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284 Posts authored by: Andrea A. Lunsford Expert


“I heard it on NPR” is an often-spoken truth among my friends, as we tend to listen to our local stations and compare notes. Recently, I “heard on NPR” a story about a bridal boutique in England that put a wedding-dressed mannequin sitting in a wheelchair in their window display. The store itself didn’t seem to think the display was “a big deal.” But a lot of people who saw it disagreed. One woman, who uses a wheelchair, tweeted:

Her tweet went viral as people around the world tweeted and reposted. As the shop’s co-owner said, their display had created “an absolute frenzy and this outpouring of messages on this debate that more shops should follow suit.” Indeed. I expect (and hope) that more shops everywhere will follow the lead of this bridal boutique.


But I was taken with this story because of a serendipitous coincidence: as I was listening to NPR in the background, I was working on a revision of one of my textbooks, The Everyday Writer, and in particular on a section dealing with language and identity. I was working with an illustration that’s been created for the new edition showing a young woman in the foreground at a protest rally—using a wheelchair. The speech bubble above her head says “I am a bilingual woman and a student activist.” I’m asking students to look at the illustration and analyze it for what it says about language and identity—and then asking them to think carefully about what words and images they would choose to illustrate their own identities—and to take a careful look at the words they tend to use to describe the identities of others: what assumptions may underlie those word choices?


With this particular image, I ask students to begin by observing it attentively. Then, make some notes, answering these questions: What is your eye first drawn to, and why? What is in the background of the illustration, and how does the background inform the image in the foreground? How would you describe the mood or atmosphere of the illustration? How does color contribute to establishing that mood? How would you describe the facial expression of the woman in the foreground? Look again at the speech bubbles: what words has the person chosen to describe herself? What do those words suggest about what she identifies with? How might the words differ from what you might have expected, and why? 


So perhaps textbooks will join Britain’s bridal shop in depicting people as people, rather than people with disabilities. If so, I’m very happy to be in their company!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2588238 by StockSnap, used under the Pixabay License


As always at this time of year, I’m checking to see what words have been called out as especially characteristic or indicative of the year we have just endured. The first one I came across was from Merriam-Webster, which chose “justice,” their Editor-at-Large Peter Sokolowski saying that “the pursuit of justice and the potential of obstruction of that pursuit are at the eye of the storm” today. Sokolowski goes on to note that people looked up the term “justice” in surges, especially around the time of the Kavanaugh hearings and the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, and during President Trump’s many attacks on the Department of Justice.


The venerable Oxford English Dictionary opted for “toxic,” defining the word as “poisonous” and noting that it captured the atmosphere in many countries this last year. went for “misinformation” for absolutely obvious reasons, as we are currently awash in what the dictionary calls “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” And the Cambridge Dictionary chose “nomophobia”—the fear of being without a mobile phone or being able to use it—as their word of the year.


Others weighed in with their own nominations. In an article for the Cleburne Times Review, Steve and Cokie Roberts lamented the government’s current “amnesia” regarding two important words: “debt” and “deficit.” They argue that “rapidly rising debt payments will squeeze the government’s ability to serve as a safety net for needy Americans,” that our government will spend more money on interest than on children in the coming year, and that the fact that half of our national debt is held by China and other foreign countries all means we face “a dire threat to our economic and national security.” They then choose their word of the year, saying “But when it comes to that threat, the word of the year from most official Washington is simply ‘silence.’”


Of all these offerings, I gravitate most to “toxic,” which seems to capture in five letters the sense of ill-will, distrust, and sickness—both physical and mental-- that seems to permeate the air we are breathing these days. So I could certainly go with that as a word of the year. But as I’ve tried to think what one word I have heard over and over and over in the past year, another one comes to my mind: “unprecedented,” meaning something that hasn’t been done before. I believe I have heard this word at least several times on almost every newscast I have heard during 2018, most of them attached to something that our current President has done—or not done. From “unprecedented actions on asylum,” to “unprecedented actions against gun control,” to “unprecedented move to install a right-wing activist on the National Security Council,” to “unprecedented number of unfilled government positions,” and to “unprecedented unilateral decisions affecting national security”—not even to mention unprecedented tweeting. During one evening news cycle during December, I counted 18 uses of the term! Of course, unprecedented things can be good or bad, but my informal survey suggests that when this word is attached to the current government, its connotations are almost always negative.


Maybe teachers of writing should get in the act, naming our words of the year and asking our students to do the same. I wonder, for example, how students would evaluate the words offered here, how they would define them, and what better nominations they might have in mind. We could do a lot worse than begin the new year with a careful and thorough analysis of words that characterize our current moment. For my part, I’m going to be watching Congress closely to see if they take some unprecedented actions that will help lead to justice and to peace.


What is your word of the year? Leave a comment below!


Credit: Pixaby Image 698538 by StockSnap, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License


I hope that teachers of writing everywhere are finishing up their last grading of the term, seeing students off for the break, and enjoying some quiet, peaceful, loving holiday time. While we all have much cause for concern—and alarm—at the state of our country and our planet, while many are suffering from unspeakable loss and pain and grief, my hope is that this holiday season will provide at least some bit of respite and some time for repose and rejuvenation.


Just this week I’ve finished reading Michelle Obama’s remarkable memoir, Becoming, and reading her words has given me many moments of respite from the cares and woes of everyday life along with great inspiration. In case you haven’t read it yet, here is the final paragraph of this fabulous book:

In sharing my story, I hope to help create space for other stories and other voices, to widen the pathway for who belongs and why. I've been lucky enough to get to walk into stone castles, urban classrooms, and Iowa kitchens, just trying to be myself, just trying to connect. For every door that's been opened to me, I've tried to open my door to others. And here's what I have to say, finally: Let's invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It's not about being perfect. It's not about where you get yourself in the end. There's power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there's grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.


I can’t think of better words, or better goals, to aim for in 2019. I’m wishing the grace Obama speaks of for all of you, along with good health and happy teaching in the coming year.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2953722 by rawpixel, used under a CC0 Creative Commons 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.


Compositionists have always valued reflection. The collaborative collection, Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts for Writing Studies (2015), identifies reflection and metacognition as one of the important threshold concepts for teaching writing. Kara Taczak, in her threshold essay, defines the difference between cognition and metacognition. “Reflection is a mode of inquiry: a deliberate way of systematically recalling writing experiences to reframe the current writing situation. It allows writers to recognize what they are doing in that particular moment (cognition), as well as to consider why they made the rhetorical choices they did (metacognition)” (78). Writers experience the most effective learning when they shuttle back and forth between these concepts that ask the questions: What did I do? and Why did I do it?


It is especially important for multimodal composers to reflect upon their rhetorical choices because it involves non-linear and multidimensional thinking. “The need for metacognition assumes special importance when writers find themselves required to work in unfamiliar contexts or with forms with which they are unfamiliar” (Taczak 78). When students are immersed in multimodal writing projects, they are working on discreet tasks but reflection and metacognition asks them to take a step back and look at a range of skills and a body of work. It also encourages writers to realize the value of the work they have produced, build on prior knowledge and transfer skills to other contexts.


We often assign reflective assignments at the end of the term that ask students to review their work in our classes and articulate their learning through touching back on the writing and projects they have completed over the term. I use many kinds of reflective activities throughout my classes but I find these final course reflections the most rewarding (for both students and teachers) as they demonstrate learning and create conscious awareness.


In traditional classes, students can refer back to and cite specific examples from their work, including quotations. When I assign a final reflection in a multimodal classroom I ask them to crosslink (internally) to their work and create an interactive document in which the reader can immediately access their coursework by clicking through to the finished documents. I have students compose these reflections on their blogs but you can also use any type of electronic document (Word, Google Doc) that allows for hyperlinks.


Background Readings and Resources


Steps of the Assignment:

  1. Prompt students to review and annotate their work, noting areas of success and struggle along with rhetorical choices they made along the way.
  2. Ask them to reflect, in writing on these rhetorical choices and support their ideas with examples, references, and quotations from their texts over the course of the term.
  3. Crosslink to particular examples that support their ideas and allow readers to immediately access their work.
  4. Ask students to include visual representations (images and captions) that represent their experiences as writers in the class and demonstrate digital literacies and multimodal competencies.


Reflections on the Activity

Evaluating writing is one of the most difficult things we do as writing teachers. I find that these final reflections provide closure and give context to student work while revealing the processes and rhetorical choices students make along the way. I always hope that students take certain ideas and practices from my classes, and this assignment shows me that they have a conscious awareness and can identify these lessons for themselves. They give me a solid overview that is substantiated with artifacts generated as part of the experience.  



Work Cited:

Adler-Kassner, Linda, and Elizabeth Wardle. Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. Utah State University Press, 2015.


I just returned from a meeting sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on the subject of strengthening undergraduate education. Led by Pam Grossman, Dean of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and Mike McPherson, former president of the Spencer Foundation, the meeting included scholars from many disciplines and universities as well as from foundations and other agencies. Topics ranged from how students learn best (active learning, evidence-based practices) to how to assess student learning, to methods for advancing “skillful teaching practices” and ways in which disciplinary organizations can support such practices.


At the opening session, speakers identified three major trends across colleges and universities and organizations: increased attention to teaching and professional development; increased attention to practitioner inquiry/teacher research; and a disconnect between research on teaching in K-12 settings and in higher education.


I came away encouraged about the field of rhetoric and writing: more than other disciplines, and often much more, our field exemplifies the first two trends and has answers to the questions the meeting leaders posed—along with a rich and now voluminous volume of research to support what we know. The intense efforts of teachers and researchers in our field over the last forty years have certainly paid off: in terms of questions of pedagogy especially, we are far ahead of other disciplines.


What I was most impressed with during this meeting, however, was the clear connection established between research and teaching. Anna Neumann from Teacher’s College reported on a study that followed forty university professors for five years following tenure, asking them how and where they pursued their ongoing scholarly learning: 66 percent reported that they did so through research, and 90 percent said that they did so through teaching. I was surprised by this finding because her study covered a number of fields—but it is exactly what I would have expected for the field of rhetoric and writing studies, though the 90 percent might have been closer to 95 percent!


Another study conducted at San Francisco State also caught my attention. This study was conducted as part of that university’s Metro College Success Program, which focuses on preparing teachers to practice what they call “social justice pedagogy,” which aims at truly inclusive practices, on presenting material through low-stakes practice and timely and relevant examples, and that recognizes that students who arrive “underprepared” do so not through some deficit in themselves but because a system characterized by conscious and unconscious biases doesn’t allow them to be “prepared.” The study attempted to measure the learning and pass rates of students in four different groups: a control group that received no intervention; a group that received supplemental instruction; a group that had small classes; and a group that had faculty trained in social justice pedagogy. The results: those in the control group had a 64.5 percent pass rate, which matched the average pass rate for the entire program. Those in the small group experienced a 69.2 percent rate, in the supplemental instruction group a 72.3 percent rate, and in the social justice pedagogy trained faculty group a 74.4 percent rate. Students who had all three advantages—small classes, supplementary material, and trained teachers—achieved an 88 percent rate.


Again, I am encouraged to know that many rhet/comp programs are already firmly grounded in research and that they work steadily for smaller classes, for excellent supplementary materials, and for ongoing professional development for those teaching in the program. But I also see many programs whose ability to embrace a social justice pedagogy is impeded by the dependence on more and more contingent and part-time faculty and brand new graduate students whose working conditions leave precious little time for training, much less for research. Nevertheless, the argument scholars in writing studies have been making for many decades now clearly holds true: the more research and teaching mutually inform one another and the more teaching faculty are engaged in research aimed at improving not what we teach but HOW we teach, the more likely the curriculum is built for student success. And that’s a goal all writing teachers embrace.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 918449 by Free-Photos, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

Dustin LedfordToday’s guest blogger is Dustin Ledford, a graduate student at Kennesaw State University working toward a Master’s Degree in Professional Writing with a concentration in Composition and Rhetoric. He teaches First-Year Composition courses at KSU and also teaches diploma- and certificate-level composition at Georgia Northwestern Technical College. Dustin’s experience in the technical college system leads him to specialize in professional and workplace writing, which he incorporates in his course design to provide his students with experience writing for a variety of genres and audiences.  


How often have you asked students questions like “How does this sentence sound when you read it?” or “When you look at this image, what does the author want you to feel?” Chances are, if you’ve taught a class involving multimodal rhetoric, questions like these (or some variation thereof) have come up countless times during lecture, office hours, or even in assignment comments.


What do you do, though, if a student’s writing is too verbose or too fragmented, but the student is hard-of-hearing? How do you explain visual rhetoric if a student can’t see the image because of a visual impairment? Would you be able to cope, or would you be at a loss? How do you think the student might feel in that situation?

This is a challenge that I’ve faced many times as a composition instructor: I have worked not only with many hard-of-hearing students, but also with students facing cognitive disorders, learning disabilities, and visual impairments. Instead of just accommodating, best educational practices encourage us to build accessibility into courses from the ground up. So what does that look like?


For a practical example, I’d like to share a lesson and accompanying low stakes assignment discussing visual rhetoric. This assignment takes the idea of a relatively simple accessibility practice — writing alternate text attributes for images — and combining that practice with analyzing visual texts. Due to the nature of alternate text attributes, this exercise can also help students practice concise writing.


Background Readings and Resources


Assignment Learning Outcomes

  • Students will be able to identify and evaluate rhetorical elements of images.
  • Students will recognize the importance of alternative text in making their texts accessible.
  • Students will practice concise, descriptive writing through the genre of alt-texts.


Assignment Preparation

  1. Assemble (or locate) two short documents that are dependent on images to convey their full meaning. These text can be as simple or complex as desired, so long as students are given adequate time to read each document.
  2. Draft a short, simple quiz for each document (no more than five questions) that includes questions which cannot be answered without at least a basic understanding of the content of the document’s images. These can be simple questions (e.g. “According to the text, what’s an example of a fossil fuel?” when the example is only pictured rather than mentioned) or they can be more complicated questions involving simple charts or graphs.
  3. Remove all the images from one of the documents. (We’ll call this Document A.) Additionally, if any of these images have existing alt texts, be sure to remove (and save) them as well. Leave the spaces for the images, and number the spaces.
  4. Repeat this process with the second document (Document B), but be sure to keep the images grouped with the appropriate document (A’s images and B’s images).


Assignment Procedure

  1. Break the class into pairs. (We’ll call members of each team Students 1 and 2).
  2. Provide Student 1 with Document A, and provide Student 2 with the images. Be sure to tell them not to share either with their partner.
  3. Instruct Student 2 to write 5-15 word alt texts for each image they were given, then give the descriptions (but not the images) to their partner.
  4. Have Student 1 use Document A and Student 2’s alt texts to complete the quiz on his or her document.
  5. Have students repeat the process with Document B, but reverse their roles (the student who did not have the pictures writes the alt-text for the other student).
  6. Review the quizzes as a class (or provide an answer key) and have students score themselves. Afterwards, have them look over the images from their respective documents.
  7. Have each student revise the alt-texts they were given based on their experience taking the quiz.


Be sure to take some time with students afterward to discuss their experiences, particularly in terms of how images were important for conveying ideas and how the loss of that resource affected their ability to grasp the full meaning of the texts they read. Ask students to volunteer some of their alt-text descriptions and provide some of your own for comparison. Discuss what details took priority in each image and how having context changed their understanding of each image.


Reflection on the Activity

When I recently taught a student with a visual impairment, I became acutely aware of the difficulties students can face in our image-centric culture. Before we discussed visual rhetoric as a class, I contacted this student by email and asked if she would be comfortable sharing her own experiences with navigating her readings (and the Internet in general). This became a learning experience for my class (myself included) because it gave us insight into how difficult it can be to lose out on some of the intended meaning of writing when authors don’t take everyone’s needs into consideration.


Additionally, while I am still learning, this experience taught me to rethink some of my teaching methods and even the language I use to express certain ideas so that it is more inclusive to all the students with whom I work.


What strategies, activities, or assignments do you use to make your class accessible or teach accessibility?


On November 24, S. Matthew Liao wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times titled “Do You Have a Moral Duty to Leave Facebook?” Liao, who teaches philosophy and bioethics at NYU, examines a number of reasons for deleting Facebook—for your own good as well as for the good of others. He points out the most obvious reasons: Facebook can be addictive and all-consuming and is linked to depression; it has played a major role in spreading misinformation, hate speech, and lies; and it has allowed others to harvest personal information for millions of people without their permission or knowledge.


Despite these problems, Liao ends his editorial saying he will stay on Facebook until it “crosses a moral red line.” In his opinion, Facebook has not yet crossed that line because it did not “intentionally” sell the data of its users nor did it assist “intentionally in the dissemination of hate speech.” Should Facebook cross that red line of intentionality, however, Liao says we must “opt out.”


Jaron Lanier, well known for his work on artificial intelligence and virtual reality, has come to the opposite conclusion. In his latest book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, Lanier argues that social media have programmed us, like Pavlovian dogs, to behave in certain ways and to be mesmerized and dehumanized in the process. Whatever benefits social media may have are outweighed, in Lanier’s considered opinion, by “catastrophic losses to our personal dignity, happiness, and freedom.”


Lanier opens his book by wondering why cats are everywhere online and that dogs are NOT. Lanier wants us to be more like cats:

Cats have done the seemingly impossible. They’ve integrated themselves into the modern high-tech world without giving themselves up. They are still in charge. There is no worry that some stealthy meme crafted by algorithms and paid for by a creepy, hidden oligarch has taken over your cat. No one has taken over your cat; not you, not anyone. (p 2)

Alas, Lanier argues, we are not like cats in our online lives but much more like dogs: domesticated, obedient, loyal, dependable, and susceptible to training. In a long discussion of behaviorism and its ill effects, Lanier argues that social media has strong behavioristic tendencies and that it is training us to lose our free will—and to like doing so!


The complex problem Lanier describes with the acronym BUMMER, which stands for “Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent,” has six moving parts:

B is for Butting into everyone’s lives

C is for Cramming content down people’s throats

D is for Directing people’s behaviors in the sneakiest way possible

E is for Earning money from letting the worst assholes secretly screw with everybody else

F is for Fake mobs and Faker society

Lanier takes up each one of these “moving parts” as he details his fifteen arguments for quitting social media, and he makes a very strong case. Indeed, it is bracing to see how social media, once hyped as the way to bring people together and give everyone a voice, is now out of favor with so many people, even those like Lanier who are Silicon Valley natives. Lanier is no dictator, though, and he ends the book with a softer tone, saying he knows he’s not the one to make decisions for everyone else and that “not everyone has the same options.” So he doesn’t demand that users abandon social media today but rather that they—and especially young people—explore what life might be like without the radical influence of social media. Such self-exploration could take many forms: “explore wilderness or learn a new skill,” he suggests.


But whatever form your self-exploration takes, do at least one thing:

            detach from the behavior-modification empires for a while—six months, say?. . . After your experiment, you’ll know yourself better. Then decide.

Writing about Lanier’s arguments offers an opportunity for students to begin the kind of exploration Lanier calls for, beginning perhaps with a whimsical account of how much they are like cats rather than dogs—or vice versa. And because the chapters are brief and very straightforward, each one makes a good text for a rhetorical analysis. No matter what they decide about his overall call to delete social media, Lanier raises questions that every student should think about as they come to deeper understandings of how their values and beliefs are shaped by social media.

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 998990 by Pixelkult, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

Andrea A. Lunsford

Listen First!

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Nov 29, 2018


If you haven’t heard of the Listen First Project, check them out! Devoted to mending “the frayed fabric of America by bridging divides one conversation at a time,” this project is currently celebrating its fifth year of work:

We believe in the power of starting new conversations that move from 'us vs. them' to 'me and you’ to turn the tide of rising rancor and deepening division. Listen First Project creates opportunities and teaches skills for conversations that tip the scales toward a stronger and more equitable future for our nation and better relationships in our daily lives.


You can read about Pearce Godwin, who founded Listen First in 2013 after six months in Africa taught him the crucial importance of listening to understand, and about Listen First’s team of leaders on their website. With over 150 partners in the Listen First Coalition, the Listen First Essay Series, and the National Conversation Project (which has grown out of the National Week of Conversation started in 2018), the Project now reaches hundreds of thousands of people across the United States and beyond.  


Their message is simple but profound: if we want to move beyond the divisions that are tearing at the foundations of our democratic society, we must learn to listen. Here are the strategies the Project suggests:

Listen First to understand rather than to reply
Listen First before rejecting a conversation
Listen First before dismissing alternative ideas
Listen First before launching attacks
Listen First to more effectively advocate your position


If this sounds a lot like what Krista Ratcliffe calls “rhetorical listening,” and it certainly does, it gives teachers of writing one more good reason to base their courses on rhetorical principles and to spend time in class introducing and discussing them with students. Rhetoric is founded on the concept of dialogism, of give and take, of two or more people working through issues together. The importance of audience in rhetorical theory and practice relates directly to this concept. I like to begin each course I teach with such fundamentals and with exploring how they are at work in our everyday lives. But these discussions need to inform every class that follows, as we practice what it means to attend carefully to an audience and what it means to practice “listening first.”


Fortunately, we now have sites like Listen First and resources like the essays and books of Krista Ratcliffe and others to help us do so. As we near the end of 2018, it’s time to invite our students to join the Listen First Project, to take the pledge to “listen first” and to spread the word about the National Conversation Project. As I am writing this post, I am also reading the new U.S. Climate Report, with its blunt and stern warnings of what is happening to our earth this very moment. Never have we needed the ability to listen to understand more than we do right now. So much of our students’ future depends on it.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2275202 by Couleur, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License


I am here in Northern California, where there are 80 dead and 1,000 unaccounted for in the worst wildfire of the state’s history. Air quality is bad; people are wearing masks. And coughing. Yet people are also giving thanks that, in this time of cataclysmic climate change, the loss of life and property was not even worse. Grace under pressure, as Hemingway once defined courage.


Many people this Thanksgiving week are working to bring food and clothing and shelter to those in need; food banks are reporting record numbers of donations and record numbers of people seeking aid. In my small village, our food bank distributed 58 turkeys and as many hams, along with staples and fresh vegetables—and a few treats for kids.


As always, I am grateful for family and friends. And as always, I am most thankful for students, for young people everywhere who give me—every single day—reason to hope. Here’s a poem of thanks for them, and for all of you: “When Giving Is All We Have” by Alberto Ríos.


Happy Thanksgiving to all.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1768857 by Sabrina_Ripke_Fotografie, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

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


Writing teachers have always valued research and critical thinking as a primary part of our mission, but research in our world today is a completely new game where we have access to thousands of sources at the click of a mouse.  Before, we could engage easily with digital sources, with much of our instruction focused on the location of sources and long hours through the library stacks. Now, teachers shift attention to the selection and critical evaluation of sources and repurposing of information for new rhetorical situations. Student researchers also now consume information and shape perspectives through multimodal sources such as images, videos, podcasts, and other digital texts. We hope that students learn to select and evaluate these sources as well as represent their ideas through multimodal formats.


Over the years, I have included infographics in my classes in a variety of ways. I have used them to help students examine their collaborative processes, generate discussion, compare perspectives, and present complex information to others through visual representation. The human brain processes visual information with alarming speed, which makes infographics a powerful way to communicate information and concepts. Infographics do not have to replace traditional research writing. Instead, they can enhance research practices and challenge students to remix and represent information in new ways. When students follow paths of inquiry they must select, analyze, and synthesize information for their own purposes. The infographic assignment amplifies these skills and draws upon multimodal texts and visual communication.


Background Readings and Resources


Steps of the Assignment

  1. Have students choose a research subject or question of their own interest. Ask them to locate at least 3 purposeful sources on their subject. This is a good time to review how to find and evaluate sources along with citation and documentation practices. Students can write up their research, paying close attention to how they are locating themselves in their collected perspectives. Take these writings through whatever drafting and peer response you would normally require for this kind of assignment.
  2. Next, introduce the genre of the infographic. Students can access an abundance of examples through a quick image search and discuss the ways they visually represent information. They can work in small groups to compare, generate ideas, and list conventions and variations in the genre.
  3. Challenge students to create their own infographics to represent their research. They have to review the information and sources they collected from their generated research and choose what is most important to represent. They also need to consider the impact of their information to understand how they might emphasize certain ideas through information hierarchy and design through size, position, color, contrast, and other forms of visual rhetoric. This assignment asks them to explore the relationship between form and content as they choose particular shapes and backgrounds that further communicate their meanings.
  4. Although students can design their infographics from scratch, I generally recommend that they use available digital infographic generators such as Piktochart, Canva or other free software. These programs offer students a multitude of choices to express their ideas and allow for easy visual representation of information such as charts, graphs and a slew of images from which to select.
  5. Once they create their infographics, assemble students into peer response groups to generate feedback towards revision. Have students compose their own criteria for response based on their earlier discussion about conventions of the genre. Include rhetorical and visual components and information hierarchy as part of their discussion. Remind them to include source information through proper documentation practices.
  6. Students can insert these revised infographics into their research papers or present them to the class (or both) to explain their research. They can also act as stand-alone artifacts. I usually ask students compose a reflective statement to articulate their rhetorical and design choices.


Jordan Sloan's infographic

Jordan Sloan's infographic

Resources: What can you do with an English major? | Roosevelt University 


Reflections on the Activity

I am always intrigued with the ways students compose this assignment. Students take on a multitude of subjects, rhetorical stances and approaches. For example, Jordan explored a relevant question regarding career opportunities for English majors. Ari, who is interested in the “inked arts” researched how tattoos are viewed in the workplace and Zach created an historical perspective related to the chronological development of cyberpunk.


Follow the links below to view these student examples:


Last week I had an opportunity to visit with colleagues and students at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. It has been some years since I was last there and I was amazed to see how the campus has grown—up to 65,000 students! As a kid growing up in Florida, I had only the U of Florida and Florida State to choose from (and Florida State was just moving to co-ed!), so seeing all the new campuses that have grown up over the decades is impressive indeed.


I was glad to see the Department of Writing and Rhetoric (no longer part of English) thriving and met some grad and undergrad students who told me the Department’s mission resonated with them:

Everyday life in the 21st century involves composing and understanding complex messages in multiple media and in varied contexts. In order to address challenges related to composing, rhetoric, and literacy in school, workplace, civic, and community settings, Department of Writing and Rhetoric (DWR) faculty engage in innovative research and teaching, often collaborating with students as well as community and campus partners to undertake this work. Additionally, as a department, we provide academic and public leadership on writing-related issues.
Students in our undergraduate and graduate programs receive a comprehensive education in writing and rhetoric that enables them to communicate effectively, persuasively, and ethically across a range of civic, professional, and educational contexts.

The Department offers a BA in Writing and Rhetoric and an MA in Rhetoric and Composition as well as a Professional Writing Certificate—and oversees the First Year Composition Program and The University Writing Center. I was on campus to address the Department faculty and students, and the person who brought me to campus thoughtfully let me out right at the door to the new building the Department occupies. I was to wait for her to return from parking, but once inside I spotted The Writing Center and made straight for the entry. The young woman at the reception desk welcomed me and introduced me to grad student tutors and gave me a tour of the light and airy—and spacious—Center. Throughout this post are a few photos of the Center.


From the Center, I got to tour the Department offices and take a look at the curriculum. I was particularly impressed with their outcomes statement and with their assignments for both Writing 1101 and 1102, especially when I got to read examples of student work. For the first course, I read essays that had been published in their Stylus: A Journal of First-Year Writing, notably Julie Wan’s “Chinks in My Armor: Reclaiming One’s Voice”; Shravan Yandra’s “Note-Taking Involving Native and Modern Languages: A Detailed Analysis of My Code-Meshing”; and Jaydelle Celestine’s “Did I Create the Process? Or Did the Process Create Me?” These essays engaged me thoroughly—they were well thought-out, well written, and managed to balance traditional research with personal experience offered as (powerful) evidence.


Students I spoke with were enthusiastic about the courses they were taking, which is always refreshing when those courses happen to be required. Writing about the program, one student said

The writing program is really a journey into the art and science of communication. I thought I knew what to expect, but I was utterly and pleasantly surprised. This isn’t your mother’s comp program—this is ‘take it to the real world’ stuff.


The day I visited UCF was November 6, mid-term election day. I spoke with students about their writing and how they hoped it could help them get their voices heard. Some had managed to vote on campus, but others who came from out of state had not voted: they promised to look into absentee voting in the future (!). But what an uplifting experience it was to visit yet another outstanding writing program, to know that in the face of so much negativity and division and, yes, even hate, that writing teachers are keeping faith, continuing to engage and inspire writers to write honestly, think critically, and speak their own truths.


Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford


I’m writing this post on November 5, the day before midterm elections, 2018, and writing with my heart in my mouth. Tomorrow, as I’m speaking to instructors and students at the University of Central Florida, our country will be making momentous decisions, from coast to coast, about the kind of citizens we want to be, about the kind of leaders we want to elect, about the kind of country we want our children and grandchildren to live in, and about the kind of language, discourse, and argumentative strategies we want our leaders, and our citizens, to adopt. To say I’m nervous doesn’t begin to describe this state of anxiety.


So tonight I am thinking of other times, other places, and specifically about the early days of this much-hoped-for democracy. I’ve had occasion to do so because this weekend I met my grandnieces, now 14 and 11, in New York for a weekend of theater. I had seen Hamilton when it first arrived on Broadway but not since; the girls had not seen it BUT know every single word of every song in the show, complete with accents and hip-hop beats. They were beside themselves with excitement as we walked the ten blocks or so from our hotel to the theater and waited in line to take our seats. The moment Aaron Burr stepped forward to sing

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
Spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

they were mouthing the words along with him, and they stayed on the edges of their seats through the entire three-hour show. And what do they think the show is about? They are pretty well up on the history, I was very glad to know; they have Miranda’s Hamilton book and read the essays in it along with his annotations of some of the key lines. Along with the rest of the crowd, they cheered when they heard

There would have been nothin’ left to do
For someone less astute
He woulda been dead or destitute
Without a cent of restitution
Started workin', clerkin' for his late mother's landlord
Tradin’ sugar cane and rum and all the things he can’t afford
Scammin' for every book he can get his hands on
Plannin' for the future see him now as he stands on (ooh)
The bow of a ship headed for a new land
In New York you can be a new man

(and a new woman too, they said). And later they stood and cheered when they heard “Immigrants: we get the job done!”


So they know some of this very complex history of our early democracy, and they understand that they too are immigrants, that all Americans except for indigenous people are immigrants. And Hamilton has helped them understand this concept and apply it to their own lives—and to the arguments swirling around them and all of us.


Whatever happens tomorrow, I will be glad to have seen Hamilton again and to have had a chance to talk with young people about what they see in this play, what they hear in its lyrics and view in its moving choreography. And to have thought about what immigrants have brought to this country, and will continue to bring if we allow them to. We could do a lot worse right before this election than to listen to—and really hear—Miranda’s lyrics. When I meet instructors and students at UCF tomorrow, I’m going to ask how many have seen Hamilton or listened to the soundtrack—and hope that a sea of hands goes up.


Image Credit: (Public Domain)

Milya MaxfieldToday's guest blogger is Milya Maxfield, an instructor in the Academy of Inclusive Learning and Social Growth and a writing center professional at Kennesaw State University. She has a BSW and an MAT in Secondary English Education, and her experiences working with individuals with disabilities inside and outside the classroom have shaped her areas of study, combining her love of digital spaces, writing, differentiation, and accessibility.


At its core, the Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth at Kennesaw State University and the Advanced Leadership and Career Development (ALCD) program are designed to be “fully inclusive” and help “students who do not meet higher-education requirements for admission” integrate into the general student population, giving them similar experiences and socialization to those of their peers. These shared experiences make an enormous difference as they leave college and enter the workforce (Migliore, Butterworth, & Hart, 2009).


I developed this Communication Story Assignment for the internship class that Academy students take in the first year of the ALCD program. A communication story in the context of this assignment is an easily customizable, generally digital tool that individuals with disabilities use to teach others strategies for effectively and respectfully communicating with them (Pouliot, Müller, Frasché, Kern, & Resti, 2017). Students work on this project for the entire semester, completing mini-assignments and homework every week. The final product in my class is a 2-4 minute video and includes four main components: an introduction, their story, tips for communicating, and a conclusion.


VERY IMPORTANT: If you are doing this activity with students with diagnosed disabilities, make sure that they feel comfortable self-disclosing. Reiterate that they only need to discuss their disabilities if they want to.


Learning Outcomes

Upon completing the assignment, students will be able to

  • Record and edit footage using everyday technologies, such as their phones and tablets.
  • Advocate for themselves using their Communication Story to negotiate a healthy and productive working environment.

Note: Learning outcomes may vary beyond these initial two because scaffolding and differentiation are critical to this assignment’s success.


Background Reading for Students and Instructors

  • The St. Martin's Handbook: 16d, "Considering Visuals and Media"; 17b, "Writing to be Heard and Remembered"; 17d, "Practicing the Presentation"
  • The Everyday Writer (also available with Exercises): 3b, "Plan your Text's Topic and Message"; 3c, "Consider your Purpose and Stance as a Communicator"; 3e, "Think about Genres and Media"; 3f, "Consider Language and Style"
  • EasyWriter (also available with Exercises): 1c, "Considering the Assignment and Purpose"; 1e, "Reaching Appropriate Audiences"; 1g "Considering Time, Genre, Medium, and Format"



Prewriting and Planning

  1. On the first day of class, we have a class discussion about what my students find challenging in their internships and jobs, particularly those difficulties which involve communication (and miscommunication).
  2. I show my students two videos: Disability Sensitivity Training and Young Stroke Survivor with Aphasia: Laura.
  3. We discuss what components of the videos we liked and what we might want to implement in our own videos.
  4. Using the "Do This, Not That" Graphic Organizer, students write:
  • What people should do or not do when communicating with them
    Example: Use my name when you want to talk to me.
  • How individuals can implement these tips
    Example: Start a sentence or instructions by saying, “Milya...”
  • Why doing these things would help them to better communicate
    Example: Sometimes I don’t know that people are talking to me because I’m so focused on doing my own thing.
  • How it makes them feel when individuals accommodate these communication strategies
    Example: I know that the person really wants to talk to me and values what I have to say.


Write, Write, Write, Revise, Revise, Revise

  1. Students expand the “Do This, Not That” graphic organizer entries to build the first draft of their scripts:
    Example: When you want to talk to me, start your sentence with my name, Milya. Sometimes, I don’t know that people are talking to me and it seems like I’m ignoring you when I’m really not. Signaling that you want me to be a part of the conversation makes me feel like you value my opinion and want me to participate.
  2. Students are put into pairs and given a cut-up version of the transcript of the Young Stroke Survivor with Aphasia: Laura video. After they piece it back together, we have a class discussion about what information each piece of the script contains and why they decided to put the pieces in the order that they did.
  3. Based on the order and information the class decides on, we build an outline for what each section of their videos should include:
    Introduction: name, major, year in school, career aspirations, relevant interests
    Story: who they are, how they got there, and why they are making this video
    Tips: 3-5 of their best tips for communicating (either dos or don’ts) with justifications
    Conclusion: most important takeaway and a thank you
  4. Before students begin filming, they peer review each other’s scripts.


This is the part of the assignment that is most variable depending on what your final product looks like and which technologies you plan to use. Almost all of my students used the cameras on their phones, tablets, or laptops to record themselves. While some edited in additional content, such as pictures or additional videos, most recorded the video in one take and did not use any video editing software to make changes.



The number of ways to scaffold and differentiate this assignment are as unique and varied as your students, but here are a few suggestions that worked for mine:

  • Allow students to handwrite, type, or dictate using a speech-to-text program.
  • Provide a list of possible tips for students to choose from.
  • Use additional graphic organizers to help students write their scripts, especially the introduction and the conclusion.


Because this assignment was designed for an internship class, it needed to have immediate, tangible, practical application for the students. More than helping others communicate with them, this assignment was designed to help my students identify and address communication barriers in a proactive, productive way. On the first day of class, one of the things we talked about was how we cannot control how others interact with us, but we can choose how to interact with them. Most of my students feel hurt when they are treated differently, so they were thrilled at the opportunity to help others “treat them normally.” From listening to their struggles—and from struggling myself to find alternate ways of explaining concepts in class—I’ve learned just how much the environments they interact with are not designed for them. As I have searched for resources to assist my students, I realize they have to accommodate others far more often than they are accommodated. While I hope creating this video is indeed a learning experience for my students, I also recognize that by interacting with them and learning to see from their points of view, I may be the one who benefits most from the project.



Pouliot, D.M., Müller, E., Frasché, N.F., Kern, A.S., Resti, I.H. (2017). “A tool for supporting communication in the workplace for individuals with intellectual disabilities and/or autism.” Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals. 40(4) 244-249. doi: 10.1177/2165143416683927


Migliore, A., Butterworth, J., Hart, D. (2009). “Postsecondary education and employment outcomes for youth with intellectual disabilities.” Think College: National Center for POstsecondary Education for Students with Intellectual Disabilities. Vol. 1.


Have you seen the Heineken ad that aired in the UK last year, the one that ended with “Open Your World”? If not, it’s worth a quick look here. I’ve been thinking about this ad a lot during the past couple of weeks, as Trump lurches from one outlandish, chest-thumping, ranting rally to the next, as pipe bombs are delivered to leading Democrats all over the country, as anti-Semitic slurs and threats are hurled, along with murdering bullets, at worshipers. Is it possible, in such times, to open your own world, or to open anyone else’s?


Heineken thinks it is, and in the experiment that the ad reports on, they show how. Six people, with radically opposed viewpoints on everything from climate change to transgender issues, are put into three pairs. The people do not know each other and do not know what the experiment is really about: what they do know is that they have met and spoken with the organizers a bit, and they have agreed to meet and to build something together, using instructions given to them by the organizers. And so the pairs get their marching orders and begin to work, assembling tables and chairs—building things. They chat as they work and get to know each other, sharing sometimes very personal information: one man reveals that he has experienced homelessness, for example. Then they are asked to stand and watch a brief video, which features statements they made when first speaking with the organizers. One pair, a trans woman and a conservative older male, are particularly memorable: on the video, she reveals that she is transgender; he opines that transgender is “just not right.” After they watch the video together, the organizers give them another instruction: take two beers out of a cooler (it’s a beer ad, after all) and place them on the structure they had built together. Then decide whether to sit and talk over a beer—or to leave.


Each pair decides to stay and talk, and during that talk the man who had been adamantly opposed to accepting trans people says “I’ve been brought up in a way where everything is black and white―but life isn’t black and white” and they go on from there, the woman saying “Well, I’m just me.” They exchange information and decide to stay in touch. Perhaps the world has opened a bit for this particular man, and for others who participated in this experiment.


I’m hoping to watch this video with a class of students and ask them to write a reflection on it immediately after and then use those reflections for some class discussion on listening, on really attending to other people. I’d like then to come back to the ad after six or seven weeks and watch it again, and reflect again, this time noting ways in which the students’ attitudes and ways of seeing and hearing and understanding the ad may have changed or become more complex.


I’d also like to ask them to consider what difference it may have made that the pairs were asked to work cooperatively on a project together and that they were doing so face to face, in real time. Can they begin to think of their work in peer review or on collaborative writing assignments as an opportunity to make something together, to build a word-house they can all inhabit? At its best, such work can open worlds. And minds. It’s work teachers of writing are always committed to.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3737229 by rawpixel, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

My Life with Charles Billups and Martin Luther King: Trauma and the Civil Rights Movement. You will not know this book because it hasn’t been published yet. In fact, it might never have been published had it not been for the brilliant persistence and effort of Keith Miller, one of my heroes in our field. You do probably know Miller’s work—his books include Martin Luther King's Biblical Epic: His Great, Final Speech and Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Its Sources, and his essays on King, Malcolm X, Jackie Robinson, Frederick Douglass, C.L. Franklin, and Fannie Lou Hamer have appeared in our field’s best journals. And if you know Miller personally, then you’ll know that saying he is “persistent” is a vast understatement: an absolute ferret for information, Keith will follow a research thread to the ends of the earth—if it relates to social justice and freedom.


It’s this persistence (I’m guessing) that led him to Helene Rene Billups Baker, daughter of Charles Billups and author of the book noted above. Baker had never written about her father, a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement and a major leader in Birmingham whom King sought out for advice and counsel. She says she had never written about him—and had not talked much about him either—because of the trauma she lived through in her childhood and young adulthood, trauma that effectively silenced her. A near-death experience made her rethink that silence, however, and the result is this book, which Miller is publishing. A mesmerizing storyteller, Baker lets us see Billups as his daughter knew him, observe him as he takes on major leadership in Birmingham, fear for him as he organizes protests, watch with horror and admiration as he prays for those who beat, torture, and almost murder him, and tremble as he faces Bull Connor’s dogs and firehoses, telling them to “Turn on the hoses! Turn loose the dogs! We will stay here ’til we die!” As Baker tells it, her “daddy was shedding tears when he told Bull Connor that nobody was moving.” When the firefighters refused to turn on the hoses, telling Connor to “turn them on yourself,” it marked what some call the “spiritual climax” of the entire Birmingham campaign and illustrated the power of nonviolence.  It also left his daughter deeply traumatized and fearful, desperately determined to protect her father. 


When Keith sent me the manuscript of this book, I literally could not put it down: I read it straight through, and then read it again, time traveling back to Baker’s childhood and trying to see events through her young eyes. Baker is determined to tell her father’s story, to make sure that people remember him for the hero he was, and to honor that memory. And he comes to life in her pages; we get to know him through his daughter’s words.


I’ve been thinking a lot about writing assignments and have written recently about the University of Oklahoma’s program assignments, which ask students to (among other things) look closely at a group they belong to and reflect long and hard on how that group influences and informs their values and their thinking and their practices. I wonder how many students, in responding to such an assignment, which calls for meta-cognitive assessment and self-reflection, take a look at their family’s past, at their ancestors, as Baker does in writing about her father. I know, for example, that my great grandfather fought, in Tennessee, on the side of the North in the Civil War and that he and his wife had my grandmother when he was in his 50s; she used to tell me stories of sitting on their porch listening to him and other soldiers who had been through the war talking about those times. But that’s about all I know. What if I used the same persistence Miller has shown in pursuing research to learn as much as possible, not just about my great grandfather but about the regiment he fought with, the battles they were in, the Tennessee Smoky Mountain region he returned to, and its inhabitants at the time? What might I be able to learn that would help me think more deeply and critically about my own beliefs and values, about how they developed and where they came from? And how might that help me think about and try to understand the values held by other people and other groups? It’s a task I’d like to undertake!


I know that many teachers of writing encourage students to engage in this kind of self-reflective research that often includes ethnographic research as well as archival research and that such projects often result in the kind of writing that builds agency in students and helps them experience the power of writing to change them and to change the world. In these soul-destroying times, I can think of no better way to resist nihilism, not to mention deep depression, than to engage in such teaching and learning.


P.S. When Baker’s book becomes available, I will write another post on it; I think you’ll want to read it!


Image Credit: The Birmingham News via KKK savagely beat her father who then taught lesson in forgiveness (video) |