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22 Posts authored by: Guest Blogger Expert

Today’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodrigue, an associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts.



Like thousands of other professors, I am in the process of transitioning my face-to-face courses online. While my teaching and work heavily rely on and are informed by technology, I’ve never taught online. Why? Because I’ve never wanted to. I like to see my students, read their faces, hear their voices, chat with them after class, and say hi to them in the hallways. It was fairly easy for me to re-imagine my curriculum in an online setting, though. Yet I did encounter some unexpected struggles. I faced some logistical issues, namely figuring out how I was going to hold synchronous meetings with two young children screaming “mama” every five seconds in the background. Perhaps more importantly, I struggled with how I was going to redesign my last assignment. I had to stretch out my second assignment in order for it to actually work online, so that left only one week for students to complete something comparable to a final assignment. I didn’t know what that something might be. I thought of not doing anything at all and just reworking the original grade percentages, but then I felt paranoid and insecure. If I assigned nothing, would that still make me a fairly decent teacher?


I debated about this for a long time. During the messy debate in my overwhelmed, anxiety-ridden brain, I suddenly thought maybe I should just heed the advice of the million people on social media frantically sharing ideas for online teaching: identify the most important goal(s) and outcome(s) of the class, and then design a simple, bare-boned assignment that supports students in achieving those goal(s) and outcome(s).


I called my dear friend, colleague, and experienced online teacher, Dr. Amy Minett, to ask her advice about logistical issues as well as to brainstorm possible ideas for my last assignment. She helped me figure out the synchronous conferences/future screaming child scenarios and graciously brainstormed with me about final assignment possibilities. The classes I’m teaching—two sections of Audio Storytelling—are the second course in a three-course vertical writing model in our general education curriculum. My first idea, informed by common social media advice, was to design an assignment that bridges the second and third writing classes in the vertical writing model, offering students the opportunity to reflect on what they learned in my class and the ways in which the curriculum might have prepared them for work in the third required writing class. After talking through this plan, Amy said something that shifted my entire thinking about what might constitute a meaningful writing assignment in a time of crisis. She reminded me that we are living in a historical moment and that providing students with the opportunity to dwell in the moment--to reflect, to express their thoughts, their feelings, and their experiences—in writing could be helpful and meaningful. I immediately thought a version of an oral history would work perfectly in an audio storytelling class, but I was torn. Do I do the “pedagogically responsible” thing and create an assignment that bridges the two required writing courses? Or do I focus on the here and now, and create an assignment that enables students to use writing as a means to express, to learn, to reflect, and to record and preserve their experiences during an unprecedented crisis that will likely change the world and how we live in it?


I opted for the oral history-like project, and here is why. First, research shows that students find writing assignments that connect to their personal life meaningful. Second, while this assignment may not do all of the work needed to help students transition to their third writing course or reinforce rhetorical principles they’ll find valuable for life, it does support them in strengthening their knowledge and habits of mind that have been associated with success in college: writing is a process and rhetorically situated; it’s a means to learn; and it’s a way to strengthen metacognition and practice flexibility. Yet more than either of those reasons is this: an assignment like this is humane, caring, and compassionate, and all three are desperately needed in a time of crisis. Students are isolated. They’re anxious. They’re scared. Their entire worlds have drastically changed within a week. Some might feel like the Apocalypse is coming at any moment. Some might feel too scared to tell anyone how they feel or may have no one to talk to. Some may be food insecure or housing insecure or returning to homes where they feel unsafe. Some don’t have internet access or computers. Some have never taken an online course or never wanted to. A meaningful reflective assignment provides students space to dwell and reflect, which may be therapeutic or cathartic or it might help them understand something about the world or about themselves in the world. It might be uncomfortable or difficult, and they may even hate me for assigning such a project. But I want them to know that they matter, their voices matter, their experiences matter, and I, and maybe even the world, want to listen to them, support them, connect with them, and care for them.


An audio project, which has potential to be played on the radio or on a podcast, is particularly apropos to our current context: audio stories have historically been known to provide marginalized people the opportunity to be heard, to speak for themselves, and to tell their own story with their own voice. Further, voice, according to Radio Producer Jay Allison, has a unique power in connecting people. He writes, “a voice can sneak in, bypass the brain, and touch the heart…. in hearing your mother’s voice, she becomes, in a way, my mother, and I am drawn back to my own history and to .” (Jay Allison, Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound). The sharing of voices brings humanity, empathy, and compassion to the forefront, and most importantly, has the potential to unite people in a time that demands we stand at least six feet apart from one other. I can only hope that this kind of assignment can make students feel, even if it’s only for one second, that they are not so isolated and alone. And perhaps one day, they might return to their recording and feel grateful that they captured their memories and experiences of this significant moment in history.


The below assignment can be adopted or adapted in any course in any mode of writing.


We are in a historical moment, one that will be discussed, taught, and analyzed for decades to come. It’s a moment that’s confusing and scary; a moment that is understood, felt, and interpreted in different ways and in different pockets of the world.


One way people learn about and remember historical moments like this is through oral histories. Oral histories are audio or video recordings that preserve and capture a person or group of people’s memories, experiences, feelings, personal commentaries, and understandings about a person, an event, an issue, or a life at a particular moment in time. Many oral histories emerge from well-prepared interviews and are often placed in an archive or a library.


For this final project, you will compose a personal oral history-like project that captures your impressions, feelings, commentaries, and/or understanding of what’s happening in a world facing an unprecedented health crisis. This audio recording will be a piece of history that you (and maybe others) can return to in the future to further reflect, understand, analyze or remember how you perceived life during a pandemic and looming economic crisis in 2020. And if you’re willing, it will be a collection of personal oral histories about the pandemic that will be played on the Salem State English department radio show/podcast, Soundplay, at some point in the future.


You can approach this assignment in any number of ways, and you can exert as much time and energy on it as you want. You might make this oral history a combination of personal narrative, media clips, and maybe even interviews with other folks that work to construct a robust telling of the past month or so. (I created an audio piece like this for the Women’s March in 2017.) Or you might record snippets of yourself speaking about your life experience each day over the next several weeks: you might string them together to create an audio remix or a montage. Or, at the end of a particularly difficult or hopeful or even mundane day, you might capture yourself speaking in free form or in verse or in a stream of consciousness about months, weeks, or even a moment of your life. There are many other ways you could approach this project: I encourage you do whatever you think seems most fitting for capturing and audio engraving your perception of this moment in time. The only assignment requirement is that you use your own voice. 

Tanya RodrigueToday’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodrigue, an associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts. 


A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. I was working on a textbook proposal and had to draft a table of contents. The pickle: I've never written a table of contents. Not only have I never written a TOC, but I have never put one second of thought into the genre itself or how to write one. So what did I do? I did exactly what I teach my students to do when they approach a new writing task: I conducted a genre analysis. I took out a bunch of textbooks from my bookshelf, lined them up, and studied them (photographic evidence below!). I wrote down similarities. I wrote down differences. From there, I made a list of possible rhetorical moves I could make when composing the TOC. I identified the options that I thought would work best in my particular rhetorical context, and I drafted two different TOCs that corresponded to the textbook ideas. My co-writer and I got together, looked at the versions I created as well as the versions he created, and—voilà—we achieved our writing task.

Textbook TOCs


Teaching students how to conduct a genre analysis is invaluable in the writing classroom. The identification of genre features and patterns helps students gain genre and rhetorical awareness/knowledge and helps them to determine the moves and strategies they need to make in order to write effectively in a given genre and rhetorical situation. Genre knowledge provides students with a reflective process for approaching a writing situation: students who have the ability to activate their genre awareness and conduct a genre analysis are able to build themselves a guide for how to approach any given writing task.


In writing classes, instructors can support students in learning about genre and how to conduct a genre analysis in low-stakes or high-stakes assignments. Below, I offer a low-stakes assignment that I’ve used with students to build genre knowledge and practice genre analysis in a fun and easy way. I often facilitate this activity immediately before I pass out guidelines for a high-stakes writing assignment. This activity usually takes between 45 minutes to an hour.


Genre Analysis Assignment


Step #1: Give students three take-out menus from three different restaurants.


Step #2: Instruct students to read through the menus and look at them in relation to one another in small groups. Ask them to note commonalities in terms of content, structure, organization, language, design, and rhetorical strategies.


Step #3: Facilitate a class discussion. Ask students to identify the common situation in which a take-out menu emerges, noting why they exist, who engages with them and why, and the multiple purposes they may have. Record their responses on the board. Next, ask students to identify the commonalities they noted among the menus in their small groups. Record the information on the board.


Step #4: Now ask students to turn a focused eye on one menu. Ask them to return to their small groups and work to identify the common moves in the genre, the unique moves made in this particular menu, and the unique factors of the rhetorical situation (this may involve a bit of quick research).


Step #5: Debrief as a large class. Ask students to share their findings and record student responses on the board. Facilitate a class discussion focused on what the activity has taught students about writing and how they might approach a given writing task.



Most students find this activity enjoyable and valuable in learning how to conduct a genre analysis. In my experience, most students have an easy time identifying common and unique rhetorical moves as well as the rhetorical context of one single menu, especially when it’s a local restaurant. It’s a great warm-up activity to do prior to a high-stakes genre analysis assignment or a high-stakes writing (of any kind) assignment. Often times, I conduct this activity immediately before giving out a high-stakes writing assignment: I add an optional Step #6, wherein I ask students to identify a process for how they might approach composing in the particular genre as dictated by the assignment and the kinds of skills, abilities, and/or knowledge they may need to enhance or gain in order to effectively complete the assignment.

Tanya RodrigueToday’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodrigue, an associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts


Many of us will likely agree that orchestrating productive peer review sessions is incredibly difficult. Over the past fifteen years, I’ve tried every kind of strategy I could think of for supporting students in giving each other good feedback. I’ve created documents for students to use for written feedback with questions ranging from very specific to very vague. I’ve tried a number of different ways to “match” writers in terms of their abilities, the stage they’re at in the writing process, or the kind of relationship they have with each other. While I have had some success with these strategies in various classes at different institutions, I have never felt completely satisfied with the kind of feedback students give each other. Their feedback was either too vague, off the mark, or focused solely on grammar or mechanics.


I needed to try something different. So several years ago, I went on an internet hunt, searching for methods or information that might spark a new idea for peer review. I came across Peter Kittle’s article, “Reading Practices as Revision Strategies: The Gossipy Reading Model” and immediately felt excited. His peer review ideas had strong potential to help my students give each other good revision feedback. 


In the article, Kittle describes an activity he designed with Rochelle Ramay for a professional development workshop on teaching effective reading and writing. The activity asked teachers to employ a particular reading strategy to help them revise their writing: Ramay and Kittle named the activity “gossipy reading.” Gossipy reading asks participants to get into groups of three to review one member’s piece of writing. Here’s how it works: the writer remains quiet, while the two other group members employ the “interrupted reading strategy,” stopping at moments where they want to “gossip” about the paper, or in other words, raise questions, make a prediction, call attention to particular details, or make connections. After the gossip session ends, the writer joins in on the “gossip” and leaves the session with good honest revision feedback. This activity, unlike many other peer review activities, positions peers not as “fixers,” but as audience members who are constructing meaning of a text in real time.


Kittle’s peer review strategy is brilliant for a number of reasons: it positions meaning making and peer review as a dialogical interaction, and writing as a social act; it capitalizes on the affordances of talk, both in its ability to function as a site of invention and its invitation to violate “rules” attached to standard written language (an idea I talk about in my posts on The Benefits of Group Conferencing and Using Talk for Learning); and it frames an often dreaded activity as gossip, an activity associated with friends, fun, and a bit of scandal.


I adopted Kittle’s idea and adapted it to create “Gossipy Peer Review.” My version is more structured and directive than Kittle’s yet still maintains the “gossipy” sentiment. I’ve had a tremendous amount of success in using it in my classes and so have many of my colleagues at Salem State University. Below is the handout I give students for the activity.




Gossipy Peer Review Assignment

Step 1: Get into groups of three.


Step 2: Read the assignment aloud.


Step 3: One writer will volunteer their paper to be read aloud; the writer of the paper will remain silent throughout the process, taking notes on how his/her peers are discussing his/her paper.


Step 4: The other two members in the group will take on the role of reader or listener.

Step 5: The reader will begin reading the writer’s paper and stop after two paragraphs[1]. The reader and listener will discuss the paragraphs. Discussion will entail one or several of these actions:

  • Reader and/or listener will summarize the overall gist of the paragraph;
  • Reader and/or listener will state what they understand or what is clear;
  • Reader and/or listener will state what they do not understand or what might be “fuzzy” or “confusing”;
  • Reader or listener will predict what they think is coming next or in other words, what they think the writer might do next;
  • Reader or listener will ask a question about the writer’s intentions, ideas, claims, arrangement, structure, transition or anything else related to the essay;
  • Reader and/or listener will talk about what’s “working” or not “working.”


Step 6: After the reader finishes the text, the writer will then have an opportunity to join in on the gossip. The writer may:

  • Talk about what they heard their peers discuss;
  • Help clarify anything the reader or listener did not understand;
  • Tell the reader and listener what they think they need to revise and ask for feedback on their revision plan.

What is the point of this exercise, you ask?

The writer is literally able to hear how a reader, or in other words, the audience works to construct meaning of his/her text. The writer will get a glimpse into the thoughts the reader/audience has when engaging with the texts, getting a sense of how his/her ideas, claims, evidence, arrangement, structure, and approach is received by an audience. From this gossip session, the writer will be able to identify parts of his/her paper that he/she should keep, discard, clarify, elaborate on and/or add. In other words, the writer will get feedback for revision.


After this activity, each writer composes a revision plan that describes how he/she will revise based on the feedback received during peer review.


[1] The number of paragraphs the reader will read will depend on the length of the draft. Longer drafts will demand the reader read more than two paragraphs.




There are a couple of challenges that instructors might face in facilitating a “gossipy peer review” session. Some students are shy and may feel reluctant to speak in front of people they don’t know. Thus it’s a good idea to pair shy students with classmates they know or are seemingly comfortable around. Another challenge, which Kittle notes as well, is when students take the “gossiping” too far, perhaps moving from talking about one’s writing to talking about one’s annoying roommate. I would recommend instructors walk around the classroom and listen in on the gossip sessions to intervene when students get off track.

Tanya RodrigueToday’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodrigue, an associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts.


I am currently in the midst of holding individual conferences with students in one of my writing classes. These individual conferences, which last anywhere from 15-45 minutes, are extremely valuable for many reasons. I get an opportunity to not only give individual, customized feedback but also to have productive conversations with students about their ideas, their writing process, their drafts, and their revision plans. Also, these conferences help me get to know my students better, which often times leads to more investment in the course and in their writing projects. While individual conferences have clear benefits, so do group conferences. Group conferencing can help students become stronger writers and better at giving helpful revision feedback to other writers; they also have the potential to save instructors’ time.


Before I explain the values of group conferencing in detail, let me describe this kind of conferencing and provide one possible structure for organizing conferences.


Group conferencing simply entails an instructor meeting with two or more students to provide feedback and have a discussion about a draft of a writing project. When I hold group conferences, I often ask students to exchange papers prior to the conference and be prepared to give specific feedback to their peer related to the assignment guidelines and assessment criteria. I ask students to informally jot down notes that they can reference during the session. In preparation for group conferences, I follow the exact same steps as my students. I often meet with two students at a time for 20-30 minutes, but the conference length will depend on the nature of the writing assignment and the amount of pre-writing or drafting work students have done beforehand.  


Below are some reasons why group conferences are valuable:


  1. Group conferences provide instructors an opportunity to model what productive feedback is and sounds like.

It is valuable to hold group conferences prior to facilitating peer review so that students can learn the kind of feedback that is helpful to give for revision and the kind of language that is productive in talking about another writer’s work. Orchestrating a productive peer review session is incredibly difficult, most of the time because students don’t know what it is or how to do it. As a result, often times, even with a specific prompt, students resort to giving feedback on grammar or mechanics. In a group conference, students have the opportunity to witness the instructor’s thought process and how they support each student writer. Further, the instructor can help redirect student comments that focus on lower level concerns as well as praise or help students further develop or elaborate on their comments. Instructors may consider asking students to compose a brief reflection noting what they learned about giving meaningful feedback in the group conference.


  1. Student writers have the opportunity to witness how an audience takes up and understands their writing.

In a group conference, the instructor and students are a real-life audience. The student writer is able to visually see and hear how a real audience engages with their writing. Further, instructors and students inevitably offer different feedback. The instructor and student might focus their attention on completely different aspects of the paper, which may be helpful in understanding variances in audience engagement as well as differences in how people perceive what constitutes strong writing.  


  1. Feedback offered on one student’s draft often prompts another student(s) to reflect on their own draft.

In a group conference, students get to hear two sets of feedback on two different papers. Regardless of whether or not the students are writing about the same topic, students will often hear feedback on someone else’s writing and use it to think about their own writing. A student might say, “I really like the way Suzy organized her paper. I think it works better than how I did it” or “I did that too! I’m happy to see we both are meeting the expectations of the assignment.” In my experience, moments like these illustrate the value of group conferences.


  1. Oral feedback often times is more productive than written feedback.

I have written about the value of using talk in learning environments in a previous blog post and some of what I say there about audio process notes applies to group conferences. For both the instructor and the students, oral feedback, as opposed to written feedback, offers the opportunity to be informal and conversational. Talk invites dialogue, divergence, and unexpected or surprising moments that often lead to good ideas and thus strong feedback for writers. Unlike written feedback, the instructor and students don’t have to worry about complete thoughts or sentences: the opportunity to ask questions or ask for clarification, for example, is a strong affordance of face-to-face interactions.


  1. Group conferences often take instructors less time than individual conferences or providing written feedback.

When instructors are faced with teaching anywhere from 50 to 90 student writers, the amount of time spent on giving feedback on student writing is an important consideration. In my experience, group conferences save time without shortchanging good revision feedback. This is especially true when both the students and instructor come to the conference prepared and ready to engage in meaningful conversation.


There are three major challenges that I’ve faced when conducting group conferences: students not submitting their work to the instructor and peer prior to the session, students being ill-prepared to give feedback, and student lack of engagement during a session. In efforts to foster “buy-in,” instructors should talk to students about the value of group conferencing, what they can learn from engaging in them, and what they need to do—both before and during the conference—to make the session as productive as possible. Instructors may also want to consider attaching a grade weight to the group conferences.

Tanya RodrigueToday’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodrigue, an associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts.


Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had several conversations with faculty and graduate students about "buy-in" in the classroom.
Current and future teachers wonder: how do I get students to buy-in to the idea that writing and learning how to write well is important?

I’ve posed this question to myself many times over the course of my career and have actively sought different ways to foster student buy-in. Some ideas have worked and some have not. While there are many factors that play a role in the extent to which instructors can foster student buy-in, I have had success at different institutions with the activities and strategies below.


  1. Discuss the importance of writing inside and outside of the classroom

For a 15-20 minute in-class activity, ask students to respond to the following questions in a freewrite.


  • What do you want to do after you graduate from college?
  • What kind of writing do you think you’ll do at your job?
  • What do you think might happen if you’re unable to communicate effectively at your job?
  • What do you think might happen if you’re really good at communicating effectively at your job?
  • Based on these questions, why do you think writing and learning how to write is important?


Ask students to share what they wrote and make a list of responses on the board. Orchestrate a conversation wherein students engage with the list and brainstorm about what we need to learn and practice in class to in order to strengthen our writing abilities. I encourage instructors to be transparent about how the skills, abilities, and knowledge gained in the course are transferable across writing situations, including the situations they’ll encounter in the future workplace.


(I usually have this discussion on the first or second day of class, but it’s never too late to do so.)


  1. Assign lots and lots of low-stakes writing assignments

Ask students to write every day in class and out of class. For example, you might provide a brief prompt at the beginning of every class intended to either help get them thinking about course material or just to practice writing in general. Here are some interesting prompts that you may consider using in your class.


You can explain to students that research has proven informal writing assignments support student learning and function as ripe sites for invention work. Perhaps most importantly, research states that the more people write, the better writers they become. All of the writing students do in your class will sharpen their writing abilities and communication skills, which in turn will help them learn and succeed in other college courses and in the workplace.


  1. Analyze writing in the workplace

Ask your students to engage with research that reveals the importance of writing and learning how to write. For example, you may assign sections of two studies on workplace writing: “Writing: A Ticket to Work…Or a Ticket Out” and “Writing: A Powerful Message from State Government.” The findings from the first study reveal that most people (2/3 of 8 million surveyed) in business have writing responsibilities and that writing abilities play a significant role in promotion, demotion, and job loss. The second study reveals that all 2.7 million state employees surveyed have writing responsibilities and all agree writing is important. This study is perhaps most persuasive for student buy-in because it demonstrates that jobs and careers that may not appear to demand strong writing abilities and skills may in fact do so.



In using these activities and other variations of them, I’ve recognized that pedagogical and curricular transparency is effective in fostering student buy-in. When we tell our students why we’re doing what we’re doing and how our decisions are informed by research in the discipline, they are more likely to recognize the value of the work they do in the class. Further, I’ve learned that discussions and activities that draw connections between school and the workplace and that emphasize transferability make a strong impact on students, especially students taking required classes or classes they think are unrelated to their major or future career. In positioning students to think about other courses they will take as well as their futures, they are more likely to be persuaded that writing and learning how to write matters.

Today’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodriguean associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts.


In 2016, I engaged in two new experiences: I composed a personal audio documentary of the 2016 women’s marches and recorded myself talking through my process. One of the reasons why I chose to do so was because I assign longform audio projects in my writing courses yet never composed one myself. I thought I would learn more about how to effectively teach soundwriting if I did a version of my own assignment and reflected about it along the way.


From these experiences, I learned that recordings of my process, or what I call audio process notes, function as sites for both learning and invention. In listening and analyzing my own audio process notes, I discovered I was using talk as a means to learn—to learn how to write in a foreign genre in a foreign modality. My talk explicitly revealed cognitive moves associated with deep learning such as metacognition, problem-posing and problem-solving, and persistence. I also discovered, as Peter Elbow claims in Vernacular Eloquence, that messy, unplanned talk as opposed to careful writing, is a fertile ground for generating good ideas.


The inclusion of audio process notes in writing assignments, particularly those that ask students to compose in a new genre, is ripe with pedagogical potential. The audio process notes not only help students learn and identify the important cognitive moves needed to thrive in intellectual environments, but also more broadly teach students about writing, rhetoric, revision, idea development, and perhaps most importantly, how to approach a new writing situation.


Assigning audio process notes is appropriate for any writing assignment, not just multimodal writing assignments. Instructors may consider using or adapting the following description and audio process assessment tool in an undergraduate writing course.


Assignment Description:

While composing your project, you will reflect on your process along the way in audio form. If you have a smartphone, you can simply record yourself using an app and email the file to yourself. Otherwise, you may consider using Audacity, QuickTime, or Windows Media Player on a computer. I recommend you record yourself talking about your process after, or even during, each work session. You are required to have three entries, and each entry should be between 3-8 minutes. These notes will be assessed using five categories associated with effective learning and strong writing: rhetorical knowledge, problem-posing/problem-solving, play, persistence, and metacognition/reflection.


Assessment Tool:

Process Notes

[5 categories]

The composer demonstrates these abilities in a sophisticated and thoughtful manner consistently across their process notes.

The composer demonstrates these abilities in an effective manner across all or most of the process notes.

The composer demonstrates these abilities in an adequate way with room for growth in some of the process notes.

The composer demonstrates little to no effort in demonstrating the abilities in the five categories.

(1) Rhetorical knowledge: the ability to consider purpose, genre, audience, sonic rhetorical strategies, and context when making decisions.





(2) Problem-posing and problem-solving: the ability to pose challenging questions, and/or recognize a problem or issue and making a plan for how to approach solving it.





(3) Play, experimentation & flexibility: the ability and willingness to try out different ways to address a problem or achieve a goal, and/or take risks in an effort to determine what strategy/method is most effective.





(4) Persistence:

The ability to sustain/maintain interest in and attention to the project. The composer stays on task and works through problems or issues without giving up.





(5) Metacognition and reflection: The ability to think about one’s thinking, and to reflect on the impact of rhetorical decisions and their effects.






Tanya RodrigueToday’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodrigue, an associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts.


“Technology is rotting our brains!”


“The screen is destroying our ability to understand what we read!”


“Students are so distracted by technology that they can’t focus on anything let alone researching or reading digitally !”


We’ve all heard these alarmist declarations about technology, and to some extent, they are not overly exaggerated. Multiple studies have revealed that students’ reading abilities have declined over time, and technology likely has something to do with it. Cognitive neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf, reading scholar and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of Reading and most recently, Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World, argues that screen reading has transformed our brains, negatively impacting our ability to read in a way that invites strong comprehension. Distractions, stimuli, and digital reading practices such as skimming have all contributed to what Wolf calls a loss of “cognitive patience,” a mental state needed for deep, engaged reading. Based on this research, writing instructors must take note of the real possibility that students may not be comprehending digital texts that they read for homework assignments or for research-based writing assignments.


Yet, there are other reasons why students may have difficulty reading and engaging with texts in meaningful ways. Contrary to popular belief, 21st century students are not all “digital natives” or in other words, adept or fluent with technology. Thus instructors can’t assume students know how to effectively navigate digital texts. In fact, many current students have likely not been taught digital reading practices in elementary or secondary school. A recent qualitative research study I conducted on digital reading practices affirms such a hypothesis. In my study, I discovered that students utilized comprehension strategies, yet almost never engaged with reading strategies specific to digital texts like acknowledging or clicking hyperlinks, acknowledging or engaging with images and videos, and drawing connections between and among modes. The students in my study read digital texts like print texts.  


All of this means students need formal instruction in digital reading. Below I offer three pedagogical suggestions for how to teach effective digital reading practices.


#1. Teach Students that Digital Texts are Multimodal

Digital texts are comprised of multiple modes—alphabetic, aural, and visual. These modes are vehicles of communication and work to convey meaning and messages individually and collaboratively. Within these modes, there are specific features such as color, hyperlinks, charts, images, and maps. Teaching students how to interact and engage with modes and their features will make them stronger digital readers. 


#2. Teach Students that Digital Genres Call for Different Kinds of Engagement

PDFs look different from company websites which look and sound different from multimedia scholarly articles. Bring attention to these differences and point out that different genres call for different kinds of reading engagement.


Since writing conventions carry over from print to the web, so do reading practices. Thus one way to teach students how to engage with different digital genres is to ask them to draw on reading habits of print texts that are similar in nature to digital texts. For example, a student may draw on their antecedent reading practices of a print newspaper to engage with a digital newspaper. An instructor could then support them in adapting these strategies to engage with the unique features and rhetorical situation of that digital text.


#3. Teach Students How to Preview a Text and Construct a Reading Plan

Much like with a print text, previewing a digital text orients the reader and provides them with knowledge on how to approach reading that text. Ask students to activate their knowledge of digital text features, digital genres, and previous reading practices to preview the text and create a reading plan.


Julie Coiro, in “Making Sense of  Text,” offers one way students might preview a digital text:

(1) read the title of the page and site;

(2) scan menu choices without clicking on anything in effort to get a holistic sense of the text;

(3) make predictions about where each hyperlink may lead;

(4) explore interactive features, including pop-up menus and scroll bars;

(5) identify the creator and what this information might reveal about the digital text;

(6) acknowledge and practice using any electronic supports, such as an internal search engine;

(7) and make a decision about whether to explore the site further.


After previewing the text, students can compose a reading plan that clearly indicates how they will approach engaging with the text according to their purpose for reading it.

Tanya Rodrigue

Today’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodrigue, an associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts.


Several years ago, I observed a writing class wherein the professor asked students to find a visual that represented their feelings about writing. One student brought in a picture of a young man standing at the top of a cliff. The young man looked terrified as he looked down, perhaps thinking he could tumble off the edge at any moment.
The message was clear: writing is scary.
Writing has historically been known to evoke feelings of fear and anxiety in many people, and our students are no exception. Many of them are scared to write for fear of “not sounding smart” or “not doing it right.” Many of them are scared to share their writing, especially with their peers, because they “stink at writing” or “don’t have any good ideas.”
Fear and anxiety yield all kinds of problems for writers. Some experience dread at the thought of writing; some experience severe writer’s block or paralysis; and/or some just try to avoid writing altogether.
So how can we help our students overcome their fears related to writing?
I orchestrated a brief, but surprisingly very effective activity to help students identify their fears about writing and support each other in facing these fears. The activity helped individual students gain confidence, but perhaps more importantly, it fostered a caring, supportive environment for a community of writers. In facilitating this activity immediately before peer review, students approached each other’s work with a kind of empathy and understanding that they had not previously had.

Step #1: Ask students to take out a piece of paper and respond to the following prompt. What is your biggest fear or challenge about writing?
Step #2: After students finish responding to the prompt, ask them to fold up the piece of paper and place it in a box. Then ask each student to randomly pick out a piece of paper from the box, making sure they do not pick their own.
Step #3: Ask students to write a response to their peers on the same piece of paper. Students may choose one of two options: write a suggestion to help your peer overcome the fear or challenge OR write an affirmation.
Step #4: One by one, ask each student to stand up and read their peer’s response and their response to their peer.  
Step #5: After the last person speaks, encourage students to give each other a round of applause.
In my courses, students provided excellent suggestions—ones that I never thought of myself. They also expressed solidarity and support with phrases like “I feel the same way” or “don’t worry, everyone feels like that” or “we’re in this together!” The activity energized the class and encouraged students to engage with each other’s work in a productive and caring manner. 


While this activity is useful to orchestrate prior to peer review or peer assessment, there are other instances wherein it would be effective. For example, students may benefit from facing their fears and feeling support from their classmates and professor on the first day of a writing course or at the start of any writing assignment, especially if students are composing in a foreign mode or genre. In slightly altering the prompt language, the activity could be used while students are engaged in the composing process or during the revision stage (What has been, or what do you think will be, a challenge in writing or revising this paper?) The prompt could also be altered to become a multimodal activity: students could draw or bring in a picture that represented their challenges or fears, and then their peers could respond to the visual.

Audrey WickToday’s guest blogger is Audrey Wick, a full-time professor of English at Blinn College in Texas. There, she is a writing teacher who writes. Readers can connect with Audrey to learn more about her projects at or on Twitter and Instagram @WickWrites.


The first time I taught Anthony Bourdain’s writing in my freshman composition class at an open enrollment community college in rural Texas, my goal was to get students to actually want to read what I assigned. For years, that had been a struggle.

So when I read the first chapter of Bourdain’s memoir Kitchen Confidential, I thought my students might love it as much as I did. I added it to my syllabus. Bourdain was sandwiched between writings by Deborah Tannen (a linguist) and John Krakauer (a mountaineer). Language, food, and the outdoors seemed like a sensible sequence.

Although most of the authors I assigned were contemporary, the majority of my students hadn’t heard of them. With Bourdain, that changed a bit through the years. Prior exposure to him grew due to his popularity on television and social media, though even this academic year, there were still only a handful of students in class who held a vague notion of who he was. Most in my composition course had not read anything by him. 

So I got to teach them. And what an honor that was.

Every time I taught Bourdain’s writing, I would start by having students share memories tied to food. We all have them, after all, and I wasn’t immune to sharing my own. I wanted them to feel the power of Bourdain’s overall message before we looked deeper at specifics.

Once we navigated that, I would then share photos of the author along with some television promo shots. I usually had a Parts Unknown clip cued up to play; my favorite was from one of his several trips to Vietnam.


In the video, Bourdain ate alone on a low plastic stool with scooters racing by. The colorful bowl he held in his hands steamed with something fresh, though even he admitted that he wasn’t quite sure what it was. He praised the merits of simple eating and adventurous living. His voice echoed through our classroom with the line, “This is the path to true happiness and wisdom.”

I never tired of seeing that video.

I also coined a fun phrase for students to help them dissect his writing techniques: “What Would Bourdain Do?” With “WWBD” on the board at the front of the room, students would work to uncover a variety of techniques that Bourdain displayed which they could reasonably apply to their own writing. Like learning to cook, they learned the essential ingredients of writing from Bourdain:


  • Create a compelling title. Make people want to read more.
  • Start strong. A crisp opening sentence with a singular main idea will do. 
  • Write honestly. Everyone has life experiences worth sharing.
  • Shock the reader. A well-placed emotional reaction is powerful.
  • Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. Readers appreciate this.


Bourdain probably never intended his memoir to be a model for developing writers in a college class, but it was — and it still is. Hundreds and hundreds of my students have benefited over the years.

A particularly memorable portion of class was when we discussed the oyster section. Through several paragraphs, Bourdain describes the experience of eating a new food while on vacation with his family in the south of France. It was his first trip abroad, and he had just finished the fourth grade. Needless to assume, his palate wasn’t yet attuned to such a dish. He writes, “I had my first oyster. Now, this was a truly significant event. I remember it like I remember losing my virginity — and in many ways, more fondly.”

Typically, I would read this section aloud, seeing students squirm in their seats a bit by hearing it, letting the rawness and emotion reverberate through the room.

Of course, they laughed. I’m glad they did. Bourdain wrote humor well. I wanted them to see the power of that too.

My new class has reconvened for the academic year, but with Bourdain’s death, I haven’t been ready to teach his work. I don’t like talking about him in the past tense. Still, I realize that because of his death, he may be more accessible to students who have perhaps heard his name on social media or in news reports.


When I am ready to teach his work again, I could use an excerpt from Kitchen Confidential, A Cook’s Tour, Medium Raw, or even a transcript from Parts Unknown. Contextualizing it and having students read section A1 “Reading and writing critically” from A Writer’s Reference will prepare them for engaging with the selection. Then, in class, I can guide them through skills of active reading as we put into practice the specific techniques mentioned: previewing a text, annotating a text, conversing with a text, and asking the “So what?” question.


After all, “So what?” certainly sounds like a question Bourdain would ask.


There’s an allure to Bourdain’s writing, and I hope to be ready to share his work with students again soon. Until that time, I am grateful to the influence he had on students and on me.

Today's guest blogger is Audrey Wick, a full-time professor of English at Blinn College in Texas. There, she is a writing teacher who writes. Readers can connect with Audrey to learn more about her projects at or on Twitter and Instagram @WickWrites.


The start of the semester is an exhilarating—if not exhausting—time for college instructors. We juggle course prep, schedule changes, new policy implementation, technology updates, committee work, and much more before students ever appear in our classrooms on day one.

One unique challenge is adapting to a new course textbook when required. For new faculty as well as seasoned faculty, change can be stressful. Still, instructors are masters of adaptation. When it comes to Humanities instructors in particular, we’re at the forefront in many ways. After all, we routinely deal with style manual revisions, digital library updates, and technology changes. Like chameleons, we are adept at changing when our surroundings do.

New textbook implementation tests a Humanities instructor’s critical and speculative skills. It’s not always easy to overhaul instruction and curriculum once a new textbook is adopted, but it’s an empowering and important process to be in control of what we will teach students. Textbooks support teaching, so easing into a major change and keeping in mind the following tips can help ensure a smoother, more effective process of course building that is, ultimately, as exciting for the students as it is for us.  

1) Spend some quality time with the book. Explore it inquisitively, from the table of contents to the index. Consider the chapters. Weigh the importance given to certain sections. Consult ancillary material. Know what’s truly in the book before proceeding to plan a semester around it.

2) Lessen the amount of preparation by not starting from scratch. Whether it’s a former syllabus, an example provided by the publisher, or a template through a higher ed institution, using an existing model will minimize the challenging task of building something entirely from the ground up.

3) Think big picture; add details later. Consider course and program outcomes. Then, identify goals and choose readings/assignments based on what aligns to them. This will help streamline the process of week to week navigation for students.

4) Incorporate personal preference. It’s true: instructors are individuals, each with unique talents, expertise, and interests. So regardless of the text, focus on a few choice topics that are particularly exciting. Peppering those throughout the syllabus will help ensure that individual passion for the subject is sustained—because when instructors are passionate, their students are likely to be too!

5) Avoid trappings of stress. True, deadlines and minimum requirements must be met, though there may be ways to leave a little wiggle room in day-to-day or week-to-week handling of exact assignments, homework, and deadlines. In a first semester teaching with a new text, don’t be too hard on yourself to get everything perfectly aligned from day one. 

Change takes time, and just like it takes time for students to adapt to their learning materials, the same is true of instructors. Still, new opportunities are exciting. This year, my department has adopted a new handbook for use with our freshman writers, A Writer's Reference, 9th edition, by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers. While I don’t yet have all the answers for how to make the most of the text with my student population, the book is helping me find fresh ways to teach the concepts I love.

Today's guest blogger is Tiffany Mitchell, a Senior Lecturer of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.


Assessing multimodal compositions can often be challenging because the form and design vary so widely, whether because of the assignment parameters you establish or because of students’ stylistic choices. There are a few key categories by which most multimodal assignments can be assessed. Within each category, it can be helpful to work backwards by first considering what you envision students’ final projects should look like, then developing a rubric or list of expectations for the project. No matter your expectations, it’s important to remain flexible in assessing because creativity comes in many forms. Consider the following categories when developing assessment guidelines/rubrics for multimodal compositions:


Color choices

When assessing the color composition of a multimodal assignment, it’s best to consider how appropriate the color choices are for the topic as well as the project design. I jokingly tell students that if their color choices make their viewers jump back from shock or squint from blinding colors, then they should consider alternatives. However, even this has exceptions. Flexibility is especially important in this category; the same color choices can succeed or fail depending on topic and design differences. For instance, neon colors work really well for psychedelic or hallucinogenic related topics, but would not work well for human rights related topics. Directing students to use Adobe’s Color Wheel can help them make wiser color selections.


  • To assess color choices, consider if the colors are complementary or contrasting to one another. How well do the colors align with the topic and overall design? Do the colors work well together to express and evoke effective intended meaning for the project?


Spatial design/White space

Balanced spatial design can be crucial to the overall aesthetics of the multimodal project. Like résumés and other textual documents, multimodal creations need a good balance between text and whitespace--even if the background isn’t actually white. Showing students sample projects that have with good spatial design can help guide their whitespace considerations. As seen in the two sample assignments, balanced white space will vary from project to project, so stay flexible when assessing.


  • To assess spatial design, determine whether the project seems too crowded or if there’s a good balance throughout. Have they filled the available space with quality content or left gaps of blank space? Is there a good spatial balance between text and images/videos? Does the font properly fit the space?


Font options

The efficacy of multimodal assignments can be strongly affected by the font types students use. Similar to the color choices, the font choices should align with the topic as well as the overall design of the project. Students don’t always realize that the font they use can evoke different meanings and that it’s important to select the appropriate font; therefore, it’s important to stress to them that font choice matters. Assigning the students to read Purdue OWL’s Using Fonts with Purpose pages can help.


  • To assess, consider whether the font matches the topic of the multimodal project. Does the font align with the selected color scheme? Does it match the overall design of the project? Does it help evoke the intended meanings?


Images/Video/Audio Use

Images, video, and audio can be used in many different ways. These forms of media also come in all shapes, sizes, and types: artwork, memes, clipart, photographs, online and/or user-created audio or video, and even Creative Commons content. Assessing this category becomes more about what they used and where they used it in the text. It’s important to offer students specific directions on what types of media are allowed, how many of each may be used, and how they should cite these media sources. Whether or not the images fit with the content is also quite important, especially if the topic can be controversial, as seen in the magazine sample assignment. Again, remain flexible—possibly setting aside your personal perspectives if images fit the project.


  • To assess, determine if their projects used the images, video, and/or audio in the manners you stated they could. Then consider whether the media relates to and enhances the subject, color, and design.


Source Use and Citing

Hyperlinking, citations on a separate page, scrolling citations on a video, full citations in small font, in-sentence references: citing can happen in many ways in multimodal projects, so we have to be open to them all. Because students often forget that multimodal projects need citations too, assessing this part of the project is often more about did they cite than how they cited. It’s helpful to show students many ways to cite in their projects and to remind them that multimodal compositions need citations too--even for images, video, and audio sources.


  • To assess, determine if citations are present within the multimodal project in a manner acceptable to you.


These categories of assessment work best with multimodal projects that students create on their own, such as magazines, brochures, slide shows, infographics, etc. While some of these categories could apply to multimodal projects created in social media platforms, categories such as font, color, and spatial design are not adjustable in most social media. This is not an exhaustive list of assessment categories for multimodal assignments, but hopefully, this will get you started. And above all, stay flexible when assessing.




Magazine Sample (click to open)

Brochure Sample (click to open)

Today's guest blogger is Tiffany Mitchell a Senior Lecturer of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.


When assigning multimodal assignments, instructors may feel overwhelmed by all the options and choose to use simple templates that can limit students’ creativity. Alternatively, some instructors may offer too many format options and end up with a hodgepodge of assignments, rubrics/expectations, and file types that can confuse students. At different times, I've fallen into both categories, but I’ve learned that the most effective and engaging projects find middle ground between being limitless and being limited. The important thing is that the instructor is comfortable with what’s assigned and that students have fun and learn the skills and purposes behind these assignments.


Here are some ways to travel the multimodal middle ground…


1) Let them fly free but know where they’re flying. As with any assignment, students should have enough room for free expression but enough structure and guidance to keep them on task. Even with carefully crafted assignments, students can misinterpret instructions and go off the beaten path. The best way to establish middle ground for this is to do check-ins. Just like the writing process includes check-ins via drafting, revising, and redrafting, the multimodal process should have the same:

  • Discuss students’ multimodal plans before they begin designing.
  • Ensure that they understand the expectations and are working towards them.
  • Check-in with them at regular intervals throughout the project to make sure their work is still on task.
  • See if any design plans or outcomes have changed or if they need help with the technology they are using.

The goal of check-ins is to maintain a sense of what students’ multimodal creations will look like in their finished states, so that there are no bizarre, inappropriate, or completely off-track designs.


2) Encourage exploration but know how to help. We’re really good at teaching students how to critically think, read, and write because we’re really good at these things ourselves. The same should be true when teaching multimodal assignments.


For some instructors, knowing how to teach students the multimodal composition process is the most important aspect of the assignment. We know the process well, so we can always help with that. For other instructors, teaching the students how to use the technology for the assignments is on equal footing with teaching the multimodal composition process. When this is the case, it’s wise to keep at your disposal a cache of tech tools that you know how to use well.


In my classes, teaching the process and how to use the tech have always gone hand in hand. Encouraging students’ multimodal exploration has occasionally caused concern when students wanted to use technology that I was not familiar with. I was comfortable teaching the process, but I feared not being able to help with the tech. My concerns dissipated when students were quite comfortable with the tech they wanted to use, even if I wasn’t. Whichever approach an instructor takes with these assignments, we must remember that the ultimate goal is to teach the process, so the tech should bend to our wills and support what we do, not the other way around.


3) Simple is fine; boring is not. Simple formats can be amazing with proper ideas and guidance, but too often students see a simple format and think it also has to be boring.

Students frequently question the rhetorical value in doing an assignment that seemingly fits better in an art or graphic design class than an English class. Beginning with simple formats that offer a hybrid between text and graphics is an easy way to get students to see the rhetorical value in reformatting textual information into multimodal formats. To help them break out of the boring:

  • Ask them how they would rhetorically respond to what they’ve created.
  • Ask them what they’d like to see within that format’s parameters.
  • Ask them if it speaks to them, and if so, how?

If they think it’s boring, ask them how they think their audience would respond.

If they don’t respond well to what they’ve created, show them design features for color, font, borders, images, etc. Teach them how all of those things work together to make the whole thing amazing, then they’ll shift away from boring and towards spectacular.


4) Pre-select one or two genres to make management easier. As described above, a multimodal assignment with a single format could become boring without proper guidance but having too many options might overwhelm students. Multimodality can come in so many forms; an instructor might be inclined to let students pick any form of multimedia that fits the rhetorical situation. I was this instructor. At one point, I had to use four pages of expectations to cover all of the potential formats my students used. It became a muddled mess that was challenging to juggle.


I simplified by pre-selecting the genre(s) the students could use. By simplifying, I could:

  • Offer more detailed help
  • Develop clear expectations/rubrics
  • Engage with and assess and their final products better.

Selecting a genre for students but letting them decide their formats within that genre helps them consider the rhetorical choices they make, which reinforces the composing process.


5) Establish expectations/rubrics but be flexible. Regardless of the format options, students should always have clear expectations for the assignment. Having clear expectations does not, however, mean being inflexible. In fact, multimodality necessitates using flexible assessment for final drafts because there are so many components to consider: color and font choices, spatial design, length, content, images, audio, and video, among so many others.


How to assess these compositions is worthy of a much deeper discussion, which I will explore in my next blog post. Stay tuned for more to come. And in the meantime, comment below and let me know what you’ve learned about creating parameters for multimodal assignments.

Today's blogger is Jeff Ousborne, author of Writing Music: A Bedford Spotlight Reader.


All the essays in Writing Music model thoughtful and perceptive writing in a range of genres, from blog posts to scholarly articles. Students can read and adapt practical strategies for, say, moving from a general claim to a supporting example or using a paragraph to address an opposing point of view. That modeling process works at a deeper level, too: it means seeing writing not merely as an academic performance, but as a way of pursuing curiosity, answering questions, and correcting misunderstandings.


So how do we get students to identify with the curiosity and engagement of these writers? I have had success using a vintage technique: questioning. Every selection in the book lends itself to this approach (even the ancient excerpt from Aristotle). But let’s focus on a specific example.


Case Study

I’ve taught Will Wilkinson’s “Country Music, Openness to Experience, and the Psychology of Culture War” (page 105) several times now.  In a class comprised of many international students, but only a few dedicated fans of contemporary country, you’d think the topic would be a tough sell. But with a multimedia approach (I show music videos of the songs that Wilkinson discusses), students quickly apprehend the signals, symbols, and themes that he identifies in his argument.  The images also get students thinking about the writer’s wider claims: that a musical genre can mirror and express an ideology, and that a type of music can coordinate its fans as a community with shared values.


Several students were able to apply those insights to other genres, ideologies, and communities, which helped them place their own musical preferences in a broader context. For those students, one key to moving from Wilkinson’s text to their own writing was the low-tech process of asking the right questions about their topics. So in a class discussion, we essentially reverse engineered Wilkinson’s essay by identifying root questions that he attempts to answer. I put a few question prompts on the whiteboard; together, we worked through the answers. Here are just a few of them, with the brief explanations that Wilkinson’s essay provides:


  • What interests me about this topic?

While listening to a country song, the writer wonders whether its sentimentality is connected to the ideology of the genre, the psychology of country’s conservative fans, and the “stakes of the ‘culture wars.’” 

  • What do I know about this topic? What don’t I know, but want to discover?

What the writer knows: Contemporary music focuses on a limited number of subjects and themes; it seems to have a conservative ideology and represent a “side” in the “culture wars.”

What the writer doesn’t know, but tries to discover:  He does not know how, specifically, a preference for country music is related to cognition, personality types, openness to experience, conscientiousness, and social psychology.  

  • What are specific examples of this topic?

            The song that inspires the writer’s inquiry is “One Boy, One Girl” by Collin Raye:


In the original version of the essay, Wilkinson includes other examples, as well:

            “Small Town USA” by Justin Moore


                  “The Good Stuff” by Kenny Chesney

            These examples reinforce Wilkinson’s premise that country music has a worldview.

  • How is this topic misunderstood? What needs to be clarified?

Different views of country music reflect not differences in superficial “taste,” but more fundamental differences in psychology, ideology, and moral intuitions. Those with “high openness” personalities may find country music boring and nostalgic, but its fans understand that the genre celebrates traditions charged with transcendent meaning: “the  baseline emotional tone of a recognizably decent life.”

  • How has my attitude about this topic changed over time?

The writer comes to understand that country music works, in part, “to reinforce . . . the idea that life's most powerful, meaningful emotional experiences are precisely those to which conservative personalities living conventional lives are most likely to have access. And it functions as a device to coordinate members of conservative-minded communities    on the incomparable emotional weight of traditional milestone experiences.” That is, the writer moves from curiosity and intuition into a more precise, supportable, and debatable understanding of country music.  

 Again, these are just some of the questions that you can use (for more, see “Asking the Right Questions” section in this book’s “Preface for Students” (pages 2-6) or Critical Reading and Writing: A Bedford Spotlight Rhetoric (page 22)).


These questions encourage students to look for gaps, paradoxes, changes in attitudes over time, and other sources of tension and conflict. The question about specific examples also requires them to begin assembling specific evidence to support their claims. So after dismantling an essay from Writing Music by questioning it, ask your students to interrogate their own prospective topics in the same way. If they can come up with preliminary questions and speculative answers (or ideas for pursuing those answers), they have made significant progress in the writing process.

Today's guest blogger is Daniel Lambert, an educator, writer, editor, proofreader, and photographer. He teaches English courses at California State University, Los Angeles and East Los Angeles College as well as an online Literature course for Colorado Technical University. He was nominated for the Distinguished Faculty of the Year Award in 2017 from CTU and is the recipient of The Shakespeare Award for poetry from the City of Torrance, California."


“Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.”


This quotation is from Stephen King’s 1999 book, On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft. I recommend On Writing to my composition students, despite the fact that it is written by a fiction writer. Throughout their educational and professional careers, my students will be called upon to write essays, memoranda, and reports: all examples of nonfiction writing. So, what can students learn from a fiction writer? What can writers like King teach us about writing nonfiction?


The answer is simple: “plenty.” Concepts such as process, structure, tone, style, and description are as important (if not more important) to fiction writers as they are to nonfiction writers. King covers these concepts (and more) in On Writing. Even better, he uses examples from his vast library of published novels. These novels are widely-available sources that students can use as examples when reading King’s book.


Have I ever assigned On Writing in a composition class? The answer is “not yet.” However, I often refer to King’s book in my lectures. In fact, King’s quotation from the beginning of this post appears at the beginning of my freshman composition syllabus. I routinely ask students on the first day of class to interpret this quote. Their answers vary, but they always lead us to a discussion of the importance of writing. New college students need to reflect on the everyday presence of writing as a communications tool: they already use writing to communicate on a daily basis before they set foot in my class.


King likens a writer’s skills – essentials like grammar and style – to the contents of a toolbox. By way of an analogy, he recalls as a boy accompanying his uncle to fix a broken screen. King’s uncle brought a giant of a toolbox with him to do the job. King asked why his uncle would lug such a heavy toolbox to complete a simple screen-mending: “It’s best to have your tools with you,” King’s uncle replied. “If you don’t, you’re apt to find something you didn’t expect and get discouraged.” This is a useful analogy for composition instructors to ponder: one of our tasks as instructors is to provide our students with the tools they require to write college-level essays. 


On Writing is a breath of fresh air in a sea of writing manuals that students often struggle with. This book proves what King’s readers have known for years: the man is about much more than horror fiction. On Writing not only helped me hone my craft, but caused me to reflect upon the writing tools I share with my students.


Do you have any writers that have inspired you as you teach? Or any go-to writers or advice on writing you share with students?

Today's guest blogger is Tiffany Mitchell, a Senior Lecturer of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.


In May 2017, a colleague and I attended the Digital Media and Composition (DMAC) Institute at The Ohio State University: a weeklong workshop designed to help bring digital media tools and assignments into composition classes. Over the week, we had an intense crash course on multimodal projects that we could use in our classes. We learned about projects that people had recently completed in their classes and how well those projects worked, what kinks they encountered, and how to possibly resolve the kinks. We also completed our own projects. It was extremely informative and tons of work, but also a lot of fun.


The first project we completed at DMAC was an infographic. I'd always wanted to assign infographics, so I was quite excited at the prospect of this. I was less thrilled when the beginning of our infographic was purposely designed to be in analog form. We were asked to use arts and crafts supplies to first make an infographic by hand, then later make one digitally. We were offered all sorts of supplies: construction paper, markers, tape, colored pom poms, crayons, rolls of string, scissors, ribbon, etc. Making an infographic by hand seemed completely antithetical to an Institute with the word digital in its name. Initially, we laughed and rolled our eyes at the childlike assignment for a room of adults. As we worked, however, the value in the analog infographic took shape: it was designed to get us to slow down, cherish, and invest in the creation and design process. I hope to get my students to do the same and to help fellow colleagues and peers to see this, as well as to help them move into multimodality.


For our project, we chose to create an infographic that mirrored the purpose of creating the analog infographic in the first place: the multimodal composition process. In order to get students and apprehensive instructors to see that the multimodal process isn’t anything to fear or scoff at, we wanted them to see how the multimodal creation process mirrors the writing process. The writing process is like muscle memory for comp instructors. But for luddite-leaning instructors who are suddenly faced with becoming multimodal and teaching multimodality to students who might not always see the value in multimodality in a composition class, sometimes they all need to be reminded that the process is the same. If the instructors can see the similarities, then they can teach this new world to their students using a world (writing process) that they are very comfortable in. Slowing down the process helps with that. Looking back, I now realize the same doubtful reaction I had to the analog infographic project is the same reaction students often gave me when I told them we’d be using social media or other digital platforms to reconfigure their text-only arguments. They doubted the validity and purpose until the project was done, and then they realized it was and could be another form and medium for arguments.


So, we set out to design an analog infographic that demystified the multimodal composition process. We used terms that are common in the writing process to describe the multimodal process, such as brainstorm, research, edit, revise, etc. Feedback is so important to any type of composing process, so that term was centralized and linked to all other points of the process. We added related terms to each part of the process to help students and instructors understand what steps would be taken with each part. Creating this infographic in analog helped us create a map of what we wanted to do digitally. This would be similar to outlining for a text.



Shifting to the digital version of the infographic, we used Piktochart, but the Institute also showed us how to use Powerpoint and Canva to design digital infographics. Once we digitally recreated the infographic, we could see more options that we hadn’t considered in the analog mode. For instance, we could select images of shapes from templates rather than cutting them by hand, easily edit and revise any content, and even potentially add hyperlinks to the steps of the process. Slowing down the process and creating by hand forced us to appreciate the digital options and conveniences we have all the more.


All that I learned and experienced at DMAC translates into an infographic assignment for my students. Their infographic is designed to work with and accompany their researched argument essay. So, as they are forming their argumentative ideas from their research, they will also be forming the ideas for their infographics. In class, we will discuss how ideas, bits of data, images, tips of awareness, pie charts or bar graphs within their sources can all be turned into infographics for their arguments. I want them to slow down the multimodal composing process but also have it align and mirror the writing process. Just like they will plan, outline, and design their argumentative claims, they will also plan, outline, and design their multimodal infographics. Hopefully, they will see the value and beauty in creating in analog and digitally.