it can take instead the form of appeals to needs and values. Most often, in a strong argument, it does both. The growing amount of fake news, however, has made it more necessary than ever to consider the source and validity of support for an argumentative claim.


We now know something of the extent to which news posted on social media from Russian accounts shaped the presidential election of 2016. One recent article in Newsweek was revealingly entitled “If You Shared One of These Tweets During the 2016 Election Then You Were Duped by Russian Fake News.” One example was a tweet that said, erroneously, that in the 22 days following Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the National Anthem, 68 people had been killed by police officers. It was the same sort of impetus that made some people believe that Hillary Clinton was involved in a child-sex ring being run out of pizza parlor in Washington. In the Newsweek article, Twitter is said to have just last week updated its reporting to say that “more than 50,000 Russian-linked accounts had used its service to post automated propaganda designed to exacerbate U.S. divisions.” Twitter has been told to inform “677,775 Americans that they may have liked, retweeted or followed a Russian government-backed account during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in November, Facebook officials reaffirmed that “Russian trolls spent $100,000 to promote ads on Facebook during the 2016 election, and . . . that posts created by these trolls reached 126 million Americans—more than a third of the US population.” At that hearing, it was made clear also that the number and type of Facebook ads varied with the state being targeted.


We realized some time ago that we must teach our students to analyze the validity of the sources that they use in their writing. Some of those who were tricked into believing and passing on “news” manufactured by the Russians—or others—were older Americans relatively new to social media who were never taught to think critically about electronic media. We all like to see our opinions reinforced in print or online, and it’s easy to send along the “dirt” on a candidate we don’t like without considering it too critically, but the very ease with which an idea can permeate social media led to a proliferation of fake news like never before. Too often we passed along what we wanted to think was true.

If a “troll factory” in St. Petersburg controlled the propaganda appearing on our computer screens, American consumers controlled what was done with that propaganda.  The Russians must have been thrilled at Americans’ willingness to fall right in line with their plans to influence the course of American history. Apathy led millions of Americans to not even vote; gullibility led those who did to too often vote based on flawed or totally false information.


When we construct our own arguments in support of what we believe, we bear the burden of providing legitimate support for the claims that we advance. We take the easy way out when we too readily believe anything that flashes across our screens. Getting at the truth can be hard work. Getting others to accept the truth has become even harder than ever in a society where the term “fake news” has become, ironically, code for “anything I don’t want people to believe.”


Image Source: "Fake News - Person Reading Fake News Article" by Mike MacKenzie on Flickr 8/22/16 via Creative Commons 2.0 license.

In the recent season of gift giving, I concentrated on the young people in my life and on presents I could find that I think are worthy of them. But of course I received some gifts too, and this year brought a very special book my way. It’s called The Song and the Silence: A Story about Family, Race, and What Was Revealed in a Small Town in the Mississippi Delta While Searching for Booker Wright.


The book’s author is Booker Wright’s granddaughter, Yvette Johnson, and I found out about her and her work through Sherry Rankins-Robertson, who was Johnson’s teacher at the University of Arkansas. In fact, I think Johnson began work on this project in Sherry’s class. Whatever the case, it is a book that I will cherish and that you will want to read because Johnson’s journey to recover her grandfather is so compelling: honest, fresh, passionate, and based on over six years of intense research.


I’ll admit to being an “opening sentence” nut: I always go to the first sentence in any book or article and mull it over, read it aloud, see how it feels in my mouth, and determine whether it gets a thumbs up. This first sentence—“Booker Wright was a difficult man to know”—definitely got a thumbs up. Short, direct, and slightly mysterious, the sentence impels me forward into Johnson’s (and Wright’s) story. We learn that her research started when she discovered that her grandfather had been in a hotly controversial NBC News program in 1966, where he talked openly about racist encounters he had faced during his years of waiting tables at a “whites only” restaurant. As Johnson says, her grandfather “did the unthinkable,” which was to describe what life was like for a black man in Mississippi in the Sixties.


But who was this grandfather, who waited tables in one part of town at Lusco’s, ran his own business called Booker’s Place in the Black neighborhood, appeared on TV, became an icon of the civil rights movement—and was murdered by a drunk customer in 1973?


Johnson takes a long, hard, unflinching, and loving look at the many selves of Booker and especially at the town of Greenwood, deep in the Mississippi Delta. Her depiction of the town is rich in detail, stinging in its reflection of the racial tension and deep-seated bigotry of the white community and the struggles and constant humiliations of the Black community. We see Greenwood through both Johnson’s and Booker Wright’s eyes, a small town of enormous complexity. We learn of Wright’s search for his mother, whom he believed had never wanted him, and of the complicated relationship between Johnson and her own parents. And we see her come to terms with them, and with Booker, and with Greenwood. It’s a cliché to say this, but it’s also true: once I started reading, I could not stop until I turned the last page.


Today, Yvette Johnson is a filmmaker, public speaker, and director of the Booker Wright Literacy Project, a foundation aimed at supporting literacy efforts in the Mississippi Delta and beyond. But her work on The Song and the Silence began in a writing class with a teacher who cared about her and her subject, and who supported her research and her steps toward publication. When we enter out writing classes, we always need to know that there is likely an Yvette Johnson there, just waiting for the gift of “coming to voice” that writing classes provide for so many students. So, as always, bravo, brava, to writing teachers everywhere.

Jimisha Relerford is a Master Instructor in the Department of English at Howard University. She serves as director of The Writing Center and is currently a student in the PhD program. Her research interests include early 20th-century African American literature, archival studies, and composition pedagogy. 



Yes, we’ve come a long way, but, as I write in March of 2003, I see that we’ve still got a long way to go, especially if we’re going to exploit the full teaching potential of the Internet.

-Teresa Redd

Much has changed since Teresa Redd, then a Howard University professor, published these words fifteen years ago in Computers and Composition. Whereas Dr. Redd’s Howard University students and fellow composition professors were limited to accessing the internet primarily through wired connections in dormitories and computer labs, virtually anyone on campus now enjoys hi-speed wifi throughout the campus. Many students and faculty did not yet own home computers in 2003, and few could boast advanced computer skills. Current composition instructors at Howard are, in general, highly computer literate, and the vast majority of our students are high-level digital content consumers, many of them also skilled content creators. Most students own a laptop computer, and many also own tablets and high-performing smart phones. Indeed, it isn’t uncommon to walk into a classroom and see not bright, eager young faces, but students hidden behind rows upon rows of open digital devices. But in many ways, Dr. Redd’s words still apply to the experience of teaching with technology at HBCUs, specifically at Howard. We still have a long way to go before we harness the full potential of digital technology for teaching and learning in composition classrooms.


In the years since its publication, a robust body of research on technology use at HBCUs has joined Dr. Redd’s article, and much of it reiterates challenges that persist. Rather than offer a lengthy recap of those challenges here, I instead examine three “scenes” from my own experiences with using technology in my current roles at Howard: composition instructor, graduate student, and Writing Center director. (The use of “scenes” as an organizational metaphor is adapted from Jacqueline Jones Royster’s “When the First Voice You Hear is Not Your Own.” Jones explains that the scenes are singular in terms of their being narratives of one individual’s experiences, but they are also plural in that they constitute data that can yield conclusions that are applicable to many.) These experiences illuminate the complicated relationship between students and faculty on the one hand and digital tech on the other. Taken together, the scenes show that while the conversation about technology use at HBCUs may not be an easy one, it remains as necessary now as it was in 2003.


Scene 1: Misadventures in Teaching with Technology

When I started teaching my first composition course as a new lecturer at Howard in 2015, I was excited to find that the department required at least one multimodal assignment for all first-year composition courses. With lofty goals in mind, I envisioned and planned a multimedia essay assignment, which tasked my students with developing an-all digital composition that included video, image, sound, and text elements. I’d developed the idea for this assignment after a conversation with a former colleague at Georgia State University who had used a similar video essay effectively in her composition classes. Unfortunately, I soon learned that my goals might have been somewhat ambitious. Several students required more assistance with video editing than I was knowledgeable enough to give; my colleague had assured me that she did not have to teach her students video editing for the assignment, as they relied on existing knowledge and on-campus resources.Not all of my classrooms were equipped with Smart projectors that semester, so I was limited in my ability to work through problems with students in class; my colleague always taught in a room equipped with Smart technology. Most of my students brought their own laptops or tablets to class, but a few of them didn’t own either, and at least one of them vocally bemoaned the possibly of having to spend late nights in the computer lab to complete the assignment; my colleague’s students – their entire freshman class, in fact – had all been assigned iPads by their university. Suffice it to say that I learned quickly how difficult it is to adapt an all-digital assignment from one classroom setting to another, particularly when the one doesn’t have access to the same technological resources as the other. Even in the thick of the digital age, when personal computing devices seem virtually ubiquitous, the issues that Redd raised concerning access and skill level (“the digital divide”) remain relevant for many HBCU composition students.


Scene 2: Digital Humanities…Yes, We Do That Here

My role as a doctoral student in the English program affords me yet another perspective on the relationship between technology and learning at Howard. Recently, I was prompted to consider this relationship during a conversation with a fellow graduate student about our research interests. When I mentioned that I’m interested in exploring the digital humanities for both my research and my pedagogy, my classmate’s response was, “Digital humanities? Do we even do that here?” In retrospect, I wish I had prompted her to elaborate on what she obviously perceives to be a disconnect between the program in English at Howard and the digital humanities, but at the time I was too surprised by her response to pursue it further. Later, I tried to reconcile what I know about Howard’s English department with my classmate’s words. I know that in the summer of 2016, the department hosted “Seshat: A Digital Humanities Initiative,” a 2-week program funded by an NEH HBCU Humanities Initiative Grant. The program exposed literary studies scholars to theories, methodologies, and tools related to digital humanities, culminating in scholars’ redesign of four existing humanities courses at Howard University. I know that at least one recent graduate of the doctoral program, Tyechia Lynn Thompson, undertook digital humanities research for her dissertation, an innovative study that used geospatial mapping tools to examine depictions of post-1960’s Paris in the writings of African American authors James Baldwin, James Emanuel, and Jake Lamar. And I know that in 2015, David Green, director of the composition program, implemented a full-scale revision of the first-year writing course sequence, developing courses that emphasize (alongside traditional academic essay-writing) multimodal composition, digital content creation, and web design. These developments suggest that Howard’s department of English has indeed demonstrated some investment into harnessing the potential of the digital humanities for faculty, emerging scholars, and undergraduates.


Scene 3: To Print or Not to Print…

As the director of Howard’s Writing Center, I collaborate with graduate and undergraduate student tutors at the beginning of each academic year to review and update our policies and tutorial procedures. One of our long-standing policies, which has persisted after vigorous debate among the tutors and myself, is that we prefer students bring hardcopies of their papers for tutorial sessions. The general consensus among the tutors is that reviewing a printed document during a face-to-face session with a student is more efficient and effective than attempting to conduct a tutorial session while scrolling through a digital document on a computer screen. However, last semester a student took issue with this policy, insisting that students shouldn’t be expected to bring hardcopies of their papers since “nobody prints anything out anymore.” A graduate tutor responded incredulously – surely the student prints essays and papers for her professors? The student insisted that all her assignments were submitted through email or Blackboard. This exchange is unsurprising considering that the young woman, a “digital native,” is accustomed to developing documents that are intended solely for digital consumption. Composing, revising, and sharing documents completely online is now standard practice, and, for her at least, printing paper is beyond passé. The exchange serves as a reminder that in spite of the challenges faced by HBCUs with regard to technology use, the vast majority of our students have wholly adopted the digital as a way of life. It is now up to us – scholars, instructors, departments, institutions – to decide if we will do what is necessary to catch up.



Redd, Teresa M. "‘Tryin to Make a Dolla Outa Fifteen Cent’: Teaching Composition with the Internet at an HBCU." Computers and Composition, vol. 20, no., 2003, pp. 359-373.

Royster, Jacqueline Jones. "When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own." College Composition and Communication, vol. 47, no. 1, 1996, pp. 29-40.

Thompson, Tyechia L. “Mapping City Limits: Post-1960s Paris and the Writings of James Baldwin, James Emanuel, and Jake Lamar.” Howard University, 2016. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.

A few weeks ago, I posted some tips for fostering reading across the curriculum.  That post recognized that no matter what we do to improve instruction in an integrated reading and writing (IRW) developmental or ALP course, students will need on-going support in reading as they encounter challenging texts in disciplines outside of English.  After writing that post, I took some time to read the latest issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College, and I found a relevant and (quite frankly) disturbing article by Annie del Principe and Rachel Ihara, “A Long Look at Reading in the Community College: A Longitudinal Analysis of Student Reading Experiences.”  The authors (English professors at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY) interviewed a cohort of students through their reading experiences across multiple semesters at the college. 


They state the bottom line early in the article:

In brief, we found that by the end of their time in our CC, all of our student subjects had learned the lesson that reading isn’t truly “required” in their classes and that it’s very possible to “get by,” and even succeed, in coursework without doing much, or even any, assigned reading. (183)


The authors recognize that theirs was a small sample and thus conclusions must be drawn carefully; unfortunately, their experience echoes what I have frequently heard from my students.  Students often say they don’t need to read:  in many classes, they are only tested on what is covered in lectures.  When I have tried to make the case that reading ahead of time can help lectures and class activities make more sense (after all, readers build connections and points of knowledge that they can connect to what they hear and do later), students shrug.  They tell me that reading the PowerPoint posted online after class is just as good.


I remember encountering Janet Emig’s “Writing as a Mode of Learning” as a graduate teaching assistant.  It was the first time I had thought about the affordances of writing as a method of learning—not just reporting what had been learned before.  Reading as a mode of learning, however, was a given.  I didn’t need a theoretical account of how deep and extended reading increased vocabulary, content knowledge, critical thinking, or the ability to craft sentences with syntactic complexity and nuance.  Learning by reading seemed self-evident, much as the rationale for integrating reading and writing instruction seems obvious to me.


But perhaps the time for the theoretical rationale has come, as more and more college classrooms appear to be abandoning reading as a mode of learning.  If integrated reading and writing instructors are going to partner with professors across the disciplines to enhance reading practices, we may first need to make the case that reading can and should be an integral part of a student’s learning in the college classroom.  And we must also celebrate and emulate instructors who are helping students read texts (and making the investment in a textbook worthwhile).


One such instructor is my colleague Curtis Morgan, a professor of history.  Morgan could rely solely on lecture (my ESL students have rated him a top guest speaker), but he has chosen to make reading a significant part of the learning in his courses.  Students in his introductory classes write up analyses of documents in their textbook (an exercise which requires reading not only the target document but also related background material in the text).  In addition, they are required to read 500 pages of material that they find on their own, with summaries of 50-page increments to be submitted regularly.  Morgan invites students to “specialize,” using the reading to develop an initial expertise in a particular area of history – thus giving them a stronger base for developing responses in papers and exams (I cannot help but think here of the paradox of the freshman year, where students must be both novices and experts, as detailed by Sommers and Saltz, 2004.  Morgan’s approach helps students navigate that dichotomy).


In more advanced classes (at my institution, these are sophomore level courses), Morgan requires students to present written reports on assigned texts, and he creates what he calls “book clubs” in his classroom to give students a platform for discussion and debate about these readings.  He also assigns a research essay, which of course requires reading. 


Many of my developmental, ESL, and ALP writers tell me that an 8-page reading is “too long,” and that they did not read in their high school courses.  When I can point to examples of courses such as Professor Morgan’s, I can show them that reading is not merely one more in a succession of meaningless hoops required for college success; it is a means to learning (and, in some cases, a rush of pleasure in newfound understanding).   The more I think about it, I would say that conspiring with colleagues across the disciplines to make reading meaningful may be the most important professional development for my work as an integrated reading and writing instructor. 


And now I need to get back to the stack of articles awaiting me.  There’s still so much to learn.


Want to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post? Join the Macmillan Community to get involved (it’s free, quick, and easy)!

I have always considered myself to be a “professional writing” teacher.


I have, however, almost never taught a course called “professional writing.”


I would argue, though, that in any community partnership course, there is a significant amount of writing that replicates the work of the traditional professional writing course. For instance, through community partnerships over the past year, my students have worked with local Syracuse residents as well recent immigrants to Syracuse. They have corresponded with individuals and students in Algeria, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Collectively, they have produced dialogues concerning women’s rights, educational access, and global conflicts.

While doing this work, they have also produced the following documents:

  • Business Letters
  • Executive Summaries
  • Strategic Proposals
  • Budget Proposals
  • Grant Proposals
  • Partnership Agreements
  • Power Point Presentations
  • Book Manuscripts
  • Author Permission Letters
  • Workshops


The list could go on.


The point is that community partnerships necessarily draw students into the genres which are the typical focus of a professional writing course. Yet to some extent, professional writing courses are considered distinct from the field’s focus on community as well as community literacy. Nor have community writing/partnerships courses readily adopted professional writing as an informing and important source for their work.  


My own sense for this seeming divide has to do with the politics associated with each set of classrooms. While community literacy might be critiqued for its noblisse oblige, such courses are often seen as being on a “progressive” side of our field. And while professional writing has deep roots in the non-profit world, I would argue it is too often seen in the service of corporate interests – too often, that is, its emergence in the field is seen as a sign of the corporatization of the university. Each characterization is necessarily a caricature, but one that carries weight in our field. And similar to our current political debate, there seems little space to draw these opposites into a constructive dialogue.


Ultimately, I would argue, this lack of dialogue, this disciplinary divide, hurts how our students understand the possibilities of writing – in all its forms – to inform and enable active public debate focused on real change.


With the hope of enabling conversations that allow greater nuance and alignment across courses, I suggest the following practices:


Archive of Community Writing

While community literacy projects often produce quite a bit of writing, this writing also seems to vanish at the end of the term. With that in mind, departments might consider creating a digital archive of student work. Rather than be organized by project (“after-school literacy program”), the work might be divided by professional writing genre (“strategic proposal”). Such an archive has two immediate benefits. First, teachers are able to see the types of common writing that occur across their specific community projects. Second, professional writing teachers will have examples to their students of how “professional writing” can emerge in community projects. And perhaps more importantly, all teachers will begin to see how their work might both intersect and mutually support each other.


Common Project Among Courses

One common feature of community projects is that they exist within a particular teacher’s classroom. As a result, most community projects fail to take full advantage of the resources within an entire department. It might be useful, then, to consider how one particular project might be integrated across a series of classrooms, such as a professional writing and advanced literacy course. Elements of the project could be divided among the classes, with several group meetings designed to show how seemingly different writing “genres” and “writing theories” when brought together enable a stronger set of work to be produced. If the first suggestion, the archive, was to highlight to teachers the ways their work might intersect, this suggestion is to help students see how the emphases of their coursework intersects.


Forums of Community “Business Writers”

Public events can also be used to work against a perception that professional and community writing are two different enterprises. Invite individuals who do work in community-based issues – such as gentrification, education, and the environment – to share all the ways in which they engage in “public writing.” Here the idea is to show that the work being assigned by teachers has a “real life” purpose that can support students’ civic or communal values. As with the other examples, the goal is to show that what are often seen as oppositional forces within a minor, major, or discipline have common ground that speaks to important public purposes.


Of course, I recognize that in the current political moment, fraught with divisive racist rhetoric and economic disparity, finding common ground between two courses, two elements of a field, might not seem the most important of tasks. Yet if we imagine such work as demonstrating to students how seemingly rigid boundaries can be brought together through nuanced engagement, then, perhaps, they might be able to transfer such work to the civic space, which is clearly in need of such lessons.

The Early Birds by Kristin Klein, on FlickrHappy New Semester! I hope you are all ready for the new school term. Today is the first day of classes for me, so I have been busy getting new resources online and revising those that I want to use again. I am teaching four sections of Technical Writing, all completely online.

Before I return to the series of posts on digital literacy that I started last month, I want to share the one big new thing I’m trying this semester.


Every term, I try to improve everything about my courses. It’s a nice goal, but it’s next to impossible to achieve. With four sections of student to respond to, it’s hard to rethink and rewrite everything at the same time. I certainly want to improve my courses, but I need to be realistic about how I do it. That’s where my idea of one big new thing came from. Starting this semester, I am going to stick to just one change so I can make improvements while still keeping my workload manageable.


My one big thing this semester is to change how groups are set up in an effort to improve participation during the term. A big challenge with writing groups in an online course is time management and scheduling. Since there is no class meeting time, students have no shared time slot when they are all available to collaborate. Here’s what usually happens:


  • Student A shares a draft with the group early on the day the project is assigned.
  • Student B shares a draft late in the evening on the day before the project is due.
  • Student C shares a draft just before lunch on the day the project is due.
  • Student D shares her draft a few hours before the project’s midnight submission deadline.


With no overlap among their schedules, students have difficulty giving and getting feedback. They need to keep checking back in the course CMS to see if anyone has submitted a draft or left them feedback.

I’ve tried different strategies to address the problem. Setting strict deadlines for peer feedback hasn’t worked. Scheduling in extra time to allow for the time management issues hasn’t worked either. No matter what I try, students still work on their own schedules. Worse, students who need extra time, get sick, or have a conflict may not be able to meet the requirements of the stricter schedules or systems.


I also tried creating groups that were based on majors. I grouped all the computer science majors together, all the environmentally-focused majors together, and so on. I hoped their shared interests and overlap in other classes would help collaborate. That idea backfired as students dealt with due dates in other classes. When there was a big project due in the senior-level civil engineering course, the civil engineers group couldn’t collaborate successfully. Everyone in the group was burdened in the same way, so there was no one with a light load to help pick up the slack.


I have been asking everyone for advice as I’ve tried to improve online group work. In a meeting with colleagues last month, we may have come up with a solution, one that seems so obvious in hindsight. Instead of fighting the underlying challenges that complicate online group work, the solution is to take advantage of them, to turn that constraint into an affordance. Specifically, on this first day of classes, students will complete a survey that tells me about their time management and work preferences. It includes questions and multiple choice answers like these:


Which of the following best describes when you like to do work for your classes?

  • I'm an early bird. I am up and working first thing in the morning.
  • I'm a morning person, but I won't be up and working before dawn.
  • I'm a midday person. You'll find me working any time from 10am to 2pm.
  • I'm an afternoon person. I'm likely to work any time from noon to 6pm.
  • I'm an early evening person. You'll find me working from 6pm to 10pm.
  • I'm a late evening person. I do most of my work from 9pm to midnight.
  • I'm a night owl. You'll find me working late into the night and sometimes in the wee hours of the morning.


Which scenario best describes how you work or how you prefer to work on projects?

  • I dive in immediately and prefer to finish as early as I can. I hate being rushed.
  • I usually work exactly to the project's schedule. If the schedule allows a week, I work during the whole week.
  • I like to be close to finished a day or so ahead of the due date.
  • I usually wait until work is due. I like the pressure of a deadline.
  • It’s complicated. The way I work depends upon the other things going on at the time (classes, work, student organizations, etc.).


As you have probably guessed, the idea is to arrange groups so that the early birds are all together in one group while the night owls are in another group. I expect it to be complicated to arrange, but I hope the similar work preferences will allow students to collaborate more easily. Here’s the explanation that I’m sharing with students:


The information you share in this survey will help me set up writing groups, where you will share drafts and give one another feedback. One of the big challenges of writing groups is the different schedules and ways of working we all have.


My plan is to create groups of people with similar working patterns, rather than a random mix. For instance, I will make a group of people who prefer to work in the evening. That way, the group members are more likely to be online at the same time. Likewise, I will try to pay attention to how people work, sorting those who like to finish early into a different group from those who work best at the last minute, under the pressure of a deadline.


Please know that I am not judging your answers in any way. I don't care how you work. I'm a night owl myself. This system will only work if you answer the questions honestly so that I can setup groups that have a better chance of working together smoothly than a random distribution sorted by the computer.


I want to stress that last paragraph to students in particular. This system won’t work if they choose the answers that they THINK a teacher wants to hear instead of giving me honest responses.


That’s my one big new thing for this term. I will report on how it works later in the semester. If you have feedback or suggestions, I would love to hear from you in the comments below—and come back next week for the return of my series on digital literacy assignments. Have a great week, everyone!



Photo credit: The Early Birds by Kristin Klein, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license


There is, I know, a vast amount of privilege that comes from making an imperfect rectangle on the first day of class. The chairs and the tables have to be moveable, not nailed down to the floor. We—the students and I—have to be situated in the same room, face-to-face. It helps that there is natural light streaming through windows that face the sky.


But having taught in windowless classrooms, in damp basements and old-fashioned science labs with sinks and immovable tables, I no longer take for granted any of these seemingly mundane details. Indeed, even our presence together in a face-to-face classroom seems an immense luxury.


The first week of class, the classroom computer and projector did not work, so we created a “slow” classroom dependent on analog technologies, including paper, handwriting, and the dry erase board. I invited students to write letters to me, first on what motivates them in their work, then on their expectations for the course. I answered questions about the course and about myself.


For me, one of the highlight of the week was an icebreaker that invited students to find three things that they shared in common. These three things needed to go beyond the mundane. For instance, the groups could not say that they were all students, all studying at the same university, and all enrolled in this writing class. After several minutes in groups of 2-4 students, the smaller groups were asked to join with another group, and to repeat the exercise, this time finding five common attributes among them.


I participated in this activity in a community diversity discussion group at our local public library. Unlike the library group, which included high school students and retirees, most of my students are the same age and are beginning their second semester on our university’s largest campus. But at the same time, similar to the diversity group, the students are diverse in ethnic, language, racial, and social class backgrounds. The similarities they found ranged from having dogs in their lives, having traveled out of the country, and liking to cook—especially grilled cheese sandwiches.


The icebreaker is an introduction to the idea of synthesis, finding commonalities beneath the surface of obvious differences. We live in a moment when synthesis is not much practiced in our lives outside the classroom. It seems as if we are in the midst of composing an ongoing comparison/contrast essay, focusing on what divides us, what separates us, what makes us deeply different and isolated from each other. In a sense, comparison/contrast is an easy approach because these differences seem obvious, on the surface, readily available.


The similarities are more difficult to find, but perhaps not as uncommon as we have been led to believe. The imperfect rectangle allowed us to slow down to find these connections. In the past in that classroom building, the students sat in rows, all pointed toward the teacher, the computer, and the screen as the centers of attention. Many students sat in the back row, and saw only the backs of their classmates as well. The imperfect rectangle shifted that center. Like Socratic dialogue in high school, a student remarked.  


The winter desert sunlight played on the tabletops. A new semester had begun.


Key words: #first day activity #icebreaker #first-year writing #synthesis #community


For 30-some years I’ve worked as a line editor of newspaper, magazine, and journal articles and professional reports. Much of what I edit is also reviewed by a professional fact checker, or else I check it as I go along. So, I get to see what’s incorrect in final drafts as well as what’s ungrammatical or infelicitous. The authors of virtually everything I work on have bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and often even Ph.D.’s, yet everyone goofs up in their writing sometimes. Allow me to share some common kinds of goofs. When I see them, it lowers my opinion of the writer. Hopefully we can motivate students by reminding them that these goofs reflect poorly on them in the eyes of prospective employers and other readers.


  • Professional fact checkers, in particular, know that writers are not always careful with factual details—that’s why checkers have jobs. Working alongside them, I’ve occasionally found startling differences between the manuscript the writer turned in and the galleys once the checkers have done their work. The memorable “oldest human settlement in North America,” for example, might become a ho-hum “long-inhabited place.” Often, a writer’s most compelling assertions are what need to be toned down. It is much easier to overstate one’s case than to present a nuanced truth that will lead readers to a similar conclusion. But if the truth is nuanced, so must be the writing about it.


  • Carelessness is also endemic in footnotes and endnotes, by the way. I’ve hardly ever fact-checked a piece with notes in which they all were accurate and consistently formatted. Notes in journal articles and reports that have multiple authors tend to be especially haphazard. Collaborators should agree in advance about what format to use, or assign one person at the editing stage to make the formats consistent, or both.


  • Inexperienced writers are prone to overcapitalizing. For instance, according to a graduate student’s self-description, he had worked at “a Startup that uses Artificial Intelligence.” The temptation to overcapitalize is especially strong with phrases that are often turned into acronyms—as “artificial intelligence” is with “AI.” But unless the thing is an official entity or officially designated kind of entity, there’s no reason to cap it. The NIH is the National Institutes of Health, a federal agency; a PCMH is a patient-centered medical home. The former phrase is a proper noun, while the latter is just jargon, or a so-called term of art. The reasons not to cap such things are that doing so ascribes undue importance, and in aggregate it can look forbidding and start to make English look like German.


  • My texting app is pretty good at distinguishing between “it’s” and “its”—but I can say that with confidence only because I know the difference. The more texts one writes, the more likely it becomes that one will have trouble deciding which form is correct in other writing. The English language didn’t make it any easier on us when it mandated that “the book’s cover” should have an apostrophe but “its cover” should not. All I can say is that good writers have been able to reliably distinguish between “its” and “it’s” for centuries. Its (just kidding!) not complicated.


  • Young professionals sometimes are unclear on when to hyphenate. They may hyphenate after “-ly” adverbs—as in “a strongly-voiced objection” and “a fully-fledged alternative—even though the rule against doing that would seem to be straightforward. Those phrases don’t misread without hyphens, so the hyphens serve no purpose. Young people also tend to multiply hyphens in phrases, writing things like “return-on-investment” and “an arrival on-time.” “On-time arrival” uses a hyphen so that “on-time” will be read as a unit. The need for that hyphen tempts people to write “arrival on-time”—and from there, I guess, “return-on-investment” isn’t much of a stretch. However, hyphens are much less often needed in modifiers that come after what they modify than in modifiers that come before. A “well-thought-out” argument is “well thought out.” Dictionaries, unfortunately, don’t reinforce this point. Merriam-Webster online says that “well-thought-out” is an adjective, defines it, and leaves it at that. Type “well thought out” into its search bar, and the site will hyphenate it for you and take you to that entry. As is usually the case, technological tools cannot take the place of good classroom instruction. If you don’t teach your students the difference, they may never find it out.


Some of these shortcomings have to do with fine points of writing, which won’t make or break, say, a résumé or a professional report the way sloppy thinking or shoddy research will. All the same, the problems I’ve described can for the most part be solved quickly, simply, and definitively. Getting things like these wrong signals a lack of mastery loud and clear—so it can’t hurt to teach your students to get them right.


Do you have questions about language or grammar, or are there topics you would like me to address? If so, please email me at


Barbara Wallraff is a professional writer and editor. She spent 25 years at the Atlantic Monthly, where she was the language columnist and an editor. The author of three books on language and style—the national bestseller Word Court, Your Own Words, and Word Fugitives—Wallraff has lectured at the Columbia School of Journalism, the Council of Science Editors, Microsoft, the International Education of Students organization, and the Radcliffe Publishing Program. Her writing about English usage has appeared in national publications including the American Scholar, the Wilson Quarterly, the Harvard Business Review blog, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times Magazine. She is coauthor of In Conversation: A Writer's Guidebook, which will be published in December 2017.


Credit:  Pixaby Image 1870721 by 3844328, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

As another semester begins, I offer praise for a "less is more" approach in the classroom. In particular, teaching fewer readings than you might usually assign, and teaching them slowly, can allow students to practice close reading and “close writing" in transformational ways. Think of it as "slow reading” and "slow writing” — which, let's face it, is how practiced readers and writers actually work.


I offer poet and essayist Claudia Rankine’s work as exemplary texts for this approach. Andrea Lunsford has blogged about Rankine’s edge-of-the-seat keynote at the 11th biennial meeting of the Feminisms and Rhetorics conference. Lunsford followed up with a post on teaching Rankine’s book-length poem, Citizen: An American Lyric (2014). Both entries reminded me why my co-author, Stuart Greene, and I include Rankine in the 4th edition of our book, From Inquiry to Academic Writing. We chose Rankine’s essay, “The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning,” as a text to slow-read on the topic of race in the U.S.


In this densely woven but accessibly brief essay, Rankine threads back and forth in history to provide a context for her incisive claim: “Though the white liberal imagination likes to feel temporarily bad about black suffering, there really is no mode of empathy that can replicate the daily strain of knowing that as a black person you can be killed for simply being black” (458). Rankine’s essay title comes from a friend, the mother of a black son, who captures this brutal truth: “The condition of black life is one of mourning” (458). Rankine stitches this observation to an almost identical lament in 1955, from Mamie Till Mobley, who insisted the mutilated body of her son, Emmett Till, be placed in public view: “Let people see what I see …. I believe that the whole United States is mourning with me” (460). As Rankine argues, “[Mamie Till Mobley’s] desire to make mourning enter our day-to-day world was a new kind of logic” (460). Imagine inviting students to read those sentences aloud, and to explore what it means to call this violence "a new kind of logic."


Perhaps because she is also a poet, the rhythm and economy of Rankine’s sentences beg us to slow down and ponder the word choices. What could happen if you give your students the space and time in class to consider (on paper, in pairs, in small groups, or in a large group) the implications for the following claim: “We live in a country where Americans assimilate corpses into their daily comings and goings. Dead blacks are a part of normal life here” (459)? What insights might emerge as your students connect these words shimmering with feeling — with other reading in your course about the media, identity, education, or any number of topics we often teach in composition classes? Imagine returning to Rankine’s rich text as a touchstone, throughout your semester, to see what emerges in the context of other texts — a practice that can become a transformational tactic for lifelong readers.


Rankine’s poetic prose implores us to slow down. These thick and weighty words remind us how wrong-headed the advice is that novice close-readers often receive: “Read between the lines.” No. Instead, we should urge students: Read the lines. Read the words themselves, slowly. Read them aloud. Read them in the context of another writer's ideas, and then again in the context of yet another writer. Read them, certainly, in the context of their own lives, too. See how close reading  slow reading — invites a proliferation of interpretations. That challenge, and that pleasure, is the heart of our courses, and that takes time. Give yourself and your students that gift.

Jack Solomon

War Everlasting

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Jan 18, 2018


In "The Myth of Superman," the late Umberto Eco's pioneering essay on the semiotics of superheroes, a useful distinction is drawn between the heroes of myth and those of the traditional novel. What Eco points out is the way that mythic heroes are never "used up" by their experiences in the way that novelistic heroes are. The narrator, say, of Great Expectations is a different man at the end of his story than he was at the beginning (this, of course is Dickens' point), and if a sequel were to be written, the Pip of that novel would have to show the effects of time and experience that we see in the original tale. Superman, on the other hand (and the mythic heroes like Hercules that he resembles) is the same person from adventure to adventure, not taking up where he left off but simply reappearing in new story lines that can be multiplied indefinitely.


As I contemplate the appearance of yet another installment in the endless Star Wars franchise (along with the equally endless stream of superhero sagas that dominate the American cinematic box office), however, I can detect a certain difference that calls for a readjustment of Eco's still-useful distinction. And since differences are the key to semiotic understanding, this one is worth investigating.


All we have to do to see this difference is to consider the casting of Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Of course, part of the reason for this was simply marketing: nostalgia is a highly effective ticket seller. But when we associate this movie with other action-adventure films whose heroes can be seen to be aging in ways that they have not done so before (the Batman and James Bond franchises are especially salient in this regard), another, much more profound significance emerges. This is the fact that while the characters in today's most popular designed-to-be-sequelized movies are coming to resemble the characters of conventional novels (as Eco describes them), the situations they find themselves in remain more or less the same. Quite simply, they are forever at war.


To see the significance of this, consider the plot trajectory of the traditional war story. Such stories, even if it takes a while for them to come to a conclusion, do eventually end. From the Homeric tradition that gives us the ten years of the Trojan War (with another ten years tacked on for Odysseus to get home) to The Lord of the Rings, the great wars of the story-telling tradition have a teleology: a beginning, a middle, and an end, as Aristotle would put it. But when we look at the Star Wars saga (especially now that Lucas has sold the franchise to Disney), or the Justice League tales, or (for that matter) The Walking Dead, we can find provisional, but never final, victories. Someone (or something) somewhere, will be forever threatening the world of the hero, and the end is never in sight. It is violent conflict itself that is never "used up."


There are a number of ways of interpreting this phenomenon. One must begin with the commercial motivation behind it: killing off the war would be tantamount to killing the golden geese of fan demand, and no one holding onto a valuable movie franchise is going to want to do that.


But while this explanation is certainly a cogent one, it raises another question: namely, why are movie fans satisfied with tales of never-ending war? In the past, it was the promise of a final victory that would carry audiences through the awful violence that served as the means to the happy ending that would redeem all the suffering that preceded it. The popularity of today's never-ending war stories indicates that the mass audience no longer requires that. The violence appears to be self-justifying.


Perhaps this receptiveness to tales of never-ending war simply reflects a sophisticated recognition on the part of current audiences that wars, in reality, never really do end. World War I—the "war to end all wars"—led to World War II, which led to the Korean War, and then to Vietnam. And America has been effectively at war in Afghanistan since 2001, with no end in sight. And, of course, the "war on terror" is as open-ended as any Justice League enterprise. So maybe Hollywood's visions of endless wars are simply responding to a certain historical reality.


I would find it difficult to argue against such an interpretation. But somehow I don't think that it goes deep enough. I say this because, after all, the purpose of popular entertainment is to be entertaining, and entertainment—especially when it comes to the genres of fantasy and action-adventure story telling—often serves as a distraction from the dismal realities of everyday life. And so, just as during the Great Depression movie-goers flocked to glamorous and romantic films that were far removed from the poverty and deprivation of that difficult era, one might expect war movies today that offered visions of final victory—a fantasy end to war in an era of endless conflict.


So the successful box office formula of endless war suggests to me that audiences are entertained, not repelled, by sagas of wars without end. Interchangeable visions of heroes (I use the word in a gender neutral sense) running across desert landscapes and down starship corridors with explosions bursting behind them, simply promise more such scenes in the next installment as violence is packaged as excitement for its own sake: war as video game.


Which may help explain why we tolerate (and basically ignore) such endless wars as that which we are still fighting in Afghanistan.


Credit: Pixaby Image 2214290 by tunechick83, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License


On January 15, I attended a celebration of the life and work of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., as I try to do every year. Held in our community center, the event draws a full house of people from the Mendonoma coastal communities, from little ones to oldsters like me, all who want to remember King and to be inspired, again, by his words and deeds.


Local supermarkets and bakeries donate food and drink (including a very large birthday cake) to sample as we listen to local musicians, singers, poets, and speakers. This year I was particularly struck by a poet who read a piece called “Strapless Dresses.” In it, she tells about being a clerk in a department store in the South in the days of segregation and struggles against it. In vivid and terse language, she paints a picture of two African Americans who come in to the store, much to the disapproval and disregard of most of the staff. The poet steps up, though, encouraging them to look at dresses and to try them on. This they refused to do, but they did indeed buy one of the dresses, which the poet saw as an act of true courage, one she still remembers well over fifty years later.


During a brief break, I walked around the room, looking at photos of King and some of his closest associates and reading passages from his speeches, the words ringing in my ears from memory. But I didn’t need to depend on memory for very long, since one of the presenters, Peggy Berryhill, founder of the Native Media Resource Center and General Manager of our local public radio station (KGUA), spoke about her own connection to King and his legacy, as well as her work in support of indigenous people and languages, racial harmony, and cross-cultural understanding. More to the point, she introduced us to drummer, singer, activist, and artist Sheila E. and her August 2017 song/video “Funky National Anthem: Message 2 America,” which was filmed in San Francisco’s Mission District and directed by her brother.


According to Gail Mitchell in Billboard, Sheila E. was granted the right to use King’s likeness and his words in the video, along with those of other past leaders. In Sheila E’s words,

We are living within a web of deceit and lies, but the essence of America still remains… It’s time to take a stand for the freedom we speak of, for all Americans and the world. A time to embrace those ideas and words that have come from great voices of guidance to us in other turbulent times. Voices of our past, which can still lead us to a better future.


Then we watched the video, most of us rising to our feet as the momentum built, as we were carried along by words and images that took us back fifty years to King’s time—and pulled us forward to work that must be done today. It was one of those moments of group solidarity that people experience in communities all the time, but what struck me so powerfully was the thoroughly multimodal nature of the experience: the video with images and music and voices; the room we were in with posters, quotations, flyers, challenges ranging around the walls; and our own voices joining in with those in the video.


So, two points to make here: first, if you haven’t seen "Funky National Anthem," do so right now! But second, think of this performance and think again of why our students want to create such multimodal projects; why they not only want but demand to develop and produce them: because they reach audiences in ways that go so far beyond what a traditional print text can do. Perhaps most important, such multimodal productions can feature real people’s spoken voices, in all their richness and diversity, along with images that remain in viewers’ minds and memories for a very long time, and that can bring events from fifty years ago alive again to instruct, challenge, and inspire us.


Credit: Pixabay Image 516061 by jensjunge, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

David F. Green Jr. is an assistant professor of English at Howard University. He is the director of First-Year Writing, and his research interests include African american and hip hop rhetoric, as well as critical language awareness and composition pedagogy. 



In 2014 I taught an introduction to a rhetorical theory class at my respective university. It was a course that hadn’t been taught in so long that many of my colleagues assumed it was a special topics course I had created for the students. I was not surprised given the relative silence around rhetoric at many HBCUs in previous years. But the class was special to me for a variety of other reasons. The students were energetic for the most part, and willing to work with difficult texts. I was finally able to teach engage students in conversations about Hip Hop and rhetoric, and African American rhetoric in ways that privileged their own vernacular voices. One particular moment that stays with me from the class was a request for a recommendation letter from a student. He was a young, vibrant, black male student from New York City, not far from my home in Newark, New Jersey. Most requests for recommendation letters are for graduate or law programs, this one was instead for a judge, and I was asked to speak to the character of a student. The details of the student’s incident are not necessary to share beyond the fact that he had rolled with the wrong crew and had succumbed to bad decision making as many of us have from time to time.


The student had been a welcomed voice in my class that semester, one among a mixed group of inquisitive students grappling with a variety of rhetorical concepts and texts. He’d come into his own making sense of Kermit Campbell’s Gettin' Our Groove On and was able to apply much of Campbell’s discussion of vernacular voice, rap as rhetoric, and gangsta ethos to John Wideman’s Brothers and Keepers and produce a pretty good final paper exploring the ways a gangsta ethos is constructed to define individuals rather than describe particular positions taken by orators. Given his participation in the course and our talks in the office, I felt obliged to write the letter. He was given probation and allowed to return to school in the fall.


I mention this sequence for two reasons. First, the student request coincided with the 2014 HBCUs and Composition conference at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (North Carolina A&T University) in which a group of composition specialists at HBCUs met to discuss our pedagogy, our students, and our goals over a two-day period (see A Spark Ignited: What’s Going On with Composition and the HBCU). And second, the student’s request reminded me of a short essay by Keith Gilyard entitled, “The Social Responsibility that Is Writing—and Writing Instruction Too.” In the essay, Gilyard makes a convincing argument about the need to recognize one’s writing and literacies as relevant to the social stances one might take and the political values revealed through one’s acts of composing. Of import to me is Gilyard’s observation that without careful examination of the what, how, and whom one teaches, literacy becomes an equally powerful tool in reinforcing inequality rather than ameliorating it (23). Now I’m not making the case that my reference letter for my student enacted a type of social justice, rather I am suggesting that the choices we make as instructors have material effects on the broader social world, as well as the imaginative possibilities we consider for students.


The social responsibility that is writing instruction has been an indelible theme of composition and rhetoric at most HBCUs. Jelani Cobb’s recent editorial on Howard University, “Under Trump, a Hard Test for Howard University: A Historically Black Institution Confronts a New Era of Politics,” highlights this theme of social responsibility that continues to shape the legacies and relevance of HBCUs. Part of what came out of the 2014 HBCUs and Composition conference at the prestigious North Carolina A&T University has been an overt concern with how one educates learners of color in spaces designed for them. I think such a move contributes to broader efforts within academe to place anti-racist scholarship and teaching, and culturally sustaining work at the center of critical pedagogy and rhetorical studies. The press, from my perspective, has been the need to meet rising questions by youth and public culture about issues around race, state violence, and community. In the case of the 2018 HBCUs and Composition conference, the desire has been to provide more workshops, roundtables, and panel presentations that acknowledge the complex identities and critical intellectual work done at these institutions and build on them.


While much of the conversation about HBCUs has been about the lack of resources and the heavy teaching loads, enduring realities that remain rising hurdles for scholars in these spaces, it is important to recognize the research that continues to occur in these spaces as well. I am thinking about the important research on Hip Hop that Shawanda Stewart is doing at Huston-Tillotson, or the interesting research into writing studios that Karen Keaton-Jackson is completing at North Carolina Central University. This work takes on added value within HBCU spaces because of the way such work attends to the nuances of a predominantly Black and minority audience and their reception of these strategies. Such work begs for further scrutiny and asks us to consider:  Who is the learner of color in the 21st century and in what ways are we working to understand rather than flatten differences that exist among these learners? How do particular cultural traditions and techniques influence these learners and their views on the fiduciary and social responsibilities they must take up? These are the questions that animate me at the moment, and questions that remain at the center of our recent push to build on the important conference at North Carolina A&T University.  Professional responsibility demands that we expand the ways we think and discuss writing and rhetoric at the modern HBCU. For, it’s never merely about where you’re from but where you are at.


Campbell, Kermit. Gettin' Our Groove On: Rhetoric, Language, and Literacy for a Hip Hop Generation. Wayne State UP, 2005.

Gilyard, Keith. Let’s Flip the Script: An African American Discourse on Language, Literature, and Learning. Wayne State UP, 1996.

Wideman, John. Brothers and Keepers. Houghton Mifflin, 1984.  

Newspapers, black and white

As a new year and a new term begin, it’s time to look at the basic terminology of argumentation and how it relates to today’s headlines. A claim is a statement that your argument supports—the thesis statement of your argumentative essay. A claim of fact drawn from the headlines may or may not need to be supported. The statement that a bomb cyclone hit the Eastern coast of the United States on January 4, 2018, does not need to be proven. It is simply a fact verifiable by a number of different sources, although you might need to define the key term “bomb cyclone.” A claim worded as though it is a fact may need proof if it is open to interpretation or can be verified only at some point in the future: Flood damage along the East Coast from the high tides of January 4, 2018, will run into the millions.


A claim of value goes beyond fact to make a statement of relative worth. Because estimation of worth is subjective, a claim of value may be relatively more difficult to defend. Claims of value most often deal with aesthetics or morality. The thesis of a movie or book review, for example, is a claim of value: Star Wars: The Last Jedi was a disappointment to some long-term fans. Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour is Oscar worthy. Other judgmental statements are also claims of value: Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury is an unbiased report of what those inside the White House think of President Trump. Fire and Fury is a self-serving and unsupported attack on the Trump presidency.


A claim of policy is future oriented. It states what should or should not be done. It is the most difficult thesis to support because it requires proving that a problem exists and that a proposed solution is a feasible and desirable solution to the problem. President Trump should be impeached for obstruction of justice. Robert Mueller should be fired as special counsel to the investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 US presidential election.


When you seek support for your argumentative claim, you will most often be looking for a blend of factual support, which appeals to an audience’s reason, and appeal to needs and values, which appeals to the audience’s emotions. The more controversial the issue at hand, the harder to overcome a reader or hearer’s emotional investment in the matter. Over the last two years, we have realized as never before the extent to which the “news” has become biased. News networks that are on the air twenty-four hours a day no longer even try to clarify the line between reporting the news and commenting on it. Add to that the fact that the “news” on our Facebook feed during the campaign was being influenced by Russia, and we have to be more cautious than ever about what sources we trust for reliable information.


We also must be aware of what assumptions underlie our arguments. We cannot construct an effective argument if we cannot understand our own biases and the biases of those with whom we disagree. Abortion is such a very difficult issue to discuss because those who believe a child is a human being from conception may be trying to talk or write to those who do not define a fetus in the same way. Those who voted for Trump primarily because of his ability to influence Supreme Court decisions for decades, including those regarding abortion, were willing to dismiss what others saw as disqualifying flaws in their candidate. The basic question that can help a writer or speaker get to the heart of underlying assumptions is, what do I have to believe in order to accept that claim? What do I assume about the electoral process or same-sex marriage or the legalization of marijuana that shapes my argument? What does my opponent believe?


Claim, support, assumption—these are the elements that shape all arguments and that will be our means of approaching the issues that appear daily in the local, national, and international news.


Image Source: "Newspapers B&W (4)" by Jon S on Flickr 8/11/11 via Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Bedford Bits and Grammar Girl are no strangers to each other. In fact, check out all of these posts that incorporate Grammar Girl into their teaching tips:


Now Bedford/St. Martin's and Grammar Girl have teamed up even more. Grammar Girl podcasts are now available in LaunchPads and Writer's Help 2.0 for new English titles. Students can access these podcasts on grammar, usage, and style on the go as an accessory to learning in their writing courses. Click on the links below to see walk-throughs of the media offerings for the following titles, which all include the Grammar Girl podcasts.


  • The specified item was not found. 
  • The specified item was not found. 
  • The specified item was not found. 
  • The specified item was not found. 
  • The specified item was not found. 
  • The specified item was not found. 
  • The specified item was not found. 
  • The specified item was not found. 
  • The specified item was not found. 
  • The specified item was not found. 
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In addition to podcasts, the Grammar Girl blog makes a great accessory to the podcasts and textbook. Assign the content to your students when it supports an assignment, or have them analyze the website design or rhetorical strategy Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl) uses in these posts to educate writers. 


The following blog post on writing a case study could work well if you're taking a writing in the disciplines or writing across the curriculum approach, if students will be writing papers for the social sciences. Or, perhaps you're teaching illustration or exemplification. Or primary research. Maybe all of the above.


How to Write a Case Study in 5 Steps

Five simple steps designed to take you from your pre-writing preparation all the way through to submitting your case study

By Varsity Tutors, as read by Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl 

Writing a case study for a college course can be a challenge. Although there are different types of case studies, you can count on two things to remain the same—they require analytical thinking skills and a great deal of research.

When composing a case study, you’ll likely be asked to explain a problem or situation and to then illustrate a potential or implemented solution. You should generally include these basic elements:

  • An explanation of the problem or situation being analyzed.
  • A description of the solution (or proposed solution) and its implementation.
  • A summary of the results and an analysis of the effectiveness of the solution.


The five steps that appear below are designed to take you from your pre-writing preparation all the way through to submitting your case study.


How Do You Write a Case Study?

  1. Conduct Research
  2. Begin By Summarizing the Situation and Why It Is Important
  3. Detail the Solution That Was Implemented
  4. Analyze the Results of the Solution
  5. Cite Any Source Material

1. Conduct Research

A case study is analytical in nature and can require plenty of research. This means that a large portion of the work is done before you start writing your study. Your case study should tell the story of your case from beginning to end, so you will need a thorough understanding of the different factors at play.


Say you plan to write about a city that was successful in reducing excess waste, specifically through recycling. Your first step will be to gather relevant information about the situation. For example, you may investigate the following topics:

  • What are the laws or policies related to this scenario, and when were they put in place? Have they affected the situation positively or negatively?
  • What are the important data points in both current and historical terms?
  • What have city officials and other influential figures said about the situation?


Depending on how in-depth your assignment is, you might rely on articles, other case studies, or even interviews with people. Gathering as much information as you can will help you analyze why the solution worked or did not work.


2. Begin Your Case Study By Summarizing the Situation and Why It Is Important

What are the conflicts or risks in the given scenario? Ensure you clearly lay out the basic facts of the problem or situation being addressed so the reader will understand why the solution was needed. This is where the statistics you gathered will help supplement your explanation, and you can describe the context of the situation either historically or in comparison to other similar situations.


3. Detail the Solution That Was Implemented

Describe changes in strategy or the laws of the city or state that aimed to reduce the problem. Include context for when and how the changes occurred: what was the process, and who were the main players?


Also make sure to include information on the time or cost involved in implementing the solution. And, if there were complicating factors, don’t leave those out. Explaining how unexpected complications were handled can also be important.


4. Analyze the Results of the Solution

Did it have the intended effect on the situation? If the solution could be a model for similar cases, explain the wider usefulness of understanding its impact. If the results were mixed or created results different from what was expected, what were the factors affecting that outcome? How could a more effective solution be found?


5. Cite Any Source Material

In a reference list at the end of your case study, it is vital to cite any source material you used in your writing. This includes articles, books, other case studies referenced, or any people you may have interviewed to gather information. Keep track throughout the research and writing process of all resources used—you will thank yourself later.


Lora Wegman is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.


SOURCE: The original post for Grammar Girl can be found at Quick and Dirty Tips: How to Write a Case Study in 5 Easy Steps 


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The following post first appeared as a talk at the 2018 MLA Annual Convention.


In 1983, Lisa Ede and I asked what we thought at the time was a simple question: Why write together? In a series of articles, and later in a nation-wide study of writers in seven professional organizations, we aimed to demonstrate that people write together because–well, because that’s the way writing works. The more we thought about it and the more we observed writers, the more we realized that writing is social and collaborative, through and through.


But not so fast! What Lisa and I intuited, and later demonstrated through research, was not accepted by our peers or our institutions, including MLA, who held to the notion of what we called “radical individualism” and of authorship as decidedly singular.


Fast forward thirty-five years. Aided by the technological revolution, which both revealed and enabled extensive collaboration, and by decades of research by scholars in rhetoric and writing studies (along with some important feminist literary scholars), the social/collaborative nature of writing is firmly established, in theory if not yet in practice (think of the MA thesis and doctoral dissertation requirements for “original scholarship” that is, of course, done individually to see how the singular author paradigm holds on, and on).


It seems important to think about collaboration not as a stable or fixed entity but as a series of at least three continua: of degree, attitude, and control or agency. In terms of degree, forms of collaboration stretch from the “single author” who collaborates with a web of sources and voices to the kind of whole-group collaboration increasingly enabled by technology (think a crowd-sourced piece on Wikipedia, e.g.). In terms of attitude, think of the range between the loving, mutually composed wedding vow to the tough-as-nails agreement worked out through warlike negotiations. And in terms of control or agency, think of the range between writers who have control over not only content but forms of publication to the almost total lack of control characteristic of much online writing.


So the collaborative nature of writing today is highly complex and fraught, much more so than Lisa and I could have imagined 35 years ago. Thus the need for ongoing research into how, when, where, and why writers collaborate to create meaning. Perhaps more important is the need for a robust ethics of collaboration. So to the three continua mentioned above, I would add a fourth—responsibility. Bakhtin alerts us to the multiple meanings of this term: literally the ability to respond (who gets to respond and who doesn’t), the recognition that response inevitably invokes audiences both known and unknown, and the need to take responsibility for what is written or spoken. This continuum runs from the text painstakingly crafted and held to the highest standards of evidence and truth-telling to the thoughtless retweets of unverified rumor, misinformation, or lies. Indeed, the deeply collaborative nature of writing in a digital age calls into question earlier distinctions between “singular” or collaborative writers and between writers and audiences (when consumers of information can suddenly become producers, for example, it makes it increasingly difficult to tell the writer from the audience, the dancer from the dance).


Such shifting and expanding understandings of writing, of collaboration, and of the way writers today interact with, address, invoke, become, and create audiences raise serious new questions about the ethics of various communicative acts. They also call for pedagogies that involve students in critically examining their own role(s) as effective AND ethical communicators who understand the complexity of such acts as well as their personal and collective responsibility for them.


Credit: Pixabay Image 593341 by StartupStockPhotos, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

This past October, I travelled to Boulder, Colorado for the Conference on Community Writing (CCW). The tone at the conference was celebratory, seeming to announce that community writing/partnership practices had “arrived” as an important element in Composition and Rhetoric programs. Indeed, during the conference, there were numerous panels where speakers discussed how they had transformed their upper division writing courses into sites of community inquiry and investigation.


I wondered, however, what about the community writing/partnership work being done in First-Year writing? Does “community” only belong in the upper division? Placed within a special niche separate from our historical role in supporting marginalized/non-traditional students?


I would argue just the opposite.


I have always believed that “community” should be a central focus in any required freshman writing course. One of the central elements of a community writing course is an investigation of how ‘academic’ and ‘everyday’ knowledges both rely upon argumentation, sources, and persuasion. Community writing focused courses enable students to understand the affordances (and limitations) of each individually, and ask them to find ways the two can be brought together for greater insight and effect.


Moreover, in such a classroom, students come to understand academic knowledge itself as a community literacy. That is, academic writing is the name of a particular community literacy, with a history, a set of practices, and participants. By putting academic and everyday communities into dialogue within a classroom, students learn, hopefully, the power of such communities when joined together. And in the process, students come to understand the potential value of their home community’s literacies in their own college education.


Yet too often, students are immediately asked to imagine themselves as “in the academy,” either entering with a deficit and needing ‘skills’ or being asked to take on the role of a historian or other discipline-specific identity. In both situations, their home literacies and knowledges are too often framed as unimportant for the educational journey that lies ahead. And in such scenarios, it is too often the literacies of marginalized students, from differing heritages and legal statuses, that are ushered out of the classroom. Too often, that is, the dismissal of community leads to a re-instantiation of standards which benefit white, middle-class students.


If we want to remain true to the legacy of open access education, of advocating for all literacies and languages, then I would argue that freshman writing is one of the most important places in which to invest in a community literacy/partnership framework. And I would further argue that such an investment does not necessarily mean the creation of actual community partnerships – work which while important is not always possible given the often burdensome-workload placed on first year teachers.


As one way to begin such work in our classrooms, I might suggest the following:


  • Assign students a short essay where they discuss the intellectuals in their own communities. Ask them to not just describe the individuals, but to describe these individuals’ sense of how the world works – what justice means to them, why there is injustice, how their community attempts to foster equality. Consider how these essays might provide some key terms from which to understand subsequent academic readings.
  • After reading a scholarly essay, ask the students to identify the key research questions addressed. Break them into small groups focused on answering how those questions would change if located in their home communities. Ask them to revise the research questions accordingly. Use these questions to enable students to see how “community-based research” might provide a way to value academic-based research.
  • Before writing an academic response to an assigned scholarly essay, ask students to imagine themselves as someone from their community who they consider to be an “intellectual.” Have them write a short essay about how this person might respond to both the writing and content of the essay. Use these essays to discuss any limitations in the academic essay, particularly in how it imagines its reader as well as the “community” to which it is speaking. What might a writing that brings these two community insights together look like?


Clearly these examples are not exhaustive. (See Writing Communities for other such assignments). And without too much effort, a community partnership could be embedded within each assignment. For instance, a meeting might occur in a neighborhood-location where community intellectuals engage with students on a topic previously studied through an academic essay.


The most important point is that through investigating the relationship between community and academic practices, students are simultaneously thinking about how knowledge is produced in each community, how “facts” are deployed to convince their specific audiences, and why certain ways of speaking are being used. In short, students are learning about the nature of research communities and what it means to join in their work. Which is, to my thinking, one of the primary goals of freshman writing.


It is time, therefore, to see community literacy/partnership as existing within (and supporting) the historical legacy and current ambitions of freshman writing courses. Such an integration of insights and efforts would truly be a cause for celebration.

Today's guest blogger is Jeanne Bohannon, 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


At the start of each semester, I am nervous. I don’t sleep well the night before classes start, and I try to be early on the first day. If I feel this way, I am certain students do as well. It must be something about fear of the unknown, or maybe just the need to make a good first impression. Either way, I know that we both need an ice-breaker to get our first day conversations off to a positive start.  In today’s Multimodal Mondays post, I describe an activity I use to start productive conversations about writing on the first day of class; I am also interested to hear yours! Check out the listicle below for activity instructions, outcomes, and ideas on how to engage with students in a class community from first-year composition to upper division writing courses.


Measurable Learning Outcomes

After completing this activity, students will be able to:

  1. Describe how their own writing informs their professional interests
  2. Engage with classmates and instructors in discussions of writing genres
  3. Compare their writing styles to classmates and their instructor


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. 1, “Expectations for College Writing” and Part 6, “Effective Language”
  • The Everyday Writer: Ch. 3, “Rhetorical Situations” and Part 4, “Academic, Professional, and Public Writing”
  • EasyWriter: Ch. 1, “A Writer’s Choices” and Part 2, “Writing that Works”


The Post-It Note Ice-breaker

Multimodal often makes us think of all things digital. For this activity, we need to think low-tech and kinesthetic learning. Think of this as a sense of presence and community while gearing up for modeling class discussions for the semester from Day 1.  


Here’s what you need:

  1. Post-it or sticky notes of different colors and sizes
  2. Pens, pencils, or markers
  3. Tape, just in case the notes don’t stick
  4. Signs printed or written with categories (see below)


Hands-on multimodal activities makes us present in the moment of the classroom.


Here’s what you do:

  1. Type or write categories of analysis and place them on three walls in the classroom
  2. Frame the activity: Let’s get to know each other and the types of writing we like to produce. On each wall, you’ll see a type (or genre) of writing: personal (like diaries and journals); public (like blogs and listicles); and creative (like poetry and stories). Take three sticky notes and write down your name and what you like to write that fits into one or more of these categories. Then, place your notes in the corresponding category on the wall. I’ll join you and post mine too. Ok…go!
  3. Allow 6-10 minutes for students to write and post their notes on the walls.
  4. Gather the large group back together and ask for volunteers to name their writing. If you have a group of shy students, you can start with your own notes!
  5. Visually check which categories have the most or least notes and talk about why. A trending topic my classes have found interesting over several semesters has been discussing the intersections between personal and public writing, especially when we think about social media and how today’s writers interact on public writing platforms.




I have found that this first-day activity helps to introduce students to me and to each other. We also can see where our classmates place themselves in terms of writing genres. Students have also reported that this activity helps them situate themselves in the writing class and makes them feel less self-conscious about interacting with me. We might call it self-disclosure meets composition J


Stay tuned for Part Two of a post-it note activity – the Fishbowl.


Do you have an idea for a Multimodal Mondays activity or post? Contact Leah Rang for a chance to be featured on Andrea's blog.



In the era of Trump double- (and triple-) speak, it may seem that words are cheap, that the whole notion of truth has been called into question. In such a time, it’s more important than ever that teachers of writing work hard to show that words matter and that they have power—often very great power—for good or for evil. The barrage of Russian bots that spread misinformation and outright lies during and after the 2016 election is a good case in point of how words can work very effectively—for ill.


I often like to open the second term with a meditation on words, going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans and their views on how words can be actions, can do things, and can make things happen. And that brings us, often, to the word of the year. For 2017, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg chooses “tribe,” “tribal,” and “tribalism” as his word(s) of the year:

There's virtually no phenomenon in public life that someone hasn't tried to discredit as tribal. A writer in National Review blames left tribalism for creating the myth of "rape culture"; Sen. Jeff Flake says it's political tribalism for Republicans to support Roy Moore. Business consultants argue that it's the tribalism of corporate white males that keeps women and minorities out of the executive suite, but Andrew Sullivan sees feminist tribalism behind Google's efforts to hire more women engineers. The Guardian's John Abraham writes that the Republicans' tribalism has led them to deny human-caused climate change. But according to The Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins, it's the tribalism of progressives that leads them to refuse to debate the question.

Nunberg goes on to say that this series of back-and-forth accusations is “maddening,” and a symbol of the deep fragmentations of our society which refuse to recognize the other side’s validity: “That's what it means to say that America has become tribal in the first place, and one sign of that is that we can't agree on how to use the word.”

It’s also a sign that the word “tribal” is exerting serious power in our world, no matter who uses it. dubs “complicit” its word of the year due to the huge number of lookups of the word between March and October 2017. Many looked it up because they wanted to understand what it meant when SNL featured a spoof on so-called Complicit perfume or when Ivanka Trump insisted that she didn’t “know what it meant to be complicit.”


Merriam Webster chose “feminism,” saying that this word was its top lookup of 2017 and citing the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration and the debate over whether it was a “feminist” march or not. They also cited the huge influence of the #MeToo movement and the critical and cultural success of the television version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and the movie version of Wonder Woman starring Gal Gadot.


Finally, the Oxford English Dictionary went back to a term coined by Vogue editor Diana Vreeland in 1965: youthquake, which they define as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from actions or influences of young people.” Citing the youth-driven elections in New Zealand and the UK along with the #MeToo movement as evidence of youthquakes, Oxford also considered “antifa,” “broflake,” “newsjacking,” “Maybot,” and “Bitcoin.”


The American Dialect Society has yet to release its word of the year, and there are no doubt many others out there for the finding. All of these words and their definitions—and conflict over those definitions—make for excellent discussion in the classroom in preparation for students to determine their own words of the year. I often ask students to come up with their own personal word of the year and write a brief definition of the word along with evidence that supports their choice. Inevitably, some students choose the same word while others bring in outliers, words no one else thought of as “word of the year” material. We can then move to an analysis of what makes a word worthy of this notation, drawing up criteria and debating them rigorously. Eventually, we try for consensus: our class’s word of the year. A couple of times we have had such enthusiastic discussions that the class decided to write an editorial for the student newspaper putting forward their word of the year for the campus to consider. That’s one more way to demonstrate to students that their words matter!


What is your word of the year? Leave a comment below!


Credit: Pixaby Image 1615793 by Wokandapix, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

Today's guest blogger is Meghan Kelsey, who is completing the MFA program in poetry at Arizona State University. An experienced teacher and zine artist, she has just finished her first semester of teaching in ASU’s Stretch First-Year Writing Program.

 On beginning my first semester teaching Basic Writing, I created my syllabus by choosing a handful of essays from my textbook and created projects centered on text response and argumentative writing. It was flat and I could feel its depersonalizing effects during the first week of school; I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to really connect with my students because it felt too structured, not even close to approaching learning in a more viable, alive, and humanistic way.


When I got to know my students better, I learned quite a few of them were enrolled in the School of Business with a focus in Sustainability. They began making connections from some of the assigned readings like Gandhi’s On Moral and Economic Progress to conversations about how their own lives fit into the political and economic equation, and how sustainability was factored in. For most of my students, this was their first semester at the university, living in a dorm away from home; we also explored the social and cultural implications of this lifestyle during discussions.


Organically, my projects began to take shape and were re-written into the syllabus. The new accompanying readings were strange and different on purpose, taking after a Surrealist tradition I now know as Ostranenie, or defamiliarization. I gave them poems ranging from contemporary American to Italian Futurist, we looked at photo essays written by young adults from the suburbs of LA, and I made them participate in Autopilot, an activity in which writers deconstruct an automatic movement or thought of their day and become an active participant in changing that routine. My idea was that if I wanted students to arrest their current thought patterns and learned formulaic ways of writing, they needed to be exposed to unique and non-traditional texts and writing activities.


With this idea in mind, for the first writing project of the semester, I invited students to explore space using only primary research (see project description below). This was at first challenging for the students, as they seemed to be more comfortable using outside research to say something about the world instead of drawing on their own experiences. My hope for this project was that once students began seriously deconstructing the physical spaces they embodied in the university, they would become more adept at breaking open the vastly creative interior spaces that perhaps had been stifled or ignored. The French writer Robert Escarpit once said, “Place is an object under the assault of your imagination and little by little, it changes its form, without entirely dissolving, and reveals unknown dimensions.”


As a poet, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of space: cosmological space and its influence on our small world, architectural space and how it dictates our lives, the blank space in poems between words that represent caesuras of the unknown, the possibilities of what could exist on the page, ideograms, languages and their infinite combinations and connections.


Project One: Investigation of Space

What constitutes the memory of a place? Who decides what places hold specific meanings and uses? Often we drift through spaces unconscious of their meaning, purpose, and history. Your goal for this project is to help your audience see a public place differently from how they might otherwise through primary research only (evidence you gather on your own, rather than evidence gathered through books, research articles, or online sources.)  This analysis will offer the reader a cultural observation of a public space in or around ASU that will raise questions of social relevance. For this project, you will write a four page, double-spaced essay examining, by observation, your space. Your goal will be to develop effective primary research methods in order to study and closely examine your chosen space, take careful notes based on your own observations and analysis, and ultimately defend your personal interpretation of this space and its implicit or explicit arguments and values. You might ask:


  • What activities does this space encourage or discourage?
  • Who uses this space—why this group of people, and not another group?
  • What features of this space strike me; how do they make me feel?
  • Why is this space arranged or constructed in this way? What planning might have gone into this arrangement?
  • What are the historical influences of this place/area and how does that affect people today?


The students’ response was enlightening. They seemed to have liked writing from their own experience. They discovered something about themselves, their peers, or the university—both positive and negative. The project gave them the space to explore their own feelings and opinions about their daily lives which often can fall by the wayside with such a large educational institution serving as their backdrop.