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2018

David Leonhardt, opinion writer for the New York Times, recently wrote an editorial entitled “The Supreme Court Is Coming Apart.” That’s a claim, or the thesis for an argument. The more precise and less colloquial claim that Leonhardt goes on to support effectively is that “over the long term, the court risks a crisis of legitimacy.”

 

Leonhardt offers two reasons for this potential crisis: the partisanship of the court and the radicalness of the Republicans on the court. Whether you agree with Leonhardt or not, it is possible to look at his argument as argument and to look at the wider range of arguments about the court that have become increasingly heated in recent years. There are factual claims about the court that are easy to support. If you look at the voting margins by which each court nominee has been confirmed, for example, it is easy to see that there was a time when a nominee of either political party was elected by a near-unanimous vote of the Senate. A well-qualified candidate appealed to both parties. Votes have increasingly come to be divided along party lines. That’s the sort of claim that can easily be verified.

 

What about this part of Leonhardt’s argument: “There are no more Republican moderates. With Anthony Kennedy gone, every Republican justice is on the far end of the spectrum — among the most conservative since World War II”? That would certainly take more proof than a tallying of votes for confirmation, but an analysis of the voting record of Republican justices could be made in support of Leonhardt’s statement.

 

The assumption is that the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh would tighten Republican control over every decision of the Supreme Court. Three days of questioning by the Senate did little to confirm or refute that assumption. Kavanaugh for the most part declined to take a stand on specific real cases but also declined to predict how he would vote on hypothetical ones. He essentially spent much of his testimony saying, “I can’t answer that.” The assumption, whether fair or not, is that he would vote as a conservative Republican.

 

The problem, of course, is that our Founding Fathers did not plan for Supreme Court justices to vote along party lines. Making their appointments for life was seen as a way to avoid such partisanship. That clearly is not working.

 

So what of claims of policy and the Supreme Court? Should the number of justices be increased, which would enable a Democratic-majority Congress, should one be elected, to even the playing field? That again advances partisanship, even though it lets Democrats “get even” for the Republicans’ blocking of President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court.

 

Is there any way to recapture the idealism behind the creation of the court? The Founding Fathers were prescient enough to build in a federal balance of powers. They built in compromises between slave and free states that still affect our government. They created a constitution that has had relatively few amendments considering how long ago it was written. What they couldn’t foresee was the America of 2018.

 

 

Image Source: “Supreme Court” by angela n. on Flickr 5/3/17 via Creative Commons 2.0 License

This blog series is written by Julia Domenicucci, an editor at Macmillan Learning, in conjunction with Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl.

 

Podcasts have been around for a while, but their popularity seems to increase every day—and for good reason! They are engaging and creative, and they cover every topic imaginable. They are also great for the classroom: you can use them to maintain student engagement, accommodate different learning styles, and introduce multimodality. 

 

LaunchPad products from Macmillan's English catalog include Grammar Girl podcasts, which you can use to support your lessons. If you’re teaching a lesson about commas or find your class needs some more help with the topic, you can assign one (or all!) of these suggested podcasts for students to listen to before class.

 

In your LaunchPad, see the unit “Grammar Girl Podcasts” for instructions on assigning podcasts. You can also find the same information on the support page "Assign Grammar Girl Podcasts." 

 

Podcasts about Commas

  • Commas: Oxford, Appositive, Nonrestrictive [6:46]
  • Serial Comma [6:12]
  • Where Do I Use Commas? [7:16]
  • When to Use a Comma before Because [2:57]
  • When to Use a Comma with Too [4:01]

 

Students can do a lot more with podcasts than simply listen to them. Use one of the following assignments to encourage students to engage further with the Grammar Girl podcasts.

 

Assignment A: Ask students to listen to the podcast "Commas: Oxford, Appositive, Nonrestrictive" and then have them write a short response discussing and reflecting on the experience. (All Grammar Girl podcasts come with transcripts in LaunchPad—students can also read the podcast transcript to inform their response.) Have students consider the following questions:

  • How is listening to information about a topic different from reading about it? How is it the same?
  • How do the host's tone and voice impact the listener's experience?
  • What does the host do to connect with the listener?
  • What new information did the student learn about commas? Can they pinpoint any element of the podcast that helped them remember this new information?

 

Assignment B: Ask students to listen to more than one podcast about commas, such as "Commas: Oxford, Appositive, Nonrestrictive" and "Serial Comma." Have them also read the transcripts. In addition to the questions above, have them write a response considering the following:

  • How do the podcasts compare? Does the content overlap, and if so, where?
  • What is different about the coverage of commas in each podcast?
  • What content or information is conveyed through audio that does not appear in the transcripts? Is any additional information found in the transcripts that is not apparent from just listening to the podcast?

 

Do you have other suggestions for using podcasts in lessons? Let us know what they are in the comments!


Credit: Pixabay Image 2426854 by geralt, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

 

In the wake of Donald Trump’s statement, while visiting England, that he didn’t take questions from CNN because “CNN is ‘fake news,’” Dr. Joshua Habgood-Coote wrote an opinion piece in The Conversation arguing that we should delete the term from our vocabulary:

It’s easy to think that everyone knows what “fake news” means—it was Collins Dictionary’s word of the year in 2017, after all. But to think it stops there is mistaken—and politically dangerous. Not only do different people have opposing views about the meaning of “fake news”, in practice the term undermines the intellectual values of democracy—and there is a real possibility that it means nothing. We would be better off if we stopped using it.

Habgood-Coote goes on to offer a number of examples of uses of the term to demonstrate that it means wildly different things to different people in different circumstances, so much so that the term is now essentially meaningless. Yet we continue to hear it used daily across a wide range of media and even in college courses that try to deal with the contemporary phenomenon.

 

I’m inclined to agree that the term is no longer helpful in that it has no clear meaning or referent. For my part, I’d rather use “misinformation,” defined as false or incorrect information intended to deceive. This broad definition allows for other subcategories—disinformation, clickbait, propaganda, perhaps even “fake news” if it earns a clear definition.

 

But almost as soon as I wrote these words I said, “Wait a minute: why not just the word ‘lie,’” which the OED defines as “a false statement made with the intent to deceive.” Sounds a lot like the definition of misinformation I’ve come across in many sources. What’s up with that? By coincidence, I happened to hear a piece on NPR that addressed this very issue. When a reporter for NPR called several statements Donald Trump made on his first day in office “not true” or “false,” she said her inbox “exploded” with people asking her why she didn’t just call a lie a lie. Apparently the folks at NPR had discussed this very question and decided that the word “intent” was key: since the reporter could not read Trump’s mind (what a thought!), she could not say anything about his intent but rather about his words. So NPR rarely if ever uses the word “lie” in such situations, preferring to stick with “untrue” or “false.”

 

But that still leaves me with a question about “misinformation.” Turning again to the OED, I find this by-now familiar definition of misinformation: “False or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive.” Sounds a lot like a lie, right? And indeed, the OED gives as first definition of the noun lie, “an intentionally false statement.”

 

So now I’m wondering whether “misinformation” is simply a euphemism for “lie,” which term to use in what instances, and especially how best to engage students in making such distinctions and in making sure that they are using such terms with precision.

 

If you have thoughts on dealing with this terminological thicket, please send them along!

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2355686 by Wokandapix, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

A week ago, I would have cringed, ducked (and maybe even shrieked) at the image on the left, captured recently by a skillful neighbor.

 

This fall, though, I’m a brand-new student in an evening Master Naturalist course, and so I find myself leaning into such sights, empowered by the fresh knowledge that this is a harmless, even dazzling, yellow garden spider. Not only that, I can see details I would have missed a few days ago. I can discern the telling zipper pattern on the body, and with a quick glance at my notes, I can even confirm the Latin name, Argiope aurantia, and show off my knowledge that the webbed zigzag of silk is called a stabilimentum. What I used to ignore or avoid has now come into focus with fascinating clarity. How have I been missing these details all these years? What more can I learn?

 

In her essay, “The Language of Discretion,” Amy Tan captures this exhilarating experience concisely: “Once I added ‘mauve” to my vocabulary I began to see it everywhere.”

 

This is a good time to reflect on both the fear and fascination of learning, since our writing students are also shuttling between fear (“Every assignment still feels like a risk!”) and a bit of growing confidence (“Hey! I can understand at least parts of this difficult reading … and I have something to say about it, too!”).

 

In my last post, I wrote about inviting students to self-reflect on their reading and writing process in journals. (Their insights are often hilarious, and they are slowly doodling some magnificent covers. I’ll share more in a future post.)

 

Now, I want to reflect on how challenging these academic “habits of mind” are, as we guide our students to practice them, however tentatively, in our writing classrooms. My co-author, Stuart Greene, and I, open From Inquiry to Academic Writing with the “habits of mind” of academic writers, starting with:

 

  • Inquiry — through observation, asking questions, and examining alternatives
  • Seeking and valuing complexity — through reflection, examining issues from multiple points of view, and asking issue-based questions.

 

Let’s remind ourselves how rare these activities are in our culture. They may have been rare, too, in some of the classrooms in which our students either thrived or failed. After all, in an age of information-overload, people often prize (and are praised for) simplistic summaries that enable them to make a confident-sounding pronouncement, and move on to the next topic. In contrast, the “habits of mind” we ask our students to develop involve seeking more questions than answers, and opening up complex possibilities that include and value their experiences. These habits call for what José Antonio Bowen calls “slow thinking.” Our task is to model for our students the pleasures of what sounds like frustrating work. (Why lean in to peer at that spider? Because a web of meaning becomes visible when we do.)

 

Here’s an accessible Practice Sequence of activities you could use, or adapt, to demonstrate the value of these habits of mind:

 

  • Inquiry — through observation, asking questions, and examining alternatives: Find out through  searching what the most popular majors are on your campus. Is there anything that surprises or puzzles you? Write down any questions you have, including: Why are things the way they are? What alternative explanations can you provide to account for differences in the popularity of the subjects students major in?

 

  • Seeking and valuing complexity — through reflection, examining issues from multiple points of view, and asking issue-based questions: Imagine other perspectives on the data you found on the most popular majors on your campus. How might other students, or parents, explain your findings? What explanation might faculty members offer, both those who teach in those majors and those who do not? (You could seed this conversation with any number of recent sources on the workplace value of the humanities.)

 

Exercises like these can help students “see” aspects of their own campus and community for the first time, and set them to wondering: Why? The answers are multi-faceted, will raise additional questions, and will reveal the way their own experiences and decisions are woven into this new knowledge. And … they’re off and running, if not toward delight, at least toward interest in what had been invisible.

 

What adult learning experiences have shaped your own teaching? What webs of meaning fascinate your students right now?

 

 

Photo credit: Anne Brown

Yellowed business letter, written in 1925 by a Rivets companyThis week I am sharing the second writing assignment in the series of assignments I designed for my technical writing course. The series focuses on tasks related to a fictional business incubator, the Ut Prosim Incubator. The first assignment asks students to share the basic information about their company in a memo.

Once they establish a company name and focus, students are ready to undertake messages related to their companies. In the scenario for the second writing assignment, students deal with changes they need to make to support an influx of new employees, hired with the investment funds provided by the incubator.

The goal of this assignment is to help students learn about the differences between letters and memos by designing guidelines for the ways that their companies will use the different kinds of correspondence. Specifically, in order to fulfill the assignment, students have to be able to explain how letters are different from memos.

The assignment below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. References to “Markel & Selber” in the assignment refer to chapters in the class textbook Technical Communication by Mike Markel & Selber and Stuart Selber.

Background

You will create guidelines that your employees will use as they communicate with others inside and outside the company. The goal is to ensure that your company’s letters, memos, and emails have a uniform appearance and style.

The Scenario

Using the investment funds from the Ut Prosim Incubator, you have just expanded your company by hiring 20 new people. When there were just a few of you, it was easy to make sure everyone presented a consistent message. Now that there are nearly two dozen people making contacts, you will need to be more proactive to ensure that your company correspondence with clients, vendors, local regulators, and the public represents your company consistently and professionally.

To address this need, you will write a memo to all employees that explains the letter-writing style and format that your company follows and include a sample letter that illustrates the style and format as an attachment.

For your assignment, write the related documents:

  • the memo explaining your letter-writing style and format
  • the letter illustrating the style and format

Relevant Details

Your company’s address is [Your Company Name], Ut Prosim Incubator, 1872 Inventors Way, Suite #[you choose a number], Blacksburg, Virginia 24060. Your company’s phone number is 540-555-5555. You may create a fictional Internet domain for your company, and use that domain for a web page address and your email addresses. If you’d like, you may create other information (including a logo) for your company as appropriate.

The Project Assignment

Step 1: Explore the characteristics typical of correspondence in your field.
Think about the documents that you have seen from businesses in your field as your own. You can search the Internet and the textbook for examples as well. Consider characteristics of these documents such as the following:

  • Are they formal, informal, or somewhere in between?
  • How is the company’s contact information conveyed in/on the document?
  • Does the document take advantage of any special features to establish a company brand?
  • What sets the documents apart from those that would be created by people in a different field?
  • What sets the documents apart from those of competitors in the same field?
  • What strategies does the correspondence typically use to emphasize important information?

Step 2: Decide on the general style your business will follow.
Decide on the expectations you will set for your company’s correspondence. Brainstorm a list of required information, details on the typical look and feel, and other features you want employees to include in the letters that they write. Include everything from how to open the letter to the closing and expectations for signatures. If there is specific information that should always be included in letters, model how that information should be included and demonstrate it in your example.

Be sure to consider how to emphasize important information and create organizational structures in your letters (relying in particular on Markel & Selber, Chapter 14). Additionally, create a letterhead format for your company, using appropriate details.

Step 3: Analyze the audiences for your memo.
You will write a memo to all employees in your company that explains your company’s style and format for letters. Use the information from Markel & Selber, Chapter 5 to decide how the characteristics of the audiences will influence the writing that you do. Consider the questions in Figure 5.2: Audience Profile Sheet and/or the Writer’s Checklist at the end of the chapter to guide your analysis.

Step 4: Compose a letter illustrating the style and format your company will follow.
Use the information your gathered in Steps 1 and 2 to write your example letter. Be sure to demonstrate how to emphasize important information and how to organize the letter in a way that makes it clear and easy to read.

For the content of the letter, you can use placeholder text. See the article, How to Use Lorem Ipsum Dolor Placeholder Text, for examples. If you prefer, you may use real letter text that you write as well. Despite the use of placeholder text, be sure that the required layout and format is clear and that any specific details required (such as the signature expectations) are demonstrated.

Step 5: Write a memo to all your employees with the details on your company’s letter style and format.
Compose your memo, as requested in The Scenario above, with all the details you have gathered and created. Attach your example letter, and point to it as examples of your style as appropriate. You may add annotations to your letter, like the examples in the textbook, if you choose; but be sure that you connect your annotations to your memo directly.

As you work, keep the following points in mind:

  • Use plain language to make the ideas easy to find and read. Refer to the resources from Module 2 as needed.
  • Follow the suggestions for emphasizing important information, using the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 9 to check your work.
  • Follow all relevant ethical guidelines as you work using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel & Selber, Chapter 2.
  • Make a good impression with accuracy and correctness. Your correspondence should be polished and professional.

Step 6: Check the drafts for your example letter and your memo for correct use of memo style and format.
Be sure that you include the appropriate headings and expected features for correspondence. Review your project, using the Writer's Checklist for Chapter 14 (on page 386 of Markel & Selber).

Step 7. Review your draft for design and basic writing errors.
Everything you write should use accurate/appropriate image editing, grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting. These are important basic writing skills that you should have developed in high school. Review your project, using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel & Selber, Chapter 10.

You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel & Selber, Appendix, Part D: Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL). While the section is labeled for multilingual writers, it is useful for everyone. It includes explanations and examples for many common mistakes writers make.

Step 8: Submit your draft to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Post a rough draft of your info sheet to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 09/05 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. Post a draft of your bio by September 6. If you are late submitting a draft, your group may not have time to provide feedback.

Step 9: Provide feedback to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Provide feedback to the members of your writing group in the 09/05 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas, by September 10 (end of the grace period). Use the information on the Writing Groups page to provide constructive feedback that will help your group members make concrete improvements to their drafts. 

Step 10: Revise your draft.
Use the feedback that you receive from your group members to revise and improve your document. You can share your draft again with your Writing Group, if you desire. As you revise, keep in mind the advice in the steps above, as well as the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 11: Include a polished version of your project in Project Portfolio 1, due October 1.
Have your Correspondence Project finished and ready for submission in your Project Portfolio 1, which is due Monday, October 1. The grace period for Project Portfolio 1 ends at 11:59PM on Thursday, October 4.

Assessment Criteria

For All Technical Writing Projects

All technical writing projects should meet the following general criteria:

  • Makes a good first impression as a polished and professional document.
  • Meets the needs of the intended audience.
  • Fulfills the purpose or goal of the project.
  • Demonstrates how to emphasize important information.
  • Uses layout and formatting that makes information easy for readers to find and read, and that follows the standards you have set for your company.
  • Is written in plain language, which communicates the ideas clearly.
  • Follows all relevant ethical guidelines.
  • Uses accurate/appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting.

For Letters

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective letters, based on the checklist at the end of Chapter 14 of Markel & Selber:

  • Uses letterhead stationery for the first page.
  • Includes the date.
  • Includes the complete and correct inside address.
  • Uses the appropriate courtesy title.
  • Includes an attention line, if appropriate.
  • Includes a subject line, if appropriate.
  • Uses the appropriate salutation.
  • Capitalizes only the first word of the complimentary close.
  • Includes a legible signature legible, with the writer’s name typed beneath the signature.
  • Includes an enclosure line, if appropriate.
  • Includes a copy and/or courtesy-copy line, if appropriate.
  • Uses one of the standard letter formats.

For Memos

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective memos, based on the checklist at the end of Chapter 14 of Markel & Selber:

  • Uses the identifying information that adheres to your organization’s standards.
  • Includes a specific subject line.
  • States your purpose clearly at the start of the memo.
  • Summarizes your message, if appropriate.
  • Provides appropriate background for the discussion.
  • Organizes the discussion clearly.
  • Includes informative headings to help your readers.
  • Highlights items requiring action.

As I originally designed the assignment, it also included an email message. Students were to write an email to their co-founders, asking them to review the memo and letter and offer any advice for improving the message. I like the idea of asking students to demonstrate an understanding of the characteristics of email messages in addition to letters and memos. Given the other work in the course however, I decided that adding an email component would be too much. With more time for the unit, I would certainly consider including it.

The next assignment in the sequence focuses on technical description in a rewrite of an assignment I designed to ask students to think about diversity in the workplace. Come back next week to read more, and if you have any feedback for me, please leave a comment below.

 

Photo credit: Edwin B. Stimpson Company Rivets (Brooklyn, New York) 1925 by Paul K on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Tori BanksVictoria Banks is a graduate student at Kennesaw State University working towards a Masters in the Arts of Professional Writing with a focus in interactive narrative design and script writing in videogames. She teaches First-Year English Composition and Rhetoric courses and writes as a freelance video game journalist. Victoria’s experiences with new media rhetoric influence her teaching philosophy in the classroom, which encourages student exposure to various forms of multimodal composition.

 

Every semester in my first-year composition classes, I receive the same question: “Is it ok for me to do this?” “This” always refers to a definite and unbreakable rule drilled into the students’ subconscious since high school, a rule so ingrained in them that they struggle to trust or rely on their own judgement of the rhetorical situation for which they are writing or to extend their writing into new mediums.

 

Many students zealously follow these rules no matter the situation. However, if FYC instructors allow students to participate in multimodal forms of writing, students can begin to understand that rules, rather than set in stone, are all based on genre conventions and rhetorical situations. Using multimedia projects and themes in English Composition classrooms will expose students to various types of writing they will encounter in academia, in their future careers, and in their everyday lives.

 

Gaming controller, https://www.maxpixel.net/Sony-Gaming-Video-Games-Ps4-Controller-Playstation-2619483

Course Themes – Sports and Games

As an English instructor, one of my goals is to teach diverse forms of composition and rhetorics, including those in multimedia. In doing so, I hope to change students’ understanding of “unbreakable” writing rules and instead encourage them to practice assessing rhetorical situations.

 

It is for this reason that I chose to theme my courses around a multimodal field, games. In particular, my assignments are related to sports, video games, and board games.

 

Each of these areas often involve intensive writing, despite public perception, and including them in my class changes my students’ preconceived ideas about what writing is and exposes them to multimodal composition. It also allows students to view various rhetorical situations and genre conventions. Another bonus is that students are excited by the prospect of going to a sporting event or playing a video game as a part of their research.

 

Assignment

My “New Media Argument” assignment focuses specifically on this goal. Students learn to assess a rhetorical situation before composing their own video around a topic in games. These videos could include anything from sports commentary, athlete interviews, “let’s plays” (documenting gameplay with the player’s commentary), and other video content exploring issues and arguments around games.

 

Background Reading

  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Chapter 2: Rhetorical Situations: 2a, “Making good Choices for your Situation”; 2f,  “Thinking about Genres and Media”; 2g, “Considering Language and Style” and Chapter 18a, “Consider your Rhetorical context”
  • The Everyday Writer: Chapter 3: Rhetorical Situations; Chapter 4: Exploring Ideas
  • EasyWriter: Chapter 1: Writer’s Choices: 1d, “Considering the Assignment Purpose”; 1f, “Researching Appropriate Audiences”; 1h, “Considering time, genre, medium, and format”
  • Everything’s An Argument: Chapter 16: Multimodal Arguments

 

Assignment Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to identify the rhetorical situation (purpose, audience, and context) for their multimodal argument.
  • Students will practice defining and working within genre and medium conventions.
  • Students will compose arguments using rhetorical appeals, hands-on research, and multimedia rhetoric.

 

Project Components

  • Script and Outline
  • 5-10 minute Video
  • Reflection Essay

 

Project Steps

  • Assessing the Rhetorical Situation

Before students begin, they must first determine their argument’s purpose and the audience of their video. Once this is defined, students choose a genre that best fits their goals. Writing around sports and games appears in several forms and styles. Together we examine current genres of  videos, including let’s plays, video game walkthroughs, game ratings and critiques, sports commentary, sports interviews, athlete rankings, podcasts, video essays, and more. Each genre has a different purpose, audience, and medium. By analyzing them, students can understand how other writers make composition choices based on rhetorical situations and thus begin making their own argument in the genre of their choice.

  • Planning

Once students understand their purpose, audience, and medium, they continue into the planning and research stages. This includes outlining ideas and crafting a schedule for completing components of the project, such as scripting, editing, casting, and so forth.

  • Research

Whether it’s making observation notes while watching a sport, reviewing gameplay footage, finding other authors’ viewpoints, or conducting their own surveys, students must compile their research before approaching video composition.

  • Composing

Experimenting with creating videos gives students the ability to learn and communicate using new media. For this segment, I spend two days going over the basics of various free video software programs and the benefits and downfalls of each. After conducting tutorials, class time is dedicated to workshopping and assisting any students facing technical difficulties.

  • Revision and Reflection

Students refine their project through revision before presenting it to the class and providing a two page reflection essay. I find it important for students to reflect on their composition choices. In doing so, they begin to recognize how they assessed their rhetorical situation and made composition decisions on their own, rather than following strict rules set in place by past teachers.

 

My Reflection

My experiences with English 1101 have taught me the value of using media-based themes in the classroom and new media projects to teach rhetorical situations and multimodal composition. When I moved on to teaching English 1102, I was surprised by my students’ disappointment that there was not a final video project. They expressed how the 1101 project made them feel engaged with the research and excited to learn new types of composition other classes had not taught them. Each appreciated the agency over their rhetorical choices and the freedom to express their creativity. It became clear my students valued these skills and opportunities the most in their composition classes.

 

Image: https://www.maxpixel.net/Sony-Gaming-Video-Games-Ps4-Controller-Playstation-2619483 under a CC0 Public Domain license.

Audrey WickToday’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 audreywick.com or on Twitter and Instagram @WickWrites.

 

The first time I taught Anthony Bourdain’s writing in my freshman composition class at an open enrollment community college in rural Texas, my goal was to get students to actually want to read what I assigned. For years, that had been a struggle.

So when I read the first chapter of Bourdain’s memoir Kitchen Confidential, I thought my students might love it as much as I did. I added it to my syllabus. Bourdain was sandwiched between writings by Deborah Tannen (a linguist) and John Krakauer (a mountaineer). Language, food, and the outdoors seemed like a sensible sequence.

Although most of the authors I assigned were contemporary, the majority of my students hadn’t heard of them. With Bourdain, that changed a bit through the years. Prior exposure to him grew due to his popularity on television and social media, though even this academic year, there were still only a handful of students in class who held a vague notion of who he was. Most in my composition course had not read anything by him. 

So I got to teach them. And what an honor that was.

Every time I taught Bourdain’s writing, I would start by having students share memories tied to food. We all have them, after all, and I wasn’t immune to sharing my own. I wanted them to feel the power of Bourdain’s overall message before we looked deeper at specifics.

Once we navigated that, I would then share photos of the author along with some television promo shots. I usually had a Parts Unknown clip cued up to play; my favorite was from one of his several trips to Vietnam.

 


In the video, Bourdain ate alone on a low plastic stool with scooters racing by. The colorful bowl he held in his hands steamed with something fresh, though even he admitted that he wasn’t quite sure what it was. He praised the merits of simple eating and adventurous living. His voice echoed through our classroom with the line, “This is the path to true happiness and wisdom.”

I never tired of seeing that video.

I also coined a fun phrase for students to help them dissect his writing techniques: “What Would Bourdain Do?” With “WWBD” on the board at the front of the room, students would work to uncover a variety of techniques that Bourdain displayed which they could reasonably apply to their own writing. Like learning to cook, they learned the essential ingredients of writing from Bourdain:

 

  • Create a compelling title. Make people want to read more.
  • Start strong. A crisp opening sentence with a singular main idea will do. 
  • Write honestly. Everyone has life experiences worth sharing.
  • Shock the reader. A well-placed emotional reaction is powerful.
  • Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. Readers appreciate this.

 

Bourdain probably never intended his memoir to be a model for developing writers in a college class, but it was — and it still is. Hundreds and hundreds of my students have benefited over the years.

A particularly memorable portion of class was when we discussed the oyster section. Through several paragraphs, Bourdain describes the experience of eating a new food while on vacation with his family in the south of France. It was his first trip abroad, and he had just finished the fourth grade. Needless to assume, his palate wasn’t yet attuned to such a dish. He writes, “I had my first oyster. Now, this was a truly significant event. I remember it like I remember losing my virginity — and in many ways, more fondly.”

Typically, I would read this section aloud, seeing students squirm in their seats a bit by hearing it, letting the rawness and emotion reverberate through the room.

Of course, they laughed. I’m glad they did. Bourdain wrote humor well. I wanted them to see the power of that too.

My new class has reconvened for the academic year, but with Bourdain’s death, I haven’t been ready to teach his work. I don’t like talking about him in the past tense. Still, I realize that because of his death, he may be more accessible to students who have perhaps heard his name on social media or in news reports.

 

When I am ready to teach his work again, I could use an excerpt from Kitchen Confidential, A Cook’s Tour, Medium Raw, or even a transcript from Parts Unknown. Contextualizing it and having students read section A1 “Reading and writing critically” from A Writer’s Reference will prepare them for engaging with the selection. Then, in class, I can guide them through skills of active reading as we put into practice the specific techniques mentioned: previewing a text, annotating a text, conversing with a text, and asking the “So what?” question.

 

After all, “So what?” certainly sounds like a question Bourdain would ask.

 

There’s an allure to Bourdain’s writing, and I hope to be ready to share his work with students again soon. Until that time, I am grateful to the influence he had on students and on me.

Jack Solomon

Just Analyze It

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Sep 20, 2018

As American popular culture gets more and more entangled in the political divisions that are rending our country, it may appear to be increasingly difficult to teach cultural analysis without risking painful classroom conflict. Take the current controversy over Nike's Colin Kaepernick campaign: it simply begs for semiotic attention, but how can it be accomplished without having the whole thing blow up into yet another headline on Inside Higher Education, or any other national news outlet?

 

I wouldn't be writing this blog if I thought that the thing couldn't be done or if my best advice would be to steer clear of the whole matter and anything like it. No, if you have adopted a semiotics-based methodology for your class, you have to engage with the full range of popular culture. And if you stick to the fundamental semiotic axiom that, while a personal opinion can be built upon the foundations of a semiotic analysis, semiotics itself is not an expression of an opinion, the thing can be done.

 

So, to begin, let's start with the obvious significations of the Nike/Kaepernick campaign and the reaction to it. The first is the way that it joins an ever-growing list of signifiers revealing a widening political gap in America, especially when it comes to anything having to do with race. This one is so apparent that it doesn't require any further explanation, but it does merit recognition.

 

The second (also quite obvious) signification is that symbols matter. Whether the symbol involved is the American flag or "Silent Sam," deep emotional attitudes towards objects can be just as passionate as attitudes towards people or policies. This too is so obvious that it doesn't require any further explanation, but does need to be mentioned.

 

The third is that the traditional (and constitutional) right to free speech in America is a shield protecting social protest, until it isn't. On the one hand, juridical rulings on free speech grant to individuals the right to say almost anything short of shouting "fire" in a crowded theater (remember the successful ACLU defense of the Nazi marchers in Skokie?), while, on the other, the courts have allowed employer retaliation against employees who break the speech codes in their places of employment. Such a lack of clarity is a contributing factor in the Nike controversy.

 

But let's step away from the most obvious significations and get into some more subtle ones. The first I'd like to consider is one that I have seen very ably explored in a Washington Post opinion piece by Michael Serazio, who argues that the Nike campaign isn't a gesture on behalf of social justice; it's simply another expression of the hypercapitalistic nature of America's consumer culture. Here's how Serazio puts it: "At one point in human history, products were bought and sold for their utility. Now, because of the massive and unchecked expansion of corporate power—in terms of not just market share but mind share—products must represent values, lifestyles and, in the age of President Trump, political ideologies." In short, the Nike campaign can be seen as a signifier of the hegemony of consumption in a consumer society.

 

But Serazio is hardly the only cultural analyst trying to parse the Nike affair. Consider the following two articles, also from the Washington Post. First, there's Megan McArdle's Nike bet that politics would sell. Looks like it was wrong, an op-ed that cites public opinion polls from all sides of the controversy to conclude that Americans are not responding favorably to the Nike/Kaepernick campaign, while arguing that this is a good thing because "as America has divided into distinct camps—geographic, demographic, political—more companies have started chasing explicitly political identities. Starbucks's leftward lean has famously roused conservative ire, but many on the left still haven't forgiven Chick-fil-A owner Dan Cathy's remarks opposing same-sex marriage a few years ago. The result is a world in which every decision, even what kind of fast food to buy, has taken on a political aspect. That's not healthy for America, which needs more points that people have in common, not more ways to divide into separate teams."

 

But then there's Amy Kittelstrom's counter-argument, which comes to a very different conclusion. Noting that by "[b]urning shoes and snipping swooshes, some white Americans think they are punishing Nike for re-signing Colin Kaepernick, the unemployed quarterback known for quietly kneeling during the national anthem to draw attention to anti-black police brutality. In reality, Nike will profit. The more these angry consumers attack the company, the more attractive they make Nike in the far bigger global market—which is a vital part of why Nike launched the campaign that centers on Kaepernick."

 

Now, the interesting thing about these articles is that each, in effect, jumps the gun on the future by asserting long-term outcomes that are by no means as certain as their authors argue they are. You may say that Trump started it with his exultant tweet about Nike's stock price decline at the opening of the campaign (Nike stock has, as I write this, fully made up the drop), but, whoever engages in such predictions, making them at all always runs the risk of speaking too soon, of letting one's desires (i.e., the way one wants things to turn out) supersede the available facts.

 

I'm reminded here of an editorial in the Richmond Examiner from July 7th, 1863 that predicted inevitable victory for the Army of Northern Virginia in its invasion of the North—published three days after Lee's defeat at Gettysburg but two days before news of that defeat reached Richmond. But then again, in 1861 there was a lot of "On to Richmond" confidence in the Union press as well. In the end, as Lincoln sublimely noted in his second inaugural address, neither side got what it expected out of the war, which grimly contradicted that American tendency (which rises to the level of a cultural mythology) to expect that everything will always go the way we want it to—a fundamental cultural optimism that Barbara Ehrenreich calls "bright-sidedness" (you can find her exploration of this peculiarly American tendency in chapter 7 of the 9th edition of Signs of Life in the U.S.A.).

 

And so, in McArdle's and Kittelstrom's dueling certainties about an uncertain future I find a signifier of something that is profoundly American; but unfortunately, when a divided people are equally certain that everything will go their way, everyone, in the end, loses.

 

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1840619 by Pexels, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

Andrea A. Lunsford

Analyzing Silence

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Sep 20, 2018

 

I was struck a week or so ago when I read Benjamin Hoffman and Tayla Minsberg’s article, “The Deafening Silence of Colin Kaepernick” in The New York Times. My interest was heightened because I had recently re-read some of Cheryl Glenn’s important work on silence, and especially on the difference between silence, which can be powerfully positive, and being silenced, which cannot. And also because I had seen Nike’s powerful new  ad, narrated by Kaepernick and featuring him along with a wide range of other athletes, both disabled and able-bodied, each one showing just how completely they can “do it.”

 

Most importantly, though, I began thinking about silence because we so seldom encounter it today, with the cacophonous 24/7 newsfeeds, livestreams, social media dumps, and all the other very noisy voices and messages coming at us almost to the point of harassment. At least I sometimes feel harassed, and I need to turn everything off. Everything. And enjoy the peace of silence.

 

I’m thinking, then, of asking students to engage in some purposeful silence, and to monitor it, its effects on others, and their responses to it. Doing so will make, I believe, for an important class discussion on the uses and importance of silence. I’d also like to ask students to read the Times article on Kaepernick and outline the ways he has used silence strategically, and how he has alternated silence with occasional live appearances, written statements. or speeches (such as his speech in accepting Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award).          

 

What do they take away from the article on Kaeperick? Does Kaepernick use silence in different ways for different occasions? How effective do they find his use of silence? What other examples of purposeful silence can they come up with and how do they work, rhetorically?

 

So I think it’s time for a little attention to silence in this most unquiet time. It’s probably a good idea, too, to turn back to Glenn’s Unspoken: A Rhetoric of Silence for the many lessons it has to teach us today.

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2355859 by kassarcreative, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

Note from Miriam: During Fall 2018, I am sharing the “Real Teaching” blog with colleagues from around the country who will beMelissa Adamo sharing what works in their writing classrooms.

 

Guest blogger Melissa Adamo is currently the College Liaison for the Dodge Poetry Festival and an Adjunct Instructor at Montclair State University and Rutgers University-Newark. She primarily teaches composition courses at both institutions but has also taught creative writing and literature courses at Ramapo College of New Jersey. Readers can connect with her on Twitter Melissa Adamo (@mel_adamo) | Twitter . 

 

Students often come into second-level composition or literature courses describing poetry as hard to understand or too abstract. In high school, many students feel forced to “overanalyze” poems, leading to fears of finding “the right answer”; this seems only natural for those accustomed to standardized tests. My desire to reframe poetry as a topic of discussion rather than a place of correct answers led me to Twitter.

 

In creating this lesson plan, I took inspiration from the book 101 Exercises for the College Classroom in which Jacquelyn Ardam has students pare down a text to six words. My version of this assignment used Twitter, a platform with a 140-character limit. I asked students to Tweet a creative response to a poem and then present their Tweet to the class, supporting their choices by directly connecting the Tweet to lines in the poem.

 

I wanted to fulfill similar objectives from Ardam whose assignment built “close-reading skills” through examining the author’s style or diction “as deliberate” choices. I wanted to help further these skills as well as analytical thinking through writing, collaboration, and presentation. Another aim for the activity was to decenter my authority on the poem in order to promote more confidence in students.

 

First, I broke the class into small groups to select a poem from that day’s assigned reading. Next, I instructed them to re-read their poem together, breaking up its parts: What is it about? How is it structured? What effect is produced? What was your reaction to the poem?

 

I then asked students to create a Tweet based on their group’s understanding of the poem. Students could write as the speaker of the poem to highlight its message, as the author to directly comment on literary choices, or as readers to show their experience of the poem. They could also choose to compose as they actually would on such a platform, modernizing language from the poem or, if writing from the reader perspective, revealing their interpretation through slang. Here, students became the experts in the room, for example, defining what “af” or “savage” meant, thus giving them more agency over vocabulary in an academic setting.

 

Like most social media platforms, Twitter also uses multimodality through memes, GIFs, and emojis. I encouraged students to play with these modes to practice analytical reading skills, not only on traditional texts but also on visual texts. I also pushed them to see how much they can include in such a small space; because of Twitter’s character limit (currently at 280), students must pare down the text to avoid unnecessary summary and convey more information with less words. Although most Tweets look rather simplistic, the more layers added (e.g. hashtags, pictures, text), the more conversation a group can generate.

 

After each group created their Tweet, students would present it to the class. Presentation requirements included students explaining their text and images from the Tweet as well as how it directly connects to a line of the poem or the poet’s writing strategy. This presentation component required students to support claims and thus assessed their ability to communicate their reasoning.

 

After each group presented, the rest of the class was invited to ask the group questions about the Tweet. This larger discussion promoted an even more in-depth analysis of each poem. For example, in one group, students debated characteristics of a GIF’s subject and compared it to the poem’s speaker, drawing parallels between popular culture present in the image and the literary text assigned. Not all students saw connections between the image and poem at first, but in our collective conversation we all built toward it.

 

Such discussions allowed an opportunity for me to read and learn alongside my students. Because I don’t always know the reference nor do I know how the students will create their tweet, we are all on equal footing. It offered the chance to model that “good” readers do not simply know all the answers, but rather they are comfortable asking questions or reviewing a text together.

 

Bringing Twitter and its memes, GIFs, and hashtags into the classroom resulted in a class atmosphere that was inviting and playful, rather than inaccessible, meeting my original objective. Seeing the confidence this lesson helped build in students was key in the process of not only reframing their view on poetry but also furthering their critical reading skills. It even prompted students to analyze popular culture and visual media, which they often do not look at with a critical eye.

 

Changing such perspectives about reading and analysis could apply to more than just poetry, of course. I would be eager to try this with other texts in the composition classroom, hoping to find the same level of student engagement and analytical thinking.

Today's featured Bedford New Scholar is Kristin vanEyk, a student in the Joint PhD program in English and Education at the University of Michigan. Kristin taught high school English for nine years before beginning her PhD in the fall of 2016. She expects to complete her degree in 2021. Kristin teaches first year writing at the university, and is especially interested in the ways students blend register and genre to create meaning. Kristin's research interests include translingual theory and practice, critical race theory and whiteness theory, and critical feminism.

 

A few weeks ago Leah Rang blogged here about the latest group of Bedford New Scholars (BNS) and promised (or perhaps warned?) that the BNS “notable newcomers” would soon be writing for this space. As one of the BNS cohort, I’m delighted to have this opportunity to ask a few questions and learn from you all.

 

I first started reading the Bits blog in May of 2018, the week Andrea A. Lunsford wrote about “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” and the ongoing efforts for more generous attitudes towards our students’ home languages (see her post African American Rhetoric and Other Englishes). Lunsford recommended Jerry Won Lee’s book titled The Politics of Translingualism: After Englishes (Routledge, 2017), which I had just finished reading, and she concluded her post with an invitation to continue the conversation about translingualism, an orientation where the theory and pedagogy sometimes miss one another. As we head into a new semester, it seems like a good time to revisit this conversation.

 

 Lee’s book helpfully clarified some of my confusion over the need for a distinction between multilingualism and translingualism, and why this matters in a writing classroom. Lee argues that “by focusing on and drawing attention to the simultaneous presence of multiple language resources in a particular utterance, moment, or space, we risk simultaneously gesturing to and reaffirming the disciplinarian linguistic ideologies that have aspired and perhaps conspired to keep such language resources in isolation from one another” (p. 9). My conception of the translingual orientation had been too narrow: code-switching vs. code-meshing or multilingual (parallel monolingualism) vs. translingual (through and beyond linguistic borders). Such stunted views of the translingual turn belied my own stunted imagination about what “counts” in academic writing and what rhetorical magic our students can muster if we convince them that we genuinely want to see what they can do.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about how translingual theory and anti-racist pedagogy can come together in meaningful and rigorous classroom practice. During my first semester of graduate school, I enrolled in a seminar taught by Anne Gere called “What Makes Writing Good,” which focused on justice-oriented pedagogy and anti-racist writing assessment practices. At the same time, I was working with linguist Anne Curzan on challenging deficit language ideologies in writing classrooms. These courses greatly shaped my approach to translingualism by bringing linguists and compositionists into conversation about the teaching of languaging.

 

I do worry about how my students will fare when they leave the safety of my classroom. As Deborah Cameron and Rosina Lippi-Green and others have demonstrated, there are many who insist on standard varieties of English as a litmus test for intelligence. If people in their lives will require conventions of a so-called “standard” variety of English, what does that mean for a composition teacher with a translingual orientation? How do I reconcile a conviction that I ought to teach beyond linguistic and other borders when I also believe that borders will hem my students in?

 

It seems very practical to ask students to answer these kinds of questions for themselves, to have students write about their own linguistic ideologies and to practice having conversations with people who use standards as a basis of judgement. It seems like part of my job, as a teacher of languaging, to help students find the language they want to use to correct the misinformation they will encounter about language. So that’s where my semester is moving: towards challenging students to think about how cultural language preferences are developed, how they are reinforced (and by whom!), and how they as informed students want to respond when they witness the perpetuation of hegemony.

 

One of my favorite writing assignments to teach is the Literacy Narrative. We read a few example texts in class, like Sherman Alexie’s “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me,” and then I ask my students to think about the literacy experiences that have shaped their own linguistic ideologies. Often they discover that reading and writing have played a more critical role in the development of their identities than they realized, and they appreciate the challenge of writing an argument about literacy and identity in a university writing course. As students peer review and share these essays they also expand their understandings of how language and identity are intertwined, and hopefully we all become more compassionate and courageous individuals.

 

If you have insights into how we can guide our students’ thinking about linguistic ideologies or how they can practice standing up for their developing beliefs, I certainly welcome the discussion.

 

To view Kristin's assignment, visit Literacy Narrative Assignment SheetTo learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board, visit the the Bedford New Scholars page on the Macmillan English Community.

Almost all community-based projects engage in a consistent discussion about the need for resources. Often those discussions become focused on strategies to raise grant funds. Our disciplinary training, however, doesn’t often provide the tools or frameworks to work through such issues. In what follows, I hope to provide a process to structure conversations about resources and community-based projects.

 

Listening for Partnerships

  • Values Driven Process

A central element of any successful community/university partnership are common values. Prior to seeking any grants, partners should discuss the values that should inform the process of seeking, holding, and distributing funds. A conversation beforehand will ensure a common ground is in place if funds are received. Otherwise, the introduction of funds could bring conflict and weaken the partnership.

 

  • Alliance Building

Before seeking funds, projects should analyze if existing organizations already undertake the work for which a grant is sought. It is better to broaden your partner alliance than try to rebuild what already exists. Foundations are more likely to support a partnership among allies than to fund you to “reinvent the wheel.” Such partnerships can also soften or even eliminate the need to seek funding at all.

 

  • Organizational Networks

Alliances not only strengthen a project, they also expand the types of grant funds available. If your only partner is a small non-profit, then you can only apply for grants that support such institutions. If you include a public school or health service organizations in your project, if appropriate, each will bring their own fundraising networks. In this sense, projects that exist within a broad alliance also exist within a stronger network of funding support.

 

Listening to Funders

  • Solving Foundation Defined Problems

Foundations do not provide funds to solve our problems; they provide funds for us to solve their problems. When writing a grant application, then, you need to address the foundation’s primary issue, showing you understand the moral imperative of this work. This shows you want to be part of their mission and join their alliance. If you understand a different problem as being more important, then you should look for a different foundation.

 

  • Write in Simple Language

Grant officers are deeply embedded within the complexity of their set of issues. They are not necessarily embedded in our particularized academic writing. When writing grant applications, you should not use academic discourse. Instead, write from the moral/ethical impulse which brought your project to this work. If you begin within that language, you are more likely to avoid terms like “counter-hegemonic publics” and convince the foundation you can actually converse with your community partners.

 

  • Provide a Concrete Plan

This is often the most difficult part of the grant application. To be convincing, the proposal has to offer realistic steps toward completion. This often means very dry prose, such as “will hold four community meetings per month” or “10 Participants will be trained to conduct 200 door to door interviews.” The funder should almost be able to see how one step will logically follow to the next. It is the ability to see concretely see how the project moves from beginning to end that demonstrates the plan can actually be enacted.

 

  • Produce Results

Be humble in claims about what will change as a result of this project. Assume that the grant officer has been reading applications for decades. She can sense what is feasible versus idealistic. So be specific: “The project will produce a new curriculum for a middle school, introducing extensive writing/revision practices, to be used by over 100 students.” A concrete result is worth more than claims about changing broad-based systemic injustices. Indeed, humility will actually enable you to get funds to undertake difficult social justice work.

 

  • Ask for Less

Never ask for the total amount available for a grant. Imagine a room of grants officers attempting to dole out the allotted funds. Their goal is to fund several valuable projects rather than one expensive project. By coming under budget, you support this goal. You also show that the request is driven by the needs of the project, not the size of the possible grant.

 

Listening for Sustainability

  • Don’t Over Raise Money

Universities often highlight large grants received by faculty. This can lead to faculty exclusively seeking large grants. When a project is built upon large grants, the project often vanishes when the money is gone. It is better to slowly build grant support, making sure what is built can withstand the loss of funds. Eventually you might need to seek large grants. Seeking large grants at the outset, though, builds your project on very shaky ground. (NOTE: Large grants often also take you away from the actual project and into a morass of paperwork.)

 

  • Don’t Chase the Money

Finally, as projects grow, there will be a widening pool of grant possibilities. It is tempting to start applying for grants for which “you could qualify” but which are tangential to your project. This is known as “chasing the money” because the goal becomes securing grants, not the work of the project. When considering any grant, a project should first project its’ goals for the next three to five years, then discuss whether the potential funds support or distract from that trajectory.

Black fingers typing on a computer keyboardIn my last post, I described my plan to organize a series of assignments for my technical writing course around a fictional business incubator. This week, I have the first of those assignments to share with you.

For the series to work, I need students to choose a company that they will focus on for the assignments they will write. The first assignment asks students to share the basic information about their company in a memo. In the scenario, their information will be combined with that of other new companies that are joining the incubator for a presentation at the first meeting of all the members of the incubator.

The assignment below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. References to “Markel” in the assignment refer to chapters in the class textbook Technical Communication by Mike Markel and Stuart Selber.

Incubator Info Sheet

Background

All of the projects will relate to your membership in a fictional business incubator, the Ut Prosim Incubator. The projects you will complete for your portfolios will be documents that you create as a member of this incubator. You will create a business and then write the pieces for your portfolio from the perspective as a starting business owner. You will collaborate with other members of the incubator and contribute materials to the endeavors that the incubator undertakes. You can read more about the incubator and how the projects connect on the Writing Projects Overview page.

The Scenario

During your first week as an Ut Prosim Incubator member, you receive the following memo:

Ut Prosim Incubator logo Ut Prosim Incubator

   1872 Inventors Way, Blacksburg, Virginia 24060

 

   Interoffice Memo


To: CEOs of New Incubator Companies

From: Traci Gardner, Ut Prosim Director

Subject: Your Company Info Sheet

Date: August 27, 2018

 

Welcome to the Ut Prosim Incubator! We are all so happy to have you join the Fall 2018 class of entrepreneurs.

I know you are still settling into your office, so our first all-company meeting will not take place for a few weeks. At this meeting, you will introduce your company to the other members of the Incubator.

The meeting will be informal, but we do want to prepare handouts and slides to share with attendees. We will also post the basic information that you provide on the Incubator website, for the possible research partners on campus, potential investors, and the public.

Please send the following information to me by September 7:

  • Your Company Name
  • Your Company CEO (use the name you want to appear in official documentation)
  • Your Company Mission Statement (a statement of your company’s goals and values)
  • Your Company Overview (explain what you company does, including whatever research you do, products your create, or services you provide)
  • Your Company’s Target Audience (who are the customers you serve or hope to serve)

Do not worry about formatting or design in your response. We will format the information for all the companies according to the Incubator’s branding and style guidelines.

We will send out a meeting announcement once a place and time have been confirmed. In the mean time, if you need any help settling in, please let me know or contact my assistant, Leslie Crow <lcrow@utprosimincubator.org>.

The Project Assignment

Step 1: Decide on the focus for your business.

Decide what your company will do—will you focus on products or services? You will focus on the company that you imagine for the entire term, so choose something that you know well. Sure, you can be creative, but create something doable that you have experience with (or at least strong knowledge of). Additionally, your focus must directly relate to your major.

As long as you comply with those two stipulations, you can focus on anything you want to. You have capital, staff, and resources to do whatever you set your mind to.

Step 2: Analyze the audiences for your memo.
Review the memo above and decide who the audience is for the memo you have to write and for the information that you have to gather. Use the information from Markel, Chapter 5 to decide how the characteristics of the audiences will influence the writing that you do. Consider the questions in Figure 5.2: Audience Profile Sheet and/or the Writer’s Checklist at the end of the chapter to guide your analysis.

Step 3: Determine the information that the memo requests.
Work through the memo above and find the information that you have to provide in your response. Once you find the list of requested information, decide on your responses. You are creating your business, so you get to create the answers for all the requested information. Don’t get stuck on perfectionism at this point. Compile your ideas, but know you can always come back to revise.

Step 4: Write a memo to me with the details.
Compose your memo, as requested in The Scenario above, with all the details you have gathered and created. As you work, keep the following points in mind:

  • Even though sophisticated formatting is not required, ensure that your answers are easy to find and read.
  • Check your draft for the use of plain language.
  • Ensure that you follow all relevant ethical guidelines as you create your responses, using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel, Chapter 2.
  • Be sure that your memo makes a good impression with accuracy and correctness. It should be polished and professional.

Step 5: Check your draft for correct use of memo format.
Be sure that you include the memo headings (To, From, Subject, and Date). For more details on memo format, consult Chapter 14 of Markel.

Step 6. Review your draft for design and basic writing errors.
Everything you write should use accurate/appropriate image editing, grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting. These are important basic writing skills that you should have developed in high school. Review your project, using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel, Chapter 10.

You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel, Appendix, Part D: Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL). While the section is labeled for multilingual writers, it is useful for everyone. It includes explanations and examples for many common mistakes writers make.

Step 7: Submit your draft to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Post a rough draft of your info sheet to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 08/29 Peer Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. Post a draft of your memo by August 30. If you are late submitting a draft, your group may not have time to provide feedback.

Step 8: Provide feedback to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Provide feedback to the members of your writing group by September 4 (end of the grace period). Use the information on the Writing Groups page to provide constructive feedback that will help your group members make concrete improvements to their drafts. 

Step 9: Revise your draft.
Use the feedback that you receive from your group members to revise and improve your document. You can share your draft again with your Writing Group, if you desire. As you revise, keep in mind the advice in Steps 4, 5, and 6 above, as well as the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 10: Include a polished version of your response in Project Portfolio 1, due October 1.
Have your Info Sheet memo finished and ready for submission in your Project Portfolio 1, which is due Monday, October 1. The grace period for Project Portfolio 1 ends at 11:59PM on Thursday, October 4.

Assessment Criteria

Your project should meet the following criteria:

  • Makes a good first impression as a polished and professional document.
  • Uses memo format with the appropriate headers.
  • Meets the needs of the intended audience.
  • Uses layout and formatting that makes information easy for readers to find and read.
  • Is written in plain language, which communicates the ideas clearly.
  • Follows all relevant ethical guidelines.
  • Uses accurate/appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting.

 

Credit: Ut Prosim Incubator logo created with “Incubator” by lastspark from the Noun Project, used under a CC-BY 3.0 license.


So far the assignment has gone well. The biggest challenge I have had to deal with (other than the typical questions about due dates and the like) has been ill-chosen companies that do not actually relate to the student’s major. Many of the students are new to the memo format, but the peer feedback activity and the revision time they have should take care of any issues that come up.

In my next post, I will share a correspondence assignment that is the next step in the course. In the meantime if you have any comments to share on this assignment of the series in general, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

Photo: Typer by Caleb Roenigk on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

The recent decision by the Opinion Desk of the New York Times to publish anonymously an op-ed essay about the Trump presidency by a senior White House official was an unusual one. Readers were invited to submit questions about the essay or the vetting process. Two days later, 23,000 of them had.

 

The essay, of course, started a media frenzy. Speculation continues to run rampant as to who the anonymous official is. CNN listed thirteen possible authors; by the next day, at least sixteen had denied they wrote it. The author has been called everything from heroic to gutless—but the reactions don’t divide neatly or predictably along party lines.

 

As is often the case with today’s headlines, the reactions to the op-ed essay can be used to teach the basics of argumentation. A statement of opinion about the writer would be a claim of value. Clear statements of policy have also grown out of the controversy: The writer should identify himself or herself. The writer should resign. The Department of Justice should investigate the authorship in the name of national security. The 25th Amendment should be invoked.

 

As is usually the case, it is easier to recognize the claim of an argument than to recognize the assumption underlying it. Given a specific claim, what assumptions does a reader have to accept in order to accept the claim? First, what about those who consider the author of the essay to be heroic? What assumption underlies that judgement? Something like this: It is heroic to work behind the scenes to safeguard our democracy against an incompetent president. That assumption is only valid, of course, if the president is indeed incompetent. It is reassuring for some to know, as the author puts it, that “there are adults in the room.” The author also writes, “We are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.” Assumption: It is a good thing for someone to do what’s right when the President won’t. That assumption is only valid, however, if the writer—and those who agree with him that the president needs someone working behind the scenes in the White House to keep him in check—is a better judge of what is right than the President.

 

That’s where those on the other side come in. Donald Trump is our duly elected President. Does anyone have the right to take over any of his duties without a mandate from the people? Even former President Obama argued, “That’s not how our democracy is supposed to work.” The 25th Amendment provides the process for removing a president from office, but for anyone to work behind the scenes against the President in the name of defending the Constitution is to circumvent due process. Can it be applauded as a heroic act? Obviously, it can be by some. Even some of Trump’s harshest critics, however, feel that to undermine the president from within is not a valid solution.

 

Is the author of the op-ed essay guilty of treason? No, not by the official definition of treason, which can be committed only in time of war. Those who feel that the author should make himself or herself known to the public may assume that a public servant should not continue to work for an administration as flawed as the writer judges Trump’s to be, or that the person could do more good if he or she came out from behind the mask of anonymity. Even better would be for all those the writer claims hold similar views to speak out publicly.

 

There are complex arguments at work here. Our students need to see the issue from all sides and recognize it for its potential to shape the future of our country.

 

 

Image Source: “16114_355136441248988_1333868535_n” by A M on Flickr 12/12/12 via Creative Commons 2.0 License

Andrea A. Lunsford

Writers on 9/11

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Sep 13, 2018

 

The terrible, heartbreaking morning of September 11, 2001, I was preparing to welcome a new class at Stanford as well as preparing to greet the students I’d invited to participate in a five-year longitudinal study of writing. Waking up to the grim news left me, like everyone else, in a haze of shock and grief and sorrow: how could I believe what I was seeing on television as the planes blasted, over and over again, into the towers.

 

We immediately made plans to delay the opening of fall term that year, thinking that students might not be able to get to campus, or not want to get to campus during such a time of national mourning. But since our term begins fairly late in September, we were able to open on time, and to welcome this group of students, many of whom had lost friends or loved ones, all of whom were trapped between the horror that gripped the nation and the excitement of opening a new chapter in their lives.

 

Well over a decade later, I wrote to a number of the student participants in The Stanford Study of Writing, asking them to reflect on their first days at Stanford, in the wake of 9/11. Here are some of their voices today, on the 17th anniversary of the event.

 

I remember visiting my high school on the morning of September 11, for the last time before leaving for Stanford. My sister and I had been numbed by the news, but we went anyway to visit our former teachers. Then one of the things that is strong in my memory about that first week on campus is the acute desire I felt to establish myself as both who I thought I was, and someone more like the others. . . I came to Stanford to meet people, to discover new things, and most of all to learn. I . . . just wanted to sit in my room and read or write in my “electronic diary” as I called it at the time. –SK

I remember being depressed every morning waking up to a country at war. I remember being very angry and I was not anti-war at first. I’d say I’m still not into anti-war protests as I think it’s much more productive to be pro-peace as opposed to anti-war. –EL

When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, I was asleep on an old twin mattress on the floor of my sister’s room. M paternal grandfather was visiting, so he had my nominal bed and I was relegated to the mattress purchased for me when I was about 3. . . . Intellectually, I comprehended the event as a tragedy, but for the most part my emotions were muted. To me, the mass outpouring of grief had a hint of social manipulation to it . . . –CS

Like me, I think a lot of people had been home alone [on 9/11], most of their friends having gone off to college already, when the news hit. I am guessing it would have been a relief to talk and listen to actual people in place of sensationalistic news coverage. What I did feel strongly for a while was a sense that history, which had left me largely untouched to that point, had somehow started again and was setting into motion events that had the potential to be world-changing (in retrospect, and with the benefit of all that I learned at Stanford, I find this feeling problematic in a number of ways). –AC

The President pointed his finger to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda that night, as well as to the Taliban in Afghanistan. He announced the new Department of Homeland Security. He said, “Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.” He said we would fight the War on Terror, and that it would have “decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion.” I realized this meant we would go to war. I was scared. –SA

The thing about the atmosphere of the country in September of 2001 that I remember is the intense xenophobia that was present in some places. For me, that was perhaps the most surreal thing. I simply couldn’t imagine how you would assume that all Muslims, all Arabs, or all people that wear turbans, were terrorists. Maybe as the sole representative of a minority in my high school, it was simply a given in my world view that everyone is an individual responsible for their own actions and a group can’t be blamed for the actions of an individual. Everything we did at Stanford about tolerance and not being judgmental during Orientation just seemed redundant to me. Looking back now, I understand how naïve I was in that way . . . but I still haven’t given up my sense of optimism. I think it’s one of the things that keeps me going as a teacher: I know that somewhere in their hearts, my students are good people. . . . –HS


As we welcome the class of 2022, the last class made up primarily of students born before the devastation of 9/11, it seems worthwhile to think about the reflections from these students of the class of 2005, looking back on that momentous day.

 

Here’s to them, and to the class of 2022.

 

Image Credit:  Pixabay Image 2403465 by MonieLuv, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

While canvassing my neighborhoods as a candidate for the local school board, I ended up discussing with a parent the difference between reading on a screen and reading a book. It’s reasonable to think about the differences at a time when young people and adults typically shift from one media environment to another about 27 times an hour. We skim for information, and are easily distracted by alerts and responses to a new email or Twitter post.

 

The urgency to integrate technology in classrooms has been motivated by what educators believe will most engage students, since they are already immersed in screen culture. I have heard others argue that access to technology will enable students to function as citizens. It is this idea of citizenship that matters to me because I think schools should help students use the knowledge they acquire as participants in their communities. I’d even say that I’d like school to foster in students a sense of how learning can be used in the service of the common good.

 

But I wonder if the allure of technology ignores some important questions about how media affects what and how students read? If researchers are correct, then youth are at best taking in bits of information without processing this information very deeply.

 

How students process information matters a great deal if we expect them to become citizens in a world where the very idea of “truth” has been challenged and where we need to work together with compassion, empathy, and understanding in order to create a safer world for everyone. It is important, as Maryanne Wolf acknowledges in Reader Come Home, that technologies not cause us to lose sight of the real-time relationships that demand our attention. It is important to humanize individuals who are different than we are in our efforts to make a difference in the world.

 

I worry that the adoption of technology often precedes deep consideration of what we want students to do and the kind of people we want them to be: citizens who are deeply invested in things that matter, who understand the value of taking on the perspectives and feelings of others, and develop a questioning habit of mind based on sustained inquiry.

 

I’d like to think technology can serve as a tool that fosters students’ ability to be empowered. But it is only a tool. Students also need to practice citizenship in supportive environments where students see that learning is an integral part of what it means to be human. As Martha Nussbaum reminds us, then, “It is . . . urgent right now to support curricular efforts aimed at producing citizens who can take charge of their reasoning . . . to explore and understand their own capacity for citizenship” (Cultivating Humanity, p. 301).

 

What kinds of curricular efforts are others making to create spaces for the kinds of reflection that authors as diverse as Maryanne Wolf, Martha Nussbaum, and Sherry Turkle call for? What are some ways to encourage our students to read deeply in order to develop a sufficient knowledge base to respond critically to what they are reading? How do others encourage students to read patiently, to resist binary thinking, and pass over into others’ experiences as empathetic readers who value complexity? How do we quiet students’ minds amid the avalanche of information that competes for their attention in what feel like increasingly brief moments of contemplation and stillness? These are pressing questions for me because democracy and citizenship require us all to have such moments of contemplation and stillness if we are to make responsible decisions.

 

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1910184 by Wokandapix, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

Over the summer, I moved across the country, from the southwestern United States back to New York City, and from full-time lecturer back to work as a term adjunct. These changes have allowed me to pay close attention to new classroom situations, and the necessity of reexamining my approaches to teaching in order to fit ever-changing circumstances.

 

My work with charting such shifts began on the second day of class as I reconsidered an activity I had adopted a few years ago, the File Card Discussion: A Beginning-of-Semester Activity. Two years ago, I wrote about this activity because I appreciated its relevance for building classroom community, especially for students who appreciate alternatives to traditional class discussion.

 

In the File Card Discussion, students worked individually to come up with questions about the course syllabus. Those questions, written at the beginning of the second day of class, were submitted to me anonymously, and I spent the entire class period clarifying writing and reading assignments, due dates and extended deadlines, grading criteria, and other course policies. This activity was intended to familiarize students with the course syllabus and with the work of the course as described by the syllabus.

 

But on the first day of class where I am teaching this fall, in each of the locations where I am teaching, the synergy felt different. The first day was spent diving into the work of the course, engaging briefly with the syllabus, then moving into the first reading of the year. Students seemed eager to engage with one another, and with the work of the course. So on the second day of class, the File Card Discussion very quickly became Ask Me Anything.

 

For Ask Me Anything, I invited students to:

 

  • Form groups of 2-4 members.
  • Introduce themselves to each other.
  • Compose 4 or more questions as a group, attending to individual questions as well as to questions that the group shared.

 

The questions covered a much broader range of subjects than anything I had tried in recent years. Students asked not only the usual questions about the course, but also questions about the readings, and questions about my own schooling. They wanted to know about my favorite books and authors, and why I felt so strongly about writing. Students also were interested in my reasons for choosing James Baldwin’s “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity” as our first reading. (See Why Is Writing So Hard? A Writing Assignment for Difficult Times)

 

Additionally, I added a culminating activity for the first week, Exit Tickets. In the last several minutes of class, Exit Tickets ask students to:

 

  • Reflect on the first week of college, including our writing course and other experiences, inside and outside the classroom.
  • Respond in writing to the question: What did you learn this week?

 

This activity has two goals. First, student often will be asked to make sense of complex ideas in a short amount of time. Exit Tickets provide students with an initial experience to process those ideas in writing. Second, I read the Exit Tickets carefully to see what themes emerge from the students’ brief writing, often no more than a sentence or a quick paragraph. From these themes, I will become better able to plan future course activities.

 

At the end of each class, students left Exit Tickets on the table, and I eagerly awaited the train ride home to consider and absorb their thoughts and concerns. From this early work, our classroom communities would begin the arduous journey of learning and growing together as writers.

If you are interested in introducing FYW students to primary research methods, An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing provides an overview and general definitions of qualitative and quantitative methods appropriate for students in a first-year writing class. If you are new to teaching qualitative or quantitative methods to students, it can be a bit intimidating to be sure. I’d like to write today about a fun, low-stakes activity I have my students do the first few weeks of the semester to begin a conversation about research methods.

 

Interviewing

I enjoy having my students interview one another during class early in the semester. Recognizing that most students are more tech savvy than I am, I ask them to practice recording one another using a semi-structured set of interview questions. It’s remarkable to watch a class begin to discuss how they’re going to record the interviews, whether on a laptop or on mobile devices, and then to watch them learn socially from one another about the best way to upload the audio files to our  course shell once their recording is complete (we use D2L at the University of Arizona). If asked, I’ll step in and offer advice and tips about how to do the recording and uploading, but for the most part I give them just enough direction to get them started, provide the questions and activity objective, and then let them learn from one another by just jumping in there and giving a recording a shot.

 

Below you’ll see a set of semi-structured questions I’ve asked students to use in the past as they record themselves interviewing one another:

 

Usually they pair up with a partner, and I ask them to leave the room and find a quiet space somewhere in the building to conduct the interview. Once they record their interviews, they upload the audio file to our  course shell. This then allows us to listen to the interviews in class. It’s a great conversation starter, and FYW students find the use of technology as well as listening to their audio-recorded voices played back in class fun, funny, and entertaining. There’s usually quite a bit of positive emotions and laughter with this activity.

 

You may notice that some of the questions in the table above are intended to begin a conversation about Writing in the Disciplines (especially Q. 1 and Q. 2). Q. 3 is intended to draw on their funds of knowledge and to position students as experienced and knowledgeable writers who have succeeded in the past.

 

By using these recordings in class as conversation starters, I’ve learned a lot about the expectations and support that faculty in other disciplines have provided to students in writing contexts. The recordings also reveal a great deal about students’ perceptions of effective teaching practices as well as their past experiences with writing.

 

Coding and Interpreting

Once we have these interviews archived digitally, students can access the audio files and listen to them to take notes. I ask students to listen to multiple interviews and note any themes or keywords or phrases that begin to emerge from the data.

 

A student may end up with a list of words or phrases like “feedback,” “peer review,” “tutoring,” “assignment sheet,” “rubric,” “drafting,” “meet with teacher,” etc.

 

Typically this is about as far as we’ll take it in a FYW class. I might write some of the keywords that emerge from multiple students’ interpretations of the interviews on an eraser board, and we’ll use that as a bridge to talk about effective writing processes and what the expectations are for our course. Later in the semester, we’ll return to interviewing more formally as a research method they can use in collecting data on a research topic of their choosing. These early recordings thus scaffold toward more formal interviews they may record for a grade later in the semester as part of a research project.

 

If you have tips or suggestions you’ve used, please feel free to share your ideas in the comments below. As always, I’m grateful for your time and interest, and if you found this blog helpful or informative, please comment, like, and share it!

 

Thanks so much, all.

Daniel LibertzToday's featured Bedford New Scholar is Daniel Libertz, who is pursuing his PhD in English with a concentration in composition and rhetoric at the University of Pittsburgh and expects to finish in 2019. He teaches Writing for the Public, and he will be serving as Composition Program Assistant in 2018-2019. He has also taught Seminar in Composition at Pitt, a reading course at the United States Military Academy, composition at Howard County Community College, and English courses at the high school level. His research interests include quantitative rhetoric, public rhetoric, social media writing and algorithms, and writing program administration.

 

Toward the end of his book Introducing English: Essays in the Intellectual Work of Composition, James Slevin presents a letter responding to a former student who has become a teacher. Maggie asks Slevin a question he has been asked many times: “What should she do to prepare her students for writing in college?” (246).

 

Slevin says he never felt he gave a satisfactory answer to this sort of question. It is a complex question that, I assume, all of us continually think about throughout our teaching lives. After all, implicit in this question is how the writing in college is “different” from writing in high school—and for that matter, how writing in college is different from writing anywhere else. One of the more difficult, slippery concepts we all have to confront as writing teachers in higher education is figuring out what we mean by “academic” writing. What is it? How do we teach it? Should we teach it? Do we do enough to acknowledge the inherent value judgments and political nature of the way we teach academic language or address its close ties to whiteness?

 

These are big, difficult questions, but what I like about Slevin’s response to Maggie is that it focuses on academic writing as intellectual work, something that can occur in any genre, under any conventions, or in any language. Slevin writes that what matters is evidence. By evidence, Slevin does not mean having a thesis or using direct quotations. It is not about accumulating material. It is about what is done with material, and what is “done” depends on language. For Slevin, “the excitement of the academic life—of academic writing broadly conceived—is in the making of stuff (data, events, passages from a text, the work of other writers) into evidence” (246). Language is the tool that turns “stuff” into evidence—what Ann Berthoff calls (channeling I.A. Richards) a “speculative instrument” for making meaning out of, well, “stuff.”

 

I agree with Slevin that if there is anything that makes writing in the academy somehow different from writing in other places (though, not exclusively different as there is writing in many places that does what Slevin advocates for) it is how we use evidence to make knowledge through “supporting, testing, and complicating” our ideas (252).To put this idea into classroom practice at a very practical level, I like to have my students think about this at the level of the sentence. One way I do so is by asking them to find two sentences in any text that they have read for another class that they feel is certain and uncertain, respectively. I like the idea of having them look at texts outside our own classroom so that they see, explicitly, that academic writing very much resides outside of their composition class (and, hopefully, such a move helps to transfer this idea about writing to their other classes). Students can choose any text from another class—a textbook, a journal article, a blog post—if the sentences they choose convey certainty or uncertainty for them.

 

During the next class, we talk about the reasons students selected their sentences, and we put them up on the board. Several items typically come up: word choice (e.g., obviously, really, probably, very, possibly), sentence type (e.g., short, simple sentence vs. longer, meandering sentences), syntax (e.g., position of a qualifying dependent clause), etc.

 

We usually focus on the rhetorical aspects of such moves at first: why does a short, punchy sentence “sound” certain (e.g., multiple clauses may undercut the strength of a direct statement)? Why do words like “really” and “very,” sometimes, ironically, make the sentence sound less certain? Do qualifying clauses ever make a sentence, counterintuitively, sound more certain by building the writer’s credibility as well-read? Ken Hyland, for instance, notes that the use of hedges and boosters have a range of effects in academic writing: to show conviction, to show solidarity with an audience of peers, to differentiate between opinion and data-based knowledge, to express deference for peers.

 

As much as these moves are matters of persuasion, it is difficult to untangle them from matters of making knowledge. For Slevin, this would mean that we can and should look to such moments in our sentences to ask ourselves what we know and what we are trying to know—that is, how we are making sense of our “stuff,” of our evidence. Does the use of “really” or a sentence with three dependent clauses tip us off to anything we are struggling with knowing as a writer? Sometimes the use of the word “very” or “obviously” is used for stylistic emphasis. Sometimes a sentence with a series of qualifying dependent clauses adds necessary context to a complicated topic. Sometimes, too, these moments at the sentence level are a “tell” that more work is needed for a writer to turn stuff into evidence, in Slevin’s sense.

 

During the remaining time in class, I ask students to make these considerations while looking back at an in-progress piece of writing to find one sentence that they feel shows certainty or uncertainty. I then ask them to spend some time thinking about how those sentences might represent a larger pattern of thought in their draft.

 

Finally, I ask students to rewrite that sentence to make it more or less certain, followed by partner discussion about how it does or does not fit into the ecology of their larger paper.

 

By the end of the lesson, my hope is that students—via a notion of certainty—begin to see how the ways they choose words and arrange sentences can have an impact on the way they are makers of knowledge.

 

To view Dan’s activity, visit Writing with Certainty in the Disciplines: Sentence Confidence. To learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board, visit the the Bedford New Scholars tab on the Macmillan English Community.

Yet another tale of professorial indiscretion on social media making the rounds prompts me to reiterate what I regard as one of the cardinal benefits of the semiotic approach: viz., that it can lead one beyond the obvious surfaces of cultural phenomena to their more nuanced (and often subtly concealed) significations. And this matters in these days of take-no-prisoners political controversy, as America divides further and further into two hostile camps that can no longer even communicate with each other without invective.

 

The indiscretion I am referring to involves a Rutgers University history professor's Facebook screed about gentrification in Harlem, which has been widely reported in the mass media, as well as on the  news source Inside Higher Education. As IHE reports, Professor James Livingston is in hot water over a post he put up a few months ago. Here's IHE's quotation of the controversial post (warning: salty language ahead):

 

OK, officially, I now hate white people. I am a white people, for God’s sake, but can we keep them -- us -- us out of my neighborhood? I just went to Harlem Shake on 124 and Lenox for a Classic burger to go, that would be my dinner, and the place is overrun by little Caucasian assholes who know their parents will approve of anything they do. Slide around the floor, you little shithead, sing loudly, you unlikely moron. Do what you want, nobody here is gonna restrict your right to be white. I hereby resign from my race. Fuck these people. Yeah, I know, it’s about my access to dinner. Fuck you, too.

 

After Facebook deleted the post, Livingston returned with the following (again from IHE):

 

I just don't want little Caucasians overrunning my life, as they did last night. Please God, remand them to the suburbs, where they and their parents can colonize every restaurant, all while pretending that the idiotic indulgence of their privilege signifies cosmopolitan -- you know, as in sophisticated "European" -- commitments.

 

OK, to start with, I do not intend to get involved in any way with the obvious (right there on the surface) political elements in this saga of a white professor's denunciation of the white patrons (and their children) at a Harlem eatery. I also do not want to argue the free speech implications of the matter. Everyone else is doing that already. Rather (and I hope my readers at Bedford Bits will appreciate my focus), I want to look at an important rhetorical element in the story that not only is being disregarded but is being misconstrued as well. Call what follows an exercise in "rhetorical semiotics," if you will.

 

To begin with, the reactions to Livingston's posts have parsed exactly how you would expect them to: conservative media (and individuals) have (to put it quite mildly) denounced Professor Livingston, accusing him of racism, while more liberal voices tend to emphasize that what he wrote is protected free speech. Well and good: we can expect such disagreements. But what really caught my attention is the claim, both from the reporter of the story and from a number of the comments that follow, that Livingston was clearly being satirical. First, the IHE reporter: "Right-wing media and Rutgers University didn't find Livingston's satire very funny." A number of the comments to the story took it for granted that the posts were satirical too. For example: "Weird reaction to Livingston’s FB posts by almost everyone, including Livingston himself. . . .The charge of racism requires taking literally what is clearly satire."

 

But is it really "clearly satire?" Consider another comment: "The problem is that so many people in academia are so disconnected from reality that it's not actually clearly satire. Poe's law definitely applies here." Now, Poe's Law is the dictum that things on the Internet are so weird that you can never know for certain whether someone is being ironic or not. And indeed, as another comment observes: "If it's satire then it's really badly done. I don't believe it's actually satire."

 

Frankly, I think that everyone is chasing the wrong trope. Livingston's second Facebook post, cited above, makes it pretty clear that he means it about his aggravation over urban gentrification. So what I think is involved in the initial post is really hyperbole—that is, the deliberate overstatement of one's case in order to more effectively make a point. Except that in this case that hyperbolic wink was lost on a lot of people, thus further widening the gap between an already miserably polarized society.

 

Thus my point is that words matter, that they have semiotic as well as semantic significance. If, in the currently highly inflamed environment (the system in which we can situate Professor Livingston's remarks), one wishes to make a political point, one isn't going to make it effectively by using easily misconstrued—not to mention hyperbolic and inflammatory—language (heck, it isn't even immediately clear from the posts that Livingston is mostly complaining about the behavior of little children). If you want your point of view to be politically effective—and, perhaps even more importantly, not backfire—trollish language isn't going to cut it, especially when the keys to the kingdom (i.e., electoral power in America), are ultimately in the hands of that roughly one third of the electorate that identifies as politically "independent," and which is neither clearly on the right nor on the left. If you want them on your side, you can't assume that the language that works inside your socially mediated echo chamber is going to work outside it. So while I fear that it is no longer possible for either "side" today in the great divide to reach the other, it behooves anyone who wants to win over any part of that uncommitted "center" (if we can call it that) to keep in mind that, thanks to the Internet, the whole world is always watching, and weighing, what you say.

 

 

Photo Credit: “Gentrification Zone” by Matt Brown on Flickr 8/25/17 via Creative Commons 2.0 license.

 

This summer I’ve had a chance to give presentations at the Rhetoric Society of America (in early June), at the Young Rhetoricians’ Conference (in late June), and at the Bread Loaf School of English’s Vermont campus (in early July). On each occasion, I spoke about a concept that’s been on my mind a lot during the last 18 to 24 months at least, and maybe a lot longer than that. In short, I’ve been concentrating on the power of narrative, of story. Why? In the simplest terms, because story is the universal genre, because stories lie at the basis of all cultures, because our lives are attempts to tell particular stories that guide us. Because, as in Anne Haas Dyson and Celia Genishi’s telling book title, we have A Need for Story. Walter Fisher, defining humans as “homo narrans,” argues that “In the beginning was the word or, more accurately, the logos. And in the beginning logos meant story.” In “Life as Narrative,” Jerome Bruner argues that “the culturally-shaped cognitive and linguistic processes that guide the self-telling of life narratives achieve the power to structure perceptual experience, to organize memory, to segment and purpose-build the very events of a life.”

 

In the talks I’ve given recently, I’ve focused first on how teachers of writing and rhetoric, and our students, can understand, challenge, explore, and remake the stories we tell about rhetoric and its origins, principles, uses, and practices, aiming to create a history of rhetoric that is much more expansive and inclusionary than the traditional Greek and Roman origin story. But I’ve also focused on how we might also take on the responsibility for story, for narrative, and for the way stories shape our experience of the world. We know in our bones, I believe, what Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “The danger of a single story,” which happens when whole groups of richly complex people are reduced to a single narrative. In her remarkable TED talk of that title, Adichie tells about her life as a child in Nigeria, growing up reading stories and writing stories about characters that all had “fair hair and blue eyes.” That was a single story that shaped her way of reading and writing. In her talk, she says it’s fairly easy to create a single story: just “show people as one thing and one thing only, over and over again, and that’s what they will become.”

 

Increasingly, I believe that it’s crucial for us to reject such single stories, along with master narratives of all kinds, and rather to pursue what I am calling narrative justice. Doing so is particularly important since I don’t see how we can achieve social justice if the narratives in which people are trapped and silenced simply will not allow for it. So we need just narratives, which can then lay the groundwork for and make possible social justice.

 

“Narrative justice” is not a term I have coined. We can find the concept used and developed in global health initiatives that aim to allow indigenous people to claim and tell their own stories. I believe we can learn from these efforts, from filmmaker Lisa Russell’s 2017 TED Talk titled “Promoting Responsible Storytelling in Global Health,” from Australia’s Dulwich Centre, which has pioneered a form of conversational storytelling they call “narrative therapy” and articulated a “Charter of Storytelling Rights,” and from activist Judithe Registre, who calls for “story equity” as she works on global poverty reduction.

 

Teachers of writing are uniquely positioned, I believe, to invite students to examine the narratives/stories that have shaped their lives, for both good and ill, to begin to interrogate those stories as well as the dangerous “single narratives” they can see at work all around them. Most important, we can enable students to counter narratives that diminish or demean them by using their own agency to revise or rewrite these narratives.

 

I used to begin every class I taught by drawing a thick stark line across the chalk board. At one end of the line I put “WRITING” and at the other end “BEING WRITTEN.” I still think it’s a pretty good way to begin a discussion that shows students just how much is at stake in their writing classes.

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 9017 by Hans, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

Twelve Wynadotte bantam eggs in an incubator, 6 larger white eggs on the left and 6 smaller partridge colored on the rightThis fall, I am designing new assignments for the  Technical Writing courses that I teach. During the coming weeks, I will share the different assignments and activities with you all. The first step in my process was to determine these basic kinds of assignments I would ask students to create:

  • Correspondence (to include letters, memos, and email)
  • Technical Description
  • User Documents (or Instructions)
  • Short Proposal
  • White Paper (a report for non-experts)
  • Progress Report
  • Poster Presentation

My next goal was to create an overarching theme for the assignments. In addition to unifying the assignments, the theme allows students to become familiar with one writing scenario that they work with during the entire term. This strategy enables students to jump into writing more quickly, rather than spending time figuring out the background situation for each assignment first. Naturally, there are still rhetorical parameters for students to analyze for each activity, but the information from one assignment helps them determine the details of the next.

For the theme to work, it must support all of the assignments I had planned for students from a range of backgrounds. Students in the course are studying areas such as engineering, computer science, forestry, wildlife conservation, dairy science, and building construction. I needed to find a way that all these different careers would interact and write similar kinds of documents.

My solution was a business incubator that would bring together all these students to help them launch a new business. Not every student plans to go out into the world to create a new business; but the scenario is familiar enough that they are able to play along and imagine how they would work in the situation.

In my posts for the coming weeks, I will share the different assignments and how they relate to the theme. This week, I want to share the basic details for the theme and activities that the class will focus on this term. One local parameter that you need to know about is the Virginia Tech motto Ut Prosim, which translates to “That I may serve.” This motto drives a lot of service projects and outreach at Virginia Tech, so it was a natural addition to the incubator scenario. Students are very familiar with the motto, so I do not need to explain it in the course documents. Here is the Writing Projects Overview, which explains the overarching writing project theme to students:

Writing Projects Overview

In this course, you will write a series of connected projects that you will submit in two batches (Portfolio 1 and Portfolio 2). As explained in the Grading Policies and Standards, these portfolios are collections of the original writing that you do in the course, such as memos and reports. As we begin on these projects, I want to explain how the projects are connected. The full details on these projects will be included in the relevant Canvas modules.

What goes into the two Portfolios?

Portfolio 1 will consist of four shorter pieces:

  • Info Sheet
  • Correspondence Project
  • Technical Description
  • User Documents


Portfolio 2 will focus on research-based documents, which will be a bit longer and/or more complex:

  • Short Proposal
  • White Paper
  • Progress Report
  • Poster Presentation

So how do the projects connect?

All of the projects will relate to your membership in a fictional business incubator, the Ut Prosim Incubator. The projects you will complete for your portfolios will be documents that you create as a member of this incubator. You will create a business and then write the pieces for your portfolio from the perspective as a starting business owner. You will collaborate with other members of the incubator and contribute materials to the endeavors that the incubator undertakes.

What is a business incubator?

According to “Incubating Success. Incubation Best Practices That Lead to Successful New Ventures” (2011), business incubators are “designed to accelerate the successful development of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services, developed or orchestrated by incubator management, and offered both in the incubator and through its network of contacts” (15).

There is much more to what an incubator does and how it works, but for our purposes you just need to understand that it is a place the provides support to help beginning companies succeed.

So what will companies in this incubator do?

Naturally, starting a company is a complex endeavor that involves many decisions, specific legal and financial work, and a significant amount of planning. For this class, we will assume that most of that work is already done. We will generally assume that your company is happily chugging along, doing whatever it is that your company does. That might be making a product, providing a service, researching innovations, and so forth.

You will define the work that your company does, but beyond that you will not need to worry about that part of the scenario. You will focus more on creating some technical writing documents that relate to the company you create.

What makes the Ut Prosim Incubator special?

Our make-believe incubator was founded by some well-established and successful Virginia Tech graduates who wanted to give back to younger graduates by helping them get started in the business world. They have created a program that supports any kind of company with the one requirement that the company participates in the special projects that the Incubator undertakes as a whole.

These special projects relate to the mission of the Ut Prosim Incubator to reach out and work in ways that support others. The founders of the incubator have extended the university’s motto, Ut Prosim (“that I may serve”) to their own mission and motto, “that I may serve through my business.” To clarify, the incubator asks that member companies participate in programs that support causes like sustainability, environmental stewardship, mentorship of young entrepreneurs, and public outreach and education.

How do the writing projects relate to the Ut Prosim Incubator?

ProjectShort Description
Info SheetYou will create a short information sheet that introduces your company to others in the incubator. There will be a specific list of information to provide, including your company name, what it does, and your company’s typical customers.
Correspondence ProjectYou will create guidelines that your employees will use as they communicate with others inside and outside the company. The goal is to ensure that your company’s letters, memos, and emails have a uniform appearance and style.
Technical Description

You will write a technical description related to your field (such as a tool that is typically used or a process that is part of your industry). The description will be part of a diversity initiative to interest local students in STEM careers (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The description will relate to a task that local middle and high school students will complete as they shadow someone in your company.

User Documents

You will also write the user document that students will use in the diversity initiative described above. You will provide step-by-step details on how to complete a simple and appropriate task that will help local students learn more about what someone in your career does.
Short ProposalYou will write a short research proposal that presents the topic you will explore for your white paper. Your proposal should explain not only what the topic is but how it relates to the incubator goal of public outreach and education.
White Paper

You will write an informational report for non-experts that presents details on a specific issue related to your company and the work that it does. Your white paper will tie directly to the incubator goal of public outreach and education. Specifically, the incubator founders want to provide a library of documents that inform readers about how science, technology, and engineering work.

Progress ReportYou will write a progress report that updates incubator staff on the work you have done on your white paper.

Poster Presentation

You will design a poster presentation, based on the details in your white paper, that will be part of a poster session that the incubator sponsors for the local community. Like the white paper, the presentation will focus on the incubator goal of public outreach and education. As an extension, additional investors and clients also attend the session, so you have the potential to make critical connections for your business.

 

 


So that’s the overarching plan for the term. Everything is in progress, but I’m not far enough along yet to have any feedback from students. I will share more when I do, and next week, I will share the first assignment that asks them to write a memo with the basic details about their companies. In the meantime, if you have any feedback or questions about the course, please leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

 

[Photo: Incubator-9128 by graibeard on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license]

One of the eight threshold concepts that frame my FYC and co-requisite courses is this:  uncertainty, difficulty, and confusion are normal parts of a writer’s growth. Upon reflection, I think I would add that these nouns also characterize an experienced writer’s process (the meandering path that led to this particular blog post, were it made visible, would provide substantial evidence to support this assertion). 

 

And yet, even having articulated this principle within my classroom (and particularly in the readings I assign), I find that I am still very quick to minimize or undermine uncertainty for my students, especially in the early days of their college writing careers. And I suspect in doing so, I am also minimizing an opportunity for learning.

 

A classroom conversation this week illustrates my tendency. I had asked students about thesis statements, and their answers were typical: It’s the last sentence of the first paragraph in the essay. It’s just a summary of what you say. It’s the plan for the essay so the reader can follow. I was told it had to have a certain format. It can’t announce the topic. It can’t be too broad or too narrow. It should answer a question. You should know what it is before you start writing. Using their text as a guide, students talked about weak and strong thesis statements and identified problems in samples that needed to be “fixed.” The students seemed pleased with the exercise: it was straightforward and clear—thesis statements either work or they don’t. There was only a slight ripple of consternation when I suggested that thesis statements need not be presented in one place, worded a specific way, fully developed at the outset, or stated explicitly. Despite making these comments, however, the activity of evaluating and improving thesis statements (and reading about “common problems” with a thesis) implied the opposite: thesis statements are certain, clear, and predictable.    

 

Later that same day, I called my daughter, who has just begun a Ph.D. program in English. For some time, she had been reworking an MA project as a book chapter. She commented on how frustrating the process had been for the first several days (perhaps even weeks) of her work. But, she was thrilled to announce during our talk that her initial musings and reflections had finally led her to a thesis, and she now feels confident the chapter will come together. I could hear the energy in her voice: she had a thesis, and while it might still need some tweaking, her sense of the potential impact of the paper (and her ability to write it) was striking. 

 

Consider the differences in these thesis-focused conversations: for many of my students, a thesis is primarily a component of a written product – a component that will be assessed by expert readers, possibly as ineffective, inappropriate, or misplaced. In short, my students view the thesis as something they can “get wrong” and thus something that must be nailed down immediately – and preferably without any changes. My daughter, on the other hand, views her thesis as a means to control and develop her writing. She discovered her thesis via invaluable but messy exploratory writing (which no one sees or grades), and she is harnessing the power of that thesis to guide the development of her work. While the thesis will surely be subject to the critical reflection of her future readers, she can use those responses to further define and refine her theoretical stance.  It is, in short, a mode of learning, a means to agency and control in her writing—and her thinking.

 

I see a similarity in the ways my students conceptualize a thesis and their understanding of grammar: both are seen as a toggle switch, set to either the right or wrong position, not as opportunities to learn, make choices, or express meaning. The anxiety produced by the desire to get it right leads me (far too often) to let students bypass the messy process of thesis-building (or sentence construction) by issuing a judgment and recommending remedies quickly. They invariably do whatever I suggest. I know better, but I have a competing desire to relieve anxiety, especially for students whose previous academic experiences have been demoralizing and disorienting.

 

In a workshop for our faculty at the start of this term, we were challenged to apply practices of “Transparency in Learning and Teaching” or TILT (a faculty professional development initiative led by faculty researchers at UNLV) with our assignment design.  For me, this fall, that means finding ways to make “useful confusion” explicit for students and helping them recognize the value of uncertainty in the process of discovering and refining a thesis. Transparency about the value of uncertainty means challenging the binary terms so often used to talk about the thesis (right/wrong, strong/weak, broad/narrow). It also means asking more questions during writing conferences, and acknowledging the frustration of working with a murky thesis in initial drafts. My hope is that students will come to accept uncertainty and confusion—anxiety-inducing as they may be—as a means to extended possibility and power in their writing, just as experienced writers like my daughter have.   

 

In what ways are you helping students re-imagine uncertainty and confusion as platforms for writing development?

 

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