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2018

Guest Blogger: sara heaser  is a Lecturer of English at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, where she specializes in basic/co-requisite and first-year writing curriculum, pedagogy, and program development. She is an alum of the Dartmouth Summer Seminar for Studies in Composition Research and is currently in the midst of a qualitative study to explore first-year writing as a space for retention. She can be reached at sheaser@uwlax.edu.

 

I have a four-year-old son who understands the world in basic binaries: good vs evil, happy vs sad, big vs small, and such. So when he asks his big questionslots and lots of themabout really abstract things, I resort to the most simple, applicable analogy I can think of.

 

Here’s an example. We were reading a book about the human body and he asked about the “weird-looking lines” (veins) inside us. We live in the Midwest on the Mississippi River, so I said that those lines were like little rivers of blood, and that the blood rivers have barges on them, and the barges carry things he needs around his body to where his body needs them. There’s obviously not microscopic chunks of bananas and fruit snacks floating from his stomach to his toes via his veins, but it’s a close enough explanation to appease his curiosity and to reach a level of understanding that he gets, for now.

 

This is a hard part of parenting, negotiating mutual understanding of an unfamiliar concept. The same goes for teaching. As teachers, we collectively live in the same world as our students, sometimes quite literally in the same communities. But this doesn’t mean we share or value common experiences. This is especially true when it comes to writing.

 

The students in my FYW courses are well beyond understanding the world dualistically like my son does, but when it comes to writing, I see them rely on old tropes. I often find their understanding of writing and its processes is limited to playing it safethey rely on archaic rules that someone told them to follow somewhere along the way in their writing education. And as we know, FYW can sometimes be a student’s first foray into writing for purposes and audiences instead of writing to follow rules--a very unfamiliar concept, indeed.

 

Rules are inflexible; metaphors are interpretative. Introducing metaphors in FYW that imply writing is flexible, unsteady, confusing, messy, frustrating, and such might suggest not only a difference in kind but a difference in understanding of what writing is, as a verb. Some I rely on often:

 

  • A wacky genius effortlessly producing prose is a mythological trope seen in fictional films.
  • Writing is like cooking. Gather the ingredients as you prepare, adjust them as needed to your purpose and audience. (And this one reminds me of my own role: I’m not the one cooking. The students are. So back off.)
  • Engaging in research is like having a conversation. Sometimes you might not know what the conversation is about, and that’s ok. Just listen for a while.
  • Learning to write well is like learning a sport. It requires repetitive, deliberate practice. Just like you might stretch or lift weights to train for a big race, you might practice combining sentences to train for revising a big draft.

 

The five-paragraph essay, sad and useless, is a particularly fun target on which to apply metaphor. Even entire rhetorics for FYW invoke metaphor, like Understanding Rhetoric: A Graphic Guide to Writing, which uses “hosts” (the authors) that guide students through a journey of learning about writing.

 

I don’t have extensive data on student response to metaphor or the effectiveness of metaphorical language in composition pedagogy, but I have a teacherly sense that the use of metaphor in FYW plays a special role beyond just explaining what writing is and can be.

 

If shared language is a symbol of intimacy, metaphor is essentially the foundation on which we can build a sense of community. (A metaphor to explain a metaphor—I couldn’t resist.) When I overhear students drop our metaphors in conversations or read them in a reflective essay, I can literally see and hear metaphor functioning to humanize writing and to establish a relationship between writer and audience, between student and teacher, and between the most important relationship of them all, between the novice writer and writing itself.  

 

What metaphors do you use to talk about writing with your students?

Stephen Parks

Sueños y Pesadillas

Posted by Stephen Parks Expert Oct 31, 2018

Hearing the Voices of the Immigrant “Caravan”

Over the past several weeks, the Trump Administration has been attempting to create an atmosphere of fear around the “caravan” of refugees fleeing the violence of their home countries. Their political and personal suffering has been recast in terms of a “takeover” of our country by “violent and dangerous” individuals. There have even been calls to increase military security along the border. 

 

I want to use this space to simply remind us of the humanity of those attempting to reach safety. Last year, I had the opportunity to publish the memoir SUEÑOS Y PESADILLAS/Dreams and Nightmares by Liliana Velasquez, who left her home at 14 to come to the United States. I am providing an excerpt of her story as one small attempt to remind us of the courage of many of those in the “caravan” and the strength they are bringing to our nation. (Proceeds from Dreams and Nightmares are used to pay for Liliana Velasquez’s college education.) 

 

SUEÑOS Y PESADILLAS: Liliana's Story

 

I Got Rid of My Fear

When I was fourteen, I decided to come to the United States alone. I told myself, I’m going to get rid of all of my fear, if I never strive, I won’t accomplish my dream. When I made that decision, I was ready for anything. What was going to happen to me wasn’t important, because many things had already happened there in Guatemala. I made that decision out of desperation, out of the anger I always had, from seeing my mother and father suffering, from seeing parents in my village who didn’t care for their children, from seeing the violence within families and between neighbors—from seeing my poor country. And, as I suffered some of that, I decided to go far away without fear. When I came here I did many things that I couldn’t imagine, without knowing anything. I didn’t have a plan, like where I was going, who I was going to meet up with or stay with, if I had anything to eat or a place to sleep, or where I was going to get money. I didn’t think about those things. I only told myself, I’m going! I didn’t know what I was doingit was insanity and bravery at the same time.

           

Fulfilling My Dreams

In Guatemala, I wanted to go to school and continue my studies, but I wasn’t able to. I wanted to be someone and overcome what had happened to me, and I decided to make a different life. I didn’t want to get married and have children, like the other young girls in Guatemala, and I had to escape the violence there. My dreams were to live with my brothers in North Carolina and work and help my mom and my sisters. 

 

When they captured me at the border, I felt like my dream had ended. I said to myself, If they deport me, I don’t know what will become of me—I will be destroyed if I return to Guatemala. When I was caught, destiny took me down another path beyond my imagination and changed my life. I came to the United States only to work and be with my brothers. I had no hopes of living with a foster family that would love me, I had no hopes of continuing with my studies and living like a regular girl, of having papers, of having more freedom and respect and opportunities, of not suffering from violence, or of finding so many people who would help me. 

 

Thinking about the future, I am going to keep on fighting and taking advantage of the opportunities that I have. Right now, I’m only focused on my present goals. Eventually, I want to go to a university and study nursing. I will be the first person in my family who has graduated from high school and gone on to the university—who has a career.

 

This hasn’t been easy, it has cost me a lot. In one sense, I’m achieving the American Dream, but a part of me—the part that I love the most—I left in Guatemala. I’m separated from my family there, from the place that I was born. I’ve had to get used to a completely different culture and to new people and have had to determine my own path. It’s been hard, but it’s worth it. 

 

Finally, I Have Told My Story

 Since I was a thirteen-year-old girl, I have wanted to tell my story. When I cried in my house in Guatemala, I imagined that the house was a witness to my suffering, and that someday it would testify about what had happened to me. I wanted to express everything that I felt—how I cried because of the separation of my parents, or the abuse and torment that I experienced, and my lack of education. I didn’t think about including my dreams in my story—I only thought about the ways I suffered.

 

I decided that I had to tell my story. It was very important to me, because there are many people who can’t express themselves, who don’t have the opportunity to tell their story, who have suffered like me. It is my story, but it’s also the story of all the others who have come to this country.

 

Also, I’m telling my story for the people here in the United States who don’t know anything about the life of immigrants—the poverty and violence and lack of opportunities in our countries, and the risks that we take to come to the United States in order to have a better life and help our families. They can’t imagine how we live here, how we suffer, how we try to get ahead and struggle by the sweat of our brow to get what we want. I hope that people who aren’t immigrants see the great difference between their life and the life of immigrants—that they reflect a bit and change their attitude. They haven’t suffered from hunger, they haven’t suffered rape or abuse, they have opportunities to get an education, they don’t live in fear of being arrested and deported. We immigrants came to fulfill our dreams—I want them to understand our dreams.

 

 

Photos courtesy of Stephen Parks.

Tanya RodrigueToday’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodrigue, an associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts.

 

“Technology is rotting our brains!”

 

“The screen is destroying our ability to understand what we read!”

 

“Students are so distracted by technology that they can’t focus on anything let alone researching or reading digitally !”

 

We’ve all heard these alarmist declarations about technology, and to some extent, they are not overly exaggerated. Multiple studies have revealed that students’ reading abilities have declined over time, and technology likely has something to do with it. Cognitive neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf, reading scholar and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of Reading and most recently, Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World, argues that screen reading has transformed our brains, negatively impacting our ability to read in a way that invites strong comprehension. Distractions, stimuli, and digital reading practices such as skimming have all contributed to what Wolf calls a loss of “cognitive patience,” a mental state needed for deep, engaged reading. Based on this research, writing instructors must take note of the real possibility that students may not be comprehending digital texts that they read for homework assignments or for research-based writing assignments.

 

Yet, there are other reasons why students may have difficulty reading and engaging with texts in meaningful ways. Contrary to popular belief, 21st century students are not all “digital natives” or in other words, adept or fluent with technology. Thus instructors can’t assume students know how to effectively navigate digital texts. In fact, many current students have likely not been taught digital reading practices in elementary or secondary school. A recent qualitative research study I conducted on digital reading practices affirms such a hypothesis. In my study, I discovered that students utilized comprehension strategies, yet almost never engaged with reading strategies specific to digital texts like acknowledging or clicking hyperlinks, acknowledging or engaging with images and videos, and drawing connections between and among modes. The students in my study read digital texts like print texts.  

 

All of this means students need formal instruction in digital reading. Below I offer three pedagogical suggestions for how to teach effective digital reading practices.

 

#1. Teach Students that Digital Texts are Multimodal

Digital texts are comprised of multiple modes—alphabetic, aural, and visual. These modes are vehicles of communication and work to convey meaning and messages individually and collaboratively. Within these modes, there are specific features such as color, hyperlinks, charts, images, and maps. Teaching students how to interact and engage with modes and their features will make them stronger digital readers. 

 

#2. Teach Students that Digital Genres Call for Different Kinds of Engagement

PDFs look different from company websites which look and sound different from multimedia scholarly articles. Bring attention to these differences and point out that different genres call for different kinds of reading engagement.

 

Since writing conventions carry over from print to the web, so do reading practices. Thus one way to teach students how to engage with different digital genres is to ask them to draw on reading habits of print texts that are similar in nature to digital texts. For example, a student may draw on their antecedent reading practices of a print newspaper to engage with a digital newspaper. An instructor could then support them in adapting these strategies to engage with the unique features and rhetorical situation of that digital text.

 

#3. Teach Students How to Preview a Text and Construct a Reading Plan

Much like with a print text, previewing a digital text orients the reader and provides them with knowledge on how to approach reading that text. Ask students to activate their knowledge of digital text features, digital genres, and previous reading practices to preview the text and create a reading plan.

 

Julie Coiro, in “Making Sense of  Text,” offers one way students might preview a digital text:

(1) read the title of the page and site;

(2) scan menu choices without clicking on anything in effort to get a holistic sense of the text;

(3) make predictions about where each hyperlink may lead;

(4) explore interactive features, including pop-up menus and scroll bars;

(5) identify the creator and what this information might reveal about the digital text;

(6) acknowledge and practice using any electronic supports, such as an internal search engine;

(7) and make a decision about whether to explore the site further.

 

After previewing the text, students can compose a reading plan that clearly indicates how they will approach engaging with the text according to their purpose for reading it.

Tanya Rodrigue

Today’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodrigue, an associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts.

 

Several years ago, I observed a writing class wherein the professor asked students to find a visual that represented their feelings about writing. One student brought in a picture of a young man standing at the top of a cliff. The young man looked terrified as he looked down, perhaps thinking he could tumble off the edge at any moment.
 
The message was clear: writing is scary.
 
Writing has historically been known to evoke feelings of fear and anxiety in many people, and our students are no exception. Many of them are scared to write for fear of “not sounding smart” or “not doing it right.” Many of them are scared to share their writing, especially with their peers, because they “stink at writing” or “don’t have any good ideas.”
 
Fear and anxiety yield all kinds of problems for writers. Some experience dread at the thought of writing; some experience severe writer’s block or paralysis; and/or some just try to avoid writing altogether.
 
So how can we help our students overcome their fears related to writing?
 
I orchestrated a brief, but surprisingly very effective activity to help students identify their fears about writing and support each other in facing these fears. The activity helped individual students gain confidence, but perhaps more importantly, it fostered a caring, supportive environment for a community of writers. In facilitating this activity immediately before peer review, students approached each other’s work with a kind of empathy and understanding that they had not previously had.

 
Step #1: Ask students to take out a piece of paper and respond to the following prompt. What is your biggest fear or challenge about writing?
 
Step #2: After students finish responding to the prompt, ask them to fold up the piece of paper and place it in a box. Then ask each student to randomly pick out a piece of paper from the box, making sure they do not pick their own.
 
Step #3: Ask students to write a response to their peers on the same piece of paper. Students may choose one of two options: write a suggestion to help your peer overcome the fear or challenge OR write an affirmation.
 
Step #4: One by one, ask each student to stand up and read their peer’s response and their response to their peer.  
  
Step #5: After the last person speaks, encourage students to give each other a round of applause.
 
In my courses, students provided excellent suggestions—ones that I never thought of myself. They also expressed solidarity and support with phrases like “I feel the same way” or “don’t worry, everyone feels like that” or “we’re in this together!” The activity energized the class and encouraged students to engage with each other’s work in a productive and caring manner. 

 

While this activity is useful to orchestrate prior to peer review or peer assessment, there are other instances wherein it would be effective. For example, students may benefit from facing their fears and feeling support from their classmates and professor on the first day of a writing course or at the start of any writing assignment, especially if students are composing in a foreign mode or genre. In slightly altering the prompt language, the activity could be used while students are engaged in the composing process or during the revision stage (What has been, or what do you think will be, a challenge in writing or revising this paper?) The prompt could also be altered to become a multimodal activity: students could draw or bring in a picture that represented their challenges or fears, and then their peers could respond to the visual.

Donna Winchell

News and Nationalism

Posted by Donna Winchell Expert Oct 26, 2018

The Global Opinions editor of the Washington Post, Karen Attiah, delayed publishing Jamal Khashoggi’s final column in hopes that they could edit it together, as had been their habit. It gradually became apparent that this was not to be, as reports of his disappearance after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul were replaced with reports of his torture and murder. Ironically, his final column was about freedom of the press—ironic because it was his history of outspoken criticism of the lack of freedom in his native Saudi Arabia that led to his death.

 

In the column he lamented the lack of freedom throughout the Arab world that left its citizens ignorant of or misinformed about the larger Arab world. He wrote, “They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives. A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative.” Critics have been imprisoned; print journalism has been suppressed: “These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence. As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate.” Jamal Khashoggi was silenced permanently on October 2, 2018.

 

As news of Kashoggi’s murder spread, the eyes of the world were on how America would respond. Then last week a single word he used in the final sentence of his final column was picked up by President Trump and immediately began ricocheting all over the media: nationalist. Definition often finds itself at the heart of political discourse, particularly leading up to critical midterm elections. Trump’s declaration that he is a nationalist certainly fits this bill, centering discourse on the connotations of nationalism.

 

So much depends on how nationalism is defined. In its denotation, it seems innocuous. Merriam Webster defines it thus: “loyalty and devotion to a nation, especially: a sense of national consciousness . . . exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.” That sounds pretty much like patriotism, which President Trump may have had in mind when he stated, “A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country so much. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist. Okay? A nationalist. Use that word.”

 

Yet, when Khashoggi used the term, it was in the context of “the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda.” CNN reporter Jim Acosta was quick to pick up on one negative interpretation of the term. In the Oval Office the next day, he asked, “Mr. President, just to follow up on your comments about being a nationalist–there is a concern that you are sending coded language or a dog whistle to some Americans out there that what you really mean is that you’re a white nationalist?”  Trump’s response: “I’ve never even heard that, I can’t imagine that. I’ve never heard that theory about being a nationalist.” Unfortunately, many have.

 

Trump says the word nationalist and hears patriot. Others hear the “dog whistle” of white nationalism. Others hear Khashoggi’s “governments spreading hate through propaganda.” The term’s connotations have everything to do with context. In the context of Khashoggi’s death, its use seems ominous.

 

 

 

Image Source: 2018-10-22T103713Z_2_LYNXNPEE9K0IF-OCATP_RTROPTP_2_CNEWS-US-SAUDI-KHASHOGGI” by Bruce Detorres on Flickr 10/22/18 via Public Domain

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

 

Three dogs dressed as ghosts with a jack-o-lantern.

 

Happy almost Halloween! This month, we’ll look at some Grammar Girl podcasts about idioms--including two that are quite “spooky.”

 

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 list include Grammar Girl podcasts, which you can assign to your students to support your lessons. If you’re teaching a lesson on idioms, 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 page “Assign Grammar Girl Podcasts.”

 

Podcasts about Idioms

  • "Dead" Idioms [6:16]
  • "Skeleton" Idioms [5:24]
  • Quirky English Idioms [5:10]
  • Idioms about Rain [5:35]
  • Wordiness and Idioms [4:27]

 

Students can do a lot more with podcasts than simply listen to them. Choose one or both of the following assignments for students to complete using the suggested Grammar Girl podcasts.

 

Assignment A: Have students listen to the podcasts listed above. Then, ask students to brainstorm ideas for their own podcast about idioms, either individually or in small groups. Students should consider the following questions:

  • What aspect of idioms do they want to focus on? (For example, one student may want to investigate idioms across cultures, another may want to look at idioms that share a word or theme, and a third may choose to highlight one idiom and research it in depth.)
  • How long do they want the podcast to be? (As with an essay, broader topics tend to result in longer podcasts. You may also want to set time limits.)
  • What do they already know about their chosen topic? What other questions do they still have about their topic? What will they need to research?

 

After brainstorming, have students draft a brief write-up of their podcast idea. Ask them to include a potential title, the planned duration, research questions, and potential sources of information.

 

Assignment B: Ask students, either individually or in small groups, to write a script for their own podcast about idioms. (If your class completed Assignment A above, they can use their write-up to guide the script.)  Students should consider what information they want to convey (or what question they want to answer), how long they want their podcast to be, and how they will structure the discussion. Will they research different sources and summarize what they’ve discovered? Will they interview an expert and include that recording as part of their podcast?

 

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

 

Credit: Pixabay Image 2870607 by Fotoshautnah, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

My Life with Charles Billups and Martin Luther King: Trauma and the Civil Rights Movement. You will not know this book because it hasn’t been published yet. In fact, it might never have been published had it not been for the brilliant persistence and effort of Keith Miller, one of my heroes in our field. You do probably know Miller’s work—his books include Martin Luther King's Biblical Epic: His Great, Final Speech and Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Its Sources, and his essays on King, Malcolm X, Jackie Robinson, Frederick Douglass, C.L. Franklin, and Fannie Lou Hamer have appeared in our field’s best journals. And if you know Miller personally, then you’ll know that saying he is “persistent” is a vast understatement: an absolute ferret for information, Keith will follow a research thread to the ends of the earth—if it relates to social justice and freedom.

 

It’s this persistence (I’m guessing) that led him to Helene Rene Billups Baker, daughter of Charles Billups and author of the book noted above. Baker had never written about her father, a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement and a major leader in Birmingham whom King sought out for advice and counsel. She says she had never written about him—and had not talked much about him either—because of the trauma she lived through in her childhood and young adulthood, trauma that effectively silenced her. A near-death experience made her rethink that silence, however, and the result is this book, which Miller is publishing. A mesmerizing storyteller, Baker lets us see Billups as his daughter knew him, observe him as he takes on major leadership in Birmingham, fear for him as he organizes protests, watch with horror and admiration as he prays for those who beat, torture, and almost murder him, and tremble as he faces Bull Connor’s dogs and firehoses, telling them to “Turn on the hoses! Turn loose the dogs! We will stay here ’til we die!” As Baker tells it, her “daddy was shedding tears when he told Bull Connor that nobody was moving.” When the firefighters refused to turn on the hoses, telling Connor to “turn them on yourself,” it marked what some call the “spiritual climax” of the entire Birmingham campaign and illustrated the power of nonviolence.  It also left his daughter deeply traumatized and fearful, desperately determined to protect her father. 

 

When Keith sent me the manuscript of this book, I literally could not put it down: I read it straight through, and then read it again, time traveling back to Baker’s childhood and trying to see events through her young eyes. Baker is determined to tell her father’s story, to make sure that people remember him for the hero he was, and to honor that memory. And he comes to life in her pages; we get to know him through his daughter’s words.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing assignments and have written recently about the University of Oklahoma’s program assignments, which ask students to (among other things) look closely at a group they belong to and reflect long and hard on how that group influences and informs their values and their thinking and their practices. I wonder how many students, in responding to such an assignment, which calls for meta-cognitive assessment and self-reflection, take a look at their family’s past, at their ancestors, as Baker does in writing about her father. I know, for example, that my great grandfather fought, in Tennessee, on the side of the North in the Civil War and that he and his wife had my grandmother when he was in his 50s; she used to tell me stories of sitting on their porch listening to him and other soldiers who had been through the war talking about those times. But that’s about all I know. What if I used the same persistence Miller has shown in pursuing research to learn as much as possible, not just about my great grandfather but about the regiment he fought with, the battles they were in, the Tennessee Smoky Mountain region he returned to, and its inhabitants at the time? What might I be able to learn that would help me think more deeply and critically about my own beliefs and values, about how they developed and where they came from? And how might that help me think about and try to understand the values held by other people and other groups? It’s a task I’d like to undertake!

 

I know that many teachers of writing encourage students to engage in this kind of self-reflective research that often includes ethnographic research as well as archival research and that such projects often result in the kind of writing that builds agency in students and helps them experience the power of writing to change them and to change the world. In these soul-destroying times, I can think of no better way to resist nihilism, not to mention deep depression, than to engage in such teaching and learning.

 

P.S. When Baker’s book becomes available, I will write another post on it; I think you’ll want to read it!

 

Image Credit: The Birmingham News via KKK savagely beat her father who then taught lesson in forgiveness (video) | AL.com.

 

 

“Midterm anxiety” conjures up a medley of worries. I’m not talking about midterm elections (another topic, another blog), but midterm grades. For first-semester writers, in particular, the middle of the first semester is when, uh, “things” get real, with higher-stakes assignments piling up and the looming fear of final grades.

 

Now is when our students need us to champion their potential, and to remind them that the whole point of education is to challenge them into growth over time.

 

None of us want to be the nun in the film Ladybird, who dismisses the eponymous high school character’s hopes for the Math Olympiad with, “But math isn’t something you’re terribly strong at.” In that illustrative scene, the student schools the teacher, as Ladybird corrects the nun: “that we know of yet.”

 

It’s in the “that we know of yet” that we find the kernel of the “growth mindset,” a concept by psychologist Carol Dweck that has been widely popularized, and remains, in my classroom experience, a empowering concept for first-year writers. My co-author, Stuart Greene, and I, include Dweck in From Inquiry to Academic Writing precisely because writing students continue to find the concept a powerful tool for understanding the pain and potential of learning.

 

In brief, Dweck characterizes a “growth mindset” as the belief that intelligence can be developed. In contrast, a “fixed mindset” is the belief that intelligence is static, which can lead people to give up on difficult tasks, believing that we are either naturally good or bad at particular subjects, and that if we’re good at them, they should be easy. Critical reading and writing, as we all know, is challenging work. So, it’s often tempting to give into the “I’m just not good at writing” mindset.

 

This semester, I am providing in-class journaling time to give students a safe place for guided self-reflection, an experiment I described in this earlier post. I attach low-stakes points to this task: If students are present and write for the full ten minutes, they earn the five points per entry. As you can see in the photo [above], students have taken ownership of their journals, and the insides are as distinct as their cover designs.

 

I have learned a lot from reading them, already, including some harsh realities. For example, a few students were able to write in the journal what they would not say aloud — that they found all the readings boring. Ouch. But, channeling my own growth-mindset as an instructor, I needed to hear this in order to invite more personal connections to the material.

 

The results? My original prompt about a quotation by Marx on work became an invitation to write about their own employment experiences, and what makes work meaningful. Wow, did they have a lot to say — on the up and downsides of being bilingual, the daily and nuanced battles of sexism in restaurants, the psychology of meddling managers, and the crew dynamics that make work alienating or a place of camaraderie. In short, they wrote their way into a terrific classroom discussion about Marx. They also pegged Marx as a growth-mindset thinker — anachronistic, but on point!

 

Other journal reflections have affirmed my pedagogy, as when some students lamented that I did not tell them the key ideas in a text before they read it, and instead made them do this work before class discussion. (Guilty as charged, though the comments inspired me to explain again why I want them to do this critical thinking independently.)

 

A consistent refrain in their journals is the challenge of time-management, a struggle I share as I try to maintain a growth-mindset about making time for my own research. I’ve shared with my students that I’ve joined a writing group, and we’re currently reading and applying insights from How to Write a Lot. Not surprisingly, the amusing and unforgiving advice from author Paul J. Silvia — another psychologist! — resonates point by point with my own guidance for students. Write every day. Make a schedule and stick to it. Keep a journal to reflect on your progress. Be accountable to others.

 

As I remind my students, we’re all in this together.

 

 

Photo Credit: April Lidinsky

Barbara Wallraff

Call Me by My Name

Posted by Barbara Wallraff Expert Oct 24, 2018

 

Yes, of course writers and speakers should call people what they want to be called—all the way from honorifics (if you’re using them) to pronouns: Ms., Miss, Mx., Caitlyn Jenner, Chaz Bono, he, they …. The need for gender-neutral terms has made referring to individuals a bit more complicated. But referring to some groups the way they prefer—particularly groups that have been historically stigmatized or disadvantaged—has become a minefield.


Certain things, obviously, no one should ever call particular ethnic groups or their members. I’d like to think we all know what these terms are and avoid them. But even well-intentioned, up-to-date writers can give offense, because, after all, who’s to say what a group prefers?


Here, matters become very specific, so let’s specifically consider people with disorders or disabilities. These people are not rare: Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that 19 percent of the U.S. population (or 54.4 million people) are living with a disability.


To be even more specific, let’s focus on the autism community, with which I’m familiar because I have long done freelance editing for Spectrum, a respected autism news website. Until earlier this year, Spectrum changed instances of “autistic people” to “people with autism,” because that was the term that professionals in the field used. The site’s staff consists mainly of science journalists and they had been trained in this convention, so upholding the rule was pretty simple. But sometimes people with autism and clinicians or therapists who work closely with them also write for the site, and some of them began pushing back, wanting to use the phrasing “autistic people.”


A few months ago, Spectrum announced a change to its policy:

When referring to people on the spectrum, Spectrum’s style has been to use person-first language (‘person with autism’). The rationale for this language is to put a person’s humanity first, before their condition…. But language evolves, and many people in the autism community now strongly prefer identity-first language (‘autistic person’). This terminology embraces autism as part of a person’s identity rather than a condition that is separate from them. Some professionals are also beginning to prefer this language. The style guide of the National Center on Disability and Journalism … recommends asking a person how they prefer to be identified.

 

The options, however, aren’t limited to “person with autism” versus “autistic person.” Some in the autism community dislike both terms, preferring “ASD [autism spectrum disorder] individuals” or “individuals with ASD.” Yet another respectable point of view treats “ASD” and “autism” as interchangeable, whereas others (such as Spectrum) would argue that ASD is autism, period, and should be called autism.


Similar issues come up for people with other disorders or disabilities. One thing that’s generally agreed about all such conditions is that one shouldn’t say things like “afflicted with,” “suffering from,” or “victim of.” On the opposite side of the coin, neither should one say “differently abled,” “challenged,” “handi-capable,” or “special.” “With” will do just fine.


If it seems to you that I’m not offering clear guidance about the terminology to be used for people with disorders or disabilities—or actually, people with virtually any characteristics whatsoever—you’re right. I’m a sympathetic outsider looking in, not a member of any stigmatized minority. (Okay, I’m a woman, but we’re a majority.) So I don’t believe it’s up to me to choose the terms I like best, unless I’ve studied up on what is up to date and gives offense to few.


The part about staying up to date, with respect to any group, is crucial. In his August 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr., used the word “Negro” 10 times, and “black” in reference to people just three times; that’s pretty good evidence that “Negro” was then the preferred term. The Black Panther Party was founded in 1966, the Black Power movement arose at about the same time, and “black” gradually displaced “Negro.” Then came “Afro-American,” and then “African-American,” and now “people of color”—though this last term does not refer specifically to black people but to anyone who is not white. However, “Latinx” (plural “Latinxs”) is gaining on “Latino” and “Latina” among Hispanics (a term that’s synonymous with “Latinos” in the Census Bureau’s usage, although not in everyone’s).


The idea of the “euphemism treadmill,” a term Steven Pinker coined in his 2003 book The Blank Slate, comes to mind. I wouldn’t call any of the terms I’ve been discussing a euphemism, though, any more than I’d call “Ms.,” used in preference to “Mrs.” or “Miss,” a euphemism. These things are just what some people prefer to be called.


So we’re back to that as a guideline for how to refer to anyone. Few if any Muslims insist on being called “Muslim people” or “people in the Islamic tradition”; in most contexts most writers who are women prefer to be called “writers” rather than “women writers”; and on and on. Encourage your students, when writing about individuals or groups of people, to be well intentioned, and help them be well informed, and they’ll get it right about as often as any of us can.


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

 

Image Credit: File:Hello my name is sticker.svg - Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]

Guest blogger Ann Green is currently a professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University where she teaches in the Inside/Out Prison Exchange Program. She also teaches “Hospital Stories,” a service-learning course in narrative medicine and other immersion and service learning courses. She received the 2017 Outstanding Leader in Experimental Education Award from the National Society for Experiential Education. She has published in The Intima, CCC, The Huffington Post, and The LARB Blog, and she grew up on a working dairy farm in North-Eastern Pennsylvania.

 

I regularly teach in the The Inside-Out Center program, in which half of the students are incarcerated and half of the students are traditional college students. The class meets once a week in a local prison or jail, and our class, a team-taught philosophy and English course, is called “dimensions of freedom.” Inside/Out, as described by the founder, Lori Pompa, is a space where “the process of investigation and discovery is both communal and collaborative” (Prison Journal, 132). Started by Pompa at Temple University, Inside/Out classrooms are half “inside” or incarcerated students and half “outside,” or traditional university students. (I/O is now an international program with 800 trained teachers in 130+universities and 130+correctional facilities.)

 

The creation of classroom community and the importance of boundaries around people’s lives is particularly important in my experiences teaching in the Inside/Out Prison Exchange Program. In her essay “Macaroni and Cheese is Good Enough,” my colleague, Jenny Spinner, writes that not every classroom or every student needs to reveal intimate details of his/her/their life in class or in writing. Community building does not need to rely on over-sharing or false intimacy, but can draw from the significant details of our lives from which we can find common ground. In other words, community building paves the way for empathy.

 

When bringing inside and outside students together, building an intentional community is crucial as students from both groups harbor assumptions and stereotypes about the other. Classes typically meet once a week from two and a half to three hours and often begin, or end, with an exercise that gets students to engage with one another. These community-building exercises create space for students to decide when and what to disclose; in fact, since many of our “inside” classmates are waiting for trial, it is particularly important that icebreakers do not ask anyone to reveal details of their alleged crime. (Inside/Out students sign agreements not to have contact with one another beyond the classroom community.)  

 

Here are five exercises (and links to more details) that you can adapt to different moments in the semester as building blocks for community, to address a difficult class dynamic, or to use as a brainstorming activity for a writing assignment. With gratitude, all of these come from different experiential learning communities I have experienced (the Inside/Out community; Corrymeela, Ireland’s oldest Peace and Reconciliation Community; and the work of Sharon Browning on “JUST Listening – …for the common good.”)

 

  1. Name on the Board: Each student writes their name on the board and explains, in a sentence or two, where their name came from. It is also good as everyone hears how names are pronounced. (Thanks to Colin Craig, Corrymeela.)
  2. Wagon Wheel (orConcentric Circles”): Half of the class makes an inner circle facing out, the other half forms an outer circle facing a partner in the inner circle. A question is posed, each person has a minute or two to answer the question, and then the outside of the circle rotates to the next person. Questions can be adapted for brainstorming, to address a class dynamic, or to any need.
  3. Listening Circle: The set up is the same as the Wagon Wheel, but participants who are listening are instructed to “just listen,” not to nod, affirm, or ask a question while the partner speaks for one to two minutes. During the debrief, participants are asked to consider what it was like to “just listen” and to consider whether it was easier to talk or listen.
  4. First Sentence of Autobiography: Participants write down the first sentence of their imagined autobiography and then share with the group. The group listens for both what is included and what is left out. (Thank you to Pádraig Ó Tuama of Corrymeela for leading us in this exercise.)
  5. Six Word Memoir: Participants write the story of their life (or part of their life) in six words, then share. This is similar to the first sentence of the autobiography except for the conciseness of the words, but both are great if typed and shared with participants at a later class.

 

Classroom communities require ongoing attention and maintenance, and they are important for our students’ learning. If we are asking students to share writing with one another, both through formal peer review and informal activities, it is helpful if students “know” one another. I place “know” in quotation marks because our community building should also strive to create a space for the introverted and/or shy. While no space can be entirely “safe,” we can create classroom communities through sharing the details of our lives that Sonya Sotomayer suggests, “build bridges and not walls.”

When Neil Young wrote his edgy tribute to rock-and-roll "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)," the genre was hardly dead, nor really approaching it. A new generation of rockers—the punks—were trying to clear a space for themselves by claiming that rock was dead (Harold Bloom style, one might say), but in fact they were only revising it with a slightly different vibe. Johnnie Rotten, whether he liked it or not, was a descendant of Johnnie B. Good, and Young himself would go on to become an inspiration to the Grunge scene, which, for a rather brief shining moment, revitalized rock-and-roll and helped put an end to the mousse-inflected hair-band era.

 

But when, in the tumultuous wake of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, I read that Taylor Swift was stepping up to help lead the resistance, I could see that here was a sign that things, finally, had changed, and that the moon was in a new phase indeed. Not that a popular music star leading a political charge for her generation is anything new: heck, that was what the '60s were all about. But Taylor Swift is no rocker, and it is not rock stars who are taking the generational lead these days.

 

The reasons for this are not hard to find, but they are worth a cultural-semiotic exploration. We can begin with the obvious observation that rock-and-roll is no longer the most popular genre of youth music: rap/hip-hop is, along with rhythm-and-blues and the sort of highly choreographed pop that Madonna pioneered, Britney Spears mainstreamed, and that various divas from Taylor Swift to Lady Gaga to Katy Perry now rule (straddling both pop and rhythm-and-blues, Beyoncé belongs in a category of her own). But to start here rather puts the cart before the horse, because it doesn't explain why rock-and-roll plays a second fiddle these days; it only shows that it does.

 

So where's, say, Neil Young, the composer of "Ohio" in the immediate aftermath of the Kent State massacre, in this hour of political need? Well, um, he's also the composer of "A Man Needs a Maid." So how about the Rolling Stones, those "street fighting men" of the '60s? I think that the titles "Brown Sugar" and "Under My Thumb" are enough to explain why no one is running to them for leadership right now. And Bob Dylan, the author of "Lay Lady Lay" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" (about the bitterest putdown of a woman in pop history)? 'Nuff said.

 

I think the pattern here is quite clear: rock-and-roll is rather hopelessly entangled in a male-centered history that is most charitably describable as patriarchal. It isn't the fact that all the performers that I've mentioned are now firmly entrenched in old age that puts them on the political sidelines today (after all, they are all still active and highly profitable touring acts); it's the rock-and-roll legacy itself. Even today's young rockers (and they do exist), can't escape it.

 

Which brings up a related point. Rock-and-roll is not only coded as "male"; it is also coded  "white." Yes, Chuck Berry (and a lot of other black musicians) took a leading role in creating it in the '50s, but rock was taken away from them in that era of official segregation and literally color-coded as "rhythm and blues"—a split that even Jimi Hendrix and the Chambers Brothers could not quite fully repair. And when rap began its meteoric rise in the '80s, it was Heavy Metal (one of rock's most popular incarnations in that decade) that became the de facto voice of white audiences (it is interesting to note in this regard how Ted Nugent and Dave Mustaine—two high profile metalists—are also outspoken conservatives today).

 

Add it all up and it is clear how changes in American demography and gender relations have affected popular music, and, thus, have determined just which performers will be received as voices for their generation. The signs are all there, ready to be read as part of a much larger historical shift. "Rock is dead," sang The Who, who then quickly added, "Long Live Rock," from that land where the passing of one monarch still means the ascendance of another. That was a long time ago, and Roger Daltrey has more recently opined that rock really is dead now and that rap has taken its place. But rock isn't really "dead," of course; it's just been sidelined.  And in the #MeToo era, rap—though still ascendantisn't alone at the top of the charts (political as well as musical) either.  Just ask Taylor Swift.

 

 

 

Image Source: “IMG_0614” by makaiyla willis on Flickr 2/4/17 via Creative Commons 2.0 License

 

I’m just back from a week in London, and what a week it was! Highlights included a massive exhibit on Oceania at the Royal Gallery; a tour of architect Sir John Soane’s amazing house/museum, with its hundreds of paintings and sculptures, including the entirety of Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress; and FIVE plays in six days. I saw Andre Holland in Othello (with the inimitable Mark Rylance as Iago) at the Globe and a modern musical adaptation of Twelfth Night that I’ll never forget, along with Everybody’s Talking about Jamie (look it up!) and a fabulous production of Mrs. Dalloway at a small local theater, with five actors taking all the parts. Food for the mind and the soul.

 

All this theater got me thinking about my great good fortune in teaching at the Bread Loaf Graduate School of English at the Vermont campus, with its magnificent theatrical productions every summer. Led by Brian McEleney from Trinity Rep, the group includes Equity actors from Trinity as well as students and faculty at Bread Loaf, and together they mount an entire production from start to finish in five weeks: it is miraculous, and I’ve seen some of the best theater of my life there. Last summer, Brian adapted Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities as a play, and the result was galvanizing, as the production spoke directly to the political situation we find ourselves in today. It was, again, something I’ll never forget, and, again, it made me think of how important it is for students to see plays as more than words on a page, as something a playwright has made, crafted, shaped, and gifted us with.

 

My hostess and friend in London, Julia Rowntree, is famous for making things, and especially things in clay. She is passionate about the need for all of us to connect to the world through our hands and sees claymaking as one crucial way to do so. She’s been at this work for decades, and her Clayground Collective has been highly influential in Britain’s cultural landscape, bringing claymaking projects into schools all over the UK and sponsoring innumerable community projects. For example, in 2015 the Collective’s canal-based project, Clay Cargo, sponsored a weekend during which 3,000 people built A Monument to the City and its Anonymous Makers using 5 tons of clay and erected it beside the Regent’s Canal at Granary Square in King’s Cross. 3,000 people doing claymaking! (You can see a film about this project here, and you can find out much more about the Collective in a recently-published book of Julia’s, Clay in Common, available on Amazon.)

 

I share Julia’s enthusiasm for making and for the makers’ movement, which is associated in this country with the participatory culture that Henry Jenkins and others have documented so extensively. More to the point of this blog, however, I believe that writing is an important form of making. In fact, we used to write on clay—and artists, of course, still do. Whatever we write on, we are shaping, crafting, forming ideas, concepts, arguments, dreams: we are part of those anonymous makers Julia and her colleagues celebrate.

 

I don’t think our students often think of writing in this way, however, and to that end we have work to do. In our classes, in our tutoring, and in our mentoring we need to present and represent writing in this light: as something we make with our hands and our brains, and as something we set out in the world for others to engage with, respond to, and enjoy. Maybe it’s time to bring some clay tablets to our classrooms and see what happens!

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 690404 by Free-Photos, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

Today’s featured Bedford New Scholar is Rachel McCabe, a PhD Candidate in English at Indiana University Bloomington. She expects to finish in 2019. She teaches Analytical Reading, Writing, and Inquiry, and has taught multilingual and online versions of the course in the past. She also designed her own FYC theme-based course which focuses on the grotesque. She is an Assistant Director of IU’s FYC Program as well as their Professional Writing course. Her research interests include the relationship between reading and writing, affect theory and its impact on the reading and writing process (especially when using fictional and multimodal texts), and how shock and discomfort can be utilized as pedagogical tools.

 

In first-year writing courses, students often struggle to conceptualize the new ideas and perspectives they encounter through course readings. As Robert Scholes explains in his 2002 article, “The Transition to College Reading,” college students absorb reading material as though it reflects their world view. Rather than allowing the text to make its own argument, they force a connection between the way they see the world and what is written on the page. Scholes explains, “The problem emerges as one of difference, or otherness—a difficulty in moving from the words of the text to some set of intentions that are different from one’s own, some values or presuppositions different from one’s own and possibly opposed to them” (166). In breaking down this problem into contributing factors, Scholes concludes there are two central difficulties: “One is a failure to focus sharply on the language of the text. The other is a failure to imagine the otherness of the text’s author” (166).

 

Indiana University’s First-Year Composition (FYC) program has utilized a multitude of practices to help students separate themselves from the texts they read. We implement heuristics in the standard syllabus to get students to slow down when reading and notice small patterns and anomalies they might not otherwise pay attention to. We also use a collection of readings that specifically highlight a variety of perspectives, including Gloria Anzaldua’s “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility,” and Susan Wendell’s “The Social Construction of Disability.” We also practice “using a source as a lens,” a heuristic from David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen. This heuristic helps students figure out how to extract the perspective demonstrated in an author’s work and then use this concept to reconceptualize other materials.

 

These practices were in place before I joined as Assistant Director of Composition, and I took note of the ways in which they helped students to separate their identities and ideas from the ones represented in the readings. However, in structuring my own version of FYC, I wanted students to be able to practice this objectivity from the start of the semester onward rather than learning to do so by the middle of the course sequence. This was critical to the development of student analytical skills in my course, which focused on defining the term “grotesque” as well as its use and appearance in American culture and art. Since this course asked students to begin by understanding a definition, their ability to apply the term to primary texts was critical to the assignment sequence. As a result, while my first of three units grew out of the standard syllabus at Indiana University for “W131: Reading, Writing, and Inquiry,” it implements “source as a lens” as one of the first heuristics of the semester.

 

For our first two course readings, students analyze an excerpt from Wolfgang Kayser’s The Grotesque in Art and Literature and Michael Steig’s “Defining the Grotesque: An Attempt at Synthesis.” These two texts not only provide introductory definitions of the term “grotesque,” but they also demonstrate how academic conversations develop, as Steig builds his definition from the work provided by Kayser. Students then craft a “lens” from one of these two texts. In our class, this means re-evaluating texts including William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” or Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” through the perspectives provided by Kayser or Steig.

 

Students are encouraged to start their essays with their initial interpretations of the short story or poem, using textual analysis to determine why they initially viewed the short story or poem in a particular way. Then, their essays go on to explore how the student was able to re-see the primary text in a new light with the help of Kayser or Steig’s lens. This structure asks students to differentiate between their reading of the text and the reading that might be provided by either of these other authors. In order to adopt this lens, they first practice summarizing the texts and understand its main claims. They then use this knowledge to see the short story or poem from a perspective other than their own.

 

This heuristic ultimately serves as an approachable way for students to consider Kenneth Burke’s concept of the “terministic screen.” It alerts them to the ways in which their perspective is just one way to read any text or situation. As Burke explains in Language as Symbolic Action, people move through the world with their own unique perspective and interpretations. As a result, “many of the ‘observations’ are but implications of the particular terminology in terms of which the observations are made” (46). Moving between these screens constructed by our own terminology and experiences provides the flexibility of imagination to imagine another person’s perspective. By starting out with this exercise, students know that our writing course emphasis is not only on rhetorical analysis of texts, but also on broadening our points of view.

 

To view Rachel’s assignment, visit The Grotesque in American Culture: Essay 1, Applying a Definition. To learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board, visit the Bedford New Scholars page on the Macmillan English Community.

 

Works Cited

Burke, Kenneth. Language As Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. University of California Press, 1966.

Rosenwasser, David, and Jill Stephen. Writing Analytically. Thomson Wadsworth, 2009.

Scholes, Robert J. “The Transition to College Reading.” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, vol. 2 no. 2, 2002, pp. 165-172.

Guest blogger Ann Amicucci directs the First-Year Rhetoric and Writing Program at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She teaches courses in first-year writing, writing pedagogy, and the rhetoric of social media. Readers can connect with her on Twitter at Ann N. Amicucci (@AnnNAmicucci) | Twitter

 

All readers make snap judgments. To lay the groundwork for sustained, critical reading, I teach students to identify the thinking that occurs when readers encounter a new text. I describe three activities here that foster metacognition by leading students to understand why readers are drawn to some texts but not others. Following "Reflection in the Writing Classroom" by Kathleen Blake Yancey, I have students engage in reflective discussion and writing throughout the semester to develop their facility with the habit of mind of metacognition (see the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing).

 

Reading Reaction Chart

I assign a Reaction Chart in connection with my first-year writing course’s custom reader, which contains 43 non-fiction texts: a range of speeches, essays, and personal narratives. This activity can be adapted for any course reader or textbook. My directions are brief: “Read the title and first sentence of every text, and write a reaction note that tells us (briefly!) what your first impression of the text is.” I list titles on a spreadsheet in Microsoft’s OneDrive, then students type their name and reactions in a column on the spreadsheet.

 

The following is a sample of students’ reactions to the title and first sentence of Richard Rodriguez’s “Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood”:

  • Love hearing about someone’s struggles that they had to climb over.
  • I feel like I should know more about this, but this is not interesting.
  • I am not interested in this topic at all.
  • I think memoirs are really cool and get very personal so I admire this already.

 

Later, when I give students choices in what to read and write about, they refer to the Reaction Chart to recall which texts caught their interest and to browse others’ reactions for insight. By directing students to name initial reactions, this activity prepares the class for metacognitive practice to come.

 

Questions that Readers Ask

Next, students reflect on the thinking that occurs when we decide whether to read a text. I lead a discussion about what text types students choose to read and give students time to explore their favorite websites and study visual features that catch their attention. Students then work in small groups in response to the prompt, “What questions are we answering without even realizing it when we decide what to read?” and post questions to our class discussion board. \

 

Questions written by this semester’s students include:

  • Am I interested enough in the topic?
  • Will this article or topic be helpful in the future?
  • Is this is factual or written by a biased source?
  • Does this book benefit myself or those around me?
  • Would I be judged for reading it?

 

Brainstorming these questions fosters students’ metacognitive awareness of the choices we make in deciding what to read by slowing down the moment of initial reaction to a text and making thought processes explicit.

 

Annotating Visual Features of Texts

Finally, we investigate how readers react to texts’ visual features, in connection with students’ reading of Chapter 1 in The Academic Writer, which discusses how communication technologies and multi-modal text features impact reading and writing.

 

I select a range of web and magazine articles and bring printed copies of their first pages to class, and students work with these texts in small groups. They write brief “annotations” that identify visual features and corresponding reactions. As the photo shows, students attend to images, use of quotation marks, illuminated letters, and paragraph length, among other features. Students hang their annotated texts around the room and circulate to read each other’s notes, then I post photos of the annotations . As with the previous activities, this annotation process gives students metacognitive practice in noticing their thoughts when confronted with a new text, and their attention is now specifically tuned to their thinking about visual features.

 

What Comes Next?

All three activities have longer-term purposes. A writing course aims to teach sustained, critical reading and analysis that is a far cry from the snap judgments of the Reaction Chart. I lead students into the critical reading process by first acknowledging what those snap judgments are. When students return to read texts fully, they test their latter opinions against their initial reactions. They can see value in reading closely when their opinions become more nuanced from digging into a text. Similarly, the Question and Annotation activities serve as a starting place for analysis of how texts connect with readers. In deciding what text aspects to analyze for major essays, students get ideas by rereading their questions and annotations.

 

All three activities prompt students to identify their reactions as readers. Doing so allows students to understand the thinking processes behind readers’ snap judgments and to recognize that such judgments are just a first step toward analysis.

I've done assembly and teardown of inline-4 combustion engines in my life you think I can do this?#ikeaThe fourth assignment in the Incubator series of assignments that I have designed for my technical writing courses connects directly to the STEM-Based Technical Description Assignment I shared in my last post. In this project, students write a an instructional document related to their field, which will be part of a diversity initiative to interest local students in STEM careers (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

The instructions project pairs with the Technical Description Assignment, which described an object, mechanism, or process common in the student writer’s career field. This assignment asks students to write an instructional document that relates to their technical description document. In the scenario for the paired assignments, the technical writing students discuss a task that local middle and high school students will complete as they shadow someone in the companies that students have created for the course. They 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 their career does.

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 and Stuart Selber. Additionally, the scenario memo that sets up this week’s assignment is identical to that included in last week’s post. So that the assignment is complete, I have repeated it this week.

Technical Description Assignment

Background

You will write a user document (instructions) related to your field. The instructions will be part of a diversity initiative to interest local students in STEM careers (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The user document will relate to a task that local middle and high school students will complete as they shadow someone in your company. 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.

Your user document that students will pair with the Technical Description Project that you worked on last week.

The Scenario

Note: We will use this scenario for two projects: Technical Descriptions (this week) and User Documents (next week).

Last week, you received the following memo, explaining your responsibilities for the Incubator’s annual Try-It-Out Day:

Ut Prosim Incubator logo Ut Prosim Incubator

   1872 Inventors Way, Blacksburg, Virginia 24060

 

   Interoffice Memo

 


To: All Incubator Companies

From: Traci Gardner, Ut Prosim Director

Subject: Preparing for Try-It-Out Day

Date: September 10, 2018
 

RDECOM Scientist and Engineers bring their special skills and enthusiasm  to STEM Night at Fallston Middle SchoolOn Try-It-Out Day, students from Montgomery, Giles, Pulaski, and Floyd Counties will spend most of the day working one-on-one with employees from every company in the Incubator to learn about what careers in STEM involve. We will match students with the company that fits their interests, and then you will determine the employees who will work with those students.

What Happens on Try-It-Out Day?

Try-It-Out Day will take place on Wednesday, September 26, from 8AM to 4PM.

Students will arrive at the Incubator at 8AM and spend the entire day with their assigned company, following this general schedule:

TimeActivity
8:00 AMWelcome assembly for all students and company representatives
8:30 AMStudents tour their assigned company, learning about what the company does and how it works
9:00 AMStudents pair off with employees, who tell the students about their specific careers
10:00 AMRefreshments in the Incubator Atrium
10:30 AMStudents learn to complete an activity that their employee-hosts do in the normal course of work
12:30 PMLunch in the Incubator Cafeteria
1:30 PMSTEM Challenge (a competition, students and employees collaborate in teams based on the schools students attend)
3:30 PMRefreshments in the Incubator Atrium and Closing Comments
4:00 PMStudents board buses to return home

What Do You Need to Do to Prepare?

From 10:30 to 12:30, employees from your company will teach students about some activities that they do in the normal course of their work. To prepare for this portion of the day, please choose a specific activity that students can safely complete in 15–30 minutes. Ideally, choose an activity that students can complete more than once, such as examining and sorting specimens as shown in the image above.

Once you have chosen an activity, create two documents that students can take home and share when they return to their schools:

  • A technical description of an object, mechanism, or process that relates to the activity students will complete.
  • A user document that includes instructions the student can follow to complete the activity.

Any Questions?

If you need any help with this project, please let me know or contact my assistant, Leslie Crow <lcrow@utprosimincubator.org>. You can also talk with Incubator members who participated in the event last year.

Relevant Details

Note: These details apply to all of the projects you include in your portfolio.

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. Be sure that you use the information that you create consistently across all of your projects.

The Project Assignment

Step 1: Review your notes on the focus and audiences for your two projects.
You are using the same focus for your User Document that you choose for the Technical Description that you worked on last week. Review the audience analysis that you completed last week to remind yourself of the characteristics and needs of the middle and high school students who will be following the instructions in your user document. Be sure that you have chosen a workplace task that they could believably complete and that will not place them in a dangerous situation.

Step 2: Examine the information about instructions in Markel.
The textbook provides resources on how to write instructions. Follow the textbook as you work on your project. In particular, be sure that you do the following:

  • Work through the questions for “Designing a Set of Written Instructions” (on page 560 of Markel & Selber) to make final decisions about how to adapt your instructions to meet the needs of your readers.
  • Keep your readers safe by following the advice in the section on “Planning for Safety” (starting on page 562 of Markel & Selber).
  • Follow the “GUIDELINES: Drafting Introductions for Instructions” (starting on page 566 of Markel & Selber) to ensure you include the proper level of specific information.
  • Use the “GUIDELINES: Drafting Steps in Instructions” (starting on page 566 of Markel & Selber) to make the activity easy to understand and complete.
  • Explore the examples in the section “A Look at Several Sample Sets of Instructions” (starting on page 568 of Markel & Selber) to see some of the options for layout and formatting as well as the details to include.

Step 3: Write the user document for students to follow.
Compose your instructions, as requested in The Scenario above, with all the details you have gathered and created. Review the assessment guidelines below to ensure you have met all the requirements for the instructions. As you work, also 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 all relevant ethical guidelines as you work using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Chapter 2 (on page 40 of Markel & Selber).
  • Follow the suggestions for emphasizing important information, using the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 9 (on page 211 of Markel & Selber) to check your work.
  • Use the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 11 (on page 288 of Markel & Selber) to ensure that your document takes advantage of design principles to make it reader-friendly.
  • Make a good impression with accuracy and correctness. Your document should be polished and professional.

Step 4: Check your draft against the Writer’s Checklist.
Be sure that you include the required features for instructions. Review your project, using the Writer's Checklist for Chapter 20 (on page 576 of Markel & Selber) and the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 5: 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 (on page 242 of Markel & Selber).

You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel & Selber, “Appendix, Part D: Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL)” (on page 683 of Markel & Selber). 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 6: Submit your draft to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Post a rough draft of your technical description to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 09/20 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. Post a draft of your technical description by September 20. If you are late submitting a draft, your group may not have time to provide feedback.

Step 7: Provide feedback to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Provide feedback to the members of your writing group in the 09/20 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas, by September 24 (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 8: 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 9: Include a polished version of your project in Project Portfolio 1, due October 1.
Have your Technical Description 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.
  • 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 Instructions

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective instructions, based on the checklist at the end of Chapter 20 of Markel & Selber:

  • Demonstrates a clear relationship between the graphics and the accompanying text.
  • Has a clear title that is specific to the instructions.
  • Opens with an introduction that
    • states the purpose of the task.
    • describes the safety measures or other concerns that readers should understand.
    • lists the necessary tools and materials.
  • Includes step-by-step instructions that are
    • numbered.
    • expressed in the imperative mood.
    • simple and direct.
    • accompanied by appropriate graphics.
  • Ends with a conclusion that includes
    • any necessary follow-up advice.
    • if appropriate, a troubleshooting guide.

 


Image Credit from Memo: RDECOM Scientist and Engineers bring their special skills and enthusiasm to STEM Night at Fallston Middle School by U.S. Army RDECOM on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license


I supplemented the assignment and the textbook information with some short videos and other materials that discussed how to decide between arranging instructions in a sequence and breaking instructions out in steps. Class discussion focused on students’ experience with following instructions. They offered many examples of instructions that didn’t give the end user enough details, primarily from instructions for building furniture.

Things have not been all smooth with this assignment, however. Some students were confused about the connections between the technical description and the instructions. I thought that breaking the activity into two separate pieces would help them focus on one genre at a time. Instead, I complicated the projects. I will likely use one assignment, combining the two projects, in the future.

Next week, I will share details from the portfolio submission assignment, including an infographic I created to help them understand the process. Students have completed half of the writing projects, so they will turn in their collected works. Until next week, let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by leaving me a comment below.

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: I’ve done assembly and teardown of inline-4 combustion engines in my life you think I can do this?#ikea by Joey Navera on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Today’s guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at khaimesk@kennesaw.edu or visit her website: Acts of Composition.

One of the most valuable skill sets for students is collaboration. Multimodal tools open up opportunities for rich collaborative spaces that give students experience working together in productive ways. Digital collaboration also provides opportunities for engaged learning and the sharing of technological and design knowledge.

 

I emphasize this across all of my classes and group my students into Content Design Teams for the semester to encourage cohesive group identity along with an ongoing commitment and team responsibility. In these teams, students compose, review, and revise all kinds of interactive, non-linear digital projects such as blog posts, infographics, interactive feature articles, and videos. Students provide ongoing feedback on multimodal projects and work together to brainstorm and pitch ideas, form peer response groups, and write collaboratively for engaged team projects.

 

Background Reading for Students and Instructors

 

 

The Assignment

Below are some strategies and activities that promote group cohesion and productive digital collaboration for multimodal classrooms.

 

  • Team Organization: Each team creates a Google Drive space for team organization, workshop feedback, and collaborative writing. Part of their work as writers is learning how to communicate, organize, and write in these , collaborative spaces. Students are responsible for attending and participating in all team meetings, managing the team communication, and evaluating their group members’ team participation and contributions. This sets them up nicely for professional, collaborative contexts that they will experience in the future. As the teacher, I can easily review their progress and accomplishments through shared folders and organized team space.
  • Minutes – Team History and Resolution: Each team is required to record the happenings during their meetings with  minutes. This teaches them how to record discussions, shape action items, and share their accomplishments with others. They learn to compose professional communication artifacts and about the importance of curating written documentation for historical accuracy. Doing this during the meeting (on a Google doc) provides an open space for members to refer back to in order to complete tasks, manage deadlines, and build community.  
  • Establishing Group Cohesion through Visual Identity: At the beginning of the term, students create a collaborative slideshow for their team files. Each student posts an individual picture (that represents their identity) and a short profile to introduce themselves. They also include contact information for their records to promote communication.
    I also ask students use Team Selfies. This started by accident but led to some interesting discoveries. I was at a professional conference and had my students working in their content design teams while I was out of town. I got the idea to have them text me a group selfie while they were meeting. At first, it was a way of confirming students were meeting but it morphed into an important multimodal component in establishing group cohesion. I now have them take one each time they are meeting and incorporate it into their minutes or revision logs.

    Team Selfies create group identity and cohesion.


  • Digital Revision Logs for Peer Response: Students meet together outside of class as a team for peer response sessions on their digital projects. Teams create a Google doc for each session that includes an image of their meeting (all attending members) and a list of suggestions for each review. Team members are prepared to offer lists of strengths along with revision suggestions. These Digital Revision Logs create a reference document that demonstrates participation in the process. After the meetings, each student refers back to the document, makes revisions, and then records their changes as a follow-up. This process of articulation reveals their writing choices and helps teachers see changes in their digital texts (since digital drafts are replaced upon revision).

  • Team Evaluation: Having these documents and organizational spaces helps teachers evaluate collaborative work. So much of the valuable work happens when we are not around to view it. I have students evaluate each other’s performance two times during the semester with a team evaluation rubric and collaborative process reflections. I also use visual process reflections (described in detail in Multimodal Mondays: Digital Collaboration: Infographics as Process Reflections) where students visually represent their team’s processes and collaborative models. This level of accountability keeps students motivated along the way and helps them realize they are responsible for active participation and leadership roles.

 

Reflection

This activity helps students take responsibility for their work and teaches them how to value the processes and tools that make up team organization. As a student, Tiffany Davis states, “The Content Design Teams help me get a more well-rounded feel for my creative articles. My team members help encourage and inspire me to become a better writer with their feedback and suggestions. Overall, I am thoroughly enjoying this process and workshop atmosphere.” Today, more than ever, students work in  collaborative environments through remote access and teams that operate without physical presence. Our expectations for clear communication and cohesive teams will lead students to more productive collaborative work. Students will encounter many future academic and professional contexts that demand this knowledge and use of these digital skills.

Our students generally don’t remember a time when there were no twenty-four-hour news networks. They don’t remember when the news consisted of thirty minutes of local evening news and then thirty of national news on each of three networks, followed by a late-night update at ten or eleven. And it really was news because that short time period didn’t allow time for commentary, and at that point we still thought the news should be factual reporting. A short segment of opinion was clearly designated as such. The “news” changed in 1980 when CNN was founded as a twenty-four-hour all-news network. You can’t spend twenty-four hours a day reporting only the facts, so the majority of what is aired now is one opinion after another, with networks sometimes having a clear bias.

 

So, we and our students hear almost non-stop argument when we tune in to the news channels. The Internet added a whole new outlet for opinion, and we learned during the 2016 presidential election how willing the public was to take as fact what was actually opinion or intentionally distorted news. All I have to do to find a string of arguments, good and bad, is to read through any day’s feed on social media. There are far too many people out there who have far too much time to create the day’s memes or to ferret out just the right slant on anyone’s reasoning to arouse anger or laughter.

 

Here is a sampling of arguments ripe for discussion in a writing class. Some of these will hang around for a while. Most, however, will be replaced quickly by others. Any week’s news has its offerings.

  • Susan Collins’ husband is a lobbyist for Russian interests. The Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of Russia.
  • Brett Kavanaugh and Merrick Garland voted the same 93 per cent of the time.
  • When asked how sure she was if Kavanaugh was the person who sexually assaulted her, Christine Blasey Ford answered 100%! She also passed a lie detector test and requested an FBI investigation!
  • I’m worried today for our young men.
  • Obama admitted to drinking whole six-packs by himself in college and to smoking weed. Why is that okay and what Kavanaugh did isn’t?
  • We got that test alert from Trump on our phones and then there were dozens of people who found their Facebook accounts hacked. There must be a connection.
  • “Texas Police Seize Yard Sign Depicting GOP Elephant Trunk Up Woman’s Skirt, Deem It ‘Pornography.’” (Headline)
  • In Illinois, none of the ads for Republicans identify them as Republican candidates. Wonder what they could possibly be afraid of.
  • “If the accuser has brought false charges you must impose on the accuser the sentence intended for the other person. In this way, you will purge such evil from among you. Then the rest of the people will hear about it and be afraid to do such an evil thing.” (Deuteronomy 19: 18-20)
  • “During Kavanaugh-Ford hearing, calls to sexual assault hotline spiked by 201 percent.” (Headline)
  • “This message is for Dr. Ford. You put yourself through so much and I want you to know it wasn’t in vain. You started a movement and we’ll see it through. If they won’t listen to our voices, they’ll listen to our vote.” (Ellen DeGeneres)

 

 

Image Source: “lisa and cheryl argue it out” by Amanda Wood on Flickr 10/1/05 via Creative Commons BY-ND 2.0 License

 

I’ve had a chance during the last month to visit several college campuses and I have come away so impressed with what’s going on across the country in terms of innovative writing pedagogy. Certainly that was the case last week when I visited my old alma mater, Ohio State, for an alumnae board meeting and had the chance to visit with Scott DeWitt, who heads up the Digital Media and Composition Program there (and has served as vice chair for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy as well as the DMAC Institute that brings students and scholars from around the country to Columbus every summer to learn how to use media most effectively in the teaching of writing and speaking).

 

I got to hear about a new course Scott has developed, one that features internships that call for digital media applications. In the course he is teaching now, he has four teams working on projects: one focused on undergraduate students and their experiential stories; one focused on faculty, who tell stories about their fascinations and obsessions; one that produces podcasts intended for faculty, staff, and students; and one that focuses on alumnae. Called “Mapping Alums,” this project records alumnae telling stories of their time as students and embeds these stories on an interactive object map. I think there are 20 students in the class, which personally seems a little too big to me—15 would be more manageable—but Scott is managing it with his usual enthusiasm and absolute dedication to student-initiated learning.

 

In addition to this exciting project, Scott has an idea for “storytelling for engineers,” which would aim to show engineers how much they need to rely on narrative to get their points across: sounds like another winner to me!

 

These projects are all taking place at the initiative of the Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy faculty, but they are doing so within the Department of English at Ohio State. More than almost any English department I’ve visited in the last several years, Ohio State’s is determined to reverse the enrollment decline by offering courses like the one Scott is teaching, courses that put students in the driver’s seat and support them as they take powerful messages out into the world. The Narrative and Medicine project (spearheaded by James Phelan) is another such effort, as is a new program that combines English and Math. If English departments are going to prosper, these are exactly the kinds of projects they need to undertake, ones that take advantage of the “participatory turn” in learning and that focus on what students can achieve, especially when working collaboratively.

 

Before I left, I got to visit the graduate “Lunsford lounge” (I spoke with one grad student who says she spends hours there every day since it is a quiet place to work away from her two teenage kids!) and saw the redesigned English office. I well remember entering that office 46 years ago when I began my PhD journey at Ohio State. For 45 of those years it has looked exactly the same, but no more! What a spruce up it has undergone, as these photos show.

 

I’d love to hear about innovative new curricular projects – and see photos of redesigned spaces. Please send!

 

 

Image credit: Andrea Lunsford

A Discussion with Ashanka Kumari, University of Louisville, in Preparation for the Watson Conference

 

Community is a fraught term in our field. It is used for all manner of purposes. We speak of our classrooms as communities, attempt to foster inclusive communal practices in our graduate programs, and establish equitable community partnerships. It is less clear, however, that we enable either our undergraduate or graduate students to possess the skills required to actually build communities – the nuts and bolts of organizing strategies and practices that turn community from a noun to an existing space.

 

At least, this is what I have learned through my discussions with Ashanka Kumari, a doctoral student at University of Louisville and an Assistant Director of the Thomas R. Watson Conference, which will be held this October. Our conversation began when I came to campus to share a draft of my Watson essay, then extended into my revision of that essay, and eventually resulted in multi-authored piece. The talk itself initially focused on my efforts to build Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), a human rights documentation center based in Istanbul. (Bassam Alahmad, Director of STJ is also an author in the piece.) STJ stood as an example of the conference theme of what it meant to engage in “producing truth.” In our discussion, Ashanka highlighted how graduate education often did not provide the requisite skills for such community building – whether something large, like STJ, or small, like a community gathering. The assumption of graduate education seemed to be that everyone would end up working in the academy as a researcher, teacher, or both. She noted that for first-generation students like ourselves, with few safety nets, such an assumption could be alienating – what if no academic job was found? Why not, we came to ask, imagine graduate education as preparing students to engage in the meaning of “community” through a multiplicity of skills, through a multiplicity of career paths?

 

In several weeks, Ashanka and I will present our essay, which includes just a small audio segment of our extended discussion. My sense, however, is that this discussion with Ashanka not only enunciates a new way to imagine graduate education, but also a nuanced way to imagine the students in our seminars as possessing a diversity of heritages and ambitions. It is a conversation that points to what a “community-based” graduate education might require. For that reason, in a blog focused on the intersection of community and the academy, I am happy to provide the full discussion here with a transcript of the discussion here.

 

Finally, if you are at the Watson talk or joining us virtually on Twitter (#WatsCon18) at 10:30 AM EST on Saturday, October 27, I hope you will come to our session and share your thoughts on how graduate education can be infused with “community-building” strategies/skills that are useful not only in our “field” but in the neighborhoods in which it exists.

 

 

I continue to think about the ways I can use my rhetoric and writing class as a space where my students can develop the skills they need to be civically engaged and connect what they think and write to equity and social justice. I have never felt more of a sense of urgency than this past week, although Howard Zinn’s words remind me that the Supreme Court has never taken as its mission the need to “defend the rights of poor people, women, people of color, dissenters of all kinds. Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel, and violate the law in order to uphold justice.” His words also remind me that I can help to inspire students to translate what they know into action they can take as activists.

 

Can writing be a civic action? Linda Friedrich, Director of Research and Evaluation at the National Writing Project, offers a resounding “Yes!” And she goes on to identify six ways that writing fosters civic engagement:

 

  • Raising Awareness
  • Establishing Public Voices
  • Articulating Writers’ Concerns, Hopes, and Dreams
  • Advocating Civic Engagement or Action
  • Arguing a Position Based on Reasoning and Evidence
  • Mobilizing for Dialogue and Action

 

I would add that as teachers of writing we can provide spaces for critical reflection so that our students think about the values that influence decisions, policies, and actions, what they value, and to defend what they think is socially just. Second we can provide spaces for critical questioning about how justice plays out in their own lives. And third, as I have explained in a previous blog, students need to practice democracy in contexts that matter.

 

Of these core ideas for civic writing that I have briefly outlined, I think critical questioning has been overlooked in teaching civic writing. As April Lidinsky and I point out in our book, From Inquiry to Academic Writing, critical questioning is closely tied to reflection: What do I think is important? What keeps me up at night? What am I curious about? What’s at stake? Formulating a critical question is also tied to identifying an issue, a fundamental tension between two ideas that on their own might seem viable. We promote the idea of helping students formulate issue-based questions by capturing the relational nature of the world before us.

 

So for example, one could argue that economic development might mean displacing people from the neighborhoods where they live. But such a decision exists in tension with the real world consequences of disrupting the very fabric of communities that individuals rely on for emotional, social, and economic well-being. So one could ask: how is it possible to develop a neighborhood or community in ways that make it economically sound while protecting the interests of people who live in that community? Asking a question guides inquiry, prompts students to think about an issue in complex ways that resist easy answers, requires deliberation, and can mobilize dialogue and action.

 

I am reminded of the need to listen to students when I ask them to tell me what matters to them. Although they have their own experiences and frames of reference that can limit how they see the world, my own frames can also prevent me from fully understanding the value of the questions they are asking. We can gain a great deal from seeing the world from perspectives that we may not readily adopt.

 

In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer recounts a time when her adviser in college asked her why she wanted to study Botany. She answered that she was curious about why two plants, purple asters and goldenrods, grew together. Her professor did not think this was a particularly good question because Kimmerer focused on the beauty of the purple and golden colors animating each other in a reciprocal relationship. For her professor, her attraction to the combination of colors was not very scientific. But what he overlooked and what Kimmerer eventually learned was that bees are also attracted to this color combination, causing both plants to receive more pollination from bees than if they grew separately. Thus, what seemed like Kimmerer’s unscientific observation could actually have been the basis of a hypothesis that she (and her adviser) could have tested. I take from her writings the need to listen to our students’ ways of seeing and naming the world. By listening, we can support their acts of critically questioning the world around them and affirm the values they embrace.

 

As you help your students formulate an issue-based question, you might have them follow this five-step process that April Lidinsky and I describe in our book:

  • Explain the topic (e.g., the causes or consequences of what interests you)
  • Detail the reasons why you are interested in the topic
  • Explain what is at issue – what is open to dispute for you and others interested in the issue
  • Describe for whom this issue might be significant or important
  • Formulate an issue-based question (acknowledge audience by writing down what readers may know about the issue, why they might be interested, and what you want them to think about or do)

 

An issue-based question should be specific enough to guide inquiry into what others have written and help students accomplish the following:

  • Clarify what students know about the issue and what they still need to know
  • Guide their inquiry with a clear focus, so that they can answer their question with a sense of purpose
  • Develop an argument, rather than simply collecting information by asking “how,” “why,” “should” or the “extent to which something is true or not”
  • Determine what resources students have, so that they can ask a question that they will be able answer with the resources available to them (i.e., the available research that can reasonably support their claims)

 

Through developing their own issue-based questions, hopefully students will bring their own unique values and viewpoints to their civic writing.

 

Image Credit: Purple Asters by Nicholas A. Tonelli, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

With the appearance of Michael Moore's latest foray into the arena of American conflict and controversy, Farenheit ll/9, I find myself contemplating the significance of the documentary form itself in contemporary American culture. And as is always the case in the conduct of a semiotic cultural analysis, my aim is not to form a partisan opinion but, rather, to find a signification, something that may not be obvious at an initial glance but may well be hiding in plain sight. So here goes.

 

To begin with, we need to construct a historicized system in which today's popular documentaries can be situated, and I can think of no better place to begin than with Edward R. Murrow's legendary exposé of America's migrant labor morass, Harvest of Shame. First broadcast on CBS in 1960 immediately after Thanksgiving, Harvest of Shame joined such classic works of muck-raking journalism as the photographs of Dorothea Lange and Jacob Riis, and the writing of Upton Sinclair, in revealing to the American middle and upper classes what was really going on behind the scenes of the pleasant panoramas of the American dream.

 

Michael Moore's work fits into this tradition, but with some significant differences, differences that will be important to my interpretation to follow. These lie in the way that Moore openly presents himself as a participant not only in his muck-raking documentaries but in the political controversies that he courts as well. Very much an in-your-face documentarian, Moore presents a striking contrast to Ken Burns, who must be ranked as America's currently most popular (not to mention prolific) documentary filmmaker, in large part due to his propensity to smooth over the rough edges of American cultural conflict in his attempts to appeal to everyone (who else but Burns, for example, would have included footage of historian Shelby Foote describing Abraham Lincoln and Nathan Bedford Forrest together as the two "geniuses" that the Civil War produced?).

 

But Michael Moore's "shockumentary" style looks like something out of the Hallmark Channel compared to Sacha Baron Cohen's "mockumentaries." Having laid low for a few years (to lull his intended victims into a false sense of security?), Cohen is back with his Showtime series, Who Is America? A weird amalgamation of Candid Camera, reality television, and, well, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Who Is America? managed to snag a cross section of American political celebrity—from Sarah Palin and Roy Moore to Bernie Sanders and Barney Frank—in his take-no-prisoners approach to political satire in the guise of documentary-style programming (see Laura Bradley's "Sacha Baron Cohen’s Victims: All the People Who Fell for His New Prank Show" in Vanity Fair for a complete rundown of Cohen's hapless marks).

 

Now, aside from my rather unsemiotic curiosity about how such a list of prominent people—who must surely have personal staffs employed precisely to keep their employers insulated from such things—got so taken in by Cohen, I find a number of signifiers at work here. The first might be called "Poe's Law Comes to Comedy." Poe's Law is a label for the ambiguity that surrounds so much of the content on the Internet due to the general weirdness of what people say there. "Does he really mean that, or is he pulling my leg?" pretty much sums up the situation, and it helps explain how Cohen got such current and former politicians as Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina and ex-Senator Trent Lott to endorse a fake PSA for a "Kinderguardians" program designed to put guns in the hands of little children—Lott, for example, is quoted as saying, "It’s something that we should think about America, about putting guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens . . . whether they be teachers, or whether they actually be talented children or highly trained pre-schoolers.” I will leave it to my readers to deduce just which organization Cohen was targeting here.

 

Beyond the Poe's Law signification, I find myself especially struck by the distinct trajectory here that runs from Murrow to Cohen, the stunning difference. The best way to put it is that Murrow found nothing funny in what he wanted to expose in Harvest of Shame, and had no intention of entertaining anyone. Moore, for his part, has been quite open about his opinion that even documentaries with serious purposes should be entertaining. But Cohen is basically all about entertainment. What he does is make people look stupid for other people to laugh at with extreme derision. The approach is not unlike that of Jersey Shore and My Sweet Sixteen, video train wrecks whose purpose is to make their audiences feel superior to the people on the shows. Satire, with its ancient office of encouraging good behavior by ridiculing bad, thus becomes sheer snark.

 

And here the system opens out to a much larger system in America today, one in which all codes of civility (and "civility," remember, is rooted in the Latin "civitas": a society of shared citizenry) are falling before the imperatives of the profit motive. Snark sells: it's no accident that Who Is America? is a comedy series on Showtime. In such a system politics is repackaged as entertainment, and derision takes the place of anything like an authentic debate. And that just may well be the answer to the question of "Who Is America?" these days.

Andrea A. Lunsford

Focusing on Style

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Oct 4, 2018

 

I’ve written several times over the last year or so about the importance of style, which Richard Lanham argues is the most important canon of rhetoric today—in a “fluff” economy when what can get and hold attention in the midst of an absolute onslaught of information is what stands out and whose style says “listen to me” loud and clear.

 

Style has certainly been on my mind this last week or so as we’ve witnessed two very different styles at work in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings. Christine Blasey Ford, who has said Judge Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were in high school, presented a straightforward, understated style that came across to many as genuine and credible. Brett Kavanaugh seemed to be adopting Trump’s style of in-your-face, aggressive push-back that at times bordered on rudeness. Republican senators echoed the same style, most notably in Lindsey Graham’s shouting, name-calling, finger-pointing style. Across the aisle, Kamala Harris walked out at one point, using silence to “voice” her disagreement, while Patrick Leahy hammered away at the nominee, using repetition to drive home his points. Very different styles at work.

 

Which were effective, and which were not? I think it’s worth asking students to consider these questions, especially in a time of such extreme division. What styles do they find most compelling? Which ones offend them or are off-putting, and why? Was Oscar Wilde right in declaring that “one’s style is one’s signature”?

 

Such a discussion might be even more productive if students first wrote a paragraph or two reflecting on their own style: what words would they choose? How would they describe their style in terms of clothing? In terms of music, or sports, or film? Perhaps more to the point, what style would they like to project? How would they like others to describe their style—as writers and speakers, as members of a group or groups, and so on?

 

Finally, they might well take a look at a piece of writing they are particularly proud of and look closely at its style: how well does that style match with what they wrote earlier about their own styles?

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 13863 by PublicDomainPictures, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

Much published work on transfer tells us that students must practice reflection to develop metacognitive awareness and encourage application of knowledge and concepts from one context to another (see Writing Across Contexts: Transfer, Composition, and Sites of Writing, by Yancey, Robertson, and Taczak for an overview). To emphasize reflection in my courses, I’ve usually focused on assignments with a reflection component—journals, process narratives, or discussion board posts. But I was challenged this week to consider weaving reflective practice throughout writing (and also integrated reading and writing, or IRW) courses—using conversations, feedback, classroom tools. I suspect, in fact, that this weaving process establishes reflection as a part of the fabric of the course itself, not just a decorative embellishment. 

 

For example, I use Google Docs for drafting work in my courses; I invite students to respond to my comments, to draft their own comments and tag me in them for additional feedback. We also use the platform for peer-based discussion and collaborative writing. But does this particular writing tool promote reflection? I am not sure I have exploited the possibilities very well. I have had students use the record of comments for a reflective assignment, but I am wondering how I might build an on-going reflective process with Google Docs – not just an after-the-fact review. For example, questions such as the following might encourage reflective practice—and transfer—during drafting and revision:

 

  • Why did you make this statement here? Were you applying something you learned in a previous writing course? What makes this context a little different?
  • How does this observation from your classmate support or complicate what you’ve learned about __________?
  • Look back at the comments from the last paper. Is there something there that might help you solve this writing problem?
  • You’ve tagged me in three questions related to ______________. Why do you think _______________ is a challenge for you in this paper? How does the context of this assignment differ from the last one, in which __________ didn’t seem to be an issue for you?
  • You have said here that this section “doesn’t feel right.” What have you done in the past when you’ve had that sensation?
  • You’ve pointed out a problem with this sentence. Can you describe that problem in general terms? Have you seen it before in your paper?

 

In a sense, these comments turn the drafting process into an exercise in critical reading. When I assign readings, I ask students to make connections between texts and other texts or between texts and their prior experiences. Similarly, these questions invite students to zoom in to focus on particulars of their developing text and also to zoom out to see their work as it connects to a broader picture.

 

The advantages of Google Docs for file sharing, keeping a record of comments, and working collaboratively are many. But like all technologies that involve targeted feedback—whether online or on paper—students risk seeing problems and solutions only in terms of the specific context. If they do generalize, they may assert “rules” that cannot and should not be applied broadly (as indicated in some of the Bad Ideas About Writing | Open Access Textbooks | WVU Libraries). Reflective connections during all phases of the writing process might help students avoid the perils of two pervasive writing myths: assignments within and across courses are unrelated, and there is a single form of writing appropriate to all academic writing contexts.

 

I’ve also been exploring one other means for weaving reflection into my classes. After we have completed a significant writing project, I’ve asked students to complete an anonymous survey, usually using an online tool such as Google Forms. I craft just one or two questions, such as these:

 

  • Did your experience writing this paper confirm, contradict, expand, complicate, or confuse what you’ve learned in previous writing experiences? (Check all that apply). Can you give me one example that illustrates your answer?
  • What is the biggest writing problem you encountered in this project? Had you ever encountered it before? What made it different this time?
  • What is one thing you wish you had known before tackling this project?
  • What is one question you wish you had asked before starting this project?
  • Did you have an “aha” moment in this project? What led to it?
  • Did you get the feedback you needed to complete the project successfully? If not, why not?

 

I don’t ask all the questions each time, and in an IRW course, I can adapt them to address the reading process as well as writing. These anonymous questions allow students to vent frustrations, especially in a course that often asks them to approach writing with different strategies than those used in high school. But the questions may also promote reflection: students consider projects in context and in the arc of their overall writing experience. But perhaps more importantly, their responses become a source for my own reflection about teaching: how did this class respond differently than previous classes? What did I do that helped or hindered their learning? How can I change that?

 

Finally, I am learning to share some of my reflective process with them: if I make changes or reconsider my language use based on their collective comments, I tell them about such changes. I want to model reflection as well as provide ample opportunities for practice. 

 

How are you building reflection into your FYC, basic writing, and IRW classrooms? 

Jared Taylor, 16, scans a package under the guidance of Senior Airman Nolan Luna-Chavez at the RAF Mildenhall post office Aug. 3, 2012This week I am sharing the third 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. In this week’s assignment (which is a revision of an activity I shared in the past), the fictional companies students have been working with are participating in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education initiative.

At this point in the course, students have established a company and given it an identity by designing visual and writing guidelines for the ways that their companies use the different kinds of correspondence. This week’s assignment asks students to turn to a short document that focuses directly on a technical task, describing an object, mechanism, or process for an audience of middle- and high-school students.

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.

Technical Description Assignment

Background

You will write a technical description related to your field (such as of 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.

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.

The Scenario

Note: We will use this scenario for two projects: Technical Descriptions (this week) and User Documents (next week).

This week, you received the following memo, explaining your responsibilities for the Incubator’s annual Try-It-Out Day:

Ut Prosim Incubator logo Ut Prosim Incubator

   1872 Inventors Way, Blacksburg, Virginia 24060

 

   Interoffice Memo

 


To: All Incubator Companies

From: Traci Gardner, Ut Prosim Director

Subject: Preparing for Try-It-Out Day

Date: September 10, 2018
 

RDECOM Scientist and Engineers bring their special skills and enthusiasm  to STEM Night at Fallston Middle SchoolOn Try-It-Out Day, students from Montgomery, Giles, Pulaski, and Floyd Counties will spend most of the day working one-on-one with employees from every company in the Incubator to learn about what careers in STEM involve. We will match students with the company that fits their interests, and then you will determine the employees who will work with those students.

What Happens on Try-It-Out Day?

Try-It-Out Day will take place on Wednesday, September 26, from 8AM to 4PM.

Students will arrive at the Incubator at 8AM and spend the entire day with their assigned company, following this general schedule:

TimeActivity
8:00 AMWelcome assembly for all students and company representatives
8:30 AMStudents tour their assigned company, learning about what the company does and how it works
9:00 AMStudents pair off with employees, who tell the students about their specific careers
10:00 AMRefreshments in the Incubator Atrium
10:30 AMStudents learn to complete an activity that their employee-hosts do in the normal course of work
12:30 PMLunch in the Incubator Cafeteria
1:30 PMSTEM Challenge (a competition, students and employees collaborate in teams based on the schools students attend)
3:30 PMRefreshments in the Incubator Atrium and Closing Comments
4:00 PMStudents board buses to return home

What Do You Need to Do to Prepare?

From 10:30 to 12:30, employees from your company will teach students about some activities that they do in the normal course of their work. To prepare for this portion of the day, please choose a specific activity that students can safely complete in 15–30 minutes. Ideally, choose an activity that students can complete more than once, such as examining and sorting specimens as shown in the image above.

Once you have chosen an activity, create two documents that students can take home and share when they return to their schools:

  • A technical description of an object, mechanism, or process that relates to the activity students will complete.
  • A user document that includes instructions the student can follow to complete the activity.

Any Questions?

If you need any help with this project, please let me know or contact my assistant, Leslie Crow <lcrow@utprosimincubator.org>. You can also talk with Incubator members who participated in the event last year.

Relevant Details

Note: These details apply to all of the projects you include in your portfolio.

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. Be sure that you use the information that you create consistently across all of your projects.

The Project Assignment

Step 1: Decide on the focus for your two projects (this week’s Technical Description and next week’s User Document).
Your focus will be to talk about a simple task that someone in your career field would complete. As you decide on your focus, think about activities that will meet these goals:

  • give the students an idea of what someone in your career does.
  • excite the students about the prospects of a career like yours.

Try to limit yourself to topics with which you have some expertise (or at least some experience). Since middle and high school students will be following the instructions, choose something that they could believably complete and that will not place them in a dangerous situation.

Step 2: Analyze the audiences for your two projects.
You will write a technical description and user document that middle and high school students can use as they complete an activity on Try-It-Out Day. Use the information from Markel & Selber, Chapter 5 to decide how the characteristics of the audiences will influence your writing. 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: Examine the information about technical descriptions in Markel & Selber.
The textbook provides step-by-step details on how to write a technical description. Follow the textbook as you work on your project. In particular, be sure that you do the following:

  • Incorporate definitions for unfamiliar terms and ideas, following the “GUIDELINES: Writing Effective Sentence Definitions” (on page 539 of Markel & Selber) and the related information in the textbook.
  • Use the questions in “TABLE 20.1: Questions To Answer in Introducing a Description” (on page 550 of Markel & Selber) to gather the relevant details for your description.
  • Follow the “GUIDELINES: Providing Appropriate Detail in Descriptions” (on page 551 of Markel & Selber) to ensure you include the proper level of specific information.
  • Explore the examples in Markel & Selber to see some of the options for layout and formatting:
    • Figure 20.4: Inside Asimo
    • Figure 20.5: How Our Solar Electric System Works
    • Figure 20.6: Drivetrains
    • Figure 20.8: Turning Biomass into Fuel

Step 4: Write the technical description for students.
Compose your description, as requested in The Scenario above, with all the details you have gathered and created. Review the assessment guidelines below to ensure you have met all the requirements for the description. As you work, also 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 all relevant ethical guidelines as you work using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Chapter 2 (on page 40 of Markel & Selber).
  • Follow the suggestions for emphasizing important information, using the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 9 (on page 211 of Markel & Selber) to check your work.
  • Use the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 11 (on page 288 of Markel & Selber) to ensure that your document takes advantage of design principles to make it reader-friendly.
  • Make a good impression with accuracy and correctness. Your document should be polished and professional.

Step 5: Check your draft against the Writer’s Checklist.
Be sure that you include the required features for technical description. Review your project, using the Writer's Checklist for Chapter 20 (on page 576 of Markel & Selber) and the Assessment Criteria below.

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 & Selber, Chapter 10 (on page 242 of Markel & Selber).

You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel & Selber, “Appendix, Part D: Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL)” (on page 683 of Markel & Selber). 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 technical description to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 09/13 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. Post a draft of your technical description by September 13. 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 in the 09/13 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas, by September 17 (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 the steps above, as well as the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 10: Include a polished version of your project in Project Portfolio 1, due October 1.
Have your Technical Description 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.
  • 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 a Description of an Object or Mechanism

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective technical descriptions, based on the checklist at the end of Chapter 20 of Markel & Selber:

  • Indicates the nature and scope of the technical description clearly.
  • Opens with an introduction that explains these major components:
    • what the item is.
    • how it functions.
    • what it looks like.
    • what its parts are.
  • Includes a graphic in the introduction that identifies the principal parts.
  • Uses an appropriate organizational principle.
  • Includes a graphic for each of the major components.
  • Summarizes the major points in the part-by-part description in the conclusion.
  • Includes (if appropriate) a description of the item performing its function.

For a Description of a Process

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective technical descriptions, based on the checklist at the end of Chapter 20 of Markel & Selber:

  • Indicates the nature and scope of the technical description clearly.
  • Opens with an introduction that explains the following:
    • what the process is.
    • how it functions.
    • where and when it takes place.
    • who or what performs it.
    • how it works.
    • what its principal steps are.
  • Includes a graphic in the introduction that identifies the principal steps.
  • Discusses the steps in chronological order or some other logical sequence).
  • Makes the causal relationships among the steps clear.
  • Includes graphics for each of the principal steps.
  • Summarizes the major points in the step-by-step description in the conclusion.
  • Discusses, if appropriate, the importance or implications of the process.

 


Image Credit from Memo: RDECOM Scientist and Engineers bring their special skills and enthusiasm to STEM Night at Fallston Middle School by U.S. Army RDECOM on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

 

In addition to this assignment, I shared information on readability statistics with students. While I believe such statistics have definite limitations, tools such as the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level help students determine if they are writing too far above or too far below their audiences’ comprehension level.

The second part of this assignment focuses on writing the instructions that the middle and high school students will follow on Try-It-Out Day. I’ll share that activity next week. Until then, if you have any questions or comments about the assignment, please leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ethan Morgan, from “Summer hire program offers students multiple benefits” on the Royal Air Force Mildenhall website, used under public domain.

A recent discussion of the Writing Program Administrators listserv asks the questions,How many of us have asked students their voter registration status?” Respondents submitted practices based on their varying perspectives and teaching locations. Some respondents offer their students extra credit opportunities to register to vote. Others bring registration forms to class or show voter registration websites. Additional respondents believed that offering extra credit was coercive, while others stated that extra credit for registering to vote would not be equitably available to all students because of immigration status or status in the criminal justice system, and still others suggested alternative extra credit options, noting that voter education plays a vital role in rhetorical education.

 

Here is my experience. Many years ago, in the months leading up to a presidential primary, I brought to class a stack of voter registration forms procured from a table in the lobby of our classroom building. I presented the cards in what felt like a neutral, non-partisan manner, discussing the history of voting rights, the importance of voting no matter one’s political affiliation, and so on.

 

My students listened patiently. A few students politely pocketed the cards. But by far, the majority of students in the class said:

 

“Dr. Bernstein, I am not a US citizen.”

 

In that moment, I experienced a sense of humility that I have carried with me to this day. That moment is held with other sacred memories of voting-- and not voting: accompanying my mother into the voting booth as a preschooler and watching her flip the little levers of the old-fashioned voting machine; registering to vote for the first time at eighteen; voting for president for the first time absentee as a first-year college student far from home (and watching the debates for that election on television at night in the student union).

 

Yet the memory of my students, disenfranchised even as they paid taxes, troubles me still. As recently as 2016, some of us in the county where I was living-- myself and my colleagues included-- were denied the right to vote in the presidential primary because our voter registrations were misfiled as “independent,” rather than with a specific political party needed to vote in that state’s closed primary system. At the same time, in that same county, other citizens found themselves waiting to vote for many hours. The county government had drastically reduced the number of polling places. Poor communities of color were especially hard hit with the reduction of polling places.

 

All of these experiences have helped me to consider the necessity, and the difficulty, of addressing the intersections of political and rhetorical education in the classroom. Given the speed with which events cycle in and out of the news, my inclination is to return to my training in close reading gleaned from rhetorical history and comparative literature, and to share practices of textual explication with students. We first apply these practices to Civil Rights Movement readings, and texts that are densely packed, such as speeches by James Baldwin, or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Then I invite students to apply those same practices of persuasion and analysis to their own writing.

 

Currently in my classes, students are nearing the completion of their first writing projects, a culmination of a series of assignments that have unfolded over the last six weeks. The process looks something like this:

 

Reading: Read not only for main idea and supporting evidence, but also at the sentence level and for word choice and repetition.

 

Writing: Write the body paragraphs first, and summarize the text, not only in terms of thesis and support, but again, for how the text is constructed, and the role of construction in effective persuasion of the reader.

 

Revising: Divide long paragraphs into shorter ones, and make sure that each new paragraph has an introductory and concluding sentence to help with transitions between them, adding additional citations from the text as needed for evidence.

 

Reframing: Add an introduction that dives directly into the main idea of your own essay. Offer a conclusion that presents the main idea as powerfully as possible, so that the reader is persuaded to accept, or at least to consider, the significance of the main idea.

 

These steps then become the grading criteria for the essay.

 

In fast-paced times, this work can feel slow, difficult, and painstaking. Yet the aim of this work is that students will learn not only to analyze dense material through reading and writing, but also that, through reading and writing, they will learn to explore the possibilities of imagining in challenging historical moments, with Baldwin or King and others a more hopeful and productive future.