In earlier posts, I’ve mentioned an assignment I frequently use that asks students to translate, or to repurpose, an academic text (in this case, a scholarly journal article) for a public audience. One of the overarching aims of the assignment is to help students see how - even when the topic discussed and information shared are pretty much the same - a text changes according to the needs of its audience and an author’s purpose for writing it. I want students to see how rhetorical situations shape a writer’s decision-making.
In this post, I wanted to share a related lesson I use in my first-year writing class to reinforce students’ understanding of the rhetorical nature of texts. This one involves tracing the journey of an academic article as it makes its way from an “insider” audience of other academics to a wider, more popular audience. I refer to this journey as an article’s “publication trajectory.” Of course, not all academic articles will make this journey, so article selection is key to the lesson’s success. But the results of this lesson have been pretty inspiring so far. Months after the lesson, I’ve had students tell me that they continue to investigate the relationships between news articles they encounter and the academic sources on which they are sometimes based, and students have repeatedly shared their excitement with me when they’ve stumbled upon the academic source for a news article.
Stage 1: Academic Article
First, we explore an academic article. Depending on where we are in the semester, the article could originate from any number of fields of study. But here’s an example from natural science:
No doubt, students tend to read for content, and the article has much to teach them about frog tongues. However, students’ engagement with the article at the level of content is also an opportunity to teach them something about how communication is fashioned within the community of scholars for which the article was written. As we explore the article, I try to help students identify conventional moves and other features typical of this form of communication among scholars in the sciences. We may explore the article’s organizational design, its reliance on passive voice constructions in particular sections, or the ways sources are documented, just to name a few.
Stage 2: Press Release
In my experience, this stage really piques students’ interests. In it, I share a press release linked to the academic study we’ve just discussed. A press release written to accompany the publication of the study on frog tongues, for example, can be found in the News Center at Georgia Tech University’s website:
Having read the study on which a press release is based, students are generally pretty eager to see how the writers of a press release refashion the presentation of scholarly research in light of a new audience of journalists. Very quickly, they notice the visual elements of the press release, along with the additional videos and links provided as a part of it. They also see, for example, how the structure of the content shifts to move the reporting of research conclusions to the beginning of the press release, along with how careful the authors of the press release are to define jargon for the new audience. Noticing these changes is an important step in their own developing rhetorical sensitivity, I believe.
Stage 3: The News Article
The research is published, and the press release is out. So what’s next? In the ideal situation, you’re able to continue to trace the publication trajectory of an academic article’s journey to show students how the press release itself is repurposed (or at least how it influences) the productions of a news article, written for an even more general readership. The research on frog tongues was translated for a number of popular audiences, for instance. News articles on the research appeared online in The Atlantic, Popular Science, NPR, and Smithsonian.com, where the headlines read as follows:
Obviously, there are many ways to go about fostering students’ growing rhetorical awareness, but I’ve never encountered students more enthusiastic about conducting research for themselves than when I have asked them trace the publication trajectory of ideas in a research article that have made their way to a news article. And I’ve never seen my students more able to analyze their rhetorical situations and craft well-conceived texts in response to them.
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I’m returning to the past—for this semester at least. Years ago now, as the First-Year Writing Program at NC State was in the midst of transitioning from a civic argument (first course) and study of literature approach (second course) to a WID-based model of writing instruction, our faculty grappled with ways to incorporate writing from a range of disciplinary communities into our courses, especially the second course. One of the ideas that emerged during that period of experimentation was to frame students’ experiences of literary texts with disciplinary arguments. We employed arguments from other disciplines, generally in the form of scholarly journal articles or book chapters, as lenses through which students could experience literary texts. This, we reasoned, was at least a way to have students engaged with writing from other disciplines in what was otherwise a course in the study of literature. Baby steps.
The instructional approach of our writing program eventually underwent an entire overhaul, but I’ve maintained a unit on reading and writing in the humanities in my WID-based course. I’ve also held fast to the expectation that this unit would introduce students to the basics of knowledge construction in the fields of the humanities, emphasizing the value of close reading and interpretation as integral elements to meaning-making in the humanities. To that end, one of the major projects I routinely have students respond to asks them to construct an interpretation of an artistic text, generally a literary one. An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing provides substantial support for such a project; Chapter 6 guides students through the process of crafting an interpretation of an artistic text while attending closely to rhetorical features conventionally associated with this frequently assigned genre.
To offer my students opportunities to engage with and study more routinely writing that occurs in other disciplinary domains, I’m mixing things up this semester and returning to the past. Though I’m maintaining the expectation that students will compose an interpretation of an artistic text (Assignment Framing Interpretations of Artistic Texts) as a major project in the unit, this time around I’m asking students to frame their interpretations with other disciplinary arguments, as we did years ago at my institution. This approach is explored in detail in Arguing through Literature (2004), by Judith Ferster, a former Director of our First-Year Writing Program.
Here’s my plan to support this old/new approach to teaching the interpretation of an artistic text. I’m putting together some small readings clusters, or themed subunits. In each cluster, we’ll read two to three selected literary texts (though one or more of these could easily be substituted with other kinds of artistic texts). These artistic texts will be paired with a disciplinary text (scholarly journal article or book chapter) that, as a model for application, we can use to frame our exploration of the artistic texts themselves. Here’s a brief example of what one of these subunits looks like:
Reading Cluster A: War and Militarism
Eibl-eibesfeldt, Irenäus. “Warfare, Man’s Indoctrinability, and
Group Selection.” Ethos: International Journal of Behavioural
Biology, vol. 60, no. 3, 1982, pp. 177-198. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-
Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried”
Luigi Pirandello, “War”
Ernest Hemingway, “Soldier’s Home”
Based on my past experiences, students’ success with this approach depends a lot on guided practice. Such practice begins by helping them read, grapple with, and understand the disciplinary frame. Once they have a solid grasp of the frame, then they are typically able to read the artistic text through the lens of the disciplinary frame with success. Although I provide examples of frame texts, and we practice the application of disciplinary frames to their interpretation of various literary texts in my reading clusters, my students will ultimately find their own frame text and create an original interpretation of their chosen artistic text in light of their understanding of the disciplinary argument.
I see a number of advantages to returning to this approach from my past. First, it provides another opportunity for students to interact with authentic disciplinary arguments, potentially from a wide range of academic fields. Secondly, this approach fosters originality in students’ interpretations. Since students must locate their own disciplinary frames, their interpretations are necessarily original. Most likely, no one else has ever before applied the same frame to their target artistic text.
Additionally, there’s a flexibility that allows space for students’ own areas of interest to guide their interpretations; as a result, the students themselves may be more invested in the project overall.
I’d be interested to hear what you think of this approach. Are your students writing interpretations of artistic texts? What challenges do you/they face? What do you think of using disciplinary arguments as interpretive frame texts?
Today’s guest blogger is Gene Melton, a Senior Lecturer in the English Department at North Carolina State University, where he teaches courses in composition and rhetoric and in British, American, and LGBTQ literature. In Spring 2017, he will begin serving as academic advisor for the Department’s Literature majors. He earned his PhD in 19th- and 20th-century American literature at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
The foundational assignment for my WID-based first-year academic writing and research course is a classical argument on a topic the students choose based on their individual interests and current base of knowledge. While I do allow students to conduct outside research for this classical argument, I do not require them to do so, nor do I expect them at this early point to be at all aware of academic, peer-reviewed sources. I begin with this assignment because it centers argument as a key intellectual activity on which I can build tothe further work of the course, which asks students to engage with texts from a variety of academic disciplines and to explore the pleasures and pitfalls of conducting research at the undergraduate level.
One of the first challenges this assignment presents is the choice of topic. Students often do not recognize the merit in writing about their very specific interests, initially opting in favor of rather sweeping, “trendy” issues. For example, a student might at first propose a paper on a vague notion of gun control when she is really invested in proposing regulations on hunting in her home state. Indeed, I find that I must conference with the students one-on-one as they are generating ideas to help them see that they can find viable topics within their personal interests and to help them develop the courage to risk doing so. I hope that students take from this part of the process the recognition that their interests can (and should) motivate their academic work and that they need to narrow down any topic to a scope reasonable for the parameters of a given writing situation.
Another challenge the students confront in this assignment is conceptualizing what exactly is at stake regarding the issue/topic they have identified and just how far they can go in supporting their assertions on the matter, given their current level of knowledge about the issue and access to evidence to support their claims. To help students work through their ideas, I ask them to think in terms of articulating a precise claim that does not go beyond the bounds of what they can defend through specific reasons and credible, concrete supporting evidence. We also examine assumptions (especially unstated ones) and consider how to respond to potential opposing views, elements of argument that often seem to have been overlooked or under-emphasized in students’ prior writing instruction. While most of their final drafts still rest on limited evidence and lack fully nuanced understanding of the issue(s) involved, they nevertheless demonstrate an evolving sense of what informed academic audiences demand of serious intellectual inquiry and argumentation.
Once the students have completed this first project, they turn next to learning to read scholarly articles from three broad domains of academic inquiry: humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. As part of this study, I ask the students to practice analyzing the rhetorical features of sample articles I provide and to discuss the similarities and differences in the way scholars in the various domains write about the knowledge they are generating and how those scholars articulate and support their claims in their essays and reports. At this time, the students also begin to explore formal academic research as they develop an annotated bibliography of peer-reviewed articles related to the topic about which they wrote their classical argument. They will also eventually write a comparative rhetorical analysis of two of the articles they collect as part of their research, demonstrating in the process not only their understanding of the rhetorical features in their representative disciplinary texts, but also their own evolving knowledge of argument in general.
Revised Classical Argument
As a final, capstone project for the course, students return to their initial classical argument and revise it in light of the research they have conducted and their increased awareness of the range of rhetorical possibilities available to them. It is rewarding to see students articulate the same argument from a more informed, nuanced perspective, complete with substantive evidence and precise, formal documentation. Equally (if not sometimes more) rewarding are those times when, after having spent three months researching and reflecting on their topic, students adopt a position on the issue that is completely opposite to the one they championed at the beginning of the semester. Either way, I find that the recursive nature of this sequence helps students to recognize their own growth as writers of academic arguments.
This past April, I was fortunate to be able to attend the Writing Across Institutions Conference at Appalachian State University. As part of that conference, I listened to Prof. Allison Harl of Ferrum College remind her audience of writing teachers that we should be sure to consider reading transfer an essential part of the experiences we offer our students, and that reading transfer should be an important part of our discussions and explorations of writing transfer.
Prof. Harl’s reminder compelled me to spend time thinking, with a sharpened focus, about the ways I incorporate readings and the functions they serve in my own first-year writing course. I began this consideration of readings in my WID-based first-year writing course by examining where readings are located in my most recent course syllabus, and by outlining the various purposes they serve in my course design:
For example, at the beginning of my unit on the natural sciences, I ask students to read Marazzitti and Canale’s “Hormonal Changes When Falling In Love” (Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2004; on pp. 356-362 in An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing). In class, we spend time discussing the reading with a particular focus on the kinds of topics the researchers explore, the kinds of questions that guide the researchers’ inquiry, the kinds of evidence they tend to rely on, as well as the kinds of conclusions they reach. My focus on these broader considerations is designed to allow students an experience of professional research within a particular academic domain. Over the course of the semester, I hope my students are able to develop a more sophisticated ability to identify similarities and differences among the various domains we explore.
We spend time in class exploring the strategies the professional writers use to execute the demands of the genre. We consider, for instance, how the writers build topics and subtopics, how they introduce sources, how they organize their review of scholarship, how they engage and present their syntheses of source material, how they document their sources, among others considerations. Whether my students are producing a literature review, a research proposal, or a memo, providing access to and opportunities to analyze professional models of specific genres underscores a writing project’s value to students, even as it offers insight into the strategies professionals use in the construction of such genres.
These are the ways, and some of the reasons, I use professional models in my writing course. I’d love to hear how you use readings in your courses. Are there other ways/reasons that you incorporate readings into your course? What specific functions do the readings serve in your own course design?
The regular academic year is quickly coming to a close. As usual, I’m experiencing a mix of emotions. There’s certainly excitement about the possibilities of summer and other new beginnings. Really, who isn’t already thinking about a warm day on the beach with a good book in hand? These warm fuzzies, though, are always tinged with a little bit of sadness for the ending of a thing.
It’s at this time of year that I begin to reflect on the semester that is ending and to consider carefully what I hope to achieve with my students in the final days of the term. More than ever, this time of year compels me to reflect on what we’ve accomplished as a class. At the same time, I know there’s still work to be done.
I know, for instance, that there are central concepts from my course that I want to revisit and highlight again in our remaining class sessions. These are the bedrock concepts of my course, the ideas around which the rest of their experiences in the class have been organized. These are also the concepts and skills I believe will benefit students the most as they move forward in their academic careers, and as they look ahead to their professional lives.
More than anything else, I’m hopeful that my students will take with them more refined skills in assessing the dynamic complexities of various rhetorical situations. I hope I’ve provided them with transferable frameworks for analyzing and understanding these rhetorical situations no matter where they find themselves, whether in an academic, social, or professional context.
In this blog post, then, I’d like to share a couple of assignments I’ve used over the years to “wrap up” my WID-based first-year writing courses. I designed these “capstone” assignments, in both cases, to reach backward, to take students back into the heart of the course, as well as to reach forward, or to move them to consider their own futures as academic writers or professionals.
Throughout my course, students rely on various frameworks, or lenses, to engage in rhetorical analysis. In this specific final course project I ask students to select a text, a specific genre they produced as part of the course (e.g., an interpretation of an artistic text, a literature review, a lab report), and to analyze the rhetoric of their text as a form of self-analysis and reflection.
As the assignment sheet indicates, students are directed to select for analysis one of their previous projects completed in the course, and to consider their audience for the project carefully before explaining (by citing and analyzing specific examples of their rhetorical decisions) how their texts were crafted (at both the global and local levels) to accommodate the needs and expectations of the particular academic community in which their work was situated.
For example, if a student selected her social science theory response project to analyze, then her task is to study closely how she constructed her own text, and to make a case for how that text (through its rhetoric--the structural, reference, and language features of the text) would satisfy the needs of a target audience of other social scientists.
I like this assignment very much, partly because it reinforces many of the basic principles of rhetoric that are the heart of my course, but also because it asks students to recognize that their own, self-constructed texts are themselves complex rhetorical events that communicate specific disciplinary values via the elements through which they are constructed.
I also just love the look on my students’ faces when I tell them they’ll be analyzing their own rhetoric for their final project in the course. Initially, many of them have a difficult time understanding how their own texts are “worthy” targets of rhetorical analysis. By positioning their own texts as “worthy” subjects for these kinds of investigations, though, I hope my students leave the course a little more able to see themselves as actual scholars who are capable of producing disciplinary texts that allow for authentic engagement in differing academic communities.
Another “capstone” project I use in my WID-based FYC course asks students to identify and explore an applied field of interest to them. As part of that exploration, I further ask students to identify a specific genre of (written) communication through which members of a selected applied field community often engage with one another.
After identifying such a genre, and locating and reading examples of that genre, students are then asked to write a rhetorical analysis of the genre in which they identify the conventional expectations for the genre itself. More specifically, I ask students to answer the following question as the core of their analyses: what structural, language, and reference features does the genre conventionally rely on?
Like the assignment described above, wherein students analyze a text they produced, this project requires students to engage in basic rhetorical analysis, to notice rhetorical features conventional to a applied fields genre. But this assignment also allows many students to reach into their own futures by investigating a genre they may produce professionally as a member of the specific applied field of interest to them. I’ve found that my students are really excited to have the opportunity to investigate the kinds of writing they may be asked to do as professionals in a specific applied field, as well as to get a chance to apply the rhetorical principles they’ve learned throughout my course to a more “real-life” situation.
These two assignments reveal a couple of the ways I’ve tried to “cap” my first-year writing courses. I’d be interested in hearing about the ways others “cap” their own courses. What kinds of assignments do you find most appropriate for course endings? What makes them good “capping” projects? What do you like most about those assignments?
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Guest blogger Kim Lilienthal is an English M.A. candidate at NC State University in the rhetoric and composition concentration. Her research interests include co-curricular writing, reflection assessment, and service learning in composition.
Guest blogger Emily Jo Schwaller is an English M.A. candidate at NC State University in the rhetoric and composition concentration. Her research areas include digital reading experiences and communities, feminist literacy, and composition feedback practices.
The First-Year Writing (FYW) classroom is an ideal space for community building because of its often smaller class size, student-centered focus, and process-based models of learning. For first-year students, building a community of peers and social support networks is essential to their holistic development at a new university, as “involvement creates connections...that allow individuals to believe in their own personal worth” (Schlossberg, 1989). Kinesthetic activities facilitate this community building and involvement because they require students to work together outside the scope of a traditional classroom environment.
Further, kinesthetic activities allow students to engage their bodies and become involved with the knowledge making process because minds and bodies are always linked (Fleckenstein, 1999). In a Writing-in-the-Disciplines (WID) program, it is important to help students see writing as similar to other learning processes (e.g. labs, experiments, conferences). In this blog post, we suggest various ways we engage our students in active learning in order to emphasize WID principles and to reinforce how writing is present and important for everyone.
Note: Each activity contains a hyperlink to detailed instructions and materials.
In this unit, students apply rhetorical concepts by creating infomercial skits. Each group advertises a silly product, such as a “mustache glitter” for “wizards who want to appear magical,” to an imagined audience. The audience determines which infomercial is the most rhetorically effective based on the appeals they learned. Once each group has judged the infomercials, we discuss why certain appeals or rhetorical moves were effective and how similar moves can be incorporated into writing. This activity helps introduce the rhetorical analysis assignment, reinforce rhetorical concepts, and build a community.
In this unit, students accommodate a scientific journal article into an article for a popular magazine. To help students understand how to translate scientific methods for the general audience, they develop instructions for paper airplanes and then exchange with other students. We test which airplanes go the farthest, and not surprisingly those with diagrams and clear language always win. This allows us to debrief about how images and clarity enhance audiences’ understanding of complicated scientific processes.
Inspired by high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, designed to provide maximum physical activity in minimum time, high intensity interval writing allows students to practice several writing skills in a short amount of time. In this unit, students write a recommendation report for an imagined community partner organization with suggestions on how to improve their website’s rhetorical effectiveness. They rotate among stations, completing a small component of the report based on the evidence provided to them. At the end of the activity, each team has a skeleton of a recommendation report to use as a guide for their own reports. We debrief by discussing the skeleton reports’ level of success.
To help students overcome the barrier of “entering the scholarly conversation” as individuals, we create a Living Burkean Parlor so students find themselves physically inside the abstract idea of an unending conversation. Students are divided into groups and one person from each group volunteers to leave the room. Each group receives a conversation topic or question to spark vigorous discussion, such as “If you get away with committing any crime, what would you do?” After conversation is rolling, the people who left the room return to their groups. Without knowing the topic, and without being explicitly invited into the discussion, they attempt to contribute something new to the conversation based on what others are saying. To debrief the activity, we talk about the challenges of joining a conversation without knowing the topic, the strategies used to join the conversation, or whether the conversation ended up changing. From there, we introduce students to the idea of Kenneth Burke’s unending conversation, and prime them to enter it themselves in their next assignment.
Kinesthetic activities allow students to socialize while building knowledge fundamental to their success in the collaborative classroom and workplace settings they will encounter.
Students’ anonymous feedback on such activities has been consistently positive:
Fleckenstein, K.S. (1999). Writing bodies: Somatic minds in composition studies. College English, 61 (3), 281-306.
Schlossberg, N. K. (1989). Marginality and mattering: Key issues in building community. New Directions for Student Services, 48, 5-15.
What kinesthetic activities do you include in your classroom? Join the Macmillan Community to tell us in the comments below and start a conversation!
In Chapter 5 of An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing, my coauthors Susan Miller-Cochran,Stacey Cochran, and I explore some differing rhetorical contexts for which academics must sometimes write, including their own scholarly communities as well as some more popular communities. As part of that exploration, we provide annotated examples of a couple of the kinds of texts scholars sometimes write for their peers (journal article) in addition to those they may occasionally write for a more popular audience (press release).
One of our aims, of course, is to illustrate for students how different writing situations call for different types of writing, and how, as writers, we craft texts while remaining mindful of the needs of our target audiences. An assignment I’ve mentioned in earlier posts and would like to explore further in this one engages students directly—and explicitly—with this kind of audience-based rhetorical decision making: the translation project.
The assignment I’m using in my current first-year writing course asks students to translate an academic text, a peer-reviewed journal article (of their own choosing) from a natural science journal, into a more popular genre, a press release. I strategically place this assignment near the beginning of my course because it serves well as a bridge between the popular domains with which my students are often already quite familiar and the more discretely academic domains we explore as the real heart of my WID course.
Some Notes on the Process
A crucial part of supporting student success, based on my experience with this project, is spending ample time helping students read and understand their chosen journal article. If students haven’t engaged such texts previously, then they’ll need substantial support navigating the form of scholarly articles. Guided explorations of the conventional expectations (how they are typically structured, how they use reference material, etc.) for scientific journal articles can go a long way toward helping students identify the information they need to repurpose such scholarly texts for a more popular audience.
Some Natural Science Journals
For many students, understanding a press release can be just as removed from their experiences as an academic journal article. As such, it is equally important that students have some initial guided experiences with the genre, that they spend time reading and exploring various examples of press releases. Those of us who teach at research-intensive institutions may be able to pull examples of press releases designed in response to research conducted at our own institutions. At NC State, for example, I frequently direct students to the university’s news website, where they can find press releases issued daily. Additionally, there are a number of online clearinghouses for scientific press releases, including EurekAlert!,where students can explore additional examples.
I typically spend a couple of class sessions examining examples of the target translation genre. As part of our reading and discussion of these sample texts, I guide my classes to construct a substantial list of the potential conventional expectations for the genre. We explore language-level concerns, like how to deal with jargon as a writer of a press release, as well as how other writers of press releases deal with referenced materials, for example.
In addition to producing an actual press release, I also sometimes have my students write brief reflective analyses about their products. As part of these reflections, I ask students to explain what they did as part of the translation process, or to identify specific features of the scholarly article that they had to adjust, or translate, for the audience and genre of the press release. The reflective piece challenges students to identify choices they had to make as a writer, whether those choices concerned structural, reference, or language features of their text. More importantly, the reflective analysis allows students to explain why they made the decisions they did. In doing so, I believe, the reflection supports students’ metacognition and thereby enhances the transferability of a rhetorical approach to engaging with and composing texts.
There are host of other reasons why I’m particularly drawn to the translation assignment:
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Some of the best moments I experience as a composition instructor come when my students discover that texts, as rhetorical events, can offer significant insights into the values, beliefs, and/or desires of their target audiences. When these moments of recognition occur, I’m reminded just how empowering a discovery this can be for many of my students who, although often quite adept at reading texts for information, have rarely been asked to approach texts rhetorically. Fostering a more sophisticated audience-based rhetorical awareness, then, is among my chief aims as a first-year writing instructor. This kind of awareness is precisely what I believe students are able to transfer from one rhetorical context to another.
Like many instructors, though, I often find myself bound up in the day-to-day processes of supporting students’ production of a review of scholarship or an annotated bibliography or any number of other process-level tasks. During these periods, my focus as an instructor sometimes drifts from the higher-level concern for students’ developing rhetorical awareness to the lower-level, though obviously still important, activity of text production.
My response has been to try to ensure that my students are engaged in rhetorical analysis and reflection activities at critical moments throughout my course:
Beginnings: The Public Audience
I usually begin my first-year writing course with a review of some of the basic principles of rhetoric. One of the initial activities I assign asks students to identify a specific target audience and to construct a product advertisement aimed at moving their selected audience to “buy” a product. An important stage in the process of completing this project is the analysis of audience. To be successful in the project, students must identify the values, beliefs, and/or desires of their target audience and make appropriate decisions about the elements of their advertisement in light of their analyses. My students have produced hand-drawn ads, posters, and even short filmic texts in response to this assignment, and I have them present their ads to the class as a whole. Students explore the content and design features of their advertisements in light of their understanding of their targeted audiences as part of these presentations.
In the Middle: The Academic Audience
The ad construction project sets the stage for the audience-based rhetorical analysis activities and projects that continue throughout the “heart” of my course, which is comprised of a series of units that explore the literate practices of various academic domains—the social sciences, the humanities, etc. In my natural sciences unit, for instance, I have students produce a formal rhetorical analysis of a professional academic journal article. My goals for this project are for students to (1) demonstrate their abilities to notice salient rhetorical/conventional features of natural science writing and (2) offer rationales for those features that are grounded in their understanding of the values, beliefs, and/or desires of the authors’ target audience. In another assignment, I ask students to translate a scholarly article for a popular audience. Students, again, must analyze an audience carefully and make appropriate decisions about how their text should be crafted to best serve the needs of that audience.
One of the final writing assignments my students complete is a rhetorical analysis of their own writing. My students choose a text (representing a specific disciplinary genre) they’ve produced as part of my class during the semester, and they analyze that text in light of the values, beliefs, and/or desires of the text’s target audience.
Strategically placing these kinds of activities and projects throughout my course helps to ensure that my students are able to move from analyzing audiences to creating texts that respond appropriately to the needs of those audiences in various contexts.
When I share stories of my experience teaching in a WID-based curriculum, I’m often asked: So what exactly do you teach in a WID curriculum?
There are all kinds of ways to answer this question, of course. I could emphasize the rhetorical principles I teach, the writing process, the evaluation of source materials, or any number of other important concepts and skills. I’ve learned, though, that what people really want is to learn more about the kinds of major writing projects I assign.
Considering my course with such a question in mind, it occurs to me that I tend to organize my WID-based FYC course around two general categories of writing practice: rhetorical analysis projects and disciplinary genre projects.
Rhetorical analysis projects take a number of forms, but they all serve the purpose of providing opportunities for students to analyze and reflect on the ways academic communities, among others, construct texts.
When we explore writing in the natural sciences, for instance, one of my projects asks students to translate a scientific article intended for a scholarly audience into a genre aimed at a more popular audience, like a press release or a news article for a science magazine. The act of translating information into the popular genre causes students to notice numerous conventional or distinctive features of scientific writing; it further allows students to consider the appropriateness of those features when communicating the same information for a different audience. In more traditional rhetorical analyses, students are asked to identify and describe the rhetorical features of one or more academic texts. As part of their descriptions in my assignment, I push students to explain why they believe the writers of a text made the rhetorical decisions they did.
Rhetorical analysis assignments like these provide opportunities for students to consider “the how question”--How is the text constructed?--but they can also cause students to consider more deeply “the why question”--Why is the text constructed as it is? Assignments that support students as they develop an understanding of how and why texts are constructed as they are, regardless of the intended audience, rely on the kinds of transferable analytical skills we want students to practice any time they encounter a new discourse community, in college and beyond.
Disciplinary genre projects are those in which students have opportunities to practice the forms of inquiry and writing that are often specific to particular academic communities. These reflect the kinds of assignments students are likely to encounter as part of the undergraduate experience. The chart below provides a sampling of genres students might produce in a WID-based FYC course:
Some Possible Genres
Interpretation of Artistic Text
Review of Work of Art
Social Science Theory Application
Formal Observation Report
Business Letter (Business), Legal Brief (Law), Discharge Instructions (Nursing)
Although I’ve described two kinds of writing assignments, the point really should be that these are complementary endeavors. Practicing disciplinary genres gives students needed experience in discipline-specific inquiry, and analyzing the rhetoric of a discipline helps students understand how that research is translated to a specific audience.