Skip navigation
All Places > The English Community > Bedford Bits > Blog > 2019 > March

One of the key principles upon which the semiotic method is based is that of the cultural mythology. Grounded in Roland Barthes’ pioneering study Mythologies, a cultural mythology is an ideologically inflected worldview (or set of worldviews) that shapes social consciousness. Unlike more strictly held views on social constructionism, however, which hold that reality itself is a social construct, the mythological viewpoint—at least as I present it in Signs of Life in the U.S.A.—is essentially subjective, and can be tested against the objective realities that surround it. So passionately are cultural mythologies held, however, that when reality does break through, the result can be quite emotional, even violent.


Take climate change denial, for instance. Effectively a sub-cultural mythology in its own right, a steady stream of objective evidence that climate change is real only produces ever more insistent denials by its adherents. Or then again, take America's fundamental mythology of the American dream, which holds that opportunities for social and economic advancement are open to all who make the effort to achieve them, and what happens when uncomfortable realities challenge it—as just happened with the still unfolding college admissions scandal.


The extraordinary level of emotion—and media attention—that has greeted this scandal is especially indicative of what happens when a cultural mythology smashes into reality. For here is evidence, especially painful for the middle class, that even college admissions can be bought through schemes that are open only to the upper class that Americans are so slow to recognize exists at all. In a certain sense, I must confess, I'm a little surprised by the profundity of the reaction. I mean, didn't everyone already know about the advantages—from legacy admissions to exclusive prep schools to expensive SAT tutoring—that America's upper classes enjoy when it comes to elite college admissions? Somehow I can't help but be reminded of that iconic scene in Casablanca where Captain Louis Renault is "shocked" that "gambling is going on” in Rick's Café Américain, just as he is about to receive his own winnings.


So there is something about this current glimpse into what upper-class privilege is all about that has really struck a nerve. I see at least three facets to the scandal that help explain how and why. First is the high-profile celebrity involvement. As an entertainment culture, America adores and identifies with its favorite entertainers, so when two popular actresses, and their children, are alleged to have taken advantage of their wealth in order to slip past the guardians of a supposedly meritocratic college admissions system, the feeling of betrayal runs especially deep.


The second component to the scandal is that—even before the Great Recession hit—career opportunities for America's college graduates (especially if they are not STEM majors) are closing down, increasing the pressure to get into one of those schools whose graduates have the best chance at getting the few good jobs that are left. Suddenly, where you go to college seems to matter a lot more in determining where you are going to get in life.


Which takes us to the third angle to the phenomenon: the stunned realization that not only is the American dream a cultural mythology but that the whole game appears to have been rigged all along. This apprehension cannot be overestimated in its affect on American society today. It is, in good part, behind the rise of political "populism" (it may be significant in this regard that conservative commentary on the scandal gloats over the "liberal" Hollywood elites involved), as well as the accompanying divisions in a society where more and more people are competing for fewer and fewer slots in the good life—which appear to have been purchased in advance as part of the social scenario of a new Gilded Age.


Photo CreditPixabay Image 1701201 by davidsenior, used under the Pixabay License

Andrea A. Lunsford

A Shoutout to DBLAC

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Mar 28, 2019


When I think of the resources that are available to support writers—and especially graduate student writers who aim to be teachers in colleges and universities—I think of our professional organizations (like NCTE, CCCC, and RSA), and I think of writing centers everywhere and the IWCA. But to that list I now add DBLAC—Digital Black Lit (Literatures and Literacies) and Composition—an organization started by and for grad students of color just three short years ago, and one that has expanded exponentially just in the last year alone.


Be sure to check out their website at to read about the founders (Lou Maraj and Khirsten Scott), members, and especially programs. The website announces their mission:

Digital Black Lit (Literatures & Literacies) and Composition or DBLAC is a digital network of Black graduate students in the United States, formed in May 2016 at the Digital Media and Composition Institute (DMAC) at The Ohio State University. We are comprised of graduate students who self-identify as Black in the fields of Literacy Studies, Literature, Writing Studies, Rhetoric, English Studies, Creative Writing, Digital Humanities, and other related fields. This network provides safe spaces for members to testify to, discuss with, and share support for each other in response to the continued marginalization of Black bodies in academia. DBLAC also acts as a learning community for professional development, networking, and resource-pooling aimed at the academic retention and success of its members.  

From what I’ve seen, DBLAC is carrying out this mission with great energy and commitment—not to mention a high degree of organization. They have sponsored sessions at MLA and CCCC (and I expect they will also sponsor sessions at RSA); their membership has expanded by 300% in the last year; and their flagship programs—a writing retreat (the first one was held in October 2018), a series of virtual writing groups, and a reading series—are all in full swing.


The Retreat is reserved for students of color, but the virtual writing groups and the reading groups are, I believe, open to all. Last year’s Retreat, held at the University of Pittsburgh, where Lou and Khirsten are both assistant professors, brought fourteen participants together for four days and over 15 hours of writing sessions, working with a special faculty mentor, Professor Beverly Moss from Ohio State. I spoke with one woman who had attended last year’s retreat and she said it had been a “life-changing experience” for her, one that left her more confident than ever that the dissertation she is writing is significant and that her voice will be heard. The second Retreat is scheduled for October 3-6, 2019, so spread the word to all grad students of color you know.


The virtual writing groups made up of 8 to 10 participants meet online to work on their writing together: the sessions have grown from ten, to fifteen, to twenty, and now to twenty-eight, and they are open to everyone interested in sharing their work and collaborating. Reading groups take up important texts—such as Tamika Carey’s Rhetorical Healing, Ersula Ore’s Lynching, and Eric Pritchard’s Fashioning Lives—examining the rhetorical moves these writers make and learning from their substance and style. Just hearing about these reading series meetings made me want to be able to join in.


It probably goes without saying that I am a big fan of DBLAC and see it as a major step in providing support for young scholars of color (and others as well). It’s all about building community and supporting one another rather than competing against each other, which has been the model in graduate education for far too long.


So Bravo/Brava to DBLAC. Watch out for them: they are making the very best kind of waves!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3230661 by rawpixel, used under the Pixabay License

African American woman scientist, reading a book, with lab equipment in the background
African American woman scientist, with lab equipment in the background

I tried an experiment in my online classes this week. Spring Break begins this weekend. Students are working on recommendation reports, the major research document of the term. Their work on these reports is spread over four weeks. The week of Spring Break falls in the middle, as shown in this schedule:

Week ofActivities
February 25Begin research for recommendation report
March 4Finish research and sketch plans for report
March 11Spring Break
March 18Create rough draft of report
March 25Finish and submit final version of report

I ask students to complete a Progress Report before they leave for Spring Break. The assignment requires them to take stock of the work they’ve completed and the work they still need to do. When they return to their projects after break, their progress reports help them know where to resume their work on the project.

The progress report assignment is due the Friday before Spring Break starts, so March 8th this year. The three-day grace period for the assignment creates a challenge, however. I don’t count the days of Spring Break, so the grace period ends the first day students are back on campus, March 18 this year. While I intend for students to complete the progress reports before they leave, the grace period ensures that their grades are not harmed if they wait until they return.

Over the years, I have tried various ways to entice, encourage, and, let’s face it, beg students to complete their progress reports before they leave. I argue that the strategy will make their work easier and more efficient when they return to classes, but the lure of leaving early for that week off from classes wins out. Typically only five or six students turn the report in ahead of time, and a few more will turn it in during Spring Break. Most students submit it when they return.

This week, I tried a different strategy by appealing to their interest in higher grades. In short, I tried a bribe. If they turned in their progress reports by 11:59 PM on Friday the 8th, they can earn up to 125 points. If they turn in their report any later, they can earn no more than 100 points. The course is graded on accumulated points. The extra points matter, but no one is punished for using the grace period.

The result is that 26 students turned in their progress reports before leaving town, significantly more than the typical five or six. There is still room for improvement, as those 26 students represent only 31% of the enrollment. I’m making progress though, so bribery seems like it was a good choice.

What do you do to convince students to make the best choices? Have you tried bribing them? Do you have other strategies that work? I would love to hear from you. After all, I need to convince that 69% of the classes who didn’t turn in their progress reports. To share your ideas, just leave me a comment below.

Photo credit: “African American woman, half-length portrait, facing left, reading book,” Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, PPOC, Library of Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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




Happy spring to everyone in the northern hemisphere! Just like the seasons, pronoun usage is always changing, and always being discussedin articles, in conversations, in podcasts.


LaunchPad and Achieve products include assignable, ad-free Grammar Girl podcasts, which you can use to support your lessons. If you’re teaching a lesson about prepositions or find your class needs some more help with the topic, you can assign one (or all!) of these suggested podcasts for students to listen to before class. Each podcast also comes with a complete transcript, which is perfect for students who aren’t audio learners or otherwise prefer to read the content. To learn more about digital products and purchasing options, please visit Macmillan's English catalog or speak with your sales representative. 


If you are using LaunchPad, refer to the unit “Grammar Girl Podcasts” for instructions on assigning podcasts. You can also find the same information on the support page "Assign Grammar Girl Podcasts."


If you are using Achieve, you will find a "Quick Start Guide: Grammar Girl and Question Bank" in your Welcome Unit. You can also find information on assigning Grammar Girl in Achieve on the support page "Add Grammar Girl and shared English content to your course."


Podcasts about Less Common Pronoun Usage

  • Gender-Neutral Pronouns: Singular They [11:12]
  • Yo As a Pronoun [5:01]
  • Pronouns for People and Animals [5:34]
  • Who versus Whom, Advanced [3:52]


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


Assignment A: Have students listen to the podcasts “Gender-Neutral Pronouns: Singular They” and “Yo As a Pronoun” and also read the transcripts. Then, have them write a response considering the following:

  • What does the host do to connect with the listener?
  • What new information did the student learn about pronoun usage? Can they pinpoint any element of the podcast that helped them remember this new information?
  • How do the podcasts compare? Does the content overlap, and if so, where?
  • What content or information is conveyed through audio that does not appear in the transcripts, if any? Is any additional information found in the transcripts that is not apparent from just listening to the podcast?


Assignment B: Ask students to choose one of the above podcasts and listen to it, then choose a facet of pronoun usage to explore further. Ask them to consider the history of their topic, any debate around it, and any other interesting items they discover in their research. Some ideas for students to consider:

  • What is the history of they as a gender-neutral singular pronoun? Based on current trends, what might its future be?
  • What other words in the English language have been used throughout history as gender-neutral singular pronouns?
  • Compare who and whom—which term come first? Have these two words always been used the same way? 
  • What is a new trend in pronoun usage? Describe it and detail its history (however brief a history it may be!).
  • Research gender-neutral pronoun trends in another language.


How else have you discussed changing pronoun usage in your class? Let us know in the comments!


Credit: Pixabay Image 690810 by Free-Photos, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License


BRAVO and KUDOS to Program Chair Vershawn Young and to Local Arrangements Chair Brenda Whitley—and to all their teams—for a truly memorable CCCC. I can never remember so many “must see and hear” sessions at every time slot. And thanks to all who attended this one, which is for the history books.


As far as I know, Erika Lindemann holds the record for attendance, with 46 consecutive CCCC meetings. But I can come close to that: since 1973, I’ve missed only one CCCC and that was in 2012 when I was in Vietnam teaching on an around-the-world Semester at Sea. So I’ve been to a lot of 4Cs gigs. In the early days, the meeting was pretty small: I recall Richard Lloyd-Jones in the 70s writing to say he needed “more proposals” in order to put a program together. Compare that to this year when each time slot offered between 40 and 50 concurrent sessions. This is just one small mark of how much our field has grown in size and stature.


I arrived at the Pittsburgh Convention Center on Wednesday, just in time for the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in Rhetoric and Composition’s celebration of the group's thirtieth anniversary (!) and the inimitable Cheryl Glenn’s exemplar award—and in time to hear four outstanding speakers. From there, the race was on to see how many sessions I could learn from.


When I close my eyes and try to conjure up the conference and its attendees, my mind’s eye focuses on the many young scholars of color I saw there. I don’t know yet what the total attendance numbers were—and I know that some people didn’t make it because of the huge blizzard and “bomb cyclone” that hit Denver and closed the airport—but I felt the presence of colleagues of color keenly and with great gratitude. I attended several sessions that put a spotlight on the outstanding work being done by graduate students and new assistant professors of color, such as “Black Disruptive Rhetorics: The Novel, the Pubic Sphere, and the Classroom,” featuring standout talks by Mudiwa Pettus, D’Angelo Bridges, Brandon Erby, and Gabriel Green, all from Penn State. “’Walk It Like I Talk It’: Performance Composition in Black Education and Beyond” was another session that held me spellbound, as Khadija Amal Bey (NCA&T) traced the changing labels used to designate people of color and introduced us to archives she is working with at the Moorish Science Temple of Philadelphia, and Landy Watley (Howard) examined the embodied performance of #blackwomenatwerk. I also took copious notes at “Our Liberation Wasn’t Never Gon’ Be Televised. . . Black News Ain’t Fake,” featuring Khirsten Echols (U Pittsburgh) on “Tougaloo Student Got Something to Say,” Brandon Erby (again!) on Mamie Till Mobley’s tactical work that kept her son Emmett’s name and image circulating through the Black Press in ways that eventually set the record of his murder straight, and Rhea Estella Lathan (Florida State) on redemptive literacy activism. And these were just three sessions that highlighted brilliant young scholars of color, who taught me so much in three days that I’m still trying to absorb all of their wisdom.


If this is a trend, it’s one that gives me a great deal of hope for the future of our organization and field of study. I’m grateful to have been a witness at this event and expect that many other conference-attendees feel the same way. I came away with renewed inspiration and renewed commitment to the work outstanding teachers of writing and rhetoric are doing every single day.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3964054 by rawpixel, used under the Pixabay License

Two students working at a table near bookshelves in a libraryLast week, I shared an activity encouraging students to move beyond using a Google search to find research. This week’s activity asks students to check the resources they have found for variety.

As was the case last week, Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg’s 2010 article “How Handouts for Research Assignments Guide Today’s College Students” inspired the activity. Head and Eisenberg found that students typically searched only for the kinds of sources required by the assignment. For instance, if the assignment asks students to find two books and an online source, students find only those items.

Instead of prescribing sources for students’ work, this week’s activity asks students to look for variety in their sources and provide brief annotations that explain how they will use the sources.

In the activity as shown below, I removed some information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. The five kinds of research sources came from the course textbook, Markel and Selber’s Technical Communication (12th edition). You can easily customize the activity for your class by using the list of resources from your course textbook. Any textbook that covers writing research projects will include a similar list.

Checking for Variety in Research Sources

Review the information in the section on “Types of Secondary Research Sources” (pp. 123) in Markel and Selber’s Technical Communication. The section discusses the following five kinds of sources:

  • Books (including ebooks)
  • Periodicals: Journals and Magazines
  • Newspapers and online news sources
  • Government documents
  • Websites and social media

Checking for Variety

  1. For each type of research sources above, list the sources you have found so far that fall in the category, using the example to guide your answers. Include the following information for each source:
    • Bibliographic citation, using whatever format is appropriate for your field (e.g., Electrical engineers use IEEE).
    • A one-sentence (or fragment) summary of the information included in the source.
    • Details on how you plan to use the source in your project.
  2. Once you list all of the sources that you have found, evaluate whether your sources show variety, using the following questions:
    • How many different kinds of sources you have found? If a type of secondary research source is not appropriate for your project, explain why.
    • How varied are the sources in each category? Consider the author(s), publisher, publication date, and other relevant factors.
  3. Review your audience analysis for the project, and state the kinds of research sources your readers will expect in your document. Explain how your sources meet the audience’s expectations.
  4. Explain whether the research sources you found show variety, using specific details.
  5. If your sources do not demonstrate variety, set additional research goals to find more secondary sources. Specifically state the additional kinds of sources you will look for in a paragraph or list.
  6. Review your answer to make sure it uses business-appropriate spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Students are still working on this activity, so I don’t have results to share. I hope students will develop a habit of examining their research for variety. By having them include annotations that indicate how they will use the sources, students should move beyond variety simply for the sake of variety. Their choices have to be useful to their projects. I’m looking forward to reading their responses.

I would love to hear your responses to the activity too. Please leave me a comment below telling me your thoughts or sharing strategies that you use when teaching research projects.

Photo credit: A place to study. by San José Public Library on Flickr, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

I recently led a workshop on working with multilingual writers in IRW and corequisite composition courses, and I was asked how best to handle peer review when there are multilingual writers in the classroom. Several participants expressed concern about the efficacy and practicality of writing workshops, especially in very diverse classrooms where background knowledge, linguistic traditions, and experiences with academic writing vary widely. Could such workshops serve to marginalize multilingual writers?


I would suggest, in fact, that diversity offers the potential for a richer workshop experience for all students, although you may need to spend more time preparing students for participation and guiding them throughout the workshop, especially at the beginning of the course. 


I usually introduce workshops with a discussion of the purpose of the peer review process. Most of my students will have had some experience with peer review, and I ask them to hypothesize about the purpose, based on their experiences. Most affirm that peer review is supposed to “make the paper better” or “find the problems.” When pressed, most students equate peer review with a process very similar to “grading”:  point out flaws, tell people what to fix, make evaluative comments. To highlight the similarities, we may create a chart connecting what they’ve experienced in peer review and what they’ve experienced in teacher feedback or grading.


Comments in these early discussions reveal the reasons so many students (and faculty, in some cases) are wary of peer-review: they believe they are expected to take on the role of expert in the process—an expectation they cannot meet. In response to this perceived expectation, multilingual students (depending on background) may adopt an overly critical or directive stance, engage in enthusiastic but unhelpful cheerleading, or simply withdraw from the process.

Having discussed the purpose of workshops, I like to show students examples of peer feedback that I’ve been given, from colleagues and from editors at Bedford/St. Martin’s.  While most agree that the feedback is still targeted to “make the writing better,” they see quickly that the comments I’ve received lead to improvement not by telling me what to do, but by giving me information that I can use to make decisions about my writing. The feedback generally occurs in the form of reader responses, questions, I-statements, and clarification requests. In early drafts, I may also have questions about why information appears where it does. In short, I am getting descriptive and analytic feedback that allows me to make decisions about how to revise, much like a chef would gather feedback from taste testers to improve a dish or the way a producer might gather focus group feedback before creating the final version of a film.


The underlying aim of feedback, then, is to provide information authors can use to make writing decisions – and ultimately, information that will help authors evaluate their writing decisions. And unlike the role of expert, providing a reader’s perspective is an expectation that all students can achieve in a workshop setting. 

Once we’ve established the purpose of the workshop, we begin the process of practicing.  The following principles guide our practice. 

  • I provide specific guidance on acceptable formats for response. In most of my classes, that means that students don’t generally comment on grammar, at least not in the early stages. I also demonstrate how to make “I-statements,” how to request clarification, how to describe a gut reaction, and how to ask content questions.
  • I may ask students to annotate drafts for specific elements that we have been discussing in class, such as stance strategies, transitions, showing evidence, or efforts to engage the audience.
  • We spend some class time discussing how to use the feedback. One option is to have writers organize feedback as a set of issues to review, and then they can identify options open for addressing those issues.
  • I ask students to determine what feedback is most helpful and to use that information to be proactive in their workshops. As the term progresses, students create a “what I want from feedback” statement to share along with their drafts in the workshops.
  • We try feedback in different modes: small group discussion, shared annotations of Google Docs, writing directly on printed copies, using sticky notes, etc. As the semester progresses, classes can request specific types of workshops, based on what has worked well for them.
  • I offer students an opportunity to reflect on every workshop experience (usually through quick surveys or anonymous comments), and we make adjustments in the format and composition of workshop groups throughout the term.


Students in IRW/corequisite courses, especially those from multilingual and diverse backgrounds, may have had negative experiences with peer workshops. But eliminating workshops from our IRW/multilingual/corequisite courses altogether may reinforce mistaken beliefs that writing is a solitary process, that the only source of feedback is a teacher, and that the only gauge of a text’s effectiveness is the grade it receives. Integrating writing workshops in multilingual classrooms, on the other hand, builds a sense of community that values the contributions of each member.

“Now: What questions do you have?” I heard a colleague ask this of her students, midway through a class I was visiting, and I was struck by the helpfulness of the phrase. Rather than asking, “Any questions?” (which can imply that the professor wants to move the lesson along unless someone still doesn’t get it) this question instead suggested there certainly should be questions. And she made space, expectantly, for the conversation. I took mental notes.


Whether you are newer to teaching or have decades under your belt, it’s good to have more tools for effective classroom discussions. There will always be days when students seem lifeless and you feel like the hapless teacher in Ferris Buellers Day Off: “Anyone? Anyone?”


In this spirit, I have been following with interest a discussion my colleague Jay Vander Veen alerted me to on the surprising virtues of “cold calling” in the classroom. “Done right,” Gerard Dawson argues, cold calling can improve student confidence and ensure more voices are heard. Of course, when “done wrong” this practice can be used to shame or embarrass students, so Dawson suggests some in-class scaffolding (quick conferring with a neighbor, moving to corners of the room to express a perspective, or quick reflective writing) so that students have an “intellectual rehearsal” before being called on. He notices a dynamic you likely recognize from your own classrooms: Once students’ ideas have been affirmed in a discussion, they are more likely to speak up again.


I hadn’t thought about cold calling as the friend of less-confident students, but Doug Lemov, author of Teach like a Champion, makes the case that with warmth and encouragement, cold calls can be a tool for classroom inclusivity, encouraging students who otherwise may feel their ideas aren’t worth sharing. Significantly, those less-confident students might be disproportionately first-generation or marginalized.


Certainly, I keep these real classroom dynamics in mind as I craft open-ended and wide-ranging questions about readings in the prompts for students and instructors in From Inquiry to Academic Writing. My co-author, Stuart Greene, and I offer many ways for students to practice the question-asking habit of mind that is foundational to scholarly discovery — both aloud and in writing — inviting connections within texts, between texts, and between texts and experience.


In the rest of this piece, I’ll offer a reflection exercise that helps students see classroom conversation as a place to practice and name the academic moves they make in their writing, the topic of my last post. This reflection tool, designed by my colleague Ken Smith, helps over-talkers, under-talkers, and occasional talkers name the different purposes of their interactions, and helps them connect oral and written academic conversation. This checklist brings class participation into focus, and is quick to administer at the end of a class. Adapt as you like, and let me know how it works for you:




            Your name_______________________________________



            Thank you for your thoughtful evaluation of the work today. I hope you will

            be encouraged to continue good habits of class preparation and to build

            other practical participation skills for use in college and beyond. Keep me

            informed if you have questions about this part of the course.


            How many times did you contribute to the large group discussion today:

             _____ 0-2 _____ 3-5 _____ 6-9 _____ 10 or more

            In discussion today, did you do any of these valuable things:

            _____ Ask a question that advanced the classs conversation

            _____ Help answer a question that advanced the conversation

            _____ Point out an example that helped advance the conversation

            _____ Explain the meaning or significance of an example

            _____ Build on a comment by a classmate

            _____ Build on an idea from a previous class

            _____ Other:


            If we had small group work today, were you:

            _____ A more active contributor than most of your group

            _____ A less active contributor than most of the group

            _____ Silent or rarely spoke  

            _____ No small group work today

            Any questions you wish wed turn to next time? Other suggestions?

            Thank you.



Any of the strategies in this post can help you foster richer classroom discussions that will help students practice the habits of mind of academic writers. Of course, this can only happen in an atmosphere in which student responses — and questions and ideas — are truly valued. That part is up to you.



Image: Ferris Bueller "Anyone?" meme, via

Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, 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 or visit her website: Acts of Composition



As educators, we recognize the value of experiential learning – learning that becomes deeper as students move up the ladder of abstraction towards synthesis, application and other high-level processes of thinking. The term, experiential learning, was originally defined by educational psychologist, David Kolb, as "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combinations of grasping and transforming the experience." So, it is not enough to simply have an experience. Instead, Kolb suggests that students must “transform” the experience through understanding, connecting and reflecting. He goes on to identify the “concrete experience” that involves hands-on, sensory participation and “reflective observation” in which we work to complicate and make meaning of our experiences. 


Similarly, in digital writing and online spaces, we hear the term “immersive experiences” that involve writers and readers into a “mixed reality” in virtual spaces. These can take the form of video games that simulate worlds, high tech VR technology, and interactive content, but we can broadly understand them as any virtual relationship in which the audience is actively involved through participation or engagement. Essentially, immersive experiences create environments that make readers feel like they are part of them through sensory or exploratory content. Since digital writing is also non-linear, writers can create paths of inquiry and exploration in ways that traditional writing does not. Even following a link, playing a video, or enlarging an image offers audiences some level of participation, exploration, and interaction. When we view content online, we often look for some replication of reality and opportunities to immerse ourselves in environments even though we do not occupy that physical space.


As teachers, we can offer students opportunities (fieldwork, community engagement, cultural observation, etc.) to get out of the traditional classroom and explore “concrete experiences” and have them transform them for others through “reflective observation.” The Experiential Review assignment asks students to immerse themselves in real-life experiences and recreate them (in multilayered ways) for their audiences. 


Background Readings and Resources


Assignment: The Experiential Review

  • Have students choose a place that they want to visit to immerse themselves. They must choose a place where they can physically go rather than reflect on a place they have visited in the past. Sometimes I encourage them to go to a place they have never been before and other times a place with which they are familiar. Students choose restaurants, museums, parks, and community events. I usually have them brainstorm ideas with classmates to come up with interesting and creative sites for observation.
  • Discuss ideas surrounding the “kaleidoscopic” nature of experience -- where things happen simultaneously and through many layers and perspectives (Britton). Bring in ideas about place and space and talk about the ways “experience overlays landscape” (Harmon). I introduce them to the participant/spectator relationship and the difference between concrete and reflective experiences. We identify different lenses for viewing experiences such as geographical, sociological, and psychological. Basically, we complicate the term, experience, and come with examples and strategies for observing their place.
  • Have students visit their site and immerse themselves in the layers of experiences. I want them to be aware of the environment, atmosphere, context and specific details -- to look at small details and the big picture (micro to macro). I encourage them to talk to people, take pictures, shoot video, and take written field notes along the way. 
  • Finally, students write up the experience as interactive content (blog, website, linked document, etc.) with the goal of trying to recreate the experience and immerse their audience. Instruct them to describe their experience, along with their perspective (review), and to include background along with their experience. Encourage them to describe the atmosphere and provide evidence and examples for their ideas and perspectives.


Assignment requirements:

Length: 800-1000 words (interactive blog post) 

Images: At least 3 captioned, original images

Links: At least 3 purposeful embedded links

Multimodal components:  At least one beyond original images (maps, article, video, etc.)


Composing considerations:

  • Background
  • Atmosphere
  • Specific Details
  • Evidence and Examples
  • Exploratory pathways (embedded links)
  • Supplemental Content Sections
  • Engaging Voice
  • Perspective/Critique
  • Captioned Images
  • Multimodal Components
  • Reflection/Connection
  • Layers of Experience



I use many variations of the Experiential Review assignment. Sometimes I send students out individually to discover their own places and other times I arrange field experiences for the whole class. Sometimes I send them all to one particular kind of place (restaurant reviews) and other times I engage them in “sense of place assignments” where they have to explore the multiple layers within a geographic boundary. I have found that students almost always enjoy these assignments because they push them to interact and try on new lenses for critical observation that gives them practice in interactive digital writing. They also enjoy the genre of the review that pushes them beyond a neutral reportage towards observations that include their own perspectives. I also have students share their assignments publicly with the class in which they share their places and encourage others to try them out for themselves.


Britton, James N. Language and Learning: The Importance of Speech in Children’s Development. Heinemann, 1993.
Harmon, Katharine. You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination. Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.
Kolb, David A. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Pearson FT Press, 2015.

Jack Solomon

The "Momo Challenge"

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Mar 14, 2019


When I first started writing about popular cultural semiotics in the 1980s, the Cabbage Patch Kids were the biggest thing going in children’s consumer culture. Not too many years later there was the POGS pandemic, followed by the Pokemon outbreak, which has since crossed its original generational boundaries to continue on as what may be the most lucrative gaming phenomenon of all time.


The common thread running through all these mega-fads is the way that they all were disseminated—at least in their beginnings—via a mysterious children’s grapevine unknown to adults, a vast international playground of sorts in which word about the Next Big Thing got passed without the assistance of social media. And now that the grapevine has gone digital, as it were, the propagation of new kiddie fads is accelerating at Warp speed, with unsettling results.


A couple of recent articles from The Atlantic and the New York Times provide a case in point. Describing the apparition of an online poltergeist called "Momo" who pops up unexpectedly on social media and dares kids to, among other things, commit suicide, they tell of a burgeoning panic among parents, police departments, and major news outlets around the globe. The new fad is called "the Momo challenge," and it would be pretty scary—except that it's a hoax.


Taylor Lorenz sums up all the confusion rather nicely:

On Tuesday afternoon, a Twitter user going by the name of Wanda Maximoff whipped out her iPhone and posted a terrifying message to parents.


“Warning! Please read, this is real,” she tweeted. “There is a thing called ‘Momo’ that’s instructing kids to kill themselves,” the attached screenshot of a Facebook post reads. “INFORM EVERYONE YOU CAN.”


Maximoff’s plea has been retweeted more than 22,000 times, and the screenshot, featuring the creepy face of “Momo,” has spread like wildfire across the internet. Local news hopped on the story Wednesday, amplifying it to millions of terrified parents. Kim Kardashian even posted a warning about the so-called Momo challenge to her 129 million Instagram followers.


To any concerned parents reading this: Do not worry. The “Momo challenge” is a recurring viral hoax that has been perpetuated by local news stations and scared parents around the world. This entire cycle of shock, terror, and outrage about Momo even took place before, less than a year ago: Last summer, local news outlets across the country reported that the Momo challenge was spreading among teens via WhatsApp. Previously, rumors about the challenge spread throughout Latin America and Spanish-speaking countries.


The Momo challenge wasn’t real then, and it isn’t real now. YouTube confirmed that, contrary to press reports, it hasn’t seen any evidence of videos showing or promoting the “Momo challenge” on its platform.


If Momo is a hoax, why, then, has she produced such a panicky reaction? John Herrman's take on the matter is instructive. "Screens and screen time are a source of endless guilt and frustration" for modern parents, he writes, "so it makes sense to need to displace these feelings on a face, a character, and something, or someone, with fantastically evil motives, rather than on the services that actually are surveilling what the kids are up to, to ends of their own."


In other words, if "Momo" isn't real, the way that the corporate Net is invading our privacy, "mining" our data, and leading our children down a Pied Piperish path (one which makes the exploitations of traditional television look like a nineteenth-century Fourth of July parade) is, and grownups are accordingly getting very jumpy. "Momo" may be a hoax, but Slender Man wasn't, and therein lies the real "Momo challenge": the Internet is growing faster than our ability, or even desire, to shape it to human needs, rather than corporate ones. And the kids, who usually know what's going on before their parents do, could actually be the canaries in a creepy digital coal mine.



Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 2564425 by StockSnap, used under the Pixabay License


When this blog posting goes up, I will be in Pittsburgh at CCCC celebrating Cheryl Glenn’s brilliantly deserved Exemplar Award and reveling in what looks to be the most diverse and exciting program in years: bravo to Vershawn Young!


I will surely be writing about the conference in the weeks to come, reporting on what I have taken away from as many sessions as I can possibly attend. But for now, I am thinking of Stanford’s students at this time of year: what I call the end-of-winter-term-doldrums. They are up to their ears in midterms and working furiously to finish up their research-based multimodal arguments that I always assign. They have spring break to look forward to but after that is the long, slow slog of spring term, which stretches well into June. So they are often in a fairly desperate mood—and could use some comic relief.


I was thinking of these students when my 14-year-old grandniece told me that she had finally gotten to see BlacKKKlansman and it was Spike Lee’s genius use of humor that kept her from screaming throughout the film: “it’s the most impactful movie I’ve ever seen,” she told me. I was also thinking of students during a Saturday Night Live sketch when the brilliant Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant could not keep themselves together and broke up while playing the owners of “Smokery Farms Meat Gift Delivery Service” who complained about way too many heartwarming stories about animals, like “Pig Teaches Deaf Dog to Bark.” The audience was in stitches, whether over the characters McKinnon and Bryant were playing or the fact that they couldn’t keep a straight face while delivering these joke lines. I hope a lot of students were watching in and got one of the best gifts of life, which is a good, long laugh.


I’ve found that loosening up the syllabus a little during this time of the term and asking students to have some fun always pays off by giving them some comic relief that can release some of the stress they are feeling. So we might take that joke headline from Bryant and McKinnon and write joke headlines of our own, comparing them to ones we can find in The Onion or fake/clickbait headlines we can find online. The funnier, the better. Trying our hands at parody can also be lots of fun: a group of students in one of my classes made a parodic video of our class that left us all laughing with and at ourselves.


At other times I might go for an imitation exercise, asking students to imitate an author they really admire (or really can’t stand) and to do so by writing the opening of a children’s story in the style of that author. Here’s one student (a chemistry major!) telling the opening of “The Three Little Pigs” in the style of Edgar Allan Poe:

It began as a mere infatuation. I admired them from afar, with a longing that only a wolf may know. Soon, these feelings turned to torment. Were I even to set eyes upon their porcine forms, the bowels of my soul raged, as if goaded by some festering poison. As the chilling winds of November howled, my gullet yarned for them. I soon feasted only upon an earnest and consuming desire for the moment of their decease.

This student had read four or five Poe stories, noting vocabulary choices and figures of speech like similes, and he read the stories aloud trying to capture some of the rhythm. Then he wrote his imitation—much to the delight of everyone in the class, many of whom tried to outdo him with their own over-the-top imitations.


Taking a light-hearted break from the grinding demands of the quarter system always paid off for me and my students. It gave us a chance to take a deep breath, enjoy some good laughs, and then return to the end of term rigors feeling at least a little bit refreshed. As Shakespeare demonstrates in his most devastating tragedies, some comic relief is good for the soul.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2193585 by Alexas_Fotos, used under the Pixabay License

Overhead shot of a white woman doing research on a library computerWhen I create an assignment, I intend the information I include about research requirements to suggest starting points and to encourage exploration. Instead, students probably use that information to determine the bare minimum required, doing only the research described instead of jumping off into deeper exploration.

Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg (2010) examined “How Handouts for Research Assignments Guide Today’s College Students,” finding that students use assignments less as a guide and more as a road map. If the assignment handout calls for three sources, students use only three sources. Directed by the assignment handout to use at least two books and an online site, students meet the requirement and find little or no more.

In an earlier study, Head and Eisenberg (2009) reported that “Almost every student in the sample turned to course readings—not Google—first for course-related research assignments. Likewise, Google and Wikipedia were the go-to sites for everyday life research for nearly every respondent” (3).

I’m left with a conundrum: I want students to look beyond the course textbooks, Google, and Wikipedia, but I don’t want to prescribe the kinds and number of resources they should consult. My ultimate goal is to teach students how to thoroughly research a topic on their own, choosing the best tools to use and gathering relevant sources for their research projects.

I designed the following activity to kick off students’ research. In it, I ask students to evaluate the available research tools and then plan how to use those tools to conduct their research project.

The activity below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. I took the six kinds of research tools from a list from the course textbook, Markel and Selber’s Technical Communication (12th edition). You can easily customize the activity for your class by using the list of resources from your own textbook. Any textbook that covers writing research projects will include a similar list.

Finding Useful Research Tools for Your Project

The section on “Understanding Research Tools” (pp. 121–122) in Markel and Selber’s Technical Communication discusses the following six kinds of resources you can consult when you conduct research:

  • Library catalogs
  • Online databases
  • Newspaper and periodical indexes
  • Abstract services
  • Web search engines
  • Reference works

For each of the six research tools, provide the information below. Your answer will map out how you will conduct research for your project.

Step 1: Determine the Usefulness of the Research Tools

Indicate how each of the six research tools is (or isn’t) appropriate for your research project by responding to the following questions.

  1. What specific research tools in the category are available for your topic? For example, name the online databases that are appropriate for your topic.
  2. What kind of information are you likely to find using the particular tool?
  3. How relevant is the information to your research project?
  4. Based on your evaluation, how appropriate is the kind of tool for your research project?

Step 2: Plan Your Use of the Research Tools

For each tool that is appropriate for your research project, explain specifically how you will use the tool.

  1. What keywords will you use with each tool?
  2. What kind of research sources will you look for with each tool?
  3. How will you manage the sources that you find? In other words, indicate how you will save or borrow the sources.

The answers to these questions may be similar for the different research tools. Try using a table to organize the information to simplify your response. You do not need to use full sentences for Step 2.

I’ll supplement this activity with links to some specific resources from the campus library, such as these Research Guides for Various Subject Areas. I will also suggest that students consult a librarian for help.

I think my assignment meets my goal. It encourages students to research beyond the familiar sources like their textbook and Google. At the same time, it guides students toward easily accessible resources without telling them exactly what to do. Next week, I will share a follow-up activity that asks students to report on the specific resources they have discovered.

Do you have an activity to share that helps students engage in deeper exploration when they conduct a research project? I’d love to hear from you. Tell me about it by leaving a comment below.

Photo credit: All She’s Armed With Is Research. by Markus Binzegger on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Skye RobersonSkye Roberson (nominated by Katie Fredlund) is pursuing her PhD in Composition Studies in the English department at the University of Memphis. She is currently the graduate assistant director of the Center for Writing and Communication. Prior to that, she taught first-year writing at the University of Memphis and Arkansas State University and served as a writing consultant for five years. Her research interests include feminist rhetoric, history of composition and rhetoric, labor inequality, and writing centers. Her most recent publication, “'Anonymous Was a Woman:’ Anonymous Authorship as Rhetorical Strategy” will appear in the edited collection Feminist Connections: Rhetorical Strategies from the Suffragists to the Cyberfeminists.


Scaffolding multimodal assignments is essential in pedagogies that embrace inclusivity. It’s tempting to assume that students in the first-year writing program are digital natives, and therefore have a wealth of pre-existing knowledge about technology. Those assumptions risk harming students from marginalized backgrounds who may have limited exposure to technology, including students from low-income areas, non-traditional students, or those whose physical or mental disabilities are barriers to access. By scaffolding multimodal assignments, it puts each student in the class on equal footing and increases their confidence when working with digital tools.


One of the major assignments in the second sequence of the first-year writing program at University of Memphis is the New Media Project, where students transform their written researched arguments into digital compositions. Before this assignment, roughly halfway through the semester, I assign the Multimedia Group Presentation, a low-stakes collaborative project that provides scaffolding for the New Media Project. I dedicate two weeks for them to work on the project in-class. During this time, they learn how to interact with a digital tool of their choice, build a small sample project, and prepare a presentation on the strengths and weaknesses of the tool they selected. I act as facilitator while they work as groups. On the final day, students lead presentations followed by Q&A sessions where the class has opportunities to ask deeper questions about how the digital tools work.


This assignment provides layers of scaffolding for the more difficult New Media Project at the end of the semester and accomplishes the following:

  • The process of learning and sharing digital tools helps students understand how they work, which (for me) is the hardest part of teaching a course steeped in multimodality. This gives the students the essential knowledge they need to develop their own projects later in the semester.
  • The freedom of the assignment introduces time for play and exploration in the classroom. Students are allowed to use unstructured class time to test out their tools without worrying about being graded or judged. The purpose is to promote possibility rather than perfection.
  • By discussing the strengths and weaknesses of a given tool, students begin thinking critically about the functionality and potential applications of multimodal platforms. They shift from being passive learners to critical thinkers.
  • This project signals my changing role in the classroom, giving more authority to students as the semester progresses. For this assignment, they control what happens during class time. As the semester goes on, I assume a more decentralized position as a facilitator, and they have greater control of how we use class time.


The Multimedia Group Presentation is the only scaffolding I have built in before the New Media Project. Each semester, I wonder if I’ve done enough to prepare my students to work on their own. Even though students typically rate the Multimedia Group Presentation as their favorite assignment, there are still some who struggle when working alone. I worry most about students who have never done a multimodal project because they can become demoralized when they can’t figure out how to solve problems alone. A similar problem is that students sometimes limit themselves to the tool they learned to use in the group project rather than embrace the options presented by their peers.


Since I last taught this assignment a year ago, I have wondered how these issues might be addressed. An idea I’ve considered is having students work in collaborative units where they learn to use a new tool each day. Rather than have them do a formal presentation, the project will end with a class discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of each tool. By doing this, each student is equally exposed to the digital tools at their disposal. This is something I’m considering when I teach this course next semester.


What kind of scaffolding do you use in a multimodal composition course? How do you make digital tools accessible? How do you promote access in your pedagogy? 


To view Skye’s assignment, visit Multimedia Group Presentation. To learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board, visit the Bedford New Scholars page on the Macmillan English Community.

When he turned eighteen, Ethan Lindenberger sought advice about how to get vaccinated. The title of a Guardian article about him by Anna Almendrala sums up his situation: “‘God Knows How I’m Alive’: How a Teen Defied His Parents to Get Vaccinated.” As Almendrala explains, “Lindenberger was raised to believe that vaccines cause brain damage, autism, and other developmental issues. But nearing the end of high school, he had come to think differently.” His parents believed that vaccines were some type of government scheme and never had him vaccinated. “But doubt crept in at 13 or 14, after seeing the angry and aggressive responses to a post his mother had written on social media about the dangers of vaccines. People called his mother’s post propaganda and false information, Lindenberger told the Guardian. ‘Why has this thing that has been so black and white suddenly seem like there’s a lot more to it?’”


Lindenberger went to the authorities in his search for the truth. He read what sources like the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization had to say about vaccinations. He learned about the now-debunked and retracted 1998 article that linked vaccinations to autism. He learned the logic on the other side of what had been to him a black-and-white issue. There is no reputable scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism. A fallacy called the post hoc fallacy—propter hoc ergo post hoc (after that because of that)—has led some parents to assume a link because signs of autism often become noticeable around the time early vaccines are scheduled. The timing does not mean that one causes the other.


One cause-effect relationship that is scientifically verifiable is the increase in the incidence of mostly eradicated diseases in areas where there are clusters of anti-vaxxers, as people like Lindenberger’s parents are called. The problem has hit the headlines recently with a measles outbreak in Washington state, where an unusually large number of children have not been vaccinated.


The anti-vaxxers’ claim that their children should not be vaccinated rests on the assumption that vaccines cause developmental delays such as autism. Their claim is invalid if the assumption is not true, and the assumption is invalid if you accept the authority of organizations such as the WHO and the CDC. Another assumption behind the claim is that vaccinations are a government scheme. This assumption needs support if the claim is to be accepted. Some parents do not like for the government to interfere with their parenting, just as some motorcycle owners do not believe the government has the right to mandate the wearing of helmets. Motorcycle riders may feel they have the right to risk their own safety by not wearing helmets. A better analogy, however, would be whether a parent has the right to decide that his or her child should not wear a helmet while riding on a motorcycle.


On the other side of the debate are parents who do not believe their children should be put at risk by unvaccinated children. We would like to think that vaccination is 100% effective, but since it is not, vaccinated children who spend time with unvaccinated sick children are still at risk. Though far fewer children who have been vaccinated will contract a disease like measles, and the illness will be less severe for them, they can still become ill.


The question that then arises is whether schools can force parents to have their children vaccinated. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are no federal vaccination laws, but all fifty states have certain vaccination requirements. All fifty states also allow medical exemptions. All but three have exemptions based on religion or philosophy (for people who have sincerely held beliefs that prohibit immunizations). A partial solution under consideration by some states is tightening these exemption policies. Those states will face the difficult job of drawing a line between medical and religious reasons for opposing immunization and philosophical ones. Is a parent’s philosophical opposition to vaccination enough to let that parent’s child put other children at risk?


Lindenberger personally hopes to become a minister and “to continue to be a voice for scientific evidence on the importance of vaccines.” Few individuals so far are taking his route and having vaccination once they come of age. Teenagers are so well informed via social media, however, that they may begin questioning at an earlier age just what their parents are doing and why. The parents of another young man introduced in Almendrala’s article stopped having him vaccinated after he had a bad reaction to an immunization at an early age and had to be hospitalized. Almendrala writes, “He’d only realized his family approached things differently at the age of 16, when he began laughing at ‘anti-vaxxer memes’ on Reddit, but soon realized that his family might be the butt of the joke. ‘I thought it was funny,’ said John. ‘Then my mom started talking about it, and I was like, ‘Oh, shit, I’m one of those kids.’” For John the situation came to a decisive point when a military scholarship for college required him to be vaccinated. His mother is now helping him catch up on his immunizations so that he can attend.



Photo credit: “Flu Vaccination Grippe” by Daniel Paquet on Flickr, 10/22/10 via a CC BY 2.0 license.


Writing in The New York Times in 2011, Neil Genzlinger bemoans “the problem of memoirs,” opening with this notable illustration by Timothy Goodman. Genzlinger is ostensibly reviewing four recently-published memoirs, but he spends most of his time elaborating on four principles for would-be memoirists: that you had parents and a childhood does not qualify you to write a memoir; readers don’t want to “relive your misery”; don’t jump on the memoir bandwagon just because it’s there; and “if you must write a memoir make sure you are the least important person in it.”


This is not bad advice, but potential memoir writers seem not to have heeded it. In 2011, Genzlinger notes that if you want to browse memoirs on Amazon, you better be in a comfy chair since you will get 60 to 120,000 “hits” depending on how you search. Today the number is even greater.


Why the avalanche of memoirs? Genzlinger attributes it to “me-ism,” an age of narcissism. While there is no doubt some truth in that assertion (pretty much all of us, after all, like to talk about ourselves), I think it ignores other important factors. I first noticed the huge uptick in memoirs about 20 years ago and often commented on it and discussed it with my students. After years of worrying the issue, we came up with two factors that seemed to be associated with the rise of this particular genre. First is the resistance to what Lisa Ede and I have called “radical individualism” by theorists of many different stripes, who point out that the long-held assumption that we were the “masters of our fates, the captains of our souls” is belied at every turn, that we are rather shaped by forces far beyond our control. Hence “the death of the author” and the concept of “author functions” that so exercised theorists in the 80s.


These were frightening concepts to many, and the ensuing culture wars stirred up passions on all sides. Feminist rhetoricians and compositionists noted a bitter irony: just at a time when women and people of color were able to come to voice, establishment theorists told them that such voices were really constructions, not results of their own agency. And many in society at large felt vaguely that the concept of selfhood as they had known it for centuries was called into question.


In addition, the 21st century brought with it enormous advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, moves that presaged something like the industrial revolution on steroids, with huge categories of jobs being taken over by machines. As I write, Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur running for the Democratic presidential nomination, is criss-crossing the country, demonstrating in graphic detail how many jobs—indeed entire professions—are already being taken over by robots and other machines and talking about how to “save jobs from automation” while at the same time facing the necessity of introducing a guaranteed monthly income for all.


These changes are threatening on an existential level—to many, they threaten the sense not only of self but of self-worth. In such times, it is no wonder that we see signs of writers trying to reclaim a traditional sense of self, of saying with every new memoir published, “Here I am. Look at me. I count. I really count.”


Students today are caught in this maelstrom of change, this industrial revolution on steroids. But far too little of what they talk about and study in college acknowledges these realities or engages students in responding productively to them. That doesn’t need to be true of writing programs and courses, however. We are well positioned to tackle these issues with our students, to engage them in tracing challenges to traditional notions of the self as well as technological change in order to better understand the relationship between the two. We are also well positioned to ask students to write about their own relationship to these issues. They might even decide to do a bit of memoir-writing themselves, focusing throughout not on ME ME ME but on how to understand self always in a web of contextual relationships that includes other people as well as other important factors in their environments, including machines with which (or whom?) they may well find themselves engaged in more ways than they can imagine.


To pursue these ends, teachers of writing might well begin with a recent essay in Rhetoric Society Quarterly: “The Ethics of Memoir: Ethos in Uptake.” In this essay, Katherine Mack and Jonathan Alexander show how the concept of ethos “illuminates memoir’s rhetorical potency and its dubious ethics,” noting particularly the way that the over-personalization of memoir bemoaned by Genzlinger can yield to a critique that insistently embeds the ethos of the memoirist within “larger social, cultural, and political debates” like those I have been describing. Mack and Alexander put their recommendation into very good practice in an analysis of two very recent memoirs, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. They conclude that we need many more critical studies of memoirs and especially in the context of “uptake,” that is, how readers “talk back” to them: “At a time when the ‘personal’ and ethos are used to justify a variety of often contradictory positions, a revitalized study of the genres of the personal, such as memoir, and their rhetorical deployment, strikes us as more pressing than ever” (68).


Mack and Alexander’s astute analysis will give teachers of writing a lot to think about—and provide another way to engage students in examining, critically, the “problem of memoirs.”


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1149959 by Free-Photos, used under the Pixabay License

I am continuing to look at suggestions for working with multilingual students in FYC and IRW corequisite classrooms. One area of concern for many instructors is plagiarism and patchwriting with multilingual writers. A number of researchers and pedagogical experts have weighed in on the causes of this particular challenge and ways to address it (see articles by Howard, Serviss, and Rodrigue, as well as Pecorari, for example).


I would echo one of their findings: for many multilingual writers, patchwriting often results from a novice attempt at paraphrase – an attempt that can be improved with an increased focus on instruction and practice. 

I begin a discussion of paraphrase early in my FYC and corequisite courses, since much of our text-based writing requires integration of source material via summary, paraphrase, or quote. When I introduce the concept, I ask students to consider how they are already making use of paraphrase in their daily lives. Multilingual students frequently negotiate conversations in multiple languages, and paraphrase is a strategic resource they deploy when moving between languages and audiences. We talk about the quizzical look we might get in our daily conversations, a look that signals that we have not communicated well. So we try again: we re-phrase, and we paraphrase. We also put paraphrase to work in teaching, coaching, parenting, mentoring, training, and encouraging—roles many of my multilingual students are quite familiar with. 


What students are able to see quickly is that paraphrase outside of the classroom is not about checking a box on a rubric; it’s all about communicating a message so that a particular audience can understand it. Our purpose is explanation, and the goal is comprehension. What we do in writing is essentially the same thing: we encounter interesting and sometimes challenging concepts and ideas from the texts we read, and our goal is to communicate those ideas clearly for our own readers. 


Having established the purpose of a paraphrase, students note quickly that paraphrase requires an understanding of the information being shared. The first step is successful paraphrasing is reading for understanding – often reading many times. 


I next tell students I am going to tell them how NOT to paraphrase. I take a sentence or two from a difficult text we are working with, such as this one from Elizabeth Wardle’s essay in Bad Ideas about Writing. We talk about what it means to “put something in our own words,” and I show them a strategy that doesn’t work: we go through and substitute synonyms or related words for each major content word in the passage. Students may use a thesaurus or translator for this activity. Then we look at the results we get. I ask the students to consider whether or not the paraphrase is successful, and most will readily agree that it is not: it doesn’t explain, and it makes no sense. Our criteria for judgment is not how many words are copied before one is changed; rather, it is the effectiveness of the paraphrase in explaining the ideas in the original text.


We also take a look at paraphrases generated by online paraphrase tools, which usually produce a word salad akin to the paraphrase we generated in our first version. We wrap our introductory overview of paraphrasing by looking at a variety of successful and no-so-successful paraphrases, with example of patchwriting thrown in. Setting up the discussion with the purpose of paraphrase allows students to focus first on the meaning communicated in the paraphrase, and second on the language used to convey that meaning.


Finally, I have students work in collaborative groups to practice. I ask a targeted question about a concept from something we have read, and I ask the students to draft a paragraph in which they first quote from the target text to answer the question and then paraphrase the quote they’ve chosen. Finally, they extend the paragraph with an example from their own experience, and we review the paragraphs to see if readers can identify the parts (quote, paraphrase, and expansion) and the boundaries between them.


In peer responses to the paragraphs, students get one more shot at practicing paraphrase: they read a classmate’s paragraph and attempt to paraphrase the topic sentence (main idea), using the following frame.


       “Let me get this straight. You’re saying that __________________, right?”


This intensive practice prepares students to work with blending partial quotes, paraphrases, and summaries later in the term. While the class sessions devoted to paraphrase practice early on do not fully eliminate patchwriting and plagiarism, they provide students with a strong base for continued practice and discussion.

Recently I needed a resource to help students understand brainstorming. I knew that they generally understood the idea, but I wanted to encourage them to try some new strategies and stretch their invention skills a little. After a few disappointing Google search results, I found myself at the “Tips & Tools” page of the UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center site.

There, I found perfect resources to share with students, including a Brainstorming tip sheet and this Webbing video:

I quickly realized that the site had much more to offer. The “Tips & Tools” page features nearly a hundred resources, organized into four categories:

  • Writing the Paper
  • Citation, Style, and Sentence Level Concerns
  • Specific Writing Assignments for Contexts
  • Writing for Specific Fields

The handouts range from ideas on Thesis Statements to basic strategies for working on a Dissertation. Some of the resources focus on general writing advice, such as dealing with Procrastination and Writing Anxiety. Others address topics frequently heard in the writing classroom, like how to use Gender-Inclusive Language and ways to work with Writing Groups effectively.

Perhaps one of the best things about the site is that the handouts are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License. That means, as the site explains in the footer, “You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.” If you need a supplement for your class or a specific student, these “Tips & Tools” have you covered.

Have you found an online resource that is particularly helpful in the writing classroom? Please share your recommendations in the comments below. I’d love to see the sites you use with students.

Bohannon HeadshotToday’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law Bohannon, an Associate Professor of English and the Interim Director of Composition at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth through authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies; cultivating community engagement pedagogies; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at and her KSU Faculty Page.


As I have reflected on some recent tweets calling out Spike Lee for his Oscar acceptance speech, I’ve also thought Atlanta Student Movement Signabout how we, as teachers of writing, can affect positive rhetorical growth for our students as they too reflect on social justice and turning their thoughts into scholarly action. Our students depend on us to provide mentoring and writing opportunities that help them engage at cultural points of need. In today’s post, I want to invite readers to check out and contribute to an assignment series that engages students as public, digital researchers with a topic connected to civil and human rights.


Context for Assignment

By researching historical civil rights movements and then developing digital content curating the rhetorical activities within these movements, students gain a deeper understanding of human struggles and are able to insert their own voices into recovering and analyzing them for 21st-century contexts.


Measurable Learning Objectives for the Assignment

  • Investigate a civil or human rights campaign
  • Apply peer review as recursive writing process
  • Create digital texts in a blogging genre for public audiences


Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in dialogic, digital writing assignments. Below, I have listed a few foundational texts. You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.



Digital Deliverables for Classroom Use


In-Class/Out-of-Class Work

Students watch excerpts from a Civil Rights History video to introduce them to some key people and places connected to the 1960s movement. As a class group, students then choose two topics connected to the movement. Our class chose the Rich's Department Store sit-ins in Atlanta. Then, students diAtlanta Sit-Insvide into groups to craft two blog posts per group on people and places connected to their chosen civil rights topic (from either of the above sources), using the Blogging Guidelines. Drafting blog content can occur outside of class, but revision and editing are best-completed in-class. Use the Feedback Checklist to maximize effective peer time. If you can't get a computer lab (a frequent occurrence on my campus), host a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) day. Some of my students' best revisions are made on their tablets and phones! Budget time for at least one revision and two editing sessions, where students collaborate to research and insert tags, refine their conversational tones, design multimodal elements, check for accessibility and even integrate SEO analytics. 


This assignment lends itself to digital, democratic learning and unique contributions across types of classes, because students choose their methods of composition, reflect on their process, and have the opportunity to present their work to their peers and publics. 


Student Blog Examples


Check More Out...

Our class took these blogs a bit further and curated all of the blogs into a website: Anyone Sitting Here. Please also view a sample page: The Rhetorical Activism of Lonnie King. If your students have more content to add to our website, send it along, and we'll help get it published!

Our Reflections and Continued Work

Our class community engaged authentically with this assignment and it generated sustained work, writing and designing texts. The work brought all twenty of us together as a group, each person contributing expertiseAtlanta Student Movement Project and learning from everyone else. Our research has resulted in a living digital archive and a student-produced visual timeline of the Movement’s genesis (special thanks to Kelly Key, John Phelps, and Madison Urquart). As Andrea Lunsford has taught us: our writing is valuable when we share it with the world. Try this assignment and get in touch with us to contribute to our academic website



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