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As we head into summer, we should invite our students to practice all the skills they’ve honed in our writing classrooms as they listen to the political dialogues unfolding this season. Let’s hope they participate in them, too.


Here in South Bend, Indiana, we locals are listening closely to Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s surprising presidential campaign. I was one of the freezing thousands who gathered in the drafty un-renovated portion of a Studebaker assembly plant, rain dripping through the rafters, to witness Buttigieg’s official launch. His speech rang the chimes of ethos, logos, and pathos, and charmed the teachers in the crowd by inviting Mrs. Chismar — his high school Economics teacher — into the lineup of introductory voices.


While I don’t always agree with Buttigieg, I am struck by his rhetorical generosity as he works to create common ground on polarizing issues. For example, when he discusses climate change, he uses the term “climate security” and argues for a “generational alliance” to draw together a range of perspectives to solve this life-threatening problem.


Pete Buttigieg has been questioned by the press for benefiting from both male privilege and white privilege, ethos-boosters that he has been — to my ears — fairly reflective about, as in this conversation with Trevor Noah. He has also resisted and complicated standard narratives of coming out as a gay person, as in this discussion with Rachel Maddow. Listening to Buttigieg, I think of educator José Antonio Bowen’s championing of “slow thinking” in the classroom, which I wrote about last fall. This summer, I’ll be gathering linguistic examples that invite us to think beyond polarities from Buttigieg and the many other candidates vying for the presidency to use in the classroom.


I’ve also learned a lot about resisting polarizing thinking from Northwestern University medical ethicist Katie Watson, whose book, Scarlet A: The Ethics, Law, and Politics of Ordinary Abortion, takes on fearlessly, and generously, current abortion debates. Rather than arguing for common ground, Watson argues for pluralism. She concludes,

The abortion debate often seems to boil down to a debate about vulnerability: Who or what is more in need of protection, fetuses or women? For me, the vulnerable thing in need of protection is pluralism —the idea that Americans who vigorously disagree about gender, family, sex, religion, and endless other topics can all flourish in the same country. (213)

Watson’s insights about pluralism reach far beyond this issue, of course. Like Buttigieg, Watson champions moving beyond “master narratives” of experiences in order to give voice to individual stories, which are always more complex and nuanced than generic “master narratives,” and have greater potential to invite compassion, even from those with very different experiences.


In From Inquiry to Academic Writing, my co-author, Stuart Greene, and I offer student writers skills for compassionate engagement with different perspectives through a Rogerian approach to argument, founded by psychotherapist Carl Rogers. Rogerian argument aims to reduce listeners’ sense of threat, and to open them to alternative perspectives. We offer four steps toward Rogerian argumentation for academic writers:


  1. Conveying to readers that their different views are understood.
  2. Acknowledging conditions under which readers’ views are valid.
  3. Helping readers see that the writer shares common ground with them.
  4. Creating mutually acceptable solutions to agreed-on problems


Holding these steps in mind as we engage others in the next few months will not only be good for our classrooms, but — Buttigieg and Watson would argue — it will be an investment in our democracy.


I held these thoughts in mind when Cornel West spoke in South Bend a few weeks ago, reminding a university crowd that “No matter how educated we are, we are part of the learned ignorant.” In his wide-ranging lecture, he kindled the theme of humility and vulnerability as essential to ethos if we are to engage in non-polarizing dialogue on difficult issues. Because he was in South Bend, and because West traveled in academic circles with Pete Buttigieg’s father, West played to the hometown crowd: “I remember little Pete when he was running around in short pants!” He then praised Professor Joe Buttigieg as “a caretaker of Gramsci.”


That phrase has lingered for me — being a “caretaker” of ideas, and of one another. Our task as instructors, as learners, and as citizens is surely to practice care-taking in these inhospitable times.


Photo Credit: April Lidinsky

In my last post, I looked at writing rules issued by instructors across the curriculum and the resulting confusion for student writers attempting to understand what good writing actually means—and how much of their previous instruction applies in a new context.  The comments on the post highlight how often we must address “conflicting rules” in our classrooms: Aprill Hastings, for example, pointed out that a discussion of rules can be a platform for teaching, leading students to appreciate how “delightfully messy” writing can actually be. Similarly, Jack Solomon noted that looking at rules from other courses can lead to fruitful discussions of conventions and genres, but also (critically) that students must be able to adjust to the expectations of different teachers, each of whom will give a grade. After all, Solomon continued, we “wouldn't want any student to be penalized in a different class for whatever writing guidance” we have given. Finally, Peter Adams admitted (with more than a touch of humor) that it’s possible for the same instructor to give different rules in different semesters or classes. 


Yes! I would agree wholeheartedly with all of these comments: I want to help my students develop not just specific writing “rules,” but a flexible approach that will allow them to tackle future writing strategically, transferring, expanding, and adjusting as necessary (applying what DePalma and Ringer have termed “adaptive transfer”).  


What I want to do better is facilitate such adaptive transfer, especially with basic and multilingual writers in corequisite courses. My students often want clear directives, models, and templates—and these can be quite helpful. But at the same time, I want to support our students’ engagement in what John Warner calls “the skill that is the writing equivalent of balance when it comes to riding a bicycle” – making choices.


To that end, this summer, I am revisiting my FYC/corequisite assignments, instructions, and related readings. Specifically, I am looking at rules that could be considered “choice-restricting,” and revisiting how I introduce and teach these directives.


Specifically, I am asking myself some questions:


  1. What is the underlying writing concept or principle this rule addresses? Is it creating a stance/voice, engaging with a reader, grounding discourse in an on-going conversation, adhering to conventions, acknowledging other voices, arranging evidence in support of a claim, or something else? Do I present the directive so that the connection to the underlying concept is clear?
  2. What questions would I ask when encountering this rule? How can I prompt students to reflect on the rule and ask questions of their own?
  3. Have I provided linguistic resources—vocabulary or syntactic strategies—that allow students to make choices in relation to this rule?
  4. Have I encouraged students to reflect on why this particular choice is important for a writer?


As an example, consider my FYC summary assignment, which includes a directive not to use first person pronouns. Students produce an objective summary of a source, showing an understanding of structure and content, without making personal comments. In addition, students include references to the author and “rhetorical strategy verbs” in each sentence of the summary: the author argues, he explains, they suggest, etc.


I can see how my students would view my “summary guidelines” as an example of one instructor’s idiosyncrasies, even while I see them as critical practice in developing stance and managing other voices effectively and accurately. So in my “assignment redesign,” I am framing these differently on my handout, referring explicitly to stance and including other voices as key writing concepts—concepts that they will encounter multiple times in my class. 


I am also trying to foster critical thinking about these concepts early in our discussion.  So, for example, I might ask students to consider a time when a person needs to do a job without drawing attention to himself or herself in the process. (When I asked that question this past semester, one student quickly responded “being an assassin.”) After brainstorming a list of several such occasions, we turn to writing: are there times in writing when you don’t really want to draw attention to yourself? In other words, are there times when you want to sound more neutral or distant from the content? Why?


Having connected the “no first person” rule to a concept and a purpose, I want to provide linguistic resources. In this case, “signal phrases” or “author tags” (as I mentioned earlier) are one option. In addition, I could show students how to convert “rhetorical” verbs to nouns: “Krashen suggests” could become “Krashen’s suggestion…” I could also teach cleft/inversion structures: “Krashen wants readers to” becomes “what Krashen wants readers to do is…”


Finally, I am adding some reflection questions to the students’ journals and the cover letters accompanying final drafts: 


  • Where else do you think you might need to take a more objective or neutral stance in writing? What makes that hard to do?
  • Where have you seen other writers take a more objective or neutral stance? What can you learn from those writers?
  • What concepts or connections might help you understand why a teacher tells you not to write in first person?
Traci Gardner

Daily Discussion Posts

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert May 14, 2019

Asian woman working on laptop at StarbucksFor several semesters now, I have made Daily Discussion Posts (DDPs) a key feature in my courses. At the beginning of the term, I explain that these posts meet three goals:

  • to highlight information directly related to projects students are working on.
  • to cover topics important to workplace writing that we are not covering elsewhere.
  • to share resources that help with workplace writing generally.

Originally, I devised these posts to meet another goal. My courses are entirely online. We never meet in the classroom. I found that students were checking in on the course website only once or twice a week. Predictably, the fewer times students checked in, the more trouble they had getting their work of the course done.

I considered punitive measure and complicated check-ins to solve the problem, but I don’t like negative enforcement strategies—and I certainly didn’t want to make more work for myself in order to track those solutions. These daily posts give students a reason to come to the site every week day, meeting my goal of encouraging more frequent engagement with the course materials.

Logistics for the Daily Discussion Posts

Every Tuesday through Saturday during the term, I post advice articles, how-to webpages, and other resources that supplement the textbook. I ask students to respond to the posts with significant, well-explained comments.

I emphasize that these posts are not the place for “yeah, I agree” or “me too” kinds of comments. Instead, I ask students to contribute ideas, engage with others, and extend the conversation.

Structure for the Daily Discussion Posts

I organize the Daily Discussion Posts (DDPs) around the series of hashtags explained in the table below. Note that Mondays are reserved for the Module Overview that outlines the work students need to complete for the week.

#TuesdayTutorialThese posts demonstrate something or tell students how to do something.#TuesdayTutorial: Convincing a Reader to Read Your Text
#WednesdayWriteEach post asks students to consider how you would handle a specific situation in the workplace or in the course.#WednesdayWrite: Share Your Workplace Writing Secrets
#ThursdayThoughtEvery post presents an infographic or similar graphic about communication and writing in the workplace.

#ThursdayThought: Know Your Sources

#FridayFactThese posts shares a specific fact about writing in the workplace, which students can compare to what they know about their career fields.#FridayFact: Informative Headings Help Readers
#WeekendWatchEvery weekend post presents a video relevant to what we are covering in class or something else related to writing in the workplace.#WeekendWatch: Crafting Strong Email Messsages

*Because of the way our course management system (CMS) works, I cannot link to the examples.

Assessment for the Daily Discussion Posts

Students grade their own interaction with the Daily Discussion Posts by completing a weekly self-assessment, set up as a True/False quiz in our CMS. The self-assessment questions ask students to indicate what they have read and how many replies they have made. They also confirm that they have completed the self-assessment in accordance with the university’s honor code. When they submit their self-assessments, the points are recorded in the CMS grade book automatically.

I spot check students' work, but I trust them to ensure that they record their participation honestly. In the semesters that I have used this system, I have only found one student who made a false claim. These self-assessments let me focus my attention on giving students feedback, rather than assigning letter grades.

Final Thoughts

Admittedly, these posts required a lot of work the first term that I used them. Writing five different posts a week took an hour or two each day. Now that I have a collection of posts, however, all I have to do is update and revise the posts. I can usually set up the entire week in an hour.

All in all, these Daily Discussion Posts give students extra resources and a chance to interact in a timely manner, and even more importantly from my perspective, they encourage students to check in on the course frequently.

What strategies do you use to engage students and motivate regular participation in your classes? I would love to hear your ideas. Just leave me a comment below.

Photo credit: Detail from “a cold, rainy night at Starbucks” by Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Dear Bedford Bits friends,


Like all of you, I've been reading and talking with colleagues about the all-too-obvious divisiveness abroad in the land today, and especially about the increasing tendency to "stay in our bubbles" in order to avoid confrontations or even discussions with those who hold very different views or come from very different backgrounds. As I talk to young people about this issue, I am more concerned than ever that we find ways to help them bridge such gaps.


That said and prompted by the research that other teachers of writing are doing, I'm trying to gather some basic background information about how students are feeling about such issues.  Toward that end, I'm asking for your help: I have a very brief survey I'd love for you to pass on to your students if you are willing to do so. The survey is completely anonymous and no personal information of any kind is involved. The questions ask students to reflect on how frequently and how comfortably they talk with someone with a different political view or with a different background and to share what they feel are some barriers and benefits to more open interactions.


If you respond to this brief instructor questionnaire, my editors at Bedford/St. Martin's will share the link to the student survey as well as some wording you might use in an email or spoken message to your students about the project. I know many of you teach the first summer term, and I'm hoping you might be able to fit the survey into your first week of class.


As soon as I can, I will write a blog post to share findings and offer some practical strategies for helping young people engage meaningfully with others from a range of language backgrounds, cultural traditions, and political perspectives.  


Thank you!



Now on a record shattering run that should be of no surprise to anyone, Avengers: Endgame offers a multitude of possibilities for writing assignments, ranging from a close reading of the movie itself to an analysis of the entire Avengers film franchise and beyond to a reflection on a system of violent ongoing sagas that includes Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and even The Walking Dead—not to mention the rest of the Marvel universe.


I am not going to attempt anything of the sort in this brief blog, but instead want to propose a different kind of assignment, one that has semiotic implications but begins in a kind of personal phenomenology much akin to a reader-response analysis. This assignment would probably be best be composed in the form of a student journal entry posing the question: How does an ongoing story line that appears to reach some sort of conclusion (including the deaths or "retirement" of major characters), but which I know is not really over at all affect me and my sense of reality?


What I'm aiming at here is for students to become aware of what could be called the "false catharsis" involved in movies like Avengers: Endgame, which pretend to bring a vast arc of interwoven stories to an end, but which viewers know perfectly well is not over at all. Disney has too much at stake to allow Iron Man, for example, to stay dead, or for Captain America to remain retired, and what with the unlimited resources that fantasy storytelling has at hand to reverse the past and reconstruct the present and future, you can be pretty certain that everyone will be back.


In exploring the implications of what could well be called "eternity storytelling," consider the effect of Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop if his readers knew that Little Nell would be brought back in one way or another in a future novel. Or what the impact of the Iliad would be if Hector rose from the grave in a future installment of Trojan War Forever? Or (to go all the way back) how it would be if, in Gilgamesh II, the king of Uruk were to discover a time-traveler's ring that enabled him to go back to retrieve the lost plant-that-gives-eternal life and revive Enkidu after all?


You see what I'm getting at? There can be no true tragedy in a story like Avengers: Endgame, only a consumerist fantasy that lets you have your tragic cake and eat it too, purchasing your way into an impossible realm in which death and destruction are reversible and the story always goes on.


This is what I mean by a "false catharsis." In a true dramatic catharsis, there is a tragic recognition of the inexorable limits of human being. That recognition isn't pleasurable and it isn't fun, but it does offer a solemn glimpse into a reality that is vaster than we are, and with that glimpse, a certain dignity and wisdom.


But that doesn't sell tickets.



Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 1239698 by ralpoonvast used under the Pixabay License.


I still remember about eight years ago when a student came to me saying she needed help with a citation: she was preparing an oral presentation based on research of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and she had found a clip of Bechdel doing chin-ups on YouTube. That would make a good opening image, she thought. So she began tracing it and found that it had first been a still photo in a Vermont newspaper article about Bechdel; then it was described on a radio show/interview; and then a home video clip from which the still was taken was uploaded to YouTube. Or something like that. She threw up her hands, and so did I. Eventually we came up with a viable citation, or at least one that satisfied the two of us and that would help readers understand where the image came from.


Fast forward eight years and oh my have things gotten even more complicated: students are now faced with amazingly complex trails to follow in trying to show that they’ve done their homework and that they can help readers find their sources. This fact was brought home to me most powerfully in a recent email conversation with a colleague from the Bread Loaf School of English, Allison Holsten, who is now teaching IB language and literature in Mumbai. She’s taught an assignment for years—students were to “create an imaginative response reflecting their understanding of course objectives, coming up with a text that emulates a real world author and a real world mode of delivery.” As Allison says, the assignment was “fun and a demonstration of how the art of imitation helps students with rhetorical structures often outside their own range of writing/reading but within their ability to mimic very successfully.” She continues:

"I’ve seen students come up with their own LifeHacker texts, and Rolling Stone articles, and lots more, including Reddit threads and Instagram posts. However, when we help prepare students for submitting these works the concerns for plagiarism have grown... How far does a student go to reference screenshots designed to make such a task plausible? Years ago, kids grabbed a screenshot of the NYTimes masthead and we didn’t worry about it. But now. . . ."


Allison sent along an example of one student’s assignment, and after puzzling over the message and the student’s work, I turned to my own guru and tech guide, Christine Alfano, Associate Director of Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric, to ask for her advice. As always, Christine came through with not one but two insightful responses. It turns out that one of her assignments asks students to “create a faux blog that simulates a conversation between authors of sources they’ve read and then comments in response” (as if written by other source authors). In doing so, she and the students have all struggled with “how to deal with the question of ‘originality’ of a piece that borrows heavily visually from other sources.” Here are her two responses to this dilemma:

"As you suggest, you could strip down the assignment and ask them to submit just bare text, but that might limit the possibilities of the assignment. In my case, I actually have students put an ‘Images Sources’ section under their standard bibliography. I ask them to list, in order, in MLA format, the different image sources they’re using. . . . The process of logging every image in this way reinforces to them that each set of images they are capturing are someone’s (or a set of someones’s) individual creations and therefore need to be credited. I give them liberties in citation form, since MLA8 is pretty flexible. So, for instance, I let them call the social media icons under the title something like “Social Media Bar” or “Screen shot of Social Media Bar” since there’s no official title for that. I find Andrea’s Quick Help table on p 555 of the 6th edition of The Everyday Writer to provide helpful guidance for writers."


But Christine doesn’t stop there. She goes on to suggest another possibility: to ask students “to build the design elements themselves, using public domain images, rather than lifting so heavily from existing sources. . . . Programs like PowerPoint can help students easily create graphics similar to those they might lift from other sources, which they could then screenshot and insert. . . . However, just having these conversations with the students themselves—about the difference between public domain images and publicly available images, intellectual property, and the ethics of attribution—can be a powerful learning moment and make them mindful of the way they appropriate the work of others in the future. I always want my students to tap into their creativity and make their writing an engaged and innovative experience, while simultaneously helping them understand the ethics of how we navigate collaboration, sharing, borrowing, and remixing in this digital age.”


This exchange was very provocative to me, especially now that I am not teaching full time any more, and I am very grateful to Allison and to Christine for sharing these thoughts. I especially like the idea of an Image Sources page—and the advice to take these discussions right into the classroom, engaging students in thinking their ways through the complexities of being an ethical author today. Brava, Christine and Allison.


And by the way, a little shout out: The 7th edition of The Everyday Writer will be rolling off the presses soon!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 820272 by fancycrave1, used under the Pixabay License

In February, I shared a resource I designed to Persuade Students to Think Visually with Infographics. I was taken with the “Thinking Visually” features in the Bedford/St. Martin’s textbook Practical Strategies for Technical Communication by Mike Markel.

This week I’m sharing another resource inspired by the “Thinking Visually” feature. The infographic shown below focuses on one basic idea related to documentation and citation—the answer to the question “What Do I Need to Document?” It is also available as a Google Doc or a PDF to provide screen-reader accessible versions.


The infographic is a brief version of the information from Markel & Selber’s Technical Communication Appendix on “Documenting Your Sources” (p. 620). I designed the resource to concentrate on just one concept related to documentation and citation (what to document). The information as it is presented in the Appendix is part of a complete explanation of the relevant topics. Students sometimes miss the key details when so many ideas are being explained. Essentially, I am combating students’ information overload.

I have paired each category to document with a single icon from The Noun Project. Here, I am hoping that the icons will help students remember the categories:

  • Quotation marks represent quoted material.
  • Light bulb represents the ideas of others that are paraphrased or summarized.
  • Graphic icon represents multimedia resources, like photographs or video clips.

The images should be especially useful for students who lean toward visual ways of thinking and learning—which is, after all, the point of a “Thinking Visually” resource.

I would love to know what you think of this resource. Is it something you could use with students? What other key ideas would you like to see in a “Thinking Visually”-style resource? Leave me a comment below and tell me more about your ideas.

President Trump’s condemnations of the press as the enemy of the people has linked him immediately in some minds with dictators who have stifled the press as a means of controlling the people. Today’s press is far from stifled, however. If we never could have foreseen a president who so publicly maligns his enemies in the way that Trump does, should we have foreseen a network condemning him night after night or one defending him in the same manner? The bias is so widely accepted that it is taken as a given. But it is not the news.


Long gone are the days when news anchors simply reported the news and any brief commentary was clearly labeled as such. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, the death of the objective news report came when news coverage expanded to twenty-four hours. It is impossible to report the news twenty-four hours a day, so the anchors talk about the news and bring in panel after panel of “experts” to talk about it. I like as well as anyone to hear commentators who agree with me. I don’t object to commentary. I simply feel a line should be drawn between reporting events and expressing an opinion about them. The primary reason Russian infiltration of social media was so successful was that we grasp at “news” we want to hear and pass it along uncritically. 


What about news outlets that try to be objective? Consider this recent headline from Vox: “Coverage of Trump’s latest rally shows how major media outlets normalize his worst excesses.” The news outlets referred to tried to be objective and were criticized for that. Newspapers early in this presidency had to decide how to report on what Trump said when it clearly was not true. The Vox article explains it this way: “Major media outlets have long struggled with how exactly to cover Trump, with the Times famously coming to the word ‘lie’ in a headline late, something the paper’s own public editor criticized it for. This effort to find euphemisms for the word ‘lie’ is actually normalizing his worst excesses. Coverage of this sort makes him seem like any other politician . . . [I]n their articles about the rally, CBS, USA Today, the Associated Press, and the Hill failed to so much as mention that Trump pushed a number of false claims.” Ironically, the press was one of the primary targets of Trump’s attacks at the rally. He referred to the members of the media in attendance as “sick people.” 


In his letter resigning as Assistant Attorney General on April 29, Rod Rosenstein sums up the goal of the Department of Justice, which is also a worthy goal for members of the media working in a difficult political environment: “We ignore fleeting distractions and focus our attention on the things that matter, because a republic that endures is not governed by the news cycle.”



Photo Credit: “News Anchors” by Peter Alfred Hess on Flickr, 10/13/10 via a CC BY 2.0 license.


During much of my teaching career, I met students who were certain that the “hard” courses in STEM were the ones that would help them to get—and to keep—good jobs. And I watched enrollment in STEM courses swell as those in the humanities shrank, it seemed, more and more each year.


A recent conversation with a former student (Mark, who earned master’s degrees in computer science and poetry) suggests that this perception may no longer hold. In a thoughtful and free-wheeling message, he described his experience working in Silicon Valley’s social media world. Companies today, he says, are increasingly “places of learning.”

Companies want to keep engineers 2-3 years at least. But skilled engineers can easily jump from company to company as often as every 18 months. When asked what would make them stay, engineers tell us they want to "learn interesting things" from their work (i.e. mastery). As a result, companies are responding by becoming like universities. . . . Since companies can't create new jobs (with new work) fast enough to keep engineers interested, they are instead creating new "experiences" that can be accessed while keeping your existing job. A new experience might mean moving to another team, working with multiple teams, or working on a special initiative. This is putting a lot of pressure on managers to be creative about coming up with new "blocks" that make up the path of an employee journey. Specifically, employees now are being treated like student-customers. Managers are being asked to "teach a personalized curriculum" and "coach" rather than "manage to a number." And the kind of "teaching" that engineers want most is in "soft skills" like communication, teambuilding, and persuasion. The reason engineers want this training is because they can't truly progress in their careers or become managers without it. Engineers are essentially asking for training in rhetoric (just by other names). I never thought I'd see the day ; ).


And neither did I, though this message makes me think back on Richard Young’s long association with the engineering faculty at Michigan (I think) before he moved to Carnegie Mellon, and indeed of the work that the rhetoric group at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute did with engineers at IBM, and a number of other examples.


Of course, folks in our field have argued for decades that rhetoric should be at the heart of the entire undergraduate curriculum, precisely because it offers systematic ways to analyze and understand any situation as well as ways to act ethically and effectively within that situation. These abilities seem not just important but absolutely crucial as we move further into the promise and peril of artificial intelligence.


Mark goes on to say that in the corporate work world today, businesses are “half way between being hierarchies and being team driven.” Thus, “intersections of conflict” are rife and, again, it’s “soft skills” that can help negotiate these conflicts. He concludes:

The take-home message here is that soft skills are suddenly very much in vogue in corporate America. And this time, it's not just that soft skills are needed on an individual basis--but also that companies want to institutionalize soft skills. That is, they want a culture of soft skills like team-led (non-hierarchical) work, collaboration, and bottoms-up strategy. And that's forcing managers to seriously retrain and for old rewards structures to be torn down and replaced. I can't help but be a bit amused by all this. When I graduated in 2005, I was told by many a corporate recruiter that my "soft skills" were useless. Now, just over a decade later, I'm being told soft skills are almost the only thing that matters ; ). 


Mark’s experiences and his reflections on them seem pretty important to teachers of writing and rhetoric. First, they suggest that strong first- and second-year writing courses, with a focus on rhetoric and embodied action, should remain central to the college curriculum, since they introduce and help hone “soft skills” along with analytic abilities. In addition, these comments suggest, to me at least, that the move to make writing courses into distinctly discipline-specific writing courses may not serve students particularly well in the long run.


I expect many of you who are reading this are also in touch with former students. I wonder what they are telling you about what they’ve learned since graduating and entering the workforce. I wonder how many of them are, like the engineers Mark mentions, “asking for training in rhetoric.” Just thinking out loud here!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3192205 by rawpixel, used under the Pixabay License

Over the past two weeks, my FYC students have been drafting, revising, and editing a researched essay. I conference individually with students and devote class time to workshops, feedback, and student questions. This semester, as usual, many of their questions concerned writing rules encountered in previous courses or in other content courses they are currently taking. The typical exchange goes something like this:


Student: So, can we use contractions in this paper?

Me: Well, sure – if they make sense for your purpose and your reader, and for the tone or voice you are constructing for yourself in the paper.

Student: Seriously?

Me:  Yes.

Student: But in my other class, the teacher said academic writers never use contractions. She took points off if we did. 

Me: Well, in some contexts it could be better to avoid them—think about what class it was and the purpose of that particular paper. How was that purpose different than your purpose here?


Students rarely see an overarching concept—such as writing for a specific purpose and reader—tied to the rules given by an instructor. Rather, they see each assignment as its own, isolated entity, and their task as doing whatever a particular instructor wants for a particular assignment. 


Why should that be? Perhaps our efforts across the curriculum to give clear and unequivocal statements regarding our expectations can work against our goal to help students connect assignments and transfer what they already know. I am not suggesting that our assignments should be fuzzy or vague, but I do think we need to look at the array of directives in those assignments through the eyes of students. 


So, for example, consider a list of writing rules I’ve begun to collect from students, colleagues, handouts, and presentations about writing. These come from assignments across disciplines, from two-year and four-year instructors, from first-year to upper-level courses:


  1. Avoid quotes. Paraphrase and put key information in your own voice.
  2. Avoid saying your paper “attempts” to do anything. Avoid “impact” as a verb, along with “seeks to.” Avoid “aims to.” Avoid saying “in the past.”
  3. Avoid vague references: “as we all know,” “people say.”  
  4. Begin broadly and then narrow your topic to the thesis.
  5. Do not announce what you are going to do in the paper.
  6. Do not begin too broadly (“throughout history,” “in all of literature,” etc.)
  7. Do not begin sentences or clauses with any of the following: “There are/is…”, “This is…”, “It is…,” etc.
  8. Do not end a sentence with a preposition.
  9. Do not give a dictionary definition as an introduction.
  10. Do not hedge with words like “maybe,” “seem,” “perhaps,” “might,” or “possibly.”
  11. Do not overgeneralize or make unqualified assertions.
  12. Do not provide a long list of references after facts established by previous research.
  13. Do not put these words at the beginning of a sentence: “however,” “furthermore,” “moreover,” “indeed,” etc.
  14. Do not say, “I/we argue.”  
  15. Do not say, “Everyone has their own opinion.” That is obvious, and it shuts down critical thinking.
  16. Do not start a sentence with “and.”
  17. Do not use the passive voice.  
  18. Do not use first person pronouns.
  19. Do not use contractions.
  20. Do not use “say” to introduce source material. Choose a more interesting verb.
  21. Do not use scare quotes or put quotation marks around words used in unexpected ways.
  22. Do not use second person pronouns.
  23. Do not use the word “very.”
  24. Do not write paragraphs with only 1-2 sentences.
  25. Make sure the significant results are stated in the beginning.
  26. Put a clear and obvious thesis sentence at the end of your first paragraph.  
  27. Remove the verb “be” in all forms from your writing.
  28. Use “rhetorical verbs” such as “say,” “assert,” “explain,” or “introduce” when you introduce sources; do not use “cognition” or “emotion” verbs: “think,” “believe,” “understand,” or “love.”
  29. Use short Anglo-Saxon words.  
  30. Write in the present tense.
  31. Write in the past tense.


What do students see when confronted with rules such as these from different instructors? They may see idiosyncrasies, contradictions, and frustrations. When we talk about “good writing,” it’s no wonder a common response is that it means “whatever the teacher wants.”

Comparing rules and our rationales for them (which may not be clear to students) might be a helpful point for a cross-disciplinary discussion and a focus for WAC-oriented professional development.

In future posts, I want to look at some promising strategies for helping students think differently about writing rules and assignments that seem to be framed by those rules.

How do you respond when students mention rules they have encountered in other courses?

Today I have a classification activity that asks students to use visual design as they compare items by creating categories based on the visual qualities of the items they classify. The activity builds on designer Haik Avanian’s classification of 2020 presidential campaign logos, shared a few weeks ago by my colleague Shelley Reid.

In his Twitter update on the classification, Avanian explains that the logos are “loosely organized by visual qualities.” The original image included an incorrect logo for Tulsi Gabbard, so I have included the revised version (click the image to see an enlarged version):

Presidential campaign logos sorted by visual qualities

Share the image with your class to begin the activity, asking students to consider the categories and their effectiveness for organizing the logos. Encourage students to think of other visual categories that would fit the logos. The point is not to focus on the politicians behind the logos. Have students look at the designs and categories only. Naturally, if your class is discussing political issues, you can ask students to consider how political issues influence the logo choices as well.

Make Updates

Have students update the images as possible. Several of the campaigns have alternative versions. In particular, you will find color versions for most of the logos that are shown as black and white only. Students can consider whether the color versions fit the existing categories, making changes to the categories as appropriate.

Evaluate the Logos

Expand the discussion by sharing some of the replies that appear on Avanian’s Twitter update. Avanian analyzes some of the logos further in the replies, declaring Cory Booker the winner of the logo competition. In reply to a question, Avanian also explains this definition of visual qualities in art: “Visual qualities are essential elements that an artist uses in his art work. These are qualities that are visible and are used to express or convey the artist’s idea of his work. Visual qualities include color, shape, texture, form, etc” (emphasis Avanian's).

Expand to Other Political Campaigns

Finally, show students the collection of 2018 U.S. Congressional campaign logos from The Center For American Politics And Design. While the collection of logos is useful as it stands, the filters on the site allow students to narrow the collection by design features such as logo color, iconography, and font, as well as by features such as political party and the state represented. Using the site, students can assemble their own custom collection of logos and then create their own classification systems for the logos.

Move Beyond Political Logos

To extend the activity beyond political campaigns, ask students to apply these same analysis and classification strategies to other logos they encounter. Since nearly every business has a logo of some kind, students can likely find a focus that relates to their personal interests. Here are some ideas that come to mind:

  • Professional sports logos
  • Restaurant logos
  • Department store logos
  • Bakery logos
  • Extracurricular club logos
  • Sporting goods logos
  • Technology company logos
  • Automobile logos
  • Game app logos
  • Television network logos

Alternatively, you can ask students to ignore what item or organization the logos relate to by collecting logos that share a design feature, such as red logos or logos featuring a typography. Once they have their collection of logos, students can work to classify their logos, using some of the same ideas that were applied to the political logos.

Final Thoughts

One of the biggest advantages of this activity is its flexibility. You can use it to talk about visual design principles, advertising, politics, and classification systems. Adapt the activity further by looking at changes to logos over time (e.g., how a corporate logo has changed), and consider why the logos have changed. Have students look at political campaign logos from another country, and ask students to consider how culture influences the logo design.

What ideas do you have for using this logo activity? I’m sure there are many more options, and I would love to hear what you could do with these resources. Share your ideas by leaving a comment below.

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


Although a relatively new phenomena, podcasts take us back to early media technologies (before television and computers) as audiences gathered around the radio to listen to stories. They also remind us of childhood memories in which we listened to stories read aloud to us before we could even read ourselves. Now, digital technologies provide easy access to expansive collections of stories where authors can create experience, develop characters, and engage through aural storytelling.


Studies suggest that audio stories are potentially more impactful than other media forms in which visual dramatizations direct the storyline. In this kind of participatory media, audiences engage their imaginations through individual visualization and are less likely to be influenced by preconceived depictions – an important part of oral storytelling. In the article, Inside the Podcast Brain: Why Do Audio Stories Captivate, Communications Professor, Emma Rodero, argues that, 


Audio is one of the most intimate forms of media because you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind and you’re creating your own production, and that of course, is something that you can never get with visual media.


When teaching digital storytelling I want students to experience this genre and explore stories that might interest them. I direct them to This American Life, a massive collection of weekly public radio podcast episodes that offer many possibilities for interest and engagement. With an extensive archive of over 6,000 stories that reach back to 1995, the podcasts combine the human interest of journalism and the engagement of stories. Their website explains: “Our favorite sorts of stories have compelling people at the center of them, funny moments, big feelings, surprising plot twists, and interesting ideas. Like little movies for radio.”


This multimodal assignment asks students to choose a podcast series of at least five related episodes of a subject of their choosing. They listen and review series in an interactive blog post in which they present an overview, review each episode, and connect to larger ideas through the lens of their own perspectives. 

Background Readings and Resources



Steps to the Assignment


  1. Brainstorm: Brainstorm and create a list of ideas, themes, and subjects of interest.
  2. Review the site: Explore the webpage for This American Life.
  3. Choose a series of podcasts: Have students choose five related podcast episodes that fall under a similar theme, subject, concept or idea that they want to explore and consider from multiple perspectives. The challenge is to build a series and expand their ideas through an exploratory search for related, connected subjects. Their overview section will demonstrate the process of this search and connect to the related episodes. Encourage them to explore the many ways to search the site in different ways:

- Recommended: This is a good starting place for some interesting podcasts that are categorized for you. It also has folks recommending their favorites.

- Related: Each of the podcasts generates a list of related subjects below. This will help you to add to your list.

- Keyword Search: Use the search function to generate keyword searches that group your ideas.

- Archive: You can browse the archives by date. Each week has a different theme that can help you shape a direction. Start with those and then add according to keywords or related subjects.


Assignment Details and Requirements

On their blogs, students create a landing page with their overall review of their series and an exploration of their idea/concept/subject. They should create links and a drop-down menu to separate pages for each episode.  


The overall review should be 500-800 words and include:

  • an overview/review of purposes and connections that make up their series;
  • a written review for each episode with direct links to the podcasts;
  • at least five purposeful, related links (exploratory paths);
  • at least two multimodal components (images, videos, etc.); and
  • a list of references.


Each episode review (200-300 words) should include:

  • at least two embedded links; and
  • at least one multimodal component.


Reflection on the Activity

One of the most interesting parts of this assignment is when students research to find the subjects and podcasts for their chosen series. They often start out with one idea that morphs into something completely unexpected as they find related stories to make up their series. For example, Lydia explored “Reruns” as a metaphor for life, history, and personal perspectives.  Sean looked at “situations where we don’t belong” and explored podcasts on environmental, psychological, and physical dimensions of the subject. Others, like Emily, focused on a particular time – middle school – and explored personal connections, brain development, and external cultural influences. Sarah whose subject of “Prisoners” opened up to “prison as family,” “therapies with prisoners,” to DNA exoneration. Nick looked at the ways we interpret coincidences as signs and how unexpected situations draw us together. This assignment expanded their ideas on research and the learning potential in stories. In the reviews, students provided substantiated recommendations and reflected on the connections between these stories and the ways they contributed to their thinking and learning on their subjects.

If your Internet browser of choice is Firefox, then you are familiar with the way it provides you with a selection of readings when you visit its home page. I presume that my selections are based upon data-mined algorithms based upon my search history, because I get a lot of stuff from the Atlantic and the New York Times, as well as a lot of science readings. I'm not complaining, because while a good deal of what I see is simply clickbait, I have also learned some useful stuff from time to time. But what is perhaps most useful to me is what I am learning by conducting a semiotic analysis of the general themes that dominate my "feed."


Probably the most common theme I see appears in all the "how to succeed in business" articles that are always popping up: how to ace that interview, how to find that perfect job, how to choose the career that's best for you…that sort of thing. Tailored to sensibilities of the digital age, such advice columns belong to a long tradition of American "how to" manuals calibrated to a competitive capitalist society. Calvin Coolidge (who once famously quipped that "the chief business of the American people is business") would feel quite at home here, so I don't want to read too much into all this. But I do think that the preponderance of such pieces may well reflect a growing anxiety over the possibility of attaining a rewarding career in a gig economy where opportunities for middle-class advancement are drying up.

Some evidence for this interpretation lies in the remarkable number of articles relating to mental depression that also appear in my feed. Some of them are scientific, while others are also of the how-to variety, mental health division. The latter texts have recently been emphasizing the healing properties of the natural world, and I'm good with that. After all, that's where I go to soothe jangled nerves. But what, semiotically speaking, does this trend tell us?


My take on the matter is that even as Americans worry (with very good reason) about their career opportunities, they also are becoming increasingly depressed in the face of a constant barrage of signals from the traditional mass media and digital social media alike, all pushing them to compare their lives to the lives of everyone else. David Myers, over in the Macmillan Learning Psychology Community, has been exploring this phenomenon recently, especially with respect to teen-aged girls, and I am quite in sympathy with his interpretation. I would simply expand the scope of the problem to include pretty much everyone, who, facing a daily bombardment of images and stories about the fortunate few who seem to have everything that life can possibly offer, experience a depressing discontentment with their own lives.


And here is where nature comes in. Nature is not only filled with beautiful forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, seashores, deserts, meadows, canyons, valleys (pick your own favorites), it is not filled with people—or, at least, isn't supposed to be. "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees," John Muir once said, and his words are even more cogent today than when he wrote them over a century ago.


But to achieve that peace, you need to get past the crowds, and, more importantly, all that social pressure that drove you to nature in the first place. It is therefore quite ironic that one often sees people in natural surroundings wholly absorbed in their iPhones, or taking selfies. This kind of hetero-directed behavior not only threatens to disrupt the healing powers of the natural world, it also signifies how, for many people today, social media have created an addictive spiral from which they cannot escape. Think of it: going to nature to escape the depressing impingements of social existence, only to seek approval from other people, and then, perhaps, to be depressed if you don't get quite the reaction you hoped for on Instagram.


Hence, the title of this blog.



Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 489119 by kelseyannvere used under the Pixabay License.


Tuesday, May 7, 2019, is National Teachers’ Day so I’m thinking about how I can thank teachers I know for the remarkable work they do every single day. I’ll start with my sister, Liz Middleton, who teaches high school in one of the poorest counties in Florida. I know that Liz literally saves the life of at least one student every year, some years more. I know that she continues to challenge them to reach beyond their grasp. I know that she expects the best they can do, every single day, and that she finds ways to help them do that best. I know that she cares. So thanks to Liz and to the tens of thousands of other teachers like her, working every day, at low pay and with few rewards, to offer opportunities to the young people around them.


You may know of The Academy for Teachers in New York, founded and led by Bread Loaf friend and extraordinaire Sam Swope. Sam started the Academy as a way to recognize and thank teachers, to “share the love” as he says and to celebrate good teaching. His dream is to establish a foundation for teachers—and he even dreams of a big building to house the Academy, a material place to signify that teachers matter, that what they do is crucial to national health and security.


The Academy sponsors master classes for teachers nominated from their schools. The classes are led by brilliant writers and thinkers who give their time to work with the teachers, and every May the Academy has a major celebration of teachers in New York City, usually featuring many celebrities and authors, all there to thank teachers. Since I don’t live in New York, I don’t get to attend these events. What I do receive as a contributor to the Academy, however, are copies of little chapbooks they publish, each written by a noted writer.


Recently I received one by Julia Alvarez, noted novelist (How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, Before We Were Free, and many others), whom I have met on several occasions on the Vermont Bread Loaf campus. Hers is called “Falling in Love” and begins this way:

Growing up in the Dominican Republic, I was a terrible student. I flunked every grade through fifth. The whole premise of going to school seemed so unfair: having to spend sunny days on a tropical island indoors. Then, after seven hours of this torture, I was released to go home and do my homework. Homework?! In my first and only recorded piece of writing before our departure to America, I handed my teacher a note: Querida profesora, I love you very much (start with the positive) but why should I work when I can have fun?


Alvarez’s grandmother agreed with her—girls did not need education, but her mother took another approach, and after they moved to New York she managed to get her two daughters scholarships to a boarding school in Massachusetts. That’s where Alvarez fell in love (puppy love, someone called it) with one of the teachers, Mr. Barstow, in whose classes writers began “casting their spell” on her. She ends the year with an A in English and accolades from Mr. Barstow and concludes her little chapbook by saying that “Sometimes we begin by falling in love with a teacher and land on what we love.”


I expect that all readers of this post have teachers they would like to thank, teachers from their past like Alvarez’s Mr. Barstow as well as ones from the present like my sister Liz. If so, May 7 offers a good opportunity to do so. This May, let’s all “share the love” of good teachers everywhere.  


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2093744 by Wokandapix, used under the Pixabay License


Rough outline of a talk on white collar work tips for developer types by Michael Cote on FlickI have asked students to informally outline all of their projects this term. I am not strict about the form of the outlines. They can use jot lists, topic outlines, tree structures, or any kind of map that shows their plans. I never use strict sentence outlines myself, but I believe that all writers can benefit from at least jotting down the plans for their documents.

As they begin work on their final project of the term, students will create visual outlines by designing their own graphic organizers as part of their work. Students are familiar with outlining and graphic organizers from their experiences before college. Both teaching strategies are widely used in K–12. After reviewing their prior knowledge on the topics, students are ready to create their own visual writing tools, as described in the activities below.

Background Readings on Outlines

Background Resources on Graphic Organizers

Class Activities

Think, Pair, Share, and Compare

This activity is a customized version of the active learning strategy Think-Pair-Share, which will help students recall their prior knowledge. Divide the class into two groups. Working independently, have individuals in one group think about and take notes on what they know about outlines while the individuals in the other group focus on graphic organizers. After students have had time to gather their thoughts, have them pair with someone who worked on the same topic. In their pairs, have students review their notes together and talk through their thinking.

Draw the class together as a whole and invites pairs to share their thoughts on how outlines work and then to share their thoughts on how graphic organizers work. Note their ideas on the board. Once all of the ideas have been shared, ask the class to reflect on the information and then compare the two strategies (outlining and graphic organizers). Encourage students to draw conclusions about how the two strategies connect to writing.

To strengthen their understanding of outlining and graphic organizers, ask students to read and review the background readings and resources listed above.

Design Graphic Organizers

Ask students to examine example graphic organizers (linked above) as a class or in small groups and to identify the features of the genre. In particular, encourage students to determine how shapes are used (like text boxes), how lines and arrows are used, and how labels and instructional text is used. Their prior knowledge about graphic organizers should allow students to gather this information in five to ten minutes.

With this information about graphic organizers established, students create graphic organizers for the kinds of writing that they are working on. Ask students to consider what they know about the kind of writing by examining examples and background material about the genre. Students can create graphic organizers independently, or you can walk them through some basic steps by asking questions such as the following:

  • What are the primary sections of the kind of writing you are examining?
  • What are the typical features of those sections?
  • What kind of information usually belongs in the sections?
  • How do the sections relate to one another?

Students can sketch out their graphic organizers on paper, and then use a tool like Canva to create final versions of their organizers. Note that Canva does have a number of existing graphic organizer layouts that students can use as models. Students can also create their graphic organizers in a word processor using the shapes and text box tools.

Do limit the time students spend creating their graphic organizers. The purpose of this activity is to learn more about how a kind of writing works, not to spend hours on images and design.

After students finish their graphic organizers, they can share them with the class for feedback as well as to create a library of graphic organizers that everyone can use. The organizers can be used both for writing projects and to organize the analysis of readings.

Final Thoughts

In my course, students are focusing on different kinds of writing, depending upon their majors and career goals. There is little to no overlap in the graphic organizers they are creating. With a more homogeneous class, students could design graphic organizers in small groups. They might work on the same task or on different aspects of the writing task, such as creating graphic organizers for gathering ideas, research, and beginning a draft.

This activity uses active learning strategies to get beyond customary pen on paper (or text on screen) strategies. Do you have similar assignments that break out of the traditional writing activities? I would love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment below

Photo credit: Page 01: Idea for a talk on white collar work tips for developer types by Michael Coté on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.