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332 Posts authored by: Andrea A. Lunsford Expert


As impeachment proceedings advance, as conflict in the Middle East escalates, as candidates for president bombard us with television messages, and as Facebook decides that it will not even bother trying to eliminate lies and misinformation posted by bots and trolls, I keep repeating the lines of W. B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming.” Like many others, I have whole swaths of poetry inscribed in my memory: I surprised myself recently by reciting a Shakespeare sonnet I hadn’t thought of in years. But Yeats’s poem is one of those indelibly etched in my memory to which I turn with increasing frequency: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”


Yeats was writing amid the horrors of the “Great War” in 1919, but his words haunt our current scene. Today it seems that the worst among us are the ones whose “passionate intensity” is being heard. Many students tell me they are so distressed and confused by the torrent of what Howard Rheingold calls the “tsunami of hogwash” inundating us that they have tuned out: no news is preferable to passionately intense hogwash, they say, and with some justification. But giving in to that urge, which I often share, means giving up on what I have taught and believed in for 50 years: rhetoric as ethical communication. I don’t think we can give up; I think we must not give up. Never has it been more important for us to embrace and practice ethical communication, to model it, to analyze and explain it, and to engage with our students in it. Teachers of writing everywhere have an urgent obligation to help students understand the pervasive forces appealing to our worst instincts and to our worst versions of ourselves—to understand these forces and to build tools capable of revealing these negative and destructive forces for what they are. And to provide students with the rhetorical knowledge and strategies that can lead not to a “lack of conviction” but to its opposite, to what is true and honest and honorable and good.


As it turns out, the humble first-year writing course is the very place where such instruction can and does take place. As John Duffy puts it, “First-year composition is more than an introductory writing class. It is a course in ethical communication, one that offers students and the rest of us a hopeful alternative to our debased public discourse.” Duffy’s words—and the work of first-year writing courses and those who teach them—give me hope, and courage. As we move into this momentous election year, when so much is at stake for democracy and democratic institutions, we need to hold fast to these ideals.


Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 534751 by Fotocitizen, used under the Pixabay License


Last week, I wrote about Merriam-Webster choosing “they” as the word of the year for 2019, and then, serendipitously, I received my copy of Dennis Baron’s What’s Your Pronoun?: Beyond He and She the very next day. I knew Dennis had been working on pronouns and gender for, well, forever, and I’d even been able to read a few excerpts from the manuscript in progress. So I was looking forward to being able to hold the book in my hands and dive in. And did I ever! This book is more than worth waiting for: it answers so many questions I’ve had about the debate over the third-person singular pronouns and many others I hadn’t even thought to ask, and it does so with wit and generosity and grace.


Since the push for nonbinary pronoun use has been so much in the news these last few years, many may think of this as a hot “new” issue. Baron demonstrates that this is anything but the truth, that people have been searching for “the missing word” for hundreds of years: he includes an eye-popping sixty-page chronology at the end of the book to prove it, beginning with Robert Baker’s 1770 declaration that “he” is the first gender-neutral pronoun, through the OED’s 1871 blend of “s/he,” to Alfred Speltz’s early 1930s suggestion of “se, sem, serself, semself,” to Coca-Cola’s 2018 Super Bowl ad featuring the line, “There’s a Coke for he… and she… and her… and me… and them.” Singular “they.”


Indeed, it is singular “they” that Baron shows has had the real staying power. After determining that generic “he,” singular “they,” and a new coined term are the “only three serious contenders” in chapter 1 and demonstrating conclusively that generic “he” was never really generic (citing hilarious examples of legislators across the country turning themselves into pretzels trying to argue that generic “he” either included or, more usually, excluded women from exercising certain rights or holding office) in chapter 2, Baron takes readers along on a tour of coined terms proposed to replace generic “he”—and then to a fascinating discussion of the very important role pronouns play in many people’s lives, as he examines the politics and legalities of pronoun use in referring to transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people.


Then in my favorite chapter (5), Baron declares “the missing word is ‘they’” and explains why he has come to this conclusion. Opening the chapter with a quotation from rhetorician Fred Newton Scott,

The word “they” is being used as a pronoun of the common gender every day by millions of persons who are not particular about their language, and every other day by several thousands who are particular. (185)

Baron tells us that the OED “traces singular they back to 1375, in the medieval romance William and the Werewolf” (the werewolves knew!), citing linguists, philosophers, and famous authors (George Eliot and Jane Austen among them) who agree, even in spite of occasional ambiguity, and ending with an even-handed look at the pros and cons of both new coined pronouns and singular “they.” He comes down, however, on the side of the pros in noting “the worthiness of ‘they’” and concluding that “two things do seem sure: generic ‘he’ is stake-through-the-heart dead, and however you answer the question ‘What’s your pronoun?,’ nobody answers, ‘My pronoun is… “he or she.”’”


May generic “he” rest in peace. And may we all be grateful in this new year for Dennis Baron’s meticulous and insightful research.


Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 1798 by PublicDomainPictures, used under the Pixabay License


Every year I look forward to finding out what words will be singled out as especially important or noteworthy for the preceding year. This year, though, I approached this subject with special trepidation: given the events of 2019—over 40 mass murder “events” that killed 211 people, the highest on record; temperatures warming much faster than anticipated; lies and misinformation pouring out via presidential tweets; “natural” disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and polar vortexes multiplying; and news cycles reeling from one crisis to another—well, I just couldn’t imagine what the word of this year could possibly be. So many candidates, so little time.


Indeed, several sources named words of the year related to these circumstances. Oxford dubbed “climate emergency” its word (or phrase) of the year, denoting “a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and potentially irreversible environmental damage,” and underscoring Time magazine’s choice of Greta Thunberg as their Person of the Year and highlighting the youth movement she has inspired. Surely their work will grow more urgent and more important in 2020; Oxford notes that this phrase rose from “relative obscurity” to become one of the most prominent terms of 2019 and one of the most often searched for online. announced that “existential” was its word of the year, noting the ubiquity of the word not only in political news but also in popular culture, such as Toy Story 4, in which Forky faces an existential crisis in terms of his identity as a toy (or not).


These words and phrases all reflect the crisis-driven 365 days of 2019. And they are all well taken, and well argued for. But Merriam-Webster took a somewhat different tack, choosing “they”—used to refer to persons whose gender identity is nonbinary—as their word of the year. Noting that searches for “they” increased by 313 percent in 2019 over the previous year, the dictionary went to say that “English famously lacks a gender neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singular pronouns like everyone, and as a consequence “they” has been used for this purpose for over 600 years.” So singular “they” enters the dictionaries, along with “themself.” About time.


Of course, this word of the year also has big political implications since it signals approval of greater inclusivity and tolerance and empathy; it’s not likely to be applauded, much less accepted, by Trump’s base, though. But it is a big step forward anyway, in this 600-year-old search for a path beyond the he/she binary. Good choice, Merriam-Webster!


Which word of the year do you like best? Do you have a different word (or phrase) that you think should be word of the year? And more importantly, what do your students think? Asking our students to analyze and evaluate the chosen words and then to suggest words of their own is always a great writing prompt or discussion starter for the beginning of the semester. If you do this activity, I’d love to hear what your students come up with!  


Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 846089 by Free-Photos, used under the Pixabay License


During a visit to St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA, I had an opportunity to observe some student Writing Advisers (a.k.a. tutors) working with fellow undergraduates on their writing. These Advisers work in the Center for Writing Across the Curriculum (CWAC, which on this campus is pronounced “quack” —hence the little rubber duckies everywhere!). The day of my visit, the Advisers were working with students on an upcoming essay assignment, and they were using a strategy CWAC refers to as post-outlining: “the art of analyzing a work that’s already written, whether yours or someone else’s.” These sessions started with the Adviser asking the student to read the opening paragraph(s) aloud, and then to identify the thesis or main purpose. (In one instance, the student could not identify one and so set to work to draft one on the spot and jot it in the margins.) Next the Adviser asked the student to describe the function of the paragraph(s)—what role it or they played in the essay and how well it/they were doing. This process took some time, as the student writers articulated their major purposes and talked about how satisfied they were (or not) at this point in the draft.


The Adviser then moved systematically through the rest of the draft, paragraph by paragraph, listening as the students read them aloud and then asking them to identify and mark the main idea(s) in each one, noting unclear passages or ideas to come back to. The focus throughout was on the ideas, the major points, and their relationship to one another and the overall structure of the essay and the coherence of the developing argument.  At some point in the session, each Adviser asked the student to return to the prompt for the assignment to see if the draft was fully addressing it and considering how each paragraph contributes to that goal. If time allows (in the hour-long session), the students read the introduction and conclusion aloud to see how well the first leads to the second and how they create an “argumentative arc.” Finally, they asked the student writers to spread the entire draft out on the table (and at this point, I realized why they had asked students to bring drafts printed on only one side) to look at the entire structure, look for parts that might be out of place, check for transitions, and for “flow.”


When I heard Tereza Kramer, Director of CWAC, describe “post-outlining,” I thought it sounded a bit cut and dried, a paint-by-the-numbers strategy that could easily become rote and deadly dull. I still think that is a possibility. But the Writing Advisers I observed were definitely not plodding inexorably through this exercise in revising and rethinking a draft. Rather, they posed questions tailored to the specific draft a student was working on, making time for students to articulate and elaborate on their points while keeping their eyes on the big picture—what the draft is trying to accomplish and specifically how it is doing so. The student writers seemed pleased with the process, marking up their drafts, jotting notes to themselves in the margins, and essentially talking their ways through the entire piece of writing. I estimated that the students did 75% of the talking—and I was struck once again by the crucial importance of talking to writing development. In fact, one of the students remarked at the end of the session that she was beginning to think she could “do this on my own.” “But,” she continued, “it’s better to have someone to talk to.”


I had to agree—it is better to have someone to talk to, and a well-trained, experienced undergraduate Writing Adviser—at this college at least—fits that bill very nicely.


Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 3196481 by Aymanejed, used under the Pixabay 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


I recently attended the Conference on Community Writing in Philadelphia. This wonderful conference recognized many community engaged projects in which students move beyond the walls of the classroom to contribute to the greater good of their communities through writing. The vision of the Coalition for Community Writing supports:

Writing as a mindful, creative, and social practice, forged in community partnerships, to promote socially, economically, and environmentally resilient communities. We are reimagining how communities write themselves; how writing is used as a tool for public awareness and expression, for dialogue across difference, and for community building; and how higher education and communities can collaborate toward these ends. We envision a transformation of higher education to encourage impactful curricula and research as essential outputs of institutions that serve as a vital part of their communities.

I attended many thoughtful, passionate sessions in which teachers from a variety of institutions presented on writing projects that focused on immigration, homelessness, social justice and other important community partnerships. I was moved by understanding the impact we can make through including these kinds of hands-on learning opportunities in our writing classes. Many universities now include community engagement and service learning to promote this kind of involvement for their students as part of their institutional missions.


Digital writing and multimodal composition provide many opportunities for students to create artifacts that contribute to awareness campaigns for all kinds of community engagement. Students can work with their campus communities, community partners, and participate in online conversations through social media campaigns and participatory journalism. Some of these projects are ongoing and supported by our institutions and others are one time, limited projects that support an immediate community need. I have included examples in the resources section below for consideration and brainstorming. I have worked with many types of community-engaged projects (large and small) throughout my career that focused on different populations, organizations and community issues. Sometimes I have students come up with projects on their own and other times I come to them with established partnerships.


Here is one example of an ongoing partnership in which, over the past couple of years, my students have worked with an organization, Rescue Dog Games that brings awareness to the importance of pet adoption:

Rescue Dog Games brings these strong pet rescues and organizations together to bring awareness to the need in the Atlanta area “to adopt—not shop.”

This group works together with local and national rescue organizations to create partnerships and promote awareness for pet adoption along with an annual festival that “shines a light on the importance of pet adoption and encourages people to get outside and PLAY more with their dogs.”


For this project, my students collaborated with Rescue Dog Games and 20 of their community partners for a rescue dog event to promote awareness and create community connections between rescue organizations. Students created digital content for each organization to tell the stories of the organizations and to promote the festival. Each student created an interactive feature article and a digital story. The students worked in content design teams to organize, edit, and manage project components.



These stories now appear on the Rescue Dog Games website story page and are used by the partner organizations to showcase their stories and to promote their goals. This relationship with this organization has gone beyond this single class and semester as subsequent classes created digital stories of the event day and have started a digital story archive for adoption stories that feature individual dogs that have found their “fur-ever homes” in new families.

Background Readings and Resources



Assignment Overview:

Goal: To work with a community partner to create a human/dog interest digital story and interactive feature article written and produced to be used on the Rescue Dog Games website and in the Rescue Dog Games social media and other media outlets.


Interview and Visual Content Curation: Each student coordinates an interview with the community partner to research the group and curate visual content for the story.


Compose, Revise and Edit feature articles and digital stories


Content Design Teams will work together to give feedback, revise and edit the content to deliver to the client. Teams responsible for organizing communication, tasks, goals and deadlines. Teams create a Google drive team space to keep minutes of their meetings, curate images, storyboards, scripts, peer response and final deliverables.


Note: All content must adhere to professional communication practices including citation and attribution, sourcing of images (that are not original) and the use of copyright free music.


Reflections on the Activities

I have found that when students work with real-world community partners, their sense of engagement and ownership is increased. Not only are they contributing to larger conversations about important issues, they also get the opportunity to work in real professional settings that require them to shape strong professional communication and work ethics. They learn about deadlines, client feedback, style guides and professional collaboration. This kind of work also moves their classroom work into public spaces and allows them to create showcase pieces in their developing writing portfolios. More than ever, employers are looking for the kinds of skills students gain from these kinds of projects. What better use of our classroom time than engaging students to use their writing skills to contribute to the greater good?


I’m writing this post at a time when first-year programs across the country are being questioned. Unfortunately, same old, same old: these challenges come in cycles, every ten years or so, and they come to first-year writing courses because they (we) are often seen as “just remediation” that universities should not have to offer, or as sources of money that the university could use elsewhere on other, “sexier” programs. During my career, I’ve faced these challenges at every turn and at three universities: it’s pretty much always the same story. As I write this, my university is involved in a review of undergraduate education, and while I believe that under the brilliant leadership of Adam Banks and Marvin Diogenes the Program in Writing and Rhetoric will continue to prosper and to offer essential knowledge to our undergrads, I have watched as other parts of the University put forth programs that could “substitute” or “count for” PWR. Might sound good at first, but scratch the surface and you’ll find that these “substitute” programs are not grounded in rhetorical theory and practice and are not writing courses. And so it goes, as writing program directors and faculty continue to do work that, in poet Marge Piercy’s words, “is real.”


In fact, first-year writing programs have never been more necessary, more crucial to our students and to public discourse than they are today. Speaking to The Academic Minute, John Duffy, Director of the Writing Program at Notre Dame, notes the dismal state of public discourse so apparent everywhere, and goes on to argue that we have at hand the remedy for an onslaught of toxic rhetoric in—wait for it—the first-year writing course: “First-year composition is more than an introductory writing class,” he writes. “It is a course in ethical communication, one that offers students and the rest of us a hopeful alternative to our debased public discourse.”


I am grateful for John Duffy and for this “academic minute.” It sums up in just a few words the reason I define the rhetoric I teach as “the art, theory, and practice of ethical communication.” It’s why I put emphasis on ethical considerations in all of my classes, in my writing center work, and in all of my textbooks: because these considerations lie at the heart of what it means to be an honest communicator today.


Writing program directors and faculty know this in their bones. But we need to make this case more strenuously and persistently, making sure that our students understand it and that we are spreading the message throughout our campuses, especially among policy makers.


In the meantime, you can hear (and read) John Duffy’s “academic minute” here.


Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 3052244 by Studio32, used under the Pixabay License


I recently had the chance to visit a former student who now teaches at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, where we spent an evening talking about the research his students have been doing to study important local issues. In one of his classes, he engaged students in studying the cruise industry and its relationship to Juneau, noting that this small city of 32,000 receives “about one and a half million cruise ship passengers” every year. (I have been such a passenger; you may have too.) Most of his students took this state of affairs for granted and were grateful for the jobs created by the industry; most said they’d never thought much about it. That was before, however, they began their own research. Working in small groups, they began to gather data about the history and impact of the cruise industry on their city—on air and water quality, on quality of life, on employment and education, even on homelessness. They began to trace the web of connections between the desires of the cruise companies and local government policies.


As the progressed in their research, the students made use of Historypin, a not-for-profit organization that partners with cultural and civic organizations to help build better and stronger communities. According to their website:


We collect, curate and structure stories to bring people together, one story at a time…

Through our projects we bring communities together. We get people talking. About shared experiences. About their connections with each other. About the places they’ve lived, worked and played. About the history that’s alive in the buildings and spaces around them.

If you run our programme in your local café, library or museum you’ll unlock new connections and understanding. We can also help you present the stories on our interactive mapping platform


The students used this platform to “map” the connections they were finding, creating a dense matrix that began to reveal certain trends and facts about how their city was being affected—in ways none of them could have begun to imagine just a couple of months before. As their teacher remarked, “The act of ‘pinning’ constitutes a visual special tactic in that they make visible sites and experiences that are often invisible, unknown or disregarded.” In short, these students were becoming powerful researchers, creating new knowledge that could be of great importance to their community.


Their teacher, Richard Simpson, is at work on a long essay detailing this classroom project even as he plans for a new project on a new subject for the coming term. I will write more about it when this article is published. In the meantime, if you do not know about Historypin and its many programs, checking it out may give you some great ideas for local projects your students could take on.


Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 2650303 by piviso, used under the Pixabay License


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


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

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

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


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


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


Happy Thanksgiving!


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


Background Readings and Resources


Steps to the Assignment

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


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


Reflections on the Activity

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


Video Images by Kim Haimes-Korn


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


About this book, I said:

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford


On this Halloween, I am in Lawrence, MA, joining the Andover Bread Loaf group of teachers from Lawrence’s public schools and the students who act as writing consultants throughout the city. Founded, inspired, and led by Lou Bernieri, a genius if ever there was one, Andover Bread Loaf has changed the lives of disenfranchised inner-city students and their teachers, as well as those of students attending the super-elite Phillips Academy (Andover). We are here celebrating the work of these students along with high school representatives from several Next Generation Leadership Network sites, each of which aims to engage young people in taking on leadership roles and in writing and speaking their way into, and then shaping, public discourse.


I will write more about this thrilling meeting in a week or so, but right now I am about to ask the students here what or who they might want to “be” this Halloween. I’ve thought a lot about this question this year. Everywhere I look I see greedy, craven, corrupt people: no one out there to emulate. No one to look up to or admire unless I look very locally, to people like Lou or the fabulous teachers he works with. But then I thought again. And I was sure: if I were to “be” someone today, this Halloween, someone who represents the best of us, well, I’d be Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the “notorious RBG.”


In a Times editorial published a few weeks ago, columnist Thomas Friedman wrote of going to the opening concert of the National Symphony Orchestra:

At mid-concert, the chairman of the Kennedy Center, David M. Rubinstein, came out to greet the audience and the V.I.P.s. He welcomed the different ambassadors, then he went through the cabinet members present and then the Supreme Court justices. He introduced Justice Samuel Alito, who got a smattering of applause. Then he introduced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, seated in the balcony. First many women in the audience stood up to applaud. And then everyone stood up. And then everyone applauded. And then everyone applauded more. And then some people cheered. And then some whistled. And it went on and on and on.


It was extraordinary. I’ve been to a lot of Kennedy Center concerts, and a few when the president, sitting in his official box, was introduced. But I’ve never witnessed anything like the reception for Justice Ginsburg. And this was not a totally liberal audience. There were many older G.O.P. donors and corporate types there. This was a spontaneous, bipartisan expression of respect for, and longing for, a national leader of integrity and humility — after three years of a president utterly without shame, for whom no ethical red line has been too red to cross.


There is still a civic pulse in this country. (New York Times, Oct. 1, 2019)


If Friedman is right, if there is a “civic pulse” in the country and if there is truly longing for a “national leader of integrity and humility,” then I agree with him that Justice Ginsburg is such a person. On this Halloween, she’s my hero and the person I’d most like to “dress up” as. And not just that: she’s the person I want to hold before me as a steady, reassuring force for honesty and fairness and, yes, humility—and then try as hard as I can to “be like RBG.”


If you’re teaching today, ask your students who they would most like to “go as” on Halloween and why. This could be a fun writing prompt that leads to an interesting discussion!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1838545 by Pexels, used under the Pixabay License


I’ve just been reading Nancy Bou Ayash’s Toward Translingual Realities in Composition: (Re)Working Local Language Representations and Practices (2019). It’s a bit of a struggle for me—fairly dense in places, but I’m very glad I’m reading it. I was drawn to it by the cover (pictured above): who wouldn’t want to turn the page and find out what’s inside?!


The case Ayash makes for “translingual realities” is compelling, based on her own research in Beirut and in Seattle; the book is brimming with examples of translingual practices throughout. Because I know Seattle pretty well, I have especially enjoyed reading about the research conducted there, and one paragraph sparked my imagination in all kinds of ways. It’s long, but I think you’ll enjoy it:

On the walls of one of Seattle’s breakfast locations known for its twelve-egg omelets, the decorative collection of illustrations and accompanying textual descriptions patrons have playfully designed while waiting for their food as they mix languages, Englishes, language varieties, and visualization elements . . . portrays the city’s blending and bending of resources and practices. The flow of customers as they come and go, enter and exit that particular space has significantly expanded that canvas all the way to the restaurant’s entrance where the front door is now covered with graphic and textual creations. Bringing southern barbecue and brew to Seattle’s hip Ballard neighborhood, a counter service joint in a former barbecue wasteland is known not only for its smoky fall-off-the-bone-style ribs but also for the availability of writable chalkboard walls in its restrooms, with customers mobilizing meaning and language resources as they move in and out. At another jam-packed restaurant large enough to accommodate only ten tables, its whiteboard side wall is an open invitation to its primarily Spanish-speaking clientele usually on a one- to two-hour wait to grab black markers, search for blank surfaces, write, and draw on that fluid canvas. Covered with dry-erase paint, the interior walls of this Mexican steakhouse are adorned with Spanish, English, and Spanglish used in an interwoven mix to depict local experiences of and connections with the transnational migration of the culinary gene pool of the northwestern Sinaloa region across the US/Mexican border all the way to the Pacific Northwest region. (105)


Wow, what a scene! I love thinking about these restaurant-goers becoming authors and artists on the spot, mixing it up with languages, dialects, drawings—expressing themselves with fun and evidently with flair. Now I am going to be looking for examples of these open spaces for writing in public places like restaurants, writing that definitely strays outside the “lines” of a page or screen but is not graffiti (or is it?). I can also imagine sending my students out on field trips to gather additional data first hand: I can see them fanning out across San Francisco’s Chinatown or South of Market, around Oakland’s Jack London Square and other places in the East Bay, in search of “translingual realities” and bringing them to class to examine together and to use as a means of understanding translingualism—and not just understanding it better, but practicing it ourselves. And to go further, asking how these translingual realities relate to the writing they are doing in college and to ask how such realities might work to engage and influence that writing.


So thanks to Nancy Bou Ayash for taking me on this ride: I am now looking for “translingual realities” everywhere!


Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford

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


The idea of using music in my classes sounds simple enough but has had an amazing impact on my teaching over the years. Music and audio are important (often under emphasized) components of multimodal composition and digital content creation. Today, I want to talk about some of the ways I have used music in my classes and describe a particular assignment: The Class Playlist


I often ask students to analyze music as literature, look at lyrics through critical lenses, and interpret context, intention, and impact as social artifacts. For example, I have asked students to analyze “protest songs” and look at their place within particular historical and social contexts. With the availability of videos and lyrics online, this project is easily shared with others, so students can not only read the lyrics but also hear the actual music and analyze other components of this multimodal genre.


My classes also often involve digital community engagement for real-world projects that promote awareness or advocate for social change. Years ago, I stumbled on this wonderful organization, Playing for Change, who identify themselves as “a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music, born from the shared belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people.” I introduce students to the organization and present them with one of the first songs in their series, a version of Stand by Me performed by musicians all over the world and then reworked into an international tapestry of their voices – a format replicated by the organization over the years. This song is familiar to most people, has an uplifting melody and message, and demonstrates a great example of the ways we might create engaging multimodal content through and with music.



By happenstance, I was presenting at a professional conference and had to test my technology before my presentation. I pulled up this same song to test the audio and immediately noticed that it drew people into presentation and that it changed the mood of room, opening up my audience to hear what I had to say in ways that sitting in silence did not. I decided to continue to play it as participants entered as we gathered and set up the presentation. It challenged our notions of what we expect in these settings and used the multimodal component of music to affect the impact of the presentation. Since that day, I have often used this simple technique before I present. 


It was this experience that that led to my latest exploration of music in my writing classes – the Class Playlist. I currently teach a course that emphasizes digital storytelling and want to make sure students consider sound and music as important components of their multimodal composition processes. In class, we focus on students’ rhetorical and ethical use of music in digital contexts and the music itself as a storytelling genre.


We all love our playlists that allow us to curate songs in different ways. We can organize them around particular events, activities, or themes. In this class, since we focus on digital storytelling, I asked students to choose two songs that tell either a story (through lyrics and music) or that remind them of a story from their own lives (teachers can easily adapt this idea to their own course content). I have students submit songs to a collaborative Google document and then a move them to an online playlist app (Spotify). Each time we meet, I play one of their songs as students are settling into the room and I am taking roll and getting organized. Once the song is finished, I ask the student to explain a bit of context for the song, including why they chose it for our playlist.


Background Readings and Resources


Steps to the Assignment

  1. Introduce students to the importance of music as a multimodal and storytelling component. Present examples and/or have students work with their own examples to discuss in small groups or as a full class.
  2. Discuss ethical and professional ways and resources for using music in multimodal projects including copyright-free music sources and citation practices. (See more about Encouraging the Use of Public Domain Assets.)
  3. Ask students to submit two songs (along with links) for the class playlist – you can organize the playlist around a course theme by content or genre. This gives the playlist a cohesive goal that reinforces class content. 
  4. Move the playlist to an online app (e.g. Spotify) that curates and organizes the songs.
  5. Play selections from the list at the start of each class each day.
  6. Have students explain a bit of context for the song, including why they chose it and connect it to course content.


Reflection on the Activity

The class playlist activity takes a short amount of time and energy to incorporate into my classes. It allows me to focus attention on the importance and significance of music for multimodal composition and has the additional impact of altering the mood of the classroom to open students to a better atmosphere for learning. It takes them away from other distracting thoughts, helps focus attention on the class ahead and provides an alternate way of extending upon and enriching class content. It also provides a sense of ownership and agency in the class, in which students collaboratively create a playlist for our particular situation – another digital literacy skill. Many hear songs they have not heard before and add the playlist to their own collection as a memory of the class and these contributions. It sounds so simple but I am humbly impressed by the impact of this practice.