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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.


Watercolors in a watercolor tray 

From all of us here at Macmillan Learning and the Grammar Girl podcast—welcome back to school! To celebrate the start of another semester, we’re going to look at some back-to-basics activities and podcasts that will work for classes of all levels.


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."


Going Back to Basics with Grammar Girl


Assignment A: Place students in groups of three, four, or five, depending on the size of your class. From the list below, assign a different podcast to each group for homework. Have each group meet during class to discuss their assigned podcast. Give them about ten minutes to write a brief summary. Each group will then present that summary to the rest of class.


  • Where Do I Use Commas? [7:16]
  • Apostrophe Catastrophe 1 [8:12]
  • How to Use Quotation Marks [7:51]
  • Capitalizing Proper Nouns [6:58]
  • Dashes, Colons, and Commas [4:41]
  • Compound Nouns [5:57]
  • Noun or Adjective? [5:43]
  • Preposition or Adverb? [16:03]


Assignment B: Read the blog post Grammar Girl Essentials as a class—perhaps you might also listen to one or two of the listed podcasts together. Then, discuss the selections or have students write responses to the following: 


  • Which of the podcasts address an issue that you have noticed in your own writing?
  • What other grammar rules do you struggle with that are not reflected here?


If your students share similar grammar struggles, consider assigning a podcast from the Grammar Girl library in LaunchPad for homework and having follow up discussions on that topic.


Assignment C: Ask students to indicate a grammar rule they find confusing or struggle with. (Alternately, provide the class with a list of grammar topics to choose from—for example, commas, apostrophes, capitalization, and colons/semicolons.) Tally up the results, then assign relevant podcasts from the Grammar Girl library in LaunchPad.


Have you used podcasts to address common grammar concerns in your class? Let us know in the comments!


Credit: Pixabay Image 1067686 by padrinan, used under a Pixaby License


I’ve recently been working on revisions of some of my textbooks and have been reading more and more about how easily images can be manipulated or falsified. I remember reading Kenneth Brower’s galvanizing essay “Photography in an Age of Falsification” in The Atlantic over twenty years ago, and it’s an essay I often taught for the cogent argument it makes. But that seems like more than a lifetime ago now: I was concerned then about the issues Brower raised (he offered fascinating examples of images being manipulated, even in National Geographic, to make them “better”), but I couldn’t have imagined—and I don’t expect Brower could have imagined—the proliferation of technologies to aid in producing fake videos and altered images of every conceivable kind. It now seems important—imperative even—for us to ask students to examine their own use of images and to talk about and explore the ethical implications of the choices they and others are making today.


Among the books and articles I have read, Paul Martin Lester’s work really caught my attention. He is a professor at the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at the University of Texas at Dallas and has written widely on the ethics of photography. In an interview, he says he begins every class by describing what he calls the most unethical photo he ever took: he was assigned as a young photographer to cover a reunion of two long-lost brothers at an airport. He was there, with all his cameras, waiting for the brothers to emerge from the plane when a very famous movie star emerged. When she saw him and the cameras, he says, she screamed and turned her face to the wall before pulling herself together and walking toward him. Stunned, he automatically snapped photos of her in this very vulnerable pose, an action he has regretted ever since.


So I ordered his book, Visual Ethics, and have read it with great interest, even though it is intended for students and practicing photographers. In it, he describes what he calls every photographer’s “personal journey” and opens with this question: “How can you possibly be expected to be objective and subjective, impassive and emotional, uninvolved and engaged given the physical constraints, technological changes, and sociological pressures that the mass communications profession offers?” His one-word answer: “Ethics.”

The key to produce work that aids the common good and satisfies your need for storytelling is a continual, inquisitive, and consistent path toward ethical behavior. (xii)


Lester uses his own journey as an example throughout the book, but in addition it is crammed with additional examples drawn from his long career in the field, many of them mini-cases that make for challenging class discussion and examination. He also deals with issues of misinformation, focusing in chapter 7 on infographics and cartoons and sowing how inattention to detail, sloppy design, and overpowering “decorations” can mislead and confuse audiences, even if the designers are not intentionally doing so.


Lester concludes with a meditation on empathy—the complexities surrounding the concept and its embodiments, the need for more of it in all aspects of our lives, and the challenge to those he teaches. They should, he says, always attempt to 1) be empathetic, and 2) be ethical. The Professional Photographers Association of America agrees, and they have developed a code of ethics as a result. It makes for very interesting reading too—and provides additional material to bring to students, who need to be thinking hard (along with the rest of us) about how their own use of images and visuals follows such guidelines.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1239384 by Robert-Owen-Wahl, used under the Pixabay License

Metalanguage, metacognition, metadiscourse, metapragmatics, metagrammar – I am seeing references to all things meta in professional journals and conference presentation titles. In his overview of scholarship on metadiscourse, for example, applied linguist Ken Hyland notes that metalanguage “concerns people’s knowledge about language and representations of language” (17); metalanguage engages language’s ability to reflect on itself, to be employed for the purpose of language analysis.


And we, as writing teachers, are aware of the value of reflection, particularly in teaching for transfer. 


But over the past couple of semesters, I’ve watched students in corequisite sections of freshman composition wrestle with the task of articulating reflections, particularly reflections on their rhetorical and grammatical choices. I am wondering what makes this reflective task so challenging. Is it a lack of experience in this sort of thinking and writing? A sense that reflection is one more thing that they need to get right for me, the instructor (and thus another opportunity to fail)? Have I not illustrated to them the value of the process? Is there a lack of vocabulary—words to capture the concepts that shape their revising and editing processes? Or perhaps those concepts are still quite fluid and thus resist articulation?


These questions are shaping my reading, thinking, and pedagogical experimentation this semester, not only in my corequisite section of FYC, but also in my sections of the grammar courses that English majors at my institution are required to take. As one of my graduate instructors used to say, I’m taking time this term to muck around in the data and explore the context; I’m focusing on creating opportunities for metatalk in my classes, and listening—or reading—as attentively as I can to what my students have to say. 


I’m also fortunate to collaborate with some advanced students who are making space for metatalk about writing and language for my students outside of the classroom. My corequisite students, for example, are working weekly with two of our “Writing Fellows,” who are workshopping papers with them in a small group setting. In my sections of grammar classes, I have student supplemental instructors who offer sessions during the week for class members to talk through and apply concepts we are covering in class. In these relaxed sessions, they are asking composition students and sophomore grammar students important questions: what’s going on in this paragraph? In this sentence? Why do you feel uncomfortable with it? What could we differently here, and how would it change our response?


In all sections, both composition and grammar, I’m asking for more drafts with annotations, questions, and—of course—reflections.


As I meet with the writing fellows, supplemental instructors, and students in my class, I want to hear what obstacles they encounter engaging in metalinguistic discussions, and then consider how my pedagogy might address those obstacles in future semesters—or how students can investigate metalinguistic awareness with me. As this semester progresses, I will be blogging both about my observations and about some of the strategies we are experimenting with in class. 


What are you investigating in your teaching this fall? What has energized you about your return to the classroom for this academic year? I would love to hear from you.


Earlier this year, I participated in a conversation on collective feedback during a Faculty Office Hours session (an online chat for teachers of professional and technical writing). Collective feedback, a strategy examined by Lisa Melonçon (University of South Florida, @lmeloncon on Twitter) in a five-year study (see her resources online), provides the whole class with details on frequent errors found in the drafts for the course, replacing some, if not all, individual feedback on projects. The process gives the instructor the chance to review common errors with everyone, eliminating the duplication of explaining to each student individually.

Building on Melonçon’s research, Dr. Sara Doan (Kennesaw State, @SDoanut on Twitter) described an in-class activity that she uses to guide students through revision of their projects. She explained that she would tell to the class that she was going to review “Ten issues you all need to fix.” She then asked students to open a copy of their project on their computers. Once students were ready, Doan then stepped students through common errors that they should correct in their drafts. For example, she asked students, “Is your name the biggest thing on your résumé? If not, you need to fix it.”

I love this strategy. I have given students checklists and rubrics to use as they evaluate their drafts, but the same common errors persist. The challenge for me is that my classes are all online. I cannot gather students and ask them to all open their projects so I can walk them through revision strategies.

I created a Google Slides presentation (click on the screenshot below) to solve the problem, calling it a “Stop, Read, & Apply” activity.

Stop, Read, and Apply Slides screenshot. Click to view the slideshow.

The instructions essentially match those that Doan used: Students open their project, and then advance through the slides, stopping on each one to read the details on the common error and then apply that advice to their drafts. To focus students, the slideshow addresses only common errors in memo format. If the activity works, I will create similar slideshows for other common issues students can review as they finish their work.

Because the slides are online, I can also use them in feedback to students. All I have to do is open the Slides file in a new browser tab, advance the presentation to the slide I want to reference, and copy the link from the browser. For instance, I can link directly to the slide on eliminating opening greetings in a memo. So simple!

I hope that this slideshow-based system will slow students down, encouraging to check their drafts more carefully. Further, I can easily adapt it to any course and assignment I might teach. I am eager to see if the activity helps students address common errors. I’d love to hear your feedback on the strategy as well. What do you think? Would you use a similar resource in your courses? Are there “Stop, Read, & Apply” activities you would like to see in a future post? Leave a comment below and tell me what you think!


CORRECTION: Edited to add details on Lisa Melonçon’s research on collective feedback, with apologies for the oversight.

This semester, my classes  are once again reading James Baldwin’s “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity,” a lecture that Baldwin gave in New York City in 1963 in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. This year, I wanted to try a different approach to teaching analysis and interpretation. I hoped as well  to create an assignment that would actively demonstration Baldwin’s ideas of an individual’s responsibility to the community. 


With these goals in mind, the students and I collaborated on a crowd-source assignment, which is explained in detail below. Crowdsourcing would give many voices a chance to collaborate toward a common end: to allow students to do close reading and analysis of “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity” and to work together as a community of first-year writers across classrooms and colleges to better understand Baldwin’s most significant ideas.


The crowdsourcing document is different from annotation because students must write several complete paragraphs that ask for analysis in depth rather than breadth. Students take responsibility for finding their own focus for contributing to the community’s analysis. Individuals receive credit through journal entries, while the community creates the document. In this way, the assignment explores tensions that Baldwin described between individual/community in “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity.” 


Considered more broadly, students collaborated across my three classrooms (at two different colleges) to enact the work of analysis. This initial assignment was presented as follows:

  1. Choose at least 3 paragraphs from the list below, then respond in writing to both anonymously.   
    1. Summary: What does the paragraph SAY? 
    2. Interpretation: What does the paragraph MEAN?
  2. AFTER your response in the google.doc, write a journal entry on Blackboard explaining your choices. 
  1. Why do these paragraphs stand out to you? (200-500 words)
  2. Read the other entries in the crowdsourcing document. Describe your response to those entries (200-500 words)


Here are the steps that I took to present the assignment in all three first-year writing classes:


  1. Created a google.doc that listed the opening words of Baldwin’s twelve paragraphs.
  2. Invited students to write a brief summary and interpretation for at least 3 of the paragraphs in the text. Students did this anonymously so that there is no judgment of anyone’s interpretations or writing styles. 
  3. Added an end comment and marginal comments once the crowdsourcing document was completed.
  4. Acknowledged individual students’ participation: First, I express my trust in students to do this assignment, and to complete the assignment responsibly, without adding extraneous or inappropriate submissions. Second, in order to receive participation credit for this assignment, students needed to complete a 2-part journal entry. In the first part, students expanded on their interpretations of Baldwin’s lecture. For the second part, students read the crowd-sourced document and added their impressions.
  5. Observed students’ innovations to the original assignment. The most significant of these innovations is changing the font, size, and text color for their own submissions-- making sure that it is different from the submission above theirs.
  6. Asked students to complete anonymous follow-up exit slips with students assessments of the crowdsourcing document.
  7. Offered students the opportunity to cite the crowdsourcing document as part of the first writing project this semester.


The significance of community holds relevance through and beyond classroom collaborations, especially in class discussion of theClimate March in New York City on Friday September 20, 2019. The March took place on a day that I do not teach, and I photographed the above image as people gathered to begin the March at Foley Square in Manhattan. The March offers a wellspring of the inspiration of bearing witness to individuals of all ages and many different backgrounds gathering together in community. The students found deep connections between Baldwin’s Civil Rights era lecture, their own participation in the crowd-sourcing document, and the implications of Baldwin’s lecture for civic participation in the Climate March.  

Crowd shot of the Climate March in New York City, September 20th, 2019. Photo by: Susan Naomi Bernstein.


The students suggested that Baldwin urged individuals to participate in the life of their community. The crowd-sourcing document does this, the students said, by allowing students as individuals to take responsibility for learning and writing together as a community.


Further, the students offered, Baldwin persuades his audience to take a stand on events in the larger world. The Climate March offered individuals an opportunity to draw attention to and participate in a larger community statement. When conditions are as serious as climate change, the students advised, the people need to rise up and take responsibility for the world in which we live. The Climate March is a striking example of taking responsibility, as Baldwin impelled his audience in 1963. Connecting individual action to community responsibility continues to make Baldwin’s lecture relevant for our own time. 

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.

Jack Solomon

America's Got Sentiment

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Sep 19, 2019

As Sonia Maasik and I work to complete the tenth edition of Signs of Life in the U.S.A., I have been paying special attention to American popular music, which will be a topic for a new chapter that we're adding to the book. While our approach will be semiotic rather than esthetic, part of my research has involved listening to music as well as analyzing its cultural significance, and as everyone knows, there's nothing like YouTube to put just about everything you want to hear at your literal fingertips. Which brings me to the subject of this blog.


Well, you know how YouTube is. Even as you watch one video you are regaled with a menu of others that can take you on a merry chase following one musical white rabbit after another. And so it came to pass that I found myself watching some famous clips from the Britain's Got Talent and America's Got Talent franchises. Which means that I finally saw that audition of Susan Boyle's, which, while it wasn't a joke, started the whole world crying. With joy.


Talk about fairy-tale happy endings! Take a little Cinderella, mix in the Ugly Duckling, and sprinkle in a lot of A Star is Born, and there you have the Susan Boyle story. I'd say that you couldn't make this sort of thing up, except for the fact that it has been made up time and again, only this time it's true. And it helps a lot that the woman can really sing.


The semiotic significance of this tale is rather more complicated than it looks, however. On the surface, it looks simply like a sentimental triumph of authenticity over glitter, of the common folk over entertainment royalty. And, of course, that is a part of its significance—certainly of its enormous popular appeal. Just look at the visual semiotics: the glamorous judges, sneering Simon (I'm certain that he has made himself the designated bad guy to add melodrama to the mix), and the audience on the verge of laughter in the face of this ungainly, middle-aged woman who says she wants to be a star. And then she blows the house away.


But here is where things get complicated. For one thing, even as the celebrity judges fell all over themselves confessing to Ms. Boyle how ashamed they felt for initially doubting what they were about to hear, they managed to imply that it would have been OK to ridicule her if it had turned out that she couldn't sing, that losers deserve to be humiliated. After all, that's what those buzzers are for.


And then there is the notoriously oxymoronic nature of reality television, its peculiar mixture of authenticity and theatricality, its scripted spontaneity. One begins to wonder what the judges knew in advance about Susan Boyle; certainly she didn't get to that stage of the competition by accident. For to get past the thousands of contestants who audition in mass cattle calls for these shows, you have to have something that the judges want, and this can include not only outstanding talent but unexpectedly outstanding talent, the ugly ducklings that provide plenty of occasion for all those dewy-eyed camera shots of audience members and judges alike who are swept away by the swans beneath the skin. The whole thing has become such a successful formula for the franchise that when, a few years after the Susan Boyle sensation, a soprano/baritone duo named Charlotte and Jonathan came onto the stage, Simon Cowell made sure to quip, in a loud stage whisper to the judge beside him, "Just when you think things couldn't get any worse" (funny how the camera caught that), only to have Jonathan steal the show with a breathtaking performance that Sherrill Milnes might envy. Call me cynical, but somehow I think that Cowell knew perfectly well what was going to happen.


But let's not forget the designated duds either, the poor souls who get picked out of the cattle calls in order to be laughed at later, to be buzzed off the stage. After all, with so many truly talented people in the world, surely there would be enough to have nothing but superb performers on these shows. But failure is part of the formula here as well as success, for schadenfreude, too, sells. 


So the semiotic question isn't whether Susan Boyle can sing; nor is there any question that without Britain's Got Talent she would almost certainly not be enjoying a spectacular career. The semiotic question involves what is going on when television shows like Britain's Got Talent and America's Got Talent play upon the vicarious yearnings of their viewers to shine in the spotlight in a mass society where fewer and fewer such opportunities really exist—even as those same viewers sneer at the failures. Thus, as with so much of reality television, there is an uncomfortable love/hate relationship going on here, a sentimental identification with the winners alongside a derisive contempt for the losers. And in a ruthlessly hyper-competitive society where more and more people through no fault of their own are falling into the loser category, this is of no small significance.

And I have to add that I'm certain that if a young Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen had appeared on America's Got Talent, both would have been buzzed off the stage.



Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 1868137 by Pexels, used under Pixabay License


During a visit to the Bread Loaf School of English in August, a place I have taught on and off for nearly thirty years and one whose natural beauty (in Vermont’s lush Green Mountains) always renews my spirit, I got to attend a workshop put on by Bread Loaf students. Titled “An Anti-Racist Teach In,” the workshop lasted two hours and engaged everyone in the audience (probably 40 to 45 of us) in a series of activities designed to make us more aware of racist words and deeds and to help us develop ways to combat them.


The leaders began by introducing us to their “community contract”:

  • Be willing to sit with your discomfort.
  • Don’t assume. Ask questions to clarify.
  • Speak from your own experience.
  • Remember, impact is more important than intention.
  • Be conscious not to shift attention away from people and situations that are negatively impacted by systems of oppression by focusing on those who are privileged by them.
  • Expect unfinished business.


These statements gave us much to think about and to discuss in small groups, which were all, thankfully, diverse. The leaders also asked us to carefully consider some terms and, perhaps, come to a new understanding of their meanings: race, racism, whiteness, anti-racism, postionality, privilege, intersectionality, microaggressions, and white supremacy. While these terms are all familiar to me, our discussion of them added a lot of nuance and what Wayne Booth called “overstanding” so that I came away with new information not only about the terms themselves but about their effect on real people in real places. I was particularly struck by our discussion of “microaggression,” defined as “small daily insults and indignities against marginalized or oppressed people.” What I learned was how such small things always accumulate, becoming overwhelming and intolerable, and how such “small daily indignities” felt to the people in my group.


After these discussions, we went outside and paired up in various configurations to do some role playing that involved a LOT of listening really closely to others, a lot of careful observation, and a lot of making a space that was inviting and open. The student leaders (all high school teachers) had worked out every detail and led us in easy yet sure-footed ways. Brilliant. And effective.


I came away grateful not only for what I learned but grateful for these teachers, and for those of us attending the workshop, all now back in classrooms across the country trying very hard to implement anti-racist teaching. I’m wondering if readers of this post did any work this summer on anti-racist teaching and, if so, if you would share your experiences with us. We all have so much to learn—and also the responsibility to do so, and to pass it on.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3513653 by rawpixel, used under the Pixabay License


On August 31, at about 2:30 in the afternoon Eastern Time, Nancy Johnson, Professor of English at Ohio State University, shuffled off this mortal coil, leaving so very many of us bereft and grieving. Nancy (as I never learned not to call her!) was a great teacher. A GREAT teacher.


As I flew to Ohio that day in a futile attempt to be with her, I kept thinking of that part of her identity. Like all of us, she was many things: daughter, sister, mother, partner, writer, reader, researcher, friend, gardener, artist. And more. She was all those things, along with being a magnificent teacher, as legions of her students will testify. I first met Nancy at a conference in 1980, I think, and then I had the great good fortune to be on the hiring committee that offered her a position at the University of British Columbia in 1981, where she taught until 1990. I remember her impish grin, her quick wit, the funny spin she put on almost everything. I remember her kindness, her way of being absolutely present in the moment. And I remember her passion for pedagogy and for students. Her intense attentiveness to students was a gift that kept on giving: I have seen her, patiently and quietly, draw out of students insights they wouldn’t have imagined they could have, ideas for articles and talks and dissertations that they had never dreamed of.


So. I’ve been thinking this week not only of Nancy, of her brilliance in the classroom and of her deep caring for students, but also of all great teachers. Somehow, in this time of near despair at a world spun out of control, hovering on the brink of disaster and presided over by a person without a shred of integrity, thinking of good teachers—of those who in Marge Piercy’s words do “the work of the world” and keep on doing it in spite of everything—lifts my spirits and touches my heart. So here’s to all those teachers and to one teacher in particular: Nancy Johnson.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 768458 by Free-Photos, used under the Pixabay License

Caitlin Martin (recommended by Elizabeth Wardle and Jason Palmeri) is a PhD candidate studying composition and rhetoric at Miami University (Ohio), where she also serves as graduate assistant director of the Howe Center for Writing Excellence. She has taught courses in composition theory and business writing in addition to face-to-face and online first-year composition and advanced writing courses. Her primary research interests include threshold concept theories and conceptions of writing, writing-related faculty development, and writing assessment.


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

No matter what class I’m teaching, my ultimate goal is to help students develop as reflective practitioners (Shon). Reflection isn’t just crucial to learning about writing, it’s crucial to most learning situations we all encounter. I want the students I work with to be able to ask good questions about their knowledge and experiences so they can determine how to bring that to bear on their current and future educational experiences. When I first started teaching, I struggled with teaching this because I had never really been given adequate support to reflect on my own experiences. I studied reflective self assessment in order to teach for transfer for my MA thesis, and it helped me to think about reflection not as a genre I ask students to write, but as a strategy that is useful at all stages of writing a given product. Providing multiple opportunities for reflection also helps me learn about my students and meet them where they are, which is important to me as a teacher.


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

One change I hope to see in all education, not just higher education, is a shift away from deficit models of learning. Instead, I hope more educators will adopt strength-based models of education. Elaine Maimon, President of Governors State University in Chicago, explains this model as “building on what is right about students rather than fixing what is wrong” in her book Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation. Instead of focusing on what students can’t do, it can be really powerful to think about what they can do and to consider how a course might build on that existing knowledge or set of experiences. This model also more accurately reflects how learning works. People aren’t empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge. They have lived experiences that influence how they encounter the worlds, and then they integrate new experiences, ideas, beliefs, and values with those experiences. It doesn’t serve learning when we as teachers only focus on what someone isn’t currently capable of doing. 


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

When I was offered the opportunity to be a Bedford New Scholar, I didn’t know much about the publishing world except ongoing conversations about rising textbook costs and some skepticism about the publishing industry’s role in developing curricula. I imagine that other instructors, especially those who haven’t had the opportunity to meet and work with publishers, might view the industry similarly. I was really excited to learn how Bedford/St. Martin’s values disciplinary expertise when developing its textbooks and products. The editors I’ve worked with care about helping authors translate their research into textbooks meaningfully. I was also completely unaware of the amount of focus group research they conduct when developing new projects. They have really committed themselves to responding to teacher needs by finding a variety of ways to figure out what those needs are and to work with experts who can help meet those needs. I don’t think that’s something most of us think about when we consider whether to adopt a textbook.


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

Being part of the Bedford New Scholars program has been a great opportunity to learn about the educational publishing industry and learn from other New Scholars about how writing is taught in a variety of contexts. But most importantly, it was a really energizing and validating experience. Of course, it’s always nice to be recognized for my work by my mentors who nominated me. But there was a really awesome sense of encouragement as we shared our Assignments that Work during our summit in Boston, and I left the summit being really excited about my scholarship and my teaching because of the ideas I’d heard from others and the feedback I’d gotten on my own assignment. I have enjoyed this opportunity to meet and learn from others who I otherwise might not ever cross paths with. 



Caitlin’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 Caitlin's assignment. You can view the full details here: Teaching Revision and Research through Full-Class Collaboration.


I chose to share my approach to teaching research using full-class collaboration, which I explored in a first-semester composition course that focused on research-based writing, typically by developing a research project over multiple stages throughout the semester. The first time I taught the course, I saw my students struggle with using sources in their papers and discovered that most of them had never been taught how to take notes, so I created an assignment in which we read and took notes on the same resources together and then wrote an argumentative paper as a class. Students then revised the draft on their own by trying out what I call “radical revision”: rewriting everything in a given paragraph except one sentence. This assignment doesn’t fit with the FYC curricula I teach now, but the semester I used this approach is still one of my favorite teaching memories, and I try to find ways to bring successful aspects of this assignment into all the courses I teach.


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
























How many times were you asked to write about this topic when you started a new school year? In my memory, this question came up every single year, and every year I had a hard time coming up with a response. One year I got to go to a YWCA camp, but mostly I reported on what I read. And I guess I’m still at it, since I’ve read some very good books this summer, which I will be writing about in future posts.


But in fact, I did some other things besides read. I wrote like a demon, revising The Everyday Writer for its 7th edition [!] and The St. Martin’s Handbook for its 9th, and working on a couple of essays. For one of those essays, I drove from my home on the northern California coast inland to the town of Willets to interview Sally Miller Gearhart, feminist activist for gay rights, the environment, and social justice, at her home. Now 88, Gearhart is renowned for her very early linking of feminism, rhetoric, and environmentalism, a linkage she explores in her groundbreaking article “The Womanization of Rhetoric.” I will write more about this interview soon, but below is a picture of Gearhart, wearing a T-shirt with Wanderground, the name of her most famous sci-fi novel, on it. What a woman!


 In addition to reading and writing, I enjoyed working on the board of directors for the Kronos Quartet, the amazing group that has changed the very definition of “string quartet” with their ever-growing repertoire and over 900 commissions. They are now working with third graders in San Francisco, aiming to inspire them to take up an instrument, and are working to complete a huge project called “50 for the Future,” fifty new commissioned works (half by women, half by men) for string quartet that will all be open source, available to anyone anywhere to download and play. For this project, Kronos has partnered with Carnegie Hall, and I and other board members have worked hard to raise the funds necessary to pull this off: it takes a lot of money to make music available for free! You can learn more about this project here—and listen to some of their spectacular music.


Finally, I had a week-long visit from my sister and my two beloved grandnieces, Audrey and Lila, now 15 and 12. Audrey was in charge of our schedule, and she had us moving every minute of every day! We went “thrifting” in Gualala and Mendocino (where she bought six pieces of clothing for $21 and was thrilled), fed giraffes at the B Bryan Animal Preserve (pictured above), watched Napoleon Dynamite, which the girls had never seen, took hikes, and every night walked out onto the ocean bluffs to watch the sun set and the moon rise before going back to soak in the hot tub.


So, I had a fun and productive summer, and I hope you did too. Now I am nostalgic once again for the beginning of school. This is my favorite time of year, when the new class arrives, and I’m hoping to visit Stanford in a week or so just to meet and greet some new students. My heart is always in the classroom—and I’m wishing you a wonderful teaching year.


Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford