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.

What I Learned in (High) School

posted: 5.21.15 by Andrea Lunsford

In March, I attended the 55th reunion of my class at Ketterlinus High School in St. Augustine, Florida. There were perhaps 25 of us there, out of a class of around 100, which seemed pretty darned good to me. Being with people I hadn’t seen—some for 55 years—was, well, bracing. To my surprise and delight, I recognized my BFFs and had a great time catching up with them and trading stories about our classes and teachers (including our elderly Southern belle English teacher, who praised us to the skies but never put anything but a grade on our papers, and our tough-as-nails chemistry teacher, who could raise welts on the arms of those who didn’t do their homework). We looked at old photos of our young selves and reminisced about our grand class trip on a bus all the way to New York City, where we got to see a real Broadway play, my first: Auntie Mame starring Rosalind Russell.

On my way home, I thought of our school, with its small and poorly stocked library, its single football (for boys only; no girls’ sports then), its austere classrooms, and its lack of language or any other labs. Yet we read and wrote and learned—and many of us somehow made it in to college. I went on to teach high school (11th grade was my fave) before I returned to graduate school, and during my college teaching career I’ve spent as much time in high schools as possible. And, oh my, how things have changed—and not changed. I still visit schools with very limited facilities, with small and out-of-date libraries, and with very poor funding. But even as legislatures have fiddled away fortunes, teachers and strong administrators have been working for students—and sometimes even bringing legislators along with them. When I had a chance to spend a day at T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, I found a very diverse and vibrant community proud of its public high school, and proud of its history of having integrated just a few years after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling. Here’s the plaque I saw just outside the main office celebrating this history:

Plaque at T. C. Williams High School

I walked the halls lined with photos of students who have won awards and scholarships, of graduates who have gone on to colleges, graduate schools, and careers. “Titan Pride,” they say. I saw the spacious cafeteria with its many choices, the expansive gymnasium, the big, bright library, computer labs, and—be still my heart—the Writing Center, where Laurel Taylor holds “write ins” for teachers to bring their classes in to write on the spot, and where some graduates serve as consultants. And I visited the room of English teacher Sarah Kiyak, filled with posters, photos of authors, and student artwork and writing. The school day was over, but students kept drifting in to Ms. Kiyak’s room, talking with her, asking questions, giving her news, and getting hugs. When the teachers arrived for our seminar, the students were still talking and were reluctant to leave. I chatted with five or six students, who were full of dreams of college. Later, Sarah told me that this school (3,500 strong) had been labeled “poorly performing” for years. But somehow the powers that be in Virginia were persuaded to provide some additional funding—enough to hire more teachers, lower class sizes, and update some equipment. And lo and behold, graduation rates and scores steadily improved. Titan pride.

Titan Pride!

 I left feeling uplifted, as I always do when I’ve been with teachers and students. So BRAVA/BRAVO T. C. Williams, where they are living out the motto of the National Association of Colored Women: “Lifting as we climb.” I saw plenty of climbing at T. C. Williams, and plenty of lifting, too.


Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Teaching Advice, Uncategorized, Writing Center
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Multimodal Mondays: Using Listicles to Help Students Engage with Sources

posted: 5.18.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Caitlin L. Kelly, a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology where she teaches multimodal composition courses using 18th- and 19th-century British literature and serves as a Professional Tutor in the Communication Center. Alongside work on the intersection of religion and genre in British literature of the Long Eighteenth Century, she is also interested in exploring applications of a multimodal approach to composition to traditional literature pedagogy.

One of the most difficult assignments to teach is the one at the heart of most college composition courses: the research project. Taking students from brainstorming a topic to a polished argument over the course of a semester is daunting; in the composition classroom, we are tasked with teaching—under very inorganic circumstances—a research process that should evolve organically. And one of the most challenging parts of that process for many students is learning how to engage with sources once they have found them. This is where the listicle comes into play in my courses.

The listicle provides a dedicated space where students can explore the many different arguments that they can make with the sources they have found in researching their topics. It can then become a form of multimodal outline and first draft. The listicle can also help to emphasize that any presentation of research—written, oral, visual, and multimodal—has a narrative and tells a story. In this way, it has much in common with Andrea Lunsford’s Storify assignment in which she harnesses the affordances of that multimodal platform to collect evidence and “pull all the pieces together to see what results.”

What’s a Listicle?
A listicle is a hybrid genre, an article in list form. While listicles can be found in a variety of print and digital publications, the genre is best known for its use on the websites Buzzfeed and Cracked. As a result, listicles are often not considered as “professional” and appropriate for “serious” subjects. Slowly, however, that view has been changing, and that is good for composition teachers. Not only does it make the genre more accessible to us as educators but also it allows students to participate in its evolution.

As defenders of the listicle have pointed out, the genre is responding to our need to deal with the ever-increasing multitudes of data that are readily available to us. Listicles give us a tool with which to “curate” that information, and they provide “additional ways to interact with [it]” and act as “jumping off points” for further research. As Maria Konninkova explains in the New Yorker, listicles do the “mental heavy lifting of conceptualization, categorization, and analysis” at the outset. In a digital environment, this improves the chances that readers will indeed read—and understand.

 Learning Objectives
Jessie Miller, writing about her multimodal annotated bibliography assignment, describes the way that using “a visual display of information to map out the interplay between their sources” can be an effective way “to get students to see source use as an engaging and active practice.” The same can be said of listicles. Additionally, in composing a listicle, students gain:

  • a space to explore the many stories their research can tell,
  • a chance to focus on how the parts of their argument relate,
  • an opportunity to explore communicating specialized, academic topics in a way that is accessible for wide audiences,
  • a better understanding of copyright, and
  • practice in attributing sources in a digital environment.

The Assignment
After spending the first 4-6 weeks of the semester reading and exploring potential research topics, students first put together a robust annotated bibliography. Using those bibliographies, the students remix the information into a listicle. In the process, I also make a point of discussing how the structure of the listicle maps onto more traditional writing assignments. Assigning readings on drafting, constructing arguments, and revision from texts like The St. Martin’s Handbook are all options, depending on your students’ needs and how you are using the assignment. Chapter 1 of Everything’s An Argument would be a particularly good pairing if you want your students to identify a specific type of argument that they want to make in their listicles.

In terms of what platforms the students use to present their listicles, I leave that up to them to determine. They have found that free website builders like Weebly, Wix, WordPress, and the like are good options for this project. With its emphasis on images, Tumblr can also be an effective platform. A few students have even posted their work on Medium and on Buzzfeed Community. Each platform presents a different range of affordances, so students also have a chance to reflect on the ways that various platforms inform their composition strategies.

The assignment also affords students with a unique opportunity to practice using images alongside textual evidence in their arguments. An effective listicle uses images to advance its argument and to connect with a wider, nonacademic audience. These are vital skills for students, particularly those in STEM fields. Images can be used to present evidence, help readers to visualize complex concepts, or to demonstrate significance or perspective. Students can even create images to use by taking their own photographs and creating their own graphics. Determining what permissions are required to use these images and the appropriate ways of attributing them provide invaluable lessons in applying traditional methods of citation to digital environments where the rules are still emerging.  I have included sample assignment instructions, and below is a template showing the first section of a listicle and the defining characteristics of the genre.

 Finally, because the listicle is such an exploratory assignment, reflection is an especially important part of the process. That reflective work can be done formally by making reflection an explicit part of the assignment or, as I have done, reflection can occur in the course of peer review. I schedule two class sessions for peer review. In the first I ask students to bring several copies of the written parts of the listicle–the title, section titles, and short paragraphs for each section. Then, they cut those up and have classmates reassemble them. Many students find that the story they are hoping to tell is not the one that their readers anticipate or find engaging. So, in drafting their listicles the students have taken the first step in determining what it is they want to say; in giving a fragmented draft of the listicle to their peers, they get to see how readers would use the same sources in different ways. The next step for students is reconciling those different views and determining which path it is that they want to take—how they want to enter the conversation. For the second peer review, then, the students bring a draft in which they have assembled all of the parts of the listicle in the media they will submit it in. Here, they refine the presentation of their research narratives and the emphasis shifts to tone, style, design, and attribution.

Concluding Thoughts
One of the most exciting things about incorporating a listicle assignment in a composition class is its newness as a genre and its flexibility. A listicle might be one step on the way to a larger project or it might be the larger project itself. A listicle could also be formal or informal, left in draft form or polished, composed offline or online—depending on the instructor’s needs and learning objectives. An emphasis could be put on research, genre, public writing, digital writing or any combination thereof. There is plenty of room to develop the listicle as a genre and assignment for a variety of purposes, making it a highly accessible for composition teachers in at all levels and institutions.


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

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Assignment Idea, Digital Writing, Genre, Guest Bloggers, Multimodal Mondays, Peer Review, Teaching with Technology, Uncategorized, Visual Rhetoric
Read All Andrea Lunsford

And Now a Word about Seeing Differently

posted: 5.14.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Last week I wrote about the urgent necessity to teach students to listen rhetorically, that is, to try as hard as possible to hear what the other person or group is saying—from their point of view. Listening has dropped out of the curriculum in most college classes, but it seems to me we have never been in more urgent need of people who can listen openly and fairmindedly.

Then this week I picked up a book I’ve been looking forward to for some time, the published version of Nick Sousanis’s Columbia dissertation, the first done entirely in comic book format. The book is called Unflattening and it is just out from Harvard University Press. (I first mentioned this book here.)

I heard Sousanis discuss his dissertation, now book, when he visited Stanford’s Graphic Narrative Project a year or so ago, but I hadn’t had time to take a real look at it until a few days ago. And what a literal eye-opener it is! The book opens with a visual/verbal meditation on how we have been taught to see only in “flat” ways—that is in cookie-cutter, unidimensional, static ways. The images are plodding along, eyes cast down, unseeing:

Page from Nick Sousanis’s Unflattening

Another page from Unflattening

The figures all “stay in line,” as though there were “a great weight descending, suffocating and ossifying; flatness permeates the landscape,” and “so pervasive are the confines, inhabitants neither see them nor realize their own role in perpetuating them.” Cogs in a machine, seeing through narrow, narrow blinders. Seeing becomes “standardized” and “boxed into bubbles of our own making: (5, 8, 14). This condition comes, Sousanis argues, from the division of mind and body (think Plato) that becomes reified in Descartes’s “I think; therefore I am.” These thinkers led the way to “flattening” our vision by turning ever inward, to the mind or the eternal truths.

Sousanis sets out to unflatten our ways of seeing, and he does so in a stunning merger of images and words. As he says, images are what IS; words are always ABOUT. But the two together can open new vistas of imagination for us through unflattening, which he defines as “a simultaneous engagement of multiple vantage points from which to engender new ways of seeing” (32). The rest of the book explores this possibility, showing how we can see things one-at-a-time and all-at-once, as we do an image. We need both images and words to get not only to new ways of seeing and apprehending but to new ways of knowing and being in the world. I could not stop reading this book—and I will be returning to it again and again as I try to teach myself to be unflattened.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Multimodal Mondays: Re/Mixing and Wrapping Up: Students’ Perspectives on “Doing” Multimodalities

posted: 5.11.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Bohannon.

 I have written several posts this semester about how to re/mix traditional writing assignments into meaningful, multimodal compositions. Today’s post is my last for the semester, so I want to wrap up with one last re/mixed mission from a traditional research essay and then yield the post to my students to share their thoughts about “doing” multimodalities.

For me, democratic learning must include students’ buy-in to a project, from the building of the assignment parameters to the learning outcomes.  Making these digital endeavors meaningful to students’ lives is also vital to engendering rhetorical writing.  Projects that center on building meaningful digital literacies also enhance authentic engagement and meet the same learning outcomes as traditional “Dear Teacher” essays. But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Hear it from my students, who have worked with multimodal assignments throughout a semester at a large, state comprehensive university:

“Multimodal pieces should be fun and engaging to read. Breaking up long stretches of text with other kinds of media is like giving the readers a short break. It’s less taxing, and the readers will be more likely to devote their time (which they are very protective of) to reading what you wrote. – Matthew Russell

“Multimodal writing deals with being able to communicate through a digital space. Whether it be Facebook or WordPress, writers need to be able to communicate effectively in these spaces.” – Anon.

“Multimodal breaks the mold of standard, mind-numbing assignments.  Especially at the end of a course, multiple papers in the same format can hinder creativity.  Multimodal assignments give the student a chance to write in a new field and reinvigorate the mind.” – Anon.

This public text construction comes at the end a course, after students have drafted a series of micro-studies, demonstrating their understanding of language conventions in digital spaces.  This blogging re/mix further affords students opportunities for peer feedback and self-assessment.

Throughout the course, students practice applying grammar and syntactic structures in unconventional ways across digital platforms in social and public media.  Blogs are spaces that incorporate these elements into a rhetoric of content creation.

Multimodal blog posts providing spaces for self-assessment and peer comments, re/imagined from a traditional, academic essay that was originally a series of analytical studies.

Goals and Measurable Learning Objectives

  • Apply composition strategies to an electronic writing space
  • Create blogs as rhetorical, content-management devices
  • Synthesize content-meaning through critical production of digital texts

Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing 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.

Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation
First, choose a previous research assignment.  Our original assignment was a series of micro-studies, in which students chose an aspect or element of digital linguistic discourse and analyzed it through a the lens or race, gender, or class.  In the past, I have also used annotated bibliographies.

My students and I run this writing assignment late in the semester, as a re/mix of a previous one.  Prior to starting the process, the class reads, responds to, and discusses multimodalities of texts and content management across digital discourses. We read UNC’s Blogging Tips and Popular Media Writing Tips.  We also peer review each other’s original micro-studies and offer ideas for relevant topics and avenues for re/mix.

In Class and/or Out
For the re/mixed mission, students take one aspect of their writing from each micro-study or other research project, and re/vise it as blog posts to include at least two multimodalities (Bohannon’s Model) in addition to text.  Students construct four blog posts and provide feedback on at least three posts from their coursemates. Every semester, I crowd-source assignment details with the whole class, so each semester the assignment looks different based on students’ input. The basic requirements are

  1. Three 500+ word multimodal posts on a WordPress or Edublogs site based on     research this semester.  Incorporate at least two multimodal elements for each post in    addition to text, with at least three tags per post.
  2. Read the posts of at least three coursemates.  Comment on their blogs in >100 words, using the rhetorical analysis tools you have gained so far in our     discussions. Submit the following in the Discussion Forum — “Blogs:’
    • Link to your blog so colleagues can read your posts
    • Comments to your colleagues (as new threads under their posts)
    • Reflection on your work IN GENERAL (initial post)
    • If you get to a blog that has at least TWO comments, go the next blog.

Students complete part 1 of the assignment outside of class; part 2 requires students to comment on their own and each other’s work, so some of it is completed in-class.  I ask students to set their blogs to “moderate comments,” to ensure that they read their colleagues’ observations.  To corral the large number of blogs and comments, I also require students to post links to their blogs and comments on coursemates’ blogs in a discussion forum, embedded in a learning management system (LMS) such as one provided by your university or Canvas.

Student Examples of Re/Mixed Multimodal Blog Posts

The Joy of Multimodality – M.Russell




Instructions for a Multimodal Portfolio — A.Obrentz





 Wydopen: The Rhetoric of Baltimore Mothers — S. Roberts




Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity
I think this assignment would work well across topics and courses as a WAC assignment because it doesn’t teach content but rhetorical behaviors. It draws both self-assessment and peer interaction, which engenders authentic engagement. Instructors could re/mix their own topics to meet the specific needs and interest of their students. I would love for folks outside of our field to try it, so please share this post with others!

Also, please leave me feedback at rhetoricmatters.org.

Guest blogger Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) department at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical 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 informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at:Jeanne_bohannon@kennesaw.edu and www.rhetoricmatters.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. 

Comments: (1)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Assignment Idea, Digital Writing, Guest Bloggers, Multimodal Mondays
Read All Andrea Lunsford

How Well Do You Listen?

posted: 5.7.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Just a few weeks ago, Freddie Gray—a young African American man in Baltimore—died after being injured while in police custody, precipitating a rash of protests expressing anger, frustration, and rage. Then just a few days ago, the six officers involved were charged by State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby with crimes ranging from assault to second-degree murder. This series of events is the latest in a string of unnecessary deaths of black men at the hands of police, and it’s one that teachers everywhere need to think carefully about.

You have probably been following this case and reading a range of responses and analyses, as I have. But the account I have been most touched by is a Facebook post from Julia Blount, reprinted on April 29 on Salon.

Blount is a middle school teacher, educated at Princeton, and as she says in “Dear white Facebook friends: I need you to respect what Black America is feeling right now,” a person of color who has led a privileged life (for which she is grateful). But her privilege has not shielded her from violence or from the feelings engendered by it. So she writes to white America: “To those rushing to judgment about what’s happening in Baltimore: Please stop and listen.”

Blount reminds all of us of the importance and power of listening—really listening—listening rhetorically, as Krista Ratcliff describes it. Blount continues:

Every comment or post I have read today voicing some version of disdain for the people of Baltimore—“I can’t understand” or “They’re destroying their own community” or “Destruction of Property!” or “Thugs”—tells me that many of you are not listening. I am not asking you to condone or agree with violence. I just need you to listen. You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to, but instead of forming an opinion or drawing a conclusion, please let me tell you what I hear: I hear hopelessness. I hear oppression. I hear pain. I hear internalized oppression. I hear despair. I hear anger. I hear poverty.

Blount’s challenge is one all teachers, and especially teachers of writing, need to address. We need to teach rhetorical listening as part of what it means to communicate effectively and fairly, and we need to practice that kind of listening in our own classes. As Blount says,

If you are not listening, not exposing yourself to unfamiliar perspectives, not watching videos, not engaging in conversation, then you are perpetuating white privilege and white supremacy. It is exactly your ability to not hear, to ignore the situation, that is a mark of your privilege.

I spend time in all my classes talking with students about engaging “unfamiliar perspectives” and doing so in an open, invitational way. But actually doing this kind of listening and engaging is far easier said than done. I have often found myself hard-pressed to listen fully to a student who is expressing views with which I deeply disagree. In one of my classes, a young man (white and from a rural area) wrote an essay called “The Little Grey Squirrel,” about a moment in his life that had taught him an important lesson. In the essay, he tells the story of going out to check traps on his father’s property, where he finds a “little grey squirrel” caught in one of them. The squirrel has a broken leg and he describes kneeling down next to it and looking into its eyes. Then he takes out his gun—and shoots the squirrel. The lesson he learns, he says in his conclusion, is how to kill animals: this is his first. To say the very least, this writer had misjudged his audience (he had also built up sympathy for the “little grey squirrel”).

This story caused a near riot in my classroom, as students accused the writer of everything from insensitivity to murder. They turned on him so passionately that he quickly fell silent; in this event, everyone else was talking, even shouting: no one was listening. Our class never really recovered from that episode, in spite of my efforts to look for some common ground we could all move forward from. It occurs to me now that I wasn’t really listening either: I was more occupied with calming things down and getting that particular class over with. As a result, I didn’t truly hear either the writer or the protesting students.

I have thought about that incident for years now, as we often do when we wish we could replay—and change—past events. I’ve thought about how very differently people see and hear, and about how very difficult it is to see and hear from another person’s point of view. But that’s just what Julia Blount is asking me, as a white woman, to do. Her compelling message is going to stay with me, challenging me to live up to the best of my rhetorical training and always to listen—truly listen—before I draw a conclusion, and to engage my students in doing the same.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Teaching Advice
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Multimodal Mondays: Composing the Multimodal Interview

posted: 5.4.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Jason Dockter, who teaches first-year composition at Lincoln Land Community College. He recently completed his Ph.D. in English Studies at Illinois State University, with an emphasis on rhetoric/composition, with a specific interest in multimodal composition. His dissertation is entitled Multimodality, Migration, and Accessibility in Online Writing Instruction.

One of my initial goals within my first-year composition course is to expand students’ perception of writing. My students often enter FYC with rigid views of what it means to write, what writing looks like, and how writing composed within a school setting differs from writing they interact with and compose on their own outside of school. Multimodal composition projects provide an opportunity to push against these divisive perceptions of writing while increasing students’ rhetorical knowledge and their ability to transfer that knowledge to new contexts. Text design, especially, is a rhetorical element that is challenging to address in essay-based writing assignments. However, my multimodal interview project, outlined here, provides a prime opportunity to focus on text design by emphasizing the spatial mode, among others.


  • To increase rhetorical knowledge through the use of purposeful multimodal assets and text design.
  • To expand students’ definition/conception of what ‘writing’ means by developing a text within a genre that differs from writing they’ve often done in previous English or writing classes

My FYC course is taught online at a community college, and my students range widely in terms of age, rhetorical knowledge, and even computer proficiency. The course is divided into learning modules, with each module focusing on a particular genre of writing, which we study collectively at first and individually later. Within each module, students become acquainted with a specific genre through an exploration into its conventions, by locating and analyzing examples of the genre, and later by developing their own text within the genre.

The Assignment
Students conduct an interview with a person (or people) associated with a topic they’ve chosen to research. Students use that interview as the content for the multimodal text they’ll design based on the interview genre.

Background Reading
Ask students to plan for the interview project by reading relevant content from your handbook or rhetoric:

  • The St. Martin’s Handbook, section 11e, “Conducting Field Research”; Ch. 16, “Design for Print and Digital Writing”
  • The Everyday Writer, section 16e, “Conduct Field Research”; Ch. 9, “Making Design Decisions”
  • Writing in Action, section 13e, “Conduct Field Research”; Ch. 8, “Making Design Decisions”
  • EasyWriter, section 37f, “Field Research”; section 2f, “Designing Texts”
  • Writer/Designer (Arola, Sheppard, Ball) Chs. 1, 2, 3, 6, 7

Module Design
My approach for genre instruction begins with anexplicit genre pedagogy, then moves to an interactive genre pedagogy (see more discussion of this from Anis Bawarshi and Mary Jo Reiff, in chapter ten of Genre: An Introduction to History, Theory, Research, and Pedagogy).

  1. I provide students with interviews to review from print publications such as Rolling Stone, TIME, Esquire, and various online sources.
  2. After studying those sample texts, students identify and explain conventions of the interview genre that they value. Students post this list to the discussion board, followed by brief explanations of the importance of those conventions.
  3. Shortly after students post these lists, I combine them to identify the most agreed-upon conventions, which becomes the basis for a rubric that students use to complete a follow-up discussion board activity. There, students locate an interview of their own choosing in its original context, and explore the rhetorical aspects of the genre with our co-created rubric as their guide. Through a Rhetorical Genre Studies approach – considering the rhetorical and social purposes of the text through the design decisions of the writer – students contemplate why the writer made the rhetorical choices she did in the development of this text and how those rhetorical moves affect the interview and its ability to accomplish its intended purpose.

Following these initial genre-familiarization assignments, students shift to brainstorming the development of their own interviews.

  1. On the discussion board, students write a brief overview of their thoughts at this point towards their own interview, exploring the media they want to use, the potential questions they’ll ask, what modalities they’ll incorporate into the text, and other design determinations they may have made about how they will create this text.
  2. Shortly thereafter, following the interview that students have conducted, they submit a more formal proposal / mock-up of the interview they intend to create. This provides an opportunity for the instructor (or peers) to provide feedback to help students align their design plans and use of modalities and media choices with the collaboratively developed rubric.

After students submit the Interview Project, I ask them to complete a reflective writing, intended to provide students with space to explain their vision for their interview. At this stage, I hope to learn how the composing of the interview went, along with how their rhetorical decisions impacted that text design. Specifically, this is where I get to hear from students about why their interview turned out as it did, their purposeful emphasis of specific modalities, and their media use within the text, helping me to better understand why these design decisions were made.

Student Projects
Here are a couple of my excellent student submissions (used with permission):

Why This Assignment?
This project, as my students often interpret it, emphasizes the spatial mode, through the design of the interview on the page. Students become focused on design in ways that they are often unable to do when writing essays, where the format is often rigid. This is one of my favorite assignments within my FYC course because it shifts the emphasis from the content (writing) students will create for the text and emphasizes the design of the text, specifically considering how unique multimodal elements can be used to enhance the (often) alphanumeric text of the interview itself.

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

Comments: (0)
Categories: Uncategorized
Read All Andrea Lunsford

How Have Your Assignments Evolved?

posted: 4.30.15 by Andrea Lunsford

If you’ve been teaching for some time, I wonder if you’ve seen some of your favorite assignments evolve or change over time. I’m realizing that a number of mine have, almost without my noticing. Right now I’m thinking of my much loved “long sentence assignment.” I started giving this assignment to break up the lengthy research project my students all do, and in particular to focus for a bit on syntax and style. It’s a low stakes assignment, much like finger exercises on the piano, meant for fun and practice, though I do assign a few points to it.

Here’s how it started out: I asked students to write a “perfectly punctuated, 250-word sentence,” providing some models for them from Martin Luther King, Dylan Thomas, Will and Ariel Durant, and others over the years. We spent some time analyzing the structure of the model long sentences—King’s sentence, for instance, is a periodic sentence, built up of a series of dependent clauses and holding the main clause, “Then you will know why we can’t wait,” until the very end. That gave me a chance to introduce the concepts of paratactic and hypotactic structures and give a brief history of English syntax.

Students were horrified at the assignment, saying that it can’t be done. But of course then they found that it can be done and were quite proud of their results, which we also analyzed in class. Then we returned to the research project, looking at some individual sentences and seeing how they could be made more effective. After some years of working with this assignment, I went a step further and asked students to rewrite the 250-word sentence into precisely 25 words. That turned out to be quite a challenge, but fun too, and we worked together to analyze those shorter sentences and to debate which was most effective—and why.

Then came Twitter, and I decided to ask students to take another step and turn their sentences into Tweets. Now we had three sentences on the same subject matter but with radical differences that we could explore together. Most interesting to me were discussions about when and where each sentence might be most appropriate: students had strong opinions about that! Best of all, I could see them paying closer attention to all their sentences, realizing that their rhetorical choices mattered and that their sentences were definitely connected to how an audience received their work.

And today? I now add a fourth challenge: take either the 25-word sentence or the Tweet and illustrate it. I was inspired to make this addition by the animated sentences on Electric Literature. Some of my students do indeed have the skill to animate their sentences, but those who don’t or who don’t want to do so can illustrate in any other way, using crayons or colored pencils, cutting and pasting, or creating digital illustrations. Now we have an added layer of visual rhetoric to analyze and think about, and I find that students especially like rising to this challenge.

So that’s how one of my tried-and-true assignments has morphed over the years, one layer at a time. I’d love to hear how some of your assignments may have changed!

Comments: (0)
Categories: Activity Idea, Andrea Lunsford, Revising, Rhetorical Situation, Teaching Advice, Visual Rhetoric
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Multimodal Mondays: Radical Revision ~ The Sequel ~ Student Multimodal Hacks

posted: 4.27.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn. She continues her series on Radical Revision – and includes assignments and examples of student projects that you don’t want to miss!

In my last post, Radically Revising the Composition Classroom, I challenged others to hack their traditional, tried and true assignments.  I decided to enact this advice in one of my own classes this semester and gave the same challenge to my students, asking them to Radically Revise a collaborative class project through a multimodal lens.  


  • To ask students to recast their rhetorical situation through revising for new purposes, audiences, and contexts.
  • To engage students in qualitative research practices and writing.
  • To demonstrate the relationship between collaborative and individual perspectives.
  • To give students practice and agency in multimodal composition.

Background reading before class
Ask students to plan for the assignment by reading relevant content from your handbook or rhetoric:

The Original Assignment
Students in my Writing in Collaborative Spaces class radically revised a mini-ethnography and cultural critique on a public, collaborative space.  In the original Cultural Observation assignment, as teams, students observed and applied ethnographic methods and communication theory to better understand interaction, communication, and structure of their team’s chosen public space.  The student groups in my class chose three cultural spaces: an independent coffee shop, the Mall, and a Super-Department Store.  Students originally prepared a collaborative presentation and team report document that described their findings, observations, analysis and synthesis for an academic audience.  They were asked to apply the theories of the course, design an observation rubric and look for evidence such as group structure, roles, organization, verbal and non-verbal behavior, background factors, physical environment and communication patterns to support their claims.  They conducted field research, collected images, and worked together to create a presentation and team report in their online space through Google Drive.   Setting up their teams in the Google Drive space allowed them to understand virtual collaboration and organize their projects through recorded minutes, field-note synthesis, online meetings, and collaborative revision of their deliverable products.

This project is interesting in and of itself.  It gets students looking deeply at the ways communication behavior shapes our culture and introduces them to the ways that varied collaborative models, language, and experiences are integrated throughout society and in their everyday lives.  It teaches them to read the cultural space as a text, and to research and support their claims through particular examples – all through the lens of qualitative research.  This is a tried and true, successful project that I have run for years.

The New Assignment: Switching It Up and Taking It Multimodal
Once students completed the original Cultural Observation Project as a team, I asked them to re-see this project individually and reframe it as a multimodal cultural critique for a general audience (to embed in their blog).   The Multimodal Guidelines asked them to recast the project in a different form, use multimodal components, and change the perspective and the audience – radically shifting the text in several rhetorical ways.

I encourage them to play,  experiment, and get creative with the piece and incorporate humor, cultural critique, music, movement, collage, images, text, and outside sources (with citation, of course).  Using sources was one of the requirements and they all had access to the original primary research, data, and images from the team project to remix in this version.   It was also important that they communicate a perspective that captured their individual view of the space and the project in ways that were different from the collaborative perspective of the team.  This means that they might emphasize something different, look at a related issue, or generalize to universal experiences – all part of the kinds of rhetorical choices writers make as they compose.

Peer Responding and Multimodal Response Criteria
Like any assignment in my writing classes, I usually have students work together in collaborative peer response workshops for final revisions.  Multimodal compositions are no exception.  It is as we shape the criteria and get students to discuss these composing strategies and rhetorical choices that they can come to realize the ways these “acts of composition” transcend purposes, audiences, genres, and contexts.   I have linked to a copy of my Multimodal Peer Response Workshop criteria.

Student’s Multimodal Radical Revisions
Below you will find just a few of many great examples that students produced through their radical revisions to this assignment.  Although it was hard (I wanted to include them all!), I tried to choose multimodal hacks that represent a variety of approaches and perspectives for the three different cultural spaces they observed.

Students took on the challenge and created projects such as

Although all based on similar data and research, each one of the students’ projects is different from the last.  The assignment demonstrates how we construct meaning both collaboratively and individually.  It asks students to critically read, research, and compose in multiple perspectives and through multiple lenses, allowing for deeper critical thinking and rhetorical awareness.

Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Kennesaw 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.  You can reach Kim at khaimesk@kennesaw.edu or visit her website: actsofcomposition.khaimesk.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. 

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Assignment Idea, Digital Writing, Document Design, Guest Bloggers, Multimodal Mondays, Peer Review, Revising, Teaching with Technology
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Collaboration at the Santa Fe Indian School

posted: 4.23.15 by Andrea Lunsford

When Susan Miera—who did her MA degree at the Bread Loaf School of English and is a leader in the Bread Loaf Teacher Network—invited me to join her and colleagues and students in Santa Fe, I jumped at the chance.  I’ve known “Ms. Miera,” as she is lovingly known by legions of high schoolers, for many years, and I’ve worked with a number of Native American students she has mentored—and sent to Stanford.  She’s a whirlwind of energy, and I know that I will always learn something new from her.  This visit was no exception.

With support from Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS), the Bread Loaf School of English, and Write to Change, Susan, who directs the writing center at SFIS, and her colleague Alicia Fritz put together a day-long workshop on Writing and Teaching Writing in the Digital Age.  The workshop brought together middle and high school students and teachers from SFIS as well as from Pecos (public) and Monte del Sol (charter) high schools, so bright and early on Friday morning about 30 of us gathered on the gorgeous SFIS campus to begin our day.

This eight-and-a-half foot bronze statue, by artist Estella Loretto, welcomed us to SFIS

Colleagues at SFIS describe it as a “grant” school, meaning that they receive some federal funds.  But they are also supported by the nineteen pueblos of New Mexico, along with other local and state sources.  What I sensed immediately was a strong sense of ownership among the students and faculty at SFIS, captured in what they said about their relationship to the school as well as in many posters and art works throughout the school that stressed commitment and pride:

After introductions and greetings, I talked about the necessity of collaboration for learning and for writing, enumerating four challenges I think we need to address:  the individualistic premises on which most institutions of education rest; the fact that our classrooms are now public spaces; alternatives to the “lecture mode” still common in many schools; and the need to retain the best of the “old literacy” while embracing the best parts of the “new literacies.”  Then we divided into groups, making sure to have students and teachers from all three schools in each group, and we got to work designing activities and assignments and policies we thought could address these issues.

The day went by in a flash, as groups presented their ideas and plans:  everything from designing a Think-a-Tron machine that would allow people working in groups to immediately access each other’s thoughts (!), to presenting PARCC (State test) WARS, in which the students designed a movie trailer to parody the test, to designing a unit on Romeo and Juliet that is thoroughly interactive, participatory, and performative—and a whole lot more.  Watchword for the day came from Steven Johnson, who in his “Where Good Ideas Come From” talk says “chance favors the connected mind.”  Once again, I had the privilege of spending a day with insightful, thoughtful, witty, and wise young people.  And once again I came away convinced that today’s youth are prepared to use literacy—together—to reimagine classrooms, schools, and themselves.

Susan, Alicia, and me

Comments: (0)
Categories: Activity Idea, Andrea Lunsford, Pedagogy, Professional Development & Service, Teaching Advice
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Multimodal Mondays: Play day!

posted: 4.20.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Monica Miller, a Marion L Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow in the school of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech, specializing in digital pedagogies and multimodal composition. She received her Ph.D. from Louisiana State University in 2014, where she studied American literature, with concentrations in Southern Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies. Her work focuses on the intersections of region and gender. Her current book project, Don’t Be Ugly: The Ugly Plot in the Work of Southern Women Writers, examines the ways in which ugliness marks fictional characters who are excluded from traditional gender roles of marriage and motherhood.

“My friend said that his 1101 class was the best, because they watch videos all day—but he doesn’t get to play with Play-doh like we do!” –Overheard in my first year, multimodal, “maker culture”-themed composition classroom.

The students in my class were to some extent open to the idea of playing in the classroom, as the course theme of “Maker Culture” was one which encouraged play, seeing it as a key to innovation. “Play” is actually one of the guiding principles of Mark Hatch’s Maker Movement Manifesto, as important to his philosophy as other guiding principles such as “Share,” “Learn,” and “Tool Up.” Hatch encourages makers to “Be playful with what you are making, and you will be surprised, excited, and proud of what you discover” (2). Although there is much less awareness of maker culture in FYC pedagogy than there is in STEM classrooms, I have found that maker culture’s emphasis on digital tools, play, and collaborative learning make it an ideal approach to the multimodal composition classroom.

Let me clarify, however, that this kind of “play day” is not the same as the “safe space” featured in a recent New York Times article which has been subject to much debate. While students in such safe spaces play with Play-doh, crayons, and bubbles in order to find emotional security, in my classroom, these craft supplies served very specific pedagogical purposes.


  • To learn and reflect upon collaboration
  • To introduce the concept of affordances

Background reading before class
Ask students to plan for the presentation by reading relevant content from your handbook or rhetoric:

The Activity
In small groups, construct “creatures” from Play-doh and other “play” materials

The students worked hard on their presentations, and many of them had been terrified by the public speaking. To reward their efforts, the class period following their presentations, we had a “play day.” I gave students Play-doh, construction paper, yarn, glue sticks, and scissors, with the vague instruction to “make a creature.” The only parameters I set were these: each group was to collaborate on one creature; the creature had to be finished by the end of class; and they couldn’t mix the Play-doh colors, because other students would be using them.

When asked why we were playing with Play-doh in class, I said that I did have some pedagogical motivations for the day, which I would reveal on Thursday, but I asked that they trust that there was a pedagogical foundation to the exercise and try to immerse themselves in the play. As the photographs throughout this post show, it was generally a fun day—something about the smells and textures from childhood coupled with relief from having a big project behind them allowed most of them to really let go and enjoy themselves. (Also, engineers have some skills with craft materials!)

 Reflecting on the Activity
The class period after our play day, I began by focusing on the collaborative learning aspect of the exercise. My students were used to frequent collaboration in their assignments, whether brainstorming, peer review workshops on drafts, or more formal group projects. That day, I started class with a writing assignment, in which I asked students to reflect upon the following:

  • The nature of their group dynamics while making the creature, comparing the experience to their group presentation project as well as the other group work they’ve done, both in English 1101 as well as other situations.
  • How the nature of the project affected how they worked as a group
  • How their group dynamics had changed over the course of the larger project.

We then looked at the photographs I took of the different creatures. Each group explained their process, what media they used for the different parts, and how their vision changed over the course of the construction. As we looked at the pictures, I asked students to think about what different purposes were served by different media. Yarn works well for hair as well as for being crocheted or knitted into clothes; Play-doh is good for larger body parts; construction paper can be used not only for details, such as eyes, but also for construction–several groups used it to make tabs to attach tails to bodies, for example.




Moving Forward
These observations allowed me to introduce the concept of “affordances” to the class. By first talking about the affordances of Play-doh in creature creation, I could then transition to a lesson in digital tools: a discussion of the affordances of different media—whether photos, video, or written text—in website design, which was their final project in the class.

I was quite pleased with the results of our play day. Maker culture is on to something—play encourages not only innovation, but also an atmosphere of openness which helps bring about the kind of community I strive for in my classroom. Playing in the classroom not only gives students a chance to catch their breath but fosters an environment of trust and (dare I say?) fun which I believe ultimately produces happier, more engaged students.

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


Comments: (0)
Categories: Activity Idea, Andrea Lunsford, Collaboration, Guest Bloggers, Multimodal Mondays
Read All Andrea Lunsford