Skip navigation
All Places > The English Community > Bedford Bits > Blog > 2018 > August
Donna Winchell

Politicizing Death

Posted by Donna Winchell Expert Aug 31, 2018

The recent disappearance of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts attracted national media attention. That in itself reflects the politicizing of crime coverage. Would the disappearance of a young woman of a different color in different circumstances have received the same attention? Since Tibbetts’s body has been recovered and a Mexican immigrant has been charged with her murder, her death has been even more politicized. Republicans have tried to get political mileage out of the fact that she was allegedly killed by an illegal immigrant who had presented falsified documents to his employer. His fear that his deception might come to light when Tibbetts threatened to call the police may have been a factor in his decision to kill her, but her death too easily becomes just one more example used to prove the stereotype that all illegal immigrants are rapists and murderers. Tibbetts’s father has declared that his daughter is no one’s victim. In fact, at her funeral he thanked the many people in the Latino community for their help in searching for her. He doesn’t want his daughter, in death, to become a pawn used to legislate for President Trump’s border wall and more restrictive immigration policies.


It is not surprising that even more recently John McCain’s death has been politicized in ways unheard of when other prominent politicians have died in office after years of service. McCain was respected by many—even many who did not agree with many of his positions over his years in the Senate—because of his military service and the five and a half years he spent as a prisoner of war. President Trump, however, so disliked Senator McCain that he ignored numerous calls to make any statement at all about McCain’s death beyond one brief tweet. He was more or less forced to finally make a more formal statement and to extend the time that the flag was flown at half mast to honor McCain’s death. Trump had to be forced to get past the memory of McCain giving a thumbs down to the President’s healthcare bill. He had made his disdain for McCain clear long before that when he refused to label McCain a hero because, in his view, a hero was one who didn’t get caught. The respect given McCain by both Republicans and Democrats in spite of this disdain led to the decision to allow his body to lie in state in the rotunda of the nation’s capital. Senator McCain himself was not above using his funeral to make a political statement. How often in our history has a prominent politician left behind the request that the President of the United States not attend his funeral or that a Russian dissident serve as a pallbearer?


Kelli Ward in McCain’s home state of Arizona may have best proved that the politicizing of death can be carried too far. On a bus tour shortly before McCain’s death, Ward wondered on Facebook if the McCain family had timed the announcement that he was discontinuing treatment for his brain cancer to hurt her campaign. The voters let their feelings be known when Ward went down to defeat in Tuesday’s primary.



Image Source: “Half Mast” by Matt DiGirolamo on Flickr 5/26/08 via Creative Commons 2.0 license.


Now that summer is winding down, I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve spent these too-short weeks, the hyphen between student terms when I always hope to refresh myself and my ways of being in the world. How am I spending my time – and do I approve of what I find?


This summer, I did have a glorious two weeks when I turned off all devices and headed to Bergen, Norway, to cruise the spectacular coast of Norway and then sail down to the Lofoten, Shetland, and Orkney Islands before landing in Greenwich. For those weeks, I read mysteries, walked the decks, rode the exercise bike, hiked through tiny villages, marveled at fjords, listened to classical music and jazz—and studied the sun, moon, and stars. The long, long Norwegian twilights brought sensory delights and calm, an inward turning that felt restorative. But it took a while to get there. In fact, on the fourth day of this voyage I thought I was “coming down with something” until I realized: I was relaxed! Four days to slow down, give my racing brain a break, and ease into a space of peace and reflection.


I was ready to come home, to resume the usual pace of my life, to plunge into 12-hour days of writing and reading and work. But oh, the glories of those two weeks: they are with me still. Thus my first hope for every teacher of writing is that summertime brought you some respite, some relaxation, some deeply felt pleasures—no matter how brief.


As summer begins to lean toward fall, however, I enjoy what to me is the best time of the year: the beginning of a new school term with the new class of frosh (the class of ’22 this year!). So my second hope for every teacher of writing is that this fall will find you, refreshed and renewed, ready to plunge into the work we all share and love. In the last ten or twelve days, I’ve been visiting with teachers of writing across the country as they prepare for fall term—at Texas Tech, Loyola, University of South Carolina, Northern Illinois University (just for a start); I even got to experience the excitement of the new students, which was electric and contagious.


In all cases, I found teachers working together to craft outstanding syllabi and challenging assignments, to select and analyze readings, to consider assessment methods, to mount pedagogical experiments of several kinds, and to develop activities that engage students in challenging and productive work, and that guide them in the processes of inquiry and discovery and in the pursuit of writing about the most galvanizing issues of our time responsibly, ethically, and respectfully. Teachers everywhere are also focusing on thinking critically and rhetorically, on teaching students to be their own best fact checkers who are able to assess the information that bombards them daily and to learn to give their attention to those sources that are truly worthy of it.


At every school I visited, I argued that we and our students stand at a very significant crossroads this fall, one that demands our very best efforts to sort out truth from lies, information from disinformation, and mere hype from credible statements. In my view, our students need our guidance and wisdom perhaps more than ever before. As we need theirs.


Here’s hoping for a rewarding year of teaching writing, reading, and presenting!



Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford

Today's guest blogger is Audrey Wick, a full-time professor of English at Blinn College in Texas. There, she is a writing teacher who writes. Readers can connect with Audrey to learn more about her projects at or on Twitter and Instagram @WickWrites.


The start of the semester is an exhilarating—if not exhausting—time for college instructors. We juggle course prep, schedule changes, new policy implementation, technology updates, committee work, and much more before students ever appear in our classrooms on day one.

One unique challenge is adapting to a new course textbook when required. For new faculty as well as seasoned faculty, change can be stressful. Still, instructors are masters of adaptation. When it comes to Humanities instructors in particular, we’re at the forefront in many ways. After all, we routinely deal with style manual revisions, digital library updates, and technology changes. Like chameleons, we are adept at changing when our surroundings do.

New textbook implementation tests a Humanities instructor’s critical and speculative skills. It’s not always easy to overhaul instruction and curriculum once a new textbook is adopted, but it’s an empowering and important process to be in control of what we will teach students. Textbooks support teaching, so easing into a major change and keeping in mind the following tips can help ensure a smoother, more effective process of course building that is, ultimately, as exciting for the students as it is for us.  

1) Spend some quality time with the book. Explore it inquisitively, from the table of contents to the index. Consider the chapters. Weigh the importance given to certain sections. Consult ancillary material. Know what’s truly in the book before proceeding to plan a semester around it.

2) Lessen the amount of preparation by not starting from scratch. Whether it’s a former syllabus, an example provided by the publisher, or a template through a higher ed institution, using an existing model will minimize the challenging task of building something entirely from the ground up.

3) Think big picture; add details later. Consider course and program outcomes. Then, identify goals and choose readings/assignments based on what aligns to them. This will help streamline the process of week to week navigation for students.

4) Incorporate personal preference. It’s true: instructors are individuals, each with unique talents, expertise, and interests. So regardless of the text, focus on a few choice topics that are particularly exciting. Peppering those throughout the syllabus will help ensure that individual passion for the subject is sustained—because when instructors are passionate, their students are likely to be too!

5) Avoid trappings of stress. True, deadlines and minimum requirements must be met, though there may be ways to leave a little wiggle room in day-to-day or week-to-week handling of exact assignments, homework, and deadlines. In a first semester teaching with a new text, don’t be too hard on yourself to get everything perfectly aligned from day one. 

Change takes time, and just like it takes time for students to adapt to their learning materials, the same is true of instructors. Still, new opportunities are exciting. This year, my department has adopted a new handbook for use with our freshman writers, A Writer's Reference, 9th edition, by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers. While I don’t yet have all the answers for how to make the most of the text with my student population, the book is helping me find fresh ways to teach the concepts I love.

If you’re reading this, I’ll bet you get a kick out of new school supplies. Those of us who teach tend to enjoy the tools of the trade. Sharing our enthusiasm for those tools – even throw-back ones like writing journals – is another way to share our enthusiasm for learning. This semester, I invested in cheerful, inexpensive blank books to add fun to pedagogical self-reflection for my first-year students.


I have written before on the value of students writing cover letters for their essay submissions. That accessible, high-impact self-reflective practice gives students a chance to examine their writing processes and assess their ongoing challenges and strengths. Students continually tell me these self-reflections offer long-term insights as they continue to grow as thinkers, researchers, and writers. So, I’m incorporating this strategy more broadly this semester. 


I invested in slim, colorful blank books for students to use as journals (see the photo), and invited them to choose a color they like and to doodle a cover design if they wish. (They have taken ownership with aplomb!) I’ve incorporated in-class writing reflections throughout the semester, carving out consistent 5-10-minute journal times for students to reflect on their learning, or simply to ask questions they might not ask aloud in class. This consistent practice also fosters confidence in students’ own fluency, by requiring that they “just keep writing” during our journaling time. (We consider this the academic parallel to Dory’s reminder in Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming!”) As most writers know, getting over the fear of the blank page is more than half the battle of drafting. 


Here are a few journal prompts I’ve designed that are open-ended, but also give students a chance to practice skills they’ll use in more formal writing:


  • Reflecting on critical reading for college courses: Write for 10 minutes in your journal, reflecting on how you take notes on your reading to prepare for class discussions. What seems to work best for you, and why? What new approaches have you tried since starting college? What might you do differently, for better results? What questions/worries do you have? Make at least one specific connection -- and quote the text! -- to the class reading from Mindset, "A New Look at Learning."


  • On starting to gather sources for an essay: Write for 10 minutes in your journal on the sources you have gathered so far for your next essay. What key ideas and authors are most helpful to you at this stage, and why? What gaps do you see in your research? What do you need help with?


My co-author, Stuart Greene, and I have filled From Inquiry to Academic Writing with process-focused small assignments that help students reflect on every stage of the reading, research, drafting, and revision processes. Those exercises are ready for your students to use, or might inspire you to design your own.


However you invite your students to reflect, your response as a more expert writer is important. This need not be time-consuming. Simply affirming that writing is hard work, celebrating breakthroughs, and answering questions students are often too shy to ask in class can go a long way toward helping students feel part of this new academic community. As we all work to retain our students, this extra mode of communication helps us understand them better and teach more effectively, and gets students into the habit of self-reflection that is crucial for lifelong learning and growth.


Can you accomplish this without fun school supplies? Well, sure. But if my students’ throwback thrill upon choosing and decorating their writing journals is any indication, a little bling can add a dose of joy as your semester begins.


Please share in the comments the exercises you use to inspire student self-reflection. (Throwback school supplies are optional!)



Photo Credit: April Lidinsky


Jessica Pauszek is an Assistant Professor of English and the Director of Writing at Texas A&M University - Commerce. She is a co-editor of Parlor Press' Best of Independent Journals in Rhetoric and Composition series and Working and Writing for Change. She is also the Director of New City Community Press. Her work explores community literacy practices in connection to labor and class identity, using archival and interview methods. 


Vincent Portillo is a University Fellow and a PhD candidate at Syracuse University in Composition and Cultural Rhetoric. His research interests include standardized English, ableism, and labor. He is completing his dissertation, which is an archival project on the history of the Ford English School (1914-1919) at Ford Motors. Vincent is the Consulting Editor and Project Profile Editor for Community Literacy Journal.


Note from Steve Parks: Over these next months, I hope to expand the voices who speak about their community partnership/social justice work. To that end, I have invited Vincent Portillo and Jessica Pauszek to talk about their work with the FED to preserve the publications of Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers. In this short essay, they build on themes of writing communities, engaged partnerships, and course/program design to discuss a community literacy-archival project showing what can be gained through community collaboration and preservation.

In doing so, they remind us of the importance of community-led projects, the insights students can gain, and the role of archives in preserving the powerful voices of working-class writers.


Preserving Working-Class Voices in the Archive and in the Classroom

In a moment filled with tensions surrounding race, class, gender, and nationalist politics, we argue for the importance of representing/preserving inclusive histories of working-class writing communities, both for students and for the working-class writers themselves.


The FWWCP Archival Project began with the goal of preserving writing produced by the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers, an organization founded in London in 1976. Once told their working-class writing had “no solid literary merit,” founding FWWCP member Roger Mills noted, “We wrote despite people sneering at us, and we created a community.” This community became the “FED,” a network of local, working-class, writing/publishing groups. Throughout its 40+ year tenure, the network expanded to over 100 writing groups across four continents. At the core, the FED was committed to producing social change for disenfranchised working-class writers. Through the FED, members fostered a collective vision of working-class expertise, literacy, and agency. They navigated issues of immigration, language differences, changing economies, social unrest, and identity politics; they challenged a white/male working-class base, pushing the FED to redefine working-class as an intersectional community representing immigrant, women, LGBTQ, and ethnic, and non-English writers.   


The FWWCP Collection - Collaboration in the Archive

With the help of students and other sponsors, community members have developed an archive of FED publications. Today, the FWWCP Collection is housed in the Trades Union Congress Library (TUC) at London Metropolitan University. The Collection has been brought together through the collective energy of FWWCP/FED members, interdisciplinary scholars, filmmakers, artists, librarians, archivists, undergraduate, and graduate students. (Read more on students’ work here and here.) Throughout, community members and project partners have been gathering publications from under beds, basements, garages; finding a site to house the publications; sorting, indexing, and boxing publications; and finally, this summer, developing reading guides for use with the Collection.


The preservation work is incredibly valuable to members of the FWWCP/FED community. Member George Fuller describes the Collection as a form of “cultural protection.” Aligning with the TUC Library enables the FED to be seen as “not just as a hobby, but . . . as a strong source of power.” Roger Mills describes the need to carry out this cultural protection as a collaborative effort: “[The FED] needed some sort of energy, someone from the outside to say come on, get it together, pull this stuff together physically....Although everyone in the federation valued it was lying unrecorded.” Through collaboration, FED writing is now preserved for community groups and university courses to explore intersectional understandings of working-class identity, community-led education, vernacular literacies, and more.


Students and the FWWCP Archive - Learning in Community

Collaborative preservation informs our approach and the design of our writing courses. Since 2015, Syracuse University Study Abroad has hosted a Civic Writing course connected to the FWWCP/FED. The course uses FED texts to engage students in a conversation about the goals of “civic” life. We read social and political history of England, theories about literacy, civic engagement, and social change, which helped us consider the impact of FED groups. Further, we attended FED writing workshops with some foundational groups in the greater London area, including Newham, Stevenage, and the East End.


Student Ana Gonzalez described her connection to FED writing and social justice: “[Many FED texts] shared the theme of dealing with and overcoming oppression in day to day life. Most authors that I read were Black and their feelings of isolation and self-doubt in a society that is predominantly White made their words relatable for me.” Other students echoed a felt need for preservation of FED writing. After reading LGBTQ members’ accounts, Michelle Tiburcio wrote, "Preserving works like these can help other people – maybe future students – feel represented and not alone.” The work was also valuable to our archivists and librarian students. For example, Andria Olson describes literacy as a human experience. She noted, “[Literacy] is not bound by the walls of an institution but rather by a lifetime of experience in resourcefulness, determination, and overcoming adversity.” The Collection showcases how marginalized communities can, and certainly have, developed rhetorical spaces to give voice to their struggles, working toward a more inclusive and just vision of writing in community. Further, this community literacy project pushes students to consider how we might value vernacular literacies, knowledges, and “ordinary” lived experience. As we see from student testimony, community literacy belongs in the classroom.


The FWWCP Collection contains numerous English and multilingual publications that explore class, food, gender, mental health, race, sexuality, war, work. You can learn more by visiting the TUC Library. The FWWCP/FED is also on Instagram (fwwcp_collection) and has a Digital Collection.

Some readers of this blog may have attended one of the Young Rhetoricians’ Conferences sometime since 1984, when Gabielle Rico and Hans Guth founded the conference on writing and rhetoric for two-year and four-year college teachers. When I first attended the conference in the ‘80s it was held at San Jose State, where both Gabby and Hans taught, but in 1994 the conference moved to Monterey Peninsula College and met—often literally—on the beach in Monterey Bay. This year’s event was held, in fact, at a beach-front hotel and convened by President Kelly Harrison.

YRC has always been a small, intimate conference, with plenty of time to sit around a fireplace or walk along the beach sharing information and wisdom with colleagues, and this one certainly lived up to that reputation. I spent a fascinating two hours in one small group, where members spoke frankly about the challenges they face every day, of dwindling resources, of growing class sizes, of massive dependency on part-time faculty, of administrators who seem to do nothing but focus on some ever receding bottom line. In spite of these difficulties, every person in this circle was deeply committed to teaching, and every person spoke passionately about the students they were so very glad to be teaching. I soaked up the warmth of this conversation and came away filled with admiration for the teachers there.

I heard inspiring talks from the inimitable Sheridan Blau, from Cheryl Hogue Smith, Kimberly Russell, and Kim Flachmann; from Amanda Reyes, Sravani Banerjee, and Huma Saleem; and I clapped long and hard when long-time YRC leader Sterling Brown was given a special award for his decades of leadership in the organization. I was reminded, once again, of how fortunate I am to have been a part of this community of scholars and teachers for most of my career.

During the conference, I had the chance to deliver the plenary address, and I had been looking forward to it for months, not only because I was getting to speak about what’s most on my mind these days, but also because I was going to receive the group’s award for 2018. Now deep into my 70s, I was absolutely delighted that I was going to get what I thought would be The Young Rhetorician of the Year Award. But no. No matter how much I would have liked that label, the award I received was, more appropriately, just the plain old Rhetorician of the Year Award. Hope springs eternal, I suppose. . . Here I am (above) at the conference with the award. I am very grateful to everyone who made this possible!

I’ll write more about the address I gave, so stay tuned.

This post is the third in a series on Memorable Reading. For the first post and second posts, see Memorable Reading, Part 1: Fiction, Poetry, and Drama and Memorable Reading, Part 2: History, Philosophy, and Psychology


It is August, and the minds of many of us are turning back to school and the need for creating new syllabi, retooling old ones, or learning how to teach the ones that we are required to use. As I began the process of course preparation, I thought back to the many texts in my education that stuck with me. Especially significant were texts I discovered in times of transition, between high school and college, post-college employment and my MA, the MA and the PhD. I remember the readings that kept me motivated through difficult moments, and the texts that opened my mind to new possibilities.


I wanted to know what still inspired other educators in and out of school, so I posted my question to my Facebook timeline and to several Facebook groups engaged with writing studies. The responses are listed in two separate blog posts. The first post covers fiction, poetry, and drama and the second post concentrates on philosophy, pedagogy, and non-fiction. Some responders listed more than one text across genre lines. In this case, I have grouped their responses with the first genre mentioned.


The purpose of these lists is to reflect on texts that has inspired the responders over time, rather than to fashion a new canonical mandate. For me, these inspirations, read in aggregate, are powerful reminders of how much good writing matters, and how, for many of us, good writing, carefully read, can help to shape the course of life and vocational choices.


My hope is that the lists offer memories of our own inspirations and, in doing so, allow us to make wise choices as we prepare our courses for the coming term.


Hive mind: What is one reading from your education that you still remember? That transformed you, perhaps? That sticks with you, even though it's been years? NOT something that you taught, but something that impacted you deeply as a student -- in or out of school?

WHY do you still remember it? What impression did it make on you? Why was it relevant to the rest of your life?

I'm considering compiling these readings in a blog post, so let me know if I can use your name, or if you would rather be anonymous.

Thanks in advance for all responses !


Brett M Griffiths In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens and 1955 by Alice Walker. Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes, everything. I discovered them in the library on vacation around 3rd grade, bottom shelf, halfway back, poetry section at the Leland public library. Spent days each summer reading and memorizing and considering.


Bri DiBacco So many. But I keep going back to Lad Tobin's Writing Relationships. It continues to remind me that a sense of community is vital to good writing.


Caitlin Howell For grad school it was definitely The Rhetorical Stance by Wayne Booth. Something about how seemingly simple it was really struck me, and I do make it a point to cover the issues from that text in my teaching (and I teach it when I teach critical thinking courses). This article combined with various post-process theory research forms a large portion of my pedagogy.


Cara Minardi-Power Mike Rose's Lives on the Boundary because it helped my understand some students' struggles as well as my own.


Charlene Cambridge Paolo Friere's Pedagogy of the Oppressed did everything it said that literacy should do. It confirmed everything I instinctively knew about the way I was educated. It allowed me to have compassion for myself and my teachers.


Christian Sisack Mike Rose's Lives on the Boundary, which I read early in my graduate career. This incredible book gave voice to my views on the relationships between class and education and the lives that could be changed despite/because of that. As importantly, the book (and all of Rose's work) was and remains for me a model of absolutely beautiful and precise and human(e) prose.


Deborah SanchezI Won’t Learn from You” by Herb Kohl! His own experience of subconsciously not learning Yiddish in order to be in solidarity with his mother sticks with me.


Debra Berry Peter Elbow—every student has something to say and the ability to say it.


Jim Lee Errors and Expectations by Mina Shaughnessy taught me that there is no normal in teaching beginning writing. I must meet the students on their level and work with them toward proficiency.


Lee Einhorn Herbert Kohl's essay "I Won't Learn From You"—the reflections of a K-12 teacher coming to terms with the resistance he finds from his students and learning how to meet them at a place of empathy, mutual understanding, and progress; turned me into a teacher and a better human being before I knew what either meant.


Paul T. Corrigan Parker Palmer's To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey. It was recommended by a teacher during college. It really spoke to me at a time when I was deciding to be a teacher myself. I had a sense that I would spend my life trying to live out the vision of that book. I am rereading it now, more than a decade later, and it's interesting to see how the book feels now that I'm in a very different place.


Sandra Kolankiewicz “Just Walk on By”...Brent Staples. When I am in hostile environments or places where others might feel intimidated by me, such as the first day of class in a dev ed classroom, I whistle too.

[This post was originally published on August 30, 2012.]


I’ve been following a conversation on the WPA list that you may have seen too:  a colleague had written in to ask for advice on queries she was getting from fellow faculty members about how to evaluate blogs.  She got many fine responses to her query, but the one that struck me as most valuable was posted by Jerry Nelms, from the Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Ohio State.  Here’s what he had to say:

. . . to a faculty member asking me about assigning blogs:  What are the goals and learning objectives of your course and how does a blog either help students achieve those goals and learning objectives or assess students’ progress toward achieving those goals and learning objectives?  Are we talking about blogs that set forth arguments?  Blogs that are exploratory or reflective?  What are the learning objectives of the blog assignment—that is, what should the student blogger be able to do in her blog?


Blogs can be one way of getting students engaged in what I want them to learn, but just arbitrarily assigning blogs without thinking about what I want students to learn from writing the blog can be a disaster, if for no other reason than that the students may have conceptualized “blogs” in ways that are different from the way I have conceptualized them.  In other words, I don’t see a big difference here in terms of the best practices in assigning writing between a blog and a report or an essay. So, I’d try to get the faculty member to see that


  1. The writing should be contextualized in ways that reveal how the writing will be relevant to future writing contexts.
  2. The writing should have a purpose and an appropriate audience.
  3. The writing should reveal an appropriate ethos.
  4. The assignment should clearly lay out any organizational or stylistic conventions that the writer needs to adhere to.
  5. The assignment also needs to clearly communicate any processes that the writer should adhere to (e.g., number of drafts, getting feedback, what to do with feedback, and so on).


These “norms” seem to me to be a decent framework for creating a rubric for any academic writing, and so, if the faculty member wants to use a rubric for this assignment, I think that, together, we could make a good start at one in just a one-hour consultation.  But if the faculty member is looking for some “universal” blog rubric, I’m afraid I would disappoint her in my insistence that rubrics need to be specific to a particular assignment.


Nelms makes a number of important points here, beginning with his reminder to us that students often do not conceptualize assignments in the same way we do, or even define words in the same way we do.  In the 1980s, Linda Flower’s research revealed that students often have a discourse pattern that has been successful for them and, if so, they tend to apply it in almost any situation.  The one I remember from Flower’s research was the “gist and list” strategy for approaching an assignment:  a number of students in her study fell back on this strategy time and time again, even when it was not at all appropriate for the assignment.  Thus our first goal in giving assignments in our own classes, or helping fellow faculty members with theirs, is to get major terms out on the table for discussion—even one as ubiquitous as “blog.”


I also agree with Nelms when he recommends returning to fundamental rhetorical categories when assessing any piece of discourse.  Attention to purpose, audience, ethos, and kairos will always help to clarify assignments—or to carry them out.  In addition, he is spot on when he suggests that assessment rubrics should always grow out of the discussion of goals, purposes, and so on.  The rubric should always reflect the assignment, not the other way around.


In my own classes where I’ve used blogs or wikis, we have needed to be very explicit about WHY we were using these forms of communication and to work together to understand what would represent excellence in their execution.  It’s been a huge learning curve for me since I first began working with new media writing in my classes—huge in the sense that I had to learn how to do such writing myself and that I had to think long and hard with my students about how such writing would be evaluated.  I could never use the same rubric for, say, a written academic argument, an oral performance, or a Website—unless the rubric were so general as to be pretty unhelpful.


So—if you’ve been thinking about this question of evaluating blogs or other forms of new media writing, please chime in with your best thinking!

[This post was originally published on September 25, 2012.]


Your average student has developed a significant collection of digital work. There are Facebook updates, Twitter posts, YouTube videos, and Flickr and Instagram photos. I’ve been thinking about how to use this collection of artifacts since Antero Garcia reminded me that there is a “huge stream of student data to look for growth in.”


[Photo: text message by sffoghorn, on Flickr]


What are positive ways to use all that data? I’m not interesting in mining that data for indications of what strategies do or do not work. Instead, I’d like students to find their growth and changes in that stream of data themselves. Happily, I’ve found inspiration for an assignment that I think will do just that. I simply need to ask students to look for the stories in their data stream.


Oddly, this idea came to me when I read a story in the Georgia Southernalumni magazine. I’m not an alumnus of Georgia Southern, so I almost threw the paper into the recycling unopened. It only ended up in my mailbox because I have donated to the Graduate Research Network (GRN). Curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to skim it in case the GRN was mentioned inside.


Instead, I found a story about Jessica Hines, a photography teacher at Georgia Southern. Hines searched through her own data stream to learn more about her brother Gary, a Vietnam War veteran who took his life. The story from the alumni magazine isn’t online, but you can read more about Hines in My Brother’s War: Professor Acclaimed for Images of War Experience.


Two things caught my imagination from the piece. First, my eye tripped on the title, “Hines teaches students to tell story of themselves through photography.” The grammarian in me either wanted to add the word the, change story to stories, or perhaps both. Still the idea of telling stories with photographs drew me in, since I’ve been searching for multimodal assignments recently.


My interest piqued, I read on and found my second inspiration. Hines talked about her teaching as an introduction to her own search to learn more about her brother:


“I explain to my students that the camera is a device that, by pressing a button, shows them what they are interested in,” explains Hines. “The potential for self-discovery is high if one pays attention.”


What would happen, I wondered, if I sent students off to look through their data stream for their stories with the intention of learning more about themselves and their interests in the process? I knew I had found a positive way to use that “huge stream of student data.”


The assignment I have in mind asks students to look back through their data stream for recurring themes or topics and to compose a text about how their ideas have changed over time. I want them to consider questions like these:


  • Has your interest in the topic or theme deepened over time?
  • Have you slowly lost interest?
  • Have you learned increasingly more over time?
  • What has influenced how you feel about the topic?
  • What have you noticed as you look back at how you’ve documented the topic or theme over time?
  • What stories have you found?
  • What discoveries have you made about yourself?


For now, I’m leaving the medium for the text open. The piece could be a traditional text, but the assignment also lends itself to video, photography, and multimedia compositions. I’ll also leave the places students search for these stories open, rather than limiting the activity to just photographs, for instance.


Finally, I am hoping that I can avoid the Creepy Treehouse effect, since students choose the stories that they tell. They will pull their stories together in an independent piece that won’t require me or the class to visit their private postings. Students will curate the collections only with data they feel comfortable sharing.


In addition to reflecting on their own stream of data, I hope this assignment will also help students learn more about finding and analyzing how images or themes develop in a body of work. The assignment reminds me of the skills that I use when I trace how a poet uses a specific motif through a series of poems or how a novelist develops an image over the course of a novel.


What do you think of asking students to explore their own data stream? Do you have ways to tap the stream of student data? Do you have an assignment to share? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment below!

As a development editor at Bedford/St. Martin’s, I recognize the importance of keeping connected to the first-year writing classroom – to new pedagogy and practice, to instructors, and to students. Our English editorial team learns a great deal from working with our distinguished authors, communicating with instructors during textbook reviews, and attending professional conferences such as CCCC, MLA, NADE, and more. But one of my favorite events is the Bedford New Scholars Advisory Board, and the 2018 program and participants do not disappoint.


First, a bit of context: The Bedford New Scholars Advisory Board is an ongoing venture begun by the Bedford/St. Martin’s English editorial team in 2008; it was formerly known as the Bedford/St. Martin's TA Advisory Board. Each year we contact program directors from ten leading graduate programs and invite them to nominate one of their outstanding graduate students to serve on an advisory board for the calendar year. By bringing together a motivated group of graduate students from across the country, we hope to hear more about the teaching challenges they face and the research in the field that excites them. They also give us feedback on the direction of our new projects. In the process, Bedford New Scholars participants have the opportunity to connect with other graduate students from across the country and to learn a bit about how publishing works.


Without further ado, I present the Bedford New Scholars advisory board for 2018:

  • Andrew Hollinger, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (nominated by Randall Monty)
  • Daniel Libertz, University of Pittsburgh (nominated by Jean Ferguson Carr)
  • Dara Liling, University of Maryland-College Park (nominated by Jessica Enoch)
  • Rachel McCabe, Indiana University Bloomington (nominated by Dana Anderson)
  • Emily Pucker, University of Alabama (nominated by Luke Niiler)
  • Skye Roberson, University of Memphis (nominated by Katie Fredlund)
  • Cecilia Shelton, East Carolina University (nominated by Michelle Eble)
  • Matt Switliski, University of New Hampshire (nominated by Christina Ortmeier-Hooper)
  • Lizbett Tinoco, Texas A&M University-San Antonio (recently of University of Texas at El Paso) (nominated by Kate Mangelsdorf)
  • Kristin vanEyk, University of Michigan (nominated by Anne Ruggles Gere)


Though tenure in the program is a full year, the most anticipated event is when all participants – advisory board members and English editors – gather together for the annual summit. This year’s meeting took place in Boston on June 20-22, 2018, in and around the Bedford/St. Martin’s office. We spent time getting to know each other over good food, conversation, and city tours in between introducing and getting feedback on the projects we are all working on.


On the Bedford/St. Martin’s side, we shared some of our exciting first edition projects, in various stages of development, to receive feedback from this advisory board of rising composition teachers, scholars, and administrators. These projects included the soon-to-publish Becoming a College Writer: A Multimedia Text by Todd Taylor, as well as some other new book and media projects in the works.


Bedford New Scholars board members also led the group by presenting their Assignments that Work, successful or innovative activities or assignments they have used in the classroom. As always, this was one of our most lively sessions, providing excellent questions and insights into pedagogy and practice. (Never fear! We hope to make many of these assignments available to you on the English Community very soon.)


Here are my Four Key Takeaways from this summer’s Bedford New Scholars summit:

  1. Assignments in the first-year classroom grow ever more varied and multimodal; we saw assignments that produced true crime podcasts, soundtrack playlists, and other new media such as infographics, videos, and websites. But through their assignments, instructors are also finding new ways to teach the core writing concepts of individual voice, synthesis, revision, and the rhetorical importance of the sentence.
  2. Recognizing, honoring, and teaching to students’ multiple languages is a growing focus in the classroom, one that requires a rethinking of how we teach writing assignments and present instruction.
  3. As part of professional development efforts for grad students, an Ideal TA Training Kit might include more attention to the general principles of teaching as a graduate student: more go-to classroom activity and assignment ideas (especially for a variety of courses like hybrid and online), books on teaching and juggling teaching with graduate student expectations, WPA-specific training workshops and webinars, and sample syllabi.
  4. These 2018 Bedford New Scholars are incredibly smart, driven, and passionate about their work and their students. Be on the lookout for them!


We at Bedford/St. Martin’s are excited to know and connect with these advisory board participants, who represent the future of the field. Speaking for myself, I certainly look forward to seeing each of them – not to mention past advisory board members! – at conferences and on scholarly (and textbook!) covers in the future.


Coming soon!: A Community page dedicated to the Bedford New Scholars program, where you can follow these advisory board members in the coming year as they publish Bits blog posts about their teaching and research. Stay tuned!

This post is the second in a series on Memorable Reading. For the first post, see Memorable Reading, Part 1: Fiction, Poetry, and Drama.


It is August, and the minds of many of us are turning back to school and the need for creating new syllabi, retooling old ones, or learning how to teach the ones that we are required to use. As I began the process of course preparation, I thought back to the many texts in my education that stuck with me. Especially significant were texts I discovered in times of transition, between high school and college, post-college employment and my MA, the MA and the PhD. I remember the readings that kept me motivated through difficult moments, and the texts that opened my mind to new possibilities.


I wanted to know what still inspired other educators in and out of school, so I posted my question to my Facebook timeline and to several Facebook groups engaged with writing studies. The responses are listed in two separate blog posts. The first post covers fiction, poetry, and drama and the second post concentrates on philosophy, pedagogy, and non-fiction. Some responders listed more than one text across genre lines. In this case, I have grouped their responses with the first genre mentioned.


The purpose of these lists is to reflect on texts that has inspired the responders over time, rather than to fashion a new canonical mandate. For me, these inspirations, read in aggregate, are powerful reminders of how much good writing matters, and how, for many of us, good writing, carefully read, can help to shape the course of life and vocational choices.


My hope is that the lists offer memories of our own inspirations and, in doing so, allow us to make wise choices as we prepare our courses for the coming term.


Hive mind: What is one reading from your education that you still remember? That transformed you, perhaps? That sticks with you, even though it's been years? NOT something that you taught, but something that impacted you deeply as a student -- in or out of school?

WHY do you still remember it? What impression did it make on you? Why was it relevant to the rest of your life?

I'm considering compiling these readings in a blog post, so let me know if I can use your name, or if you would rather be anonymous.

Thanks in advance for all responses !


Aaron Kerley The Ethics of Ambiguity. It freed me from thinking being an individual as an intrinsically selfish pursuit.


Christina Fisanick Judith Butler's "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution" because it helped me understand how reality is social constructed AND that not only could I read thick cultural theory, but I could understand and teach it!


George Yatchisin Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” Still so pertinent.


Jeff Cook Ken Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything. He convinced me that seeing a work through multiple perspectives is better than trying to solve its riddle and find it’s ‘meaning.’  After Wilber, (which sounds like a Mister Ed biopic) I started asking those questions about all of my life. ‘What’s another way to see it?’ It got applied to dirty dishes, car crashes, and people who wear socks with sandals.


Joanna Howard I remember my grad school professor giving me a copy of an essay “I and Thou” in which Martin Buber discusses the difference between having a job and having a vocation—and while I can’t remember if it related to teaching, our discussion did, and I have thought of that conversation from time to time over the years.  The significance was that I was a grad student who wanted to be a community college instructor, a teacher, and this conversation and Buber’s piece validated my choice.


Let me add that theology classes in high school and my coursework in grad school often helped me reflect on what I was doing in my life, what did I want it to become, what did I want to do, which is why Marge Piercy’s poem, “To Be Of Use” was (and is) a poem that I keep coming back to in moments when I feel I’ve lost direction. Buber and Piercy’s works are like rudders prodding me back to a considered direction. Buber reminds me to view my students as ”Thou” and not “It,” I have been my happiest and most successful with this perspective, and have gained the most as a fellow human being from it. (No pun intended.)


Lynn Reid As an undergrad When Abortion Was a Crime was transformative in my thinking about Roe v Wade. And a book called The Tattooed Soldier might be the one I most remember reading (and later teaching). Women of Sand and Myrrh, too. In grad school, Time to Know Them by Marilyn Sternglass.


Pf Lengel I and Thou, by Martin Buber. Buber, in collaboration with the beloved late Ken Morrison, opened a pathway between my mind and my heart, a path where life and relationships live in infinite Presence. I can't always find my way to that place, but it is my enduring vision and my most cherished aspiration.


Sophia Snyder A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. I read it my freshman year of college and it was my first introduction to the power of academic feminism. I was familiar with popular feminist political writing about the present day (this was 2003, in the midst of the heyday of the feminist blogosphere!) but I had never encountered the idea that we never finish re-writing history, and that *who* writes the history books and sees value in what historical documents is vitally important.


Steve Cormany Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Try not to complicate things. Live life in an elemental way. Be conscious of your place in the universe. It allows you to live your life carefully.


Susan Naomi For me it was “The Myth of Sisyphus” by Albert Camus. As a student struggling to transition from high school to college, life often felt like rolling that rock up that mountain, only to see it tumbling away me at the peak and having to start all over again. Now, as I reread The Myth, I focus more on the moment of joy, on Camus's notion that: "One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Valorie Worthy Maslow’s Toward a Psychology of Being— self actualization and peak experiences!  

Donna Winchell

Bad Research Papers

Posted by Donna Winchell Expert Aug 13, 2018

[This post was originally published on March 9, 2012.]


It’s research paper time in high schools and colleges across the country. I know about the high schools because my younger son is writing a research paper as part of his senior project. I’m reminded once again how easy it is these days to write a bad research paper. Students at least used to have to type up the words and ideas they got from print sources. Now they can electronically cut and paste together a bad paper in no time at all. With the freedom of the Internet comes so much online junk that they don’t have to be discriminating users of search engines. Maybe they don’t really believe the first source listed on Google is the best. It may just be the easiest. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they have grown up as Googlers, but they may not have been taught how to find the good sources among all the chaff. (The first step is to teach them that Wikipedia may provide some quick information, but it is hardly an authoritative source.)


[Photo: Research Papers on Flickr]


My son’s school tries to limit the sources the students access by introducing them to DISCUS: South Carolina’s Virtual Library! I found trying to help him locate sources via DISCUS too limiting. A search based on what seemed very logical search terms would produce no sources, where a Google search of the same terms would produce thousands. It’s not easy teaching students how to locate the happy medium in between.


They need to learn that there are databases like LexisNexis Academic and Academic Online that do much of the discriminating for them. They need to learn what databases their campus library subscribes to and how to access them–and why they are better for some course projects than more general databases. For information on the very most up-to-date news, however, they need to know which of these databases are updated daily. Journals may be wonderful sources for most academic research, but the time lag before they appear in print prevents their being the timeliest. Databases that include newspapers and weekly magazines will be more useful for researching this week’s headlines. Students can use a general search engine like Google if they develop an eye for legitimate sources. Is it a reputable publication, available online? Is it recognized as being biased politically? Is it even clear whose site it is? Is it a government site? How does that affect its usefulness as a source?


We may have to educate ourselves about the types of sources our students use or should use. After all, many of us did our college research papers back in the days when the process still required going to the library.

[This post was originally published on October 30, 2012.]


As a writing program administrator, I spend precious little time actually teaching first-year students, and instead have shifted much of my professional energy to teaching teachers, faculty development, and designing and assessing curricula.  I compensate by fantasizing about courses I would like to teach, and my blog this week is about just such a fantasy course.  Inevitably, some graphic

component seeps its way into my pedagogical fantasies, and this week is no different as my current

fantasy takes its inspiration from Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s amazing pseudo-memoir A Drifting Life.




In an earlier blog, I wrote about Tatsumi’s development of gekiga, a grittier, more adult version of manga.  Collections of his work translated into English in the last several years include the remarkable Push Man and Other Stories, which bring together several of Tatsumi’s “shorts”—startling and provocative slices of post-war Tokyo life, full of economic desperation, difficult family situations, lovelorn lives, and erotic dysfunction.  Tatsumi inspired other manga artists, including the grandfather of manga, Osamu Tezuka, to explore more adult themes and content in their work and helped establish manga as a medium not just for kids, but as a venue through which more “graphic” subjects might be rendered and considered.


Originally published in Japan in 2008 and released in the US by Drawn and Quarterly in 2009, A Drifting Life is a large volume “memoir,” depicting in somewhat fictionalized form Tatsumi’s coming of age in post-war Japan and his early love of manga, which he steadily turns into an artistic career.  The book lovingly details the different kinds of manga that Tatsumi read as a youngster, as well as his initial attempts to imitate the artists he loved.  We see him struggling with mastering elements of plot (for adventure-oriented manga) and then steadily developing his own particular style and thematic concerns.  Tatsumi excels at exploring how his narrator (ostensibly based on himself) must deal with the pressures to conform to publishing demands, which often required that manga artists produce page and page of original material on a weekly basis.  Still, Tatsumi has his own vision, and negotiating that vision with fan expectations as well as the economic realities of publishing in post-war Japan is at the heart of this memoir.



Many compositionists have their students write literacy narratives.  Ultimately, A Drifting Life is a sustained, critical, and often provocative literacy narrative about becoming a manga artist.  Central to its narrative concerns are a mapping out of the narrator’s coming into awareness of the different genres of manga available in post-war Japan, but also, just as key, an awareness of the economics of literacy.  Many Japanese after the war were too poor to buy manga, so lending libraries emerged to help folks get access to the popular emerging medium.  Moreover, the desire for escape and fantasy from economic hardship fueled much of the genre’s early content.  These forces and influences are as much a part of Tatsumi’s literacy narrative as are his boyish love of well-drawn adventure stories.


As a compositionist, I also appreciate A Drifting Life for its emphasis on working with audience concerns and expectations while also honoring the particularity of authorial voice and vision.  That Tatsumi can explore some wonderful material in a manga about making manga adds to some of the thrill of the text; we see Tatsumi’s style develop literally before our eyes, in panel after panel Tatsumi shows us his inspirations and his foils, the work that inspires him and the work against which he struggles to articulate and render his own vision of what manga can be.  A Drifting Life offers a powerful meta-narrative about the arts of composing, and I can see it as a central text in a first-year or advanced composition course devoted to multi-modal writing.

This post was originally published on December 20, 2012.


One of my students in a popular cultural semiotics seminar recently wrote her term project on the reality television “Real Housewives of .  .  .” phenomenon. Not being a fan of such shows myself, it took her paper to prompt me to think seriously about the whole thing for myself. And I realized that such shows instantiate a far more profound cultural signifier than I had heretofore realized. The following analysis represents my thinking on the matter, not my student’s.


As is always the case, my semiotic analysis centers on a crucial difference. The difference in question here is not simply that between the actual realities of the lives of ordinary housewives as opposed to the reality TV versions, but also the difference between their current television representations and those of the past. That is, not only do most actual housewives lack the wealth, glamour, and business opportunities of the “Real Housewives” of Beverly Hills, New Jersey, or wherever, but their television counterparts of the past did, too. The classic TV housewife, enshrined within the history of the family sitcom, was an asexual middle-class woman who was totally focused on her children: Think June Lockhart, Jane Wyatt, and Barbara Billingsley.


That the current crowd of glammed-up, runway-model housewives of today’s “reality” shows reflects a widespread cultural return to the conservative gender-coded precept that a woman’s value lies in her erotic appeal almost goes without saying. While a few less-than-glamorous women are cast in these programs as if to head off criticisms of this kind, their existence tends to prove the rule—and even they tend to be dolled up on the program Web sites.

But this is an easy observation to make. More profoundly, however, is the fact that the reality TV housewife has become an object of desire for her largely female audience. Rather than being seen as a hapless drudge of patriarchy, the reality TV housewife is a vicarious role model, even when she doesn’t found her own business enterprise and simply stays at home. What caused this change in perception?


To answer this question, I considered the frequently reported economic fact that household incomes for the vast majority of Americans have been essentially stagnant, when adjusted for inflation, over the last four decades. Now, add to this the exponential inflation in the costs of such basic necessities as housing and transportation and you get the modern two-income family: not necessarily because both partners in a marriage want to work, but because in order to maintain a middle-class household two incomes are now more or less essential. Certainly the efforts of the women’s movement have contributed to the enormous growth of women’s participation in the workforce, but the new image of the reality TV housewife suggests that something else is at work here as well.


That is, with the housewife being presented as a fortunate woman who doesn’t have to work, it seems that American women are nostalgic for the “good old days” of a time when they didn’t have to work just to maintain a middle-class home. The fantasy now is to be a housewife, not to escape the role. That’s quite a change.


Just how much of an effect on American consciousness in general this stagnation of incomes has had is probably one of the most important social questions of our time. Can it help explain the hostile polarization of our political landscape, our dwindling sympathy for others in an increasingly libertarian environment, the growing resentment of middle-class workers (especially unionized workers) with decent jobs and benefits? I think so. And this will be a topic for future blogs of mine.

It is August, and the minds of many of us are turning back to school and the need for creating new syllabi, retooling old syllabi, or learning how to teach syllabi that we are required to use. As I begin the process of course preparation, I think back to the many texts in my education that stuck with me. Especially significant were texts I discovered in times of transition. I remember the readings that kept me motivated through difficult moments, and the texts that opened my mind to new possibilities.


I wanted to know what readings inspired other educators in and out of school, so I posted the question to my Facebook timeline and to several Facebook groups engaged with writing studies. The responses are listed in two separate blog posts. The first post covers fiction, poetry, and drama, and the second post (next week) concentrates on history, non-fiction, pedagogy, philosophy, psychology, and writing studies. Some responders listed more than one text across genre lines. In these cases, I listed their responses under the first genre mentioned.


The purpose of these lists is to reflect on texts that has inspired the responders over time, rather than to fashion a new canonical mandate. For me, these inspirations, read in aggregate, are powerful reminders of how much good writing matters, and how, for many of us, good writing, carefully read, can help to shape the course of life and vocational choices.


My hope is that the lists offer memories of our own inspirations and, in doing so, allow us to make wise choices as we prepare our courses for the coming term.


Hive mind: What is one reading from your education that you still remember? That transformed you, perhaps? That sticks with you, even though it's been years? NOT something that you taught, but something that impacted you deeply as a student -- in or out of school?

WHY do you still remember it? What impression did it make on you? Why was it relevant to the rest of your life?

I'm considering compiling these readings in a blog post, so let me know if I can use your name, or if you would rather be anonymous.

Thanks in advance for all responses ! 


Angela Rhoe Sonia Sanchez’s We A BaddDDD People, my introduction to the Black Arts Movement. This collection of poems about the power, beauty, and strength of black people blew my mind and helped me to unequivocally love myself and embrace my blackness. Life changing!!


Ann Etta Green  Not an essay, but the first book where I recognized myself in an educational setting was The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute. It set me on a path so when I found Calling Home, Janet Zandy’s collection of working

class women’s writing, Dorothy Allison, Sandra Cisneros, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker all clicked.  In terms of short stories, “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker. I attempted my first piece of feminist criticism on that story and failed. But a good failure.


For me as an undergraduate, I was deliberately seeking out female teachers and women writers because there was such a lack of them in my experience. I didn’t have a theory of why—I was just looking. And I was also looking for examples of people like me who didn’t know people in college, other first generation college students or working class writers, but I didn’t have that word yet.


Simultaneously, I was trying to “catch up” by taking canonical courses because somewhere along the way, I had the idea that I should prioritize canon, to know the canon but reject it.


Bill DeGenaro Early in undergrad: Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Was awestruck by the world-building and convention-exploding. I grew up loving horror novels so at the time the chapter narrated by a dead body blew my mind. Years later, the whole book’s audacity sticks with me, the idea that breaking rules as a writer and provoking readers smartly can unleash so so much.


Cecilia Ready When I started college women were absolutely marginalized. But though I identified with male characters, I never lost my identity as a woman. Thus Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist had a huge impact on me. Naturally I fell in love with Stephen Daedalus, but his statement, “Non servium” resonated with my already rebellious nature. Of course, my rebellion consisted of refusing to follow traditional female career paths.


James Wermers I took a class as an undergrad in modern Catholic novelists, and much of what we read in that class has stuck with me. Mauriac’s Therese Desqueyroux, Greene’s End of the Affair, and Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop in particular challenged me, consoled me, pushed me, and forever changed me. As much as anything I have ever read, they taught me the complexity of faith, failure, love, and humanity.


Keith A. Waddle This quote from George Eliot's Middlemarch: "for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

My appreciation for that quote and the overall wisdom of that novel grows the older I get.


Lisa Blankenship Undergrad: Egalia’s Daughters by Gerd Brantenberg; Toni Morrison; Shakespeare. Grad: Rhetorical Listening, Kris Ratcliffe; Anticipating China, Hall and Ames. ED is a satire switching gender roles in a (would it be?) dystopian society; opened my eyes about sexism and one of my first intros to feminism. Morrison same about black terror and trauma in the US historical and ongoing. Shakespeare: used to read it and weep alone in my dorm room, feeling maybe less alone than ever. Rhetorical Listening helped me as a white woman be quiet and listen to women of color hopefully a bit more. Anticipating China: most powerful book on comparative rhetoric and philosophy I’ve ever read.


Natasha Murdock The Yellow Wallpaper” had a pretty profound influence on me. It taught me to recognize the way I was being stifled and abused by my marriage, to be honest. It was monumental in helping me regain a sense of myself as a writer as I was going through my divorce.


Paulette Stevenson The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (in HS). I was appalled at the treatment of animals and workers. I remember thinking how much these people were getting screwed over by others for just trying to live a better life in the US. I was 14, living in a small town in the Midwest, and the novel allowed me to experience oppression like I hadn’t seen before. Oh and I also became a vegetarian after reading it. Note: I haven’t read it since, so I’m not sure if it holds up to my take.

Ted Fristrom "The Distance of the Moon." I always wanted to be a musician, but I had this weird notion at the end of high school that being a writer might be acceptable as well. After reading Cosmicomics, I thought being Italo Calvino would be more than acceptable. Perhaps that's circular answer to the relevance question. Why would I want to emulate Calvino? I don't know. Who wouldn't want to be Calvino? I had a short attention span and liked things that were a little surreal; it seemed to break up the monotony of my childhood.

Susan Miller-Cochran

Why WID?

Posted by Susan Miller-Cochran Expert Aug 6, 2018

[This post was originally published on September 21, 2015.]


Next month, the book I co-authored with Roy Stamper and Stacey Cochran, An Insider's Guide to Academic  Writing will be released. [Editor's note: The Insider's Guide to Academic Writing is now available, and the second edition is due out this Fall.] The three of us will be blogging in our new Bits blog “Teaching Writing in the Disciplines” about how to teach with a writing in the disciplines (WID) approach in foundational writing courses, which is the approach of the text. We hope this blog can be a space where we explore methods of teaching and practical classroom activities and approaches.


[Photo: Macmillan Learning]


When I first arrived at North Carolina State University nine years ago, I joined a First-Year Writing program that was launching a relatively new curriculum that focused on writing in academic disciplines. I had never taught first-year writing as writing in the disciplines (WID), and I was skeptical: how could a teacher with a background in English teach writing in other disciplines? I was no expert in writing in biology or nursing or math or psychology or any other field other than rhetoric and composition. What in the world would I teach my students?


We talk about imposter syndrome a lot in academia. I experienced a pretty severe case of it at that moment. Not only did I feel unqualified to teach the first-year writing course, but I was supposed to start directing the program the following year.


I began thinking of all of the reasons why a WID approach seemed challenging:


  • Faculty comfort level: Wouldn’t many of the writing faculty feel uncomfortable about teaching writing in other disciplines, just like I did?
  • Challenges of transfer: How would students transfer knowledge into their other classes? Would they be transferring inaccurate knowledge about genres in other disciplines?
  • Stigma as a service course: Would teaching a WID approach make first-year writing even more of a service course with no real rhetorical, disciplinary content of its own?


What I didn’t realize at that moment was that the most effective ways of teaching a WID approach in a first-year writing course do not solely emphasize mastery of various disciplinary genres. Rather, they draw on the disciplinary expertise of the writing faculty teaching the courses, focusing on rhetorical principles and understanding the context for writing. The rhetorical context in a WID-focused course just happens to be writing in different academic disciplines. Students are engaged in close, rhetorical reading of writing in different disciplinary areas.


They aren’t memorizing formulae for writing across the college or university. They’re learning to ask smart, rhetorically-focused questions about what writing conventions are followed in a specific field, how arguments are shaped, what evidence is used, what questions are asked, and what methods of inquiry are most common.


Students would leave my first-year writing class better prepared to write in contexts outside of my class because they would know what to pay attention to—even as they encountered contexts we never discussed in my class. And as the icing on the cake, if I could help them understand what they were learning in my class and how it would help them in the future, I could imagine an increased potential for student motivation.


Once I realized that I could take what I knew about writing and rhetorical context and apply it to a WID context, my list of reasons not to teach a WID approach were immediately countered by arguments for why it was a great idea:


Why not?


Why WID?

Faculty comfort level


Rich, meaningful application of rhetorical principles

Challenges of transfer


Potential for transfer when taught from a rhetorical approach

Stigma as a service course


Student buy-in and motivation


What I can claim after directing a program for eight years that used this approach is that students understood the potential for transfer of what they were learning. When they saw the curriculum, they understood that they would be learning something different from (but hopefully building on) what they learned in high school. Faculty invented a range of ways to approach teaching WID that emphasized some of their passions and interests. And best of all, our program assessment demonstrated that students were mastering the rhetorically-based student learning outcomes for our first-year writing courseA program director can’t ask for much more than that.


What are the biggest questions and concerns that you have about trying a WID approach? If you’ve tried it already, what are some of the strategies you have found to be most effective?

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

Barclay Barrios

A Clockwork Christ

Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Aug 1, 2018

[This post was originally published on December 5, 2013.]


I want to return to my recent critical moment during grading.  In short, I was frustrated—not because of the amount of work involved (that’s just par for the course at this point) but because students had problems with things we had gone over in class again and again.  I felt both angry and like a failure.  Then I realized I was just stuck in Clockwork Christ mode.


“Clockwork Christ” is a term I coined over my years working new Graduate Teaching Assistants (it’s also the name/subject for an article I’d like to write some day, if my administrative work load ever lightens (as if) so, “dibs!”).  The concept comes in part from my teaching experience but I am also indebted to the work of Richard E. Miller, especially in “The Arts of Complicity: Pragmatism and the Culture of Schooling” (College English1998).  I use the term to index two dominant and contradictory narratives of teaching that circulate in culture, narratives that we as teachers often tend to inhabit, enact, and embody whether cast in the role by our students or ourselves.


It’s easy to identify these narratives.  The first is teacher-as-Christ, the one who sacrifices everything so that students can experience the transformative powers of education.  Based on your age, you know this figure from To Sir with LoveThe Dead Poets SocietyDangerous MindsSister Act IIFreedom WritersStand and Deliver, or School of Rock.  Depending on your theoretical inclinations, you know it too through the work of Paulo Freire or Peter Elbow.  The narrative is simple: teacher encounters victimized and distrustful students; teacher passionately devotes self to “saving” these students (often through unorthodox pedagogies); students are transformed.


But running alongside this narrative is a second, inverse narrative of teacher-as-cog, the mindless functionary of a bureaucracy bent on grinding students into dust.  Based on your age, you know this figure from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in The Wall.”  Depending on your theoretical inclinations, you might find it in David Bartholomae or Gerald Graff.


Practically I see these narratives manifest in new teachers all the time.  The same teacher will, one week, hold extra office hours on the weekend (though few if any students will show up) and the next week wait with a slathering snarl for some student to miss one more class so they can rigidly implement our attendance policy, fail them from the class, and have one less paper to grade.


I don’t think we can escape from these dual narratives but we can become aware of them, which is what I did while grading.  More than that, we can deploy them.


I can’t believe I’m about to share this in the everlasting medium of the Web since I have always only shared it orally with the caveat I would strenuously disavow the words but, well, here goes… I offer you the “nuclear option.”  The nuclear option foregrounds the disjuncture of these two narratives to “shock” students at the moment most needed.  Before revealing it, there are some important points to keep in mind.  First, in order for it to work you must learn your students’ names on the first day of class.  If you can manage this, they will love you because they are nothing but a nameless face in every other class they are taking as first year students (Step One: Deploy Christ).  Second, you can use this option once and only once.  I wait for that point in the semester when students are just not doing the readings, not showing up with drafts, not “there” in any real sense.  At that moment, I stand before them and I move to Step Two: Deploy Clockwork.  I say something like this, “Look, if no one wants to do this work we can all just go home.  I’m happy to do all I can to help you pass this class but the truth is it doesn’t really matter to me because I get paid the same whether you pass or fail.”  The reaction is almost always the same: they feel guilty (their own Christ reaction) and therefore re-energized.


Ummm, in case anyone asks, I did not write this post.

Barclay Barrios


Posted by Barclay Barrios Expert Aug 1, 2018

I never cease to be amazed by the number of my colleagues who exhibit little to no awareness of FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), which is the educational equivalent of HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Both pieces of federal legislation mandate absolute privacy when it comes to information, whether pertaining to health (HIPAA) or, more relevantly, student grades (FERPA). It wasn’t all that long ago that I could walk through the halls of our department and see boxes of graded student papers outside the doors of my colleagues’ offices (yikes!).


I understand FERPA, and I celebrate it. I also detest it. The problem is that I grade student work electronically using my word processor’s Track Changes and Comment features—good for the environment (well, good for trees anyway) and good for my sanity and health (for me, typing doesn’t produce the kind of repetitive stress that writing does). Actually, electronic grading isn’t the problem. Returning electronically graded student work is.


“FERPA-ly” speaking, e-mail is not a secure medium; someone could intercept the e-mail or a roommate could see it on the student’s computer, revealing the grade and breaking the law. So, returning graded student work by -email is technically illegal (well…let me say “non-FERPA compliant,” instead).


Blackboard and other course management systems are okay (or FERPA-compliant, if you will) since they are considered “secure” environments. But Blackboard is a royal pain in the ass and always seems to be, technologically speaking, about five years behind the curve. To return one student paper through Blackboard can take me as many as five mouse clicks. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but add in Blackboard’s slow response time and suddenly returning student work takes almost as long as grading it (not really, but that’s how it feels).


I’ve tried using Dropbox, but that involves getting each student to download and install Dropbox and then create and share folders. Besides, when I did try it I discovered it’s eerily pan-panoptic. I get a little pop-up whenever the student puts anything in the folder; they get one when I do the same. It’s like we’re always watching each other or, what’s worse, always acting as though we’re being watched.


Of course, I could print the papers but that defeats much of the purpose of electronic grading.

What to do?


Dream. In my dream, there is what I call the “FERPA-fied student locker.” The interface is simple: Dropbox simple. Each student signs up for an account in the locker with a code to add them to my class. When I sign in I see this:


To return work, I just drag and drop the graded file into the appropriate folder, where it is encrypted and stored in the student’s online locker. That’s what Web 2.0 is, folks—not just leveraging the “wisdom of crowds” through crowdsourcing but also Web applications that feel like a desktop environment. Drag and drop, drag and drop.  Let me say it one more time because I love and want it and need it—drag and drop.


That’s all I want. No discussion boards. No online peer revision. No electronic grading. No assessment tools. And no, not that other thing either. Just this.


Does the FERPA-fied student locker exist? No. Can it? Yes. “We have the technology. We can make [it] better than [it] was. Better…stronger…faster” (and I’m fairly certain it won’t cost six million dollars).