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This Thanksgiving week, 2019, I have been thinking of the students I have known over so many decades, of their triumphs and tribulations, and of their writing, so often, about things that matter deeply to them. And I have been giving thanks for every one of them, and for every one of their teachers. This is a week to name our blessings, to count up and write down what we are thankful for.


In addition to students and their teachers, I added to my list:

  • The moon, sun, and starlight
  • The redwood fairy circle near my home
  • The lapping of waves in my little cove
  • The smell of bread from the oven
  • The voices of my beloved family and friends, often far away

My list goes on and on, as I realize how very fortunate I am to be alive, to be able to work at my local food bank and volunteer at our arts center, and to walk along the ocean bluff and listen to birds who seem to be singing just to me.


I’m also grateful for language, for writing, for the ability to communicate with one another, and, this week especially, for poetry. I am grateful for our United States poet laureate, Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscogee/Creek nation and a consummate artist. You may know her poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” in which she gives thanks for the kitchen table. “The world begins at the kitchen table,” she writes. “No matter what, we must eat to live. / The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on. / . . . At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks. . . .”


Perhaps all of our worlds, as Harjo says, begin at the kitchen table. I hope your table is sturdy, laden with good foods, and surrounded by good friends.


Happy Thanksgiving!


Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 3719247 by JillWellington, used under the Pixabay License

In my previous post I began discussing English 89, the accelerated composition co-requisite course originally developed for Santa Barbara City College’s Express to Success Program. I noted that while the course is still offered in a diminished form, ESP itself has been discontinued. Therefore, this post, like its predecessor, toggles between past and present tense as I document—with the help of my colleagues—those elements of our co-requisite that I believe are most worthy of emulation.


Support from Peer Tutors and Academic Counselors

In an ideal co-requisite, the instructor is not alone in supporting students. SBCC is fortunate to have a robust peer tutoring program, with student tutors normally attending class and holding additional tutoring hours outside of class. As a result, peer tutors are an integral part of the course. They not only know the writing assignments, they also know which students are engaged, and who seems to be checking out. ESP tutors were nearly always former accelerated composition students, which gave them an additional insight into the material and, frequently, the instructor.


My previous post emphasized the importance of building community, and peer tutors are instrumental in that process. Form ESP instructor Bonny Bryan, who now directs SBCC’s composition program, recalls: “When the tutor and I worked with students individually, students nearby would often lean in and participate. That cohesion resulted in an unusual efficiency.”


Reflecting on the strengths of the co-requisite during its Express to Success incarnation, one of my tutors, Matthew Garcia, commended the “mellow and low-pressure environment for students to work on their assignments,” which “made students feel comfortable about interacting with the professor and [the tutor] whenever they had questions or needed help.” Tutor Anna Kaavik offered similar comments, describing the ideal co-requisite as an “additional resource” that provided students “more time, in a smaller class with more concentrated attention on writing from both the professor and the tutor.” According to Anna, “Having that extra time boosts their confidence in writing, and in a smaller class, they feel more comfortable asking for help, which is something most students are scared to do.” 


To ensure that students saw their composition course in the context of their long-term college goals, ESP also assigned an academic counselor to each section. Counselors visited the larger class twice a semester, and they were particularly “intrusive” and proactive with the “accelerating” students in the co-requisite. All Express to Success students were required to plan their next semester’s work with a counselor, and ESP counselors were on campus throughout the week so students could drop in with last-minute questions and concerns. Too often, meeting with an academic counselor feels optional to students; ESP insisted that it was not.


A Combination of Full-Class and Individualized Instruction

The small size of the co-requisite makes it perfect for reinforcing instruction in the college-level class that didn’t quite take. Often, for instance, as I read through student drafts, I would find that their thesis statements were not adequately responding to the prompt. In these cases, I would pause individual work and use the computer projector to review not just the basics of composing a thesis, but how those basics applied to the current assignment. Then full class instruction would end, and the tutor and I could briefly meet with each student to discuss their revised theses.


Indeed, to my mind, the single most useful function of the co-requisite is that it ensures instructors have extra time to spend with students and their writing. This is particularly helpful during the revision process, when the gap between what an instructor is looking for and what the student believes needs doing can be tremendous. As Sandy Starkey points out: “Many times, students don’t know how to prioritize your comments. Naturally, they’d rather correct that one wrong word you circled instead of addressing the issue of a lack of analysis in the essay. But when you’re working one-on-one, you’re able to tell them, ‘Yes, it’s important to correct that small error, but it’s much more important to address the global issue.’”


Just-in-Time Remediation

When the co-requisite is humming along smoothly, much of the classroom time will focus on just-in-time remediation, with instructors teaching specific skills that students need right then, when they are practicing them. As its name suggests, just-in-time remediation requires instructors to be open to their students’ needs and willing to change plans on a dime. Say, for instance, that the college-level class finished with a heated discussion of what constitutes a credible secondary source, with many students still unclear about how to locate and assess the sources needed for their essays. It would make sense that the focus of that day’s co-requisite—even if it was supposed to be a pithy lesson on argument—would instead concentrate on research.


In ESP, scheduling itself emphasized the close connection between what was happening in the college-level class and what would take place in the co-requisite: English 89 classes were generally held 10-15 minutes after English 110. ESP director Kathy Molloy believed moving almost directly from one class to the other meant “students were able to start on their essays immediately after class and get individual help from their teacher, the class tutor, or their classmates.”


Curricular Collaboration and Flexibility

Clearly, it’s important for co-requisite instructors to have common goals that reflect those of their composition program. In ESP, we met monthly to discuss how successfully our classes were meshing with these larger goals. It was also a time to share what Stephen North calls “practitioner lore,” talk about the nitty-gritty of what was working well in our classrooms, and what wasn’t. Like my colleagues, I found this lively back and forth nearly always improved my next day’s teaching.


While it is vital to ensure that every co-requisite is serving departmental goals, it’s equally essential that instructors have control over what happens in their own co-requisites. As indicated throughout this post, curricular flexibility is necessary to serve the actual—as opposed to the ideal—students in our classrooms. Their lives are complex, and the co-requisite can be an important tool helping to accommodate that complexity.


[In his next post, David Starkey will reflect on some of the challenges in enacting a model co-requisite.]

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

For many people, the fall and winter months are full of holidays--complete with traveling, gifts, family gatherings, and catching up with friends. They’re also known for their potential for stressful conversations. We hope these suggested podcasts and assignments--about misinformation and disinformation, evidence, redundancy, and apology--can help your students go into the holidays stress-free! 


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 Evidence, Redundancy, and Apology

  • The Difference Between Disinformation and Misinformation [3:50]
  • What Does It Mean to "Have the Receipts"? [5:22]
  • Are You Annoyingly Redundant? [5:30]
  • When Is It OK to Be Redundant? [6:40]
  • How to Write an Apology [8:55]


Assignment A: In class, discuss the words “disinformation” and “misinformation.” Ask students what they think each word means or what they think the difference between the two words is. As part of this, the class might list other words they know that start with the same prefixes--”mistake,” “misfortune,” “dishonor,” “discriminate.” Then, listen to the Grammar Girl podcast “The Difference Between Disinformation and Misinformation” and talk about any new facts they’ve learned. Ask students if they’ve seen any examples of disinformation or misinformation in the news or in discussions with friends.


To follow up, explore how sources can be used to support claims. Listen to “What Does It Mean to ‘Have the Receipts’?” and discuss how this newer usage of “receipts” is similar to and different from academic use of sources.


Assignment B: Everyone will need to apologize at some point. Whether it’s eating the cookie you didn’t know your roommate was saving or realizing you were wrong in an argument, knowing how to apologize is a great skill to have. 


Ask students to listen to “How to Write an Apology” and the two podcasts about redundancy for homework. Then, using the advice from Grammar Girl, they should write a letter apologizing to a roommate for walking over the new living room rug in muddy shoes. In class, have students peer review their apologies, keeping an eye out for any elements of the “nopology,” “unpology,” or “fauxpology,” as well as appropriate and inappropriate use of redundant language.


Credit: Pixabay Image 581753 by vivienviv0, used under a Pixaby License


At the 12th Biennial Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference at James Madison University on November 13-16, I attended many inspiring panels and, as I always do, learned so much from scholars in our field. This meeting held special significance for me because it honored the memory and legacy of Nan Johnson—and awarded a number of Nan Johnson Graduate Student Travel Grant Awards. So I very much wanted to be there, along with nearly 500 other participants, and to meet with the Board of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition, a group Nan helped to found more than three decades ago.


Reflecting now on the conference, I realize how much important work remains to be done just to understand the enormous contributions women/feminists have made to every field of study and every walk of life. I learned about Virginia Penny, who wrote an encyclopedia (!) of women’s work in 1863, about Fannie Barrier Williams, the first African American to serve on the Chicago Library Board and who, like all other African Americans (except someone impersonating Aunt Jemima and flipping pancakes) was excluded from the World Colombian Exhibition in 1893 even as she continued to give eloquent speeches. I learned about Nell Donnelly Reed, who created a huge and hugely successful garment manufacturing business begun in her own home, who hired women and supported and paid them well—but who resisted unionization. These complex stories need to be told, and need to be analyzed and studied. There is so much more work to be done, by us and by our students, to document and understand and celebrate the work of women.


Several sessions at the conference brought disability studies into sharp focus. One especially memorable panel featuring Professors Jennifer Nelson and Tonya Stremlau focused on ARTavism, Deaf art and poetry, and more. Nelson described the work of De’VIA (Deaf View/Image Art) and the Surdists, groups that promote artavism “by any medium necessary.” Surd, which is French for “deaf,” puts emphasis on the viewer rather than the hearer, who is so often privileged in our culture (the key rhetorical element of “audience” after all is based in sound). You can read the Surdist Manifesto, which calls for full recognition and celebration of Deaf creation, here.


Nelson referenced the 17th century work of John Bulwer, whose Chirologia and Chironomia presented a study of hand communication and gestures (pictured above)—a manual rhetoric. Bulwer’s books have long been studied in courses on rhetorical history as examples of visual communication. Nelson pointed out Bulwer’s personal connection to these works, noting that Bulwer adopted a daughter who was deaf and wrote extensively on educating people who were deaf. Arguing that rhetoric is not necessarily about the spoken voice, Bulwer insisted on the “miracle of human eloquence” through signs and signing. Noting that there is currently no print version of ASL, Nelson explained that bits of such a version are beginning to appear, as in the work of Adrian Clark, who uses a written ASL signature. “How can we make English more visual,” this panel asked, and wouldn’t doing so benefit all?


These panelists got me thinking hard about these questions and also about how a constant privileging of sound is deeply disadvantageous—indeed dangerous—for people who are deaf. Stremlau read from her first published short story that shows, in graphic detail, how a wife who is deaf is ignored, even dismissed, by her husband if she won’t “talk.” She went on to describe the danger faced by deaf people who are harmed or even killed by police who are giving them orders they cannot hear.


They also convinced me I need to work much harder at bringing artivism and Deaf culture into my teaching. And to try to make prose more visual (perhaps through the use of drawn signs, emojis, or other symbols?). These efforts, too, would benefit all.


Image Credit: Chirologia, 1644, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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


Although we can do a lot to teach writing, most of us know that it is ultimately through habitual practice that students become better writers. We can structure activities that make our classrooms more conducive for learning, but it is the act of writing itself that promotes experienced learning. This kind of ritualized practice is the same for multimodal and visual storytelling.


I use visuals and images in my classes in many ways: I have students include them in their compositions as visual rhetoric, use them for invention activities, and to teach rhetorical analysis. I have students tell stories with and through images, text, sound, motion and incorporate them in many other multimodal texts and projects. While I promote visual activities throughout my classes, the semester-long Image-A-Day Challenge engages students in the ritualistic habits of visual storytellers along with metacognitive activities through active reflection.


There are many other similar “challenges” of this sort that involve participants in ritualistic creativity. For example, Project 365 challenges participants to take a photo every day for a year, Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) encourages writers to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days, or Inktober, where every October artists all over the world take on the drawing challenge by doing one ink drawing a day the entire month. Famous artists such as Monet and Van Gogh valued ritualistic creativity and craft through painting and repainting the same haystacks (and other subjects) to extend their skills and better understand the shifting details one learns through practice and reflection.


This multimodal assignment is simple to integrate into any classroom structure and operates in the background along with other assignments in a class. I ask students to participate in the “Image-a-Day” Project in which they capture an original image every day of the semester. Students must compose the images themselves rather than pulling them off the internet or from other sources. This daily image work keeps them focused on the in the present and the reflective activities (on at midterm and final) asks them to look back and make meaning across the whole collection through connections and patterns. The images can stand on their own or can present as associated sequences. Ultimately, the images should engage their audience and tell their stories for the required period of time – the semester.


Background Readings and Resources


Steps to the Assignment

  • Designate a place for students to archive their Image-a-Day galleries. My students curate them on course blogs in which they archive all their work in the class but they can also collect them through other photo sharing apps or websites, Google Drive, or even in Word documents. Teachers can choose the location and application that works best within their existing framework.
  • Have students compose and store an image a day for every day of the semester (including weekends). I require them to compose, curate and digest the images each week and include purposeful captions on all their images. They should take into account visual narration, visual rhetoric and design aesthetic. I encourage students to compose in both in naturally occurring environments through an observational perspective and to try their hand at composing particular, intentional meanings. I give them credit for completion each week for accountability and as an incentive for ongoing participation.
  • Students share their developing collections with others or choose one to contribute to a full class slide show (see previous MM post Grab and Go Galleries ) to give them ongoing opportunities to share their emerging stories.
  • Midway through the semester, students reflect, in writing, in which they read across the series and look for patterns, ideas and connections between the images. These reflections ask them to move beyond the images in isolation and look at the ways the collection reveals something about their lives over a time.
  • For their final reflection, they create a cross-linked reflection in which they once again reflect, in writing on the patterns, ideas, meanings over span of the whole term. They explain, to an outside audience, their processes and the meanings their collections reveal about their journey, their worldviews or ideas during this time. Within the reflective narrative, they present (or link to) associated images that also tell their story through a visual narrative.
  • In addition to the written narrative, students create a self-advancing digital slideshow (2 minutes with accompanying copyright free music) in which they select and present representative images from their collection to tell their story. They include an engaging title and can include text to communicate layers of meaning and transitions.
  • Conclude with a gallery showcase in which students briefly explain their narrative and what they have learned and play their slideshows.


Here, I've included a digital slideshow of the kind students produce, displaying representative images from my own Image-a-Day project:


Reflections on the Activity

At first, students complain about having to complete the assignment every day but they lean into it, as it becomes a habit. I include a daily reminder on their weekly schedule to keep them on task. They enjoy sharing their stories with others and learn about curation and selection as they compose and categorize their images. Like most reflective writing, they come to understand the connections between things that they might not have otherwise noticed. They also leave the class with a tangible catalog of a particular time in their lives – a virtual, multimodal slice of life.


Video Images by Kim Haimes-Korn

Carrie WilsonCarrie Wilson (recommended by Bret Zawilski) is wrapping up her MA in English this May 2019 at Appalachian State University. She has taught Introduction to Writing Across the Curriculum and Expository Writing. Her research interests include psychology and gender representation in American Gothic fiction; postmodern South American literature; feminist, genre, and cultural studies in the Rhetoric and Composition discipline; inclusivity in the first year composition classroom; information literacy and archival librarianship; and accessibility of public and academic library materials. She is applying to MLIS programs for Fall 2019.



How does the next generation of students inspire you?

From what I have witnessed in my so-far brief run as a graduate teacher of Rhetoric & Composition, post-millennials' adaptability to increasingly multifaceted digital technology is simply astounding. While my generation (at least from what I have personally observed) seemed to utilize social media as a linear method of curating an online personality, my students trend towards using these platforms as much more complex rhetorical tools that include many forms of multimedia strung together to communicate a rich story about their life and even their identity. Many are inclined towards online activism as well; they use the Functional Rhetorical Appeals Project (a.k.a. FRAP; discussed below) not simply as a fun creative outlet, as would have been permitted to them, but instead as an opportunity to tackle complicated questions politicians struggle to answer on televised Town Halls. There is a level of fearlessness with which they express their opinions about key national and international issues that I respect and admire, especially when it comes through so clearly in projects with digital deliverables that have a lot of moving parts to manage.


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

When back in 2016 I read that a report from the Stanford History Education Group demonstrated how students struggle with vetting online sources of information, it became my personal objective to pursue information literacy as a career to not only make said literacy more accessible to all students, but also to tailor my lessons to address the current digital environment. With a sprawling online environment that provides us with multiple sources of daily media input (as anyone with one social media account likely has at least one more) comes an increased difficulty for being selective about where we choose to receive crucial information about our sociopolitical interests. We're all aware of the current stakes of increased use of online platforms for staying up to date on current issues: fake news is multiplying; we've entered the "post-truth" era. Parsing out informational reporting from personal opinion (both of which have their place, of course) is starting to require an increased level of proficiency in media literacy than was previously standard. While this proficiency is necessary for all age groups who participate in online platforms, honing the media literacy skills of current and future generations is my goal in all that I do. 


What do you think instructors don't know about educational publishing but should?

Prior to joining the Bedford New Scholars program, I was largely clueless about the process of developing and publishing educational materials like those produced by Bedford. The extent of my knowledge was largely limited to the appearance of the finished product and its contents. I never considered how much thought goes into not only compiling and editing the materials included in a textbook, but also how the finished product is packaged (e.g., how the cover looks and what details to include on a back cover summary). The amount of feedback received from current professors of Rhetoric & Composition regarding these materials was also an unknown variable to me in the overall equation of educational publishing. While I cannot speak for all instructors, I can say for myself that I appreciate knowing more about the amount of attention given to making sure that the materials produced will be tailored to the needs of the teachers.


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

Being a part of the Bedford New Scholars program has been educational and inspiring. It opened the door for me to develop a network of colleagues in the field of education to which I otherwise would not have had access. At the Boston summit, we were able to collaborate on a variety of pedagogical approaches as well as propose ideas for resources that should be made more accessible to Rhetoric & Composition professors and their classrooms. Through access to the Bedford Bits Blog as well as in-person, interactive learning experiences, this program has also given me the opportunity to advance my understanding of inclusive education and what that looks like practically in the classroom, which is a valuable asset to any educator. Additionally, I have had the opportunity to provide feedback on projects and materials currently in development at Bedford, not only giving myself and my colleagues a voice in the development process of educational materials, but also showing me where the field of educational publishing is heading in the near future.


Carrie’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 Carrie's assignment. You can view the full details here: Functional Rhetorical Appeals Project (FRAP) 

The Functional Rhetorical Appeals Project (FRAP, for short) is a project I proposed and then developed in partial collaboration with my cohort of graduate teachers at Appalachian State University. It is a collaborative major assignment around which I scaffolded my unit on visual rhetoric, digital literacy, and presentation. The goal of this project is to teach the always-collaborative process of composition, even in seeming isolation, as well as the rhetorical mobility granted by digital media. Ultimately, the project takes the form of an issue-oriented campaign communicated through two complementary deliverables—one digital, one tangible. The group decides together on their central issue, submits a proposal for their project about how it will take shape, drafts the individual components over the course of a couple of weeks, and finally submits a metacognitive analysis of their project that is essentially an inward-facing rhetorical analysis essay. This project worked surprisingly well when I debuted it in my First Year Composition classrooms in place of the more typical rhetorical analysis essay because it got the students creating and analyzing their own texts, thus developing a richer understanding of the structures, visual and textual, within which rhetorical appeals work to mobilize arguments.

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

Jack Solomon

Angry Birds

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Nov 14, 2019

No, this blog is not going to be about that wildly popular video game and movie franchise; it’s about Twitter and some very distinct signs of life in the USA that may be found there in some rather unexpected places. So here goes.


Actually, I almost wrote on this very topic last year during the horrendous Woolsey fire outbreak in Southern California, when Sonia and I faced a mandatory evacuation from our home—along with a lengthy power outage—during which we received most of our emergency information from a battery-powered laptop computer. Since I was already aware then that in the digital age the most up-to-date and accurate news in an emergency situation is likely to be found on such social media sites as Twitter, rather than from the traditional mass media news outlets, I stayed tuned-in to Twitter during the entire ordeal, following a string of hashtags as an endless stream of postings flooded the site. But even as I pored through post after post to get the latest information on the fire, I noticed a lot of things that set off a number of semiotic sirens that I planned to write about when the smoke, quite literally, settled.


When it was all over, however, I decided that maybe writing about my observations was premature, and that it would be better to wait and see what further signs I might detect that could be entered into the semiotic system within which they could be interpreted. Frankly, I rather hoped that I wouldn’t experience such an opportunity again and that I could just let the topic go. But now, exactly a year later, with fires breaking out all around me and Twitter, once again, being my best source of information, I find that everything I noticed last year is being repeated, only more so. Hence this blog.


I first want to make it clear that my analysis to follow is not a critique of Twitter. Twitter is just the medium here; the message lies in the human use of that medium—what I referred to in my last blog as the behavior that cultural semiotics interprets. And here’s what that behavior reveals:


First: even in an emergency situation, when lives and property are at stake, people are going to take to social media to promote their own personal agendas. I’ll call the phenomenon “hashtag spamming,” and it runs the gamut from people who have something sell (and this includes sex workers) to people with a political axe to grind (which during the current fire emergency has included someone who could most charitably be described as an Armenian Genocide-denier).


Beyond the hashtag spammers are those who view a natural disaster as a good time to start or get into a fight about Donald Trump, or global climate change, or any other particularly divisive topic. One sees this, of course, everywhere on the web, where America’s ideological divisions are continuously on display in an ever-escalating fashion, but it is striking to find it going on in the midst of a natural disaster.


The way that some people keep retweeting information both from official emergency services sources and conventional news media is something that is also worth noting. In almost every case, such re-tweeters evidently mean well, but what they do is repeat information that can be dangerously misleading because it is completely out of date during a fast-developing fire outbreak. Thus, one finds the same dramatic fire images that commercial news sources feature in order to fan the flames, if you will, of viewer attention, repeated again and again, when those images are no longer accurate representations of the most current conditions—this sort of thing, of course, is exacerbated by television news reporters who use Twitter to promote their stations.


There is also a sentimental set of signifiers to consider. These are the posts from people who also mean well, but who clutter up the page with expressions of their emotional responses to the catastrophe. When one is in a hurry to find out exactly what is happening in a fast-moving situation, such posts are actually counter-productive, and can get in the way of the truly informative posts in which individuals supplement the official information about emergency services (including evacuation center locations and assistance with moving pets and large animals out of the fire zone) with tips and offers of help of their own.


You put all of this together and a very profound signification emerges about the power of interactive media. Quite simply, we find here the enormous desire of ordinary people to have a voice in a world where wealth and power are otherwise being consolidated in ever-shrinking enclaves of geopolitical privilege. Sometimes that voice is used for selfish, and even pernicious, purposes, and sometimes it reflects genuine altruistic, and even heroic, ends. To paraphrase Dickens' famous opening to A Tale of Two Cities, Twitter, like the Internet at large, presents us with the best of times and the worst of times. It is at once of essential utility and plagued with behaviors that—to cite Nietzsche this time—can best be described as "human, all too human."


It is easy to take the new realities of the digital era for granted, but the ability to participate directly in the world of mass media is still a very new thing in human history. The hierarchical, top-down structures of the past have been deconstructed, and people from all over the world are rushing in to fill the spaces that were once denied to them. The effects of this new capability are beginning to appear in the form of an increasing political polarization that can be found worldwide, for the moderating influence of the traditional commercial news media, which skew to the center in order to promote optimal audience share, is being lost. It was once assumed that this change of affairs would most benefit left-of-center politics, but so far the evidence is that politics-by-Twitter has been more effectively employed by the right. The pendulum may swing back as we look to the 2020 election, but either way (and here comes my last literary allusion) it is the center that cannot hold.


Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 1917737 by geralt, used under Pixabay License


I just spent a weekend with high school and college students from seven sites in the U.S.: Lawrence, MA; Santa Fe, NM; Middlebury, VT; Aiken, SC; Atlanta, GA; Window Rock, AZ (on the Navajo Nation); and Louisville, KY. These students were gathered as part of the Next Generation Leadership Network, a project sponsored by the Bread Loaf Teachers’ Network and Andover/Bread Loaf, a program with a thirty-year history of working with community leaders and public school teachers. We talked together, performed together, and wrote together to “invitations” (the word FEBO, a hip-hop/rap artist who led us in a fabulous workshop, much prefers over the more sterile and regimented “prompts”). We were invited to continue this sentence: “I am ____,” and later to continue “I do it for ____.” Here’s what one teacher from the Santa Fe Indian School had to say:

I do it for my students, who have changed my life more than I could ever express. So at least once a day, during a project, a lesson, a field trip, a simple assignment, they know they are loved, appreciated, and able to create beautiful and powerful writing.

Listening to teachers and students talk about what motivates them and gets them out of bed every morning gave me a lot to think about, and a lot to be grateful for. I wrote “I do it for myself, to stay alive, to stay sane, to make the connections that keep me going, to learn more about who I am through what students teach me.”


During one long afternoon, the students and teachers met in their home groups to discuss/brainstorm about the problems facing their communities and their ideas for addressing them. What followed was one of the most intense listening experiences I’ve had, as group after group described the challenges facing them. There were differences, to be sure, but what struck me most forcefully were the similarities. Over and over, they identified the same problems: food insecurity, water and air pollution, physical and mental health issues—diabetes, depression, anxiety, alcoholism, opioid addiction, smoking, obesity, trauma associated with abuse—and lack of resources, lack of access to health care.


These young people present a microcosm of the country and of the issues that are facing students today, issues that are, as these students told us, worrying them a great deal. What kept me from feeling the deepest despair, however, were the young people themselves: they were, as I later told them, clear-eyed, realistic, compassionate, resourceful, imaginative, and DETERMINED. Seldom have I met a more determined lot. And they have plans to address these issues—from forming community coalitions to carrying out tests of local water sources, to building community gardens to supplement and improve diets (we learned that in the 27,000-square mile Navajo Nation there are only a dozen grocery stores—think about it), to developing tutor programs (that’s my word—they refer to “writing leaders,” which is much better!) and so much more.


The problems identified by these young people are not unique to their communities. Today we know that colleges and universities include a number of students who are homeless and food insecure; in my area of California, food pantries are springing up exponentially. So I am once again reminded of something the inimitable Maxine Greene used to say: when you look at the students in your class, they may all look just fine. But they aren’t just fine, you just cannot see the burdens they are carrying, the problems they are struggling with, the challenges that bear down on them.


No time like the present then to listen—and listen hard—to the students we are privileged to work with. Ask them to write about what they are most worried about. Ask them to complete this sentence: “I feel ____.” Or “I need ____.” Or “I do it for ____.” These are trying times, but especially for young people and students. We need to listen and to help them discover ways to find agency and to take action.


Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 1879453 by quinntheislander, used under the Pixabay License

I have been talking with my students about how we talk about science, particularly as non-scientists. After all, whether or not they understood the fine details of climate science, energized students from our campus and area high schools, like many students in your communities, showed up for local Climate Strikes in September, certainly persuaded by scientific claims. In class, we discussed Greta Thunberg’s ethos-shifting claim before Congress: “I don’t want you to listen to me; I want you to listen to the scientists.” Some aspects of climate change are in-our-face evident, such as the fires ravaging California. Other aspects require the non-scientists among us to trust the experts, as in the new analysis of satellite data that has resulted in even more dire calculations of coastal flooding predictions for 2050.


In writing classes that focus on claims, evidence, and persuasion, it is worth lingering with our students on the problem of how and why non-experts (which is to say, most of us) are persuaded, or not, by experts. Since science is on my students’ minds, I am going to recommend a few readings that have sparked helpful discussion in my classrooms about claims, evidence, and persuasion in science writing intended for the general public. I would appreciate hearing your recommendations, too.


In Andrew J. Hoffman’s essay, “The Full Scope,” from his book, How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate (2015), he describes his own uncomfortable experiences holding discussions with climate-change skeptics who sometimes shut down because they anticipate judgment and condescension from scientific experts. Hoffman argues that these conversations would be better served if we stop focusing on the extremes in the debate and instead aim for consensus-building with those in the middle who are at least open to discussion. Rather than assuming that more data will persuade skeptics, Hoffman suggests understanding where skeptics are coming from and listening for the other issues climate change discussions might trigger. Then, we can frame our responses around these concerns, such as health, national security, economic competition, or another issue. This advice might be timely before we all spend time with family members over the winter holidays!


Psychologist Robert Gifford’s essay, “Dragons of Inaction: Psychological Barriers that Limit Climate Change Mitigation and Adaption” (2011), enumerates and explains the many psychological barriers that keep us from changing our behaviors in response to climate science. Like Hoffman, Gifford seeks to help us understand the nature of resistance, from optimism bias to financial investments to social comparison (among the many “dragons” to slay). Recognizing these barriers — and the ways they are often nested — is essential, Gifford argues, for devising responses that address these worries and empower people to see the value in doing the admittedly hard work of behavior-change. 


Journalist Dahr Jamail’s book, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption (2019), takes a different approach. Jamail’s concern is not analyzing the rhetoric of climate science debates but, rather, modeling the ethos of an effective citizen-learner. In his eloquent chapter, “The Fate of the Forests,” Jamail demonstrates the ways ordinary citizens often bear witness to climate change in our very own front yards but just as often fail to grasp the import of what we are seeing. His accessible interviews with scientists model an interdisciplinary approach to asking questions and framing answers. This entire chapter speaks to Hoffman’s hope for building consensus and Gifford’s reminder that resistance to climate data takes many forms. 


Should the writing classroom be the place to discuss climate change? Given the polarized nature of the public debate, the skills students are learning with your guidance about effective persuasion, and the reminders from our students that they will live with the consequences of these conversations, I am convinced that the answer is yes.


Photo Credit: April Lidinsky


Some time ago I wrote about a forthcoming book about a food literacy program ongoing at Fern Creek High School in Kentucky, and about the truly dramatic difference that program has made in the lives of students there. Now, at last, the book is out! Entitled Say Yes to Pears: Food Literacy in and beyond the English Classroom and written by Joe Franzen and Brent Peters (with a foreword by the inimitable Dixie Goswami), this book is now available from NCTE as well as from Amazon and other venues.


About this book, I said:

Readers should pull up to this remarkable book as though it were a table, a table laden with mouth-watering savories, with cooking experiments, with homemade donuts, with radishes that pop up “like lollipops,” and with the wisdom of two visionary teachers and scores of deeply committed and imaginative students. Dip in to any page and you will find a story worth listening to and lingering over. You will hear voices that will echo in your ears for years to come. And you will get to know the power of young people with a purpose, who “say yes to pears” and so much more as they become increasingly powerful thinkers, readers, and writers. So turn the page, dig into this feast of possibility, and learn how food literacy has shaped the lives and communities of those you will meet here.


In these pages, you will meet Ivy (right), whose grandmother’s 50 pounds of pears provided a way to launch the class, as they made pear butter, pear chutney, pear sauce, dried pears, and pear apple almond muffins and began the series of experiments that would lead to so much discovery and learning.


You will meet shy, reticent Milo, whose food map (below) and narrative makes a powerful connection between his dying “father figure I never managed to call Dad” and “the guilt of biscuits and gravy” (20). You will meet Camdan, Pearl, and Don flipping pancakes early on in a Food Lit class, about which one of the authors says:

The students thought they were making pancake batter. What we actually did was break the conventional dynamics of the classroom. I put them in charge. I offered risk with an authentic reward. I made them teachers for one another. Then they defined what the class would be. For the rest of the course, I will be only a guide. (p. 92)


As the Food Lit class blossoms into a food club, a garden, and many other activities, the students bring in their parents and friends, the community comes to embrace the program, and the students get better and better not just at gardening, not just at cooking, as meaningful as those arts are, but they get better and better as students, and particularly as writers. As a result, the school, once labeled a “failing school,” began to gain its footing and its identity—and test scores began to rise. As Franzen and Peters put it, “What the food studies program has been able to do is blur the lines between home and school, individual and community, learning and fun, disciplines and reality” (162).


Reading Say Yes to Pears has made me think about the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford, with its themed first and second year courses: we can be sure that if we offer courses with themes related to food, they will attract a wide and broad group of students. Now I think we should begin such classes asking students to draw the kind of food maps featured in this book:

We ask students to go to the places in their memories that show their full selves, and we ask simply that they list the ingredients of their memories—the sounds, the people, the dishes, the places, the failures, the lessons, the favorites, the confessions, the gross encounters, the losses, and the celebrations they have had around food. . . . We write the word “food” in the center of a piece of paper and then we list all the things that surround this word. (p. 17)


A pretty simple assignment, at first glance. But the explorations it has engendered, the learning it has enabled, the students it has inspired all speak to its power. Might be worth making a food map of your own—I am about to sketch one right now!


Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford

I love to show short videos in class. A brief and lively video often sets the right mood in class, creating a communal moment, providing a shared language and new perspective to answer students’ questions about academic writing. When students are confused about how to analyze a source, for instance, and tired of seeing my comment on their drafts— “too much summary; not enough analysis”—I know that I need Plan B—a good “how to” video to help students visualize how to balance summary with analysis.


But most videos designed for composition classes are boring, another talking head or a slide presentation, narrated by a remote voice, distant and unrelatable. And as my students say, “they are cheesy.” So I started thinking about the potential of videos to help students succeed as college writers, and my editors and I decided to try our hand at creating an engaging suite of videos around three major assignments: analysis, researched argument, and annotated bibliography.


Consider the case of annotated bibliography, one of the most important assignment steps in writing a research paper. We know that students are often stumped about the why and how of constructing an annotated bibliography, and especially stumped about what it means to be in conversation with other writers and thinkers and what it means to reflect on a source’s contribution to their project. They ask important basic questions—what is a research conversation? How do I enter it? What is an annotation? What is the difference between summarizing and evaluating a source? And how do I figure out how a source fits into my project?


We wanted our videos to capture the types of questions real students ask at each stage of the process, so we created four videos, each around two-minutes long, to show students how to understand the expectations of the genre, how to enter a research conversation, how to write an annotation, and how to understand the differences between summarizing a source and evaluating a source’s contribution to their research project. 


I have included live links to two of the annotated bibliography videos here. Enjoy! I would love to hear your impressions, especially how you might use them with your students.


What is an annotated bibliography?

How to enter a research conversation

How to write an annotation

How to evaluate a source


Editor’s note: Your Bedford/St. Martin's rep can give you access to the full suite, including the additional two annotated bibliography videos as well as the videos for analysis and argument (four in each cluster). All of the videos are available in LaunchPad Solo for Hacker Handbooks and LaunchPad for A Writer's Reference, Ninth Edition.

In my last blog, I wrote about the frustrations of dealing with difficult student questions (“So what are we doing?”) and the possibilities for instruction embedded in those questions. Similarly, I’ve addressed the challenge of responding to student comments comparing current instructor practice with their experiences in previous courses.


An unfiltered response in both these scenarios might be snarky or rude at worst, and unhelpful at best. As I wrote before, these difficult comments and questions can be teachable moments—both for the student and for myself—if I can filter the initial knee-jerk reaction and think through what I could say to engage the student for deeper thinking. Can I open what Jesson et al. (following Wegerif) have called a “dialogic space,” where “the teacher’s and students’ contributions serve to drive thinking forward” (157)? If my response shuts down the conversation, that space contracts—or disappears altogether. Moreover, those unfiltered comments do not invite the kind of on-going development of talk about writing and language—meta-talk—that I want to foster, explore, and evaluate in my classes.


Recently, I encountered another of these difficult interactions. A student (who had already conferenced with me and received feedback concerning a developing text that did not address the parameters of the assignment) submitted an intermediate draft without any substantive revisions to content. When I asked the student about notes from our conference (since the work submitted for review did not reflect thoughtful response to the comments I had made), the student replied that one of the upper-level writing fellows working with our class “said it was good,” so the student assumed no revisions were needed.


I have heard such comments before: someone else—a writing center tutor, a friend who is an English major, a high school teacher, a parent, or even another instructor—read the paper and said “it was good.” 


What would your knee-jerk response be? “That other person didn’t write the instructions.” “That other person isn’t going to be grading this paper.” “That other person doesn’t have my degree.” “That other person may not have been honest with you.” “I don’t care what that other person said…” 


I suppose our response would depend on the context—first, intermediate, or final draft, for example, and what we thought the student was hoping to achieve by reporting on someone else’s assessment of the piece, generally a more positive assessment.


In considering my own response to the student (which was to ask for a conference during office hours), I began to wonder what a thoughtfully-filtered response that opens dialogic space might look like. I considered the talk-encouraging questions I might ask:


  1. What specifically did the writing fellow tell you was good about the paper? Did you take notes? If not, would it be worth asking her to discuss it with you again?
  3. What did you ask the writing fellow to look at when you went for your conference?
  5. Did you discuss my comments with the writing fellow?
  7. Did the writing fellow make any specific comments or recommendations we could talk about?
  9. Why do you think different people sometimes give different feedback? How can you handle the differences, as a writer?
  11. How would you define good when it comes to writing? How does context affect our understanding of what good is? Could our comments about the piece actually both be reasonable evaluations of it?
  13. What do you like about the piece as it stands now? Are there parts of the paper that you can build on for revision?
  15. What did you hear when I gave you feedback during conference?
  17. Knowing that the paper does not currently meet the requirements of the assignment, what information from me would be most helpful to you?
  19. What sorts of things could you tell the writing fellows to help them target their feedback on the next draft?


I recognize in myself a tendency to allow frustration to stop conversations. And yes, some of the frustrations arise from student apathy, laziness, or forgetfulness. They have told me as much: they didn’t take notes, they forgot what we discussed, they wanted not to have to write again. And at times, especially for some of the students who find themselves in my corequisite sections, the problem stems from the overall culture shock of college. But perhaps those students need me to filter my responses the most—and they need an opportunity to talk about the writing a little bit more. 


What comments and questions from students cause you the most frustration in your corequisite writing courses? What strategies have worked for you in responding?

Leah Beth JohnstonLeah Beth Johnston (recommended by Elías Domínguez Barajas) is pursuing her PhD in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Arkansas. She will finish her degree in 2022. Her research focuses on First-Year Composition administration and Marginal Rhetorics, and her dissertation is a book that explores the intersection of the two. A former faculty member at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, Leah Beth hopes to return to Texas upon finishing her PhD. 


How do you hope higher education will change in the next ten years?

I hope that in the next ten years, higher education will change drastically. We will always be operating in a system whose foundation was built on white supremacy and exclusionary tactics, but I hope that white educators, in particular, will begin to interrogate their own biases and privileges in a way that positively changes higher education as a whole. Teaching at a PWI has illuminated for me how far we still have to go before educational equity will exist, and has also reinforced my respect for the many folx on the margins of universities creating small but equitable spaces for historically oppressed identities. 


Is there an instructor or scholar that helped shape your career in rhet/comp? How? 

My current advisor, Dr. Jo Hsu, has significantly helped to shape my career in Rhet/Comp. I learn a lot from their example of showing up, showing grace, and doing small but great things. Many faculty members in higher education view teaching as something they do to exercise their own research agendas, but Jo has always been excited and encouraging about their students’ own research, and their genuine love of teaching is obvious in the classroom. I hope to someday be half the teacher they are. 


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

Being part of the Bedford New Scholars program has been such an honor! That feels cheesy to say, but spending this year having insight into educational publishing, being able to offer input on texts that may show up in classes I teach, and traveling to Boston to network among top scholars in my field has been the privilege of a lifetime. The workload throughout the year was structured in such a way that my own research and teaching did not suffer, and the overall support provided by the Bedford/St. Martin’s team has been amazing. 


What have you learned from other Bedford New Scholars?

During our New Scholars Summit in Boston, I learned something from each and every fellow scholar, whether it was a new author to read, a technique for lesson planning, or an idea to incorporate digital elements into the classroom. I especially enjoyed a team-building activity where we each wrote our priorities as teachers on a large piece of paper, then had the opportunity to review one another’s answers. I found that many of our priorities, concerns, and triumphs overlap, which gave me a sense of where Composition is as a whole right now, insight that is invaluable for my career and my own pedagogy. 


Leah Beth Johnston’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 Leah Beth's assignment. You can view the full details here: Emoji Revision Assignment

For this lesson, review what emoji is and make sure everyone has a working understanding of how to access emoji on their device. Then, pass out movie title slips individually or into groups of 2-4, depending on class size. Ask students to revise not the movie title, but the movie plot, into emoji language. This may require some research if they are not familiar with the movie. Remind students that even if they have seen the movie, they may want to review the main themes before revising the plot into emoji. As each student/group finishes their revision, they will take a screenshot of the “sentence” and email it to the instructor. Once all revisions have been sent, the instructor projects them at the front of the classroom, and the entire class discusses them one by one to guess which movie they are referring to. 

After completing this assignment, students will have a basic literacy in emoji language and digital discourse. Students will be able to conduct internet research, and apply this research to summarizing texts. Students will also be able to understand the concept of a multimodal text, and will be able to connect the activity to their own revision processes.


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