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Andrea A. Lunsford

Stylish Writing

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Apr 11, 2019

 

Those who read these posts know that I’m wont to talk about style and about its crucial importance to writers today. Responding to one of my posts, Tom McGohey wrote:

Took me years, but I eventually discovered that the key to integrating style in a meaningful way was tying it consistently to student writing throughout the semester, in daily informal reading responses and class exercises, and in papers. From day one, we discussed rhetorical situations and strategies. In particular, I emphasized ethos, and how style contributed to ethos, and how that in turn contributed to the impact of a piece in a particular rhetorical situation. With every reading assignment, we spent some class time examining how style and ethos affected their response to a writer and the advantages and drawbacks of a style. When and why did the writer employ this style in particular passages? All along, I encouraged them to consider their own style/ethos on the page and how they might make more conscious use of it. I encouraged them to imitate a writer’s style they really liked during in-class writing exercises.

Tom reported that such careful integration of style paid off and that “on the whole, students liked doing all the style work. It gave them a sense of control over their prose, and seeing an immediate payoff in their writing, even if it were just one small area like shifting from passive to active voice or punctuating a long sentence perfectly, spurred them to pay more attention to style.”  

 

I’ve had much the same experience with students over the decades, finding that taking time to get a sentence just right, to use an analogy to striking effect, to attend to the rhythms of prose, eventually got student writers excited: they too can “make sentences sing.”  So I wrote back to Tom thanking him for his comments and in return he generously shared an assignment he gives, called “Stylish Writing.” Here’s Tom’s prompt:

Rhetorical Situation: You’ve been invited to submit an essay to a professional journal titled Stylish Writing explaining your own development as a “stylish writer.” This journal is read by practicing writers who take a great interest in the craft of writing and who like to learn from other writers about the joys and frustrations of struggling to write well-crafted sentences. With your essay, you will be entering a larger conversation about the role and importance of style in writing.

Tom goes on in the assignment to give students a series of questions to help them begin to analyze and describe their own writing styles and to link their stylistic choices to the establishment of ethos and to the rhetorical effects achieved by those choices. Throughout the assignment, he encourages students to experiment, to take risks, and to have FUN.

 

This is just the kind of playful but serious assignment students can really shine on. Indeed it may be one you might like to try, or modify, in your own classes. Tom has generously allowed me to share it here. If you have an assignment that engages students with style and stylistic choices, please send it along!

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1209121 by Free-Photos, used under the Pixabay License

Asian woman pointing out information on a laptop during a College of DuPage Poster SessionLast week, I shared a series of active learning strategies focused on design principles, related to a research poster project that students are working on this month. That activity inspired me to consider how I could rethink active learning strategies to discuss design and visual rhetoric.

The result is my new versions of three activities, suited for analysis of a visual document design or a visual artifact (such as a poster). For each task, I explain how the original learning task is used, and then I follow with the prompt that I created for my twist on the strategy.

Active Learning Tasks

Muddiest and Clearest Points

Original: Muddiest-point and clearest-point tasks ask students to reflect on recent information from the class and identify the relevant ideas or concepts. The muddiest point is the idea or concept that the student understands least while the clearest point is the idea or concept that the student understands most fully.

The Twist: Examine the image or document and identify the muddiest point and the clearest point in the visual design. For the muddiest point, identify the place in the visual where the image, the text, or other aspects are hardest to identify and understand. It might be a place where the image is blurred, faded, overexposed, or in shadows. It could be a place where an element is small, cropped off or otherwise incomplete. Once you identify the muddiest point, consider what it contributes to the overall image or document and why it is minimized in comparison to other aspects of the image or document.

For the clearest point, look for the opposite place, where the image, the text, or other aspect is clearest and easiest to identify and understand. It might be a place that it larger, sharply focused, brighter, or highlighted in some way. Once you identify the clearest point, consider what it contributes to the overall image or document and why it stands out so clearly in comparison to the other aspects of the image or document.

Four Corners

Original: This active learning strategy relies on the physical layout of the classroom. The teacher sets up a station—with a discussion topic, problem to solve, or issue to debate—in each of the room’s four corners. Students are divided into four groups and rotate through the stations, or they visit only one station and then share the corner’s discussion with the full class.

The Twist: Focus on the four corners of the image or document you are examining. Label them as Top-Left, Top-Right, Bottom-Right, and Bottom-Left. Think about what appears in each corner—text, color, drawings, photographs, shadows, and so forth. In addition to considering what appears in each corner, reflect on aspects such as the size of the elements. Take into account how the content of the four corners relates to the rest of the image or document and how the corners relate to one another. After your analysis of the four corners, hypothesize what the corners contribute to the overall visual design.

Background Knowledge Probe

Original: Background knowledge tasks can take various forms, from freewriting about a previous lesson or experience to a scavenger hunt. The teacher either asks a question that will trigger students to recall prior knowledge about the topic, or the teacher can set up situations that require prior knowledge to complete a task. This strategy tells the teacher what students already know, so she can avoid reviewing information unnecessarily. Further, it helps students recall concepts and ideas that a new lesson will draw upon.

The Twist: Take the idea of a background knowledge probe literally. Examine the image or document, and focus on the background of the design. How does the background differ from the rest of the image or document? Does it complement the foreground? Does it provide a contrast? Is it a simple, blank canvas, or does it add information to the message? Based on your examination of the image or document, explain how the background contributes to the overall visual.

Final Thoughts

Like the active learning strategies that I shared last week, the three active learning strategies above ask students to look at the design of an image or document from different perspectives. By focusing on a specific area of the visual message, students isolate how the various parts of the visual contribute to its overall message.

Do you use active learning strategies in the classroom? How do you ask students to examine the way that visual design contributes to a message? If you have classroom activities to share, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below to tell me about your strategies.

 

 

Image credit: See Writing Differently 2018 7 by COD Newsroom on Flickr, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

How can we encourage students to dive beneath the surface of complex readings? Each term I puzzle over this question and experiment with different responses. This year, the answer has been a puzzle itself: the jigsaw discussion.

 

I first encountered jigsaw classrooms almost twenty years ago, when I worked with a public elementary school as a teaching artist in creative writing. At the elementary level, the intent of the jigsaw is to enhance group learning. Each group works with a specific concept, and each group member focuses on a particular aspect of that concept. The idea is that students will cooperate in assembling the pieces of an intricate puzzle as they practice skills for cooperative learning.

 

This semester, I introduced jigsaw discussions for different purposes in College Writing 1 and College Writing 2. For College Writing 1, we worked together to analyze the film Black Panther. We had already practiced close reading through encounters with James Baldwin’s essay “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity” and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” In order to create a synthesis essay, students needed to be able to find the interconnections. Part of the process of close reading of a popular film is to push past its popularity toward a deeper understanding of the many historical and thematic contexts of any cultural artifact. As I explained to the students, this was my intention for reading Baldwin and King, and watching Black Panther together for the same assignment.

 

Our first attempts to draw deeper thematic interconnections proved difficult. In particular we struggled with the concept of analyzing a scene from a film as one might a chapter of a novel. A film, the students reminded me, is not the same flat surface as a novel. There are sounds and visuals to consider, music and costumes, plots and characters. I wondered if jigsawing could help. Rather than trying to analyze a scene as a whole, we would break the scene into different categories, and from those categories draw deeper meaning and thematic interconnections to our readings of Baldwin and King. The students requested that we do this jigsaw as a whole class discussion, and asked me to take notes on their ideas. The first appendix shows the questions we asked, and the students’ responses.

 

In College Writing 2, our task was slightly different. In order to better understand the historical contexts of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 drama, Raisin in the Sun, I invited students to read scholarship on the Great Migration and housing segregation in the northern United States. One of our readings was the introduction to Farah Jasmine Griffin’s 1996 scholarly work, Who Set You Flowin?: the African-American Migration Narrative. Nearly all of the students were approaching literary scholarship for the first time. Besides their introduction to a new genre, students would be dealing with unfamiliar references to literary sources.

 

For this jigsaw, we decided to break the class into groups of 2-4 students. Each student group was assigned to summarize two pages of the ten-page introduction. We opened a google.doc with blank spaces for each set of page numbers. When the jigsaw was complete, we had a concise summary of the article that we could analyze and discuss together. Students could experience for themselves the process of breaking down a complicated reading into its component parts, then reassembling the parts into a whole. The second appendix shows the directions for this assignment and a sample of one group’s brief summary (see example here).

 

In my college writing courses, students come together in the classroom through many varying intersectionalities of life experience, languaging, and college preparation. The conflicts and alliances that bring communities together-- and pull communities apart-- also play a role in how arrive in the classroom. Even with very hard work, it can be challenging to find common ground for class discussions across a multiplicity of identities, abilities, and needs, much less to learn to dive beneath the surface features of complex readings. Jigsaw discussions can help to experience the synergy that comes from the many voices present in the room.

 

*Spoiler AlertIf you have not seen the film Black Panther, you may want to skip Appendix 1.

For many years the elimination of the Electoral College in the U. S. was considered a stale topic for research papers. Arguing that it should be abolished was an academic argument at best because no one really thought that there would ever be enough support for the Constitutional change required to eliminate it. The Electoral College is now back in the headlines and newly relevant as a campaign issue because in two recent presidential elections—those in 2000 and 2016—the winner based on electoral votes was not the winner of the national popular vote; several candidates running for president in 2020 have come out in favor of abolishing the College.

 

The Electoral College might have made sense when it was established because of the difficulties of travel and the lack of rapid communication. An elector was trusted to represent the people of his state. Today, though, the process is pro forma since everyone knows what the outcome will be before the electors officially vote. Electors are bound by state law to vote as the state dictates, and all but two states—Maine and Nebraska—have a winner-take-all system that automatically gives all of the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the state popular vote. Thus even if the state popular vote is extremely close, all of the state’s votes go to the winning candidate. We learned in the 2016 election that electors will not go against the system to vote their conscience even with strong support from some constituents.

 

It is no wonder that many voters feel disenfranchised, and there is a good deal of validity to the argument that their votes don’t count. It is certainly not an incentive to get out and vote.

 

How do we approach this issue as a subject for teaching argument?

 

We can ask our students to write claims of fact, value, and policy about the Electoral College. Claims of fact can help them understand what the Electoral College is before they try to support more difficult claims. Claims of value can help them formulate their opinions about the College as it now exists. Claims of policy can express what should—or should not—be done about the Electoral College. One clear choice would be that the Electoral College should remain the means of selecting the American president. At the federal level, those who support eliminating the Electoral College have really only one avenue for change to offer: changing the Constitution.

 

A little research will show students the current situation at both the federal and the state level. Reformers have long assumed that change in our method of electing our president will need to be at the state level. States could individually choose to have their electoral votes divided proportionately by state popular vote. The most promising state action, however, is the passage of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This legislation dictates that all electoral votes for the state would go to the candidate winning the national popular vote. The individual state laws will go into effect only when enough state legislatures have passed Interstate Compact laws to control the number of votes needed in the Electoral College to win—270. At this point, 189 votes are committed to the compact if the total number needed is reached.

 

Change in the old institution that is the Electoral College is suddenly in play. Students looking at the issue as argument must consider what assumptions underlie the choice to support maintaining or eliminating the Electoral College. Partisanship at this point in history makes Republicans want to cling to an old system that for now gives them an advantage, and Democrats to change a system that for now puts them at a disadvantage. (The same partisanship-based decisions can be seen in the recent Republican-led changes to Senate rules, requiring only a simple majority for a number of confirmations – most notably, those of Supreme Court Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.) However, it may not always be the case that systems and choices benefiting one party today will continue to give them an advantage in the future. Partisanship aside, the most basic assumption underlying any change to make the Electoral College more fairly reflect the popular vote is that in a democracy, each citizen has the right to one vote, and one vote that counts.

 

 

Photo credit: “obama romney electoral college - end june” by brandopolo on Flickr, 6/30/12 via a CC BY 2.0 license.

Guest Blogger Sovay Hansen

Please welcome our Guest Blogger, Sovay Hansen!

Sovay Hansen is a PhD student in English Literature and a minor in German Studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She is a Graduate Teaching Associate in the English Department where she teaches first-year composition and is a Research Assistant for the Writing Program. Sovay’s scholarship investigates the world wars’ effect on the modern novel’s representation of the home. Before beginning her PhD in 2015 Sovay earned her BA at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and spent a semester studying German Language at the Goethe Institut in Berlin, Germany. In the fall Sovay will teach an Honors English course called “Desperate Housewives: The Effect of the World Wars on the Home in Literature and Film.”

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The Student as Critic and Creator: WID and Demystifying the Literary Text by Focusing on how Language Works

In the final semester of my fourth year teaching first-year composition at the University of Arizona, I finally went out on a limb and did an experiment: I wanted my English 102 course to move toward a Writing in the Disciplines (WID) approach and to represent the four programs (and thus, disciplines) in the Department of English: Creative Writing, Literature, Second Language Acquisition and Teaching, and Rhetoric and Composition.

 

My reasoning behind this can be traced back to my history of interdisciplinary and liberal arts education that has given me a preference for approaches to teaching that consider multiple disciplines.

 

Being a literature PhD student who specializes in British and German modern literature, the focus of my course was solidly grounded in reading such texts and writing about them; the major units of my course, though, were constructed with the purpose of allowing my students to inhabit multiple rhetorical situations as readers and authors of both “academic” and “creative” texts. Importantly, attention to the rhetorical nature of language and our role as rhetorically positioned users and interpreters of language can be seen in each unit of the course.

 

Major Units and Writing Assignments:

  1. Close Reading a Text. Students were in the role of the critic and learned to close read short stories and films and then wrote concise close reading papers in which they discussed the linguistic moves made in the short story. For this unit I drew upon L2 theories of reading literary texts in order to treat close reading a text in English as learning a new language (which it largely is for most first year college students). I have found that students allow themselves to be more playful with language when they are permitted to “be new” to the language rather than be expected to showcase their expertise. This unit brought together, then, the fields of literature and L2.
  2. Writing a Short Story. Students were in the role of the author/creator and got to make language do what they had claimed language can do in the first unit. This unit brought together the fields of literature and creative writing.
  3. Research Paper. Students played the role of the investigator and rhetorical analyzer and read about a critical conversation being had about an issue of their choice and added their small critical intervention into that discussion. It was important to me that students be allowed to choose their topic, though their idea had to in some way be inspired by one of the texts we read or watched and then analyzed as a class (which still ultimately made the potential research topics almost endless). My reasoning behind this was that I wanted students to witness the way literary texts always call attention to larger world issues (and other disciplines!) and are therefore fertile ground for asking new and interesting questions about the world.
  4. Portfolio. Students reflected on their learning over the course of the semester and how their different rhetorical positions gave them new and important perspectives on how language works and how it can be used for particular effects.

 

In reading students’ reflections on unit 2 it became clear to me that the sequencing of the first two units was highly effective for them!

 

The pervasive sentiment was that close reading a text in unit 1 showed them what language can do, while writing their own short story forced them to actually do that showing and creating: to prove what they had claimed language can do in unit 1 by creating their own literary text that played with language.

 

These two units had the effect of students having to prove their claims about language twice: once by textual evidence from the short story they analyzed (unit 1), and once by writing their own short story that did what they had claimed the language was doing in their close reading paper (unit 2). The act of creating, rather than only criticizing and deconstructing, was the act that solidified “what language can do” in their minds.

 

Wearing both hats of the Critic and Creator gave students a new command over:

 

1) how language can be used to create particular effects, and

2) how literary texts are a particularly rich site to witness this language play.

 

In the end, an important effect of this assignment sequence was the way in which the literary text was demystified for students: they came to find that the literary can be in the everyday and that they themselves can create such texts. In his Unit 2 Reflection one of my students wrote something that I think conveys how effective the progression of the first two units was: “This project showed me that I have the power to do all of the fun things that my favorite writers do when they create a story. I’ve never been encouraged to weave in any type of meaning, or a central message in a paper before. It helped me realize that not only can I analyze and pick out rhetorical devices in the texts I read, I am also more than capable of creating my own rhetorical affect in my own writing.” Teaching English is made richer, more interesting, and more effective for students when we draw on its subdisciplines to inform our own.

 

Have you experimented with scaffolding critical and creative work in the first year English classroom? How did you gauge the effect on students? What other disciplines have you brought into your English classroom and how did you use them?

 

I wish all teachers of writing could have been with me at the Hazhó’ó Hólne’ Writing Conference, held in late March in Window Rock, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation and centered around the theme of Revitalization. A project of the Bread Loaf School of English Teacher’s Network and funded in part by Ford, the conference brought together students and teachers in Next Generation Leadership Network (I wrote about the NGLN in a previous post) groups from Massachusetts, Kentucky, Vermont, Georgia, South Carolina, and the Navajo Nation to share the work they have been doing during the last year in their home communities and to write and perform together. This is the third iteration of this conference and it has been a true honor to participate.

 

The Conference was convened by distinguished Navajo poet and community activist Rex Lee Jim and welcomed by Navajo President Jonathan Nez as well as by Bread Loaf School of English Director Emily Bartels. Each day featured three “breakout” sessions that offered interactive workshops on How to Sing Stories, Telling Our Stories through Theater, Youth Voices via Multimodalism, Teachers as Writers, Imagery and the Sensory, Spoken Word, Writing for Healing, Story Circles to Build Community, Art Therapy through Writing, and much more. I learned so much more in two days than I can possibly express—experiencing the embodied Navajo songs and prayers and dances that stirred my spirit as the descriptions of community project and research-based efforts to improve conditions in local schools and communities kept me on my mental toes hour after hour after hour.

 

Hearing young people (most of them young people of color) talk about food literacy programs that are helping communities work toward sustainability, about free after school writing and sports-based programs for elementary schools, about oral history projects that are capturing the long-ignored history of African-American Atlanta—well, you can see why I came away with hope for our future, even in these dismal times.

 

Of all the projects I learned about, none was more important than that of Navajo youth reporting on the kidnapping of indigenous women. The student researchers shared horrific statistics—over 500 women missing or murdered in 71 locations just for a start—and showed how little has been done to address this epidemic. Most impressive was their grasp of the complexity of the problem, their understanding that there can be no quick fix. Rather, they are engaged in the slow, tedious, meticulous work of documentation and of raising awareness among those in power at the same time that they look for concrete ways to protect indigenous women in their communities.

 

Each day of the conference concluded with an open mic session as writers lined up to take the mic and share their work. Many read/performed pieces they had written or begun during the weekend, like a piece called “Pam Can Dunk.” This poem about a small town local hero who lost her life in a car accident a couple of years ago told the story of Pam, who loved basketball more than anything but whose father and coaches continued to tell her that “girls can’t dunk.” Beautifully rendered and delivered, this poem builds in intensity to the conclusion when Pam shows them all with an unexpected but totally powerful slam dunk all her own. The writer of this piece is still revising and polishing, but he plans to publish it locally as a way to honor the memory of this young woman whose story will now live on.

 

There were many moments like this one—not only poems but also short prose pieces, original songs, an amazing a cappella rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and even line dancing and singing that everyone could join in on. So a lot of pure joy mixed in with loss, heartache, grief, and, always, learning about and celebrating language and words, both written and spoken.

 

During one of our breaks, I spoke with a student who said she didn’t much like school (“it’s just all about tests”) but who loved being part of NGLN: “That’s where we get to write all the time!” she said. And this writing all the time had kept her engaged in school as well, even when she didn’t much want to go. I know how hard most high school teachers work to engage their students, to get them writing “all the time” in spite of administrative obsession with numbers and tests. It’s an ongoing struggle. That’s just one reason I’m so glad that groups like NGLN (and lots of others) exist to help out, to allow student writers/researchers/speakers/performers to do real, concrete work to improve their lives and the lives of their communities.

 

As this description suggests, NGLN’s central activity is the “organization and networking of youth-centered think tanks, where youth and their mentors gather, both digitally and in person, to design and develop strategic plans for individual and collective social action.” You can learn more about this vibrant, vital program on their website and check out the videos that are posted there as well.

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2607131 by StockSnap, used under the Pixabay License

Open design sampler demonstrating the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximityMy students are beginning research posters this week, so the course is returning to information on effective design and in particular the design principles of Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. In today’s post, I’ll share the active learning tasks I’m using to ask students to recall prior knowledge and give them hands-on work with the design principles.

Active learning tasks ask students to engage directly in their learning process by “involving [them] in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (Bonwell & Eison 1991).

A simplified explanation of this teaching strategy compares students' minds to sponges and to mechanical gears. Passive learning strategies, such as lectures, treat the student’s mind like a sponge, ready to absorb ideas as it creates a repository of information. It aligns well with Paulo Freire’s banking model of education. Active learning strategies, alternately, engage the student’s brain as if it were a machine made of interlocking gears, turning and churning as it tests hypotheses and creates knowledge.

The series of tasks I describe below asks students to recall what they know about the design principles, to apply the principles through several analysis activities, and to forecast how they will use the principles in their research posters.

Background Readings and Resources

Basic Activity Logistics

The course includes weekly writing and revision activities that students complete individually and in groups. Discussion prompts and related activities are posted as weekly activities. Since I teach a fully-online course, this work is submitted as a discussion post to me in the course management software. These tasks are much like the in-class activities that would be part of a face-to-face course.

The tasks below give you the short version of the prompt. I add more specific details on how to post, share, and reply to one another in the assignments shared with students.

Active Learning Tasks

Design Principles Scavenger Hunt

Go on a hunt on campus or online for a good or bad visual. It can be any kind of visual—a digital sign, a full-page ad in a magazine, a billboard, and so forth. It doesn’t have to be a research poster. Here’s one way to find a visual for this discussion: Find a bulletin board on campus. Stand across the hall from it, and identify the one piece on the bulletin board that grabs your attention.

Take a photo of the visual you find or save the visual if you found it online. Add a paragraph that tells us why it is a good visual or a bad one. Use the ideas from the textbook to support your ideas.

Design Principles Prescription

You are the Design Doctor. Choose a visual from the Design Principles Scavenger Hunt or one that you have found elsewhere, and consider how well the visual uses the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. Respond in three parts:

  1. Describe how the visual uses the design principles.
  2. Diagnose the design shortcomings of the visual.
  3. Prescribe solutions that will improve the visual.

Positive Application Task

Choose a visual from a previous project in the course or one that you are planning to use in your research poster. Annotate the visual with details on how you have used the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. Label features of the visual with arrows that pair with related descriptions and explanations of the design principles. Use Figure 11.1 on pages 251–52 of Technical Communication as the model for your response.

Research Poster Design Plan

Based on what you know about the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity, create a design plan for your research poster.

  1. Brainstorm a list of ideas you want to emphasize in your poster.
  2. Apply design principles to the ideas, indicating strategies you can use to highlight the content on your poster.
  3. Create a style sheet for your poster, outlining the design decisions you have made. For instance, your style sheet should cover information such as the following:
    • What font and font size will you use for regular text?
    • What font and font size will you use for Level 1 headings? Level 2 headings?
    • What colors will you use on the poster, and where will you use them?

Final Thoughts

These four active learning activities seem relatively simple on the surface; however, they build on one another to lead students to recall how the design principles work and then apply those principles to their own work. What strategies do you use to encourage students to apply composing and design strategies to their own work? Please tell me by leaving a comment below.

References

Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: creating excitement in the classroom (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1). Washington, DC: School of Education and Human Development, George Washington University. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED336049.pdf

Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition (30th Anniversary edition; M. B. Ramos, trans.). New York: Continuum.

 

Photo credit: The Open University Brand Design Guidelines by DAMS Library, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Below are some reasons why group conferences are valuable:

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Brody SmithwickBrody Smithwick is the founder of Lion Life Community, a non-profit organization that offers educational services inside of jails in North Georgia. He is also a graduate student at Kennesaw State University working toward a Master’s Degree in Professional Writing with concentrations in both Creative Writing and Composition and Rhetoric while teaching First-Year Composition courses at KSU.

 

Let’s be honest, teaching how to compose and use an annotated bibliography is not something that often induces uncontrollable excitement in our students. However, it is a necessary and useful instrument to put in their academic toolbox. While the formatting and summarizing components are important, getting students to analyze and synthesize their sources is where the magic happensor doesn’t. In this assignment, we’ll take a look at how you can use podcasting to supplement your annotated bibliography assignments to get your students to engage in quality analysis and synthesis.

 

Background Reading for Students and Instructors

 

Assignment: Analyze and Synthesize Sources via Podcasting

Assignment Learning Outcomes

  • Integrate appropriate source material for a variety of rhetorical contexts
  • Read and analyze a rhetorically diverse range of texts
  • Compose a variety of texts using key rhetorical concepts
  • Synthesize source material

 

In this assignment, students will learn how to engage in quality analysis and synthesis by creating a podcast about their annotated bibliography sources. Put students into groups of twos or threes. With completed annotated bibliographies in hand, your students will pick two or three sources to discuss in the podcast. They will create a podcast script as a deliverable that also aids in ensuring the podcast runs smoothly. If you want, you can give them some stock questions to ask one another during the podcast that you know will guide the conversation towards strong analysis and synthesis. While not a necessity, I think this assignment works best if there is an overall theme to the class or if you group students together who are writing on similar topics. 

 

Assignment Steps

  1. Introduce the Assignment and Explain the Technology

Link your expectation of the production quality of the podcast to how much time you are willing to spend on explaining software/hardware and editing tools. Sure, some students will be tech gurus and produce something ready for BBC on the first go. On the other hand, many students will struggle greatly with the technology component. That being said, you can either spend ample time in-class or make yourself available beyond the classroom to teach the technology side. Or simply lower your production quality requirement.

 

Here is a list of the free technology and other resources I provide to my students. I let them use what they are comfortable with even if I’m not familiar with it. Instead of requiring them to submit their podcast via our university’s learning management system, I ask that they turn in their work via email with very specific instructions on what to put in the email subject and how to name their files. This method has worked wonderfully for me so far.

 

You will also want to set a time limit on the podcasts. You would be surprised at how long these podcasts can run if you do not put a cap on them. I require a minimum of 20 minutes and a maximum of 30 minutes.  

 

  1. Have Students Complete an Outline of a Podcast Script 

By giving students an example outline, or Podcast Script, you will get a much higher quality podcast, especially because not all students regularly listen to podcasts. While podcasts can often sound like two or three pals simply shooting the breeze on the latest trends in quantum mechanics, they are not completely effortless and take time to produce. In fact, my students are often surprised that a podcast script is a real thing. The podcast script also gives you a chance to provide feedback mid-composition if you have students turn the script in before they create the podcast. 

 

  1. Emphasize the Importance of Making Connections and Asking Questions

During the podcast should talk about how each source specifically pertains to their topic. Although they have already completed their annotated bibliography, their co-hosts will need a brief summary of the source. From there, you’ll want to coach them to explain how this source is functioning as a piece of evidence that supports their claim and how they specifically plan to use it in their essay. They’ll need to be familiar enough with the source to be able to field questions from their co-hosts. This where your stock questions can really come in handy for students that may struggle with coming up with questions off the cuff.  

 

An example of how a discussion may unfold could look like the following: If Jim’s essay “Weimaraners: The Intelligentsia of the Canine World” is arguing that Weimaraners are the most intelligent breed of dog on the planet, one of his sources for the podcast might be a book about William Wegman’s amazingly talented Weimaraners. Jim briefly tells his co-hosts that Wegman is a popular American artist whose photography and art of Weimaraners dressed in human attire gained him a considerable reputation in the Seventies and Eighties. His art has been displayed in the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney, and The Smithsonian American Art Museum just to name a few. Jim has made the connection that this breed’s high intelligence allowed Wegman to create the portraits he is now so famous for. Jim plans to use Wegman’s work as a primary example of how Weimaraners have accomplished feats that shaped modern culture and that no other breed could possibly be capable of. At this point in the podcast, questions from the co-hosts will typically ensue.

 

Encourage your students to go where the conversation takes them and to become curious in one another’s work. Let them know that they should feel free to ask questions or challenge their co-hosts arguments--respectfully of course. This assignment puts students in a position of authority, as they are the expert on their topic and sources during the podcast. Many students seem to thrive when given that position. I think they truly feel as if they have a voice and something to add to the larger conversation.

  

Reflection  

In so many ways, talking is composing. Aiding students in discussing their sources with their peers, without the presence of the professor, yields rich conversations full of more in-depth analysis of their sources. Students move naturally into synthesizing their sources when their peers inquire about certain components of their research project or source. The podcasts my students create are often full of wit, humor, heated debates, and brilliant insights. After completing an annotated bibliography and doing this assignment, the general consensus of my class is that they feel well equipped to tackle their research projects. I like this assignment because it can be dressed up or down depending on your desired outcome. I plan to always incorporate podcasts into my course designs going forward.

One of the key principles upon which the semiotic method is based is that of the cultural mythology. Grounded in Roland Barthes’ pioneering study Mythologies, a cultural mythology is an ideologically inflected worldview (or set of worldviews) that shapes social consciousness. Unlike more strictly held views on social constructionism, however, which hold that reality itself is a social construct, the mythological viewpoint—at least as I present it in Signs of Life in the U.S.A.—is essentially subjective, and can be tested against the objective realities that surround it. So passionately are cultural mythologies held, however, that when reality does break through, the result can be quite emotional, even violent.

 

Take climate change denial, for instance. Effectively a sub-cultural mythology in its own right, a steady stream of objective evidence that climate change is real only produces ever more insistent denials by its adherents. Or then again, take America's fundamental mythology of the American dream, which holds that opportunities for social and economic advancement are open to all who make the effort to achieve them, and what happens when uncomfortable realities challenge it—as just happened with the still unfolding college admissions scandal.

 

The extraordinary level of emotion—and media attention—that has greeted this scandal is especially indicative of what happens when a cultural mythology smashes into reality. For here is evidence, especially painful for the middle class, that even college admissions can be bought through schemes that are open only to the upper class that Americans are so slow to recognize exists at all. In a certain sense, I must confess, I'm a little surprised by the profundity of the reaction. I mean, didn't everyone already know about the advantages—from legacy admissions to exclusive prep schools to expensive SAT tutoring—that America's upper classes enjoy when it comes to elite college admissions? Somehow I can't help but be reminded of that iconic scene in Casablanca where Captain Louis Renault is "shocked" that "gambling is going on” in Rick's Café Américain, just as he is about to receive his own winnings.

 

So there is something about this current glimpse into what upper-class privilege is all about that has really struck a nerve. I see at least three facets to the scandal that help explain how and why. First is the high-profile celebrity involvement. As an entertainment culture, America adores and identifies with its favorite entertainers, so when two popular actresses, and their children, are alleged to have taken advantage of their wealth in order to slip past the guardians of a supposedly meritocratic college admissions system, the feeling of betrayal runs especially deep.

 

The second component to the scandal is that—even before the Great Recession hit—career opportunities for America's college graduates (especially if they are not STEM majors) are closing down, increasing the pressure to get into one of those schools whose graduates have the best chance at getting the few good jobs that are left. Suddenly, where you go to college seems to matter a lot more in determining where you are going to get in life.

 

Which takes us to the third angle to the phenomenon: the stunned realization that not only is the American dream a cultural mythology but that the whole game appears to have been rigged all along. This apprehension cannot be overestimated in its affect on American society today. It is, in good part, behind the rise of political "populism" (it may be significant in this regard that conservative commentary on the scandal gloats over the "liberal" Hollywood elites involved), as well as the accompanying divisions in a society where more and more people are competing for fewer and fewer slots in the good life—which appear to have been purchased in advance as part of the social scenario of a new Gilded Age.

 

Photo CreditPixabay Image 1701201 by davidsenior, used under the Pixabay License

Andrea A. Lunsford

A Shoutout to DBLAC

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Mar 28, 2019

 

When I think of the resources that are available to support writers—and especially graduate student writers who aim to be teachers in colleges and universities—I think of our professional organizations (like NCTE, CCCC, and RSA), and I think of writing centers everywhere and the IWCA. But to that list I now add DBLAC—Digital Black Lit (Literatures and Literacies) and Composition—an organization started by and for grad students of color just three short years ago, and one that has expanded exponentially just in the last year alone.

 

Be sure to check out their website at dblac.org to read about the founders (Lou Maraj and Khirsten Scott), members, and especially programs. The website announces their mission:

Digital Black Lit (Literatures & Literacies) and Composition or DBLAC is a digital network of Black graduate students in the United States, formed in May 2016 at the Digital Media and Composition Institute (DMAC) at The Ohio State University. We are comprised of graduate students who self-identify as Black in the fields of Literacy Studies, Literature, Writing Studies, Rhetoric, English Studies, Creative Writing, Digital Humanities, and other related fields. This network provides safe spaces for members to testify to, discuss with, and share support for each other in response to the continued marginalization of Black bodies in academia. DBLAC also acts as a learning community for professional development, networking, and resource-pooling aimed at the academic retention and success of its members.  

From what I’ve seen, DBLAC is carrying out this mission with great energy and commitment—not to mention a high degree of organization. They have sponsored sessions at MLA and CCCC (and I expect they will also sponsor sessions at RSA); their membership has expanded by 300% in the last year; and their flagship programs—a writing retreat (the first one was held in October 2018), a series of virtual writing groups, and a reading series—are all in full swing.

 

The Retreat is reserved for students of color, but the virtual writing groups and the reading groups are, I believe, open to all. Last year’s Retreat, held at the University of Pittsburgh, where Lou and Khirsten are both assistant professors, brought fourteen participants together for four days and over 15 hours of writing sessions, working with a special faculty mentor, Professor Beverly Moss from Ohio State. I spoke with one woman who had attended last year’s retreat and she said it had been a “life-changing experience” for her, one that left her more confident than ever that the dissertation she is writing is significant and that her voice will be heard. The second Retreat is scheduled for October 3-6, 2019, so spread the word to all grad students of color you know.

 

The virtual writing groups made up of 8 to 10 participants meet online to work on their writing together: the sessions have grown from ten, to fifteen, to twenty, and now to twenty-eight, and they are open to everyone interested in sharing their work and collaborating. Reading groups take up important texts—such as Tamika Carey’s Rhetorical Healing, Ersula Ore’s Lynching, and Eric Pritchard’s Fashioning Lives—examining the rhetorical moves these writers make and learning from their substance and style. Just hearing about these reading series meetings made me want to be able to join in.

 

It probably goes without saying that I am a big fan of DBLAC and see it as a major step in providing support for young scholars of color (and others as well). It’s all about building community and supporting one another rather than competing against each other, which has been the model in graduate education for far too long.

 

So Bravo/Brava to DBLAC. Watch out for them: they are making the very best kind of waves!

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3230661 by rawpixel, used under the Pixabay License

African American woman scientist, reading a book, with lab equipment in the background
African American woman scientist, with lab equipment in the background

I tried an experiment in my online classes this week. Spring Break begins this weekend. Students are working on recommendation reports, the major research document of the term. Their work on these reports is spread over four weeks. The week of Spring Break falls in the middle, as shown in this schedule:

Week ofActivities
February 25Begin research for recommendation report
March 4Finish research and sketch plans for report
March 11Spring Break
March 18Create rough draft of report
March 25Finish and submit final version of report

I ask students to complete a Progress Report before they leave for Spring Break. The assignment requires them to take stock of the work they’ve completed and the work they still need to do. When they return to their projects after break, their progress reports help them know where to resume their work on the project.

The progress report assignment is due the Friday before Spring Break starts, so March 8th this year. The three-day grace period for the assignment creates a challenge, however. I don’t count the days of Spring Break, so the grace period ends the first day students are back on campus, March 18 this year. While I intend for students to complete the progress reports before they leave, the grace period ensures that their grades are not harmed if they wait until they return.

Over the years, I have tried various ways to entice, encourage, and, let’s face it, beg students to complete their progress reports before they leave. I argue that the strategy will make their work easier and more efficient when they return to classes, but the lure of leaving early for that week off from classes wins out. Typically only five or six students turn the report in ahead of time, and a few more will turn it in during Spring Break. Most students submit it when they return.

This week, I tried a different strategy by appealing to their interest in higher grades. In short, I tried a bribe. If they turned in their progress reports by 11:59 PM on Friday the 8th, they can earn up to 125 points. If they turn in their report any later, they can earn no more than 100 points. The course is graded on accumulated points. The extra points matter, but no one is punished for using the grace period.

The result is that 26 students turned in their progress reports before leaving town, significantly more than the typical five or six. There is still room for improvement, as those 26 students represent only 31% of the enrollment. I’m making progress though, so bribery seems like it was a good choice.

What do you do to convince students to make the best choices? Have you tried bribing them? Do you have other strategies that work? I would love to hear from you. After all, I need to convince that 69% of the classes who didn’t turn in their progress reports. To share your ideas, just leave me a comment below.

Photo credit: “African American woman, half-length portrait, facing left, reading book,” Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, PPOC, Library of Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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

 

 

 

Happy spring to everyone in the northern hemisphere! Just like the seasons, pronoun usage is always changing, and always being discussedin articles, in conversations, in podcasts.

 

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 include assignable, ad-free Grammar Girl podcasts, which you can use to support your lessons. If you’re teaching a lesson on pronoun usage and need some ideas, you can assign one (or all!) of these suggested podcasts for students to listen to before class. Each podcast also comes with a complete transcript, which is perfect for students who aren’t audio learners or otherwise prefer to read the content. To learn more about LaunchPad products and purchasing options, please visit Macmillan's English catalog or speak with your sales representative.

 

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

 

Podcasts about Less Common Pronoun Usage

  • Gender-Neutral Pronouns: Singular They [11:12]
  • Yo As a Pronoun [5:01]
  • Pronouns for People and Animals [5:34]
  • Who versus Whom, Advanced [3:52]

 

Students can do a lot more with podcasts than simply listen to them. Use one of the following assignments to encourage students to engage further with the Grammar Girl podcasts.

 

Assignment A: Have students listen to the podcasts “Gender-Neutral Pronouns: Singular They” and “Yo As a Pronoun” and also read the transcripts. Then, have them write a response considering the following:

  • What does the host do to connect with the listener?
  • What new information did the student learn about pronoun usage? Can they pinpoint any element of the podcast that helped them remember this new information?
  • How do the podcasts compare? Does the content overlap, and if so, where?
  • What content or information is conveyed through audio that does not appear in the transcripts, if any? Is any additional information found in the transcripts that is not apparent from just listening to the podcast?

 

Assignment B: Ask students to choose one of the above podcasts and listen to it, then choose a facet of pronoun usage to explore further. Ask them to consider the history of their topic, any debate around it, and any other interesting items they discover in their research. Some ideas for students to consider:

  • What is the history of they as a gender-neutral singular pronoun? Based on current trends, what might its future be?
  • What other words in the English language have been used throughout history as gender-neutral singular pronouns?
  • Compare who and whom—which term come first? Have these two words always been used the same way? 
  • What is a new trend in pronoun usage? Describe it and detail its history (however brief a history it may be!).
  • Research gender-neutral pronoun trends in another language.

 

How else have you discussed changing pronoun usage in your class? Let us know in the comments!

 

Credit: Pixabay Image 690810by Free-Photos, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

 

BRAVO and KUDOS to Program Chair Vershawn Young and to Local Arrangements Chair Brenda Whitley—and to all their teams—for a truly memorable CCCC. I can never remember so many “must see and hear” sessions at every time slot. And thanks to all who attended this one, which is for the history books.

 

As far as I know, Erika Lindemann holds the record for attendance, with 46 consecutive CCCC meetings. But I can come close to that: since 1973, I’ve missed only one CCCC and that was in 2012 when I was in Vietnam teaching on an around-the-world Semester at Sea. So I’ve been to a lot of 4Cs gigs. In the early days, the meeting was pretty small: I recall Richard Lloyd-Jones in the 70s writing to say he needed “more proposals” in order to put a program together. Compare that to this year when each time slot offered between 40 and 50 concurrent sessions. This is just one small mark of how much our field has grown in size and stature.

 

I arrived at the Pittsburgh Convention Center on Wednesday, just in time for the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in Rhetoric and Composition’s celebration of the group's thirtieth anniversary (!) and the inimitable Cheryl Glenn’s exemplar award—and in time to hear four outstanding speakers. From there, the race was on to see how many sessions I could learn from.

 

When I close my eyes and try to conjure up the conference and its attendees, my mind’s eye focuses on the many young scholars of color I saw there. I don’t know yet what the total attendance numbers were—and I know that some people didn’t make it because of the huge blizzard and “bomb cyclone” that hit Denver and closed the airport—but I felt the presence of colleagues of color keenly and with great gratitude. I attended several sessions that put a spotlight on the outstanding work being done by graduate students and new assistant professors of color, such as “Black Disruptive Rhetorics: The Novel, the Pubic Sphere, and the Classroom,” featuring standout talks by Mudiwa Pettus, D’Angelo Bridges, Brandon Erby, and Gabriel Green, all from Penn State. “’Walk It Like I Talk It’: Performance Composition in Black Education and Beyond” was another session that held me spellbound, as Khadija Amal Bey (NCA&T) traced the changing labels used to designate people of color and introduced us to archives she is working with at the Moorish Science Temple of Philadelphia, and Landy Watley (Howard) examined the embodied performance of #blackwomenatwerk. I also took copious notes at “Our Liberation Wasn’t Never Gon’ Be Televised. . . Black News Ain’t Fake,” featuring Khirsten Echols (U Pittsburgh) on “Tougaloo Student Got Something to Say,” Brandon Erby (again!) on Mamie Till Mobley’s tactical work that kept her son Emmett’s name and image circulating through the Black Press in ways that eventually set the record of his murder straight, and Rhea Estella Lathan (Florida State) on redemptive literacy activism. And these were just three sessions that highlighted brilliant young scholars of color, who taught me so much in three days that I’m still trying to absorb all of their wisdom.

 

If this is a trend, it’s one that gives me a great deal of hope for the future of our organization and field of study. I’m grateful to have been a witness at this event and expect that many other conference-attendees feel the same way. I came away with renewed inspiration and renewed commitment to the work outstanding teachers of writing and rhetoric are doing every single day.

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3964054 by rawpixel, used under the Pixabay License

Two students working at a table near bookshelves in a libraryLast week, I shared an activity encouraging students to move beyond using a Google search to find research. This week’s activity asks students to check the resources they have found for variety.

As was the case last week, Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg’s 2010 article “How Handouts for Research Assignments Guide Today’s College Students” inspired the activity. Head and Eisenberg found that students typically searched only for the kinds of sources required by the assignment. For instance, if the assignment asks students to find two books and an online source, students find only those items.

Instead of prescribing sources for students’ work, this week’s activity asks students to look for variety in their sources and provide brief annotations that explain how they will use the sources.

In the activity as shown below, I removed some information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. The five kinds of research sources came from the course textbook, Markel and Selber’s Technical Communication (12th edition). You can easily customize the activity for your class by using the list of resources from your course textbook. Any textbook that covers writing research projects will include a similar list.

Checking for Variety in Research Sources

Review the information in the section on “Types of Secondary Research Sources” (pp. 123) in Markel and Selber’s Technical Communication. The section discusses the following five kinds of sources:

  • Books (including ebooks)
  • Periodicals: Journals and Magazines
  • Newspapers and online news sources
  • Government documents
  • Websites and social media

Checking for Variety

  1. For each type of research sources above, list the sources you have found so far that fall in the category, using the example to guide your answers. Include the following information for each source:
    • Bibliographic citation, using whatever format is appropriate for your field (e.g., Electrical engineers use IEEE).
    • A one-sentence (or fragment) summary of the information included in the source.
    • Details on how you plan to use the source in your project.
  2. Once you list all of the sources that you have found, evaluate whether your sources show variety, using the following questions:
    • How many different kinds of sources you have found? If a type of secondary research source is not appropriate for your project, explain why.
    • How varied are the sources in each category? Consider the author(s), publisher, publication date, and other relevant factors.
  3. Review your audience analysis for the project, and state the kinds of research sources your readers will expect in your document. Explain how your sources meet the audience’s expectations.
  4. Explain whether the research sources you found show variety, using specific details.
  5. If your sources do not demonstrate variety, set additional research goals to find more secondary sources. Specifically state the additional kinds of sources you will look for in a paragraph or list.
  6. Review your answer to make sure it uses business-appropriate spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Students are still working on this activity, so I don’t have results to share. I hope students will develop a habit of examining their research for variety. By having them include annotations that indicate how they will use the sources, students should move beyond variety simply for the sake of variety. Their choices have to be useful to their projects. I’m looking forward to reading their responses.

I would love to hear your responses to the activity too. Please leave me a comment below telling me your thoughts or sharing strategies that you use when teaching research projects.

Photo credit: A place to study. by San José Public Library on Flickr, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.