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While many of us are hurtling toward the end of the semester, we are also pressed to decide next semester’s book orders and ancillary readings. So, I want to celebrate how many of you are blogging about assignments that place marginalized voices at the center of the classroom. (The photo to the right is from a recent New York Times article with rich images you might consider for classes around the upcoming holiday.) For example, Susan Naomi Bernstein recently described a redesigned assignment drawing on the film Black Panther. I also appreciate the insights about the politics of citation and authority in Dara Liling’s “Source Credibility as a Matter of Social Justice.” Many more of you, of course, are sharing inspirational texts for the rest of us to consider in our classrooms as we work hard to ensure our classrooms are inclusive, challenging, and aware of the politics of the academy and our historical moment.

 

My title for this post comes from bell hooks’ 1984 text, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, which has influenced my teaching for decades. hooks has been on my mind since I had the great good fortune to gather with thousands of feminist scholars and instructors at the 2018 National Women’s Studies Association conference in Atlanta just after the midterm elections. Conversation fizzed and popped about the implications of expanded representation – political and academic — by women and people of color.

 

The plenary sessions, too, amplified the potential tectonic shifts happening in scholarship and our classrooms. For example, the conference launched with a richly textured discussion between celebrated poet Elizabeth Alexander and sociologist Alondra Nelson, author of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome (2016)That conversation — interdisciplinary, intersectional, political, and delightfully personal (Alexander and Nelson are longtime friends) — was a reminder of how crucial it is that we invite students into these conversations, so they understand that knowledge production is a human effort, shaped by power in myriad ways, but also a shaper of power. Another evening featured Alice Walker, who spoke with quiet intensity to a packed ballroom about the transformational experience of learning from Howard Zinn during his time as a professor at Spelman College. Yet another plenary brought together activists who reflected on lessons we could learn from social movements of 1968, and I could hardly scribble notes fast enough to capture the sparking conversation between Angela Davis, Bernadine Dohrn, Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, Ericka Huggins of the Black Panther Party, and Madonna Thunder Hawk. Thunder Hawk’s leadership in the Red Power movement is featured in the new documentary Warrior Women, which I plan to teach next semester.

 

My co-author, Stuart Greene, has blogged recently on the empathy we try to inspire through our work in From Inquiry to Academic WritingWe have worked hard, with each edition, to include voices that speak to the pressing issues of our time, from perspectives that often bring insights from the margin to the center, as hooks might say. It is work that never ends – for which I am thankful. Like you, we are always listening hard for new voices to invite our students into new conversations.

 

What are you most excited to teach? What can you recommend?

 

 

Photo Credit: April Lidinsky

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

 

Writing teachers have always valued research and critical thinking as a primary part of our mission, but research in our world today is a completely new game where we have access to thousands of sources at the click of a mouse.  Before, we could engage easily with digital sources, with much of our instruction focused on the location of sources and long hours through the library stacks. Now, teachers shift attention to the selection and critical evaluation of sources and repurposing of information for new rhetorical situations. Student researchers also now consume information and shape perspectives through multimodal sources such as images, videos, podcasts, and other digital texts. We hope that students learn to select and evaluate these sources as well as represent their ideas through multimodal formats.

 

Over the years, I have included infographics in my classes in a variety of ways. I have used them to help students examine their collaborative processes, generate discussion, compare perspectives, and present complex information to others through visual representation. The human brain processes visual information with alarming speed, which makes infographics a powerful way to communicate information and concepts. Infographics do not have to replace traditional research writing. Instead, they can enhance research practices and challenge students to remix and represent information in new ways. When students follow paths of inquiry they must select, analyze, and synthesize information for their own purposes. The infographic assignment amplifies these skills and draws upon multimodal texts and visual communication.

 

Background Readings and Resources

 

Steps of the Assignment

  1. Have students choose a research subject or question of their own interest. Ask them to locate at least 3 purposeful sources on their subject. This is a good time to review how to find and evaluate sources along with citation and documentation practices. Students can write up their research, paying close attention to how they are locating themselves in their collected perspectives. Take these writings through whatever drafting and peer response you would normally require for this kind of assignment.
  2. Next, introduce the genre of the infographic. Students can access an abundance of examples through a quick image search and discuss the ways they visually represent information. They can work in small groups to compare, generate ideas, and list conventions and variations in the genre.
  3. Challenge students to create their own infographics to represent their research. They have to review the information and sources they collected from their generated research and choose what is most important to represent. They also need to consider the impact of their information to understand how they might emphasize certain ideas through information hierarchy and design through size, position, color, contrast, and other forms of visual rhetoric. This assignment asks them to explore the relationship between form and content as they choose particular shapes and backgrounds that further communicate their meanings.
  4. Although students can design their infographics from scratch, I generally recommend that they use available digital infographic generators such as Piktochart, Canva or other free software. These programs offer students a multitude of choices to express their ideas and allow for easy visual representation of information such as charts, graphs and a slew of images from which to select.
  5. Once they create their infographics, assemble students into peer response groups to generate feedback towards revision. Have students compose their own criteria for response based on their earlier discussion about conventions of the genre. Include rhetorical and visual components and information hierarchy as part of their discussion. Remind them to include source information through proper documentation practices.
  6. Students can insert these revised infographics into their research papers or present them to the class (or both) to explain their research. They can also act as stand-alone artifacts. I usually ask students compose a reflective statement to articulate their rhetorical and design choices.

 

Jordan Sloan's infographic

Jordan Sloan's infographic

Resources: What can you do with an English major? | Roosevelt University 

 

Reflections on the Activity

I am always intrigued with the ways students compose this assignment. Students take on a multitude of subjects, rhetorical stances and approaches. For example, Jordan explored a relevant question regarding career opportunities for English majors. Ari, who is interested in the “inked arts” researched how tattoos are viewed in the workplace and Zach created an historical perspective related to the chronological development of cyberpunk.

 

Follow the links below to view these student examples:

This blog series is written by Julia Domenicucci, an editor at Macmillan Learning, in conjunction with Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl.

 

Six empty speech bubbles, each with a pair of opening and closing quotation marks.

 

This month’s post is a week early because of the holiday next Thursday. Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate!

 

Podcasts have been around for a while, but their popularity seems to increase every day—and for good reason! They are engaging and creative, and they cover every topic imaginable. They are also great for the classroom: you can use them to maintain student engagement, accommodate different learning styles, and introduce multimodality.

 

LaunchPad products from Macmillan's English list include Grammar Girl podcasts, which you can assign to your students to support your lessons. If you’re teaching a lesson on quotation marks or integrating quotations, assign one (or all!) of these suggested podcasts for students to listen to before class.

 

In your LaunchPad, see the unit “Grammar Girl Podcasts” for instructions on assigning podcasts. You can also find the same information online on the page “Assign Grammar Girl Podcasts.”

 

Podcasts about Quotation Marks

  • How to Use Quotation Marks [7:51]
  • Quotation Marks and Punctuation [5:02]
  • Punctuating Questions [7:07]
  • Single Quotation Marks versus Double Quotation Marks [6:13]

 

Students can do a lot more with podcasts than simply listen to them. Choose one or both of the following assignments for students to complete using the suggested Grammar Girl podcasts.

 

Assignment A: Ask students, either individually or in small groups, to write a script for their own podcast on a grammar topic. Students should consider the following questions as they develop their script:

  • What topic do they want to focus on?
  • How long do they want the podcast to be? (As with an essay, broader topics tend to result in longer podcasts. You may also want to set time limits.)
  • What do they already know about their chosen topic? What other questions do they still have about their topic? What will they need to research?
  • If the students are working in groups, how will they structure the podcast to accommodate the different narrators?

 

After drafting, ask students to submit their scripts. Each script should include a title and the expected duration. You may also want them to include a separate paragraph reflecting on the script writing process.

 

Assignment B: Have students record their podcast from Assignment A and share the files with their classmates. Reflect on the process and results as a group. Which parts of the project were easiest? Which were most difficult? Did they have to adjust their scripts at all during recording?

 

Recording podcasts can take a lot of time and sometimes involves a steep learning curve. If recording podcasts is not feasible for your class, have each student read their script aloud to their peers.

 

Do you have other suggestions for using podcasts in lessons? Let us know what they are in the comments!

 

Credit: Pixabay Image 1375858by 905513, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

 

You've heard about it before: someone perches on the edge of a rooftop, or a waterfall, or a granite outcropping, to take a vertiginous photo of the drop off, hundreds—perhaps thousands—of feet below. Or reclines on a railway line to take a quick selfie as a locomotive looms in the background. Or does one thing or another that is exceptionally dangerous in order to get an eye-popping image that might capture a crowd on Instagram. . .and, sometimes, perishes in the act, as recently happened with a husband-and-wife team of travel bloggers in Yosemite National Park.

 

As I say, there's nothing new about this, and there are plenty of articles scattered all over the Internet detailing the phenomenon, often containing academic commentary on the meaning of it all, as does this article in Vice from 2017. So, given the familiarity of what might be called "Fatal Selfie Syndrome," and, more importantly, the fact that your students are likely to be part of the audience to which such photos are directed, this is a popular cultural topic that calls for semiotic analysis.

 

Let's start with the basics. The fundamental goal behind dangerous Instagram photos (or YouTube videos, etc.) is to get attention. While the most daring of the bunch also tend to be thrill seekers, thrill seeking is not the primary motivation for the simple reason that the chosen poses are designed for publicity, not for a privately enjoyed experience. But this elementary explanation then raises the question of what all this attention getting signifies.

 

Here we can go back to the early days of the Net. The advent of the personal web log and/or web page in the 1990s signified the emergence of a democratizing challenge to the hierarchical structures of traditional mass media, offering a way for ordinary people to make themselves seen and heard. MySpace—a kind of pre-packaged personal web site with audio and images—took the process a step further, widening the breach in the wall (in Pink Floyd's sense of the word) of mass cultural anonymity, while opening up new opportunities for commercial self-promotion.

 

The Instagram daredevils – and increased competitive stakes – are a consequence of what happens when democratic opportunity collides with a mass scramble for individual distinction. With so many people publicizing themselves on social media, it becomes harder and harder to get anyone to notice. This is especially problematic for those who exploit the Internet as a source of personal income, seeking to attract advertising dollars by attracting large numbers of views. So much money is at stake now that a sort of arms race of ever-more-daring stunts has ensued, effectively creating a new Internet hierarchy of online Evel Knievels contending with each other to make the cut.

 

The semiotic upshot of all this is that social media are not merely addictive, they are expressions (and extensions) of a hypercapitalistic society so taken up with monetizing every corner of human existence that personal experience itself is now for sale—in fact, one might say that personal experience is being sought for the sake of a sale.

 

Behind the scenes of this dramatic interplay between risk-entrepreneurs and their followers is the advertising that pays for it all. James Twitchell has called America an "advertising culture" (or "adcult"), and the Instagram economy can be said to signify an adcult in overdrive, careening through a consumer marketplace so splintered into niches and sub-niches that those with goods and services to sell are ever on the lookout for new ways of reaching anyone who is likely to buy their stuff. So if you can survive your latest, rather literal, peek into the abyss and get it up onto the Net, you may be able—thanks to all those advertisers who want to reach the kind of people who want to see you do it— to shudder all the way to the bank.

 

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2034239 by Alexas_Fotos,used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

 

Last week I had an opportunity to visit with colleagues and students at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. It has been some years since I was last there and I was amazed to see how the campus has grown—up to 65,000 students! As a kid growing up in Florida, I had only the U of Florida and Florida State to choose from (and Florida State was just moving to co-ed!), so seeing all the new campuses that have grown up over the decades is impressive indeed.

 

I was glad to see the Department of Writing and Rhetoric (no longer part of English) thriving and met some grad and undergrad students who told me the Department’s mission resonated with them:

Everyday life in the 21st century involves composing and understanding complex messages in multiple media and in varied contexts. In order to address challenges related to composing, rhetoric, and literacy in school, workplace, civic, and community settings, Department of Writing and Rhetoric (DWR) faculty engage in innovative research and teaching, often collaborating with students as well as community and campus partners to undertake this work. Additionally, as a department, we provide academic and public leadership on writing-related issues.
Students in our undergraduate and graduate programs receive a comprehensive education in writing and rhetoric that enables them to communicate effectively, persuasively, and ethically across a range of civic, professional, and educational contexts.


The Department offers a BA in Writing and Rhetoric and an MA in Rhetoric and Composition as well as a Professional Writing Certificate—and oversees the First Year Composition Program and The University Writing Center. I was on campus to address the Department faculty and students, and the person who brought me to campus thoughtfully let me out right at the door to the new building the Department occupies. I was to wait for her to return from parking, but once inside I spotted The Writing Center and made straight for the entry. The young woman at the reception desk welcomed me and introduced me to grad student tutors and gave me a tour of the light and airy—and spacious—Center. Throughout this post are a few photos of the Center.

 

From the Center, I got to tour the Department offices and take a look at the curriculum. I was particularly impressed with their outcomes statement and with their assignments for both Writing 1101 and 1102, especially when I got to read examples of student work. For the first course, I read essays that had been published in their Stylus: A Journal of First-Year Writing, notably Julie Wan’s “Chinks in My Armor: Reclaiming One’s Voice”; Shravan Yandra’s “Note-Taking Involving Native and Modern Languages: A Detailed Analysis of My Code-Meshing”; and Jaydelle Celestine’s “Did I Create the Process? Or Did the Process Create Me?” These essays engaged me thoroughly—they were well thought-out, well written, and managed to balance traditional research with personal experience offered as (powerful) evidence.

 

Students I spoke with were enthusiastic about the courses they were taking, which is always refreshing when those courses happen to be required. Writing about the program, one student said

The writing program is really a journey into the art and science of communication. I thought I knew what to expect, but I was utterly and pleasantly surprised. This isn’t your mother’s comp program—this is ‘take it to the real world’ stuff.

 

The day I visited UCF was November 6, mid-term election day. I spoke with students about their writing and how they hoped it could help them get their voices heard. Some had managed to vote on campus, but others who came from out of state had not voted: they promised to look into absentee voting in the future (!). But what an uplifting experience it was to visit yet another outstanding writing program, to know that in the face of so much negativity and division and, yes, even hate, that writing teachers are keeping faith, continuing to engage and inspire writers to write honestly, think critically, and speak their own truths.

 

Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford

In Memory of Stan Lee (1922-2018)

 

Writing workshop for our Black Panther synthesis project.

The words printed in black ink are:

Most important: If it seems too hard, WRITE ABOUT  IT ANYWAY.

 

I was reminded of the power of listening to students when student input led me to revise our second writing project for this fall semester. The original project would be an analysis of a multimedia storytelling artifact, chosen by the student: either a music video or a TED talk. The end goal was to create a synthesis of three texts: two course readings and the storytelling artifact.

 

To introduce the idea of a storytelling artifact, I played a music video that initially appeared to be a suitable subject for analysis. My students began a heated discussion about how the video portrayed race, class, and privilege. While the students seemed thoroughly engaged by the discussion, they were not inspired the transparency of the video’s message and they did not admire the lack of complexity in its composition. It was clear that while the assignment I had envisioned prompted discussion, students felt that it was neither inclusive enough, nor addressing suitable cultural and technological complexities.

 

As the discussion about the video was coming to a close, a student and I began a side conversation about the film Black Panther, which is now available on Netflix. I had not initially considered Black Panther for two reasons. The first was, as much support as I could offer for synthesizing the film with more academic texts, I know next to nothing about the Marvel Universe. But my student argued that, even without knowledge of the Marvel Universe, the film is culturally relevant and accessible to a very wide audience, nationally and internationally.

 

While the first reason was reconcilable by relying on my students’ knowledge of this subject, the second reason was the one that gave me most pause. In the anonymity of the movie theater, I had wept openly for the entire second half of Black Panther. I worried about the impact that my emotions would have on my ability to teach this film as an objective text for practicing synthesis. But my student, yet again, re-framed my emotional response as an asset, reminding me that many people had very emotional reactions to Black Panther. My emotional response to the film thus became a teachable moment regarding the appeal to pathos.

 

Indeed, given the ongoing discord of our current world, recent events outside the classroom had disturbed students profoundly. If I wanted this classroom were to become a safer space, I needed to remember my utopian goal: achieving classroom community through shared experiences and common aims. What to do?

 

Revising the assignment at this late date to explore not storytelling artifacts but Black Panther – which was clearly speaking to my students in a way music videos and TED talks were not – would require significant shifts in lesson plans, and we would lose time to watching the film together as a class. However, could I re-envision lost time as time regained? I became a writing teacher because I love to write, and to share the passion, power, and beauty of good writing. Black Panther as a film had the potential to offer the kind of shared experience that most compels my work as a writer and a teacher of writing, and that would fulfill the aims and goals of practicing synthesis. Perhaps most significantly, sharing a film that we knew and loved would allow us to do our best work together.

 

And so it was decided. I would revise the assignment and we would watch and write about Black Panther together.

 

There were so many different pieces to this assignment that it was difficult to choose just one for this blog post. However, the activity that follows gave me a chance to share my thought processes with students, and allowed us to work together to take on the problem of creating clear and precise writing from strong feelings and seemingly inexplicable emotions.

 

In my first-year writing courses this fall, I’ve asked my students to explore James Gee’s concept of Discourse as a means of interpreting their previous literacy experiences. A common theme in their first essays is a sense that prior schooling often suffocated their voices, leaving them with little interest or personal investment in classroom writing. They “know” they shouldn’t write in the first person or use textisms, emoji, contractions, or “I think” statements. 

 

For their course projects, students select and explore one of the Bad Ideas about Writing—some of which are written in first person. They seek out blogs, TED talks, newspaper articles, peer-reviewed journal articles, and a range of other online and print sources related to their chosen “bad idea”—and to their own experiences, majors, and career choices.  As they work with sources, I ask them to consider how the various writers represent themselves in the texts. Do the students hear a voice there?  Where?  What gives the readers a sense of that voice?

 

To help students recognize multiple ways of expressing voice within academic contexts, I have them read Ken Hyland’s “Disciplinary Voices: Interactions in Research Writing,” which approaches voice from a disciplinary perspective. Hyland says,

 

“Writers have to display a competence as disciplinary insiders to be persuasive and this is, at least in part, achieved through a writer-reader dialogue which situates both their research and themselves. This means adopting a disciplinary voice; using language which establishes relationships between people, and between people and ideas…. All this is done within the broad constraints of disciplinary discourses” (7).  

 

Specifically, writers position themselves using “stance” markers, and they connect with readers using “engagement” strategies. My students look for ways their source texts demonstrate both stance and engagement, noting how these concepts are instantiated differently according to the context and purpose of the piece.

 

The course project builds throughout the semester; shortly after mid-term, students have found, evaluated, and summarized four sources, and they have matched quotes or paraphrases to show how sources confirm, expand, complicate, or contradict each other (and their own experiences). As we move into the home stretch of the project, students need at least one additional text or audio source, as well as an interview.  But many of the students hit a snag at this point: they struggle to find an additional source that fits smoothly into the conversation that is taking shape among themselves and their sources.

 

To address their concerns on a practical level and to reiterate our on-going discussion of voice, during one recent session I asked students to think about hashtags in social media contexts. What is the purpose of hashtagging a post on Twitter or on other social media platforms? How do hashtags express stance? Engagement? 

 

I have just over 40 students in two sections, all of whom are working on the Bad Ideas about Writing project. After our hashtag discussion, students posted the citations for their first four sources on a shared Google doc, and for each one, they added four to eight hashtags to represent both their reaction to the source and the shared purposes of the classroom.  Their hashtags thus demonstrate both stance and engagement, as these examples from our document suggest: #scholarly, #wedontalllearnthesame, #lengthy, #Teachersneedbettertraining #Easyread, #longggggggg, #getadreamjournal, #goodread, #notaboutwritingbutstillgood, #literacyinstruction, #realworldexamples, #teacherPOV, #findyourvoice, #videoincluded, #fingeredspeech, #conventionalphrases, #howto, #followthesteps, #don’tbesohardonyoself, #followurownrules,

#researchbased, #textingislikeasecondlanguage, #shortandsweet, #thanksPerelman,  #downwiththeessay, #outdated, #PurposeOfRevision.

 

The shared Google Doc, when complete, contained nearly 150 citations and accompanying hashtags, giving students a number of choices (vetted by classmates) for their fifth source. First drafts of annotated bibliography entries for these sources came in last week, and many students commented on the value of “shared legwork” on their research, while others noted how helpful the information packed into the hashtags was.

 

Do you use hashtags in your classrooms?  Do you teach voice, stance, or engagement? I would love to hear what is working for you.

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Carl Rogers, for whom Rogerian argument is named, took a concept that worked in couples and small-group therapy and extended it to large groups, even nations. Rogerian therapy is based on nonconfrontational communication. This communication is hampered, whether in dealing with individuals or nations, by the fact that there is no longer anything approaching a shared worldview. Rogers wrote, “Although society has often come around eventually to agree with its dissidents . . . there is no doubt that this insistence upon a known and certain universe has been part of the cement that holds a culture together.” In the Rogerian approach to argumentation, when views of what that worldview should be collide, effective communication requires both understanding another’s reality and respecting it.

 

I was reminded of Rogers’s emphasis on shared common ground after the recent midterm elections when I saw headlines like this one from the Wall Street Journal: “What the Midterm Election Shows: America’s Two Parties Live in Divergent Worlds.” Almost half of voting Americans revealed through their choices that they feel very real threats to their “known and certain universe.” There is no place in that universe for abortion, same-sex marriage, gender fluidity, or immigrants. Throughout the Obama years, as liberals cheered change, there was a seething hostility that the election of Donald Trump brought to the surface. America’s (liberal) dissidents, those who threaten the security of a white Christian worldview, have increased in number to the point that they too constitute around fifty per cent of the voting public. Rogers would advocate that the two sides come together by seeking common ground—seeking that which they can agree on as a starting point for discussion. That’s hard to do, though, when the two sides live in divergent worlds.

 

President Trump’s strategy as the midterms approached was the opposite of Rogerian argument. He went on the offensive, attacking the other side rather than seeking common ground. He rallied his supporters around causes by attacking liberals and condemning them as threats to nationalism—which many on the other side read as white nationalism. He played on the fear of the “other.” He intentionally broadened the gap rather than trying to bring the two sides together because establishing common ground among his supporters was more important. He created common ground within his base by constantly stressing how the other side advocated policies that threatened his supporters’ world. A group of families traveling from Honduras to seek asylum in the U. S. became the equivalent of an armed force attacking our Southern border—and a threat to our way of life. A search for common ground could have focused on how to control our borders, but, with the elections looming, it was more expedient to constantly refer to the liberal desire for open borders, making liberals appear to be as far as possible from protecting the American way of life.

 

Having a Democrat-controlled House next year may make compromise more essential, if not more palatable, for conservatives. There are just too many differences in worldview between Republicans and Democrats to make common ground appealing to either party. While the Right can argue that they are protecting the most basic of American values, the Left can argue that their beliefs are firmly grounded in our country’s beginnings as a nation of immigrants seeking freedom from tyranny.

 

 

Photo Credit: “Anger! A couple arguing :(” by Free Images on Flickr 08/09/17 via a CC BY 2.0 License

 

I’m writing this post on November 5, the day before midterm elections, 2018, and writing with my heart in my mouth. Tomorrow, as I’m speaking to instructors and students at the University of Central Florida, our country will be making momentous decisions, from coast to coast, about the kind of citizens we want to be, about the kind of leaders we want to elect, about the kind of country we want our children and grandchildren to live in, and about the kind of language, discourse, and argumentative strategies we want our leaders, and our citizens, to adopt. To say I’m nervous doesn’t begin to describe this state of anxiety.

 

So tonight I am thinking of other times, other places, and specifically about the early days of this much-hoped-for democracy. I’ve had occasion to do so because this weekend I met my grandnieces, now 14 and 11, in New York for a weekend of theater. I had seen Hamilton when it first arrived on Broadway but not since; the girls had not seen it BUT know every single word of every song in the show, complete with accents and hip-hop beats. They were beside themselves with excitement as we walked the ten blocks or so from our hotel to the theater and waited in line to take our seats. The moment Aaron Burr stepped forward to sing

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
Spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

they were mouthing the words along with him, and they stayed on the edges of their seats through the entire three-hour show. And what do they think the show is about? They are pretty well up on the history, I was very glad to know; they have Miranda’s Hamilton book and read the essays in it along with his annotations of some of the key lines. Along with the rest of the crowd, they cheered when they heard

There would have been nothin’ left to do
For someone less astute
He woulda been dead or destitute
Without a cent of restitution
Started workin', clerkin' for his late mother's landlord
Tradin’ sugar cane and rum and all the things he can’t afford
Scammin' for every book he can get his hands on
Plannin' for the future see him now as he stands on (ooh)
The bow of a ship headed for a new land
In New York you can be a new man

(and a new woman too, they said). And later they stood and cheered when they heard “Immigrants: we get the job done!”

 

So they know some of this very complex history of our early democracy, and they understand that they too are immigrants, that all Americans except for indigenous people are immigrants. And Hamilton has helped them understand this concept and apply it to their own lives—and to the arguments swirling around them and all of us.

 

Whatever happens tomorrow, I will be glad to have seen Hamilton again and to have had a chance to talk with young people about what they see in this play, what they hear in its lyrics and view in its moving choreography. And to have thought about what immigrants have brought to this country, and will continue to bring if we allow them to. We could do a lot worse right before this election than to listen to—and really hear—Miranda’s lyrics. When I meet instructors and students at UCF tomorrow, I’m going to ask how many have seen Hamilton or listened to the soundtrack—and hope that a sea of hands goes up.

 

Image Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alexander_Hamilton_portrait_by_John_Trumbull_1806.jpg (Public Domain)

I have been teaching my students to think about academic writing and argument as a conversation, a metaphor which incorporates many of the characteristics I associate with civil discourse: empathy, listening, compassion, understanding, and reciprocity. But I wonder how adequate this metaphor is at a time like this – when children are separated from their families, birthright citizenship is threatened, and the essence of one’s identity can be erased with the stroke of a pen. A number of writers have lamented that the inability to have civil conversations may be a greater issue than the policies that challenge conceptions of national identity, democracy, and social justice. But what would a serious conversation in the current context look and sound like? What middle ground is there?

 

These are questions that have occurred to me long before the current moment. I am reminded of a discussion with my students about an Ethnic Studies class Latinx educators adopted in a Tucson public school. The class immersed Latinx students at the school in the study of history, annexation, colonization, and community activism. Class discussions fostered a sense of cultural pride, agency, and power. But the superintendent of schools in Tucson led a campaign to eliminate the class because he felt the subject matter engendered hate for America. My students didn’t follow the superintendent’s line of argument, so I asked what they would say to the superintendent.

 

One student offered that it wouldn’t be worth responding to someone who was so dismissive of the effort to teach students their history, instill pride, and motivate them to strengthen their communities. Others indicated a desire to engage in a conversation to better understand why the superintendent eliminated the class. I, too, wanted to pursue the reasons why an ethnic studies course felt so threatening. Perhaps there was some fundamental misunderstanding about the class and maybe there was some other way to look at the problem – a view from the middle – that would facilitate a conversation.

 

However, I also wonder about my role as a teacher of writing and rhetoric when a student does not see any middle ground in issues about identity, social justice, and democracy. Is it more meaningful to understand why some educators limit what is taught in schools or to find ways to support initiatives in education that are culturally sustaining?

 

For a moment, I want to think about NPR host Krista Tippett’s reflections on what our most difficult conversations entail. That we can have these conversations at all requires building relations rooted in trust. A good conversation is motivated by our own convictions, she explains, and includes raising good questions that reflect “genuine curiosity.” So how do we create the kinds of spaces that foster “good conversations?” And how do we find “middle ground,” as Tayari Jones asks in a recent article? Can we assume that this middle ground “represents a safe, neutral and civilized space?”

 

I can’t say that I have answers to the questions that Krista Tippett and Tayari Jones ask. My co-author, April Lidinsky, and I describe the metaphor of conversation at length in From Inquiry to Academic Writing and stress the idea of empathy in trying to understand arguments that differ from our own worldviews. We write that empathy is the ability to understand the perspectives that shape what people think, believe, and value. To express both empathy and respect for the positions of all people involved in the conversation, academic writers try to understand the conditions under which each opinion might be true and then to represent the strengths of that position accurately. We adopt a Rogerian approach to argument that grows out of the give-and-take of conversation between two people and the topic under discussion. In a writing, this conversation takes the form of anticipating readers’ counterarguments and using language that is both empathetic and respectful.

 

Developing empathy entails looking critically at how factors such as race, class, gender, faith, and sexuality inform the ways we see the world and exist in relationships to one. These factors point to the multiple forms of oppression that individuals experience everyday. Before we can empathize, we must understand how power operates and disenfranchises. As educators, we need to acknowledge with our students the nature of intersectionality and challenge normative and reductive views of identity. At a time when we live in segregated communities and our friends are scattered geographically and virtually, it’s important that students understand how abstract ideas about citizenship, power, and identity affect day-to-day experiences.

 

I am mindful of Jones’s argument that establishing common ground is complicated. This is especially the case when those we disagree with overlook or ignore how people are directly affected by “policies or cultural norms.” I think of my student who said he would not try to engage the superintendent. As a student of color, my student took the elimination of the ethnic studies class as a personal affront to black and brown people who have spent decades struggling for equity and justice. The superintendent was not just making an argument that seemed to invite a response; he was creating policies that change people’s lives.

 

What middle ground exists when a student recalls the time when ICE surrounded his house and took his father away? When children are separated from their families at the border? When elected officials challenge the very foundations of how to define citizenship and treat civil and human rights as negligible? My student hears that he does not matter in policies that center whiteness and nativism. I understand why he and others would walk away from a painful conversation.

 

As teachers of writing, we can and should create spaces for difficult conversations built on relationships, trust, and reciprocity. But sometimes it’s fine to let our students rage without having to reconcile their feelings of vulnerability and anger.

 

 

Photo Credit: Pilar Berguido on Flickr 02/09/05, via a CC BY 2.0 License

Milya MaxfieldToday's guest blogger is Milya Maxfield, an instructor in the Academy of Inclusive Learning and Social Growth and a writing center professional at Kennesaw State University. She has a BSW and an MAT in Secondary English Education, and her experiences working with individuals with disabilities inside and outside the classroom have shaped her areas of study, combining her love of digital spaces, writing, differentiation, and accessibility.

 

At its core, the Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth at Kennesaw State University and the Advanced Leadership and Career Development (ALCD) program are designed to be “fully inclusive” and help “students who do not meet higher-education requirements for admission” integrate into the general student population, giving them similar experiences and socialization to those of their peers. These shared experiences make an enormous difference as they leave college and enter the workforce (Migliore, Butterworth, & Hart, 2009).

 

I developed this Communication Story Assignment for the internship class that Academy students take in the first year of the ALCD program. A communication story in the context of this assignment is an easily customizable, generally digital tool that individuals with disabilities use to teach others strategies for effectively and respectfully communicating with them (Pouliot, Müller, Frasché, Kern, & Resti, 2017). Students work on this project for the entire semester, completing mini-assignments and homework every week. The final product in my class is a 2-4 minute video and includes four main components: an introduction, their story, tips for communicating, and a conclusion.

 

VERY IMPORTANT: If you are doing this activity with students with diagnosed disabilities, make sure that they feel comfortable self-disclosing. Reiterate that they only need to discuss their disabilities if they want to.

 

Learning Outcomes

Upon completing the assignment, students will be able to

  • Record and edit footage using everyday technologies, such as their phones and tablets.
  • Advocate for themselves using their Communication Story to negotiate a healthy and productive working environment.

Note: Learning outcomes may vary beyond these initial two because scaffolding and differentiation are critical to this assignment’s success.

 

Background Reading for Students and Instructors

  • The St. Martin's Handbook: 16d, "Considering Visuals and Media"; 17b, "Writing to be Heard and Remembered"; 17d, "Practicing the Presentation"
  • The Everyday Writer (also available with Exercises): 3b, "Plan your Text's Topic and Message"; 3c, "Consider your Purpose and Stance as a Communicator"; 3e, "Think about Genres and Media"; 3f, "Consider Language and Style"
  • EasyWriter (also available with Exercises): 1c, "Considering the Assignment and Purpose"; 1e, "Reaching Appropriate Audiences"; 1g "Considering Time, Genre, Medium, and Format"

 

Procedure

Prewriting and Planning

  1. On the first day of class, we have a class discussion about what my students find challenging in their internships and jobs, particularly those difficulties which involve communication (and miscommunication).
  2. I show my students two videos: Disability Sensitivity Training and Young Stroke Survivor with Aphasia: Laura.
  3. We discuss what components of the videos we liked and what we might want to implement in our own videos.
  4. Using the "Do This, Not That" Graphic Organizer, students write:
  • What people should do or not do when communicating with them
    Example: Use my name when you want to talk to me.
  • How individuals can implement these tips
    Example: Start a sentence or instructions by saying, “Milya...”
  • Why doing these things would help them to better communicate
    Example: Sometimes I don’t know that people are talking to me because I’m so focused on doing my own thing.
  • How it makes them feel when individuals accommodate these communication strategies
    Example: I know that the person really wants to talk to me and values what I have to say.

 

Write, Write, Write, Revise, Revise, Revise

  1. Students expand the “Do This, Not That” graphic organizer entries to build the first draft of their scripts:
    Example: When you want to talk to me, start your sentence with my name, Milya. Sometimes, I don’t know that people are talking to me and it seems like I’m ignoring you when I’m really not. Signaling that you want me to be a part of the conversation makes me feel like you value my opinion and want me to participate.
  2. Students are put into pairs and given a cut-up version of the transcript of the Young Stroke Survivor with Aphasia: Laura video. After they piece it back together, we have a class discussion about what information each piece of the script contains and why they decided to put the pieces in the order that they did.
  3. Based on the order and information the class decides on, we build an outline for what each section of their videos should include:
    Introduction: name, major, year in school, career aspirations, relevant interests
    Story: who they are, how they got there, and why they are making this video
    Tips: 3-5 of their best tips for communicating (either dos or don’ts) with justifications
    Conclusion: most important takeaway and a thank you
  4. Before students begin filming, they peer review each other’s scripts.

 

Filming/Creating
This is the part of the assignment that is most variable depending on what your final product looks like and which technologies you plan to use. Almost all of my students used the cameras on their phones, tablets, or laptops to record themselves. While some edited in additional content, such as pictures or additional videos, most recorded the video in one take and did not use any video editing software to make changes.

 

Scaffolding/Differentiation

The number of ways to scaffold and differentiate this assignment are as unique and varied as your students, but here are a few suggestions that worked for mine:

  • Allow students to handwrite, type, or dictate using a speech-to-text program.
  • Provide a list of possible tips for students to choose from.
  • Use additional graphic organizers to help students write their scripts, especially the introduction and the conclusion.

Reflection

Because this assignment was designed for an internship class, it needed to have immediate, tangible, practical application for the students. More than helping others communicate with them, this assignment was designed to help my students identify and address communication barriers in a proactive, productive way. On the first day of class, one of the things we talked about was how we cannot control how others interact with us, but we can choose how to interact with them. Most of my students feel hurt when they are treated differently, so they were thrilled at the opportunity to help others “treat them normally.” From listening to their struggles—and from struggling myself to find alternate ways of explaining concepts in class—I’ve learned just how much the environments they interact with are not designed for them. As I have searched for resources to assist my students, I realize they have to accommodate others far more often than they are accommodated. While I hope creating this video is indeed a learning experience for my students, I also recognize that by interacting with them and learning to see from their points of view, I may be the one who benefits most from the project.

 

References

Pouliot, D.M., Müller, E., Frasché, N.F., Kern, A.S., Resti, I.H. (2017). “A tool for supporting communication in the workplace for individuals with intellectual disabilities and/or autism.” Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals. 40(4) 244-249. doi: 10.1177/2165143416683927

 

Migliore, A., Butterworth, J., Hart, D. (2009). “Postsecondary education and employment outcomes for youth with intellectual disabilities.” Think College: National Center for POstsecondary Education for Students with Intellectual Disabilities. Vol. 1.

Jack Solomon

From Forums to Facebook

Posted by Jack Solomon Expert Nov 1, 2018

For a number of years I was an active participant, and moderator, on a hobby forum. I was well aware at the time that the experience of forum participation was quite unlike anything else I had ever encountered, and, from time to time, I posted analyses of that experience onto the forum itself. I no longer participate on that forum (it got taken over by climate change deniers and such like—this will be relevant to my following analysis), but I do visit the site to see what is happening there. It's a kind of time travelling experience, thanks to the existence of searchable archives, in which I can see something of myself frozen in the amber of digital memory. But I see something else: namely, some striking signs of what has been happening in this country over the last ten years, not the least of which is the role of Facebook as both symptom and cause of those changes.

 

I'll start with something I posted to the site at the time when I was first coming to appreciate the affect it was having on me. Here's what I said, way back in 2005:

           

What an  forum provides is a historically unprecedented combination of carnival and holiday. That is, the ancient tradition of the carnival enabled Europeans to drop their everyday social hierarchies and limitations, to don masks, and enjoy a freedom that ordinary life doesn't offer. Here on Site X, what we are in everyday life doesn't matter at all. The hierarchy here, and there is a hierarchy of sorts, comes from technical expertise, or experience, or sheer  congeniality and cleverness. I'm very glad to note that it does not come from equipment. Many of the high-rung folks on Site X do not own the best equipment. You can't buy your way to the top here—which is a lot different from everyday life.

 

More important is the masked nature of an  forum. Because we can   conceal as much of ourselves as we like, the stakes of ordinary social interaction are lowered. We aren't risking anything, as happens in any ordinary social interaction. This enables us to relax, to be playful, even a bit childish. We can also be more authentically ourselves, which is very refreshing. On top of this is   the fact that while we can interact at literally any time of the day, the virtual rather than spatial nature of that interaction eliminates most risks. In spatial interaction we have to worry about having to see a person again whom we have may made a goof with. Here, we don't risk that. Again, this enables us to relax enormously.

 

This relates to the holiday-like characteristic of Site X. Just as on a travel-related vacation (a cruise, say), one finds oneself making extraordinarily close friendships that rarely last beyond the voyage because one knows that when the cruise is over everything can be erased, on Site X we are on a kind of permanent holiday. We can let our hair down safely, knowing that if too much is revealed or dared, we can always jump ship, so to speak. Since most of us feel this way it makes for an extraordinarily relaxed atmosphere, with most of our defenses down. Our usual defenses make ordinary social interaction fraught with tension; with them down, we are just more fun to be around.

 

As I read these words now I realize that there is a deep irony in them, the snake, so to speak, in the garden I thought I had found. This irony lies precisely in the anonymity and virtuality of  social interaction, whose benefits can cut two ways. For without the controlling factors inherent in face-to-face and fully-identified human interactions, the Internet is also a place of unbridled hostility and vituperation where people say things they would not dare say to someone else in person.

 

And there doesn't appear to be anywhere to hide when it comes to those  forums that still thrive, as Amy Olberding's essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education laments. Her title says it all: "When Argument Becomes Bloodsport: Philosophy is mired in wanton pugilism."

 

Which is where Facebook comes in. Facebook first appeared at a time when all-too-many  forums were becoming cockpits for the ever-increasing political and cultural divisions that are now so visibly tearing at our society. Forbidding anonymity and offering opportunities for  interaction in which everyone could be a site administrator with the power to exclude unwanted voices, Facebook was quickly embraced as a means of escaping the flame wars and troll fests the Net had become. Indeed, on Site X most of my friends ended up retreating to Facebook—where I did not follow due to personal concerns for my privacy (a topic ripe for its own analysis).

 

So in one sense, Facebook is a symptom, not a cause, of American divisiveness. It offered a way out. But in another, it is a cause: as more and more people have retreated into their own  silos, wherein they can interact only with those people with whom they already agree and be supplied with newsfeeds that deliver only the news and the opinions they want to hear, in the way they want to hear them, the divisions between what is emerging as the Two Americas are only growing. This is not mere correlation, for when a divided people are experiencing a different reality via their social network connections, they are increasingly living in a different reality, making it impossible to understand where the other "side," if you will, is coming from. And this is clearly making things worse.

 

So we have another spoiled paradise on our hands. And I really don't know where we go from here.

 

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 390860 by PDPics, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

 

Have you seen the Heineken ad that aired in the UK last year, the one that ended with “Open Your World”? If not, it’s worth a quick look here. I’ve been thinking about this ad a lot during the past couple of weeks, as Trump lurches from one outlandish, chest-thumping, ranting rally to the next, as pipe bombs are delivered to leading Democrats all over the country, as anti-Semitic slurs and threats are hurled, along with murdering bullets, at worshipers. Is it possible, in such times, to open your own world, or to open anyone else’s?

 

Heineken thinks it is, and in the experiment that the ad reports on, they show how. Six people, with radically opposed viewpoints on everything from climate change to transgender issues, are put into three pairs. The people do not know each other and do not know what the experiment is really about: what they do know is that they have met and spoken with the organizers a bit, and they have agreed to meet and to build something together, using instructions given to them by the organizers. And so the pairs get their marching orders and begin to work, assembling tables and chairs—building things. They chat as they work and get to know each other, sharing sometimes very personal information: one man reveals that he has experienced homelessness, for example. Then they are asked to stand and watch a brief video, which features statements they made when first speaking with the organizers. One pair, a trans woman and a conservative older male, are particularly memorable: on the video, she reveals that she is transgender; he opines that transgender is “just not right.” After they watch the video together, the organizers give them another instruction: take two beers out of a cooler (it’s a beer ad, after all) and place them on the structure they had built together. Then decide whether to sit and talk over a beer—or to leave.

 

Each pair decides to stay and talk, and during that talk the man who had been adamantly opposed to accepting trans people says “I’ve been brought up in a way where everything is black and white―but life isn’t black and white” and they go on from there, the woman saying “Well, I’m just me.” They exchange information and decide to stay in touch. Perhaps the world has opened a bit for this particular man, and for others who participated in this experiment.

 

I’m hoping to watch this video with a class of students and ask them to write a reflection on it immediately after and then use those reflections for some class discussion on listening, on really attending to other people. I’d like then to come back to the ad after six or seven weeks and watch it again, and reflect again, this time noting ways in which the students’ attitudes and ways of seeing and hearing and understanding the ad may have changed or become more complex.

 

I’d also like to ask them to consider what difference it may have made that the pairs were asked to work cooperatively on a project together and that they were doing so face to face, in real time. Can they begin to think of their work in peer review or on collaborative writing assignments as an opportunity to make something together, to build a word-house they can all inhabit? At its best, such work can open worlds. And minds. It’s work teachers of writing are always committed to.

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3737229 by rawpixel, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

Guest Blogger: sara heaser  is a Lecturer of English at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, where she specializes in basic/co-requisite and first-year writing curriculum, pedagogy, and program development. She is an alum of the Dartmouth Summer Seminar for Studies in Composition Research and is currently in the midst of a qualitative study to explore first-year writing as a space for retention. She can be reached at sheaser@uwlax.edu.

 

I have a four-year-old son who understands the world in basic binaries: good vs evil, happy vs sad, big vs small, and such. So when he asks his big questionslots and lots of themabout really abstract things, I resort to the most simple, applicable analogy I can think of.

 

Here’s an example. We were reading a book about the human body and he asked about the “weird-looking lines” (veins) inside us. We live in the Midwest on the Mississippi River, so I said that those lines were like little rivers of blood, and that the blood rivers have barges on them, and the barges carry things he needs around his body to where his body needs them. There’s obviously not microscopic chunks of bananas and fruit snacks floating from his stomach to his toes via his veins, but it’s a close enough explanation to appease his curiosity and to reach a level of understanding that he gets, for now.

 

This is a hard part of parenting, negotiating mutual understanding of an unfamiliar concept. The same goes for teaching. As teachers, we collectively live in the same world as our students, sometimes quite literally in the same communities. But this doesn’t mean we share or value common experiences. This is especially true when it comes to writing.

 

The students in my FYW courses are well beyond understanding the world dualistically like my son does, but when it comes to writing, I see them rely on old tropes. I often find their understanding of writing and its processes is limited to playing it safethey rely on archaic rules that someone told them to follow somewhere along the way in their writing education. And as we know, FYW can sometimes be a student’s first foray into writing for purposes and audiences instead of writing to follow rules--a very unfamiliar concept, indeed.

 

Rules are inflexible; metaphors are interpretative. Introducing metaphors in FYW that imply writing is flexible, unsteady, confusing, messy, frustrating, and such might suggest not only a difference in kind but a difference in understanding of what writing is, as a verb. Some I rely on often:

 

  • A wacky genius effortlessly producing prose is a mythological trope seen in fictional films.
  • Writing is like cooking. Gather the ingredients as you prepare, adjust them as needed to your purpose and audience. (And this one reminds me of my own role: I’m not the one cooking. The students are. So back off.)
  • Engaging in research is like having a conversation. Sometimes you might not know what the conversation is about, and that’s ok. Just listen for a while.
  • Learning to write well is like learning a sport. It requires repetitive, deliberate practice. Just like you might stretch or lift weights to train for a big race, you might practice combining sentences to train for revising a big draft.

 

The five-paragraph essay, sad and useless, is a particularly fun target on which to apply metaphor. Even entire rhetorics for FYW invoke metaphor, like Understanding Rhetoric: A Graphic Guide to Writing, which uses “hosts” (the authors) that guide students through a journey of learning about writing.

 

I don’t have extensive data on student response to metaphor or the effectiveness of metaphorical language in composition pedagogy, but I have a teacherly sense that the use of metaphor in FYW plays a special role beyond just explaining what writing is and can be.

 

If shared language is a symbol of intimacy, metaphor is essentially the foundation on which we can build a sense of community. (A metaphor to explain a metaphor—I couldn’t resist.) When I overhear students drop our metaphors in conversations or read them in a reflective essay, I can literally see and hear metaphor functioning to humanize writing and to establish a relationship between writer and audience, between student and teacher, and between the most important relationship of them all, between the novice writer and writing itself.  

 

What metaphors do you use to talk about writing with your students?