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I have been talking with my students about how we talk about science, particularly as non-scientists. After all, whether or not they understood the fine details of climate science, energized students from our campus and area high schools, like many students in your communities, showed up for local Climate Strikes in September, certainly persuaded by scientific claims. In class, we discussed Greta Thunberg’s ethos-shifting claim before Congress: “I don’t want you to listen to me; I want you to listen to the scientists.” Some aspects of climate change are in-our-face evident, such as the fires ravaging California. Other aspects require the non-scientists among us to trust the experts, as in the new analysis of satellite data that has resulted in even more dire calculations of coastal flooding predictions for 2050.

 

In writing classes that focus on claims, evidence, and persuasion, it is worth lingering with our students on the problem of how and why non-experts (which is to say, most of us) are persuaded, or not, by experts. Since science is on my students’ minds, I am going to recommend a few readings that have sparked helpful discussion in my classrooms about claims, evidence, and persuasion in science writing intended for the general public. I would appreciate hearing your recommendations, too.

 

In Andrew J. Hoffman’s essay, “The Full Scope,” from his book, How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate (2015), he describes his own uncomfortable experiences holding discussions with climate-change skeptics who sometimes shut down because they anticipate judgment and condescension from scientific experts. Hoffman argues that these conversations would be better served if we stop focusing on the extremes in the debate and instead aim for consensus-building with those in the middle who are at least open to discussion. Rather than assuming that more data will persuade skeptics, Hoffman suggests understanding where skeptics are coming from and listening for the other issues climate change discussions might trigger. Then, we can frame our responses around these concerns, such as health, national security, economic competition, or another issue. This advice might be timely before we all spend time with family members over the winter holidays!

 

Psychologist Robert Gifford’s essay, “Dragons of Inaction: Psychological Barriers that Limit Climate Change Mitigation and Adaption” (2011), enumerates and explains the many psychological barriers that keep us from changing our behaviors in response to climate science. Like Hoffman, Gifford seeks to help us understand the nature of resistance, from optimism bias to financial investments to social comparison (among the many “dragons” to slay). Recognizing these barriers — and the ways they are often nested — is essential, Gifford argues, for devising responses that address these worries and empower people to see the value in doing the admittedly hard work of behavior-change. 

 

Journalist Dahr Jamail’s book, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption (2019), takes a different approach. Jamail’s concern is not analyzing the rhetoric of climate science debates but, rather, modeling the ethos of an effective citizen-learner. In his eloquent chapter, “The Fate of the Forests,” Jamail demonstrates the ways ordinary citizens often bear witness to climate change in our very own front yards but just as often fail to grasp the import of what we are seeing. His accessible interviews with scientists model an interdisciplinary approach to asking questions and framing answers. This entire chapter speaks to Hoffman’s hope for building consensus and Gifford’s reminder that resistance to climate data takes many forms. 

 

Should the writing classroom be the place to discuss climate change? Given the polarized nature of the public debate, the skills students are learning with your guidance about effective persuasion, and the reminders from our students that they will live with the consequences of these conversations, I am convinced that the answer is yes.

 

Photo Credit: April Lidinsky

 

Some time ago I wrote about a forthcoming book about a food literacy program ongoing at Fern Creek High School in Kentucky, and about the truly dramatic difference that program has made in the lives of students there. Now, at last, the book is out! Entitled Say Yes to Pears: Food Literacy in and beyond the English Classroom and written by Joe Franzen and Brent Peters (with a foreword by the inimitable Dixie Goswami), this book is now available from NCTE as well as from Amazon and other venues.

 

About this book, I said:

Readers should pull up to this remarkable book as though it were a table, a table laden with mouth-watering savories, with cooking experiments, with homemade donuts, with radishes that pop up “like lollipops,” and with the wisdom of two visionary teachers and scores of deeply committed and imaginative students. Dip in to any page and you will find a story worth listening to and lingering over. You will hear voices that will echo in your ears for years to come. And you will get to know the power of young people with a purpose, who “say yes to pears” and so much more as they become increasingly powerful thinkers, readers, and writers. So turn the page, dig into this feast of possibility, and learn how food literacy has shaped the lives and communities of those you will meet here.

 

In these pages, you will meet Ivy (right), whose grandmother’s 50 pounds of pears provided a way to launch the class, as they made pear butter, pear chutney, pear sauce, dried pears, and pear apple almond muffins and began the series of experiments that would lead to so much discovery and learning.

 

You will meet shy, reticent Milo, whose food map (below) and narrative makes a powerful connection between his dying “father figure I never managed to call Dad” and “the guilt of biscuits and gravy” (20). You will meet Camdan, Pearl, and Don flipping pancakes early on in a Food Lit class, about which one of the authors says:

The students thought they were making pancake batter. What we actually did was break the conventional dynamics of the classroom. I put them in charge. I offered risk with an authentic reward. I made them teachers for one another. Then they defined what the class would be. For the rest of the course, I will be only a guide. (p. 92)

 

As the Food Lit class blossoms into a food club, a garden, and many other activities, the students bring in their parents and friends, the community comes to embrace the program, and the students get better and better not just at gardening, not just at cooking, as meaningful as those arts are, but they get better and better as students, and particularly as writers. As a result, the school, once labeled a “failing school,” began to gain its footing and its identity—and test scores began to rise. As Franzen and Peters put it, “What the food studies program has been able to do is blur the lines between home and school, individual and community, learning and fun, disciplines and reality” (162).

 

Reading Say Yes to Pears has made me think about the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford, with its themed first and second year courses: we can be sure that if we offer courses with themes related to food, they will attract a wide and broad group of students. Now I think we should begin such classes asking students to draw the kind of food maps featured in this book:

We ask students to go to the places in their memories that show their full selves, and we ask simply that they list the ingredients of their memories—the sounds, the people, the dishes, the places, the failures, the lessons, the favorites, the confessions, the gross encounters, the losses, and the celebrations they have had around food. . . . We write the word “food” in the center of a piece of paper and then we list all the things that surround this word. (p. 17)

 

A pretty simple assignment, at first glance. But the explorations it has engendered, the learning it has enabled, the students it has inspired all speak to its power. Might be worth making a food map of your own—I am about to sketch one right now!

 

Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford

I love to show short videos in class. A brief and lively video often sets the right mood in class, creating a communal moment, providing a shared language and new perspective to answer students’ questions about academic writing. When students are confused about how to analyze a source, for instance, and tired of seeing my comment on their drafts— “too much summary; not enough analysis”—I know that I need Plan B—a good “how to” video to help students visualize how to balance summary with analysis.

 

But most videos designed for composition classes are boring, another talking head or a slide presentation, narrated by a remote voice, distant and unrelatable. And as my students say, “they are cheesy.” So I started thinking about the potential of videos to help students succeed as college writers, and my editors and I decided to try our hand at creating an engaging suite of videos around three major assignments: analysis, researched argument, and annotated bibliography.

 

Consider the case of annotated bibliography, one of the most important assignment steps in writing a research paper. We know that students are often stumped about the why and how of constructing an annotated bibliography, and especially stumped about what it means to be in conversation with other writers and thinkers and what it means to reflect on a source’s contribution to their project. They ask important basic questions—what is a research conversation? How do I enter it? What is an annotation? What is the difference between summarizing and evaluating a source? And how do I figure out how a source fits into my project?

 

We wanted our videos to capture the types of questions real students ask at each stage of the process, so we created four videos, each around two-minutes long, to show students how to understand the expectations of the genre, how to enter a research conversation, how to write an annotation, and how to understand the differences between summarizing a source and evaluating a source’s contribution to their research project. 

 

I have included live links to two of the annotated bibliography videos here. Enjoy! I would love to hear your impressions, especially how you might use them with your students.

 

What is an annotated bibliography?

How to enter a research conversation

How to write an annotation

How to evaluate a source

 

Editor’s note: Your Bedford/St. Martin's rep can give you access to the full suite, including the additional two annotated bibliography videos as well as the videos for analysis and argument (four in each cluster). All of the videos are available in LaunchPad Solo for Hacker Handbooks and LaunchPad for A Writer's Reference, Ninth Edition.

In my last blog, I wrote about the frustrations of dealing with difficult student questions (“So what are we doing?”) and the possibilities for instruction embedded in those questions. Similarly, I’ve addressed the challenge of responding to student comments comparing current instructor practice with their experiences in previous courses.

 

An unfiltered response in both these scenarios might be snarky or rude at worst, and unhelpful at best. As I wrote before, these difficult comments and questions can be teachable moments—both for the student and for myself—if I can filter the initial knee-jerk reaction and think through what I could say to engage the student for deeper thinking. Can I open what Jesson et al. (following Wegerif) have called a “dialogic space,” where “the teacher’s and students’ contributions serve to drive thinking forward” (157)? If my response shuts down the conversation, that space contracts—or disappears altogether. Moreover, those unfiltered comments do not invite the kind of on-going development of talk about writing and language—meta-talk—that I want to foster, explore, and evaluate in my classes.

 

Recently, I encountered another of these difficult interactions. A student (who had already conferenced with me and received feedback concerning a developing text that did not address the parameters of the assignment) submitted an intermediate draft without any substantive revisions to content. When I asked the student about notes from our conference (since the work submitted for review did not reflect thoughtful response to the comments I had made), the student replied that one of the upper-level writing fellows working with our class “said it was good,” so the student assumed no revisions were needed.

 

I have heard such comments before: someone else—a writing center tutor, a friend who is an English major, a high school teacher, a parent, or even another instructor—read the paper and said “it was good.” 

 

What would your knee-jerk response be? “That other person didn’t write the instructions.” “That other person isn’t going to be grading this paper.” “That other person doesn’t have my degree.” “That other person may not have been honest with you.” “I don’t care what that other person said…” 

 

I suppose our response would depend on the context—first, intermediate, or final draft, for example, and what we thought the student was hoping to achieve by reporting on someone else’s assessment of the piece, generally a more positive assessment.

 

In considering my own response to the student (which was to ask for a conference during office hours), I began to wonder what a thoughtfully-filtered response that opens dialogic space might look like. I considered the talk-encouraging questions I might ask:

 

      
  1. What specifically did the writing fellow tell you was good about the paper? Did you take notes? If not, would it be worth asking her to discuss it with you again?
  2.   
  3. What did you ask the writing fellow to look at when you went for your conference?
  4.   
  5. Did you discuss my comments with the writing fellow?
  6.   
  7. Did the writing fellow make any specific comments or recommendations we could talk about?
  8.   
  9. Why do you think different people sometimes give different feedback? How can you handle the differences, as a writer?
  10.   
  11. How would you define good when it comes to writing? How does context affect our understanding of what good is? Could our comments about the piece actually both be reasonable evaluations of it?
  12.   
  13. What do you like about the piece as it stands now? Are there parts of the paper that you can build on for revision?
  14.   
  15. What did you hear when I gave you feedback during conference?
  16.   
  17. Knowing that the paper does not currently meet the requirements of the assignment, what information from me would be most helpful to you?
  18.   
  19. What sorts of things could you tell the writing fellows to help them target their feedback on the next draft?

 

I recognize in myself a tendency to allow frustration to stop conversations. And yes, some of the frustrations arise from student apathy, laziness, or forgetfulness. They have told me as much: they didn’t take notes, they forgot what we discussed, they wanted not to have to write again. And at times, especially for some of the students who find themselves in my corequisite sections, the problem stems from the overall culture shock of college. But perhaps those students need me to filter my responses the most—and they need an opportunity to talk about the writing a little bit more. 

 

What comments and questions from students cause you the most frustration in your corequisite writing courses? What strategies have worked for you in responding?

Leah Beth JohnstonLeah Beth Johnston (recommended by Elías Domínguez Barajas) is pursuing her PhD in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Arkansas. She will finish her degree in 2022. Her research focuses on First-Year Composition administration and Marginal Rhetorics, and her dissertation is a book that explores the intersection of the two. A former faculty member at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, Leah Beth hopes to return to Texas upon finishing her PhD. 

 

How do you hope higher education will change in the next ten years?

I hope that in the next ten years, higher education will change drastically. We will always be operating in a system whose foundation was built on white supremacy and exclusionary tactics, but I hope that white educators, in particular, will begin to interrogate their own biases and privileges in a way that positively changes higher education as a whole. Teaching at a PWI has illuminated for me how far we still have to go before educational equity will exist, and has also reinforced my respect for the many folx on the margins of universities creating small but equitable spaces for historically oppressed identities. 

 

Is there an instructor or scholar that helped shape your career in rhet/comp? How? 

My current advisor, Dr. Jo Hsu, has significantly helped to shape my career in Rhet/Comp. I learn a lot from their example of showing up, showing grace, and doing small but great things. Many faculty members in higher education view teaching as something they do to exercise their own research agendas, but Jo has always been excited and encouraging about their students’ own research, and their genuine love of teaching is obvious in the classroom. I hope to someday be half the teacher they are. 

 

What's it like to be a part of the Bedford New Scholars program?

Being part of the Bedford New Scholars program has been such an honor! That feels cheesy to say, but spending this year having insight into educational publishing, being able to offer input on texts that may show up in classes I teach, and traveling to Boston to network among top scholars in my field has been the privilege of a lifetime. The workload throughout the year was structured in such a way that my own research and teaching did not suffer, and the overall support provided by the Bedford/St. Martin’s team has been amazing. 

 

What have you learned from other Bedford New Scholars?

During our New Scholars Summit in Boston, I learned something from each and every fellow scholar, whether it was a new author to read, a technique for lesson planning, or an idea to incorporate digital elements into the classroom. I especially enjoyed a team-building activity where we each wrote our priorities as teachers on a large piece of paper, then had the opportunity to review one another’s answers. I found that many of our priorities, concerns, and triumphs overlap, which gave me a sense of where Composition is as a whole right now, insight that is invaluable for my career and my own pedagogy. 

 

Leah Beth Johnston’s Assignment that Works

During the Bedford New Scholars Summit, each member presented an assignment that had proven successful or innovative in their classroom. Below is a brief synopsis of Leah Beth's assignment. You can view the full details here: Emoji Revision Assignment

For this lesson, review what emoji is and make sure everyone has a working understanding of how to access emoji on their device. Then, pass out movie title slips individually or into groups of 2-4, depending on class size. Ask students to revise not the movie title, but the movie plot, into emoji language. This may require some research if they are not familiar with the movie. Remind students that even if they have seen the movie, they may want to review the main themes before revising the plot into emoji. As each student/group finishes their revision, they will take a screenshot of the “sentence” and email it to the instructor. Once all revisions have been sent, the instructor projects them at the front of the classroom, and the entire class discusses them one by one to guess which movie they are referring to. 

After completing this assignment, students will have a basic literacy in emoji language and digital discourse. Students will be able to conduct internet research, and apply this research to summarizing texts. Students will also be able to understand the concept of a multimodal text, and will be able to connect the activity to their own revision processes.

 

Learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board on the Bedford New Scholars Community page.

When Sonia and I began working on the first edition of Signs of Life in the U.S.A. in 1992, semiotics was still regarded as a rather obscure scholarly discipline generally associated with literary theory and linguistics. It also was quite literally unheard of to attempt to employ semiotics as a model for critical thinking in first-year composition classes, and Chuck Christensen, the Publisher and Founder of Bedford Books, was rather sticking his neck out when he offered us a contract. To help everyone at Bedford along in the development process of this unusual textbook, he asked me to provide a one-page explanation of what semiotics actually is, and I responded with a semiotic analysis of the then-popular teen fashion of wearing athletic shoes—preferably Nikes—with their shoelaces untied. That did the trick and Sonia and I were on our way.

 

As you may note, the focus of my semiotic explanation for the Bedford folks was on an object (athletic shoes), with the intent of demonstrating how ordinary consumer products could be taken as signs bearing a larger cultural significance. This was quite consistent with semiotic practice at the time in the field of popular cultural studies, which frequently analyzed cultural objects and images. But even then I knew that the real focus of cultural semiotics in Signs of Life was human behavior as mediated by such things as fashion preferences, and with each new edition of the book, I have been further refining just what that means.

 

And so, as I work on the tenth edition of the book, I have come to realize that the semiotic analysis of cultural behavior bears a close relationship to the science of artificial intelligence. For just like AI, the semiotics of human behavior works with aggregated patterns based upon what people actually do rather than what they say. Consider how the ALEKS mathematics adaptive learning courseware works. Aggregating masses of data acquired by tracking students as they do their math homework on an LMS, ALEKS algorithmically anticipates common errors and prompts students to correct them step-by-step as they complete their assignments. This is basically the same principle behind the kind of algorithms created by Amazon, Facebook, and Google, which are designed to anticipate consumer behavior, and it's also the principle behind Alexa and Siri.

 

Now, semioticians don't spy on people, and they don't construct algorithms, and they don't profit by their analyses the way the corporate titans do, but they do take note of what people do and look for patterns by creating historically informed systems of association and difference in order to provide an abductive basis for the most likely, or probable, interpretation of the behavior that they are analyzing—as when in my last blog I looked at the many decades in which the character of the Joker has remained popular in order to interpret that popularity.

 

Now, to take another fundamental principle of cultural semiotics—that of the role of cultural mythologies in shaping social behavior—one can anticipate a good deal of resistance (especially from students) to the notion that individual human behavior can be so categorically interpreted in this way, for the mythology of individualism runs deep in the American grain. We like to think that our behavior is entirely free and unconstrained by any sort of mathematically-related probabilities. But it wouldn't bother a probability theorist, especially one like Sir David Spiegelhalter, a Cambridge University statistician, who has noted that “Just as vast numbers of randomly moving molecules, when put together, produce completely predictable behavior in a gas, so do vast numbers of human possibilities, each totally unpredictable in itself, when aggregated, produce an amazing predictability”.

 

So, when we perform a semiotic interpretation of popular culture, we are on the lookout for that probability curve, even as we anticipate individual outriders and exceptions (which can themselves point to different patterns that may be equally significant in what is, after all, an overdetermined interpretation). But our goal as semioticians is to reveal the significance of the patterns that we find, not to exploit them, and thus, perhaps, modify those behaviors that, all unawares, are doing harm.

 

Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 2587756 by Stock Snap, used under Pixabay License

 

On this Halloween, I am in Lawrence, MA, joining the Andover Bread Loaf group of teachers from Lawrence’s public schools and the students who act as writing consultants throughout the city. Founded, inspired, and led by Lou Bernieri, a genius if ever there was one, Andover Bread Loaf has changed the lives of disenfranchised inner-city students and their teachers, as well as those of students attending the super-elite Phillips Academy (Andover). We are here celebrating the work of these students along with high school representatives from several Next Generation Leadership Network sites, each of which aims to engage young people in taking on leadership roles and in writing and speaking their way into, and then shaping, public discourse.

 

I will write more about this thrilling meeting in a week or so, but right now I am about to ask the students here what or who they might want to “be” this Halloween. I’ve thought a lot about this question this year. Everywhere I look I see greedy, craven, corrupt people: no one out there to emulate. No one to look up to or admire unless I look very locally, to people like Lou or the fabulous teachers he works with. But then I thought again. And I was sure: if I were to “be” someone today, this Halloween, someone who represents the best of us, well, I’d be Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the “notorious RBG.”

 

In a Times editorial published a few weeks ago, columnist Thomas Friedman wrote of going to the opening concert of the National Symphony Orchestra:

At mid-concert, the chairman of the Kennedy Center, David M. Rubinstein, came out to greet the audience and the V.I.P.s. He welcomed the different ambassadors, then he went through the cabinet members present and then the Supreme Court justices. He introduced Justice Samuel Alito, who got a smattering of applause. Then he introduced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, seated in the balcony. First many women in the audience stood up to applaud. And then everyone stood up. And then everyone applauded. And then everyone applauded more. And then some people cheered. And then some whistled. And it went on and on and on.

 

It was extraordinary. I’ve been to a lot of Kennedy Center concerts, and a few when the president, sitting in his official box, was introduced. But I’ve never witnessed anything like the reception for Justice Ginsburg. And this was not a totally liberal audience. There were many older G.O.P. donors and corporate types there. This was a spontaneous, bipartisan expression of respect for, and longing for, a national leader of integrity and humility — after three years of a president utterly without shame, for whom no ethical red line has been too red to cross.

 

There is still a civic pulse in this country. (New York Times, Oct. 1, 2019)

 

If Friedman is right, if there is a “civic pulse” in the country and if there is truly longing for a “national leader of integrity and humility,” then I agree with him that Justice Ginsburg is such a person. On this Halloween, she’s my hero and the person I’d most like to “dress up” as. And not just that: she’s the person I want to hold before me as a steady, reassuring force for honesty and fairness and, yes, humility—and then try as hard as I can to “be like RBG.”

 

If you’re teaching today, ask your students who they would most like to “go as” on Halloween and why. This could be a fun writing prompt that leads to an interesting discussion!

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1838545 by Pexels, used under the Pixabay License

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

 

A photo of the top of a British red telephone box, focused on the word "TELEPHONE" and a royal crown decoration.

 

Has the United Kingdom or Brexit come up in your classes lately? If so, this is a great opportunity to use Grammar Girl podcasts to learn more about another form of English!

 

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 and Achieve products include assignable, ad-free Grammar Girl podcasts, which you can use to support your lessons. If you’re teaching a lesson about prepositions or find your class needs some more help with the topic, 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 digital products and purchasing options, please visit Macmillan's English catalog or speak with your sales representative. 

 

If you are using LaunchPad, refer to 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."

 

If you are using Achieve, you will find a "Quick Start Guide: Grammar Girl and Question Bank" in your Welcome Unit. You can also find information on assigning Grammar Girl in Achieve on the support page "Add Grammar Girl and shared English content to your course."

 

Comparing British and American Englishes with Grammar Girl

  • Names of Groups: British versus American English Usage [3:46]
  • American English versus British English [4:36]
  • Why Are British English and American English Different? [6:06]

 

Assignment: Choose one or more of the above podcasts and listen as a class; remind students they can also read along using the transcripts. Ask each student to take notes on their general thoughts and observations as they listen. After, discuss as a class: What did they learn about British English? About American English? Was anything surprising or did they know this information already?

 

Tip: If you want to focus on a specific aspect of English using these podcasts, you can. For subject-verb agreement, listen to “Names of Groups: British versus American English Usage.” If you want to discuss word usage and pronunciation, listen to “American English versus British English.” To discuss spelling differences, listen to “Why Are British English and American English Different?

 

Have you used podcasts to discuss different Englishes in class? Let us know in the comments!

 

Credit: Pixabay Image 203492 by Ichigo121212, used under a Pixaby License

 

I’ve just been reading Nancy Bou Ayash’s Toward Translingual Realities in Composition: (Re)Working Local Language Representations and Practices (2019). It’s a bit of a struggle for me—fairly dense in places, but I’m very glad I’m reading it. I was drawn to it by the cover (pictured above): who wouldn’t want to turn the page and find out what’s inside?!

 

The case Ayash makes for “translingual realities” is compelling, based on her own research in Beirut and in Seattle; the book is brimming with examples of translingual practices throughout. Because I know Seattle pretty well, I have especially enjoyed reading about the research conducted there, and one paragraph sparked my imagination in all kinds of ways. It’s long, but I think you’ll enjoy it:

On the walls of one of Seattle’s breakfast locations known for its twelve-egg omelets, the decorative collection of illustrations and accompanying textual descriptions patrons have playfully designed while waiting for their food as they mix languages, Englishes, language varieties, and visualization elements . . . portrays the city’s blending and bending of resources and practices. The flow of customers as they come and go, enter and exit that particular space has significantly expanded that canvas all the way to the restaurant’s entrance where the front door is now covered with graphic and textual creations. Bringing southern barbecue and brew to Seattle’s hip Ballard neighborhood, a counter service joint in a former barbecue wasteland is known not only for its smoky fall-off-the-bone-style ribs but also for the availability of writable chalkboard walls in its restrooms, with customers mobilizing meaning and language resources as they move in and out. At another jam-packed restaurant large enough to accommodate only ten tables, its whiteboard side wall is an open invitation to its primarily Spanish-speaking clientele usually on a one- to two-hour wait to grab black markers, search for blank surfaces, write, and draw on that fluid canvas. Covered with dry-erase paint, the interior walls of this Mexican steakhouse are adorned with Spanish, English, and Spanglish used in an interwoven mix to depict local experiences of and connections with the transnational migration of the culinary gene pool of the northwestern Sinaloa region across the US/Mexican border all the way to the Pacific Northwest region. (105)

 

Wow, what a scene! I love thinking about these restaurant-goers becoming authors and artists on the spot, mixing it up with languages, dialects, drawings—expressing themselves with fun and evidently with flair. Now I am going to be looking for examples of these open spaces for writing in public places like restaurants, writing that definitely strays outside the “lines” of a page or screen but is not graffiti (or is it?). I can also imagine sending my students out on field trips to gather additional data first hand: I can see them fanning out across San Francisco’s Chinatown or South of Market, around Oakland’s Jack London Square and other places in the East Bay, in search of “translingual realities” and bringing them to class to examine together and to use as a means of understanding translingualism—and not just understanding it better, but practicing it ourselves. And to go further, asking how these translingual realities relate to the writing they are doing in college and to ask how such realities might work to engage and influence that writing.

 

So thanks to Nancy Bou Ayash for taking me on this ride: I am now looking for “translingual realities” everywhere!

 

Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford

If I surveyed composition or IRW instructors about the student questions we find most frustrating, I am sure there would be considerable overlap in our responses. I would love to say that I am so calm, so focused on student support and student learning, that I am never flustered by student questions, and I am never tempted to give a snarky reply. But of course, this is not the case. Certain questions trigger my irritation, and more than I’d like to admit it, some rather unhelpful responses.

 

I got one of those questions last week. My students are writing rhetorical analyses of arguments about writing (choosing chapters from Bad Ideas about Writing as the focus of analysis), certainly not the easiest of tasks for beginning writers. To prepare for the assignment, I lead students through activities sequenced to scaffold instruction: first we practice summary, then recognition of argument components, then identification of various stylistic devices related to tone, stance, and engagement. In each case, we move from a large group discussion to a group or paired practice, and then individual practice.  The week before students begin working on their own drafts, they collaborate with others to practice parts of the assignment: summarizing the article, noting key elements of the argument, and crafting a thesis statement. We review these collaborative pieces as a whole class, discussing what works and what doesn’t. 

 

After the weeks of preparation and three preparatory “check-points” (summarizing the article they had selected for analysis, making a bulleted list of key rhetorical strategies, and drafting a thesis), I set aside a class period for drafting. About ten minutes into that class session devoted to drafting, a student came to me and asked me that question:  “So, what are we doing?” This student had been present for all the previous classes. This student had access to the handouts, the instructions, the samples, and the collaborative exercises—and the student had selected and summarized an article. But the student was completely lost when it came to drafting his analysis. “So what are we doing? Am I just supposed to write what I think about this topic?”

 

Snark filled my mind: what did the student think we were doing? Talk about a failure to transfer – how much nearer could writing situations be? And yet there was a failure to connect the previous three weeks, the collaborative practice and the checkpoints, to the current task. And in the moment, I am pretty sure I widened my eyes (but refrained from rolling them). The student must have noted my reaction.

 

I remembered my own teaching goal: build writing-talk so as to support metacognition, reflection, and transfer. I encouraged the student to get the assignment instructions, and we talked through what we had already done in preparation. The student nodded and went back to the computer. Still, it took some time before the draft began to take shape.

 

This week, the students in that class met with me in groups of four for review conferences. The questioning student came with a draft that did not address rhetorical analysis in any way, despite the review we went through on drafting day. During the conferences, we projected drafts one by one onto a screen for group discussion. And during this student-led discussion, the student had a breakthrough: “So that’s what we’re doing. I need to go back and re-think my thesis.” Other students made suggestions and gave encouragement, and the student left with a focus for revision.

 

“So what are we doing?” I need to remember the grammar embedded in this question.  “So” is a discourse connector; the question doesn’t appear in a vacuum. Part of instruction in meta-talk is helping students make connections to our previous discourse, to see the cohesiveness of the instruction up to that point. And it’s “we” – not just “I.” I have told the students we are a community, and answers often arise in collaborative work, just as they did for this student in our group conference. Finally, the question is in present progressive: a work in process. The process includes what we have done (present perfect) and what we will do (future), and each part is tied together. From the present moment, especially from the student’s point of view, the process as a whole can be terribly difficult to see. 

 

“So what are we doing, Dr. Moore?” This terribly annoying question can be a powerful teaching moment, if I will let it.

 

What questions annoy you in the writing classroom? How are you handling them?

Long before California Assembly Bill 705 went into effect, making accelerated composition the de facto first-semester composition course in my state, I was privileged to be part of a group of educators and counselors working for Santa Barbara City College’s Express to Success Program (ESP). 

 

Similar to the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) pioneered by Peter Adams and others at the Community College of Baltimore County, ESP “mainstreamed” a cohort of students who assessed below college-level into our first-semester composition course, English 110. In addition to taking 110, which met twice a week for a total of two hours and forty minutes, students in the cohort also met twice a week in English 89, a 50-minute Pass/No Pass co-requisite. Class size for English 110 was a manageable 24 students, with approximately half the students enrolled in the co-requisite.

 

Under the leadership of Kathy Molloy, ESP received the 2012 Chancellor’s Award for Best Practices in Student Equity and was chosen as a 2014 “Example of Excelencia” by Excelencia in Education, and was presented with the 2018 California Community Colleges Board of Governors Exemplary Program Award. It was a program with which both students and faculty were proud to be associated. (If I write at times in the past tense about the Express to Success Program, that’s because it was dissolved in May of 2019, a few months before AB705 went into effect.)

 

I’ll address the thorny issue of co-requisites and funding in a later post, but for the moment, I’d like to offer ESP’s co-requisite as a model for other colleges. What I found most valuable about English 89 was that it provided extra writing practice, built community, was supported by a peer tutor and counselor, combined full-class and individualized instruction, offered just in time remediation, and allowed for curricular collaboration and flexibility.

 

I’ll discuss the first two of these significant—and replicable—elements of the co-requisite in this post, and address the others next month. In doing so, I will be drawing not only on my own experiences, but also those of my colleagues in what was always a highly collaborative enterprise.

 

Extra Writing Practice

Writing is hard work, even for experienced writers, and growing as a writer requires lots of opportunities to fall flat on your face. Therefore, among the most important benefits of writing in the co-requisite is that students can experiment, take risks, and make mistakes that don’t affect their grades. Meeting twice a week allows for more of this low-stakes writing, and more time for instructors and tutors to talk students through different ways to best approach the assignment they are working on.

 

Sandra Starkey, my wife and ESP colleague, was always keen to make sure students generated at least some text during the fifty minutes they were in class. “The co-requisite,” she says, “gives students a chance to actually engage in writing. I tell them they’re like journalists: they have a deadline—the end of class—and they’re going to have to turn in a draft of a paragraph for the essay they’re working on. It may not be perfect, but it’s something they’ll be able to take home and work on further.”

 

As a writer myself, I loved the frenzy of drafting and revision that went on when the co-requisite was humming along. Students looked more closely at their texts than they were used to doing; they argued with one another—sometimes passionately—about the best way to express an idea. At its best, with everyone fully engaged in the complexities of the composition process, English 89 sometimes reminded me of a graduate writing workshop.

 

Building Community

Peter Adams and others are right to laud the benefits of the “cohort effect.” When students spend time together in the same small group over the course of a semester, they can’t help but come to cheer each other on. Bonny Bryan, now SBCC’s director of composition, found that what she most appreciated about English 89 “was the quick sense of community that emerged. Given its size and the fact that it was located in a computer lab, students quickly moved between working as a group of twelve to collaborating as triads and pairs.”

 

The small size of a co-requisite makes faculty members more accessible—and less threatening—to students, and provides instructors with opportunities to get to know their students as three-dimensional human beings. Jennifer Baxton, who took over coordinating English courses in ESP’s final semester, valued the way “the co-requisite workshop served as a way to further strengthen the connection between faculty and students, as well as students with their peers. As a group, the [co-req students] were invested in their success, working together toward the refinement of the skills taught in the composition class.”

 

Indeed, Kathy Molloy notes that the co-requisite students were often so enthusiastic about “the advantages of the support class…many of the students who weren’t assigned to the co-req asked to come as well—they clearly saw how helpful the extra support could be.”

 

Appropriately, it’s that growing sense of dedication to the act of writing that seems to create a sense of community. Enthusiasm is contagious, and with everyone in the room working towards a common goal, students begin sharing with one another their too-often untapped wisdom and kindness.

 

[More details on a successful model for the accelerated composition co-requisite are forthcoming in David Starkey’s next post.]

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

Overview

The idea of using music in my classes sounds simple enough but has had an amazing impact on my teaching over the years. Music and audio are important (often under emphasized) components of multimodal composition and digital content creation. Today, I want to talk about some of the ways I have used music in my classes and describe a particular assignment: The Class Playlist

 

I often ask students to analyze music as literature, look at lyrics through critical lenses, and interpret context, intention, and impact as social artifacts. For example, I have asked students to analyze “protest songs” and look at their place within particular historical and social contexts. With the availability of videos and lyrics online, this project is easily shared with others, so students can not only read the lyrics but also hear the actual music and analyze other components of this multimodal genre.

 

My classes also often involve digital community engagement for real-world projects that promote awareness or advocate for social change. Years ago, I stumbled on this wonderful organization, Playing for Change, who identify themselves as “a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music, born from the shared belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people.” I introduce students to the organization and present them with one of the first songs in their series, a version of Stand by Me performed by musicians all over the world and then reworked into an international tapestry of their voices – a format replicated by the organization over the years. This song is familiar to most people, has an uplifting melody and message, and demonstrates a great example of the ways we might create engaging multimodal content through and with music.

 

 

By happenstance, I was presenting at a professional conference and had to test my technology before my presentation. I pulled up this same song to test the audio and immediately noticed that it drew people into presentation and that it changed the mood of room, opening up my audience to hear what I had to say in ways that sitting in silence did not. I decided to continue to play it as participants entered as we gathered and set up the presentation. It challenged our notions of what we expect in these settings and used the multimodal component of music to affect the impact of the presentation. Since that day, I have often used this simple technique before I present. 

 

It was this experience that that led to my latest exploration of music in my writing classes – the Class Playlist. I currently teach a course that emphasizes digital storytelling and want to make sure students consider sound and music as important components of their multimodal composition processes. In class, we focus on students’ rhetorical and ethical use of music in digital contexts and the music itself as a storytelling genre.

 

We all love our playlists that allow us to curate songs in different ways. We can organize them around particular events, activities, or themes. In this class, since we focus on digital storytelling, I asked students to choose two songs that tell either a story (through lyrics and music) or that remind them of a story from their own lives (teachers can easily adapt this idea to their own course content). I have students submit songs to a collaborative Google document and then a move them to an online playlist app (Spotify). Each time we meet, I play one of their songs as students are settling into the room and I am taking roll and getting organized. Once the song is finished, I ask the student to explain a bit of context for the song, including why they chose it for our playlist.

 

Background Readings and Resources

 

Steps to the Assignment

  1. Introduce students to the importance of music as a multimodal and storytelling component. Present examples and/or have students work with their own examples to discuss in small groups or as a full class.
  2. Discuss ethical and professional ways and resources for using music in multimodal projects including copyright-free music sources and citation practices. (See more about Encouraging the Use of Public Domain Assets.)
  3. Ask students to submit two songs (along with links) for the class playlist – you can organize the playlist around a course theme by content or genre. This gives the playlist a cohesive goal that reinforces class content. 
  4. Move the playlist to an online app (e.g. Spotify) that curates and organizes the songs.
  5. Play selections from the list at the start of each class each day.
  6. Have students explain a bit of context for the song, including why they chose it and connect it to course content.

 

Reflection on the Activity

The class playlist activity takes a short amount of time and energy to incorporate into my classes. It allows me to focus attention on the importance and significance of music for multimodal composition and has the additional impact of altering the mood of the classroom to open students to a better atmosphere for learning. It takes them away from other distracting thoughts, helps focus attention on the class ahead and provides an alternate way of extending upon and enriching class content. It also provides a sense of ownership and agency in the class, in which students collaboratively create a playlist for our particular situation – another digital literacy skill. Many hear songs they have not heard before and add the playlist to their own collection as a memory of the class and these contributions. It sounds so simple but I am humbly impressed by the impact of this practice. 

Josh Chase (recommended by Marika Seigel) is a PhD student in the Rhetoric, Theory, and Culture program at Michigan Technological University. He expects to finish in May 2021. He serves as the composition program coordinator and teaches courses in composition, literature, and technical writing. He is also the managing editor of Portage Review, a transdisciplinary journal of undergraduate writing. His research interests are in rhetorical cultural studies, user-centered theory, and science and technology studies. He is currently exploring the rhetoric of conspiracy theories, the impacts of outlandish ideas on political discourse and culture, and the implications for technical communication and rhetorical theory.

 

Is there an instructor or scholar that helped shape your career in rhet/comp? How? 

The scholar who has most shaped my teaching is James Berlin. Berlin’s work outlines the history of composition studies and sketches the theoretical underpinnings of various classroom teaching practices. His work provides some much-appreciated context for the field I’m entering. Just as important, though, is Berlin’s reminder that “success in the classroom is never guaranteed” and that effective learning is the result of “dialectical collaboration—the interaction of student, teacher, and shared experience within a social, interdisciplinary framework,” a process whose outcome “is always unpredictable.” When I first started teaching — when I wasn’t sure if I could ever be a good teacher — Berlin prompted me to question whether I even knew what teaching was.

 

How does the next generation of students inspire you?

I’m very fortunate to be starting my teaching career right now precisely because the next generation of students is so inspiring. They’re often better writers than I remember myself being at 18 years old — or even now. I’m sometimes surprised when I introduce a reading or a concept that I think will be particularly interesting for my students only to find that a good number of them are already familiar with it. The idea that I could just create a solid semester-long curriculum and coast on that for a few years just isn’t an option: what seems profound to one group of students is often old hat to the next. So, in a very practical sense, my students inspire me to be a better teacher because I’m always questioning whether I have anything new to offer them. 

 

But they also inspire me in other ways. From climate change to growing inequality (and other challenges that we’ve yet to adequately address), the next generation seems ready to tackle the most significant challenges of our time. If rhetoric is symbolic action, then part of our job as writing teachers is to help our students find effective ways to act on these issues. For me, it’s hard to imagine anything more inspiring than that.

 

What is it like to co-design with the editorial team at Bedford/St. Martin's?

Honestly, before the summit, I was skeptical about co-designing with the editorial team at Bedford/St. Martin’s. I know next to nothing about educational publishing and imagined that I had little to offer them. They must know that too, I figured, so I just assumed the whole trip was an investment for them—a way of selling us on their products early in our careers. I was wrong about that. The editorial team had similar educational backgrounds and interests, they were familiar with the writers and scholars that have been influential for me, and they seemed genuinely interested in getting our perspectives on the work they plan to put out. They took criticism of their products seriously and didn’t seem interested in light or sugarcoated feedback. At heart, I think the members of the design team are teachers, too, and I’m already thinking about ways to adapt some of their workshops for my own classroom. 

 

What have you learned from other Bedford New Scholars?

Meeting and socializing with the other Bedford New Scholars were probably the best parts of the trip. These people are brilliant. Some of them just recently (and successfully!) went on the job market, so I was able to get a lot of good advice about that process. I learned a little bit about how composition programs from other parts of the country handle issues like growing class sizes and new teacher training. Through their Assignments that Work presentations, I learned about the different activities they’re engaging their students with and got some great ideas for adapting those activities for my own classes.

 

Josh’s Assignment that Works

During the Bedford New Scholars Summit, each member presented an assignment that had proven successful or innovative in their classroom. Below is a brief synopsis of Josh's assignment. You can view the full details here: Situating your Research with the CARS Model.

 

In the Michigan Tech composition program, by the time students begin drafting their research papers, they have already spent several weeks researching their chosen topics. Part of the scaffolding for the research paper involves composing an expanded annotated bibliography, a project that asks students to summarize and analyze a variety of relevant texts, and to both describe and reflect on their research processes.

 

As an activity to help students transition from a primarily research-driven mode of activity into a writing-only mode in which they engage those sources, I introduce the “Creating a Research Space” model of introductions, as outlined by John Swales and Christine Feak. While it was originally designed as a heuristic to help writers overcome the hurdles of writing an introduction, I find that the CARS model is also helpful in a broader sense: for myself and, I think, my students, it offers a way of organizing controversies and finding entry points for our own contributions—a kind of roadmap for stepping into the Burkean parlor.

 

While I encourage my students to use the CARS model for abstracts and introductions, that is not what I emphasize in this activity and assignment. Instead, I ask them to locate the CARS moves as they appear throughout the paper. The aim is not for students to view the model as a simple checklist that leads to a more sophisticated introduction but to see how the moves guide their engagement with sources throughout the research and writing processes.

 

Works Cited

Berlin, James. "Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class." Chap. in The Norton Book of Composition Studies, edited by Susan Miller, 667-84. New York: Norton, 2009.

Swales, John M., and Christine B. Feak. Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essential Tasks and Skills. Vol. 1, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004.

Weise, Elizabeth. "Climate Change the New Vietnam War? Generation Z Poised to Change Us Politics with Activism." USA Today, May 6, 2019. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/05/06/generation-z-poised-change-us-politics-climate-change-activism/1090104001/.

 

Learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board on the Bedford New Scholars Community page.

Hailed as a "must-see" movie for the apres-weekend water cooler crowd, and warily monitored by everyone from local police departments to survivors of the Aurora, Colorado massacre, Joker has surpassed its opening box office predictions and has already succeeded in becoming the current cinematic talk of the town. Such movies always make for student-engaging essay and discussion topics, and I expect that many college instructors across the country are already crafting assignments about this latest installment in the comics-inspired universe of Hollywood blockbusters.

 

But while many such assignments will be likely to invite debates on the advisability of making such a movie as Joker in the light of an epidemic of lunatic-loner mass shootings, while others (especially in film studies departments) will focus on the revival of the Scorsese/De Niro "character study" formula that made Taxi Driver a movie classic (heck, Joaquin Phoenix even channeled his inner-De Niro by losing a ton of weight Raging Bull style for the role, and, of course, De Niro's in the film too), a cultural semiotic analysis of the movie would take a different approach, which I will sketch out here.

 

To begin with, we can ask the question, "what does the enduring popularity of the Joker in American popular culture tell us?" For alone among the multitudinous villains of comic book history, the Joker returns again and again, now to star as the protagonist in his own feature film. Where's the Penguin, we might ask, or Clayface? What is it about this character that has captured the American imagination?

 

As with any semiotic analysis, let's start with the history of the Joker. In the beginning he was a Dick Tracy-like gangster in the tradition of Conan Doyle's evil genius Professor Moriarty, heading his own organized crime syndicate. Given a camped-up star turn in the Batman TV series of the 1960s, the Joker joined with Burgess Meredith's Penguin and a host of other really funny, but essentially harmless, villains in the days when fist fights (SMASH! BAM! POW!) were considered sufficient violence for a prime time children's television program.

 

The key change in the Joker's portrayal (the critical semiotic difference) came in the 1980s, when Frank Miller and Grant Morrison darkened the scenario considerably, turning the quondam clown into a psychopathic killer. This was the Joker that Jack Nicholson channeled in Tim Burton's Batman, and which Heath Ledger took further into the darkness in The Dark Knight. It's important to point out, however, that while Nicholson's Joker is a merciless killer, he is also very funny (his trashing of the art museum is, um, a riot), and his back story includes an acid bath that has ruined his face, providing a kind of medical excuse for his behavior. Ledger's Joker, on the other hand, isn't funny at all, and his unconvincing attempt to attribute his bad attitude to childhood abuse isn't really supposed to be taken seriously by anyone. The point is simply that he is a nihilistic mass murderer who likes to kill people—even his own followers. And unlike the past Jokers, he isn't in it for the money, incinerating a huge pile of cash with one of his victims tied up at the top to prove it.

 

The trajectory here is clear, and the makers of Joker were very well aware of it. Rather than turn back the clock to introduce a kinder, gentler Joker (you're laughing derisively at the suggestion, and that's precisely my point), Todd Phillips and Scott Silver quite knowingly upped the ante, earning an R-rating that is quite unusual for a comics-themed movie. Well, Deadpool got there first, but that's part of the point, too.

 

For in spite of the film's attempt to pass itself off as a study of the pathologizing effects of socioeconomic inequality, that isn't its appeal at all, and it doesn't explain why this particular character was chosen to be the protagonist. Just think, what if someone made a movie called Marx: the Alienation Effect in Contemporary Capitalism, based on the best-seller Das Kapital? No, I'm afraid that the Joker's popularity isn't political in any truly revolutionary sense. He's way too much of a loner, and too weird. There's something else going on here.

 

Before one succumbs to the temptation to simply say that Joker is a movie for psychopathic wannabes, let's just remember that the domestic box office for the film's first weekend was 96 million dollars. There just aren't that many psychopaths out there to sell so many tickets. No, the desire for an ever-darkening Joker is clearly a very widespread one, and the success of the afore-mentioned Deadpool franchise—not to mention Game of Thrones' wildly popular funhouse-mirror distortions of Tolkien's primly moralistic Middle Earth—only amplifies the evidence that Americans—especially younger Americans—are drawn to this sort of thing. But why?

 

I think that the new detail in the Joker's origin story that is introduced in the movie, portraying him as a failed standup comic and clown, is a good clue to the matter. We could say that Arthur Fleck's great dreams—at least in his mind—have been betrayed, and there's a familiar ring to this as a generation of millennials, burdened with college debt and college degrees that lead nowhere, faces a country that many feel is betraying them. It is significant in this regard that the darkening of the Joker began in the 1980s, the decade when the American dream began to crumble under the weight of the Reagan tax cuts, massive economic "restructuring," and two recessions from which the working and middle classes never fully recovered. What happened in response wasn't a revolution: it was anger and despair, spawning a kind of Everyman disillusionment with traditional authority (including moral authority), conspiracy theories, and fantasies of breaking loose and taking things into one's own hands.

 

Which makes characters like the Joker rather like Breaking Bad's Walter White, whose response to economic disruption was to become disruptive. White's Everyman revolt didn't instigate an epidemic of middle-class drug lords; it simply entertained an angry America with the trappings of vicarious fantasy. The success of Joker just a few years after the end of Heisenberg shows that the fantasy is getting darker still.

 

Smash. Bam. Pow.

 

 

Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 1433326 by annca, used under Pixabay License

 

Ernest Hemingway is said to have remarked that “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” Enigmatic, for sure. But also probably pretty good advice. I’ve been thinking about trust a lot lately, since it seems to be in very short supply. Who can you trust? According to pundits, everyday citizens, and lots of students I talk to, the answer is discouraging. Can’t trust the media. Can’t trust the government. Can’t trust politicians. Can’t trust . . . just about any institution or group. The failure of trust is no doubt related to the rise of tribalism, in-groups, be-and-think-just-like-me “friends.”

 

Pretty depressing. Yet I also sense a longing for trust—for true confidence in someone or something (or both). This summer as I was talking with students in several settings, I asked them about trust and who they trusted. Most mentioned a family member or friend first, but when it came to second or third on the list, the name of a teacher came up a number of times. In a couple of instances, students said they trusted a teacher because “he’s always honest with me,” and because “she always follows through; if she says she will do something, she always does it. I like that.”

 

The last couple of weeks I’ve written about teachers who seemed to me to be trusted by students—even those who didn’t always agree with them—and who reciprocated that trust. (Click here or here to read those posts.) I’ve been thinking about how trust arises in a classroom setting, how it can grow from small seeds. So being honest with students and always telling the truth seems like a good way to begin. But right behind that is the kind of reliability and consistency that the student above mentions regarding “follow through.” I don’t think this kind of consistency is what Ralph Waldo Emerson had in mind when he said that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” In other words, this kind of (non-foolish) reliability or consistency doesn’t obviate spontaneity. Rather, by helping to establish a trusting environment, it makes room for spontaneity.

 

And what else? I’d say giving everyone a fair hearing, listening hard, being able to admit it if you don’t know something, taking time to explain and explain again, and demonstrating care even while holding to a high standard—these are the building blocks of trust. Not rocket science, but hard nonetheless. And time consuming: Teachers instinctively know that this kind of trust isn’t generated in a day but only through persistence and through classroom talk—open and caring talk.

 

That can be hard to come by in these cynical and often hateful times. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. And our students are hungry for such trust, for the safety that it engenders, for a place they can be fully themselves and fully open to learning.

 

Do you have ways you build trust in your classroom? Do your students have insights into what such trust means to them? If so, I would love for you to join me in a guest blog post. Please do!

 

Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3470201 by rawpixel, used under the Pixabay License