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


Image of doors from which to choose


Today’s blog post is the last one for the spring semester! To send students off into the summer months, we’ll look at some easy-to-confuse words that they might use in day-to-day communications.


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 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 Commonly Confused Words

  • Affect versus Effect [9:15]
  • Between versus Among [4:00]
  • Can versus May [4:29]
  • If versus Whether [3:05]
  • Less versus Fewer [6:34]
  • Jury-Rigged or Jerry-Rigged? [3:45]
  • Riffle versus Rifle [2:34]


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: As a class, listen to one or more of the above podcasts. Discuss what it is about these words that make them easy to confuse. Is it their meanings? Their spellings? A combination of the two? Some other reasons? Then, strategize ways to remember when to use the correct word.


Assignment B: Ask each student to find an example of a word they’ve used incorrectly in a recent paper or another form of writing, such as a text message or post on social media. (Alternately, select an example for the class to look at together.) Have each student write a short paragraph explaining how the word was used incorrectly, what word should have been used instead, and ways to remember the correct word in the future.


How have you used podcasts about word usage in your class? How else do you discuss commonly confused words? Let us know in the comments!


Credit: Pixabay Image 1767562 by qimono, used under a Pixaby License

As the academic year ends, it’s time for me to turn to revising Elements of Argument and The Structure of Argument. What do I have to keep in mind about argument in the headlines as I look ahead? Given the political situation in America, it would be easy to say that there is no such thing as logical argument anymore. Emotion sometimes so far outweighs logic that it is almost naïve to give any credit to the seemingly old-fashioned notions that were at the heart of teaching classical rhetoric. Partisan politics so distorts people’s thinking that common ground seems impossible to reach. Family members have in many cases given up trying to reason with each other and have had to agree to silently disagree—or to unfriend each other. News is condemned as fake, and journalists are labeled enemies of the people. People of all ages depend increasingly on social media for their news and their opinions about it, and we now have an idea how much those opinions were shaped the last presidential election by a foreign government. Religious leaders dictate public policy, and the system of checks and balances built into our federal government seems to be dangerously out of balance.


The next editions of my textbooks will be published shortly before the 2020 elections. I will write them not knowing how the elections will turn out. That shouldn’t make any difference, and ultimately it doesn’t. I can’t ignore the fact that young people, more than ever, need to be able to construct an argument to defend their opinions and to deconstruct an argument to reveal its flaws, even if the other side seems unwilling to listen. In looking at the current editions with revision in mind, reviewers stressed that we need to keep in mind that there are often not just two sides to an argument. We too often think in terms of a debate, pro and con. An issue like abortion cannot be reduced to those terms. Even gender cannot be viewed as a simple binary anymore. We need more emphasis on finding common ground. In some cases, it is not which side wins but what compromise can be reached. That was the idea behind having whole chapters in Elements entitled "Multiple Viewpoints."


From the time our students started using the Internet to find sources to document their writing, we have had to teach them to evaluate sources. It was so easy—and quick—to accept the first source that popped up online. Now that is most often Wikipedia, in which entries can be written by anyone. Students used papers by students no more advanced than themselves as sources. We have to teach our students to investigate the source for legitimacy and for authority. While we have always had to do that, it was a little easier when an opinion had passed the bar of finding its way into print. We aren’t very likely to force our students back to using solely print sources. After all, many print sources are available online as well. Instead, students need to learn to question who wrote the words on the screen and what authority those writers have. They need to research the organization behind a web site, not just accept information uncritically. They need to understand the biases of sources.


It seems so simple, but we have to teach our students that there still are such things as truth and facts. Yes, photos can be doctored, as we all know, but when multiple sources have on video a person making a statement, it is pretty hard to deny those words came out of his or her mouth. Facts about funding sent to victims of natural disasters, troop deployments, crowd size, voting records, redistricting, numbers of votes cast, numbers of crimes, citizenship status of those convicted of crimes—the list could go on and on—can be verified. Biased as our news sources have become, there are still facts that arguments can be built on. Sure, a writer may have to do some digging to find them, and definitely will have to consider the source, but facts are facts in spite of what anyone says. There is no such thing as an alternative fact. We have to hold our politicians, and everyone else, to a standard of truth.


Textbook authors have acknowledged for years that critical reading goes hand in hand with argumentative writing. Students need practice in understanding arguments and seeing flaws in them before and while they are learning to write their own. They need to go beyond the headlines to read whole opinion essays, to see carefully structured and well supported arguments. And those do exist, from classical readings to the most recent editorials. They need to go beyond the surface of the news to see the reasons behind it. And they need to read opinions that differ from their own. The first steps toward the common ground that we are eventually going to have to find are understanding another point of view and recognizing that on any given subject there may be more than two opposing points of view.


Photo Credit: “Calendar*” by Dafne Cholet on Flickr, 01/20/11 via a CC BY 2.0 license.


In two days I will be in Vancouver for the meeting of the Canadian Association for the Study of Discourse and Writing held at the University of British Columbia, where I taught from 1977 to 1987. What a treat it will be to be back in that glorious city! The topic I’m working on is a rethinking of the relationship between speaking and writing, and I have been having a lot of fun tracing this relationship from ancient times to the present. I’ve been pondering the effects that the hegemony of writing has had and the recent resurgence of speaking and orality/aurality as major means of communication, not to mention the importance of sound and soundscapes to understanding, learning, and knowing. (I have also re-read, with admiration, Cindy Selfe’s dynamite article from a decade ago, “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Mjultimodal Composing” in CCC, June 2009.)


And I am puzzling over the contrast between Plato’s notion of speech as “the living word of knowledge, which has a soul” and the work of artificial intelligence to bring us talking robots and digital assistants who speak to us and seem, according to my students, “almost real.” What to make of these innovative “speakers” and the voice recognition technology that offers both powerful opportunities and perilous pitfalls. How will teachers of writing and speaking define “talk” now that speech is clearly “post-human”?


I will be writing more about these issues soon. But first, I am going to go to Vancouver and immerse myself in its beauty, see old friends, and walk around the campus I once knew so well. And then, I am going to take a bit of a summer break. I’ll be working on writing projects, for sure, but I will also be catching up on the latest Louise Penny books, taking long soaks in the hot tub, and being grateful for all the summers I’ve enjoyed—and hoping for more!


I wish you a summer of rest and restoration, and some happy reading and writing!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3076954 by Nietjuh, used under the Pixabay License

What are your scholarship and professional development plans for the summer? Like many colleagues, I relish the opportunity to focus on research projects, reading, and course development during the summer “downtime,” when I am teaching only one course. Such summer work informs our pedagogy for the academic year to come, whether we are full-time, part-time, tenured/tenure-track, or contingent—and whether or not our institutions and the legislatures and governing boards that fund them recognize the value of this particular academic labor.


Perhaps our summer efforts do not always appear as work to those outside academia because these activities can be so varied. Just consider the possibilities. I’ve got colleagues who have done or will do the following: 


  1. Plan and conduct research
  2. Travel as part of research work
  3. Finish writing an article or book chapter
  4. Attend a conference (perhaps a regional CCCC event?)
  5. Read a book (Paul Hanstedt’s Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World was recommended to me recently, for example.)
  6. Create a virtual or F2F reading group (I’m in a group reading John Warner’s Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.)
  7. Participate in a syllabus or assignment swap
  8. Catch up on reading journal articles
  9. Actually write one or more of the essays they typically assign students (Have you brushed up your own literacy narrative lately?)
  10. Participate in a webinar
  11. Revamp an online course or participate in a course review
  12. Take a course in a field outside their own discipline
  13. Participate in departmental assessment or course redesign efforts
  14. Review textbooks for publishers or the department
  15. Revise or develop a new edition of a textbook (which is on my agenda this summer)
  16. Serve as an abstract reader for conferences or peer reviewer for a journal
  17. Join a writing group
  18. Take training in technology, course accessibility/design, etc.
  19. Learn how to create video content (or another use any other technology that is new to them)
  20. Get involved in a cross-disciplinary SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) group
  21. Plan an undergraduate research experience for students
  22. Become a mentor
  23. Apply for a grant
  24. Host a summit or roundtable session to support adjunct faculty
  25. Join or create a composition teaching circle with faculty from high schools, two-year schools, or four-year schools (or participate in a National Writing Project event)


What are your summer plans? Is there a book you would like to recommend, a conference that you’re planning to attend, or a virtual group that others could join?  Share your recommendations with us.

Traci Gardner

Tic-Tac-Toe Discussion

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert May 28, 2019

Playground Tic-Tac-Toe Board, showing random X and O choices.A couple of weeks ago, I shared my Daily Discussion Post (DDP) activity, which asks students to read materials that are related to the course activities and respond to them. This summer I plan to design some new ways for students to respond to these posts.

As I use the posts now, each one typically ends with a question meant to kick off student discussion. Some weeks, the questions seems repetitive. After all, there are only so many ways to ask, “What do you think of this idea?”

On the other hand, I try to avoid asking such specific questions that there appears to be only one answer. I also want to steer clear of questions that only allow for one way of thinking or looking at the topic. I want to ensure that students have options for how they respond.

The first option I have designed uses a tic-tac-toe layout to provide a variety of response options for an entire week. The activity, included below, states the instructions, provides the tic-tac-toe board, and adds short descriptions for each of the nine options on the board.

Tic-Tac-Toe Discussion Challenge

This week, I challenge you to choose your DDP response strategies from the tic-tac-toe board below. Just as in a game of tic-tac-toe, your goal is to choose three in a row, three in a column, or three diagonally.

Reply to three different DDPs, choosing three different kinds of responses from the board (a different one for each DDP). Additional information on each option is listed below the board.

Tic-Tac-Toe Response Board

Cite the textbookCritique the ideasQuestion for the author/speaker
Demonstrate the idea with your projectRelate to a prior experienceCite another DDP
Make a recommendationCite another studentShare a related website

Details on the Response Options (listed alphabetically)

  • Cite another DDP
    Connect the post you are responding to with another post. Be sure to link to the other post and explain the connection fully.
  • Cite another student
    Connect to another student’s comment on the original post, OR to another student’s comment on some other post (be sure to link to it). Either way, be sure to explain the connection completely.
  • Cite the textbook
    Add a quotation from the textbook that relates to the post. It can support the idea or challenge it. Tell us why you chose it, and explain its relationship. Include the page number where you found the quotation.
  • Critique the ideas
    Think about the ideas in the post, and tell us what you think—What good ideas does it share? What bad ideas did you notice? Provide specific explanations for how your opinions on the post.
  • Demonstrate the idea with your project
    Write a before-and-after reply. Take a passage from your project as it is, and then show it after you revise to apply the idea in the post.
  • Make a Recommendation
    Advise someone on the topic the post considers. Recommend whether to follow the advice in the DDP, and provide supporting details that show why someone should follow your recommendation.
  • Question for the author/speaker
    Imagine sitting down with the author of the video or article linked in the DDP. Tell us what you would ask the author/speaker, explain why you’re asking, and suggest how you think the person will reply.
  • Relate to a prior experience
    Explain how the ideas in the DDP relate to a personal experience that you have had in school, in the workplace, or somewhere else. Your experience can match the post or be different.
  • Share a related website
    Tell us about a web page you have found that talks about the same ideas as the post. Include the name of the page, and provide a link.


  • You will report the three replies you completed from the Tic-Tac-Toe board in your journal.
  • You will earn credit for your replies by indicating you have completed this task on the Weekly Self-Assessment Quiz.

Final Thoughts

The assessment plan for the activity places the burden of the work on the students. After all, they know where their three responses are and which squares they intend them to correspond to on the Tic-Tac-Toe board. If I had to search out the posts for all 88 students I teach in a semester, the activity would take my time away from giving students feedback on their projects. Letting students report their work makes the activity easy to manage.

Do you have effective discussion activities that you use with your students? I plan to create some additional activities before classes start again in the fall. Will you share your ideas in the comments below? I would love to hear from you.

Photo credit: Playground tic-tac-toe and square by Sharat Ganapati on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

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. 


A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. I was working on a textbook proposal and had to draft a table of contents. The pickle: I've never written a table of contents. Not only have I never written a TOC, but I have never put one second of thought into the genre itself or how to write one. So what did I do? I did exactly what I teach my students to do when they approach a new writing task: I conducted a genre analysis. I took out a bunch of textbooks from my bookshelf, lined them up, and studied them (photographic evidence below!). I wrote down similarities. I wrote down differences. From there, I made a list of possible rhetorical moves I could make when composing the TOC. I identified the options that I thought would work best in my particular rhetorical context, and I drafted two different TOCs that corresponded to the textbook ideas. My co-writer and I got together, looked at the versions I created as well as the versions he created, and—voilà—we achieved our writing task.

Textbook TOCs


Teaching students how to conduct a genre analysis is invaluable in the writing classroom. The identification of genre features and patterns helps students gain genre and rhetorical awareness/knowledge and helps them to determine the moves and strategies they need to make in order to write effectively in a given genre and rhetorical situation. Genre knowledge provides students with a reflective process for approaching a writing situation: students who have the ability to activate their genre awareness and conduct a genre analysis are able to build themselves a guide for how to approach any given writing task.


In writing classes, instructors can support students in learning about genre and how to conduct a genre analysis in low-stakes or high-stakes assignments. Below, I offer a low-stakes assignment that I’ve used with students to build genre knowledge and practice genre analysis in a fun and easy way. I often facilitate this activity immediately before I pass out guidelines for a high-stakes writing assignment. This activity usually takes between 45 minutes to an hour.


Genre Analysis Assignment


Step #1: Give students three take-out menus from three different restaurants.


Step #2: Instruct students to read through the menus and look at them in relation to one another in small groups. Ask them to note commonalities in terms of content, structure, organization, language, design, and rhetorical strategies.


Step #3: Facilitate a class discussion. Ask students to identify the common situation in which a take-out menu emerges, noting why they exist, who engages with them and why, and the multiple purposes they may have. Record their responses on the board. Next, ask students to identify the commonalities they noted among the menus in their small groups. Record the information on the board.


Step #4: Now ask students to turn a focused eye on one menu. Ask them to return to their small groups and work to identify the common moves in the genre, the unique moves made in this particular menu, and the unique factors of the rhetorical situation (this may involve a bit of quick research).


Step #5: Debrief as a large class. Ask students to share their findings and record student responses on the board. Facilitate a class discussion focused on what the activity has taught students about writing and how they might approach a given writing task.



Most students find this activity enjoyable and valuable in learning how to conduct a genre analysis. In my experience, most students have an easy time identifying common and unique rhetorical moves as well as the rhetorical context of one single menu, especially when it’s a local restaurant. It’s a great warm-up activity to do prior to a high-stakes genre analysis assignment or a high-stakes writing (of any kind) assignment. Often times, I conduct this activity immediately before giving out a high-stakes writing assignment: I add an optional Step #6, wherein I ask students to identify a process for how they might approach composing in the particular genre as dictated by the assignment and the kinds of skills, abilities, and/or knowledge they may need to enhance or gain in order to effectively complete the assignment.

Topics for popular cultural analysis can spring out at you at the most unexpected times—in fact, that is one of the goals of cultural semiotics: to attune oneself to the endless array of signs that we encounter in our everyday lives. Take for example the catalog from a Minnesota-based outfit called The Celtic Croft that I came across quite by accident recently. A mail-order/online Scottish clothing and accessories emporium, The Celtic Croft offers its clientele not only traditional Highland gear but "officially licensed Outlander-inspired apparel and tartans," along with authentic Braveheart kilts. Which is where popular culture, and its significance, comes in.


I admit that I had to look up Outlander (of which I have only rather vaguely heard before) to understand what the catalog was referring to, but what I learned was quite instructive. Based upon a series of historico-romantic fantasy novels by Diana Galbadon, Outlander is a television series from the STARZ network that features the adventures of a mid-twentieth-century Englishwoman who time travels back and forth between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries as she leads a dual life among the Highland clans and the post-World War II English. Something of a breakout sensation, Outlander has recently been renewed for a fifth and sixth season.


To grasp the cultural significance of this television program—and of the clothing catalog that is connected to it—we can begin with constructing the system to which it belongs. The most immediate association, which is made explicit in The Celtic Croft catalog, is with the Oscar-winning film Braveheart, but the Highlander television and movie franchise is an even closer relation. More broadly, though set in the eighteenth century, Outlander can be regarded as a part of the medieval revival in popular culture that began with J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and which led to the whole "sword and sorcery" genre, encompassing both Harry Potter and Game of Thrones with its emphasis on magic, sword play, and a generally romanticized view of a pre-industrial past.


The current controversy raging within medieval studies over its traditional focus on the European Middle Ages—not to mention its cooptation by avowed white supremacists—reveals that such a system is fraught with potential political significance, and it is highly likely that a complete analysis of the phenomenon would uncover elements of conscious and unconscious white nationalism. But, if we limit ourselves here to The Celtic Croft catalog and its Braveheart and Outlander-inspired merchandise, we can detect something that is a great deal more innocuous. To see this we can begin with a tee-shirt that catalog offers: a black tee with white lettering that reads, "Scotch: Makin' White Men Dance Since 1494."


Now, I can see how this slogan could be taken as a kind of micro-aggression, but it can also be seen as something similar to the "white men can't jump" trope: expressing what is actually an admiration for qualities that are not conventionally associated with white people—especially in relation to stereotypes of Anglo Saxon self-repression and ascetic Puritanism. What the dancing Celt signifies is someone who can kick up his heels over a glass of whiskey and who is decidedly not a stodgy Saxon.


This interpretation is supported by the larger context in which The Celtic Croft universe operates. This is the realm of Highland Scotland, whose history includes both biological and cultural genocide at the hands of the English, who themselves become symbols of brutally oppressive whiteness in Braveheart and Outlander. It is significant in this respect that William Wallace's warriors in Braveheart were conspicuously portrayed with the long hair and face paint of movie-land Indians, while the British of Outlander are depicted as killers, torturers, and slave traders.


So what we have here is something that might be called an "escape from the heritage of oppressive whiteness," by which white audiences/consumers (who do not have to be actual Scots: even Diana Galbadon isn't) identify with the Celtic victims of Anglo history, finding their roots in such historical disasters as the Battles of Falkirk and Culloden. Purchasing the once-forbidden symbols of the Highland clans (kilts and tartans were banned for years after Culloden), and watching movies and television shows that feature the heroism of defeated peoples who resisted Anglo-Norman oppression, is thus a kind of celebration of a different kind of whiteness, one that rejects the hegemonic variety.


In other words, rather than reflecting white supremacy, the Celticism (I think I just coined that) of The Celtic Croft and its associated entertainments expresses a certain revision of the traditional American view of history away from Anglo-centrism towards an embrace of its victims. At a time when differing experiences of historical injustice are rending our country, this is no small recognition, because it could potentially help create a ground for unity rather than division.



Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 349717 by PublicDomainArchive used under the Pixabay License.

Valexa Orelien, me, Autumn Warren, and Vrinda Vasavada at the 2019 Lunsford Oral Presentation of Research Awards.


Well, I’ve just enjoyed one of my favorite days of the year—the annual Lunsford Oral Presentation of Research Awards. Now in its 9th year, this award honors the students whose presentations have been judged the strongest in Stanford’s second-year writing course, PWR 2. Students are first nominated by their instructors, after which a panel watches and evaluates the presentations, which have been recorded. The five students with the highest scores—the finalists—then present their research live to another panel of judges from both the Program in Writing and Rhetoric and the Oral Communication Program. As Marvin Diogenes explained, the judges

look first for quality and timely arguments that demonstrate the presenters’ innovative contributions to the research conversation in which they are participating, and that draw on substantive evidence and methods for support. Second, judges are looking for engaging delivery and rhetorically effective use of media that adds clarity and interest to a presentation.


The awards ceremony honors all students who have been nominated, so they are recognized and thanked, along with the teachers who nominated them. Then as the five winners are introduced, their instructors take the stage to describe their work and its significance and to present them with several books they have especially chosen for them (the books go along with a certificate and a generous check, which always gets a big smile). This year’s winners included Haley Hodge for “The EPA’s Actions Speak Louder than Words: The Neglect of the RV Community on Weeks Street,” written in her course on “Comics for Social Justice”; Vrinda Vasavada for “Fighting Tech Addiction,” for her course “Language Gone Viral”; Sofia Avila Jamesson for “Murder, Music, and Machismo: Analyzing Gender-Based Violence,” for her course “Hear/Say: The Art of Rhetorical Listening”; Caelin Marum for “Searching for Olivia,” written for her course on “Race, Gender, Power, and the Rhetoric of the Detective”; Valexa Orelien for “Exploring Linguistic Power Structures in Haiti,” written for her course “How We Got Schooled: The Rhetoric of Literacy and Education”; and Autumn Warren for “You Don’t Sound Black: The Connection between Language and Identity,” for her course on “Language, Identity, and Power.” Instructors Lisa Swan, Norah Fahim, Irena Yamboliev, John Peterson, Csssie Wright, and Jennifer Johnson were outstanding in their descriptions and discussions of the student work, helping us to understand the contributions each student has made. The range of topics excited me as I thought of all the research and thinking that went into making these arguments.


Finally, two of the student winners gave their presentations for the assembled group of students, friends, family, and instructors crowded into the performance space of the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking. Vrinda Vasavada, a computer science major, was eloquent on the need to recognize “tech addiction” and to find ways to ameliorate it. Her research shows that 89 percent of students used their phones during their latest social interaction, that 75 percent check their phones within five minutes of getting up, and that this behavior results in distraction, lack of focus, and depression. She offered several suggestions for reducing time on screen and urged that all students adopt them, but she didn’t stop there. She went on to identify the model social media companies currently use to generate revenue and marked this model as one of the major causes of “tech addiction.” She then called on companies to shift from quantity back to quality of communication, to reduce the number of intermittent rewards, and to enable users to take control of their own attention. And, she said, her Gen Z group will be very receptive to such changes, noting that 53% of this group report preferring face-to-face over digital communication. So she ended on a positive note.


Valexa Orelien gave another winning presentation on linguistic power structures in Haiti. Valexa is Haitian and so speaks Haitian Kreyol as well as French and English, and she made a very strong case for moving to Kreyol as the language of instruction in Haiti today. In terms of power, she noted the overwhelming dominance of the French-speaking minority. Today, she told us, 90 percent of the inhabitants are monolingual Kreyol speakers and 50 percent of the children don’t attend school. It’s no coincidence, she said, that only 10 percent go beyond grade 1 and that 10 percent speak French as well as Kreyol. Tracing the long and tortuous colonial history of Haiti that resulted in what Valexa referred to as “linguistic apartheid,” she noted that only in 1987 did Kreyol become an official language alongside of French, but even then it was discriminated against; the government provides French textbooks only, for instance. With the funding of the Akademi Kreyol Ayisyen, Michel Degraff began an initiative for “bilingualism without loss of culture” and for the use of Kreyol as the language of instruction and French as a foreign language. Valexa also closed on an optimistic note, hoping that this movement will continue to gain proponents in Haiti. Kreyol is so clearly the language of Haiti—“French in language but African in spirit.”


I expect that many if not most teachers reading this post have attended similar celebrations sometime this spring: for me, the season would not be complete without honoring the imaginative and thoughtful work of our students. So congratulations to all of them: they are what keep me going in these very dark days of our democracy. I look to them, their critical thinking abilities, their cogent writing, and their eloquent speaking as the answer we all seek.

African American woman working on a World War II dive bomberGood visual assets can take a digital project from average to awesome. Add the photo on the right, which shows an African American woman working on a World War II dive bomber, to a research project on the role of African American women in the war effort, and the project goes from simply talking about the vital role these women played to showing them in that role.

Students usually understand the value of adding such images. Their challenge is finding images that are free to use and that do not violate intellectual property rights.

Earlier this month, the Library of Congress shared collections of assets that are perfect for student projects, all available for easy download. Free to Use and Reuse Sets from the Library of Congress offers collections of images on topics like these:

  • African-American Women Changemakers
  • Civil War Drawings
  • Women's History Month
  • Gottleib Jazz Photos
  • Presidential Portraits

For students working on video projects, there is even a collection of Public Domain Films from the National Film Registry. There are even collections of images of Cats and Dogs.

In addition to these custom collections, students can browse the millions of items in the Library’s Digital Collections, which includes photos, scanned pamphlets, and audio and video recordings. The items in the Digital Collection will give you a chance to talk about what makes an asset “free-to-use” so that students can learn how to determine whether they can use the resources they find.

The Library of Congress’s teacher resources provide examples for Citing Primary Sources, which you can use as you discuss documentation and attribution. The teacher resources also include Themed Resources and Primary Source Sets, which may provide even more resources for students to use in their projects. 

Finally, in case students think they’ll find nothing but dry historical resources on the site, you can use the 1914 photo below to talk about the evolution of LOLCATS.

Four kittens entangled in yarn

I’m sure you will find something delightful that you can use on the Library of Congress website. Tell me what you find and how you’ll use it in a comment below; and if you have free-to-use resources to share, post those too! I’m always eager to add to my collection of resources for students to use.

Photo: [1] Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, woman is working on a "Vengeance" dive bomber, Tennessee, by Palmer, Alfred T., photographer, Available at; [2] The entanglement, by Frees, Harry Whittier, 1879-1953, photographer, Available at Both images from the Library of Congress, and used under public domain.

Guest Blogger: Andrew Anastasia (he/him/they) earned his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he worked on bridging conversations between rhetoric and composition pedagogy and social work methodologies. He is Assistant Professor of English at Harper College, a large two-year institution outside of Chicago, Illinois. His current research project is a qualitative case study of relationships between trauma-informed first-year course design and retention and persistence rates. He is also the community manager for ACEs in Higher Education


Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and exposure to trauma are relatively common in U.S. children under the age of 18. These experiences range from living with an adult with mental illness, to divorce, to abuse and neglect. The greater the instances of exposure, the more likely it becomes that one will experience negative emotional, behavioral, and health outcomes as an adult.


According to Sacks and Murphey (2018), one in ten children have experienced three or more ACEs, and in some states, that number is one in seven. Over the past decade, educators have learned how intimately tied ACEs and trauma exposure are to behavioral and cognitive barriers in the classroom. This is why trauma-informed approaches to primary and secondary education are gaining traction in the U.S., and why we need to bring trauma-informed approaches to postsecondary education. In my view,  rhetoric and composition teacher-scholars are particularly well-suited to bring this emergent work into the field as part of helping students (and teachers) understand their own rhetorical situations.


If you work in higher education, you’ve likely found that attention to student mental health falls dangerously short. Given the statistics of ACEs trauma and the lack of accessible mental health care at the college level, I have started to describe this gap as “trauma-as-an-invisible fire,” an engulfing threat that feels real and urgent to some but that is often hard to fight, or convince others of its reality.


We know that the majority of students have a history of ACEs (Smyth, 2008), that 61% of college students seeking counseling report anxiety and 41% report depression (Winterman, 2017) and that 66% of college students reported exposure to a Criterion A trauma (Read et al., 2011). Students struggle to access the mental health support they desperately need; the mean ratio of counselor-to-student ratio in the U.S. in 2017 was 1737:1 (Winterman 2017) as colleges across the country outsource counseling services (see “Universities outsource”) or shift to scalable “grit,” “wellbeing,” or “resilience” models that can be implemented without a specialized degree (or a specialized hire).


Yet trauma-informed, ACEs-science work is more difficult to implement than grit or resilience models alone: the fire is invisible in part because it is us, but also because we ignite it in others all the time. For example, I recently sat down with an amazing teacher who wanted to know how to be a more trauma-aware educator. After talking for a while, I asked if she provided an opportunity for students to share their chosen names and gender pronouns. I could tell she was taken aback by my question until I explained that for many genderqueer, non-conforming, and/or trans* people, “deadnaming” students in front of peers can be viscerally terrorizing. The thought never crossed her mind that reading names off the roster and ascribing gender pronouns without asking might participate in racial and gendered microaggressions.


There are concrete steps individuals and systems can take today to avoid such microaggressions and to become more trauma-informed. Nonetheless, I want to caution readers that engaging trauma-informed work is an ongoing process of self-reflection and discomfort. Doing this work justice means doing justice to people, bodies, and experiences one may have been trained to ignore, invalidate, and oppress, including asking whether and how white language supremacy participates in systems of racism linked to ‘root causes of modern trauma.’

With such cautions in mind, here are four practical suggestions for the classroom.

  1. Have all your videos captioned as a matter of Universal Design.
  2. Create participation opportunities that reward non-verbal communication. I prefer to use engagement tickets that reward all kinds of engagement with processes or content.
  3. Refrain from taking attendance until you know a student’s preferred name or pronunciation of their name. Mispronunciations can have a lasting impact on a student’s sense of worth, safety, and belonging.
  4. Invite students to revisit and revise course policies. Susan Naomi Bernstein has a wonderful beginning of the semester activity that uses note cards to empower students and encourage equity.


We need not change our course outcomes to account for ACEs trauma. Rigor and the pedagogical benefits of didactic discomfort may create the conditions necessary for our pedagogical goals to manifest. When students are saturated or activated, the stress hormones produced prevent higher-order thinking. Students who feel validated or heard are more likely to stay in class and persist with the tough stuff.   

For a primer on the 1998 ACEs study and ACEs science, please see “ACEs Science 101 and “ACEs Primer.”  Also see the appendix for materials that begin to address this question, including additional readings that address  ACEs trauma.

Who would have thought that an anachronistic coffee cup on the set of a television show would have outpaced a trade war with China as a news story? And that was even before the controversial penultimate episode of Game of Thrones aired. An article in USA Today sums up the significance Game of Thrones has had for its viewers: “‘Game of Thrones’ is the defining pop-cultural experience of the millennial generation.” That’s a significant burden to place on a television series, even one that spread over a decade.


The author of the USA Today article, Kelly Lawler, falls back on what can be an effective argumentative tool when used well, the analogy. She compares the Stark children, who grew up in a long and prosperous summer, to millennials: “Their world was always safe, and they were taught by their parents that if they worked hard and followed tradition, they would succeed. . . . But the Stark kids’ adolescence coincided with rapid changes in the sociopolitical environment that shattered their collective worldview.” Meanwhile, millennials grew up looking ahead to a good college, a good job, marriage, kids, a house, and a car. “The American dream and all that. But that’s not how it turned out. Just like the Starks, we were thrust into a chaotic world we didn't create, and now we try to survive. The difference is that we're worried about interest rates instead of dragons.”


Lawler goes so far as to argue that Game of Thrones may be the last television show that millennials will watch together, given the growth of streaming and other means of watching shows that fragment the audience that once tuned in at a certain time on a certain night for the latest installment of a beloved series.


The major controversy that grew out of the next-to-last-ever episode of the saga has inspired arguments that have inundated social media since the first hint it was coming. Viewers had seen Daenerys Targaryen evolve from a rather ethereal young woman with nothing but an empty title to Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regnant of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons. She gained the troops to cross the Narrow Sea to retake her throne—and gained the love of her people—by freeing slaves and using her dragons to incinerate their masters. She promised to make the kingdom she would rule from King’s Landing a place of freedom and prosperity. What viewers tended to forget was all the times she swore to use blood and fire if necessary to do that. Viewers loved Daenerys, though, and hundreds named their daughters after her. She was a strong, admirable woman—until she wasn’t. Viewers saw it coming, as Danerys suffered emotional blow after blow, and hoped it wouldn’t. Yet, in the moment of her victory, when everything she had ever wanted was hers, Danerys was unable to reign in her fury. Suddenly she became her father, a Targaryen who took pleasure in burning his enemies.


Seldom has a fictional character undergone such scrutiny and such condemnation. Article after article on digital newsfeeds has analyzed Daenerys’s “breaking bad,” her going “Mad Queen.” Will Jon feel morally obligated to kill her to keep her from taking the Iron Throne? Will the people ever accept her as their leader after what she has done? These are the arguments in this week’s headlines.


Kelly Lawler finds Daenerys’s fall from grace oddly fitting: “But in a dark and tragically comical way, a ‘Thrones’ finale letdown only makes it feel more millennial. Many of us expect life to only get worse from here, as we work until we die and the environment degrades around us. For the Starks and millennials alike, winter, as they say, will always be coming.”



Photo Credit: “Game of Thrones Life Size Replica Iron Throne” by Wicker Paradise on Flickr, 6/11/12 via a CC BY 2.0 license.


Most readers are probably familiar with the work of John Duffy—Professor of English and Director of the University Writing Program at Notre Dame—in works such as Writing from These Roots and essays in numerous scholarly journals. You may also have read pieces he has written to a broad public audience, such as “Post-Truth and First Year Writing” in Inside Higher Education. I’ve been following Duffy’s work for a long time, always learning from his thoughtful, thorough, evenhanded, and highly provocative insights into the challenges facing teachers of writing today. Throughout his career, Duffy has asked us to examine our motives, our choices, our stances—and to ask how they do or do not help to establish ethical norms for writers and speakers.


Now comes his Provocations of Virtue: Rhetoric, Ethics, and the Teaching of Writing, which is a must-read for all who profess composition and rhetoric. Opening with a series of by-now common yet still disconcerting instances of the “toxic discourse” all around us, Duffy argues that teachers of writing have a special obligation (and opportunity) to intervene in constructive ways:

. . . to say writing involves ethical choices is to say that when creating a text the writer addresses others. And that, in turn, initiates a relationship between writer and readers, one that entangles writers, and those who would teach writing, in the questions, problems, and choices associated with ethical reflection and reasoning.

Recognizing this fact means that we are always already involved in teaching rhetorical ethics, that the teaching of writing “necessarily and inevitably involves us in ethical deliberations and decision-making.”


This text goes on to explore these claims in detail, to explore the major moral theories and to propose a new one, which he labels “virtue ethics;” that is, one based on the ancient concept of the virtues and especially emphasizing phronesis, or practical reason, through which a rhetor chooses “the right course of action in specific circumstances.” I was galvanized by chapter 4, in which Duffy challenges traditional agonistic aims of rhetorical practice and refigures as he moves toward an “ethics of practice,” and chapter 5, where he offers concrete strategies for bringing the concept of rhetorical virtue productively into our writing classes. The final chapter, which explores what Richard Lanham so brilliantly interrogated as “the Q question” (after Quintilian, who linked being a good person with being a good speaker/writer) and then offers instead “the P question”:

. . . the better question is what a deliberate engagement with the rhetorical virtues of our classrooms might make possible, our P question, for our students, our discipline, and for practices of public argument. What becomes possible if we acknowledge the ethical dimension of our work? What might be possible if some portion of the millions of students who leave our classrooms and graduate form our institutions do so having learned that writing is an ethical activity, and that their arguments speak as much to their character as to their topics? How might practices of public argument be repaired and reinvigorated if we were to commit ourselves, in our classrooms, our conferences, and our scholarship, to addressing the question of just what it means in the twenty-first century to be a good writer? What knowledge, transformations, and provocations might follow?


As always, Duffy is modest in his claims and humble in the face of such momentous questions, but steadfast in our need to ask, and to try to answer, them. So thank you, John Duffy. Thank you.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1052010 by DariuszSankowski, used under the Pixabay License

Matt SwitliskiMatt Switliski (nominated by Christina Ortmeier-Hooper) is completing a PhD in English with a concentration in Composition at the University of New Hampshire. He has taught First-Year Writing, Introduction to Creative Nonfiction, Professional and Technical Writing, and other courses. His major research interests are writing centers and creative writing. His secondary interests include response, stylistics, and craft books. Matt was a 2018 Bedford New Scholar.


In the First-Year Writing classes I teach, I often ask a series of questions on the first day of the semester to get students involved and to access some of what they already know about writing. “What were you told to do (or not do) in writing?” generates plenty of ideas and usually some disagreement. The answers encompass the expected (Your thesis should be in the first paragraph) and the surprising (You can’t start a sentence with “because”). For as many times as I’ve asked that question, I’ve never had a student ask, “What kind of writing?” To shake up their ideas about school writing being one universal variety, I try to integrate discussions of genre throughout the term.


Some context: At the University of New Hampshire, our one-semester First-Year Writing (FYW) course is the only requirement for all students regardless of program (save those with appropriate transfer or AP credit). While individual instructors have a lot of flexibility, the course is generally structured around three major assignments—an analytical essay, a researched persuasive essay, and a personal essay—with a rhetorical emphasis throughout. The first assignment asks students to rhetorically analyze an argument, integrating the appeals of ethos, logos, and pathos. That language bridges nicely to the next essay in which writers make their own arguments, supported by evidence. It’s in the early days of the researched persuasive unit that I raise the matter of genre with the assignment linked here.


One way I’ve introduced genre is to have students brainstorm as many different kinds of writing as they can. I encourage them to be as broad with it as possible. If it contains language, it’s fair game. As students call out ideas—Lyrics! Menus! Lab reports! Poems!—I scribble them furiously on the board, both to signal that their contributions are valuable and to give us a powerful visual of the diversity of writing. Breaking into groups, they discuss what’s common and what’s distinctive about each of these sorts of writing, sharing their findings as a whole class afterward. (I realize there are much more nuanced approaches to genre, as in the work of Amy Devitt and Anis Bawarshi, but I’m not even sure I understand those views as well as I should. Besides, this exercise is really just scratching the surface of a much bigger topic.)


From there we consider the research papers they’ve written in the past, whether those are a genre themselves or if they include a range of genres. Some have written diverse work that integrates research, but many more have written a kind of generic research paper that just gathers information and solders it together without opinion, without audience, without purpose. That, I tell them, is not the case here. The research will help them make a point that they believe. And in doing so, they get to experiment with genre.


As you can see in the assignment, I provide students with the introductions to three approaches to the same basic research topic. The audience for each is different, however, as is the evidence used. In the past I’ve given them the choice of writing their research paper as an op-ed, a report, or a letter, though I do like the idea of making it entirely open-ended; that way, they would not only need to research material to help them make their arguments, but they’d also need to research how to write whatever genre they choose, something they will need to do in the future as FYW cannot prepare writers for every contingency. (Here I align myself with Downs and Wardle in rejecting teaching a “universal academic discourse” as a goal for FYW [553].)


While each example obviously differs in style and structure, I emphasize audience, purpose, and evidence. The letter addresses an individual, the report a larger group, and the op-ed the largest. Given those audiences, we discuss what issues are relevant to each of these audiences and, if we don’t know, how to find out. What the audience cares about changes the angle of the argument and thus demands different evidence. We discuss what each argument is asking its audience to do and if that course of action is within their power—something I expect them to address in their own writing. And we talk about evidence not just as it relates to the audience and purpose but what seems appropriate for the genre. A report probably won’t have much room for pathos, whereas a letter or an op-ed might. The ethos of the writer can sometimes be relevant for an op-ed and almost always is in the case of a letter. As for logos, well, that’s key to nearly any argument, something they generally notice when writing their own rhetorical analyses.


How do you bring up genre in writing classrooms? How do you work against the ubiquitous generic research paper?



Bawarshi, Anis S. Genre and the Invention of the Writer: Reconsidering the Place of Invention in Composition. Utah State UP, 2003.

Devitt, Amy J. Writing Genres. Southern Illinois UP, 2008.

Downs, Douglas, and Elizabeth Wardle. “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)Envisioning ‘First-Year Composition’ as ‘Introduction to Writing Studies.’” College Composition and Communication, vol. 58, no. 4, 2007, pp. 552-584.


To view Matt’s assignment, visit Persuasive Genres. To learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board, visit the Bedford New Scholars page on the Macmillan English Community.

In my last post, I looked at writing rules issued by instructors across the curriculum and the resulting confusion for student writers attempting to understand what good writing actually means—and how much of their previous instruction applies in a new context.  The comments on the post highlight how often we must address “conflicting rules” in our classrooms: Aprill Hastings, for example, pointed out that a discussion of rules can be a platform for teaching, leading students to appreciate how “delightfully messy” writing can actually be. Similarly, Jack Solomon noted that looking at rules from other courses can lead to fruitful discussions of conventions and genres, but also (critically) that students must be able to adjust to the expectations of different teachers, each of whom will give a grade. After all, Solomon continued, we “wouldn't want any student to be penalized in a different class for whatever writing guidance” we have given. Finally, Peter Adams admitted (with more than a touch of humor) that it’s possible for the same instructor to give different rules in different semesters or classes. 


Yes! I would agree wholeheartedly with all of these comments: I want to help my students develop not just specific writing “rules,” but a flexible approach that will allow them to tackle future writing strategically, transferring, expanding, and adjusting as necessary (applying what DePalma and Ringer have termed “adaptive transfer”).  


What I want to do better is facilitate such adaptive transfer, especially with basic and multilingual writers in corequisite courses. My students often want clear directives, models, and templates—and these can be quite helpful. But at the same time, I want to support our students’ engagement in what John Warner calls “the skill that is the writing equivalent of balance when it comes to riding a bicycle” – making choices.


To that end, this summer, I am revisiting my FYC/corequisite assignments, instructions, and related readings. Specifically, I am looking at rules that could be considered “choice-restricting,” and revisiting how I introduce and teach these directives.


Specifically, I am asking myself some questions:


  1. What is the underlying writing concept or principle this rule addresses? Is it creating a stance/voice, engaging with a reader, grounding discourse in an on-going conversation, adhering to conventions, acknowledging other voices, arranging evidence in support of a claim, or something else? Do I present the directive so that the connection to the underlying concept is clear?
  2. What questions would I ask when encountering this rule? How can I prompt students to reflect on the rule and ask questions of their own?
  3. Have I provided linguistic resources—vocabulary or syntactic strategies—that allow students to make choices in relation to this rule?
  4. Have I encouraged students to reflect on why this particular choice is important for a writer?


As an example, consider my FYC summary assignment, which includes a directive not to use first person pronouns. Students produce an objective summary of a source, showing an understanding of structure and content, without making personal comments. In addition, students include references to the author and “rhetorical strategy verbs” in each sentence of the summary: the author argues, he explains, they suggest, etc.


I can see how my students would view my “summary guidelines” as an example of one instructor’s idiosyncrasies, even while I see them as critical practice in developing stance and managing other voices effectively and accurately. So in my “assignment redesign,” I am framing these differently on my handout, referring explicitly to stance and including other voices as key writing concepts—concepts that they will encounter multiple times in my class. 


I am also trying to foster critical thinking about these concepts early in our discussion.  So, for example, I might ask students to consider a time when a person needs to do a job without drawing attention to himself or herself in the process. (When I asked that question this past semester, one student quickly responded “being an assassin.”) After brainstorming a list of several such occasions, we turn to writing: are there times in writing when you don’t really want to draw attention to yourself? In other words, are there times when you want to sound more neutral or distant from the content? Why?


Having connected the “no first person” rule to a concept and a purpose, I want to provide linguistic resources. In this case, “signal phrases” or “author tags” (as I mentioned earlier) are one option. In addition, I could show students how to convert “rhetorical” verbs to nouns: “Krashen suggests” could become “Krashen’s suggestion…” I could also teach cleft/inversion structures: “Krashen wants readers to” becomes “what Krashen wants readers to do is…”


Finally, I am adding some reflection questions to the students’ journals and the cover letters accompanying final drafts: 


  • Where else do you think you might need to take a more objective or neutral stance in writing? What makes that hard to do?
  • Where have you seen other writers take a more objective or neutral stance? What can you learn from those writers?
  • What concepts or connections might help you understand why a teacher tells you not to write in first person?


As we head into summer, we should invite our students to practice all the skills they’ve honed in our writing classrooms as they listen to the political dialogues unfolding this season. Let’s hope they participate in them, too.


Here in South Bend, Indiana, we locals are listening closely to Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s surprising presidential campaign. I was one of the freezing thousands who gathered in the drafty un-renovated portion of a Studebaker assembly plant, rain dripping through the rafters, to witness Buttigieg’s official launch. His speech rang the chimes of ethos, logos, and pathos, and charmed the teachers in the crowd by inviting Mrs. Chismar — his high school Economics teacher — into the lineup of introductory voices.


While I don’t always agree with Buttigieg, I am struck by his rhetorical generosity as he works to create common ground on polarizing issues. For example, when he discusses climate change, he uses the term “climate security” and argues for a “generational alliance” to draw together a range of perspectives to solve this life-threatening problem.


Pete Buttigieg has been questioned by the press for benefiting from both male privilege and white privilege, ethos-boosters that he has been — to my ears — fairly reflective about, as in this conversation with Trevor Noah. He has also resisted and complicated standard narratives of coming out as a gay person, as in this discussion with Rachel Maddow. Listening to Buttigieg, I think of educator José Antonio Bowen’s championing of “slow thinking” in the classroom, which I wrote about last fall. This summer, I’ll be gathering linguistic examples that invite us to think beyond polarities from Buttigieg and the many other candidates vying for the presidency to use in the classroom.


I’ve also learned a lot about resisting polarizing thinking from Northwestern University medical ethicist Katie Watson, whose book, Scarlet A: The Ethics, Law, and Politics of Ordinary Abortion, takes on fearlessly, and generously, current abortion debates. Rather than arguing for common ground, Watson argues for pluralism. She concludes,

The abortion debate often seems to boil down to a debate about vulnerability: Who or what is more in need of protection, fetuses or women? For me, the vulnerable thing in need of protection is pluralism —the idea that Americans who vigorously disagree about gender, family, sex, religion, and endless other topics can all flourish in the same country. (213)

Watson’s insights about pluralism reach far beyond this issue, of course. Like Buttigieg, Watson champions moving beyond “master narratives” of experiences in order to give voice to individual stories, which are always more complex and nuanced than generic “master narratives,” and have greater potential to invite compassion, even from those with very different experiences.


In From Inquiry to Academic Writing, my co-author, Stuart Greene, and I offer student writers skills for compassionate engagement with different perspectives through a Rogerian approach to argument, founded by psychotherapist Carl Rogers. Rogerian argument aims to reduce listeners’ sense of threat, and to open them to alternative perspectives. We offer four steps toward Rogerian argumentation for academic writers:


  1. Conveying to readers that their different views are understood.
  2. Acknowledging conditions under which readers’ views are valid.
  3. Helping readers see that the writer shares common ground with them.
  4. Creating mutually acceptable solutions to agreed-on problems


Holding these steps in mind as we engage others in the next few months will not only be good for our classrooms, but — Buttigieg and Watson would argue — it will be an investment in our democracy.


I held these thoughts in mind when Cornel West spoke in South Bend a few weeks ago, reminding a university crowd that “No matter how educated we are, we are part of the learned ignorant.” In his wide-ranging lecture, he kindled the theme of humility and vulnerability as essential to ethos if we are to engage in non-polarizing dialogue on difficult issues. Because he was in South Bend, and because West traveled in academic circles with Pete Buttigieg’s father, West played to the hometown crowd: “I remember little Pete when he was running around in short pants!” He then praised Professor Joe Buttigieg as “a caretaker of Gramsci.”


That phrase has lingered for me — being a “caretaker” of ideas, and of one another. Our task as instructors, as learners, and as citizens is surely to practice care-taking in these inhospitable times.


Photo Credit: April Lidinsky

Traci Gardner

Daily Discussion Posts

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert May 14, 2019

Asian woman working on laptop at StarbucksFor several semesters now, I have made Daily Discussion Posts (DDPs) a key feature in my courses. At the beginning of the term, I explain that these posts meet three goals:

  • to highlight information directly related to projects students are working on.
  • to cover topics important to workplace writing that we are not covering elsewhere.
  • to share resources that help with workplace writing generally.

Originally, I devised these posts to meet another goal. My courses are entirely online. We never meet in the classroom. I found that students were checking in on the course website only once or twice a week. Predictably, the fewer times students checked in, the more trouble they had getting their work of the course done.

I considered punitive measure and complicated check-ins to solve the problem, but I don’t like negative enforcement strategies—and I certainly didn’t want to make more work for myself in order to track those solutions. These daily posts give students a reason to come to the site every week day, meeting my goal of encouraging more frequent engagement with the course materials.

Logistics for the Daily Discussion Posts

Every Tuesday through Saturday during the term, I post advice articles, how-to webpages, and other resources that supplement the textbook. I ask students to respond to the posts with significant, well-explained comments.

I emphasize that these posts are not the place for “yeah, I agree” or “me too” kinds of comments. Instead, I ask students to contribute ideas, engage with others, and extend the conversation.

Structure for the Daily Discussion Posts

I organize the Daily Discussion Posts (DDPs) around the series of hashtags explained in the table below. Note that Mondays are reserved for the Module Overview that outlines the work students need to complete for the week.

#TuesdayTutorialThese posts demonstrate something or tell students how to do something.#TuesdayTutorial: Convincing a Reader to Read Your Text
#WednesdayWriteEach post asks students to consider how you would handle a specific situation in the workplace or in the course.#WednesdayWrite: Share Your Workplace Writing Secrets
#ThursdayThoughtEvery post presents an infographic or similar graphic about communication and writing in the workplace.

#ThursdayThought: Know Your Sources

#FridayFactThese posts shares a specific fact about writing in the workplace, which students can compare to what they know about their career fields.#FridayFact: Informative Headings Help Readers
#WeekendWatchEvery weekend post presents a video relevant to what we are covering in class or something else related to writing in the workplace.#WeekendWatch: Crafting Strong Email Messsages

*Because of the way our course management system (CMS) works, I cannot link to the examples.

Assessment for the Daily Discussion Posts

Students grade their own interaction with the Daily Discussion Posts by completing a weekly self-assessment, set up as a True/False quiz in our CMS. The self-assessment questions ask students to indicate what they have read and how many replies they have made. They also confirm that they have completed the self-assessment in accordance with the university’s honor code. When they submit their self-assessments, the points are recorded in the CMS grade book automatically.

I spot check students' work, but I trust them to ensure that they record their participation honestly. In the semesters that I have used this system, I have only found one student who made a false claim. These self-assessments let me focus my attention on giving students feedback, rather than assigning letter grades.

Final Thoughts

Admittedly, these posts required a lot of work the first term that I used them. Writing five different posts a week took an hour or two each day. Now that I have a collection of posts, however, all I have to do is update and revise the posts. I can usually set up the entire week in an hour.

All in all, these Daily Discussion Posts give students extra resources and a chance to interact in a timely manner, and even more importantly from my perspective, they encourage students to check in on the course frequently.

What strategies do you use to engage students and motivate regular participation in your classes? I would love to hear your ideas. Just leave me a comment below.

Photo credit: Detail from “a cold, rainy night at Starbucks” by Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Dear Bedford Bits friends,


Like all of you, I've been reading and talking with colleagues about the all-too-obvious divisiveness abroad in the land today, and especially about the increasing tendency to "stay in our bubbles" in order to avoid confrontations or even discussions with those who hold very different views or come from very different backgrounds. As I talk to young people about this issue, I am more concerned than ever that we find ways to help them bridge such gaps.


That said and prompted by the research that other teachers of writing are doing, I'm trying to gather some basic background information about how students are feeling about such issues.  Toward that end, I'm asking for your help: I have a very brief survey I'd love for you to pass on to your students if you are willing to do so. The survey is completely anonymous and no personal information of any kind is involved. The questions ask students to reflect on how frequently and how comfortably they talk with someone with a different political view or with a different background and to share what they feel are some barriers and benefits to more open interactions.


If you respond to this brief instructor questionnaire, my editors at Bedford/St. Martin's will share the link to the student survey as well as some wording you might use in an email or spoken message to your students about the project. I know many of you teach the first summer term, and I'm hoping you might be able to fit the survey into your first week of class.


As soon as I can, I will write a blog post to share findings and offer some practical strategies for helping young people engage meaningfully with others from a range of language backgrounds, cultural traditions, and political perspectives.  


Thank you!



Now on a record shattering run that should be of no surprise to anyone, Avengers: Endgame offers a multitude of possibilities for writing assignments, ranging from a close reading of the movie itself to an analysis of the entire Avengers film franchise and beyond to a reflection on a system of violent ongoing sagas that includes Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and even The Walking Dead—not to mention the rest of the Marvel universe.


I am not going to attempt anything of the sort in this brief blog, but instead want to propose a different kind of assignment, one that has semiotic implications but begins in a kind of personal phenomenology much akin to a reader-response analysis. This assignment would probably be best be composed in the form of a student journal entry posing the question: How does an ongoing story line that appears to reach some sort of conclusion (including the deaths or "retirement" of major characters), but which I know is not really over at all affect me and my sense of reality?


What I'm aiming at here is for students to become aware of what could be called the "false catharsis" involved in movies like Avengers: Endgame, which pretend to bring a vast arc of interwoven stories to an end, but which viewers know perfectly well is not over at all. Disney has too much at stake to allow Iron Man, for example, to stay dead, or for Captain America to remain retired, and what with the unlimited resources that fantasy storytelling has at hand to reverse the past and reconstruct the present and future, you can be pretty certain that everyone will be back.


In exploring the implications of what could well be called "eternity storytelling," consider the effect of Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop if his readers knew that Little Nell would be brought back in one way or another in a future novel. Or what the impact of the Iliad would be if Hector rose from the grave in a future installment of Trojan War Forever? Or (to go all the way back) how it would be if, in Gilgamesh II, the king of Uruk were to discover a time-traveler's ring that enabled him to go back to retrieve the lost plant-that-gives-eternal life and revive Enkidu after all?


You see what I'm getting at? There can be no true tragedy in a story like Avengers: Endgame, only a consumerist fantasy that lets you have your tragic cake and eat it too, purchasing your way into an impossible realm in which death and destruction are reversible and the story always goes on.


This is what I mean by a "false catharsis." In a true dramatic catharsis, there is a tragic recognition of the inexorable limits of human being. That recognition isn't pleasurable and it isn't fun, but it does offer a solemn glimpse into a reality that is vaster than we are, and with that glimpse, a certain dignity and wisdom.


But that doesn't sell tickets.



Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 1239698 by ralpoonvast used under the Pixabay License.


I still remember about eight years ago when a student came to me saying she needed help with a citation: she was preparing an oral presentation based on research of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and she had found a clip of Bechdel doing chin-ups on YouTube. That would make a good opening image, she thought. So she began tracing it and found that it had first been a still photo in a Vermont newspaper article about Bechdel; then it was described on a radio show/interview; and then a home video clip from which the still was taken was uploaded to YouTube. Or something like that. She threw up her hands, and so did I. Eventually we came up with a viable citation, or at least one that satisfied the two of us and that would help readers understand where the image came from.


Fast forward eight years and oh my have things gotten even more complicated: students are now faced with amazingly complex trails to follow in trying to show that they’ve done their homework and that they can help readers find their sources. This fact was brought home to me most powerfully in a recent email conversation with a colleague from the Bread Loaf School of English, Allison Holsten, who is now teaching IB language and literature in Mumbai. She’s taught an assignment for years—students were to “create an imaginative response reflecting their understanding of course objectives, coming up with a text that emulates a real world author and a real world mode of delivery.” As Allison says, the assignment was “fun and a demonstration of how the art of imitation helps students with rhetorical structures often outside their own range of writing/reading but within their ability to mimic very successfully.” She continues:

"I’ve seen students come up with their own LifeHacker texts, and Rolling Stone articles, and lots more, including Reddit threads and Instagram posts. However, when we help prepare students for submitting these works the concerns for plagiarism have grown... How far does a student go to reference screenshots designed to make such a task plausible? Years ago, kids grabbed a screenshot of the NYTimes masthead and we didn’t worry about it. But now. . . ."


Allison sent along an example of one student’s assignment, and after puzzling over the message and the student’s work, I turned to my own guru and tech guide, Christine Alfano, Associate Director of Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric, to ask for her advice. As always, Christine came through with not one but two insightful responses. It turns out that one of her assignments asks students to “create a faux blog that simulates a conversation between authors of sources they’ve read and then comments in response” (as if written by other source authors). In doing so, she and the students have all struggled with “how to deal with the question of ‘originality’ of a piece that borrows heavily visually from other sources.” Here are her two responses to this dilemma:

"As you suggest, you could strip down the assignment and ask them to submit just bare text, but that might limit the possibilities of the assignment. In my case, I actually have students put an ‘Images Sources’ section under their standard bibliography. I ask them to list, in order, in MLA format, the different image sources they’re using. . . . The process of logging every image in this way reinforces to them that each set of images they are capturing are someone’s (or a set of someones’s) individual creations and therefore need to be credited. I give them liberties in citation form, since MLA8 is pretty flexible. So, for instance, I let them call the social media icons under the title something like “Social Media Bar” or “Screen shot of Social Media Bar” since there’s no official title for that. I find Andrea’s Quick Help table on p 555 of the 6th edition of The Everyday Writer to provide helpful guidance for writers."


But Christine doesn’t stop there. She goes on to suggest another possibility: to ask students “to build the design elements themselves, using public domain images, rather than lifting so heavily from existing sources. . . . Programs like PowerPoint can help students easily create graphics similar to those they might lift from other sources, which they could then screenshot and insert. . . . However, just having these conversations with the students themselves—about the difference between public domain images and publicly available images, intellectual property, and the ethics of attribution—can be a powerful learning moment and make them mindful of the way they appropriate the work of others in the future. I always want my students to tap into their creativity and make their writing an engaged and innovative experience, while simultaneously helping them understand the ethics of how we navigate collaboration, sharing, borrowing, and remixing in this digital age.”


This exchange was very provocative to me, especially now that I am not teaching full time any more, and I am very grateful to Allison and to Christine for sharing these thoughts. I especially like the idea of an Image Sources page—and the advice to take these discussions right into the classroom, engaging students in thinking their ways through the complexities of being an ethical author today. Brava, Christine and Allison.


And by the way, a little shout out: The 7th edition of The Everyday Writer will be rolling off the presses soon!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 820272 by fancycrave1, used under the Pixabay License

In February, I shared a resource I designed to Persuade Students to Think Visually with Infographics. I was taken with the “Thinking Visually” features in the Bedford/St. Martin’s textbook Practical Strategies for Technical Communication by Mike Markel.

This week I’m sharing another resource inspired by the “Thinking Visually” feature. The infographic shown below focuses on one basic idea related to documentation and citation—the answer to the question “What Do I Need to Document?” It is also available as a Google Doc or a PDF to provide screen-reader accessible versions.


The infographic is a brief version of the information from Markel & Selber’s Technical Communication Appendix on “Documenting Your Sources” (p. 620). I designed the resource to concentrate on just one concept related to documentation and citation (what to document). The information as it is presented in the Appendix is part of a complete explanation of the relevant topics. Students sometimes miss the key details when so many ideas are being explained. Essentially, I am combating students’ information overload.

I have paired each category to document with a single icon from The Noun Project. Here, I am hoping that the icons will help students remember the categories:

  • Quotation marks represent quoted material.
  • Light bulb represents the ideas of others that are paraphrased or summarized.
  • Graphic icon represents multimedia resources, like photographs or video clips.

The images should be especially useful for students who lean toward visual ways of thinking and learning—which is, after all, the point of a “Thinking Visually” resource.

I would love to know what you think of this resource. Is it something you could use with students? What other key ideas would you like to see in a “Thinking Visually”-style resource? Leave me a comment below and tell me more about your ideas.

President Trump’s condemnations of the press as the enemy of the people has linked him immediately in some minds with dictators who have stifled the press as a means of controlling the people. Today’s press is far from stifled, however. If we never could have foreseen a president who so publicly maligns his enemies in the way that Trump does, should we have foreseen a network condemning him night after night or one defending him in the same manner? The bias is so widely accepted that it is taken as a given. But it is not the news.


Long gone are the days when news anchors simply reported the news and any brief commentary was clearly labeled as such. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, the death of the objective news report came when news coverage expanded to twenty-four hours. It is impossible to report the news twenty-four hours a day, so the anchors talk about the news and bring in panel after panel of “experts” to talk about it. I like as well as anyone to hear commentators who agree with me. I don’t object to commentary. I simply feel a line should be drawn between reporting events and expressing an opinion about them. The primary reason Russian infiltration of social media was so successful was that we grasp at “news” we want to hear and pass it along uncritically. 


What about news outlets that try to be objective? Consider this recent headline from Vox: “Coverage of Trump’s latest rally shows how major media outlets normalize his worst excesses.” The news outlets referred to tried to be objective and were criticized for that. Newspapers early in this presidency had to decide how to report on what Trump said when it clearly was not true. The Vox article explains it this way: “Major media outlets have long struggled with how exactly to cover Trump, with the Times famously coming to the word ‘lie’ in a headline late, something the paper’s own public editor criticized it for. This effort to find euphemisms for the word ‘lie’ is actually normalizing his worst excesses. Coverage of this sort makes him seem like any other politician . . . [I]n their articles about the rally, CBS, USA Today, the Associated Press, and the Hill failed to so much as mention that Trump pushed a number of false claims.” Ironically, the press was one of the primary targets of Trump’s attacks at the rally. He referred to the members of the media in attendance as “sick people.” 


In his letter resigning as Assistant Attorney General on April 29, Rod Rosenstein sums up the goal of the Department of Justice, which is also a worthy goal for members of the media working in a difficult political environment: “We ignore fleeting distractions and focus our attention on the things that matter, because a republic that endures is not governed by the news cycle.”



Photo Credit: “News Anchors” by Peter Alfred Hess on Flickr, 10/13/10 via a CC BY 2.0 license.


During much of my teaching career, I met students who were certain that the “hard” courses in STEM were the ones that would help them to get—and to keep—good jobs. And I watched enrollment in STEM courses swell as those in the humanities shrank, it seemed, more and more each year.


A recent conversation with a former student (Mark, who earned master’s degrees in computer science and poetry) suggests that this perception may no longer hold. In a thoughtful and free-wheeling message, he described his experience working in Silicon Valley’s social media world. Companies today, he says, are increasingly “places of learning.”

Companies want to keep engineers 2-3 years at least. But skilled engineers can easily jump from company to company as often as every 18 months. When asked what would make them stay, engineers tell us they want to "learn interesting things" from their work (i.e. mastery). As a result, companies are responding by becoming like universities. . . . Since companies can't create new jobs (with new work) fast enough to keep engineers interested, they are instead creating new "experiences" that can be accessed while keeping your existing job. A new experience might mean moving to another team, working with multiple teams, or working on a special initiative. This is putting a lot of pressure on managers to be creative about coming up with new "blocks" that make up the path of an employee journey. Specifically, employees now are being treated like student-customers. Managers are being asked to "teach a personalized curriculum" and "coach" rather than "manage to a number." And the kind of "teaching" that engineers want most is in "soft skills" like communication, teambuilding, and persuasion. The reason engineers want this training is because they can't truly progress in their careers or become managers without it. Engineers are essentially asking for training in rhetoric (just by other names). I never thought I'd see the day ; ).


And neither did I, though this message makes me think back on Richard Young’s long association with the engineering faculty at Michigan (I think) before he moved to Carnegie Mellon, and indeed of the work that the rhetoric group at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute did with engineers at IBM, and a number of other examples.


Of course, folks in our field have argued for decades that rhetoric should be at the heart of the entire undergraduate curriculum, precisely because it offers systematic ways to analyze and understand any situation as well as ways to act ethically and effectively within that situation. These abilities seem not just important but absolutely crucial as we move further into the promise and peril of artificial intelligence.


Mark goes on to say that in the corporate work world today, businesses are “half way between being hierarchies and being team driven.” Thus, “intersections of conflict” are rife and, again, it’s “soft skills” that can help negotiate these conflicts. He concludes:

The take-home message here is that soft skills are suddenly very much in vogue in corporate America. And this time, it's not just that soft skills are needed on an individual basis--but also that companies want to institutionalize soft skills. That is, they want a culture of soft skills like team-led (non-hierarchical) work, collaboration, and bottoms-up strategy. And that's forcing managers to seriously retrain and for old rewards structures to be torn down and replaced. I can't help but be a bit amused by all this. When I graduated in 2005, I was told by many a corporate recruiter that my "soft skills" were useless. Now, just over a decade later, I'm being told soft skills are almost the only thing that matters ; ). 


Mark’s experiences and his reflections on them seem pretty important to teachers of writing and rhetoric. First, they suggest that strong first- and second-year writing courses, with a focus on rhetoric and embodied action, should remain central to the college curriculum, since they introduce and help hone “soft skills” along with analytic abilities. In addition, these comments suggest, to me at least, that the move to make writing courses into distinctly discipline-specific writing courses may not serve students particularly well in the long run.


I expect many of you who are reading this are also in touch with former students. I wonder what they are telling you about what they’ve learned since graduating and entering the workforce. I wonder how many of them are, like the engineers Mark mentions, “asking for training in rhetoric.” Just thinking out loud here!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3192205 by rawpixel, used under the Pixabay License

Over the past two weeks, my FYC students have been drafting, revising, and editing a researched essay. I conference individually with students and devote class time to workshops, feedback, and student questions. This semester, as usual, many of their questions concerned writing rules encountered in previous courses or in other content courses they are currently taking. The typical exchange goes something like this:


Student: So, can we use contractions in this paper?

Me: Well, sure – if they make sense for your purpose and your reader, and for the tone or voice you are constructing for yourself in the paper.

Student: Seriously?

Me:  Yes.

Student: But in my other class, the teacher said academic writers never use contractions. She took points off if we did. 

Me: Well, in some contexts it could be better to avoid them—think about what class it was and the purpose of that particular paper. How was that purpose different than your purpose here?


Students rarely see an overarching concept—such as writing for a specific purpose and reader—tied to the rules given by an instructor. Rather, they see each assignment as its own, isolated entity, and their task as doing whatever a particular instructor wants for a particular assignment. 


Why should that be? Perhaps our efforts across the curriculum to give clear and unequivocal statements regarding our expectations can work against our goal to help students connect assignments and transfer what they already know. I am not suggesting that our assignments should be fuzzy or vague, but I do think we need to look at the array of directives in those assignments through the eyes of students. 


So, for example, consider a list of writing rules I’ve begun to collect from students, colleagues, handouts, and presentations about writing. These come from assignments across disciplines, from two-year and four-year instructors, from first-year to upper-level courses:


  1. Avoid quotes. Paraphrase and put key information in your own voice.
  2. Avoid saying your paper “attempts” to do anything. Avoid “impact” as a verb, along with “seeks to.” Avoid “aims to.” Avoid saying “in the past.”
  3. Avoid vague references: “as we all know,” “people say.”  
  4. Begin broadly and then narrow your topic to the thesis.
  5. Do not announce what you are going to do in the paper.
  6. Do not begin too broadly (“throughout history,” “in all of literature,” etc.)
  7. Do not begin sentences or clauses with any of the following: “There are/is…”, “This is…”, “It is…,” etc.
  8. Do not end a sentence with a preposition.
  9. Do not give a dictionary definition as an introduction.
  10. Do not hedge with words like “maybe,” “seem,” “perhaps,” “might,” or “possibly.”
  11. Do not overgeneralize or make unqualified assertions.
  12. Do not provide a long list of references after facts established by previous research.
  13. Do not put these words at the beginning of a sentence: “however,” “furthermore,” “moreover,” “indeed,” etc.
  14. Do not say, “I/we argue.”  
  15. Do not say, “Everyone has their own opinion.” That is obvious, and it shuts down critical thinking.
  16. Do not start a sentence with “and.”
  17. Do not use the passive voice.  
  18. Do not use first person pronouns.
  19. Do not use contractions.
  20. Do not use “say” to introduce source material. Choose a more interesting verb.
  21. Do not use scare quotes or put quotation marks around words used in unexpected ways.
  22. Do not use second person pronouns.
  23. Do not use the word “very.”
  24. Do not write paragraphs with only 1-2 sentences.
  25. Make sure the significant results are stated in the beginning.
  26. Put a clear and obvious thesis sentence at the end of your first paragraph.  
  27. Remove the verb “be” in all forms from your writing.
  28. Use “rhetorical verbs” such as “say,” “assert,” “explain,” or “introduce” when you introduce sources; do not use “cognition” or “emotion” verbs: “think,” “believe,” “understand,” or “love.”
  29. Use short Anglo-Saxon words.  
  30. Write in the present tense.
  31. Write in the past tense.


What do students see when confronted with rules such as these from different instructors? They may see idiosyncrasies, contradictions, and frustrations. When we talk about “good writing,” it’s no wonder a common response is that it means “whatever the teacher wants.”

Comparing rules and our rationales for them (which may not be clear to students) might be a helpful point for a cross-disciplinary discussion and a focus for WAC-oriented professional development.

In future posts, I want to look at some promising strategies for helping students think differently about writing rules and assignments that seem to be framed by those rules.

How do you respond when students mention rules they have encountered in other courses?