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16 Posts authored by: Bedford New Scholar Expert

Leah Beth JohnstonLeah Beth Johnston (recommended by Elías Domínguez Barajas) is pursuing her PhD in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Arkansas. She will finish her degree in 2022. Her research focuses on First-Year Composition administration and Marginal Rhetorics, and her dissertation is a book that explores the intersection of the two. A former faculty member at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, Leah Beth hopes to return to Texas upon finishing her PhD. 

 

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

I hope that in the next ten years, higher education will change drastically. We will always be operating in a system whose foundation was built on white supremacy and exclusionary tactics, but I hope that white educators, in particular, will begin to interrogate their own biases and privileges in a way that positively changes higher education as a whole. Teaching at a PWI has illuminated for me how far we still have to go before educational equity will exist, and has also reinforced my respect for the many folx on the margins of universities creating small but equitable spaces for historically oppressed identities. 

 

Is there an instructor or scholar that helped shape your career in rhet/comp? How? 

My current advisor, Dr. Jo Hsu, has significantly helped to shape my career in Rhet/Comp. I learn a lot from their example of showing up, showing grace, and doing small but great things. Many faculty members in higher education view teaching as something they do to exercise their own research agendas, but Jo has always been excited and encouraging about their students’ own research, and their genuine love of teaching is obvious in the classroom. I hope to someday be half the teacher they are. 

 

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

Being part of the Bedford New Scholars program has been such an honor! That feels cheesy to say, but spending this year having insight into educational publishing, being able to offer input on texts that may show up in classes I teach, and traveling to Boston to network among top scholars in my field has been the privilege of a lifetime. The workload throughout the year was structured in such a way that my own research and teaching did not suffer, and the overall support provided by the Bedford/St. Martin’s team has been amazing. 

 

What have you learned from other Bedford New Scholars?

During our New Scholars Summit in Boston, I learned something from each and every fellow scholar, whether it was a new author to read, a technique for lesson planning, or an idea to incorporate digital elements into the classroom. I especially enjoyed a team-building activity where we each wrote our priorities as teachers on a large piece of paper, then had the opportunity to review one another’s answers. I found that many of our priorities, concerns, and triumphs overlap, which gave me a sense of where Composition is as a whole right now, insight that is invaluable for my career and my own pedagogy. 

 

Leah Beth Johnston’s Assignment that Works

During the Bedford New Scholars Summit, each member presented an assignment that had proven successful or innovative in their classroom. Below is a brief synopsis of Leah Beth's assignment. You can view the full details here: Emoji Revision Assignment

For this lesson, review what emoji is and make sure everyone has a working understanding of how to access emoji on their device. Then, pass out movie title slips individually or into groups of 2-4, depending on class size. Ask students to revise not the movie title, but the movie plot, into emoji language. This may require some research if they are not familiar with the movie. Remind students that even if they have seen the movie, they may want to review the main themes before revising the plot into emoji. As each student/group finishes their revision, they will take a screenshot of the “sentence” and email it to the instructor. Once all revisions have been sent, the instructor projects them at the front of the classroom, and the entire class discusses them one by one to guess which movie they are referring to. 

After completing this assignment, students will have a basic literacy in emoji language and digital discourse. Students will be able to conduct internet research, and apply this research to summarizing texts. Students will also be able to understand the concept of a multimodal text, and will be able to connect the activity to their own revision processes.

 

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

Josh Chase (recommended by Marika Seigel) is a PhD student in the Rhetoric, Theory, and Culture program at Michigan Technological University. He expects to finish in May 2021. He serves as the composition program coordinator and teaches courses in composition, literature, and technical writing. He is also the managing editor of Portage Review, a transdisciplinary journal of undergraduate writing. His research interests are in rhetorical cultural studies, user-centered theory, and science and technology studies. He is currently exploring the rhetoric of conspiracy theories, the impacts of outlandish ideas on political discourse and culture, and the implications for technical communication and rhetorical theory.

 

Is there an instructor or scholar that helped shape your career in rhet/comp? How? 

The scholar who has most shaped my teaching is James Berlin. Berlin’s work outlines the history of composition studies and sketches the theoretical underpinnings of various classroom teaching practices. His work provides some much-appreciated context for the field I’m entering. Just as important, though, is Berlin’s reminder that “success in the classroom is never guaranteed” and that effective learning is the result of “dialectical collaboration—the interaction of student, teacher, and shared experience within a social, interdisciplinary framework,” a process whose outcome “is always unpredictable.” When I first started teaching — when I wasn’t sure if I could ever be a good teacher — Berlin prompted me to question whether I even knew what teaching was.

 

How does the next generation of students inspire you?

I’m very fortunate to be starting my teaching career right now precisely because the next generation of students is so inspiring. They’re often better writers than I remember myself being at 18 years old — or even now. I’m sometimes surprised when I introduce a reading or a concept that I think will be particularly interesting for my students only to find that a good number of them are already familiar with it. The idea that I could just create a solid semester-long curriculum and coast on that for a few years just isn’t an option: what seems profound to one group of students is often old hat to the next. So, in a very practical sense, my students inspire me to be a better teacher because I’m always questioning whether I have anything new to offer them. 

 

But they also inspire me in other ways. From climate change to growing inequality (and other challenges that we’ve yet to adequately address), the next generation seems ready to tackle the most significant challenges of our time. If rhetoric is symbolic action, then part of our job as writing teachers is to help our students find effective ways to act on these issues. For me, it’s hard to imagine anything more inspiring than that.

 

What is it like to co-design with the editorial team at Bedford/St. Martin's?

Honestly, before the summit, I was skeptical about co-designing with the editorial team at Bedford/St. Martin’s. I know next to nothing about educational publishing and imagined that I had little to offer them. They must know that too, I figured, so I just assumed the whole trip was an investment for them—a way of selling us on their products early in our careers. I was wrong about that. The editorial team had similar educational backgrounds and interests, they were familiar with the writers and scholars that have been influential for me, and they seemed genuinely interested in getting our perspectives on the work they plan to put out. They took criticism of their products seriously and didn’t seem interested in light or sugarcoated feedback. At heart, I think the members of the design team are teachers, too, and I’m already thinking about ways to adapt some of their workshops for my own classroom. 

 

What have you learned from other Bedford New Scholars?

Meeting and socializing with the other Bedford New Scholars were probably the best parts of the trip. These people are brilliant. Some of them just recently (and successfully!) went on the job market, so I was able to get a lot of good advice about that process. I learned a little bit about how composition programs from other parts of the country handle issues like growing class sizes and new teacher training. Through their Assignments that Work presentations, I learned about the different activities they’re engaging their students with and got some great ideas for adapting those activities for my own classes.

 

Josh’s Assignment that Works

During the Bedford New Scholars Summit, each member presented an assignment that had proven successful or innovative in their classroom. Below is a brief synopsis of Josh's assignment. You can view the full details here: Situating your Research with the CARS Model.

 

In the Michigan Tech composition program, by the time students begin drafting their research papers, they have already spent several weeks researching their chosen topics. Part of the scaffolding for the research paper involves composing an expanded annotated bibliography, a project that asks students to summarize and analyze a variety of relevant texts, and to both describe and reflect on their research processes.

 

As an activity to help students transition from a primarily research-driven mode of activity into a writing-only mode in which they engage those sources, I introduce the “Creating a Research Space” model of introductions, as outlined by John Swales and Christine Feak. While it was originally designed as a heuristic to help writers overcome the hurdles of writing an introduction, I find that the CARS model is also helpful in a broader sense: for myself and, I think, my students, it offers a way of organizing controversies and finding entry points for our own contributions—a kind of roadmap for stepping into the Burkean parlor.

 

While I encourage my students to use the CARS model for abstracts and introductions, that is not what I emphasize in this activity and assignment. Instead, I ask them to locate the CARS moves as they appear throughout the paper. The aim is not for students to view the model as a simple checklist that leads to a more sophisticated introduction but to see how the moves guide their engagement with sources throughout the research and writing processes.

 

Works Cited

Berlin, James. "Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class." Chap. in The Norton Book of Composition Studies, edited by Susan Miller, 667-84. New York: Norton, 2009.

Swales, John M., and Christine B. Feak. Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essential Tasks and Skills. Vol. 1, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004.

Weise, Elizabeth. "Climate Change the New Vietnam War? Generation Z Poised to Change Us Politics with Activism." USA Today, May 6, 2019. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/05/06/generation-z-poised-change-us-politics-climate-change-activism/1090104001/.

 

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

Shannon ButtsShannon Butts (recommended by Creed Greer) received her PhD in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Writing Studies at The University of Florida in August 2019. Shannon teaches courses on digital rhetoric, multimodal composition, professional communication, technofeminism, and first-year writing. She also serves as the Assistant Coordinator of First Year Writing and mentors graduate instructors. Shannon's research examines how digital and mobile writing technologies, such as augmented reality, locative media, and 3D printing, author new literacy practices for public writing and community advocacy.

 

How does the next generation of students inspire you? 

 

The students coming through my courses seem to have a hustle that understands the larger ecology of work, play, and education. College is not necessarily their end game but part of a growing skill set that will position them for more opportunities in the future. And that looks different for different students. People coming in from high school are hustling to make grades, get internships, start businesses – hustling to participate in an economy that has diversified the paths that people can take to make money and be successful. Similarly, students coming back to school or working on graduate degrees are hustling to build a portfolio of experiences that will help them advance in their current careers or start new ones. The hustle can be tiring, or seem disorganized. Yet, most of the students that I see are working to create a well-rounded set of skills to be not only competitive but happy in their work and life. The hustle includes physical fitness, growing plants, joining clubs, taking days off, having families, developing apps, caring about public issues, and fighting for equality and balance in new ways. The students I see now inspire me to hustle for both myself and others. 

 

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

 

I want the students in my classroom to understand that writing is a process that grows and changes throughout their lives. As such, I want students to develop analytical skills that evaluate the nuances of any rhetorical situation or ecology. If students understand the complex components of an issue, then they can best evaluate how to respond and make change. Learning how to analyze arguments, identify evidence, and trace the connections between conversations can help students actively participate in the public sphere—where they not only receive or disseminate information but understand how to assemble new publics, to read and write for change, and to evaluate information for accuracy as well as applicability. If writers can map rhetorical ecologies and trace the relationships between evidence and argument, then I think they are better prepared to understand the complex systems that we all read, write, and participate in.

 

What is it like to be a part of the Bedford New Scholars?

 

Participating in the Bedford New Scholars programs provides a look behind the curtain of educational publishing. More than merely understanding how to test or market a text, the program has shown me how Bedford works to identify what is important to students, writers, and teachers in different schools and demographics. Through online resources, publishers have new opportunities to create platforms and curate content that works for diverse groups of students and instructors. While institutions may adopt one central text or program, Bedford has shown us how to work within the larger system to find what can best help students and instructors meet their goals for a classroom or course. By showing us multiple texts and platforms, the Bedford staff creates a forum for helping us understand the publishing process, but also gives a voice to the people who are in the classroom everyday. They not only wanted my feedback on existing projects but my critique and suggestions for change, and Bedford New Scholars offers an opportunity to participate in shaping emerging resources. 

 

What have you learned from other Bedford New Scholars?

 

I found the Bedford New Scholars experience empowering. Not only did I get the chance to meet some incredible teachers and scholars from different fields and institutions, but I also was challenged to continually evaluate my own teaching strategies and tools. By sitting down around a table and discussing the different dynamics of each Scholar’s school and experience, I was able to consider how my pedagogy might change while also affirming many of the common issues that instructors currently address: How can I make my classroom more inclusive and accessible? How can I empower my students through public writing? What kinds of emerging tools can help address inequality in the education system? The Bedford New Scholars offered a range of experience and insight and created a small community where instructors could share methods, critiques, tools, and camaraderie.  



Shannon’s Assignment that Works

During the Bedford New Scholars Summit, each member presented an assignment that had proven successful or innovative in their classroom. Below is a brief synopsis of Shannon’s assignment. You can view the full details here: Know Your Meme: Finding the Exigence

 

The “Know Your Meme” activity draws on research, analysis, evaluation, and remix skills to transform popular memes into detailed claims. Composing arguments requires an attunement to exigence—understanding an issue, problem, or situation and how best to address a public to motivate a response. For this activity, students are introduced to several popular memes asked to find the first time the meme was used as part of an argument. Instead of focusing on the isolated image, students should look to the rhetorical ecology of how a meme responded to a particular issue or idea. By asking questions like “What are the basic elements of the issue?” and “How does the meme engage a key component of an argument?,” students begin to define the exigence for the meme and the specifics of the rhetorical situation. Practicing good research skills, students can analyze the different arguments surrounding an issue and evaluate how their meme engages specific viewpoints.

 

After analyzing how a specific meme has responded to arguments in the public sphere, students gain a familiarity with the media as well as the details of the involved arguments. Memes are fairly simplistic in construction and can reduce complex arguments to pithy forms. The next step has participants evaluate memes for missing elements or logical fallacies and rewrite the media as a more complex claim with supportive details. Focusing on one specific use of their meme, students can ask, “What is missing to create a detailed response to the issue?” Drawing on their own research, students can then address the exigence of an issue by rewriting a meme as an argumentative claim with supportive details. Paying attention to research, exigence, and arguments, students learn to map the larger rhetorical ecology of public issues and craft detailed claims that participate in evolving conversations.

 

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

 

Marissa McKinley (recommended by Bryna Siegel Finer) is a recent graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s English Composition and TESOL doctoral program. Marissa now serves as an Assistant Teaching Professor of English at Quinnipiac University, where she teaches four sections of First-Year Writing (FYW) and assists with administering the FYW Program. Her research interests include the rhetoric of health and medicine, feminist theory and pedagogy, and writing program administration. Marissa’s scholarship has been presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Feminisms and Rhetorics, and at the Rhetoric Society of America; and her work is currently featured in the co-edited collection Women’s Health Advocacy: Rhetorical Ingenuity for the 21st Century.

 

What is your greatest teaching challenge?

Undoubtedly, my greatest teaching challenge is sustaining student interest and energy after Spring Break. I have now taught for nearly eight years, and in that time, I have noticed that no matter the course I am teaching, and no matter in which area of the country I am teaching, student interest and energy typically wanes. I get it: When my students have the opportunity to head home for a week, they fall back into the comfort and regularity of their home routines. They spend their quality time with people and places they missed. To get through the rest of the semester, my students often have to temper their feelings of homesickness. They have to remind themselves that in a few more weeks, they can return to their homes and relive their former lives.

 

As many of us know, it’s challenging to focus on tasks that don’t completely occupy our interests. As a teacher, I try to put myself in my students’ shoes and remind my students that they will soon re-experience freedom outside of the college or university. They just have to take one day, one task at a time and keep in mind that their current feelings will pass.

 

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

Critical thinking. I recognize that some instructors believe that critical thinking skills cannot be taught, but I believe they can. I am not so naïve to believe that critical thinking skills can be taught and mastered during a single course; rather, I know that teachers from across the disciplines must create and integrate learning opportunities that help students acquire and develop their critical thinking skills. One such way is to offer students opportunities to reflect upon what they learned after completing an assignment and to explain how what they learned can be applied in not just their other classes, but also to tasks outside of the college or university. This act of reflection helps students to build metacognitive awareness and to apply, or transfer, their knowledge across contexts. In the act of reflection, students must connect the dots between their learning in one class and the value of that learning in other areas of their lives. It is the connecting of the dots that makes up a part of critical thinking.

 

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

It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of the Bedford New Scholars program. I have had the opportunity of conducting editorial reviews on composition titles, along with previewing digital learning tools that are in development at Macmillan Learning. These opportunities have provided me with behind-the-scenes insights into textbook and resource publishing that will serve me as I embark on the writing and publishing of my own academic book in the near future.

 

As a Bedford New Scholar, I have also had the pleasure of collaborating with new, upcoming scholars in the field of Composition and Rhetoric at the 2019 Bedford New Scholars Summit in Boston, Massachusetts. There, I met the nine other Bedford New Scholars, and together, we demonstrated our writing knowledge and expertise to Macmillan Learning staff and each other by introducing assignments that we deemed successful in the writing classroom. Additionally, we provided Macmillan staff with a look into the processes that we undertake as we plan a writing course and select a course textbook. The insights we provided will ultimately aid Macmillan Learning staff in developing future course materials and digital learning tools. I feel fortunate to be recognized and a part of the Bedford New Scholars 2019 program.

 

What have you learned from other Bedford New Scholars?

Thus far, I have learned the most from fellow Bedford New Scholar, KAREN TRUJILLO. On the final day of the summit, Karen presented her “Assignments that Work” lesson, a social justice project that she uses when teaching First-Year Writing. Consisting of three parts, Karen’s assignment asked students to “select a topic they were interested in, to research it, and to advocate action or policy to further their passion” (Trujillo). Simply, Karen wanted her students to “link [their] advocacy topic/issue to a social justice issue” (Trujillo).

 

When Karen introduced her assignment, I couldn’t help but be captured by its brilliance. Karen’s assignment assignment takes students through the writing process and helps them to become familiar with a variety of research-related tasks, such as locating sources and even selecting information for a source that will support a research argument. The most impressive part of Karen’s assignment, though, is the social justice aspect. By completing the assignment, students locate social justice issues, learn more about the issues, and learn how to advocate for a form of action through writing. Karen’s assignment highlights the importance of voice, experience, and the need to fight against injustice; it is one that I plan to adapt and use in my future Research Writing course.

 

 

Marissa’s Assignment that Works

During the Bedford New Scholars Summit, each member presented an assignment that had proven successful or innovative in their classroom. Below is a brief synopsis of Marissa's assignment. You can view the full details here: Rhetorical Analysis of a Text Writing Project.

 

The Rhetorical Analysis of a Text assignment asks students to summarize and rhetorically analyze a text of their choice (e.g., a speech, a print advertisement, a commercial). The assignment enables students to 

  • practice their critical reading skills;
  • summarize a print or digital text;
  • familiarize themselves with rhetorical terminology; 
  • apply rhetorical terminology during analysis; 
  • engage in secondary research; and
  • practice citing.

 

Students complete the Rhetorical Analysis of a Text assignment over a series of six weeks. This pacing allows students time to engage in various low-stakes writing activities, all of which lead into and help prepare students for the rhetorical assignment. For example, during weeks one and two of the course sequence, students read texts to familiarize themselves with rhetorical terminology and to practice applying that terminology to print and digital texts. During weeks three and four, students choose the print or digital text that they want to pursue, read or watch their text and take active reading notes, and write and workshop their text summaries. Finally, during weeks five and six, students rhetorically analyze their texts, locate sources to enrich their analyses, cite their sources, workshop their analyses, and reflect upon their learning throughout the sequence. 


The Rhetorical Analysis of a Text sequence is incredibly busy, and there is much to be taught. Students are easily overwhelmed with the assignment, so it is important to take a lot of time for learning and practicing the skills that are being taught throughout the sequence.

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

Caitlin’s Assignment That Works

During the Bedford New Scholars Summit, each member presented an assignment that had proven successful or innovative in their classroom. Below is a brief synopsis of Caitlin's assignment. You can view the full details here: Teaching Revision and Research through Full-Class Collaboration.

 

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

 

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

Misty FullerMisty Fuller (recommended by Jimmy Butts) is pursuing her PhD in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition at Louisiana State University. She expects to finish in Spring 2021. She currently teaches first-year composition courses but has taught Intensive Writing as well as Writing for Business. Misty was a visiting instructor for two years at the University of North Florida, where she was nominated for the Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award and served as a member of reader and assignment committees for first-year writing courses. Additionally, she sponsored and advised UNF's first Musical Theatre Club. She serves as the Pedagogy Chair for her department's English Graduate Student Association. Misty's interests include first-year writing pedagogy, WAC, WID, and community learning.

 

Is there an instructor or scholar that helped shape your career in rhet/comp? How? 
A large number of instructors helped shaped my career in rhet/comp. I keep in touch with all of my mentors, so I could never pinpoint one specific person. I argue constantly with some of them. It seems I agree on everything with others. Then, of course, there are those who fall in-between. I find that I need all of these viewpoints with their different ways of disagreeing, agreeing, and talking about the issues I face as a writing teacher to grow both as a person and as an educator. If I had to choose my two biggest influencers thus far, I would have to choose Dr. Timothy J. Donovan simply because he was patient. He used that patience to encourage me to reflect, explore, and even argue as to why I’m so passionate about writing and teaching writing. I’d also have to credit Dr. Linda Howell. Working with her has shown me the immeasurable benefits of empowering a school’s Writing Center and Program to reach out to students and instructors alike. 

 

What is the most important skill you aim to provide your students?
The skill I would most like my students to discover is curiosity. I primarily teach incoming freshmen, and they often have an idea of learning as limited to what they’re being told by an authority figure or just what they’ve heard. I want to embolden my students to go beyond what’s easily available or what the standard is (or has been), to see the value in asking questions. Meeting students in their first year of college and highlighting the value of curiosity helps frame their college experience for the better. The writing classroom is an excellent space to be curious because there are boundless ways in which to express that curiosity and find effective, respectful ways to discuss the questions that arise as a result. 

 

What have you learned from other Bedford New Scholars?
My colleagues in the Bedford New Scholars program are wonderful, caring people. Through our brave vulnerability, we comfortably communicate the struggles we face as writing instructors. Although we all come from different backgrounds and regions of the U.S., we find that we often meet the same challenges on a daily basis. It’s so comforting to learn, no matter how many times, that I’m not alone and that support from my colleagues is always available. Essentially, what I’ve learned from my fellow scholars is to not be afraid to talk, even if we’re only strangers at first comparing our syllabi. It’s wonderful what we can accomplish together if we can open ourselves up. 

 

What's it like to be a part of the Bedford New Scholars program?
It’s refreshing to be a part of the Bedford New Scholars program. Speaking with, and actually getting to know, the people who develop textbooks that are commonly used in the classroom is enlightening. Life as a graduate student can be isolating sometimes, and this opportunity allows for some appreciated interaction with those in my field who participate in a different aspect of it. Feeling that the individuals at Macmillan respect my values and experiences as a teacher is also encouraging in my journey to becoming a Writing Program or Center Director.

 

Misty’s Assignment that Works

During the Bedford New Scholars Summit, each member presented an assignment that had proven successful or innovative in their classroom. Below is a brief synopsis of Misty's assignment. You can view the full details here: Annotated Bibliography.

 

My assignment for Assignments that Work is an Annotated Bibliography in which students can write their annotated bibliography in a creative way with a specific audience in mind. That audience can be themselves, another discourse community, or a specific person. For example, if they want to write an annotated bibliography for themselves, they may do so. Let’s say that one student is a more visual learner and enjoys comics or doodling; they can create an annotated bibliography for themselves that bursts with imagery. As a part of the assignment, students must also include a reflection as to why their rhetorical choices differ from a standard annotated bibliography, with a particular audience in mind. 

 

In one sense, this assignment asks students to consider what works best for them in terms of their reading and writing habits. Consequently, they examine what it is about their rhetorical approaches that appeals to them. Alternatively, if a student chooses an audience outside of themselves, they can still have fun while continuing to reflect on what makes their bibliography different from the standardized version. Fundamentally, they must contend with the question: Why is this annotated bibliography more effective for a particular reader? This assignment encourages students to use their base knowledge of rhetoric and annotated bibliographies in order to think critically about how to transform it for that audience. I’ve only run this assignment once, but I’ve found the biggest challenge is getting students to be creative and step out of the standardized boxes.

 

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

Nina FengNina Feng (recommended by Jay Jordan and Andrew Franta) is pursuing her PhD in English with an emphasis in Writing and Rhetoric Studies at the University of Utah. She expects to graduate in May 2021. She teaches Intermediate Writing, Writing in the Social Sciences, and Write4U, a course for transfer students. Her research interests include game pedagogy, multimodality, sensory rhetorics, and critical race theory.

 

What is your greatest teaching challenge?

I’ve faced many difficult situations and made many mistakes throughout my teaching career. It’s taught me that I have to continue educating myself on student needs and working towards recognizing my own biases, which is a process that I hope to always engage in. One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in teaching is to be self-aware and unafraid to relinquish control, along with previous ideas of success in writing. I try to be thoughtful about how I expect students to respond, or how the lesson should go because if we allow students to claim authority and show us unexpected ways to approach assignments, we can give them space to grow in confidence and develop their own aims and strengths. 

 

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

I hope that more and more teachers and institutions will adopt translingual approaches, emphasizing the acts of translation and interpretation that happen when we communicate, destabilizing curriculums that depend on standards of white supremacy. I think we’re seeing more of that happen in many fields, and we’re beginning to embrace language difference as potential, rather than deficit.

 

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

I think instructors should know that there are meticulous processes and engaged conversations happening with publishers and educators on the ground. Many of the materials that are created can be extremely useful, in supplementary ways and beyond composition classrooms as well. It’s worth considering and looking through potential textbooks to see what might help new instructors, in particular.

 

What have you learned from other Bedford New Scholars?
I was very fortunate to work with an incredible group of graduate students, and I learned so much from each one of them. I realized how much social justice work is happening at multiple institutions, and also how we’re all trying to reinvent similar assignments, ones which depend on basic, durable rhetorical models but need innovative modifications to address student needs. I also learned how many brilliant ideas are brewing in the minds of individual instructors — we could all benefit from a larger network of closer connections across institutions.

 

During the Bedford New Scholars Summit, each member presented an assignment that had proven successful or innovative in their classroom. Below is a brief synopsis of Nina’s assignment.

 

Nina’s Assignment that Works: Rhetorical Synthesis of Multimodal Works
For this assignment, students are asked to choose four pieces of media/readings we’ve been studying during the first month of the semester, and to write a synthesis focused on the similarities and differences between rhetorical strategies utilized among the pieces. The pieces range from radio clips to short films to video games, encouraging students to become more aware of the mediums and modalities that contribute to rhetorical effectiveness. In an effort to help students think about the various tools, people, histories and contexts involved in communication, I think the more diverse the modalities and media we present, the more visible we can make the multiple layers of communication processes. 

 

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

Matt SwitliskiMatt Switliski (nominated by Christina Ortmeier-Hooper) is completing a PhD in English with a concentration in Composition at the University of New Hampshire. He has taught First-Year Writing, Introduction to Creative Nonfiction, Professional and Technical Writing, and other courses. His major research interests are writing centers and creative writing. His secondary interests include response, stylistics, and craft books. Matt was a 2018 Bedford New Scholar.

 

In the First-Year Writing classes I teach, I often ask a series of questions on the first day of the semester to get students involved and to access some of what they already know about writing. “What were you told to do (or not do) in writing?” generates plenty of ideas and usually some disagreement. The answers encompass the expected (Your thesis should be in the first paragraph) and the surprising (You can’t start a sentence with “because”). For as many times as I’ve asked that question, I’ve never had a student ask, “What kind of writing?” To shake up their ideas about school writing being one universal variety, I try to integrate discussions of genre throughout the term.

 

Some context: At the University of New Hampshire, our one-semester First-Year Writing (FYW) course is the only requirement for all students regardless of program (save those with appropriate transfer or AP credit). While individual instructors have a lot of flexibility, the course is generally structured around three major assignments—an analytical essay, a researched persuasive essay, and a personal essay—with a rhetorical emphasis throughout. The first assignment asks students to rhetorically analyze an argument, integrating the appeals of ethos, logos, and pathos. That language bridges nicely to the next essay in which writers make their own arguments, supported by evidence. It’s in the early days of the researched persuasive unit that I raise the matter of genre with the assignment linked here.

 

One way I’ve introduced genre is to have students brainstorm as many different kinds of writing as they can. I encourage them to be as broad with it as possible. If it contains language, it’s fair game. As students call out ideas—Lyrics! Menus! Lab reports! Poems!—I scribble them furiously on the board, both to signal that their contributions are valuable and to give us a powerful visual of the diversity of writing. Breaking into groups, they discuss what’s common and what’s distinctive about each of these sorts of writing, sharing their findings as a whole class afterward. (I realize there are much more nuanced approaches to genre, as in the work of Amy Devitt and Anis Bawarshi, but I’m not even sure I understand those views as well as I should. Besides, this exercise is really just scratching the surface of a much bigger topic.)

 

From there we consider the research papers they’ve written in the past, whether those are a genre themselves or if they include a range of genres. Some have written diverse work that integrates research, but many more have written a kind of generic research paper that just gathers information and solders it together without opinion, without audience, without purpose. That, I tell them, is not the case here. The research will help them make a point that they believe. And in doing so, they get to experiment with genre.

 

As you can see in the assignment, I provide students with the introductions to three approaches to the same basic research topic. The audience for each is different, however, as is the evidence used. In the past I’ve given them the choice of writing their research paper as an op-ed, a report, or a letter, though I do like the idea of making it entirely open-ended; that way, they would not only need to research material to help them make their arguments, but they’d also need to research how to write whatever genre they choose, something they will need to do in the future as FYW cannot prepare writers for every contingency. (Here I align myself with Downs and Wardle in rejecting teaching a “universal academic discourse” as a goal for FYW [553].)

 

While each example obviously differs in style and structure, I emphasize audience, purpose, and evidence. The letter addresses an individual, the report a larger group, and the op-ed the largest. Given those audiences, we discuss what issues are relevant to each of these audiences and, if we don’t know, how to find out. What the audience cares about changes the angle of the argument and thus demands different evidence. We discuss what each argument is asking its audience to do and if that course of action is within their power—something I expect them to address in their own writing. And we talk about evidence not just as it relates to the audience and purpose but what seems appropriate for the genre. A report probably won’t have much room for pathos, whereas a letter or an op-ed might. The ethos of the writer can sometimes be relevant for an op-ed and almost always is in the case of a letter. As for logos, well, that’s key to nearly any argument, something they generally notice when writing their own rhetorical analyses.

 

How do you bring up genre in writing classrooms? How do you work against the ubiquitous generic research paper?

 

References

Bawarshi, Anis S. Genre and the Invention of the Writer: Reconsidering the Place of Invention in Composition. Utah State UP, 2003.

Devitt, Amy J. Writing Genres. Southern Illinois UP, 2008.

Downs, Douglas, and Elizabeth Wardle. “Teaching about Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)Envisioning ‘First-Year Composition’ as ‘Introduction to Writing Studies.’” College Composition and Communication, vol. 58, no. 4, 2007, pp. 552-584.

 

To view Matt’s assignment, visit Persuasive Genres. To learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board, visit the Bedford New Scholars page on the Macmillan English Community.

Skye RobersonSkye Roberson (nominated by Katie Fredlund) is pursuing her PhD in Composition Studies in the English department at the University of Memphis. She is currently the graduate assistant director of the Center for Writing and Communication. Prior to that, she taught first-year writing at the University of Memphis and Arkansas State University and served as a writing consultant for five years. Her research interests include feminist rhetoric, history of composition and rhetoric, labor inequality, and writing centers. Her most recent publication, “'Anonymous Was a Woman:’ Anonymous Authorship as Rhetorical Strategy” will appear in the edited collection Feminist Connections: Rhetorical Strategies from the Suffragists to the Cyberfeminists.

 

Scaffolding multimodal assignments is essential in pedagogies that embrace inclusivity. It’s tempting to assume that students in the first-year writing program are digital natives, and therefore have a wealth of pre-existing knowledge about technology. Those assumptions risk harming students from marginalized backgrounds who may have limited exposure to technology, including students from low-income areas, non-traditional students, or those whose physical or mental disabilities are barriers to access. By scaffolding multimodal assignments, it puts each student in the class on equal footing and increases their confidence when working with digital tools.

 

One of the major assignments in the second sequence of the first-year writing program at University of Memphis is the New Media Project, where students transform their written researched arguments into digital compositions. Before this assignment, roughly halfway through the semester, I assign the Multimedia Group Presentation, a low-stakes collaborative project that provides scaffolding for the New Media Project. I dedicate two weeks for them to work on the project in-class. During this time, they learn how to interact with a digital tool of their choice, build a small sample project, and prepare a presentation on the strengths and weaknesses of the tool they selected. I act as facilitator while they work as groups. On the final day, students lead presentations followed by Q&A sessions where the class has opportunities to ask deeper questions about how the digital tools work.

 

This assignment provides layers of scaffolding for the more difficult New Media Project at the end of the semester and accomplishes the following:

  • The process of learning and sharing digital tools helps students understand how they work, which (for me) is the hardest part of teaching a course steeped in multimodality. This gives the students the essential knowledge they need to develop their own projects later in the semester.
  • The freedom of the assignment introduces time for play and exploration in the classroom. Students are allowed to use unstructured class time to test out their tools without worrying about being graded or judged. The purpose is to promote possibility rather than perfection.
  • By discussing the strengths and weaknesses of a given tool, students begin thinking critically about the functionality and potential applications of multimodal platforms. They shift from being passive learners to critical thinkers.
  • This project signals my changing role in the classroom, giving more authority to students as the semester progresses. For this assignment, they control what happens during class time. As the semester goes on, I assume a more decentralized position as a facilitator, and they have greater control of how we use class time.

 

The Multimedia Group Presentation is the only scaffolding I have built in before the New Media Project. Each semester, I wonder if I’ve done enough to prepare my students to work on their own. Even though students typically rate the Multimedia Group Presentation as their favorite assignment, there are still some who struggle when working alone. I worry most about students who have never done a multimodal project because they can become demoralized when they can’t figure out how to solve problems alone. A similar problem is that students sometimes limit themselves to the tool they learned to use in the group project rather than embrace the options presented by their peers.

 

Since I last taught this assignment a year ago, I have wondered how these issues might be addressed. An idea I’ve considered is having students work in collaborative units where they learn to use a new tool each day. Rather than have them do a formal presentation, the project will end with a class discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of each tool. By doing this, each student is equally exposed to the digital tools at their disposal. This is something I’m considering when I teach this course next semester.

 

What kind of scaffolding do you use in a multimodal composition course? How do you make digital tools accessible? How do you promote access in your pedagogy? 

 

To view Skye’s assignment, visit Multimedia Group Presentation. To learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board, visit the Bedford New Scholars page on the Macmillan English Community.

Andrew HollingerAndrew Hollinger (nominated by Randall Monty) is pursuing his PhD in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University, and expects to finish in May 2020. He is the coordinator for first year writing at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. In addition to teaching in the writing program, he also teaches technical communication, and composition theory and pedagogy. His research interests include articulation theory, especially around teachers, students, and Education; writing studies; experience architecture and public rhetoric; and pedagogy.

 

 

FYW is Liminal

We forget, I think, what it’s like to not know how to write, think, study. Or, rather: what it’s like to not know something and also not know how to deal with it. Professional scholars and writers thrive in unknowing and inquiry; perhaps it’s the thrill of discovery and articulation that drives us. At the very least, we’ve acclimated.

 

Enter first year writing. While trying to become (very poetic and all), students enter our classes where they are confronted with many of the misconceptions they’ve been writing and working and learning under for the last twelve years of their schooling, things like there is one way/method/protocol that anyone can follow to produce “good” writing (that pesky universal discourse that even we have trouble dissuading our peers across campus of), or that getting better at grammar or vocabulary will translate to better writing, or that someone either has it or they don’t (I’m a math person, anyway), and so on. Overcoming the misconceptions is, itself, a daunting task. Add to that our content—writing is an activity and a subject (What does that mean?); “good” writing is contextual and situational (How do I know the situation?); not all composition is alphabetic text on a page (What?!)—and it’s a wonder our students don’t glimpse the syllabus on the first day and walk out.

 

The assumption, it sometimes seems, is that students and faculty outside of the writing program and rhet/comp  think first year writing is an obligatory course, a hurdle to jump. Show up, writing the essays, get your grade, and move on. The truth is more complex and less poetic.

 

First year writing is part of the first year experience—whether or not the course formally resides within a university-wide FYE infrastructure. Traditional students are transitioning from high school. Nontraditional students are trying to transition into a school mindset. Many students (even the “good” ones, whatever that means) don’t know what it means to be in college. What does it mean to be a scholar? What does it mean to engage with the genres and media and conventions of a discipline? What does it mean to think and struggle through ideas? Without guidance, many students end up making it through their time in college simply surviving, without really experiencing the full possibilities available to them.

 

First year writing, then, serves several functions and purposes: the teaching of (multimodal) composition and the larger social project of helping students enter the university (in all senses of “enter”). That is, first year writing is uniquely situated to perform the important work of teaching our course content while also equipping students for success in their other courses, in the jobs, and perhaps even interpersonally (though that’s a blog post for another time) if we, as instructors, can develop assignments that deliberately respond to both the academic and social areas our class is already in.

 

Assignments Can Be Bridges

Enter (again) first year writing and my assignment, Research Three Ways: Becoming an Academic. This project (three separate assignments) is intended for the second course in a two-course first year writing sequence, but could easily be adapted for the first course or a single course. The initial assignment is fairly common, a research paper. My own classes focus on writing as its own subject as well as threshold concepts, so students often write about topics that concern writing, reading, literacy, and learning. However, this assignment should work well with any focus, theme, or writing approach.

 

The interesting thing about this assignment is what happens during the writing of the research paper. Students are asked to track, color code, and annotate their revisions. (Why not just use “track changes” on Word or Google Drive or Draftback? You could. I like this approach because it slows the process down and requires students to make physical moves that parallel their cognitive maneuvers and rhetorical decisions.) This part of the assignment communicates early to students that

  1. We will be drafting and revising; it’s not even possible to write this paper the night before it’s due.
  2. Writing happens on purpose. Even when we are incidentally clever, the choice to leave it in constitutes a rhetorical choice and a purposeful composer.
  3. Additionally, done this way, the assignment asks students to frame and contextual their revisions.

 

Working through a research paper like this is like walking through a building with all the scaffolding still up. It’s easier to see how things were constructed, why this beam has to go here or why this wall has windows but this one doesn’t. Not only does the element of the assignment put everything on display (which is a great teaching tool), but it allows us to talk through the kinds of things we do automatically when we write for our own jobs. It goes back to the first year experience: this is what it is like to think through a problem and struggle through its solution. In this moment, we’re teaching students how to write and also how to be successful college students.

 

The remaining elements of the project, the conference presentation and the public document continue the twin processes of writing instruction and scholarly invitation and cultivation. After completing the research paper, students reframe their work as a presentation and then remix it as a document for a public (and, usually, lay audience). Pedagogically, students are engaging with multimodal composition and revision practices. They are self-editing and recasting their work to fit new and novel scenarios while still maintaining connections to the original research goals and products. For the larger college picture, we are inviting students to be scholars while also demonstrating how to work and think through their other courses.

 

First year writing is an important course, one with its own content, theory, pedagogy, threshold concepts, and implications. It is also a course that is inherently liminal, interstitial. Our students are moving and becoming. Even our content is constantly evolving. This assignment is one small way that we can help our students lean into the unfamiliar in productive and meaningful ways.

 

To view Andrew's assignment, visit Research Three Ways: Becoming an Academic. To learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board, visit the Bedford New Scholars page on the Macmillan English Community.

Cecilia SheltonCecilia Shelton (nominated by Dr. Michelle Eble) is pursuing her PhD in Rhetoric, Writing, and Professional communication in the English department at East Carolina University. She expects to finish in May 2019. She has more than ten years of experience teaching college writing so she has taught lots of different courses. Her favorite course was one called "Critical Writing Seminar" that married critical theories, pop culture, and writing and tried to employ a code-meshing pedagogy. Most recently, she has been teaching Writing Foundations courses (first and second year writing), Writing for Business and Industry, and Scientific Writing. Her research interests explore the intersections of cultural rhetorics and technical communication in activist work and social movement theory. She is also a 2018 CCCC Scholar for the Dream and a 2018 recipient of ECU's Diversity and Inclusion Award.

 

Students and their professors often have very different visions for what should come of a writing course, but on this we can agree: the first-year writing course is overloaded with expectations. As the single course with perhaps the most stakeholders invested in its outcomes, participating in the first-year writing classroom as a teacher or a student is a high stakes endeavor. For students who enter the classroom with 13 years of conditioning against their nonstandard cultural rhetorical practices—spoken, written, and otherwise—the stakes are even higher and the students are risk averse because of it.

 

In my time as a writing center administrator and an English instructor at an HBCU, my pedagogy became rooted in teaching students to become critical consumers and producers of language. That goal means different things to different teachers and students; for almost all Black students—regardless of their preparation for and perceived skill in writing—it means grappling with the probability that their race will likely always influence the way their language use is consumed and interpreted no matter how precisely they align themselves with standard English. I think it can also mean teaching students to see their cultural rhetorics as linguistic resources (not deficits) in producing texts that speak truth to power in the academy.  

 

The texts we hold up in our classrooms as worthy of study and the values imbued in our assignments betray our language politics. My "Soundtrack of the American Dream" assignment was my first real attempt to align my pedagogy with my language politics. In it, I ask students to "prepare a creative interpretation of the American Dream by composing an album cover and writing a track list for an album." More and more rhetoric and composition scholars are challenging the cannon and disrupting stale notions of expertise to explore new voices as models in the composition classroom. But how often are scholars willing (or allowed) to invite the same kinds of disruptions from students?

 

The Soundtrack of the American Dream assignment is, essentially, a much more interesting version of a critical analysis essay. It asks students to resist assumptions and generalizations of the “American Dream,” and it requires them to find concrete examples that consider the component parts of this myth and the significance of those parts to the whole concept (in other words, analysis). But it does this on terms that the student sets for themselves.

 

By foregrounding music as a cultural artifact that reflects the American Dream, students are free to assign importance and value to the voices that they see as credible. Although class discussions root everyone’s exploration in the same popular associations with the American Dream—money, houses, marriage, family, self-determination, etc.—students can approach these associations through the lens of their lived experience. Perhaps most importantly, students are explicitly invited to use the linguistic resources that best serve the lived experiences that they want to amplify in explaining and reflecting on the American Dream.

 

Because this assignment is now more than five years old, I often think about how it is aging. When I was much closer to it, I wrote about the pedagogical exploration that it represents here: Disrupting Authority . Having taught first-year writing less and less as I accumulate teaching experience and sharpen my pedagogy, I haven’t had many opportunities to revisit and revise the assignment. I expect that many scholars with a number of years of teaching experience share this retrospective stance. What could I do better here? How does my current research trajectory and pedagogical stance inform a project like this one?

 

The political and social urgency of this moment has brought resistance and activist rhetorics to the center of my research agenda and pedagogical commitments. Not only am I interested in students becoming critical producers and consumers of language, but I am also determined to support their advocacy and intervention in the systems they observe. Stevens (2009) offers a perspective that challenges me to see new opportunities in my Soundtrack of the American Dream assignment. She argues that “rhetors have a responsibility to choose between social reproduction and change, and part of this responsibility is to choose whether or not to accept rhetorical situations, and the social relations that construct them, as presented” (50). She goes on to argue in favor of inappropriate rhetorical strategies or even outright rejection of the rhetorical situation as potentially effective responses for students in our writing classrooms.

 

What would it look like for my students to outright reject the premise of an American Dream at all? Given the realities of the lived experiences of many people in this country, that kind of response seems to reflect not only critical thinking but also a true exigence for their writing outside my classroom and with audiences beyond the academy. Am I inviting the kind of responses that enable this sort of disruption and academic success at the same time? Shouldn’t I be? Are you? How are we preparing students to use language to break systems, not just see them? 

 

Among all of the many ways that first-year writing courses have been customized to meet specific institutional (and other) contexts, I am most heartened by those that offer students a way to think about language over strict guidelines for its usage. In a contemporary knowledge economy where technology and artificial intelligence can do more and more of the sentence level work that props up our bigoted notion of a standard variety of English—I want to give students more—preparing them to engage as active citizens of the world who use their critical thinking and composing skills to advocate for equity and justice feels right to me.

 

To view Cecilia’s assignment, visit The Soundtrack of the American Dream. To learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board, visit the Bedford New Scholars page on the Macmillan English Community.

 

References

Stevens, S. M. (2009). Dreaming to change our situation: Reconfiguring the exigence for student writing. In Stevens, S. & Malesh, P. M. (Eds.) Active voices: Composing a rhetoric for social movements (47-68). Albany: Statue University New York Press.

Lizbett Tinoco

Lizbett Tinoco (nominated by Dr. Kate Mangelsdorf) completed her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition in May 2018 from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). At UTEP, she was Assistant Director of the University Writing Center and taught a variety of courses, including First-Year Composition, Technical Writing, Professional Writing and Writing Program Administration. Her research interests focus on writing program administration, community colleges, writing centers, and multilingualism. She joined Texas A&M University-San Antonio as an Assistant Professor of English in the Fall of 2018.

 

One of the major assignments I teach in my technical writing course is a job market portfolio. The job market portfolio includes a rhetorical analysis of a job ad. Then, students create a tailored resume and cover letter for the specific job. In addition to these documents, I also want students to practice the rhetorical skills necessary for preparing and engaging in a job interview.

 

The job interview portion of the job market portfolio has taken on various iterations over the years I have taught this course. A few years ago, I had students schedule individual mock interview appointments with me. As you can image, these took up a lot of time! After trying this approach for one semester, I realized that my students and I, both, did not have enough time to schedule individual mock interviews. I did not simply want to get rid of this assignment because, today, more and more interviews are being conducted online through various video conferencing platforms. I wanted to make sure my students were prepared for the demands they might face when on the job market. The following semester, I was assigned an online technical writing course, so this made me rethink the job interview assignment.

 

Since the technical writing course I taught was online, I asked students to record their job interview responses using their cell phones or other devices they had available to them. I provided students with different groups of questions and asked them to provide a response to one question in every group. This version of the assignment went well, but in the reflection of the assignment, many students discussed feeling somewhat awkward recording themselves. A lot of them felt like the experience did not simulate a real one.

 

When I started my first tenure-track position at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, I learned I was going to teach technical writing. During my new faculty orientation, someone from the Mays Center for Experiential Learning & Community Engagement provided us with information about the services they offer to faculty and students. One of the resources our institution has access to is Big Interview. This online program gives students the opportunity to practice their interview skills. The program offers sets of questions based on different job industries, but instructors also have the ability to include their own set of questions. Students in my course really enjoyed that an interviewer asked them the questions, and then, they provided responses. Students felt this a more realistic experience.

 

One of the biggest issues my students had while using Big Interview was the accessibility of the program. Like many online programs, students had login issues and difficulty navigating the interface of the program. More significantly, students could not use the program on their cell phones. As I’m preparing to teach technical writing again next semester, I’m debating whether or not to use Big Interview. I keep asking myself the following questions: Will students have access to the technology they need to use this program? If students don’t have access, will they have the time to use computers available to them on campus?

 

As I continue to develop assignments, I need to make sure I am mindful about access to resources and technology that are necessary for my students to successfully complete assignments.

 

To view Liz’s assignment, visit Job Interview. To learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board, visit the Bedford New Scholars page on the Macmillan English Community.

Today's featured Bedford New Scholar is Dara Liling, who completed her MA in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Maryland-College Park, where she also taught First-Year Writing and worked as an administrator in the Writing Center. Her thesis investigated contemporary multilingual activism rhetoric, particularly visual rhetoric including lawn signs and public art, and touched on issues of cultural citizenship, identification, and linguistic landscapes. She now works as an editor at NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

 

Most rhetoric and composition instructors are well-acquainted with debates of social justice that intersect with our work. Some main considerations we must grapple with on a daily basis include whether our expectations of good writing align with hegemonic constructs and the latent implications (racial, gendered, linguistic, etc.) that our assessments convey to students. While we may be used to contemplating these issues on societal, institutional, or programmatic levels, it is just as necessary to zoom in on social justice issues in writing pedagogy and assessment for individual writing assignments. For me, teaching and grading the annotated bibliography assignment has brought to light the necessity of paying deep attention to how we discuss and evaluate credibility, as well as the underlying messages about good scholarship that we perpetuate.

 

I suspect that the annotated bibliography assignment first-year writing instructors teach at the University of Maryland–College Park is pretty standard. This assignment is the first in a semester-long series of writing projects that each student completes on a topic of his or her choosing, culminating in a final 8- to 10-page research paper. The annotated bibliography entries are graded based on the degree to which students effectively address four criteria:

  1. summary of the source
  2. source use in upcoming assignments
  3. author bias
  4. credibility

 It is the final criterion that gives me pause when considering whether my assessments are socially just.

 

While credibility may initially seem like a straightforward criterion that a source either has or does not have, scholarship and personal experience complicates this assumption. In this past, I had taught my students (as instructors had taught me) that there are a few qualities a source can display that deem it credible:

  • Is it published in an esteemed, usually peer reviewed, publication?
  • Does it cite other credible sources?
  • Does the author have reputable qualifications, such as an advanced degree in the field or a history of publications and conference presentations?

While I still agree that these are positive qualities for a source to have, and that it is valuable to teach students how to identify these qualities, I have also come to realize that equally valuable resources get lost (or even silenced) when we hold these stipulations as immutable markers of useable works.   

 

Many before me have grappled with these lines of thought, questioning what forms of knowledge are vital for wholistic understandings and where these knowledge forms are present or absent. Much of this contemplation occurs in the realms of feminist rhetoric, public memory studies, and cultural rhetorics (to name a few). For example, Jones Brayboy and Bryan McKinley (2005) propose storytelling as an indispensable method for introducing marginalized experiences into canons of study, while lamenting that its validity is largely dismissed. Clare Hemmings (2005) proclaims that women and people of color have been excluded from big-name journals. And Nana Oesi-Kofi et al. (2010) acknowledge the lack of validity subjugated knowledge generally hold in academia. Together, this scholarship illuminates two premises:

  1. traditionally nonacademic forms of knowledge can be quite valuable to the learning and writing in which our students engage, but
  2. it is quite possible that such sources will not meet hegemonic definitions of credibility.

 

These issues transitioned beyond theoretical considerations for me when I was conferencing with a student during the annotated bibliography unit. He was inspired by personal experiences within his Filipino-American community to center his semester-long research on the lingering effects of colonialism on Filipino-American culture. He planned to investigate debates prevalent within the community about reclaiming traditional, pre-colonial culture versus creating a new culture that may abandon traditional cultural elements. (What an interesting topic!) However, some of his sources strayed beyond the credibility criteria. They appeared in publications that were outside of mainstream academia (and therefore cited in fewer academic articles than other sources); they pulled evidence from personal and community experiences, rather than academic sources. Did this mean, the student wanted to know, that these sources were not credible and unusable for the assignment?

 

Of course not. They capture viewpoints necessary for entering the key debates and responsibly representing multiple sides of the issue. So what could I do moving forward to better communicate these notions to my students? What could be done to improve my first-year writing pedagogy?

 

First, is to examine issues of public memory, situated knowledge, and exclusion early in the annotated bibliography unit. Encourage students to question and redevelop their own notions of credibility. How do they choose when a source they encounter in their personal lives is worthwhile to read or discuss with friends?

 

Second, is to revisit source use and expand on the purpose of this consideration. When is a traditionally credible source most appropriate? When is personal experience or other forms of situated knowledge most appropriate? What are the different effects of using one versus the other?

 

These are just two starting points for this social justice work, but hopefully promising places to push against hegemonic, limiting constructs of credibility. 

Today’s featured Bedford New Scholar is Rachel McCabe, a PhD Candidate in English at Indiana University Bloomington. She expects to finish in 2019. She teaches Analytical Reading, Writing, and Inquiry, and has taught multilingual and online versions of the course in the past. She also designed her own FYC theme-based course which focuses on the grotesque. She is an Assistant Director of IU’s FYC Program as well as their Professional Writing course. Her research interests include the relationship between reading and writing, affect theory and its impact on the reading and writing process (especially when using fictional and multimodal texts), and how shock and discomfort can be utilized as pedagogical tools.

 

In first-year writing courses, students often struggle to conceptualize the new ideas and perspectives they encounter through course readings. As Robert Scholes explains in his 2002 article, “The Transition to College Reading,” college students absorb reading material as though it reflects their world view. Rather than allowing the text to make its own argument, they force a connection between the way they see the world and what is written on the page. Scholes explains, “The problem emerges as one of difference, or otherness—a difficulty in moving from the words of the text to some set of intentions that are different from one’s own, some values or presuppositions different from one’s own and possibly opposed to them” (166). In breaking down this problem into contributing factors, Scholes concludes there are two central difficulties: “One is a failure to focus sharply on the language of the text. The other is a failure to imagine the otherness of the text’s author” (166).

 

Indiana University’s First-Year Composition (FYC) program has utilized a multitude of practices to help students separate themselves from the texts they read. We implement heuristics in the standard syllabus to get students to slow down when reading and notice small patterns and anomalies they might not otherwise pay attention to. We also use a collection of readings that specifically highlight a variety of perspectives, including Gloria Anzaldua’s “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility,” and Susan Wendell’s “The Social Construction of Disability.” We also practice “using a source as a lens,” a heuristic from David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen. This heuristic helps students figure out how to extract the perspective demonstrated in an author’s work and then use this concept to reconceptualize other materials.

 

These practices were in place before I joined as Assistant Director of Composition, and I took note of the ways in which they helped students to separate their identities and ideas from the ones represented in the readings. However, in structuring my own version of FYC, I wanted students to be able to practice this objectivity from the start of the semester onward rather than learning to do so by the middle of the course sequence. This was critical to the development of student analytical skills in my course, which focused on defining the term “grotesque” as well as its use and appearance in American culture and art. Since this course asked students to begin by understanding a definition, their ability to apply the term to primary texts was critical to the assignment sequence. As a result, while my first of three units grew out of the standard syllabus at Indiana University for “W131: Reading, Writing, and Inquiry,” it implements “source as a lens” as one of the first heuristics of the semester.

 

For our first two course readings, students analyze an excerpt from Wolfgang Kayser’s The Grotesque in Art and Literature and Michael Steig’s “Defining the Grotesque: An Attempt at Synthesis.” These two texts not only provide introductory definitions of the term “grotesque,” but they also demonstrate how academic conversations develop, as Steig builds his definition from the work provided by Kayser. Students then craft a “lens” from one of these two texts. In our class, this means re-evaluating texts including William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” or Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” through the perspectives provided by Kayser or Steig.

 

Students are encouraged to start their essays with their initial interpretations of the short story or poem, using textual analysis to determine why they initially viewed the short story or poem in a particular way. Then, their essays go on to explore how the student was able to re-see the primary text in a new light with the help of Kayser or Steig’s lens. This structure asks students to differentiate between their reading of the text and the reading that might be provided by either of these other authors. In order to adopt this lens, they first practice summarizing the texts and understand its main claims. They then use this knowledge to see the short story or poem from a perspective other than their own.

 

This heuristic ultimately serves as an approachable way for students to consider Kenneth Burke’s concept of the “terministic screen.” It alerts them to the ways in which their perspective is just one way to read any text or situation. As Burke explains in Language as Symbolic Action, people move through the world with their own unique perspective and interpretations. As a result, “many of the ‘observations’ are but implications of the particular terminology in terms of which the observations are made” (46). Moving between these screens constructed by our own terminology and experiences provides the flexibility of imagination to imagine another person’s perspective. By starting out with this exercise, students know that our writing course emphasis is not only on rhetorical analysis of texts, but also on broadening our points of view.

 

To view Rachel’s assignment, visit The Grotesque in American Culture: Essay 1, Applying a Definition. To learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board, visit the Bedford New Scholars page on the Macmillan English Community.

 

Works Cited

Burke, Kenneth. Language As Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. University of California Press, 1966.

Rosenwasser, David, and Jill Stephen. Writing Analytically. Thomson Wadsworth, 2009.

Scholes, Robert J. “The Transition to College Reading.” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, vol. 2 no. 2, 2002, pp. 165-172.

Today's featured Bedford New Scholar is Kristin vanEyk, a student in the Joint PhD program in English and Education at the University of Michigan. Kristin taught high school English for nine years before beginning her PhD in the fall of 2016. She expects to complete her degree in 2021. Kristin teaches first year writing at the university, and is especially interested in the ways students blend register and genre to create meaning. Kristin's research interests include translingual theory and practice, critical race theory and whiteness theory, and critical feminism.

 

A few weeks ago Leah Rang blogged here about the latest group of Bedford New Scholars (BNS) and promised (or perhaps warned?) that the BNS “notable newcomers” would soon be writing for this space. As one of the BNS cohort, I’m delighted to have this opportunity to ask a few questions and learn from you all.

 

I first started reading the Bits blog in May of 2018, the week Andrea A. Lunsford wrote about “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” and the ongoing efforts for more generous attitudes towards our students’ home languages (see her post African American Rhetoric and Other Englishes). Lunsford recommended Jerry Won Lee’s book titled The Politics of Translingualism: After Englishes (Routledge, 2017), which I had just finished reading, and she concluded her post with an invitation to continue the conversation about translingualism, an orientation where the theory and pedagogy sometimes miss one another. As we head into a new semester, it seems like a good time to revisit this conversation.

 

 Lee’s book helpfully clarified some of my confusion over the need for a distinction between multilingualism and translingualism, and why this matters in a writing classroom. Lee argues that “by focusing on and drawing attention to the simultaneous presence of multiple language resources in a particular utterance, moment, or space, we risk simultaneously gesturing to and reaffirming the disciplinarian linguistic ideologies that have aspired and perhaps conspired to keep such language resources in isolation from one another” (p. 9). My conception of the translingual orientation had been too narrow: code-switching vs. code-meshing or multilingual (parallel monolingualism) vs. translingual (through and beyond linguistic borders). Such stunted views of the translingual turn belied my own stunted imagination about what “counts” in academic writing and what rhetorical magic our students can muster if we convince them that we genuinely want to see what they can do.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about how translingual theory and anti-racist pedagogy can come together in meaningful and rigorous classroom practice. During my first semester of graduate school, I enrolled in a seminar taught by Anne Gere called “What Makes Writing Good,” which focused on justice-oriented pedagogy and anti-racist writing assessment practices. At the same time, I was working with linguist Anne Curzan on challenging deficit language ideologies in writing classrooms. These courses greatly shaped my approach to translingualism by bringing linguists and compositionists into conversation about the teaching of languaging.

 

I do worry about how my students will fare when they leave the safety of my classroom. As Deborah Cameron and Rosina Lippi-Green and others have demonstrated, there are many who insist on standard varieties of English as a litmus test for intelligence. If people in their lives will require conventions of a so-called “standard” variety of English, what does that mean for a composition teacher with a translingual orientation? How do I reconcile a conviction that I ought to teach beyond linguistic and other borders when I also believe that borders will hem my students in?

 

It seems very practical to ask students to answer these kinds of questions for themselves, to have students write about their own linguistic ideologies and to practice having conversations with people who use standards as a basis of judgement. It seems like part of my job, as a teacher of languaging, to help students find the language they want to use to correct the misinformation they will encounter about language. So that’s where my semester is moving: towards challenging students to think about how cultural language preferences are developed, how they are reinforced (and by whom!), and how they as informed students want to respond when they witness the perpetuation of hegemony.

 

One of my favorite writing assignments to teach is the Literacy Narrative. We read a few example texts in class, like Sherman Alexie’s “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me,” and then I ask my students to think about the literacy experiences that have shaped their own linguistic ideologies. Often they discover that reading and writing have played a more critical role in the development of their identities than they realized, and they appreciate the challenge of writing an argument about literacy and identity in a university writing course. As students peer review and share these essays they also expand their understandings of how language and identity are intertwined, and hopefully we all become more compassionate and courageous individuals.

 

If you have insights into how we can guide our students’ thinking about linguistic ideologies or how they can practice standing up for their developing beliefs, I certainly welcome the discussion.

 

To view Kristin's assignment, visit Literacy Narrative Assignment SheetTo learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board, visit the the Bedford New Scholars page on the Macmillan English Community.