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297 Posts authored by: Andrea A. Lunsford Expert


BRAVO and KUDOS to Program Chair Vershawn Young and to Local Arrangements Chair Brenda Whitley—and to all their teams—for a truly memorable CCCC. I can never remember so many “must see and hear” sessions at every time slot. And thanks to all who attended this one, which is for the history books.


As far as I know, Erika Lindemann holds the record for attendance, with 46 consecutive CCCC meetings. But I can come close to that: since 1973, I’ve missed only one CCCC and that was in 2012 when I was in Vietnam teaching on an around-the-world Semester at Sea. So I’ve been to a lot of 4Cs gigs. In the early days, the meeting was pretty small: I recall Richard Lloyd-Jones in the 70s writing to say he needed “more proposals” in order to put a program together. Compare that to this year when each time slot offered between 40 and 50 concurrent sessions. This is just one small mark of how much our field has grown in size and stature.


I arrived at the Pittsburgh Convention Center on Wednesday, just in time for the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in Rhetoric and Composition’s celebration of the group's thirtieth anniversary (!) and the inimitable Cheryl Glenn’s exemplar award—and in time to hear four outstanding speakers. From there, the race was on to see how many sessions I could learn from.


When I close my eyes and try to conjure up the conference and its attendees, my mind’s eye focuses on the many young scholars of color I saw there. I don’t know yet what the total attendance numbers were—and I know that some people didn’t make it because of the huge blizzard and “bomb cyclone” that hit Denver and closed the airport—but I felt the presence of colleagues of color keenly and with great gratitude. I attended several sessions that put a spotlight on the outstanding work being done by graduate students and new assistant professors of color, such as “Black Disruptive Rhetorics: The Novel, the Pubic Sphere, and the Classroom,” featuring standout talks by Mudiwa Pettus, D’Angelo Bridges, Brandon Erby, and Gabriel Green, all from Penn State. “’Walk It Like I Talk It’: Performance Composition in Black Education and Beyond” was another session that held me spellbound, as Khadija Amal Bey (NCA&T) traced the changing labels used to designate people of color and introduced us to archives she is working with at the Moorish Science Temple of Philadelphia, and Landy Watley (Howard) examined the embodied performance of #blackwomenatwerk. I also took copious notes at “Our Liberation Wasn’t Never Gon’ Be Televised. . . Black News Ain’t Fake,” featuring Khirsten Echols (U Pittsburgh) on “Tougaloo Student Got Something to Say,” Brandon Erby (again!) on Mamie Till Mobley’s tactical work that kept her son Emmett’s name and image circulating through the Black Press in ways that eventually set the record of his murder straight, and Rhea Estella Lathan (Florida State) on redemptive literacy activism. And these were just three sessions that highlighted brilliant young scholars of color, who taught me so much in three days that I’m still trying to absorb all of their wisdom.


If this is a trend, it’s one that gives me a great deal of hope for the future of our organization and field of study. I’m grateful to have been a witness at this event and expect that many other conference-attendees feel the same way. I came away with renewed inspiration and renewed commitment to the work outstanding teachers of writing and rhetoric are doing every single day.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3964054 by rawpixel, 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



As educators, we recognize the value of experiential learning – learning that becomes deeper as students move up the ladder of abstraction towards synthesis, application and other high-level processes of thinking. The term, experiential learning, was originally defined by educational psychologist, David Kolb, as "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combinations of grasping and transforming the experience." So, it is not enough to simply have an experience. Instead, Kolb suggests that students must “transform” the experience through understanding, connecting and reflecting. He goes on to identify the “concrete experience” that involves hands-on, sensory participation and “reflective observation” in which we work to complicate and make meaning of our experiences. 


Similarly, in digital writing and online spaces, we hear the term “immersive experiences” that involve writers and readers into a “mixed reality” in virtual spaces. These can take the form of video games that simulate worlds, high tech VR technology, and interactive content, but we can broadly understand them as any virtual relationship in which the audience is actively involved through participation or engagement. Essentially, immersive experiences create environments that make readers feel like they are part of them through sensory or exploratory content. Since digital writing is also non-linear, writers can create paths of inquiry and exploration in ways that traditional writing does not. Even following a link, playing a video, or enlarging an image offers audiences some level of participation, exploration, and interaction. When we view content online, we often look for some replication of reality and opportunities to immerse ourselves in environments even though we do not occupy that physical space.


As teachers, we can offer students opportunities (fieldwork, community engagement, cultural observation, etc.) to get out of the traditional classroom and explore “concrete experiences” and have them transform them for others through “reflective observation.” The Experiential Review assignment asks students to immerse themselves in real-life experiences and recreate them (in multilayered ways) for their audiences. 


Background Readings and Resources


Assignment: The Experiential Review

  • Have students choose a place that they want to visit to immerse themselves. They must choose a place where they can physically go rather than reflect on a place they have visited in the past. Sometimes I encourage them to go to a place they have never been before and other times a place with which they are familiar. Students choose restaurants, museums, parks, and community events. I usually have them brainstorm ideas with classmates to come up with interesting and creative sites for observation.
  • Discuss ideas surrounding the “kaleidoscopic” nature of experience -- where things happen simultaneously and through many layers and perspectives (Britton). Bring in ideas about place and space and talk about the ways “experience overlays landscape” (Harmon). I introduce them to the participant/spectator relationship and the difference between concrete and reflective experiences. We identify different lenses for viewing experiences such as geographical, sociological, and psychological. Basically, we complicate the term, experience, and come with examples and strategies for observing their place.
  • Have students visit their site and immerse themselves in the layers of experiences. I want them to be aware of the environment, atmosphere, context and specific details -- to look at small details and the big picture (micro to macro). I encourage them to talk to people, take pictures, shoot video, and take written field notes along the way. 
  • Finally, students write up the experience as interactive content (blog, website, linked document, etc.) with the goal of trying to recreate the experience and immerse their audience. Instruct them to describe their experience, along with their perspective (review), and to include background along with their experience. Encourage them to describe the atmosphere and provide evidence and examples for their ideas and perspectives.


Assignment requirements:

Length: 800-1000 words (interactive blog post) 

Images: At least 3 captioned, original images

Links: At least 3 purposeful embedded links

Multimodal components:  At least one beyond original images (maps, article, video, etc.)


Composing considerations:

  • Background
  • Atmosphere
  • Specific Details
  • Evidence and Examples
  • Exploratory pathways (embedded links)
  • Supplemental Content Sections
  • Engaging Voice
  • Perspective/Critique
  • Captioned Images
  • Multimodal Components
  • Reflection/Connection
  • Layers of Experience



I use many variations of the Experiential Review assignment. Sometimes I send students out individually to discover their own places and other times I arrange field experiences for the whole class. Sometimes I send them all to one particular kind of place (restaurant reviews) and other times I engage them in “sense of place assignments” where they have to explore the multiple layers within a geographic boundary. I have found that students almost always enjoy these assignments because they push them to interact and try on new lenses for critical observation that gives them practice in interactive digital writing. They also enjoy the genre of the review that pushes them beyond a neutral reportage towards observations that include their own perspectives. I also have students share their assignments publicly with the class in which they share their places and encourage others to try them out for themselves.


Britton, James N. Language and Learning: The Importance of Speech in Children’s Development. Heinemann, 1993.
Harmon, Katharine. You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination. Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.
Kolb, David A. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Pearson FT Press, 2015.


When this blog posting goes up, I will be in Pittsburgh at CCCC celebrating Cheryl Glenn’s brilliantly deserved Exemplar Award and reveling in what looks to be the most diverse and exciting program in years: bravo to Vershawn Young!


I will surely be writing about the conference in the weeks to come, reporting on what I have taken away from as many sessions as I can possibly attend. But for now, I am thinking of Stanford’s students at this time of year: what I call the end-of-winter-term-doldrums. They are up to their ears in midterms and working furiously to finish up their research-based multimodal arguments that I always assign. They have spring break to look forward to but after that is the long, slow slog of spring term, which stretches well into June. So they are often in a fairly desperate mood—and could use some comic relief.


I was thinking of these students when my 14-year-old grandniece told me that she had finally gotten to see BlacKKKlansman and it was Spike Lee’s genius use of humor that kept her from screaming throughout the film: “it’s the most impactful movie I’ve ever seen,” she told me. I was also thinking of students during a Saturday Night Live sketch when the brilliant Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant could not keep themselves together and broke up while playing the owners of “Smokery Farms Meat Gift Delivery Service” who complained about way too many heartwarming stories about animals, like “Pig Teaches Deaf Dog to Bark.” The audience was in stitches, whether over the characters McKinnon and Bryant were playing or the fact that they couldn’t keep a straight face while delivering these joke lines. I hope a lot of students were watching in and got one of the best gifts of life, which is a good, long laugh.


I’ve found that loosening up the syllabus a little during this time of the term and asking students to have some fun always pays off by giving them some comic relief that can release some of the stress they are feeling. So we might take that joke headline from Bryant and McKinnon and write joke headlines of our own, comparing them to ones we can find in The Onion or fake/clickbait headlines we can find online. The funnier, the better. Trying our hands at parody can also be lots of fun: a group of students in one of my classes made a parodic video of our class that left us all laughing with and at ourselves.


At other times I might go for an imitation exercise, asking students to imitate an author they really admire (or really can’t stand) and to do so by writing the opening of a children’s story in the style of that author. Here’s one student (a chemistry major!) telling the opening of “The Three Little Pigs” in the style of Edgar Allan Poe:

It began as a mere infatuation. I admired them from afar, with a longing that only a wolf may know. Soon, these feelings turned to torment. Were I even to set eyes upon their porcine forms, the bowels of my soul raged, as if goaded by some festering poison. As the chilling winds of November howled, my gullet yarned for them. I soon feasted only upon an earnest and consuming desire for the moment of their decease.

This student had read four or five Poe stories, noting vocabulary choices and figures of speech like similes, and he read the stories aloud trying to capture some of the rhythm. Then he wrote his imitation—much to the delight of everyone in the class, many of whom tried to outdo him with their own over-the-top imitations.


Taking a light-hearted break from the grinding demands of the quarter system always paid off for me and my students. It gave us a chance to take a deep breath, enjoy some good laughs, and then return to the end of term rigors feeling at least a little bit refreshed. As Shakespeare demonstrates in his most devastating tragedies, some comic relief is good for the soul.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2193585 by Alexas_Fotos, used under the Pixabay License


Writing in The New York Times in 2011, Neil Genzlinger bemoans “the problem of memoirs,” opening with this notable illustration by Timothy Goodman. Genzlinger is ostensibly reviewing four recently-published memoirs, but he spends most of his time elaborating on four principles for would-be memoirists: that you had parents and a childhood does not qualify you to write a memoir; readers don’t want to “relive your misery”; don’t jump on the memoir bandwagon just because it’s there; and “if you must write a memoir make sure you are the least important person in it.”


This is not bad advice, but potential memoir writers seem not to have heeded it. In 2011, Genzlinger notes that if you want to browse memoirs on Amazon, you better be in a comfy chair since you will get 60 to 120,000 “hits” depending on how you search. Today the number is even greater.


Why the avalanche of memoirs? Genzlinger attributes it to “me-ism,” an age of narcissism. While there is no doubt some truth in that assertion (pretty much all of us, after all, like to talk about ourselves), I think it ignores other important factors. I first noticed the huge uptick in memoirs about 20 years ago and often commented on it and discussed it with my students. After years of worrying the issue, we came up with two factors that seemed to be associated with the rise of this particular genre. First is the resistance to what Lisa Ede and I have called “radical individualism” by theorists of many different stripes, who point out that the long-held assumption that we were the “masters of our fates, the captains of our souls” is belied at every turn, that we are rather shaped by forces far beyond our control. Hence “the death of the author” and the concept of “author functions” that so exercised theorists in the 80s.


These were frightening concepts to many, and the ensuing culture wars stirred up passions on all sides. Feminist rhetoricians and compositionists noted a bitter irony: just at a time when women and people of color were able to come to voice, establishment theorists told them that such voices were really constructions, not results of their own agency. And many in society at large felt vaguely that the concept of selfhood as they had known it for centuries was called into question.


In addition, the 21st century brought with it enormous advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, moves that presaged something like the industrial revolution on steroids, with huge categories of jobs being taken over by machines. As I write, Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur running for the Democratic presidential nomination, is criss-crossing the country, demonstrating in graphic detail how many jobs—indeed entire professions—are already being taken over by robots and other machines and talking about how to “save jobs from automation” while at the same time facing the necessity of introducing a guaranteed monthly income for all.


These changes are threatening on an existential level—to many, they threaten the sense not only of self but of self-worth. In such times, it is no wonder that we see signs of writers trying to reclaim a traditional sense of self, of saying with every new memoir published, “Here I am. Look at me. I count. I really count.”


Students today are caught in this maelstrom of change, this industrial revolution on steroids. But far too little of what they talk about and study in college acknowledges these realities or engages students in responding productively to them. That doesn’t need to be true of writing programs and courses, however. We are well positioned to tackle these issues with our students, to engage them in tracing challenges to traditional notions of the self as well as technological change in order to better understand the relationship between the two. We are also well positioned to ask students to write about their own relationship to these issues. They might even decide to do a bit of memoir-writing themselves, focusing throughout not on ME ME ME but on how to understand self always in a web of contextual relationships that includes other people as well as other important factors in their environments, including machines with which (or whom?) they may well find themselves engaged in more ways than they can imagine.


To pursue these ends, teachers of writing might well begin with a recent essay in Rhetoric Society Quarterly: “The Ethics of Memoir: Ethos in Uptake.” In this essay, Katherine Mack and Jonathan Alexander show how the concept of ethos “illuminates memoir’s rhetorical potency and its dubious ethics,” noting particularly the way that the over-personalization of memoir bemoaned by Genzlinger can yield to a critique that insistently embeds the ethos of the memoirist within “larger social, cultural, and political debates” like those I have been describing. Mack and Alexander put their recommendation into very good practice in an analysis of two very recent memoirs, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. They conclude that we need many more critical studies of memoirs and especially in the context of “uptake,” that is, how readers “talk back” to them: “At a time when the ‘personal’ and ethos are used to justify a variety of often contradictory positions, a revitalized study of the genres of the personal, such as memoir, and their rhetorical deployment, strikes us as more pressing than ever” (68).


Mack and Alexander’s astute analysis will give teachers of writing a lot to think about—and provide another way to engage students in examining, critically, the “problem of memoirs.”


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1149959 by Free-Photos, used under the Pixabay License

Bohannon HeadshotToday’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law Bohannon, an Associate Professor of English and the Interim Director of Composition at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth through authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies; cultivating community engagement pedagogies; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at and her KSU Faculty Page.


As I have reflected on some recent tweets calling out Spike Lee for his Oscar acceptance speech, I’ve also thought Atlanta Student Movement Signabout how we, as teachers of writing, can affect positive rhetorical growth for our students as they too reflect on social justice and turning their thoughts into scholarly action. Our students depend on us to provide mentoring and writing opportunities that help them engage at cultural points of need. In today’s post, I want to invite readers to check out and contribute to an assignment series that engages students as public, digital researchers with a topic connected to civil and human rights.


Context for Assignment

By researching historical civil rights movements and then developing digital content curating the rhetorical activities within these movements, students gain a deeper understanding of human struggles and are able to insert their own voices into recovering and analyzing them for 21st-century contexts.


Measurable Learning Objectives for the Assignment

  • Investigate a civil or human rights campaign
  • Apply peer review as recursive writing process
  • Create digital texts in a blogging genre for public audiences


Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in dialogic, digital writing assignments. Below, I have listed a few foundational texts. You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.



Digital Deliverables for Classroom Use


In-Class/Out-of-Class Work

Students watch excerpts from a Civil Rights History video to introduce them to some key people and places connected to the 1960s movement. As a class group, students then choose two topics connected to the movement. Our class chose the Rich's Department Store sit-ins in Atlanta. Then, students diAtlanta Sit-Insvide into groups to craft two blog posts per group on people and places connected to their chosen civil rights topic (from either of the above sources), using the Blogging Guidelines. Drafting blog content can occur outside of class, but revision and editing are best-completed in-class. Use the Feedback Checklist to maximize effective peer time. If you can't get a computer lab (a frequent occurrence on my campus), host a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) day. Some of my students' best revisions are made on their tablets and phones! Budget time for at least one revision and two editing sessions, where students collaborate to research and insert tags, refine their conversational tones, design multimodal elements, check for accessibility and even integrate SEO analytics. 


This assignment lends itself to digital, democratic learning and unique contributions across types of classes, because students choose their methods of composition, reflect on their process, and have the opportunity to present their work to their peers and publics. 


Student Blog Examples


Check More Out...

Our class took these blogs a bit further and curated all of the blogs into a website: Anyone Sitting Here. Please also view a sample page: The Rhetorical Activism of Lonnie King. If your students have more content to add to our website, send it along, and we'll help get it published!

Our Reflections and Continued Work

Our class community engaged authentically with this assignment and it generated sustained work, writing and designing texts. The work brought all twenty of us together as a group, each person contributing expertiseAtlanta Student Movement Project and learning from everyone else. Our research has resulted in a living digital archive and a student-produced visual timeline of the Movement’s genesis (special thanks to Kelly Key, John Phelps, and Madison Urquart). As Andrea Lunsford has taught us: our writing is valuable when we share it with the world. Try this assignment and get in touch with us to contribute to our academic website



Want to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post? Join the Macmillan Community to get involved (it’s free, quick, and easy)!

Andrea A. Lunsford

Pay Attention!

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Feb 28, 2019


It’s no secret that I am a fan of style and of teaching style, the third canon of rhetoric and, by any measure, an extremely important one today. So I’ve focused on style in all my textbooks and done a fair amount of research and reading about the history of style and about the fusion of style and “content.” More recently, I’ve thought long and hard about why style seems so important to me today and so necessary to teach our students to think about and to experiment with.


I’ve been deeply impressed with rhetorician Richard Lanham’s The Economics of Attention, which I’ve read twice and refer to often: in that book, Lanham argues that style is of the utmost importance to writing and speaking today because it is through style that we can get and hold an audience’s attention. Lanham traces the move from a “stuff” economy (think industrial revolution, Fordist principles, and manufacturing) to a “fluff” economy that deals not so much in concrete material objects but in immaterial ideas and information. Add to this shift the enormous changes wrought by technology, changes that make information more available to us than ever before, and the problem Lanham discusses comes into view: the ideas and information that will be effective and successful (often in monetary terms) are those that people attend to. Thus the “economics of attention” Lanham sees at work everywhere today. His analysis is astute and his advice straightforward: if you want to be heard in today’s society, you have to get people’s attention. And the major tool you have to do so is style.


Media consultant Howard Rheingold also writes extensively about the difficulty of getting and holding attention in Net Smart, another book I have learned a great deal from reading and studying. These two books are fairly old now, but they still strike me as prescient and accurate. Now I see “attention” commanding attention everywhere. In a recent issue of Wired, James Vlahos notes that “[In] the economics of the online world, …attention is everything,” and everyone from business CEOs to medical practitioners are talking about the “crisis” of being able to get their messages across and to capture the attention of audiences. Some of these folks are simply interested in building the bottom line or in making more and more money. But not all. Vlahos, for example, worries that the tech world’s search for “the perfect single answer” promised by Alexa and Echo and company (not quite there yet, Vlahos says, but very close) will reduce options and leave us at the mercy of single answers that have been chosen for us—and in that way choosing what we are able to pay attention to. Others like Lanham and Rheingold worry about how the truth (small “t”) can hold its own in getting attention with clickbait and lies.


As teachers of writing, we have a big stake in these debates and discussions, as do our students. In the long run, rhetoricians and compositionists need to be in on this conversation, carrying out research that can contribute to it in important ways. In the shorter run, we need to alert our students to the issues and especially to the need for them to focus on style as a means of getting and holding attention, and thus of having a chance to get their voices out there where they can and will be heard. Luckily, we know a lot about rhetorical strategies that can help command attention: everything from crafting electrifying titles and opening sentences to syntactic structures and word choices that pull readers/listeners along, to the use of visuals and graphics to hold attention, to the power of figurative language, and to the equal power of silence.


Still, I find that many teachers of writing say that there’s just no time to focus on style, that helping students with invention, with critical thinking, with organizational frameworks and drafting—all time-consuming and very important goals—seem more fundamental than style. I think it’s time, though, to question this assumption and to look at style as inseparable from inventing, thinking critically, drafting, and organizing. And then to create curricula that allow for this integration.


I would very much like to hear responses to these ideas and especially to hear of ways in which teachers of writing are already responding to the move I’m calling for. Please leave a comment below or write back to me directly at And thank you!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2365812 by rawpixel, used under the Pixabay License


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about style and delivery. Listening to the President’s hour-long rambling, free-associating announcement of a “national emergency,” I wondered again how his style—bullying, belligerent, antagonistic, dogmatic, and clipped (he often speaks in tweets)—seems to appeal to so many people. And yet it clearly does appeal to many, who seem eager if not to be bullied then to be told what to think, do, and believe. Elsewhere I’ve analyzed passages of his speeches, which reveal that he speaks on about a third or fourth-grade level, using a limited vocabulary, relying on stoking fears of “others,” and using tropes like paralipsis or occultatio (saying what you intend to say by insisting you won’t say it).


It’s surely worth asking our students to carry out analyses of style and delivery (looking at not only the words, phrases, images, figures of speech, and so on, but at body language as well) both in order to sharpen their critical skills and to help them analyze their own styles and patterns of delivery. Many writing centers now even provide ways for students to get presentations video-taped so that they can analyze these performances, often with the help of a speaking/presenting consultant.


On a recent visit to Stockholm, I was reminded of a very different kind of style and delivery: that used by teenager Greta Thunberg in her call to arms against the deadly emissions that are affecting the environment. You have probably heard of Thunberg—a sixteen-year-old (who started her campaign two years ago) who leaves school every Friday in Stockholm to sit in front of the Swedish parliament, admonishing leaders to act.


Thunberg is sitting in this photo, but she is more often standing and delivering speeches that challenge those listening to her to act. Speaking softly and clearly, enunciating every word (and often speaking in her second or third language, English), she has a message that is anything but soft. Like America’s current president, she uses repetition—but not like a baseball bat and instead like a drumbeat that intensifies in urgency as she moves through her talk. Take a look, for instance, at a speech she delivered to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year. (She got there after an arduous train trek since she refuses to use the emissions-heavy airlines, and she noted the hypocrisy of those who come in “private jets” to talk about what they are doing to reduce emissions.) You can find a transcript and watch clips of the speech here, but for now here is a brief excerpt of the beginning and end of her speech:

Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire...


Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want our hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.


I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.


There is much to talk about in her speech: the explicit, plain language that makes her message absolutely and unequivocally clear. The very short sentences (like the last one, “Because it is.”) offset by some as long as 40 words that help achieve a dynamic and steady rhythm. The use of direct address (“I want you to act.”). The stark contrast between ineffective, dithering “adults” and young people on a mission. And, again, the use of repetition, which she uses throughout but perhaps most notably in the last part of the speech: “I don’t want; I don’t want” followed by “I want,” “I want,” “I want,” “I want,” “I want.” Thunberg stands straight and tall before her audience, looking directly at them and speaking as if without notes. “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” Here her use of repetition is artful, expressive, intensifying with each clause. Soft spoken, steady, often understated—but carrying a big message.


Our students could learn a lot from watching one of Thunberg’s presentations and then studying the transcript with care. In an age of “optics,” when images reign supreme and sound bites dominate, she offers some of her own that are truly memorable.


I like to challenge students to take a subject they are passionate about and to prepare a brief oral presentation, using examples like this one from Thunberg (or other speakers) to inspire them to concentrate on style and delivery. Because they matter, perhaps more today than ever.


Image Credit: Photo by Leonhard Lenz [CC0] via Wikimedia Commons

Ashley ShawAshley Shaw is a graduate student at Kennesaw State University working towards a Masters in the Arts of Professional Writing with a focus on composition and rhetoric. She teaches First-Year English Composition and Rhetoric courses and works at a private high school during the day. Along with teaching experience, she has worked as an editor and a marketer and brings these experiences into the classroom to help students learn how they will use academic lessons when writing in professional settings.


“Do I really need to learn this?”

“Will I ever actually do this again?”

“I’m a [fill in the blank] major. Will I ever actually have to write this stuff?”


These are questions I hear all of the time from students. The short answer to these questions is, of course, yes. However, saying yes isn’t always enough.


Professional Writing in an FYC Classroom


Having worked in the professional world before coming back to school to teach, I have seen the effects of a lack of professional writing in FYC classes: Writers are not less capable, but, in my experience, they are less confident and less sure about how to begin a writing assignment in the workplace. Because of this, I use examples from various professions to show how the learning objectives and tasks of the class apply to the types of writing students will do outside of school.


Background Reading



Assignment: Writing for a Real Audience


In this assignment, I set out to show students how to focus on their audience by using marketing and sales strategies. Businesses conduct a lot of research to create something called buyer personas, which are detailed descriptions of unique audiences to whom the marketer markets and the salesperson sells. By having my students create buyer personas, I hope to instill in them an understanding of how to target their writing to specific groups of people in a wide variety of rhetorical situations.


Assignment Learning Objectives 

  • Students will be able to create audience profiles
  • Students will be able to recognize how audience affects all rhetorical choices (tone, medium, etc.)


Project Components 


Assignment Steps


1. Introduce the Concept of Audience in Professional Settings

This activity takes place in the class right after a lesson on audience in academic settings, and it starts with a demonstration of how audiences are used in the fields of sales and marketing. To begin, I show the class a couple of real buyer personas, examples of which can easily be found with a Google search. We then talk about what they are and how they help business professionals address specific audiences in order to be more successful with their sales pitches.


2. Set up the Sales Situation

Now that they understand what buyer personas are, the class divides into five groups. I then present them with a weird product that they will be “selling.” For example, last semester, we worked on selling Gelli Baff - a tablet designed to turn bathwater into gel.


Each group gets assigned a specific audience. For the bath gel, I used the following audiences:

  • Parents
  • Kids
  • Investors
  • Buyers at Toy Stores
  • Non-parent present buyers (grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc.)


3. Work with Buyer Persona Sheets

After they find their groups and get their audience, I hand out buyer persona sheets. In their groups, students research their target groups and how to relate to them before filling out the sheet. Boxes the students fill out include

  •  A representative name and drawing (“Grandma Gayle,” a retiree, for the non-parent present buyers; “Bill the Buyer,” a tired, middle-aged man, for the toy store buyer, etc.)
  • Goals, motivations, and hobbies of the group
  • Demographics (age range, marital status, and education level)
  • Expectations for their toy purchases
  • Word choice, tone, and preferred communication methods


4. Create and Share Sales Pitches

Once the groups finish creating buyer personas, they plan short sales pitches.

They make choices about what medium to use (as examples, the kids group and the parents group planned commercials, while the investor group planned a PowerPoint presentation) and what to say in the presentation (the kids’ commercial focused on small words and “fun” and “cool” concepts, whereas the parents’ focused on price and safety.)


After the groups finish planning their sales pitches, each group shares what they created with the class.


5. Reflect on the Activity

Following the sales pitches, we reflect. The class discusses how different each pitch was even though each had the exact same purpose. We then talk about how audience is this important in anything we write. We also talk about how doing the same types of thinking and research about audience can help us write anything, from a research paper to a cover letter to a text sent to a parent versus a friend.  




At the end of my English 1101 class, the students write a letter to next year’s students. The letter includes things like what they learned in the class, what they wished they had done differently, what recommendations they have for future students, etc. After I did this assignment, I was surprised by how many of the letters included some version of understanding audience and how to target writing towards that audience. Because of this activity, they expressed the ability to understand the rhetorical choices they should make surrounding individual audiences. Moreover, they learned that making the best rhetorical choices requires a little bit of thought and research into who the audience is. Doing this research helps them begin the writing task in a much more confident manner.


I wonder how many teachers of writing are getting tired of the word “optics”? I know I am. The word has been around a long time—it popped up several times during the Carter administration in the ‘70s, and it’s familiar to Canadians, who use the related French word optique. But its use seems to me to have grown exponentially during the Trump administration, with the emphasis so much on how things look, what “looks” get ratings up, and most of all on how things are perceived—as opposed to what they really are.


In such a time, visual rhetoric comes to the fore, or to the rescue! Certainly we have a plethora of examples of “optics” for students to examine, explore, and evaluate. Many writers remarked on the fairly stunning optical contrast between the Republican and Democratic “aisles” during the 2019 State of the Union address, where the Republican look was decidedly white, older, and male and the Democratic look was anything but. And the President, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi—practically glowing in all white—right behind him and a veritable sea of suffragette white-clad Congresswomen seated together in front of him, actually lost the spotlight when the women in white jumped up to clap and cheer and shout when he mentioned the large number of women now in the House. A video clip from that event would provide very fertile ground for rhetorical analysis, as would a series of still images. Optics indeed.


I was also fascinated earlier this week by the President’s rally in El Paso, Texas, where he got the crowd chanting “finish the wall.” Supporters, also largely white, wore uniform red MAGA hats, so viewers saw a sea of red at that rally. Just across and down the street, Beto O’Rourke held a counter-rally, beginning precisely as the President’s rally launched, and again the “optics” were fascinating. The President behind a podium, in a dark suit, white shirt, and bright red tie, shook his fist and scowled, speaking in sound bites that resemble his tweets. Across the way, O’Rourke, collar unbuttoned and sleeves of his shirt rolled up, strode back and forth across the stage, earnest and impassioned, speaking both English and Spanish. Examining just the body language of the two speakers would yield a rich rhetorical analysis, as would looking closely at the crowd responses, and at the self-presentation of the speakers and of those who introduced them. Finally, I think students would get a lot out of looking closely at the styles of delivery on display at this rally and counter-rally, both in terms of content (what the two were saying) and attitude/stance (how they were saying it). Certainly this event provides ample opportunity for practicing close reading and rhetorical analysis.


Over 30 years ago, Kathleen Welch startled her audience by declaring that delivery, the final and long-neglected canon of rhetoric, was by far the most important of the five (invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery). She was prescient in that announcement, which has proven to be dead accurate. And since we are living in a time of image saturation, of “optics” wars on every front, this is a very good time to focus on delivery and on analyzing how it works to persuade (or dissuade) listeners.


Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 720677 by skeeze, used under the Pixabay License


I’ve been in Sweden visiting at the University of Orebro, where we talked about gender neutral language in general and gender neutral pronouns in particular. Teachers and scholars there are as concerned with language equity as we are in the U.S. so we traded stories about “singular they” and alternative pronouns. One colleague remembered reading a study that rewrote a passage to use gender neutral language throughout and reported that readers had a harder time understanding and remembering the gender neutral message, which seemed to have lost specificity. I was fascinated by this study—but my Swedish colleague could not remember where she had read it or any further details: if anyone knows of this study, or any others like it, I would be very grateful to have that information.


While I’ve been focusing on gender neutral pronouns and how to advise students to think carefully about their use of pronouns and about preferences those they address may have, I completely missed a book by James W. Pennebaker—though it’s been out nearly a decade. In The Secret Life of Pronouns, Pennebaker, who is Regents Centennial Chair of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a well-known researcher on the relationship between writing and health, studies low function words (like pronouns and articles) to see what they may reveal about the social and psychological states of speakers who use them. Pennebaker and his team use analytical programs like the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count to analyze very large bodies of text and determine correlations. For example, when pundits criticized President Obama, saying that he was overly-fond of “I words” and suggesting that this signaled self-centeredness, Pennebaker went to work. As he reported, his research showed that Obama used fewer instances of I words than any other modern President. Further, this research revealed that people who are confident and self-assured (like President Obama) generally use fewer I words than insecure speakers, who rely on them much more heavily.


Of special interest to me is Pennebaker’s study of speakers/writers who shift between first and third person pronouns. These people, Pennebaker finds, tend to be able to shift perspectives, looking at an issue from other people’s points of view. This is a very intriguing finding, one scholars in writing studies and writing programs might well pursue. We now have enough large collections of student writing to carry out analyses using Pennebaker’s tools (or ones of our own design). Doing so could give us new information we could share with students about their own pronoun usage—at the very least. So perhaps it’s time to broaden and deepen our interest in pronouns: who knew they had such an exciting secret life?!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 623167 by nile, 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.


This multimodal assignment is not original. In fact, I have seen many versions and applications of the idea but it is a great starting place for digital and visual storytellers. It is also popular in a textual form called Six Word Stories, often attributed to Hemingway’s legendary six-word story: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Authors expand this genre to include other short-short versions such as sudden fiction or flash fiction that constrain conventions based on length and careful selection to achieve a narrative line. Although this idea has been around for a while, it is gaining new life through social media outlets such as Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, and Facebook that now feature this challenge for their users. Students can search for examples and submit their own stories on designated sites such as This exercise asks students to carefully consider the ways that very few words can take the shape of a story and advance a storyline. I like to have students analyze them and try their hand at composing these stories. This helps them begin to understand narrative theory, literary analysis, and the power of carefully selected language. It also is a good exercise for understanding and working with rhetorical constraints (only six words) and genre expectations.


When teaching digital storytelling, I use a similar assignment in which I have students compose a Five Image Story. Flickr has an existing group for visual storytellers to engage in this challenge: The Five Image Story. Here students can join the group and analyze examples of Five Image Stories for sequence and narrative line, visual effectiveness, and impact of the story.   They can also join the conversation, respond to others’ stories, and contribute their own. They must submit five images, in sequence without any text, except a title. I have students compose and submit their Five Image Stories to the Flickr conversation and post them on their blogs to share with their classmates. 


Background Readings and Resources


Steps to the Assignment

  1. Open up the conversation about the nature of stories. Have students identify what makes an effective story: engagement, meaning, progression, change, perspective, impact, etc. I usually have them participate in an online conversation about the meaning and shape of stories and then work in small groups in the classroom. We then try to generate a list from these conversations. Here are a few example responses:  
    1. Most importantly, stories describe a journey.
    2. Stories pass down knowledge and wisdom; offer advice; act as warnings; and serve as a reflection of the culture in which they were created.
    3. Humans have been telling stories for thousands of years. It is as innate as the need for companionship and belonging. Stories surround us all the time. I hear stories in music and podcasts; I read stories online, in books, in the news; I live my own story every day. 
    4. Stories at their most basic are comprised of a beginning, middle, and end.
    5. Stories are everywhere, just waiting to be told. 
  2. Next, I introduce the idea of the Six Word Stories and the Five Image Stories and we analyze a couple of examples. 
  3. Then, I send students to the Flickr site and have them join the group and look through the posted stories. As a group, they choose ones they like, discuss them, and connect to the features and ideas generated in their Meaning and Shape of stories conversation from earlier.
  4. Once they have an idea of the genre, they move to composing their own Five Image Stories. I have them post to Flickr to participate in this public archive and post to their own blogs for our class. In addition to their title, I require them to include a context statement on their blog (as I do for all Multimodal Mondays blog posts).
  5. Students then review the Five Image Stories of their classmates. Students present their stories and teammates discuss what makes them effective and engaging. Each team chooses a couple they consider strong and presents them to the full class.


Reflection on the Activity

This is a great activity to get students thinking about narrative and digital storytelling – an important component of multimodal composition. It challenges them to think conceptually and to begin to understand genre and structure. It teaches students the importance of image composition, curation, selection, arrangement, and constructing narrative lines. I am always interested in the different types of stories they create. Some are stories of progression, such as Sean’s advancing narrative of a kitten to a cat or Lydia’s story of experiences with her friend over a span of years. Some confine their narrative time span to a shorter time, such as Elijah’s story of a single day in his life. Some students reflect back on defining experiences, like Donna who includes images of tickets she has collected over the years. Others, like McKenna, project forward and engage in a predictive story about where she wants to travel in the future. Many students focus on significant objects to reveal something about their individual stories and some students, like Andrew, create conceptual stories that speak to universal ideas.  He captured unstacking nesting dolls to represent the idea of “Together We are Strong.”


Follow the links below to view some student examples


Most teachers of writing I know are concerned, along with their students, about using inclusive language in (and out of) the classroom, and especially in acknowledging that the traditional male/female binary doesn’t come close to adequately addressing the fluidity and range of human gender and sexuality. These insights have been a long time coming. As a white woman raised in the south, I grew up with that binary firmly fixed and would never have thought of questioning it—until I got to college. I was an avid student and eager to take advantage of every lecture, concert, or other cultural event offered at my state school, so I found myself one evening in a big auditorium to hear a talk by philosopher Alan Watts. I remember that he drew an imaginary line across the stage and then said that it represented human sexuality, and that every point along the line was different, that the range of our ability to experience sex stretched literally from sea to shining sea. I don’t remember much else about the lecture, which occurred over half a century ago. But I do remember sitting in the auditorium at the end of the talk feeling as though I were looking over an abyss and understanding, for the first time, just how much I had to learn about what it meant to be human.


Well, that’s why we go to college—and I hope students everywhere are being led to question their own assumptions and to expand their ways of thinking. So I’ve been a big advocate of the use of gender neutral language. In the latest edition of Everything’s an Argument, we talk about pronoun preferences and quote Peter Smagorinsky: “It may well be that “ze” and “zir” will replace current pronouns over time" (as "Ms." has replaced "Mrs." or "Miss"). And of course the use of singular “they” is now regularly accepted, as in “Jamie called me and so I called them back.” The important point is that writers and speakers need to be sensitive to difference and need to choose terms (like pronouns!) appropriately.


That goes for identity labels as well, and in this regard I was interested to read an essay by Jonathan Rauch called “Don’t Call Me LGBTQ: Why we need a single overarching designation for sexual minorities” in the January/February 2019 issue of The Atlantic. Rauch argues that “LGBTQ is coalitional and inclusive. But no matter how many letters are added, one group is pointedly excluded.” After much thought, he says, he has come to the conclusion that “the alphabet-soup designation for sexual minorities has become a synecdoche for the excesses of identity politics—excesses that have helped empower the likes of Donald Trump.” So Rauch urges us to “retire the term” and replace it with a single letter: Q.

. . . the term would be understood to encompass sexual minorities of all stripes. When we speak of ourselves as individuals, we would use gay or lesbian or transgender, or whatever applies. When we need a blanket term, we would simply call ourselves Q. As in: the Q population and Q equality. Q is simple and inclusive, and carries minimal baggage. When we speak of Q equality, we are saying that discrimination against sexual minorities—or for that matter sexual majorities—is not the American way.


As writing teachers, we have an opportunity to engage students in exploring terminologies and labels of all kinds—and to help them to use language in describing others that is inclusive and sensitive to difference. In doing so, we help them become more conscientious and effective communicators. And as always, we stand to learn a great deal from their discussions.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3751930 by SharonMcCutcheon, used under the Pixabay License


I’m writing this posting on January 21, MLK day, and so I have been thinking of him and of his legacy as I do every year this time. Of course I remember exactly where I was on Thursday, April 4, 1968: I was still at the school where I was teaching 10th and 11th grades, working on plans and reading student work when a colleague knocked and told me King had been shot. I rushed home and, like most of the rest of the country, turned on radio and TV and sat, horrified and weeping, at what I was seeing and hearing. I remember feeling as if our country was close to exploding—so much hatred and violence. And of course I didn’t even know at the time what was coming—more assassinations, more protest, more violence, more hatred.


But King’s legacy has been about love and peace and connecting, not with violence and hatred, and that is one reason for hope, even today when, once again, hatred and racism and violence are on the rise. King’s message rises above all that and offers hope. We need that message now more than ever.


On this day, I am gathering donations for our local food bank, and I expect many of you are offering some service today as well. In addition, I want to recommend two items for teachers of writing everywhere to consider as we think of MLK. The first is a brief video produced by the Annenberg Foundation Trust in partnership with the Gandhi King Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice in honor of Dr. King's 90th birthday. As you’ll see, the video features interviews with civil rights leaders conducted by documentary filmmaker Jesse Dylan. I loved hearing these inspiring voices and the message they bring to us today.  


Secondly, I am currently reading The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea by Christopher J. Lebron. It’s not an easy read for me, each chapter leaving me seething with anger at the injustices so thoroughly documented while also admiring Lebron’s scholarly work and especially his use of some of my own personal heroes—Ida B. Wells, Audre Lorde, Zora Neale Hurston, Anna Julia Cooper. In it, Lebron traces not just the history of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag but the ideas and feelings and struggles of a much older, rich tradition preparing for this imperative demand for equal rights—and equal dignity.


White people like me need to ask ourselves if we are among those Lebron refers to as “morally dimwitted,” that is, people who are convinced of the rightness of their own positions yet “whose moral perceptions are so deeply mired in racial privilege that the critical perception and judgment needed to correctly interpret problems is suppressed to the point of motivating asinine observations and assertions.” As an example of such moral dimwittedness, Lebron asks readers to “imagine what it is like to read, as a black person in the wake of Freddie Gray nearly losing his head—literally—while in police custody: well, if he wasn’t doing anything wrong, why did he run? As if being legitimately afraid of the police . . . were reason at all to be practically decapitated by the state.” Have you heard such questions asked after a police killing of a young black male? I certainly have and I expect our students have too. Lebron asks us to face such dim-wittedness head-on, revealing it for what it is and offering a different, and more just, question in its place.


Lebron’s searing history is dark and devastating. But he does see some reason for hope when “three women decided that not one more black person’s life would be taken without America being forced to answer the question that black intellectuals have been asking for more than one-and-a-half centuries: do black lives in America matter or not.” Lebron concludes that we are still waiting for the answer to this question.  


Writing programs and writing teachers can continue to ask the question, and can engage their students in looking at various answers to it and examining their own responses. We can ask students to analyze their own assumptions and those nearest to them, to learn to look at issues from other perspectives and to listen to those who hold those other perspectives openly and with respect. There is good work that we can do to help answer the question “do black lives matter” and, in doing so, to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 393870 by skeeze, used under the Pixabay License


“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