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312 Posts authored by: Andrea A. Lunsford Expert


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
























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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

Dear Bedford Bits friends,


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


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


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


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


Thank you!




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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

Kim Haimes-KornToday’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 a relatively new phenomena, podcasts take us back to early media technologies (before television and computers) as audiences gathered around the radio to listen to stories. They also remind us of childhood memories in which we listened to stories read aloud to us before we could even read ourselves. Now, digital technologies provide easy access to expansive collections of stories where authors can create experience, develop characters, and engage through aural storytelling.


Studies suggest that audio stories are potentially more impactful than other media forms in which visual dramatizations direct the storyline. In this kind of participatory media, audiences engage their imaginations through individual visualization and are less likely to be influenced by preconceived depictions – an important part of oral storytelling. In the article, Inside the Podcast Brain: Why Do Audio Stories Captivate, Communications Professor, Emma Rodero, argues that, 


Audio is one of the most intimate forms of media because you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind and you’re creating your own production, and that of course, is something that you can never get with visual media.


When teaching digital storytelling I want students to experience this genre and explore stories that might interest them. I direct them to This American Life, a massive collection of weekly public radio podcast episodes that offer many possibilities for interest and engagement. With an extensive archive of over 6,000 stories that reach back to 1995, the podcasts combine the human interest of journalism and the engagement of stories. Their website explains: “Our favorite sorts of stories have compelling people at the center of them, funny moments, big feelings, surprising plot twists, and interesting ideas. Like little movies for radio.”


This multimodal assignment asks students to choose a podcast series of at least five related episodes of a subject of their choosing. They listen and review series in an interactive blog post in which they present an overview, review each episode, and connect to larger ideas through the lens of their own perspectives. 

Background Readings and Resources



Steps to the Assignment


  1. Brainstorm: Brainstorm and create a list of ideas, themes, and subjects of interest.
  2. Review the site: Explore the webpage for This American Life.
  3. Choose a series of podcasts: Have students choose five related podcast episodes that fall under a similar theme, subject, concept or idea that they want to explore and consider from multiple perspectives. The challenge is to build a series and expand their ideas through an exploratory search for related, connected subjects. Their overview section will demonstrate the process of this search and connect to the related episodes. Encourage them to explore the many ways to search the site in different ways:

- Recommended: This is a good starting place for some interesting podcasts that are categorized for you. It also has folks recommending their favorites.

- Related: Each of the podcasts generates a list of related subjects below. This will help you to add to your list.

- Keyword Search: Use the search function to generate keyword searches that group your ideas.

- Archive: You can browse the archives by date. Each week has a different theme that can help you shape a direction. Start with those and then add according to keywords or related subjects.


Assignment Details and Requirements

On their blogs, students create a landing page with their overall review of their series and an exploration of their idea/concept/subject. They should create links and a drop-down menu to separate pages for each episode.  


The overall review should be 500-800 words and include:

  • an overview/review of purposes and connections that make up their series;
  • a written review for each episode with direct links to the podcasts;
  • at least five purposeful, related links (exploratory paths);
  • at least two multimodal components (images, videos, etc.); and
  • a list of references.


Each episode review (200-300 words) should include:

  • at least two embedded links; and
  • at least one multimodal component.


Reflection on the Activity

One of the most interesting parts of this assignment is when students research to find the subjects and podcasts for their chosen series. They often start out with one idea that morphs into something completely unexpected as they find related stories to make up their series. For example, Lydia explored “Reruns” as a metaphor for life, history, and personal perspectives.  Sean looked at “situations where we don’t belong” and explored podcasts on environmental, psychological, and physical dimensions of the subject. Others, like Emily, focused on a particular time – middle school – and explored personal connections, brain development, and external cultural influences. Sarah whose subject of “Prisoners” opened up to “prison as family,” “therapies with prisoners,” to DNA exoneration. Nick looked at the ways we interpret coincidences as signs and how unexpected situations draw us together. This assignment expanded their ideas on research and the learning potential in stories. In the reviews, students provided substantiated recommendations and reflected on the connections between these stories and the ways they contributed to their thinking and learning on their subjects.


Tuesday, May 7, 2019, is National Teachers’ Day so I’m thinking about how I can thank teachers I know for the remarkable work they do every single day. I’ll start with my sister, Liz Middleton, who teaches high school in one of the poorest counties in Florida. I know that Liz literally saves the life of at least one student every year, some years more. I know that she continues to challenge them to reach beyond their grasp. I know that she expects the best they can do, every single day, and that she finds ways to help them do that best. I know that she cares. So thanks to Liz and to the tens of thousands of other teachers like her, working every day, at low pay and with few rewards, to offer opportunities to the young people around them.


You may know of The Academy for Teachers in New York, founded and led by Bread Loaf friend and extraordinaire Sam Swope. Sam started the Academy as a way to recognize and thank teachers, to “share the love” as he says and to celebrate good teaching. His dream is to establish a foundation for teachers—and he even dreams of a big building to house the Academy, a material place to signify that teachers matter, that what they do is crucial to national health and security.


The Academy sponsors master classes for teachers nominated from their schools. The classes are led by brilliant writers and thinkers who give their time to work with the teachers, and every May the Academy has a major celebration of teachers in New York City, usually featuring many celebrities and authors, all there to thank teachers. Since I don’t live in New York, I don’t get to attend these events. What I do receive as a contributor to the Academy, however, are copies of little chapbooks they publish, each written by a noted writer.


Recently I received one by Julia Alvarez, noted novelist (How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, Before We Were Free, and many others), whom I have met on several occasions on the Vermont Bread Loaf campus. Hers is called “Falling in Love” and begins this way:

Growing up in the Dominican Republic, I was a terrible student. I flunked every grade through fifth. The whole premise of going to school seemed so unfair: having to spend sunny days on a tropical island indoors. Then, after seven hours of this torture, I was released to go home and do my homework. Homework?! In my first and only recorded piece of writing before our departure to America, I handed my teacher a note: Querida profesora, I love you very much (start with the positive) but why should I work when I can have fun?


Alvarez’s grandmother agreed with her—girls did not need education, but her mother took another approach, and after they moved to New York she managed to get her two daughters scholarships to a boarding school in Massachusetts. That’s where Alvarez fell in love (puppy love, someone called it) with one of the teachers, Mr. Barstow, in whose classes writers began “casting their spell” on her. She ends the year with an A in English and accolades from Mr. Barstow and concludes her little chapbook by saying that “Sometimes we begin by falling in love with a teacher and land on what we love.”


I expect that all readers of this post have teachers they would like to thank, teachers from their past like Alvarez’s Mr. Barstow as well as ones from the present like my sister Liz. If so, May 7 offers a good opportunity to do so. This May, let’s all “share the love” of good teachers everywhere.  


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2093744 by Wokandapix, used under the Pixabay License



This will be a brief posting as I am out of the country right now, sailing along what used to be medieval trade routes and learning all about trading patterns, trading wars, and cultural clashes of nearly a millennium ago. So I am learning a lot about the economic climate that surrounded the literature of the time, which I know fairly well. And enjoying every minute of this vacation!


Perhaps somewhat incongruously, I brought along reading not about medieval trade but about very contemporary technological issues, in the form of Clive Thompson’s new book, Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World. I’ve been following Thompson’s work for a long time since he was an early writer in Wired, and I very much admire his Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better, which seemed to me an astute and prescient read especially of how young people are using technology today.


I’m reading the new book slowly, enjoying jumping around in it (the chapter “The ENIAC Girls Vanish” is a favorite!) and then going back to re-read passages that stuck with me. In short, Thompson takes us inside the world of the people who have changed our world dramatically in the last couple of decades; coders, he says, are “the most quietly influential people on the planet.” Thompson’s detailed and intensive interviews with such coders helps us to see well beyond the stereotype of the young white male slouched over a computer and wearing a hoodie. Here we meet the architects (including, to my delight, a woman) of Facebook’s news feed, a revolutionary set of code that changed communicative practices forever, exploring the psychology and mindset of this group, with their near obsessive attention to efficiency and speed. He also reveals their (growing) concerns over ethical issues, including the need to engage many more people of color in this work. Thompson sees these concerns as pressing, but he is generally optimistic about the future of code and coding, noting the need for what he calls “blue collar coding,” that is the coding done by ordinary people to help improve their everyday lives.


I still have about a third of this fascinating book to read, but already I feel I understand the culture of coding in a more nuanced and helpful way. So I’ll keep reading as I sail along the trade routes of the middle ages. Happy reading to you too!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1839406 by Pexels, used under the Pixabay License

Andrea A. Lunsford

Stylish Writing

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Apr 11, 2019


Those who read these posts know that I’m wont to talk about style and about its crucial importance to writers today. Responding to one of my posts, Tom McGohey wrote:

Took me years, but I eventually discovered that the key to integrating style in a meaningful way was tying it consistently to student writing throughout the semester, in daily informal reading responses and class exercises, and in papers. From day one, we discussed rhetorical situations and strategies. In particular, I emphasized ethos, and how style contributed to ethos, and how that in turn contributed to the impact of a piece in a particular rhetorical situation. With every reading assignment, we spent some class time examining how style and ethos affected their response to a writer and the advantages and drawbacks of a style. When and why did the writer employ this style in particular passages? All along, I encouraged them to consider their own style/ethos on the page and how they might make more conscious use of it. I encouraged them to imitate a writer’s style they really liked during in-class writing exercises.

Tom reported that such careful integration of style paid off and that “on the whole, students liked doing all the style work. It gave them a sense of control over their prose, and seeing an immediate payoff in their writing, even if it were just one small area like shifting from passive to active voice or punctuating a long sentence perfectly, spurred them to pay more attention to style.”  


I’ve had much the same experience with students over the decades, finding that taking time to get a sentence just right, to use an analogy to striking effect, to attend to the rhythms of prose, eventually got student writers excited: they too can “make sentences sing.”  So I wrote back to Tom thanking him for his comments and in return he generously shared an assignment he gives, called “Stylish Writing.” Here’s Tom’s prompt:

Rhetorical Situation: You’ve been invited to submit an essay to a professional journal titled Stylish Writing explaining your own development as a “stylish writer.” This journal is read by practicing writers who take a great interest in the craft of writing and who like to learn from other writers about the joys and frustrations of struggling to write well-crafted sentences. With your essay, you will be entering a larger conversation about the role and importance of style in writing.

Tom goes on in the assignment to give students a series of questions to help them begin to analyze and describe their own writing styles and to link their stylistic choices to the establishment of ethos and to the rhetorical effects achieved by those choices. Throughout the assignment, he encourages students to experiment, to take risks, and to have FUN.


This is just the kind of playful but serious assignment students can really shine on. Indeed it may be one you might like to try, or modify, in your own classes. Tom has generously allowed me to share it here. If you have an assignment that engages students with style and stylistic choices, please send it along!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1209121 by Free-Photos, used under the Pixabay License


I wish all teachers of writing could have been with me at the Hazhó’ó Hólne’ Writing Conference, held in late March in Window Rock, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation and centered around the theme of Revitalization. A project of the Bread Loaf School of English Teacher’s Network and funded in part by Ford, the conference brought together students and teachers in Next Generation Leadership Network (I wrote about the NGLN in a previous post) groups from Massachusetts, Kentucky, Vermont, Georgia, South Carolina, and the Navajo Nation to share the work they have been doing during the last year in their home communities and to write and perform together. This is the third iteration of this conference and it has been a true honor to participate.


The Conference was convened by distinguished Navajo poet and community activist Rex Lee Jim and welcomed by Navajo President Jonathan Nez as well as by Bread Loaf School of English Director Emily Bartels. Each day featured three “breakout” sessions that offered interactive workshops on How to Sing Stories, Telling Our Stories through Theater, Youth Voices via Multimodalism, Teachers as Writers, Imagery and the Sensory, Spoken Word, Writing for Healing, Story Circles to Build Community, Art Therapy through Writing, and much more. I learned so much more in two days than I can possibly express—experiencing the embodied Navajo songs and prayers and dances that stirred my spirit as the descriptions of community project and research-based efforts to improve conditions in local schools and communities kept me on my mental toes hour after hour after hour.


Hearing young people (most of them young people of color) talk about food literacy programs that are helping communities work toward sustainability, about free after school writing and sports-based programs for elementary schools, about oral history projects that are capturing the long-ignored history of African-American Atlanta—well, you can see why I came away with hope for our future, even in these dismal times.


Of all the projects I learned about, none was more important than that of Navajo youth reporting on the kidnapping of indigenous women. The student researchers shared horrific statistics—over 500 women missing or murdered in 71 locations just for a start—and showed how little has been done to address this epidemic. Most impressive was their grasp of the complexity of the problem, their understanding that there can be no quick fix. Rather, they are engaged in the slow, tedious, meticulous work of documentation and of raising awareness among those in power at the same time that they look for concrete ways to protect indigenous women in their communities.


Each day of the conference concluded with an open mic session as writers lined up to take the mic and share their work. Many read/performed pieces they had written or begun during the weekend, like a piece called “Pam Can Dunk.” This poem about a small town local hero who lost her life in a car accident a couple of years ago told the story of Pam, who loved basketball more than anything but whose father and coaches continued to tell her that “girls can’t dunk.” Beautifully rendered and delivered, this poem builds in intensity to the conclusion when Pam shows them all with an unexpected but totally powerful slam dunk all her own. The writer of this piece is still revising and polishing, but he plans to publish it locally as a way to honor the memory of this young woman whose story will now live on.


There were many moments like this one—not only poems but also short prose pieces, original songs, an amazing a cappella rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and even line dancing and singing that everyone could join in on. So a lot of pure joy mixed in with loss, heartache, grief, and, always, learning about and celebrating language and words, both written and spoken.


During one of our breaks, I spoke with a student who said she didn’t much like school (“it’s just all about tests”) but who loved being part of NGLN: “That’s where we get to write all the time!” she said. And this writing all the time had kept her engaged in school as well, even when she didn’t much want to go. I know how hard most high school teachers work to engage their students, to get them writing “all the time” in spite of administrative obsession with numbers and tests. It’s an ongoing struggle. That’s just one reason I’m so glad that groups like NGLN (and lots of others) exist to help out, to allow student writers/researchers/speakers/performers to do real, concrete work to improve their lives and the lives of their communities.


As this description suggests, NGLN’s central activity is the “organization and networking of youth-centered think tanks, where youth and their mentors gather, both digitally and in person, to design and develop strategic plans for individual and collective social action.” You can learn more about this vibrant, vital program on their website and check out the videos that are posted there as well.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2607131 by StockSnap, used under the Pixabay License

Brody SmithwickBrody Smithwick is the founder of Lion Life Community, a non-profit organization that offers educational services inside of jails in North Georgia. He is also a graduate student at Kennesaw State University working toward a Master’s Degree in Professional Writing with concentrations in both Creative Writing and Composition and Rhetoric while teaching First-Year Composition courses at KSU.


Let’s be honest, teaching how to compose and use an annotated bibliography is not something that often induces uncontrollable excitement in our students. However, it is a necessary and useful instrument to put in their academic toolbox. While the formatting and summarizing components are important, getting students to analyze and synthesize their sources is where the magic happensor doesn’t. In this assignment, we’ll take a look at how you can use podcasting to supplement your annotated bibliography assignments to get your students to engage in quality analysis and synthesis.


Background Reading for Students and Instructors


Assignment: Analyze and Synthesize Sources via Podcasting

Assignment Learning Outcomes

  • Integrate appropriate source material for a variety of rhetorical contexts
  • Read and analyze a rhetorically diverse range of texts
  • Compose a variety of texts using key rhetorical concepts
  • Synthesize source material


In this assignment, students will learn how to engage in quality analysis and synthesis by creating a podcast about their annotated bibliography sources. Put students into groups of twos or threes. With completed annotated bibliographies in hand, your students will pick two or three sources to discuss in the podcast. They will create a podcast script as a deliverable that also aids in ensuring the podcast runs smoothly. If you want, you can give them some stock questions to ask one another during the podcast that you know will guide the conversation towards strong analysis and synthesis. While not a necessity, I think this assignment works best if there is an overall theme to the class or if you group students together who are writing on similar topics. 


Assignment Steps

  1. Introduce the Assignment and Explain the Technology

Link your expectation of the production quality of the podcast to how much time you are willing to spend on explaining software/hardware and editing tools. Sure, some students will be tech gurus and produce something ready for BBC on the first go. On the other hand, many students will struggle greatly with the technology component. That being said, you can either spend ample time in-class or make yourself available beyond the classroom to teach the technology side. Or simply lower your production quality requirement.


Here is a list of the free technology and other resources I provide to my students. I let them use what they are comfortable with even if I’m not familiar with it. Instead of requiring them to submit their podcast via our university’s learning management system, I ask that they turn in their work via email with very specific instructions on what to put in the email subject and how to name their files. This method has worked wonderfully for me so far.


You will also want to set a time limit on the podcasts. You would be surprised at how long these podcasts can run if you do not put a cap on them. I require a minimum of 20 minutes and a maximum of 30 minutes.  


  1. Have Students Complete an Outline of a Podcast Script 

By giving students an example outline, or Podcast Script, you will get a much higher quality podcast, especially because not all students regularly listen to podcasts. While podcasts can often sound like two or three pals simply shooting the breeze on the latest trends in quantum mechanics, they are not completely effortless and take time to produce. In fact, my students are often surprised that a podcast script is a real thing. The podcast script also gives you a chance to provide feedback mid-composition if you have students turn the script in before they create the podcast. 


  1. Emphasize the Importance of Making Connections and Asking Questions

During the podcast should talk about how each source specifically pertains to their topic. Although they have already completed their annotated bibliography, their co-hosts will need a brief summary of the source. From there, you’ll want to coach them to explain how this source is functioning as a piece of evidence that supports their claim and how they specifically plan to use it in their essay. They’ll need to be familiar enough with the source to be able to field questions from their co-hosts. This where your stock questions can really come in handy for students that may struggle with coming up with questions off the cuff.  


An example of how a discussion may unfold could look like the following: If Jim’s essay “Weimaraners: The Intelligentsia of the Canine World” is arguing that Weimaraners are the most intelligent breed of dog on the planet, one of his sources for the podcast might be a book about William Wegman’s amazingly talented Weimaraners. Jim briefly tells his co-hosts that Wegman is a popular American artist whose photography and art of Weimaraners dressed in human attire gained him a considerable reputation in the Seventies and Eighties. His art has been displayed in the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney, and The Smithsonian American Art Museum just to name a few. Jim has made the connection that this breed’s high intelligence allowed Wegman to create the portraits he is now so famous for. Jim plans to use Wegman’s work as a primary example of how Weimaraners have accomplished feats that shaped modern culture and that no other breed could possibly be capable of. At this point in the podcast, questions from the co-hosts will typically ensue.


Encourage your students to go where the conversation takes them and to become curious in one another’s work. Let them know that they should feel free to ask questions or challenge their co-hosts arguments--respectfully of course. This assignment puts students in a position of authority, as they are the expert on their topic and sources during the podcast. Many students seem to thrive when given that position. I think they truly feel as if they have a voice and something to add to the larger conversation.



In so many ways, talking is composing. Aiding students in discussing their sources with their peers, without the presence of the professor, yields rich conversations full of more in-depth analysis of their sources. Students move naturally into synthesizing their sources when their peers inquire about certain components of their research project or source. The podcasts my students create are often full of wit, humor, heated debates, and brilliant insights. After completing an annotated bibliography and doing this assignment, the general consensus of my class is that they feel well equipped to tackle their research projects. I like this assignment because it can be dressed up or down depending on your desired outcome. I plan to always incorporate podcasts into my course designs going forward.

Andrea A. Lunsford

A Shoutout to DBLAC

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Mar 28, 2019


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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