Teacher to Teacher

Andrea LunsfordANDREA A. LUNSFORD is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.

Celebrating long-term WPA Lisa Ede

posted: 10.23.14 by Andrea Lunsford

In recent months, I’ve followed a fascinating thread on the WPA listserv about members of the rhetoric and writing community who serve as long-term WPAs (writing program administrators). Indeed, it is not unusual for people in our field to be asked to take on administrative jobs: doing so more or less comes with the territory, since the departments we work in usually have writing programs that need guidance and leadership. It is also not unusual for such WPAs to go on to other administrative jobs, including associate deans, deans, provosts, and even presidents.

But I hadn’t reflected very much on how many of my colleagues in the field take on the direction of a program or writing center—and do so for a very long time, even though I did long stints directing programs at Ohio State and Stanford. Now that I am thinking about this trend, I can see the very strong and beneficial effect it has had across the country, where stable and imaginative and forward-looking writing program administrators have built exeplary programs. I could list dozens of names here and you probably can too. But for this post I want to celebrate one particular long-term WPA, my friend and co-author of almost 45 years, Lisa Ede. Like many others in our age group, Lisa was trained in literature—she wrote a dissertation on Victorian nonsense poetry. But she did so at Ohio State, when Edward P. J. Corbett was just beginning to gather a group of students vitally interested in rhetoric and writing, and where they had recently hired Susan Miller as WPA. Lisa had not much luck on the literature job market—the mid-seventies were very, very tough years—but to her surprise, she eventually got an offer from SUNY Brockport in 1976—to be Director of Composition. So the work Lisa had been doing on her own to join the field shifted into high gear, and she was immersed in the pedagogy and theory and practice of writing studies. Then in 1980, she had an offer to move across the country to Oregon State to take on directorship of their program, which was hugely exciting to me as I had taken a job at the University of British Columbia in 1977 and was thrilled at the prospect of having Lisa just down I-5 from Vancouver.

Lisa took this administrative and teaching position, and held it for over thirty years. In that time, she developed the Center for Writing and Learning into one of the most outstanding writing centers in the country and was instrumental in shaping writing pedagogy at Oregon State, not only in the department of English, but across campus. Like many other long-time WPAs, Lisa has mentored thousands of students who would go on to become writing consultants in the Center and with whom she is in touch years after their graduation. Also like other long-time WPAs, she has left her very positive mark on the culture of writing at Oregon State.

Along the way, Lisa and I began collaborating with one another, writing our first co-authored piece as a tribute to Edward P. J. Corbett. The startled outcry from friends and colleagues (this was in the early ‘80s), that we couldn’t possibly write together and that if we did we would never get tenure, caught us by surprise, intrigued us, and got our backs up. Lisa is one stubborn character, and she would probably say the same about me. At any rate, we decided to keep writing together and to begin research on how much writing in the world is done collaboratively. Since that time we’ve published two books and dozens of articles advocating co- and group-authorship. And at last, our ship seems to have come in: “collaboration” is on everyone’s lips these days, thanks in large part to technologies that have enabled and demanded collaborative work.

Of course Lisa did all this research and scholarship and pubishing all the while teaching and administering full time: and she did so with her characteristic meticulous attention to detail, courage in the face of cuts and threatened cuts of all kinds, and grace, and wit, and more.

Thus Lisa is a model of what we celebrate when we celebrate long-time writing program administrators. And I’m thrilled to join her colleagues and friends for a special one-day conference in her honor, coming right up on October 24, 2014. My hope is that other similar celebrations are going on around the country for all those other exemplary leaders who are long-term WPAs. For right now, though, you can find more information about the conference honoring Lisa here.

 

 

 

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Why teach figurative language?

posted: 10.16.14 by Andrea Lunsford

I have followed the work of Michael Chorost for a long time, since Brenda Brueggemann introduced me to his work on disability studies back in 2001. I will never forget reading the electrifying piece he wrote on losing his hearing completely and then, after having a cochlear implant and working diligently to relearn how to hear, experiencing once again the unforgettable opening notes of his beloved Boléro. Since then I’ve read his Rebuilt: My Journey Back to the Hearing World and a number of pieces he has contributed to Wired

So I was delighted to come across a piece by Chorost in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Your Brain on Metaphors.” It begins like this:

The player kicked the ball.

The patient kicked the habit.

The villain kicked the bucket.

 

The verbs are the same.

The syntax is identical.

Does the brain notice, or care,

that the first is literal, the second

            metaphorical, the third idiomatic?

 

It sounds like a question that only a linguist could love. But neuroscientists have been trying to answer it using exotic brain-scanning technologies. . . . The hypothesis driving their work is that metaphor is central to language. Metaphor used to be thought of as merely poetic ornamentation, aesthetically pretty but otherwise irrelevant. “Love is a rose, but you better not pick it,” sang Neil Young in 1977, riffing on the timeworn comparison between a sexual partner and a pollinating perennial. For centuries, metaphor was just the place where poets went to show off.

And that’s the everyday understanding of metaphor and other figurative language, that it is just thought in fancy dress, something ornamental but not fundamental.

Aristotle did not agree. In the Poetics, he says “the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learned from others; it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an eye for resemblance,” and he also wrote about the importance of metaphor in the Rhetoric. But when the substance of rhetoric (invention and arrangement) were removed from the province of rhetoric by Ramus in the 16th century, that left style as the main province of rhetoric—the less important “fluff” that fancied up the substantive stuff of prose. And that’s the tradition that led to the current widespread misunderstanding of figurative language and its relationship to thought.

Chorost’s article—and the work of contemporary neuroscience—strongly suggest that we rethink the role figurative language, and especially metaphor, plays in thinking and writing today. In doing so, Chorost draws on the work of Lakoff and Johnson, whose Metaphors We Live By made the case (in the 1980s) that metaphor is a foundational constituent of language and thought. To say “she’s out of sight” suggests a container that “she” has somehow escaped. The visual field referred to isn’t really a container, of course, but rather a metaphor. In fact, our language is so full of metaphors—many of which we don’t even recognize or “see”—that once you begin to think about it they are everywhere. Everywhere.

Chorost’s essay reviews contemporary neuroscience attempts to build computers that can generate and understand metaphors, which is part of the project of conceiving of computers that think like humans. While some are enthusiastic about the prospects, others see this goal as far off if not unreachable. In the case of metaphor, not only do they differ across languages but they also are understood differently by different people. The incredible complexity of language, and—Lakoff argues—the fact that language is embodied, distributed across our bodies and brains, makes it unlikely that computers can replicate it any time soon. In Lakoff’s view, computers can surely run models of neural processes, but without those processes being embodied (as language is) the models will never achieve the level of consciousness. So for Lakoff and many others, the use of metaphors (and other figurative language) is distinctly human, distinctly embodied.

Michael Chorost isn’t so sure, and he concludes his essay by saying that what is emerging from contemporary work in neuroscience isn’t just a theory of metaphor (or language) but a theory of consciousness:

Any algorithmic system faces the problem of bootstrapping itself from computing to knowing, from bit-shuffling to caring. Igniting previously stored memories of bodily experiences seems to be one way of getting there. And so may be the ability to create asymmetric neural linkages that say this is like (but not identical to) that. In an age of brain scanning as well as poetry, that’s where metaphor gets you.

 

Maybe my RAM is like a red, red rose.

While we wait to see what neuroscientists and linguists discover about language and consciousness, we should take a tip from Michael Chorost and start paying very careful attention to figurative language in our teaching and in student writing. Especially in social media writing, where brevity is highly valued, metaphor plays a key role. Yet students rarely recognize their own use of figurative language, even when it is carrying a lot of the freight of what they’re trying to say. I’m beginning to ask students to start by paying close attention to what they and others say (and write) just for a couple of hours a day, recording everything they think might have anything to do with figurative language. We then use this data for a discussion on the definition, nature, and scope of figurative language, and especially teasing out and exploring metaphors where we find them. I find that students are amazed to see how much of their language—and their thinking—is based on metaphor.

In an age of what Richard Lanham calls “fluff”—that is, the age of information and especially information overload—what makes all the difference for writers is their ability to get and hold the attention of audiences. That’s why Lanham argues that style is the most important canon of rhetoric today: it provides tools and strategies for catching people’s attention, and holding it. Perhaps it’s time teachers of writing took a tip from Lanham, Chorost, Lakoff, and others and started putting our attention on style and especially figurative language as keys to effective communication.

[Image: Control rack of the Manchester SSEM, Alan Burlison on bleaklow.com]

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Multimodal Mondays – Fight Club and Social Media: Teaching Students the Importance of Conceding

posted: 10.13.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Eric Stephens is a graduate instructor at Utah State University. His research interests lie where popular culture, religion, pedagogy, and writing center theory and practice intersect. He has presented his work at several university symposiums and plans to present his most recent research at the International Writing Centers Association conference. You can reach Eric via his website and follow him on Twitter @eric_james86.

When I taught argumentation, the importance of conceding evaded my students. After some reflection, I realized I needed a new plan. As a writing instructor, I’ve tried to show my students how the various principles of writing and argumentation permeate their lives even when they don’t see it, so I wanted to do the same with conceding and argumentation. I brought my love of movies and social media into the classroom to help students understand why “losing” can be so effective.

Objective
To show students the value of conceding and critical thinking in their own writing and help them to see those principles in their day-to-day interactions on social media.

 The Assignment

 Part One: Introducing Losing
Whether in class or for homework, have each student watch these two TED Talk videos about argumentation:

Then lead the students in a discussion about the videos using these questions as guidelines:

  • How does Daniel Cohen define arguments?
  • Why do people argue in the academic sense?
  • Why does “losing” an argument really mean you “win” the argument?
  • Why are good arguers better at “losing” arguments?
  • Why do most of us avoid being wrong?
  • Why is the need to be right a problem for our culture?
  • According to Kathryn Schulz, what are the three assumptions we make when we think other people are wrong?
  • How do we avoid making those assumptions?

Part Two: Fight Club
After discussing the videos and the importance of being wrong during an argument, provide some context for the following scene from Fight Club:

In the preceding scene, the main character and founder of Fight Club, Tyler Durden, started a fight with an owner of a bar and intentionally lost it. After losing the fight, the owner of the bar allowed the club to continue meeting in his basement. Then, Tyler Durden gave each member of Fight Club their first homework assignment—to start a fight and lose it.

Part Three: Social Media
Now, introduce the writing portion of the assignment to your students. I recommend giving this assignment in two parts: once earlier in the week and one later in the week to allow time for completion.

Either in class or for homework, have each student find a comment thread from a blog or online article in which the author or commenter concedes a point. (You should guide your students to find something current and relevant to them.) Then each student should analyze the concession based on the following (or similar) questions:

  • What is the main argument of the article?
  • What point did the author or commenter concede?
  • Did the author or commenter transition into the concession? If so, how?
  • How did the author respond to the concession?
  • Did the concession strengthen or weaken the author’s argument? Why?

In order to avoid any feelings or tones of trolling, instruct each student not to respond to the thread but merely observe it. Each student should come to class with the discussion thread copy and pasted into a word document for class discussion.

Part Four: Class Discussion
With each student prepared with his or her discussion thread, have them divide into groups to explain and discuss their overall experience.

Then, lead the class in a discussion using the following questions as guidelines:

  • How does Daniel H. Cohen’s talk about arguing apply to your discussion threads?
  • How does Kathryn Schulz’s talk about the importance of being wrong apply to your discussion threads?
  • What can Tyler Durden teach us about writing? Is it important to “lose”?
  • How can we transfer the principle of conceding to your own writing?
  • Why would it be important to concede to others’ arguments in your own writing?

Conclusion
In my experience, several of my students dreaded the prospect of this assignment when explained. I believe it is a combination of 1) blending their academic lives with their social lives, and 2) they view concessions as weakness or defeat instead of argumentative strategies. However, once we came back to class to discuss their results, their response and attitudes surprised me. For the most part, they really enjoyed engaging in social media in a deeper way than they usually do. They also came away from the experience with practical knowledge of why conceding improves the quality of their own thinking and writing with the know-how in order to apply it.

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to leah.rang@macmillan.com for possible inclusion in a future post. 

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It’s Complicated!

posted: 10.9.14 by Andrea Lunsford

It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens is the latest work of danah boyd, who has been working on issues related to young people and technology since her graduate school days: she is now a Research Assistant Professor at NYU as well as Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research.  She blogs at Apophenia—I just read her recent thoughtful posting on the relationship between technologies and sex trafficking—and you can follow her on Twitter (of course!).

The class I taught with Adam Banks at the Bread Loaf School of English this summer read It’s Complicated, along with work by Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher, Henry Jenkins, Howard Rheingold, Lisa Nakamura, Peter Chow White, and Alondra Nelson.  I think it’s fair to say that boyd’s book got the toughest reading from this group of outstanding teachers, all of whom work daily with the young people boyd is talking about in her book.  Our students (all teachers) were engaged by the book, but a good number of them viewed boyd as a “cheerleader” for technology and for young people’s engagement with it, so much so that they felt the report she gives in her book is clearly and sharply biased.  “She’s far too tough on parents and teachers,” they said.

As a reader, my typical approach is one of saying “yes” to the author and her/his intentions before I say “maybe” or “no.”  So I went into boyd’s book with that in mind, trying to read it from her perspective.  And I came away with the impression of a skilled researcher who has studied young people’s engagement with technologies for years and who has a good bit of faith in them.  But that doesn’t amount to a sharp bias to me—rather, an inclination, an “attitude” to use Burke’s term.  Certainly boyd is a strong critic of the kind of paternalism and protectionism she sees at work in many schools and homes.  She is an equally strong advocate for youth and for their desire to use technologies in establishing identity (or identities) and, especially, to be both public and in public:

Although some teens are looking for the attention that comes with being public, most teens are simply looking to be in public.  Most are focused on what it means to be a part of a broader social world. They want to connect with and participate in culture, both to develop a sense of self and to feel as though they are a part of society.  Some even see publics as an opportunity for activism.  These teens are looking to actively participate in public life in order to make the world a better place. (206)

My own research supports this conclusion regarding the desire of young people to participate in the broader culture, and as boyd’s book so dramatically shows, they are doing so around the country and indeed around the world in a very wide variety of ways.

So on the whole, I come down as an appreciative reader of boyd’s work, grateful for her many insights into youth culture and thinking.  If you haven’t read It’s Complicated, take a look.  What she describes is indeed complicated, and well worth our attention.

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Multimodal Mondays: Community Wikis As Collaborative Service Projects

posted: 10.6.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s Multimodal Mondays post comes from guest blogger Jeanne Law Bohannon.

In their collaborative text, Writing Together, Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford discuss the participatory process of new media writing in terms of how it “provides opportunities for writerly agency, even as it challenges notions of intellectual property” (241).  Their argument makes me think about multi-authored pieces as more than just assignments.  Opportunities for diverse acts of composition, often taking the form of Wikis, create, nurture, and produce communities of writers as much as they produce well-researched, living products that can live and serve audiences outside of our university walls.  Digital writing spaces, such as Wikis, provide a basecamp for these types of projects that can grow over time, through iterations and editions based on feedback from audiences and users.

When we produce these organic digitalities as communal practice, we also produce opportunities for student-scholars to negotiate their own rhetorical growth and take ownership of associated outcomes. The foundations of democratic learning pair exceptionally well with multimodal acts of composition and the community-building components of our digital tools.

For the Wiki writing assignment I describe here, students work first as single authors and researchers, and then in a large, collaborative group of writers led by two student editors.   In addition to rhetorical goals of textual process and production, students also practice evaluation and feedback methods as they discuss theirs and others’ single-authored entries among their community members in an open atmosphere.  We often work in what our Women in STEM editors call “creative chaos,” in a computer lab where a group of writers simultaneously edits individual pieces of text using Google Docs.

Goals

  • Learn to effectively use collaborative writing spaces (Wikis) as an invention tool
  • Learn to write with peers to develop single-authored pieces within a holistic text
  • Design an e-document with consistency in structure, syntax, and visuality
  • Articulate and negotiate meaning for a diverse audience of readers

The Assignment
Here is a summary, written by our editors, of what we did for our Wiki project in a special topics composition course, titled “Women In STEM.” Our group’s overarching goal for our Wiki was to produce well-researched, single-authored entries and combine them into a consistent e-text, then disseminate the linked document to organizations and schools for curriculum enrichment for grades 7-12.

“As a research project for an SPSU composition course, student-scholars created a Wiki for educational use across disciplines in middle and high schools.  This collaborative, digital resource recovers forgotten women in STEM fields and provides an educational space for writing across the curriculum in secondary learning environments.  We envision this e-document as a resource for both teachers and students to engage in activities connected to women in STEM.  Please feel free to share this Wiki with others.  Editors Amelia Dunbar and Woodrow Kavanaugh, as well as our staff of writers, welcome you to distribute this Wiki far and wide to help contribute to our community of knowledge.” Women in STEM Wiki

Suggested Background Reading for Students and Instructors

  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 2, “Rhetorical Situations”; Ch. 6, “Working with Others”
  • The Everyday Writer: Ch. 5, “Rhetorical Situations”; Section 6g, “Collaborate”
  • Writing in Action: Ch. 4, “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 7h, “Collaboration and Communication”
  • EasyWriter: Sections 1c-1g in “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 1h, “Collaboration”
  • PBWorks Help Page

Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation
A wiki project requires a collaborative writing space, either physical, virtual or a hybrid.

  1. Before class, students research a specific topic within a larger field of interest.  Students in our group researched women in STEM fields for two weeks.
  2. Then, each student brings her/his selected subjects from chosen topics to the group.  In our project, each individual writer came to the group with at least two women in STEM that the writer identified as opportunities for recovery.
  3. Narrow the big list of possible subjects down to a manageable list (very subjective!).  As a group, we narrowed the list down to twenty entries.  Each participant took ownership for one woman-subject.
  4. After two weeks of initial research and a week or so of group discussion, students nominate and choose one or two editors to manage the project.  In our group, I stepped back completely, and our two student-chosen editors ran our collaborative editing sessions in class.

Now, we’re ready to “wiki.”

In Class
In-class collaboration is the foundation of a Wiki writing project.  So, instructors should work with writers and editors to schedule “Write & Design” studio days for collaborative writing and editing. I have found that, out of a 16-week semester, a third of instructional days after the initial three-week research period, works best to allow for a usable end product.

Our group identified writing and designing days and placed them on our LMS calendar.  The group decided on penalties for no-shows on those days.  This act was an important community-building distinction and was enforced by the editors on a case-by-case basis.  In fact, I have never had students decline to participate in these days (emergencies excepted), because by this time they generally understand and value their vital role in our community of writers and they see the value of our textual production to a larger community.

On “Write & Design” days, activities include:

  • Heading/sub-heading organization of content
  • Defining visual rhetorics and parameters for all entries
  • Ensuring consistency in word counts for individual entries
  • Finding and sourcing visuals for each entry
  • Building syntactical and formatting consistency among entries (we used MLA and multiple Wiki examples as general guides)
  • Navigating the Wiki platform (we used PBWorks ) to upload and design the overarching e-document

Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity
In the last editing round and final upload of Wiki articles, the community of writers participates in de-briefing sessions, led by student editors.  Our group assessed our Wiki using questions like the following:

  • How well did we collaborate on individual pieces and on the whole text?
  • How consistent is the final product for structure, syntax and visuality?
  • What community audiences can we further identify to use our Wiki?
  • How might we improve a Wiki writing experience now and for future students?

The editors and I both recorded feedback and posted it on our course blog for everyone to read and respond.

My Wiki POV
The key to a group’s success with a community service wiki is two fold: 1) produce a piece of easily accessible e-text for groups outside of a university to use; and 2) each student produces and takes credit for a single-authored piece of the text and attaches her/his name to it.  These single-authored pieces, as well as the entire e-document for editors, become lines on their Curriculum Vitas, which gives each writer a defined, scholarly accomplishment.

As I reflect on why I argue that we should do collaborative Wiki projects, I have found that a great impetus for authentic, student engagement is democratic writing that serves a greater purpose.  Students are far more likely to engage in a writing course and achieve learning goals if they know that their writing will be read and valued by communities outside of our university walls.  In composition courses, Wikis are an easy and intuitive way for students to practice their research, writing, and design skills for a diverse audience of users.

For us as instructors, our fundamental role in collaborative text production is to step back, facilitate support in seeking out community audiences, and provide instruction on the rhetorical elements necessary for effective community-based writing.  When we are able to step away from the center and let our students take the lead, we engender their growth as rhetors and scholars, helping them develop informed voices as they enter into multi-discursive conversations.

Please visit our Women in STEM wiki and let us know what you think!

I also welcome and value all individual feedback.  Please visit my blogs: http://rhetoricmatters.org/ and http://growthb4grades.edublogs.org/.

 Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Southern Polytechnic State University.  She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become accountable for their own growth though authentic engagement in class communities.  Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies, critical pedagogies, and New Media theory; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing student scholars.  Reach Jeanne at jbohanno@spsu.edu.

 

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to leah.rang@macmillan.com for possible inclusion in a future post. 

 

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Steven Pinker traces the source of bad writing

posted: 10.2.14 by Andrea Lunsford

In September 25’s Wall Street Journal, Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker (author of The Language Instinct, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and many other books) published an essay on “The Source of Bad Writing.” You can read the essay here—and it looks to be an excerpt from a chapter in his hot-off-the-presses The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, a volume I will review soon.

The perils of failing to sense “the reader over your shoulder.”

In the meantime, in the pages of the WSJ, Pinker identifies the source of a great deal of bad writing as a failure to sense “the reader over your shoulder.” In short, bad writing results from writers not understanding that their audiences don’t know exactly what they know, that they need to modulate their sentences and paragraphs with readers’ needs firmly in mind. He gives lots of good examples: from the class-fulls of students who send him attachments each with the exact same file name, to a noted speaker who is aghast to find that his audience hasn’t understood a word of what he has said. He calls this flaw in writers “the curse of knowledge”:

How can we lift the curse of knowledge? The traditional advice—always remember the reader over your shoulder—is not as effective as you might think. None of us has the power to see everyone else’s private thoughts, so just trying harder to put yourself in someone else’s shoes doesn’t make you much more accurate in figuring out what that person knows. But it’s a start. So for what it’s worth: Hey, I’m talking to you. Your readers know a lot less about your subject than you think, and unless you keep track of what you know that they don’t, you are guaranteed to confuse them.

Pinker also provides a bit of additional advice for how to avoid such bad writing: first, make sure to give your writing to colleagues and friends for review; if they don’t understand you, chances are others won’t either. Second, he suggests that you “show a draft to yourself, ideally after enough time has passed that the text is no longer familiar.”

If this advice sounds familiar to writing researchers and instructors, it should. Writing in 1979, Linda Flower identified “Writer-Based Prose: A Cognitive Basis for Problems in Writing,” and went on to elaborate on the differences between such prose (which is highly interiorized and unaware of audience concerns) and reader-based prose, which acknowledges the audience and its needs. Flower carried out extensive research on this phenomenon and wrote widely about how to recognize and address writer-based prose. Much of what she recommended 36 years ago is now commonplace in writing studies, with its emphasis on audience awareness, kairos, and, especially, peer review and revision. These are staples of every writing program today.

I look forward to reading Pinker’s book: he’s an engaging writer and I have learned a great deal by studying his works on language, the brain, and human behavior. I’ll report if I do, or do not, learn anything new about writing and how best to teach it.

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Multimodal Mondays: Composing Identities with Literacies Experience Timelines

posted: 9.29.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Southern Polytechnic State University.  Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, 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. This week, Kim shares her multimodal visual timelines assignment and some student projects. You can reach Kim at khaimesk@spsu.edu or at actsofcomposition.khaimesk.org

“I felt that our Timeline project was the most intellectually involved assignment I’ve had in a long time. I felt more inclined to give my full attention, and express myself more than I would in a typical task. I especially felt free in not being afraid to show who I am” ~Jacob ~

Composition teachers have long used literacy narrative assignments to promote rhetorical awareness and critical thinking about the ways our literacy experiences shape our lives and academic work.  I extend on this assignment expanding our definitions of literacies to include all kinds of texts and discourse communities (both traditional and digital) that have impacted our lives.  Our class discussion focuses on the ways one is considered “literate” in this day and age.  In this Literacies Experiences Timeline assignment, my students explore and reflect on these types of literacy experiences and use a multimodal, visual timeline to help tell our stories.

The assignment asks students to place their literacy experiences on a digital visual timeline.   Most of the students use Dipity, an online timeline creator, but they can choose other timeline and presentation applications as well.   In the timeline creator, students place their experiences in chronological order and compose descriptive bubbles to accompany each entry.  Each bubble contains a description of the literacy experience along with a multimodal representative image (a photo, drawing, video, animation, podcast, screenshot, etc.).   I encourage students to move beyond mere information about their digital artifacts, explore the ways their own experiences overlap with the artifacts they described, and connect the artifacts to their overall messages and purposes.   The selection of the artifacts is important as it asks students to think critically and selectively about their literacy experiences.  They have to look at the design of their lives and realize which events were meaningful and which ones shaped their developing perspectives, decisions and identities.

After students create and revise their timelines (through peer feedback), they  compose a contextualized authors’ statement in which they describe their literacy experiences as a whole, analyzing the isolated bubbles on the timeline. The purpose of this part of the assignment is to consider a larger audience and to rhetorically contextualize their timelines (they will later embed these as part of their blogs).   In other words, they have to bring purpose, audience, voice, and perspective to their timelines to situate them in a different rhetorical context.  The assignment calls for them to bring together the textual and the visual in meaningful ways for this multimodal form.

Assignment Goals

  • Explore the broad definition of literacies including digital literacies and discourse communities.
  • Help students gain rhetorical awareness as they compose for different audience, purposes, genres and contexts.
  • Introduce multimodal peer responding techniques.
  • Engage students in ethical digital practices through online citation instruction and introduction to public domain and creative commons resources.

Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of textual and visual design using multimodal elements are on-going learning opportunities for instructors.  Below, I have listed a few foundational texts and helpful links.  I encourage teachers to add to and enrich the list.

  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 21, “Online Texts”; Ch. 2, “Rhetorical Situations”; Ch. 23, “Design for Writing”       
  • The Everyday Writer and Writer’s Help E-Book: Section 3a, “Plan online assignments”; Ch. 5, “Rhetorical Situations”;  Ch. 9, “Making Design Decisions”             
  • Writing in Action: Ch. 6, “Multimodal Assignments”; Ch. 4 “A Writer’s Choices”; Ch. 8, “Making Design Decisions”               
  • EasyWriter: Ch. 4, “Multimodal Writing”; Ch. 1, “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 2f, “Designing”
  • Timeline Creator: Dipity  (Note – we did find that this application worked better with certain browsers – another lesson in digital pedagogies)
  • Creative Commons and other public domain sites
  • Mark Prensky, “Digital Immigrants, Digital Natives
  • The Idea Channel, Are there Internet Dialects? (video)

Steps to the Assignment

  1. Introduce students to the concept of multiple literacies – traditional, digital and discourse communities.  Ask them to compose an exploratory writing in which they identify, define and give examples of their literacy experiences.  Encourage them to interact with the ideas of others, including their classmates and online sources.
  2.  After the class has shared ideas and discussed all kinds of literacy experiences I have them list as many of their own defining literacy experiences (traditional, digital, discourse communities) that they can recall.  I encourage them to think about experiences from their young childhood (reading aloud, learning to read, parents sharing stories, favorite books, television shows, magazines, etc.) and those that developed and defined themselves as they moved into adulthood (first phone, social media, video projects, music, impactful movies, important groups, etc.) .
  3.  Send students to a timeline creator tool such asDipity(or one of their choosing) to start adding the items from their list onto the timeline.   Have them select and focus on defining moments in this timeline to create a portrait of the ways they use digital literacies in their daily lives. For each of the entries they will need to add a short textual description that speaks to the source and why it is part of their literacy timeline.  They should include a multimodal, representative image for each of the selections. They should include both literal images and representative images in multiple modes.  The descriptions should include more than information and should also address their experiential overlay as they bring meaning and purpose to their selections.
  4.  This is a good time to introduce ethical citation practices for the internet.  Include introductions toCreative Commons and other public domain sites. 
  5.  Next, students work in peer response groups to give each other feedback towards revision.  As a class,  work to define and identify the rhetorical expectations of this mulitmodal composition.  Click this link to a sample multimodal rubric to see the one I used for this assignment.  After workshop, students revise based on feedback.
  6.  For the final step, have students compose an accompanying contextual author’s statement for their visual timeline in which they reflect on their literacy experiences as a whole.  Basically, they should write a narrative essay that includes some of the particular experiences (from their visual timeline) along with overall observations of what it means for them to be “literate” these days as a digital native.  Have them examine the connections between their experiences to create a portrait of the ways these experiences shaped them as people.  Ask them to reflect upon how their individual experiences have defined them, their communities, or their worldview.  In the end of this reflective piece, have students introduce their visual timeline and include the link to access the visual work.  This assignment works easily into a blog post and shows students how the visual and the textual work together to create context and meaning (I usually take these through a round of peer response and revision as well).
  7.  I always have students share finished projects with their classmates.  Bringing their ideas to a larger audience is a big part of this assignment. You can feature some for whole class or small group viewing and discussion. 

Teaching and Reflecting Through the Multimodal Lens
Many times when I create multimodal assignments I move from the textual to the visual.  In this case, however, I reversed that idea and had students compose the visual first.  I think this is a product of that little voice in the back of our heads that still tells us that we should do the traditional writing first and then follow with the “fun” stuff.   As we move deeper into multimodal composition we recognize the recursive nature of revision—that we can revisit parts of the process any time during the process.  Multimodal composition teaches us that all of these modes of communication are on the same level but just require different rhetorical approaches and practices.  Textual and visual composition now work together to construct and communicate meaning.

It was interesting to notice that students engaged immediately with this project when starting with the visual.   They enjoyed learning about each other through the visual timelines and connected through common cultural references.  The fact that they shared experiences such as getting their first phone, reading Green Eggs and Ham, posting on Facebook or playing World of Warcraft helped them to reflect on the ways these experiences have the power to both define and invent.   Many also noticed connections between their early literacy experiences and their choice of major.  The timeline acted as both an interesting final product and also a dynamic tool for rhetorical invention and idea generation.   Students reported that the author’s statements (the literacy narrative portion) were much easier to compose because of the visual literacies timeline and saw these modes working in concert to communicate in ways they had not previously considered.  One of my students states it nicely:

 This assignment made me think about how literacy is in a lot more life experiences than I originally thought. It’s not just reading and writing — it is an understanding for certain things. We had to look back on our past experiences that have led us to learning and literacy, be it reading your first few books or sitting down to watch your favorite movie, and we organized it through internet media. The timeline was a visual representation of our ideas put into chronological order. Then our author’s statement just explained it a little more. I think the assignment was engaging and great for visual thinkers. ~ Alfredo

Check out the Assignment Shout-outs for more student feedback on the assignment.

Student Timeline Examples
My students generously agreed to share their visual timelines on my page.   Enjoy and share these samples with your students as they create their own Literacy Experiences Timelines. Check them out at Literacies Experience Timelines (Fall 2014 Composition I)

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to leah.rang@macmillan.com for possible inclusion in a future post. 

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Multimodal THURSDAY: It’s all Greek to me…until someone writes an e-mail

posted: 9.25.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Guest blogger Diantha Smith is a PhD candidate in English and the Teaching of English at Idaho State University. She teaches both online and face-to-face composition classes and loves incorporating a variety of media into both. In this post, Diantha offers a digital writing assignment to introduce students to rhetorical terms and concepts.

Many students are introduced to rhetorical terms in freshman composition courses, but whether or not they will remember, let alone apply these terms, is another story. After teaching for several semesters and receiving blank stares every time I said ethos, pathos, or logos, I realized that I needed to find a way to make these terms applicable to students’ everyday lives. I have found the medium of e-mail especially useful for helping students see how rhetorical appeals fit into both writing and revising. Although the assignment below is directed to an online class, it could be adjusted easily to fit a face-to-face course as well.

Objective
To introduce students to rhetorical terms (ethos, pathos, logos, kairos, telos) and give them practice identifying these terms in others’ writing.

Background Reading

  • Everything’s an Argument, pp. 22-29, Audiences for Arguments, Appealing Audiences
  • The St. Martin’s Handbook, Ch 20a, Composing Academic and Professional Messages
  • The Everyday Writer, Ch 2e, Use Media to Communicate Effectively
  • Writing in Action, Ch 2f, Use Media to Communicate Effectively
  • EasyWriter, Ch 4a, Planning Online Assignments

The Assignment

Part 1: Rhetoric & E-Mail Writing
The principles of rhetoric are important in every kind of writing, even simple e-mails. Since our main medium of communication will be through e-mail, it’s important and valuable for you to see how rhetorical strategies can help you communicate effectively with me throughout the semester.

  1. Click HERE to watch a five minute overview of the rhetoric and e-mail. (For instructors: The Prezi version is available here.)
  2. Choose one of the sample e-mails below and write 50+ words about why it is effective or ineffective. Be sure to use some rhetorical terms (ethos, pathos, logos, kairos, telos) in your post, and don’t forget to comment on at least two of your classmates’ posts. Click emails below to view a larger version in a new tab.

Part 2: Rhetoric & Revising
Some of the most important rhetorical choices we make in writing happen when we revise. Some examples include

  • ethos: may cause us to change way we present ourselves (i.e. personal vs. distant, first name only vs. full name and title, attention to grammar/mechanics)
  • pathos: may cause us to change tone by adjusting our word choice and punctuation (especially exclamation points) to communicate our emotions
  • logos: may cause us to adjust the format or style we use; may also cause us to include or exclude other media (pictures, video, etc.)
  • kairos: the timing of our message isn’t always under our control, but time may influence how much we say and whether or not we flag a message as “urgent”
  • telos: may impact the entire message as we ask ourselves “What do I want to accomplish?” and/or “What do I want to avoid?”

Watch the following video and see if you can identify the rhetorical moves the writer makes as she revises this e-mail to her crush.

Do one of the following:

  1. Choose 2-3 questions below and write 100+ words about what you notice about how ethos, pathos, logos, kairos, and/or telos influence her revision.
  2. Choose one of the sample e-mails from part one and revise it. Then add a short summary (3-5 sentences) explaining how your understanding of rhetoric influenced your revision.

Questions
(To help students think about the overall rhetorical situation)

  • What reaction is the writer hoping to get from her audience? What is she hoping to avoid?
  • What other choices might she have made? What results might those choices have?
  • What can you tell about the writer of the e-mail? What evidence would you use to back up the personality/life you think she has?

(To help students consider specific rhetorical strategies)

  • Why does the writer worry about correctly writing “your or you’re” in this message?
  • When and how does the writer edit highly emotional content? Why?
  • Why are the greeting and closing parts of the e-mail changed multiple times?

One of the most important points that comes out of this activity/discussion is the importance of knowing and understanding the intended audience. Most of the best/worst sentences in the sample e-mails can be directly tied to the writers’ (lack of) awareness of what a teacher expects. In the YouTube clip, the writer is constantly thinking about her intended audience (to the point of obsession) and her prediction of the audience’s reaction causes her to make huge changes in her writing.

Part 3: Composing
The writing assignment below allows students to demonstrate what they’ve learned about rhetoric by writing an e-mail to their instructor. After explaining the assignment in class, I encourage students to ask any clarifying questions (i.e. What title do I prefer? Dr.? Ms.? First name only? How formal do I expect their language to be? Why do I want to know about my students and their expectations for the class? What will I do with this information?).

Based on what we’ve learned about rhetoric and e-mail, and based on what you know about me from our class discussion, you should have a pretty good idea about how to address me in an e-mail. I would like to get to know you better, too. Please write me an email where you:

  1. Briefly introduce yourself
  2. Tell me about your strengths/weaknesses in writing
  3. Let me know about your expectations for this class. Please be specific about what you would like to learn, what concerns you have (if any), and feel free to include any questions.

You will be graded on how well you meet the criteria in the five parts of the rhetorical arch. If needed, please feel free to refer back to the video.

Overall, I love using this assignment to introduce rhetoric because it helps students to understand that when we write and revise—whether a short e-mail or a ten-page persuasive research essay—we also need to be very aware of who the audience is and how we can best appeal to their needs, wants, and values. The more students see rhetoric in their everyday lives, the more they will apply good rhetorical strategies in all of their writing.

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to leah.rang@macmillan.com for possible inclusion in a future post. 

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Multimodal Mondays: Tweet Me, Tweet You: Using Twitter and Storify to Build Classroom Community in a Flipped First-Year Composition Course

posted: 9.22.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Guest blogger Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Southern Polytechnic State University.  She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become accountable for their own growth though authentic engagement in class communities.  Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies, critical pedagogies, and New Media theory; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing student scholars.  Reach Jeanne at jbohanno@spsu.edu.

In the field of composition, digital and multimodal tools have become useful means in facilitating rhetorical growth of digital natives.  The key to engendering student engagement, however, is more complicated than simply assigning Prezis and asking students to produce work in digital spaces.  As a praxis-sioner of critical pedagogy, I believe that the foundations of democratic learning pair exceptionally well with multimodal acts of composition and the community-building, digital tools both we and our students use to attain new literacies.

Community-building is a vital component of any digital tool, because humans synthesize texts of all kinds using social constructionist behaviors to make meaning and produce knowledge.  Community in learning environments also creates a sense of togetherness, a space where we collaborate, both students and teachers, as equal participants in the drive to both consume and produce rhetorics.

In my writing courses, we use Twitter as a basic tool throughout the semester for diverse purposes, both in low and high stakes writing opportunities.  For class discussions, our community seeks to achieve understandings of each others’ means of persuasion and also authentically evaluate each other’s styles of rhetorical delivery.  Twitter provides us with a means towards these goals, as an invention tool.   A flipped classroom model provides us with the method to achieve our learning goals.  Finally, experimental learning gives us the freedom and motivation to participate in organic conversations.

For the assignment I describe here, students discover how to articulate an author’s argument and methods of persuasion, as well as explain their own meanings to their peers using a self-chosen text.  Students also practice evaluation and feedback methods as they discuss these elements among their community members in an open atmosphere.

Assignment Goals

  • Learn to effectively use Twitter as an invention tool
  • Learn to effectively use Storify as an archival tool
  • Engage with others on diverse topics chosen by students for students
  • Articulate and evaluate meaning from multi-genre readings AND the organic discussions arising out of them

Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of readings and viewing visual texts on rhetorical elements are on-going processes for attaining learning goals in democratic, digital writing assignments.  Below, I have listed a few foundational texts.  You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.

  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Chapter 2, “Rhetorical Situations”; Section 6g, “Collaborate; Chapter 7, “Reading Critically”
  • The Everyday Writer: Chapter 5, “Rhetorical Situations”; Section 6g, “Collaborate”; Sections 12a-d, “Critical Reading”
  • Writing in Action: Chapter 4, “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 7h, “Collaboration and Communication”; Chapter 9, “Reading Critically”
  • EasyWriter: Sections 1c-1g in Ch.1, “A Writer’s Choices”; Section 1h, “Collaboration”; Section 3a, “Reading Critically”

Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation
At the beginning of each semester, my students and I brainstorm possible topics for discussion, based on interests, academic majors, etc. [I teach at a polytechnic university, so the topics usually center around game theory, engineering of various sorts, current events, and popular culture.] As students categorize our suggestions on a whiteboard, the community argues, debates, and reaches consensus on overarching genres for discussion topics.  I facilitate by outlining a few requirements:

(1) A text for discussion may come from any trade publication, TED Talk, mass publication, podcast, or video – as long as said article is available in electronic format.  Any article, video, or podcast found in our university’s library database is also fair game.

(2) Each student chooses her/his text and tweets it to me a week prior to class discussion.

(3) Each student must respond to at least two tweets on a given text in order to participate and receive credit.

 A few days prior to class, I tweet out the article tweeted to me by a student.  We use hashtags, so students may choose whether or not to “follow” each other on Twitter.  Each class has its own hashtag.  After I tweet the article, students read it and respond using the same hashtag.  A few hours before class, I compile the tweets in a FREE archive program called Storify and send the link out to the community.  Students bring their archive to class, make notes if they wish, and prepare for discussion.  Now, we’re ready to go.

In Class
The student who originated the article for discussion is the lead-student and has the Storify archive in hand. S/he begins her/his delivery as a dialogic or as a monologue.  Then, using Storify as a guide, the conversation grows organically, based on student-to-student interactions.   The lead-student is accountable for driving the discussion towards the required elements to reach our rhetorical goals.  Depending on personalities, this process can flow as a winding stream, as chaotic river rapids, or as a stagnant pond.  For me, any of these movements develop rhetorical skills in students.  We learn as much from the rich debate as we do from the silence.

Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity
After the discussion, our community de-briefs in the last 5 minutes of each discussion session.  We assess using questions like the following:

  • How well did we articulate rhetorical invention?
  • How might we improve the activity for future class talks?
  • How could we apply the invention and archival strategies we learned by using Twitter and Storify to future projects?

The lead-student and I both record feedback and post it on our course blog for everyone to read and respond.

The key to authentic student engagement is the practice of democratic writing and discussion opportunities.  Students are far more likely to engage in a writing course and achieve learning goals if they feel that their voices are heard and validated.  For us as instructors, our fundamental role is our ability to let go of our authority and break that substantive binary that separates teachers and students in learning spaces.  When we are able to step away from the center and let our students take the lead, we facilitate their growth as rhetors and scholars, helping them develop informed voices as they enter into multi-discursive conversations.

I welcome and value all feedback.  Please visit my blogs: http://rhetoricmatters.org/ and http://growthb4grades.edublogs.org/.

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to leah.rang@macmillan.com for possible inclusion in a future post. 

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How many spaces after a period?

posted: 9.18.14 by Andrea Lunsford

I bet many of you saw Jennifer Gonzalez’s blog posting, titled “Nothing Says Over 40 Like Two Spaces after a Period!” accompanied by this image:

Gonzalez, who is over 40 herself, went on to explain where the “two spaces after a period” rule came from, which has to do with the monospacing of typewriters and the little bit of extra space often needed to make letters fit.  Enter the proportional spacing practice of computers and word processors and that extra space isn’t needed: in the example below, the proportional spacing can accommodate 12 letters to monospacing’s 10:

I was really glad to read Gonzalez’s post and to realize there are a lot of other people out there trying to unlearn what was drilled into us: two spaces after end punctuation.

But unlearning turns out to be hard.  If you look closely, you’ll see that I put two spaces after end punctuation in this post until I got to this point. And remembered. ONE space will suffice.

In the meantime, Jennifer Gonzalez’s message has been tweeted and re-tweeted, stirring up quite a conversation online, with many people seeming to think Gonzalez is being deprecating to those over 40. (“Is being over 40 shameful in your world?”)

I have noticed that when I’m doing email on my phone, if I put two spaces after a period and it comes at the end of a line, the next line will be indented one space, which I do not want; so that’s a little feature of my smart phone that is giving me a bit of a reminder. And Gonzalez seems right about the age thing: when I ask students about this issue, they look at me in mystification. ONE space after a period, they say.

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