Bedford New Scholar

How Bedford New Scholar Marissa McKinley fosters critical thinking in students (and deals with post-break fatigue)

Blog Post created by Bedford New Scholar Expert on Sep 23, 2019

Marissa McKinley (recommended by Bryna Siegel Finer) is a recent graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s English Composition and TESOL doctoral program. Marissa now serves as an Assistant Teaching Professor of English at Quinnipiac University, where she teaches four sections of First-Year Writing (FYW) and assists with administering the FYW Program. Her research interests include the rhetoric of health and medicine, feminist theory and pedagogy, and writing program administration. Marissa’s scholarship has been presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Feminisms and Rhetorics, and at the Rhetoric Society of America; and her work is currently featured in the co-edited collection Women’s Health Advocacy: Rhetorical Ingenuity for the 21st Century.

 

What is your greatest teaching challenge?

Undoubtedly, my greatest teaching challenge is sustaining student interest and energy after Spring Break. I have now taught for nearly eight years, and in that time, I have noticed that no matter the course I am teaching, and no matter in which area of the country I am teaching, student interest and energy typically wanes. I get it: When my students have the opportunity to head home for a week, they fall back into the comfort and regularity of their home routines. They spend their quality time with people and places they missed. To get through the rest of the semester, my students often have to temper their feelings of homesickness. They have to remind themselves that in a few more weeks, they can return to their homes and relive their former lives.

 

As many of us know, it’s challenging to focus on tasks that don’t completely occupy our interests. As a teacher, I try to put myself in my students’ shoes and remind my students that they will soon re-experience freedom outside of the college or university. They just have to take one day, one task at a time and keep in mind that their current feelings will pass.

 

What is the most important skill you aim to provide to your students?

Critical thinking. I recognize that some instructors believe that critical thinking skills cannot be taught, but I believe they can. I am not so naïve to believe that critical thinking skills can be taught and mastered during a single course; rather, I know that teachers from across the disciplines must create and integrate learning opportunities that help students acquire and develop their critical thinking skills. One such way is to offer students opportunities to reflect upon what they learned after completing an assignment and to explain how what they learned can be applied in not just their other classes, but also to tasks outside of the college or university. This act of reflection helps students to build metacognitive awareness and to apply, or transfer, their knowledge across contexts. In the act of reflection, students must connect the dots between their learning in one class and the value of that learning in other areas of their lives. It is the connecting of the dots that makes up a part of critical thinking.

 

What’s it like to be a part of the Bedford New Scholars program?

It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of the Bedford New Scholars program. I have had the opportunity of conducting editorial reviews on composition titles, along with previewing digital learning tools that are in development at Macmillan Learning. These opportunities have provided me with behind-the-scenes insights into textbook and resource publishing that will serve me as I embark on the writing and publishing of my own academic book in the near future.

 

As a Bedford New Scholar, I have also had the pleasure of collaborating with new, upcoming scholars in the field of Composition and Rhetoric at the 2019 Bedford New Scholars Summit in Boston, Massachusetts. There, I met the nine other Bedford New Scholars, and together, we demonstrated our writing knowledge and expertise to Macmillan Learning staff and each other by introducing assignments that we deemed successful in the writing classroom. Additionally, we provided Macmillan staff with a look into the processes that we undertake as we plan a writing course and select a course textbook. The insights we provided will ultimately aid Macmillan Learning staff in developing future course materials and digital learning tools. I feel fortunate to be recognized and a part of the Bedford New Scholars 2019 program.

 

What have you learned from other Bedford New Scholars?

Thus far, I have learned the most from fellow Bedford New Scholar, KAREN TRUJILLO. On the final day of the summit, Karen presented her “Assignments that Work” lesson, a social justice project that she uses when teaching First-Year Writing. Consisting of three parts, Karen’s assignment asked students to “select a topic they were interested in, to research it, and to advocate action or policy to further their passion” (Trujillo). Simply, Karen wanted her students to “link [their] advocacy topic/issue to a social justice issue” (Trujillo).

 

When Karen introduced her assignment, I couldn’t help but be captured by its brilliance. Karen’s assignment assignment takes students through the writing process and helps them to become familiar with a variety of research-related tasks, such as locating sources and even selecting information for a source that will support a research argument. The most impressive part of Karen’s assignment, though, is the social justice aspect. By completing the assignment, students locate social justice issues, learn more about the issues, and learn how to advocate for a form of action through writing. Karen’s assignment highlights the importance of voice, experience, and the need to fight against injustice; it is one that I plan to adapt and use in my future Research Writing course.

 

 

Marissa’s Assignment that Works

During the Bedford New Scholars Summit, each member presented an assignment that had proven successful or innovative in their classroom. Below is a brief synopsis of Marissa's assignment. You can view the full details here: Rhetorical Analysis of a Text Writing Project.

 

The Rhetorical Analysis of a Text assignment asks students to summarize and rhetorically analyze a text of their choice (e.g., a speech, a print advertisement, a commercial). The assignment enables students to 

  • practice their critical reading skills;
  • summarize a print or digital text;
  • familiarize themselves with rhetorical terminology; 
  • apply rhetorical terminology during analysis; 
  • engage in secondary research; and
  • practice citing.

 

Students complete the Rhetorical Analysis of a Text assignment over a series of six weeks. This pacing allows students time to engage in various low-stakes writing activities, all of which lead into and help prepare students for the rhetorical assignment. For example, during weeks one and two of the course sequence, students read texts to familiarize themselves with rhetorical terminology and to practice applying that terminology to print and digital texts. During weeks three and four, students choose the print or digital text that they want to pursue, read or watch their text and take active reading notes, and write and workshop their text summaries. Finally, during weeks five and six, students rhetorically analyze their texts, locate sources to enrich their analyses, cite their sources, workshop their analyses, and reflect upon their learning throughout the sequence. 


The Rhetorical Analysis of a Text sequence is incredibly busy, and there is much to be taught. Students are easily overwhelmed with the assignment, so it is important to take a lot of time for learning and practicing the skills that are being taught throughout the sequence.

 

Learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board on the Bedford New Scholars Community page.

Outcomes