This assignment was given during a class titled History of Argument. The originator of this assignment is retired professor, Dr. Chris Burnham. I have modified this assignment for my own use, after working as an RA for 4 years with Dr. Burnham, and after his retirement. I use it in my English 111 – Rhetoric and Composition class, which is a first-year composition course. (Dr. Burnham has granted permission to share this assignment on the Macmillan English Community.)
This is a social justice project that can be scaffolded over the course of a 15-week semester, culminating in a final exam in the form of a project. The final project consists of a written portion, a handout, and a presentation using the media that best serves the aims of the project. The assignment itself is broken into three main parts, which are explained in detail below.
The big idea is that the student will find something that they are passionate about, that they will research it, and will advocate action or policy to further the passion.
The Advocacy Project
Find It! Feed It! Put it to work!
I want you to find something you are passionately interested in, research it, and advocate action or policy to further your passion. I want you to link your advocacy topic/issue to a social justice issue.
This project comes in three parts. This is a brief summary of those parts:
First, you must find your passion. Several discovery and invention activities will help you find your advocacy topic. These activities will draw on times in which you felt that you or others had faced adversity. These activities will involve Canvas postings explaining what issue or problem you want to advocate and responding to the postings of others.
Once found, you will feed your passion. The second part of the project is the Problem/Issue Analysis described below. Both of these activities will prepare you to create the most effective advocacy possible. If you work hard on discovery and on the analysis by completing the research necessary and thinking through the whole advocacy project as we outline below, you will be in excellent shape to succeed with your presentation. We will discuss examples of previous advocacy projects. You will see from the examples that the field is wide open.
Finally, you will have a chance to put your passion to work. Inspire us (your teacher and classmates) with passionate advocacy persuading us to follow your plan to accomplish some positive action for the good of your community, our nation, and our world. To do this, you will design and present your own Advocacy Project Presentation.
We will negotiate what shape your presentation will take in conferences. The discovery and analysis procedures give you a structure and format to follow in order to document background work that might not show up in your final product. But the quality of the final presentation absolutely depends on the preparatory work.
The Advocacy Project carries 40 points, broken down as follows:
|Canvas Discovery Writing and Responses||5 points|
|Problem/Issue Analysis||20 points|
|Advocacy Project Presentation with documentation||15 points|
Further Explanation of the Parts
Part 1 - Find Your Passion
Canvas Postings: Choosing and Negotiating Advocacy Project Topics
Canvas Assignment 1 — Passion, Controversy, and Commitment — Due (Enter Date)
1-A) Find it!
Write about what you want to advocate and why you want to advocate for it.
- Why are you interested?
- What personal experiences do you, or someone close to you have to this topic?
- Are you potentially too close to this topic to do research on it?
- Why does it inspire passion in you?
- What questions do you want to answer?
- What controversies surround your topic?
- What are the positive and negative positions regarding the issue?
- What do current policies and practices allow or disallow and why?
- Who suffers or benefits by the status quo?
- How does the issue or problem reflect a social justice concern?
- What is your position on the controversy? Why, without having become an expert through research yet, do you feel or believe so?
- What specific audience will you address and what will you expect them to do about your issue?
- What genre or form will your advocacy take, i.e., a newspaper editorial, a letter to an official who can effect policy or law, a pamphlet, a speech before a specific group, a webpage, a Power Point presentation, a film, a podcast, a social media campaign? Explore different possibilities. I will talk more about this with you during our first conference.
Remember, effective advocacy is persuasive; i.e., your work is aimed at a specific audience and is designed to move them toward specific action. How can you get them to listen? How will you get them on your side? How will you move them to enact your recommendations?
Write about all these questions. Use the information you discovered to write a coherent essay proposal explaining your project and its value, and helping a reader understand the what, why, how, and so what of your project.
This should take between 750 and 1,000 words. Edit and proofread, and then post to Canvas on the Advocacy Project discussion topic page. These must be posted by (Enter date).
1-B) We Hear You: Go for it!
Canvas Assignment 2 — Personal Responses — Due (Enter Date)
Once topics have been posted, begin reading your colleagues' topics. Read them all. Read them closely; you might get ideas for your own project.
Once you’ve read, then write a personal response (use the Canvas email function) to two (2) of the posted writings. In your responses:
- Let the writer know what you think about the issue.
- Is it interesting and relevant? Why or why not.
- How do you as a person connect with the topic?
- Ask the writer two questions about the topic.
- What suggestions or insights about the topic, research, or genre can you offer?
The aim here is to be helpful, “you’re working on IMPORTANT STUFF — GO FOR IT!” You will also need to tell them why using the bullet points above. I will not read the personal responses. But you will identify who wrote responses to your writing and whether and how they were helpful in the Problem/Issue Analysis. The emails are informal writing that might lead to additional communication and collaboration.
The response cycle needs to be completed by (Enter date).
We will have topic workshop during which we will discuss your topic proposals during class the week of (Enter date), and I will approve your project topic soon after that workshop. Once your topic has been approved, review your original posting and your peer responses. Based on the posting, feedback responses, and additional thinking, turn all this into a coherent, thesis-driven Advocacy Proposal Essay, due via Canvas on (Enter date). More information will follow. Once I have had a chance to review your Advocacy Proposal Essays, we will schedule individual office conferences to discuss your evolving project in some detail.
Part 2 - Feed Your Passion
Preparing to Advocate — Problem/Issue Analysis
Step 1. Context and Problem/Issue Statement
Describe the problem or issue in a few succinct paragraphs. Establish the context by tracing the history behind the problem or issue and explaining why the problem or issue deserves attention now. What is the kairos and exigency of the issue?
In this section, also address who is served or benefited by the status quo and who is harmed by it. You might also address the degree of benefit or harm since this might be a key factor in your argument. Connect your particular issue with a larger social justice concern. For example, if your issue involves public education, you could discuss the role public education is playing or failing to play in enabling students, future citizens, to pursue economic opportunities that benefit themselves as well as society in general. Remember that you have already considered these concerns in Part 1.
Step 2. Stasis — Stuck Points: Points of Agreement/Disagreement
Establish the major arguments pro and con regarding the problem or issue. Because you may already have a position, you must complete research to discover how those opposed to your position believe and think or might argue.
Rather than paragraphs, I recommend this section be organized using strong statements regarding the opposing positions. Under each strong statement, use a bulleted list to organize the evidence on each side. The bulleted lists should demonstrate a hierarchy discriminating significant opposition from trivial or inconsequential evidence. The hierarchy of evidence will help you determine which points need attention through rebuttal or concession.
Step 3. Rebuttals and Concessions (Logic and Fallacy Analysis)
Again, using sentence-long statements, rather than paragraphs, consider how the opposing positions would counter these claims. If you can rebut the claim, do so. If you cannot, decide how to concede the counter claim in a way that does not seriously damage the other position? Should the alternative point simply be ignored or dismissed? Again, what impact would this have on the overall argument?
Remember: your analysis/assessment of potential opposition to your position and recommendations for action must be ethical, i.e., honest, robust, and respectful. Only by completely and respectfully treating both/all sides of an issue can you expect anyone to listen and respond to your position and recommendation.
Step 4. Your Position and Proposal for Action
In a few succinct paragraphs articulate your position and imagine in writing what you want done in response to the problem or issue. Use the evidence uncovered in your research to explain why you are taking the position. Identify your “winningest” arguments and the evidence backing them. Why are they persuasive? Make sure you are providing your audience with a clear plan of action. They must know what you want them to do about the issue.
Step 5. Audience Analysis
Now that you have completed research and preliminary thinking about the problem or issue, determine the audience you want to address. In a paragraph describe this audience in detail. Create a “real” audience in the sense of knowing enough about them and who they are and what they believe that you can earn their respect.
Consider the following:
- Why is the problem or issue relevant to this audience?
- How is this audience in a position to act to change the status quo?
Finally, consider what you want your audience to do? Write a paragraph or so guided by the considerations that follow:
- Do you want your audience to shift their thinking along the lines of admitting that there is a problem needing to be solved?
- Are you asking for a significant change of opinion that conflicts with the audience’s values and beliefs?
- Are you asking for the audience to act concretely in response to an argument? Can they accomplish what you ask?
- All of the above?
As you consider your audience, make sure you create a space for their individual values and beliefs. Treat them with respect. If you do not make space that recognizes and demonstrates that you value their positions and beliefs, you will not truly engage them. You will be talking to yourself, “preaching to the choir,” so to speak.
Step 6. Evaluation According to Rhetorical Appeals
Let’s not forget Aristotle. Once you have completed all the analyses noted above, review what you have come up with. Evaluate your position through the screen of the appeals.
Have you discovered sufficient logos-based arguments to convince a reasonable audience of the correctness and “action-ability” of your argument?
Have you established your character in such a way that the audience can consider you trustworthy and knowledgeable? Would they consider you virtuous?
Have you established yourself as someone of goodwill interested in the well-being of your audience? Are you presenting your arguments in an ethical manner, i.e., accurately presenting the opposition, making your argument transparent? Are you seeming disinterested?
Have you demonstrated through research, analysis, and reflection the “practical wisdom” necessary to have the audience believe in you and your project?
To what degree do you want to appeal to your audience’s emotions and fears? Consider the fine line between acting from greed or sensible self-interest, and from emotion-laden fear or enlightened self-preservation. If you do make a blatant appeal to pathos in your final product, you must anticipate all that could go wrong as a result of including it.
Step 7. Annotated Bibliography
Provide a bibliography (APA style preferred, MLA style OK) that provides complete citations for all the sources you used in preparing your final project. Your sources can include books, periodical articles, websites, interviews, etc. Include a brief annotation. The annotation includes a brief summary of the source, a justification of its significance—the “so what” factor, and a description of how you are using it in your project. I will not specify the number or types of sources you must include. You must demonstrate that you have mastered the issue and the controversies surrounding it.
Step 8. Canvas Responses
Finally, list the two classmates who responded to your initial Canvas posting. Summarize their responses and discuss how they were helpful, or not helpful, as you began your project.
Your writing about each step in this process will be submitted to me for evaluation when you make your presentation. List each of the headings and include your writing beneath them. Remember, the Problem/Issue Analysis is worth 20 points, half the value of the whole project. The Problem/Issue Analysis will be submitted via Canvas by the time you have given your Advocacy Project Presentation.
Part 3 - Put Your Passion to Work! Advocate!
Advocacy Project Presentation (Presentations will take place during Finals Week)
You will have ten minutes of class time during the last two weeks of class to make a presentation that will get us up out of chairs and cheering, marching, acting—anything short of civil disobedience (OK, including civil disobedience, but NONVIOLENT civil disobedience)—in support of your passion and cause. You will use various media during your presentation and will make the presentation available on our Canvas pages. Your Advocacy Project and documentation will be worth up to 15 points.
Boundaries? Guidelines? We will talk about these in conference. Use your imagination. Make your presentation reflect the depth of your passion
Get to work.
I am looking forward to these final projects. Good luck!