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.

The Other March Madness

posted: 3.26.15 by Andrea Lunsford

I’m just back from Tampa and the 2015 CCCC meeting—what I always think of as “the other March Madness.”  If I’m counting correctly, this was my 45th Cs, consecutive except for 2012, when I was on a round-the-world Semester at Sea adventure.  The earliest meetings I attended were quite small and relatively brief:  it truly did seem as if everyone there knew everyone else.  This year, over 3000 scholar/teachers coursed through the Marriott Harborside and Convention Center from Tuesday evening through Sunday morning.  I felt as though I’d been there a month as I rushed from session to session and met with friends and former students from across the country. 

Joyce Carter’s program was especially rich this year, each time slot offering at least a dozen sessions I desperately wanted to attend.  Thanks to Joyce’s leadership and planning, the whole conference was extremely welcoming to newcomers and had a very conversational feel:  dialogic sessions replaced the traditional plenary “featured speakers,” multiple round tables left more room for discussion and sharing of ideas.  And there were highlights, of course, a method in all this madness:

  • The Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition, now in its 21st year, was a tour de force, organized by the group’s intrepid chair, Jenn Fishman.  This year’s event featured a “New Work Showcase,” with eleven scholars presenting poster sessions of their exciting new work.  This format helped establish the conversational tone I mentioned earlier, as attendees drifted from one display to the next, talking with the authors and trading sources, anecdotes, and methods. I was especially impressed with Tamika Carey’s “‘I Apologize’: What Rhetorical Missteps Reveal about the Risks of Contemporary Black Feminist Discourse,” which revealed that when a Black woman makes even a small misstep, the consequences can be quite severe, ruining careers and blocking further advancement.  These sobering findings indicate how badly we need research like Carey’s. Another fabulous presentation was Patty Wilde’s “Cross(dress)ing the Mason Dixon Line: Recovering Rhetorical Histories that Disrupt Narratives Notions of Gender,” a study of some of the five hundred to a thousand women who crossdressed in order to participate in the Civil War.  The fascinating and very complex stories of some of these women were illustrated with archival photos showing them as women—and as men—and raised questions about the way gendered identities can and do shift over time and circumstances.  This showcase was a veritable feast of exciting new research!
  • And all this before the conference even opened! That happened Thursday morning with the General Session calling the meeting into being, presenting various awards, and featuring Adam Banks’s Chair’s address.  These addresses, in my experience, are always more than worth the price of admission, giving the current leader a forum to discuss the issues he or she sees as most salient to our organization and ideals.  Over the decades, I have heard marvelous Chair’s addresses, but Adam’s talk—“Ain’t No Walls behind the Sky, Baby:  Funk, Flight, and Freedom”—took this difficult and challenging genre to a new level.  Mixing hip hop, funk, and jazz elements of African American sermons, personal stories with analytic critique, lyrical incantations with bullet-point lists, and great wit with great passion, Banks asked everyone there to join him in meditating on three key words:  “funk, flight, and freedom.”  His talk was a brilliant embodiment of all three concepts, eliciting the longest and loudest standing ovation I’ve ever seen at our annual conference.  I can’t wait for this presentation to be published—and to be posted on the CCCC website and/or on YouTube. Do not miss it!!
  • I attended a number of standout sessions, including a very informative panel on current issues of intellectual property and their implication for writing and the teaching of writing, and a terrific set of talks on the history and mission, working conditions, and successes and challenges of HBCUs. Listening to Faye Maor, Dawn Tafari, Hope Jackson, and Karen Keaton Jackson reminded me once again how instrumental these institutions are to higher education in the United States and to the lives of their students.  BRAVA to all.

I could go on and on about all I learned at this conference and how good it felt to be with this group of people.  When I got back to California, Jaime Mejia wrote to me about his experiences, saying that CCCC simply “feels like home.”  It does indeed, and for thousands of us.  But it’s a home full of challenges and wake-up calls, including Adam’s injunction that we not be too tidy, not too antiseptic and proper, but that we take to heart the lessons of funk—to be a little messy, a little way beyond the lines and boundaries, a little “wild.” As Emily Dickinson puts it, “A little madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for a king.”  If this other March madness is good enough for Adam Banks and Emily Dickinson, it is certainly better than good enough for me.  So I plan to heed this call and to bring some of that madness, that wildness, into my thoughts and actions.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Professional Conferences, Professional Development & Service
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Multimodal Mondays: Prezis and Source Use: Engaging in a Multimodal Annotated Bibliography

posted: 3.23.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Jessie Miller is a Master’s Candidate in Written Communication at Eastern Michigan University, where she teaches first-year composition and consults in the University Writing Center. In her Master’s project, she uses discourse analysis to analyze the language First-Year Writing instructors use in assignment sheets where they ask their students to compose digitally. Her research (and her Master’s degree) will be completed in April 2015. 

Since I began teaching, I have been increasingly interested in the role technology plays in the composition classroom. Last year at Cs, I presented a digital pedagogy poster on how I engaged with social media and technology in my classroom. For one of the large projects of the semester I assigned a multimodal transformation of my students’ research essays. They had to re-envision their essay on a social media platform of their choosing (i.e. Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.). As I worked through this assignment with my class, I found myself negotiating the affordances and limitations of each platform with my students. Digital multimodal projects, I had realized, could easily become unwieldy.

So this year, I decided to thematize my first-year writing class around “new media” and its role in composition. Instead of having one large multimodal project at the end of the semester, I integrated several multimodal elements on an incremental basis throughout the semester, one of which I want to share with you today: “The Prezi Presentation,” a multimodal version of an annotated bibliography.


The goal of this assignment was to get students to see source use as an engaging and active practice.


For the second unit in my class, my students write an 8-10 page essay I call “The Rhetorical Research Argument.” In it, they pick a topic under the theme of “new media” and contribute to the discourse (or debate) surrounding that topic. Since their arguments must be rhetorically compelling, we naturally spent several weeks discussing effective source use before they began writing their essays. This discussion built up to “The Prezi Presentation,” a low-stakes in-class presentation conducted in small groups. Instead of completing a traditional annotated bibliography, I had my students use Prezi to visually map the relationship between their sources.

The guidelines for the presentation were as follows:

  1. Introduce the topic you plan to discuss in your essay
  2. Provide your specific thesis statement
  3. Discuss/Integrate the 7 (on a minimum) different sources you plan to integrate into your essay (you have creative freedom with how they introduced the sources, so this could be done in a number of ways)
  4. Provide a brief explanation of how you plan to use these sources to support your essay’s claims
    1. This should include some specific examples from the source’s text (i.e. Direct quotes or paraphrases)
  5. Provide a brief explanation of how the sources relate to one another
    1. For example, which sources support one another? Which sources disagree?

I told my students that they had creative liberty over the design of the presentation and the way in which they introduced their information (ex. Reading a quote versus pasting it directly into the Prezi). I also asked that they try to stay under ten minutes, but that was a loose estimate.

Instead of grafting a quote or two from a source, my students used a visual display of information to map out the interplay between their sources. I chose Prezi as the platform for this assignment because it does not have to be constructed linearly. In an essay, students won’t necessarily use sources in a linear way; instead, many sources have relationships to one another—they “talk to” one another. I wanted my students to use Prezi to help illuminate those connections for them.

In-Class Preparation
I introduced this project two weeks ahead of time. One the day I first introduced it, I provided laptops for my students and showed them how to use Prezi. Then, for homework I had my students write a journal entry in their Google Drive folder in which they responded to the following questions:

  1. Write down the title of each of your sources and provide the URL if it’s an online source.
  2. Write a 1-2 sentence summary of each source, then provide two paraphrased passages, and finally provide two direct quotations.
  3. At the end of the journal entry, write a paragraph in which you answer: How do these sources relate to one another? How will I use them in my essay?

This journal entry provided much of the framework for their Prezi.

During our next class period, we had an in-class workday where my students got feedback on their works-in-progress. Then, on the presentation day, I put students into groups of three or four, and each took turns presenting their Prezi while the other students graded them based on a rubric created from the assignment guidelines listed above.

Here are some student samples:

Internet Linguistics by student Keinan Slater

Citizen Journalism by student David Finquelievich

Children Learning from Apps by student Andrea Murphy

As I walked around the classroom while my students were giving their presentations, I was surprised to see how interactive my students were. Instead of sitting there silently during a presentation, students in the group often asked questions and offered feedback during the presentation itself. Likewise, the presenters would explain their sources, while also asking for help or direction as needed. As an instructor, I played little part in this final presentation day. I let my students work independently, which built their self-efficacy and helped shape their peer-to-peer relationships.

I am pleased with the results of this assignment. After the Prezi presentations, my students wrote a half draft of their essay, and in them they are already demonstrating a strong command of their sources. I am excited to see how their writing will progress from here.

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: Digital Writing, Guest Bloggers, Multimodal Mondays, Presentations, Research
Read All Andrea Lunsford


posted: 3.19.15 by Andrea Lunsford

On March 9, I had the great good fortune to visit Colorado State University, where my friend and former student Sarah Sloane has been directing the writing program. Her graduate seminar on composition studies was meeting that evening from 4:00 to 7:00, and since they were reading an article of mine, I got to drop in on the class as a “special mystery guest.” Then I got to hear about the work these grad students are doing—on everything from disability studies to multimodal projects to curricular design. They were GREAT. While I was there, Professor Tobi Jacobi said, “I have a present for you,” and handed me a slim volume of writing published by incarcerated men and women. I didn’t have time to do more than thank her—but later that night, on the long flight back to San Francisco, I read every word. I was heartened by the words of these writers, who for the most part had rejected nihilism and negativity in favor of hope and commitment to a better future. But they weren’t sugar-coating anything: their experience in prison had marked them deeply, and these pieces of writing reflected that reality as well.

This was a gift I will treasure, and it reminds me once more how many teachers of writing across the country are doing similar work: going into shelters, half-way houses, prisons, and community centers to engage people in writing about themselves, their lives, their hopes, their dreams. These efforts—almost always done “on top of” a full load of teaching and administrative work and scholarship—are a hallmark of work in rhetoric and writing studies, a sign of how much teachers care and how much they believe in the power of writing and reading (and speaking out!) to change lives for the better.

When I got home, I ordered Jacobi’s book, Women, Writing, and Prison:  Activists, Scholars, and Writers Speak Out (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014). Edited with Ann Folwell Stanford and with a preface by Sister Helen Prejean, this volume introduces the project and the narratives from prison that follow. Now that I’ve read the pieces printed in We Make Our Future: SpeakOut!, the gift from Tobi, I am looking forward to getting this volume and studying it as well. Check it out for yourself—and let me know other similar efforts you may know of.

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

Multimodal Mondays: Re/Mixing Composition and Technical Writing with an Online Course

posted: 3.16.15 by Andrea Lunsford

As I wrote in my recent post, this semester has been a reflective opportunity for me, in terms of re/vising multimodal writing assignments and how we can apply multimodal composition across genres and contexts.  In keeping with my theme of re/mix, I want to discuss how a multimodal composition looks when applied to a graduate school context.  Most of us have taught or currently teach first-year writing.  Accordingly, we discuss our pedagogies that apply to those classes, which provides a wealth of sharable information for our peers. Too often, however, I think we anchor composition pedagogies to first-year experiences only. This week, I offer a re/mix of multimodal blogging, contextualized for an online graduate course in information design.   The re/mixed blogging project could also be easily re/vised to work in most writing or technical communication courses.

Online courses offer their own rhetorical challenges for certain, and an online graduate course frequently compounds them.  As praxis-ioners of critical composition, however, we can still employ many of the strategies from our face-to-face teaching.  I also believe that students in these online spaces are grateful for multimodal writing opportunities that have “real-world” connections to their lives.  I teach a mix of students, some digital natives and some who are return-to-college learners.  Our motley crew, as one of my students dubbed our online community, sometimes requires additional resources to engender success in digital literacies.  The entire crew, however, appreciates and even seeks out multimodal writing opportunities because this type of assignment stimulates critical thinking and critical production of public texts.

A DIY blogging assignment that encourages students to construct multimodal technical writing (how-to and step-by-step posts) in digital spaces, using rhetorical cues from composition praxis

Assignment Goals and Measurable Learning Objectives

  • Apply multimodal composition strategies to technical writing
  • Use multimodalities as rhetorical delivery devices
  • Synthesize meaning through critical production of digital texts on-screen

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
I run this project early in the semester.  Prior to starting this project, the class reads, responds to, and discusses multimodalities of texts that we produce across digital discourses. We read Bohannon’s Multimodalities for Students, Popular Media Writing Tips, Writing Better Blog Posts, Rhetorical Considerations for Blogs to prepare us to build our blogs.

In Class and/or Out
“In-class” is an interesting experience in an online learning environment.  In my online courses I blend asynchronous discussion forums with synchronous class meetings.  Many of the Handbook readings for this assignment are reviews for both content and rhetorical strategies that many of my graduate students need to re/mediate.  In most cases, we read, respond, and discuss, either in Blackboard Collaborate or on our class forums.  Our online community requires members to post an initial 500-word response to my thread by the third day of each class week, with ensuing 100-word posts at least once to each course member by the end of the week.  Our motto is “post early and post often.”  By the end of each week, students have written more than 1,000 words!

We spend one week (module) reviewing rhetorical terms and applying them to our course objectives.  Then, in the next weekly module, I introduce the blogging assignment. We talk in our forums and in Collaborate, providing each other with additional resources and rhetorical support.  We read draft posts and offer feedback based on organization, content, ideas, syntax, and style.

After using our drafting exercises as sites for collaborative feedback, students take the next weekly module to finalize and publish their four blog posts, each containing at least one visual and/or audio component per post.

Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity
This assignment asks students to balance rhetorical invention with public technical writing.  When my students reflected on this writing opportunity, here’s what they said:


“I enjoyed making this blog. It gave me a chance to take a big part of my real life, and share it with others. I really had to think about my writing, and how it corresponded with some of the multimodalities included.” 

– Allison Feldman, Allison’s DIY Wedding Blog

“[The] assignment definitely allowed for creative expression. Not only were the ideas flowing, but I had to work with different technologies, and to make them work properly. I love the fact that this assignment pushed me to think about how effective blogging can be. I’m hopeful to use these strategies to drive traffic to the site.”

 – Jeffery Jackson, Jumper Jacks Essay Contest


My Reflection

This assignment works especially well in graduate courses, where students evaluate and compose rhetorics for professional portfolios. I have found also that graduate students often need to review composition conventions, for which “how-to” blogs serve as excellent, low-stakes writing opportunities.

Across courses and academic levels, students are far more likely to engage in authentic rhetorical performances, if they feel that they can exert their agency to improve their writing and meet learning outcomes.  For us as instructors, a vital part of our teaching is our ability to let go of our authority and guide students towards enduring understandings of content, which they research, design, and construct. When we re-focus our efforts around digital, authored performances in these environments, we facilitate rhetorical growth for our students, helping them develop informed voices as they become fluent in multiple discourse communities.

Try this assignment and let me know what you think. Please view/use the project guidelines (edit as you need) and view student samples here: DIY Blogs

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: (0)
Categories: Assignment Idea, Digital Writing, Guest Bloggers, Teaching with Technology
Read All Andrea Lunsford

“So, where’s the index?”

posted: 3.12.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Bedford/St. Martin’s editor extraordinaire Carolyn Lengel and I have been interviewing student writers as we’re working on a new edition of The Everyday Writer. We haven’t met these students; all we knew is that they had used Everyday Writer in one of their writing classes. As we talked, the students told us when and why they used the book, what they thought it had been helpful for, what about it they liked—or would like to see improved. But we were also interested in HOW they used the book. So we asked them to walk us through one time when they wanted to find information in their handbook—step by step. What they did first, and so on. To our surprise, several students said they began by looking at the words on the tabs to see if it looked like one or more of them contained the information they wanted. A couple of other students said they started by looking at “that list in the front of the book,” a.k.a. the table of contents. Finally, we asked a student if he had checked the index to help him locate what he was looking for. “So, where’s the index?” was his response.

Back in January, I resolved to spend more time introducing students to their indexes, and here was an ideal opportunity. We subsequently asked all the student writers about the index, and most seemed only vaguely familiar with it. The online sources they go to, they pointed out, don’t have indexes. These students, bright and generally school savvy, are not completely savvy about print book conventions. “So, where’s the index?” is a question worth listening to.

I’ve always urged teachers using one of my textbooks to spend class time early on getting the students into the book, showing them what’s there (these books are packed absolutely to the gills with what I’ve learned about teaching writing over 40+ years, so I know they can seem dense!) and how to find information. When I teach with one of these books, I use it frequently, often kicking off my course with the chapter on “Writing to Make Something Happen in the World.” I want students to read this chapter, to hear about the students featured in it, and to ask themselves how they define good writing and how often their writing makes something happen in the world. (I’ve found that students have fabulous stories to tell about such writing!) So we talk about writing as a performance, as active, as something that makes things happen. That’s writing, I find, that they can be committed to.

Keep your handbook close at hand so your students learn to do the same!

I also love to focus some class time on style, using chapters on sentence structure, on language, on word choice, and so on as a platform for workshopping some of their own work. I love working on sentences, taking one from each student and working together to make that sentence “sing.”

What I’ve learned over the decades is that if I want students to get the most out of a textbook, I have to bring it into class on a regular basis, showing them how to make it a valuable friend to their writing and their writing processes. And now I know not to take anything for granted! So early on I’ll ask a series of fairly abstruse questions and ask students to work together to answer them, using their handbook to help. Then we map the processes they used to find the answers, including false starts and missteps as well as successful moves in locating the needed information. And along the way, I make sure to ask, “So, where’s the index?”

[Illustration by GB Tran from the instructor’s edition of The Everyday Writer, fifth edition. Tran’s art will continue to be an intrinsic, exciting part of the forthcoming sixth edition.]

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Handbooks, Teaching Advice
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Multimodal Mondays: Every Little Bit Counts

posted: 3.9.15 by Andrea Lunsford

As the semester progresses, it’s tempting to dive into the deep end of the multimodal pool. That is, it’s tempting to build increasingly complex assignments as our students’ skills grow, full of new technology and fascinating online resources that create new ways of composing.

Of course, I’m fully supportive of creating these opportunities! But as the semester workload grows, it’s also important to remember that introducing multimodality into the composition classroom can happen in small doses, and with everyday activities that are the building blocks of good writing. I’m reminded of one of our Multimodal Mondays posts from last year. Guest Blogger Molly Scanlon wrote about using email to introduce the academic environment at the beginning of the semester. We all rely on email at this point, but what’s important as using the tools right in front of you to get students thinking and composing in different environments.

Speaking of Molly, she’ll be attending the Multimodal Showcase at 4Cs in Tampa this year (3:30-6:30 on Friday in Ballroom B at the Convention Center) and showing off some of her students’ work. Will you be there? I’m looking forward to seeing all of the wonderful multimodal work instructors are doing in their classrooms this year.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Multimodal Mondays
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Are you a “comma queen”?

posted: 3.5.15 by Andrea Lunsford

When I say I am a teacher of writing to a new acquaintance, I often get the response no doubt familiar to you: “Oops; better watch my language.” This stereotype of the English teacher as a nit-picker extraordinaire is widespread and seems to be deeply ingrained in the national psyche as “Miss Fidditch.” This character’s name seems to have been coined by linguist Henry Lee Smith in the early 1950s—though H. L. Mencken had earlier referred to “old maid schoolteachers who would rather parse than eat.” So the stereotype is surely an old one.

I became familiar with Miss Fidditch, however, when I read a book on style, Martin Joos’s The Five Clocks: a Linguistic Excursion into the Five Styles of English Usage (1967). Joos’s book (along with a brilliant and witty introduction by Albert Marckwardt) left a lasting impression on me, introducing me to the notion of contextual appropriateness and convincing me that where English is concerned, there is never one solitary right way to proceed: everything depends on the rhetorical situation and the intended purpose. Joos describes five styles: intimate, casual, consultative, formal, and frozen or formative, the last the kind of language that needs to remain the same in all situations: a phrase from the Bible, for example.

Apparently, Joos was inspired to write this book when he was teaching a grammar course to a group of teachers. When he asked them to respond to a short passage, they set at it with a vengeance, marking it up in every direction and finding it woefully lacking. Joos then had to tell them that it had been written by a Pulitzer prize winner (!). What he also no doubt told them was a lot about the importance of purpose and situation in style, from the intimate language appropriate to spouses or partners to the formal writing of the business world—and everything in between.

You may have run into Miss Fidditch in the work of Ken Macrorie or Peter Elbow, for she makes appearances there. But it’s worth going back to Joos as well; his is an important work in understanding how to talk to young writers about style.

Miss Fidditch was (is) no doubt a “comma queen,” a phrase that Mary Norris applies to herself in “Holy Writ: Learning to Love House Style,” which appeared in the February 23, 2015 issue of The New Yorker. Norris is a grand stylist herself, straightforward, witty, self-deprecating in just the right way, and friendly: she takes us on a journey through her life, from “foot checker” at a local swimming pool, to milk truck driver, dishwasher, mozzarella cheese packer, and eventually as a minor clerical worker in the editorial library of The New Yorker. There she has remained, working her way up from one job to the next and honing her love of style—and especially of the comma. She began reading everything as if she were copyediting it, and commas were her special territory: she could spot an errant one a mile away. But she learned to control her ardor, remembering that commas don’t bow to hard and fast rules but are situational and contextual. Backing up a bit, she tells us that

The comma as we know it was invented by Aldo Manuzio, a printer working in Venice, circa 1500. It was intended to prevent confusion by separating things. In the Greek, komma means “something cut off,” a segment. (Aldo was printing Greek classics during the High Renaissance. The comma was a Renaissance invention.) As the comma proliferated, it started generating confusion. Basically, there are two schools of thought: One plays by ear, using the comma to mark a pause, like dynamics in music; if you were reading aloud, the comma would suggest when to take a breath. The other uses punctuation to clarify the meaning of a sentence by illuminating its underlying structure. Each school believes that the other gets carried away. (Paragraph 21, if I counted correctly in the article, which you can find here.)


 A corps of commas ready to serve comma queens and comma commoners alike


Later, Norris tackles the question of the use of commas in a series (often referred to as the “Oxford  comma”), coming down on the side of those who advocate putting that final comma in, before the final item. I’ve always told students that putting that last comma in is easiest because then they can be consistent, not having to stop and think whether they need it there or not. Norris agrees, as indeed does New Yorker house style, and she gives some goofy examples to prove the point that leaving that last comma out can indeed sometimes produce confusion, consternation, or worse:

“We invited the strippers, J.F.K. and Stalin.” (This has been illustrated online, and formed the basis of a poll: which stripper had the better outfit, J.F.K. or Stalin.)“This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

The example I always use is “She ordered several sets of colorful socks:  banana yellow, turquoise, magenta, orange and lime.” Did she order four sets—or five? The comma makes the difference. Later in the essay, Norris tells readers of her fascination with comma usage in the work of James Salter, who uses a comma where she ordinarily would not put one, as in this sentence:

“Eve was across the room in a thin, burgundy dress that showed the faint outline of her stomach.”

Eventually, Norris runs across a number of such usages in Salter’s work, enough to let her know that they are intentional uses of the comma. She frets about this for some time and eventually writes to him. He gives a response that underscores how individual comma usage can be and especially how tied to purpose and situation it is:

As I had suspected, with the comma in “Eve was across the room in a thin, burgundy dress that showed the faint outline of her stomach,” [Salter] was trying to emphasize the contours of the stomach under the dress. “It wasn’t a thin burgundy dress,” he wrote. “It was a thin dress, burgundy in color. I wanted the reader to be aware of the thinness.”

Across the decades of my teaching career, I’ve met students whose comma use ranged from the “sprinkle in a few for effect” to as carefully chosen and deployed commas as the ones in Salter’s fiction. And I have certainly talked with students about the need to choose all punctuation with an eye to what is appropriate and effective in their particular rhetorical situation: which one of Joos’s five clocks they are telling time by. But I don’t think I have spent enough time demonstrating to students the full range and power of the lowly comma. Maybe I can be a “comma queen” without turning into “Miss Fidditch”!


[Image: a row of commas by Moira Clunle on Flickr]

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Grammar & Style, Punctuation & Mechanics
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Multimodal Mondays: Radically Revising the Composition Classroom

posted: 3.2.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn.

I have been thinking quite a bit about my amazing colleague, mentor, teacher, friend – Wendy Bishop.  Although Wendy is no longer with us, her voice still ripples  through composition studies and whispers in my head as I carry on the many lessons she taught me (and a slew of others) in her short, prolific life.   Wendy’s impact on composition studies is vast and she authored many books and articles, but she is well known for the ways she blended and blurred the boundaries between creative and critical writing.

Way back in 1995 she introduced me to the term, Radical Revision, which she defined as an act of revision in which writers re-see their ideas through new perspectives.  The idea of radical revision encouraged students to use ideas generated in an essay or writing project and recast them in a different format, genre or perspective.  She asked students to produce a second version of their writing that was different while clearly growing out of their first version. They were not instructed to produce an entirely different text that is only tangentially related to the first—which is not a revision at all—but a recognizable version of the first paper that has been “radically” changed (Alternate Style).

I modified (or radically revised) this assignment and had students move even further as they reshaped more traditional essays into visual representations that combined multimodal elements to re-see their ideas in new ways.   I wrote an article on these experiences in 1997 as part of Bishop’s edited collection, Elements of Alternate Style:  Essays on Writing and Revision*.   In my essay, “Distorting the Mirror: Radical Revision and Writers’ Shifting Perspectives,”  I discussed revision as invention and the relationship between form and content as rhetorical impact.

At the time we wrote these texts, the title Alternate Style called up assignments that stood outside the “normal” framework for teaching and needed their own book and place.  Today, the concept of alternate style and radical revision are reframed through multimodal lenses as new digital forms and audiences are central to the concept of multimodal composition.  These ideas are no longer lurking behind the curtain and considered “radical” but are essential to current composition pedagogy.   This is an exciting time for those of us who teach writing and ask students to regularly blend creative and critical expression as they explore the relationships and rhetorical connections between the textual, visual, and other digital content and forms.

Today, as I talk about radical revision, I am called back to re-see many things in my own teaching history.  I realize and have always considered the act of teaching and writing themselves as continuous acts of revision.  I would like to suggest that the term Radical Revision is important for teachers of writing today looking to bring multimodal composition into their writing classes.  We radically revise our writing classrooms and assignments in new ways and through new perspectives on digital culture and through the integration of digital writing projects.  As some teachers fear, this does not necessarily mean throwing out tried and true assignments and classroom activities in favor of new replacements.  Instead it involves going back to these assignments and seeing the ways we can radically revise them and still maintain the important composition theories and practices that make for strong, rhetorically appropriate communication in new contexts.

Once I realized that I was radically revising my teaching and writing assignments through these digital lenses, I was able to productively extend assignments that I have successfully used over the years.  An example of one of these assignments was detailed in an earlier Multimodal Mondays post in which I took the assignment of the Literacy Autobiography and had students recast it through the creation of a digital, visual, interactive timeline.  The assignment also asked them not only to return to traditional definitions of literacy but to radically revise their notions of literacy within digital contexts and to recast their ideas in a new, multimodal form.

I have many colleagues who are radically revising their writing classrooms through this multimodal lens. I am interested in seeing how other teachers have taken on this challenge and have come to see traditional assignments in new ways.  In another one of my Multimodal Monday posts, I wrote about the concept of Lifehacking.   As I explain in that post, lifehacking is a phrase that “describes any advice, resource, tip or trick that will help you get things done more efficiently, effectively” or in a way that addresses everyday problems or issues in an “inspired or ingenious manner.”   Like the concept of radical revision, teachers have had to find hacks that help students re-see their ideas through the lenses of multimodal composition.  Although some teachers are hesitant to make these shifts because they feel they are hard pressed to let go of the tried and true, I have talked to many teachers who have revised their writing classrooms through teaching hacks in which they radically revise their assignments through simple digital extensions and multimodal projects.

Call for Perspectives

Over the next couple of weeks I plan to venture out and get some “comp-on-the-street perspectives” and talk to my colleagues and collect their best teaching hacks for enriching their curriculum through multimodal assignments and digital literacies.  I encourage others reading this post to send me your best teaching hacks @ khaimesk@kennesaw.edu as well.  In my next post, I will share some what I learn through these multimodal teaching hacks.

Although some of these assignments involve multiple steps and processes, for this project I am looking for quick, radical revisions that can help teachers shift their perspectives and easily integrate digital forms and thinking into their composition classrooms.  Each description should be no longer than one or two paragraphs (remember – the lifehack format calls for short, efficient methods).  Include a short reference to the original assignment and the way you “hacked” it for the multimodal composition classroom. I am going to look for assignments that productively blend the creative and the critical through simple shifts that demonstrate the kind of radical revision in its truest sense.  Stay tuned for what I turn up through this exploration.

*Bishop, Wendy. Elements of Alternate Style: Essays on writing and revision. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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@spsu.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, Guest Bloggers, Multimodal Mondays, Pedagogy, Teaching Advice
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Do you know The Noun Project?

posted: 2.26.15 by Andrea Lunsford

At the end of last year, I went to hear students in PWR 2 at Stanford (that’s the second year writing class) participate in a conference, during which they gave presentations based on their research this term. As I expected, the presentations were all fun to listen to and packed with information: the students were dressed up and doing their best to get and hold their audience’s attention. (Of course, I wouldn’t be a teacher if I didn’t have some suggestions for improvement—and all the presenters I heard could have used more work on transitions: “and now,” for instance, isn’t a very helpful transition for listeners, especially if it’s repeated over and over!)

But the presentations were all engaging, and after a while I began to notice that some of the students were using very intriguing icons to mark call-out items or ideas on their slides:  no bullet points for these speakers. After the presentations were over, I asked one of the students about it and she said, “Do you know The Noun Project?” I did not.

But now I have checked it out and discovered that the Project was founded by Edward Boatman, Sofya Polyakov, and Scott Thomas in 2010, when they produced a catalog with several hundred non-copyrighted icons. Since that time, the Project has grown exponentially; now designers around the world contribute new symbols and icons. Their website (see thenounproject.com) announces their goal as “Creating, Sharing and Celebrating the World’s Visual Language,” inspired by Edward’s insight that “It would be really great if I had a drawing of every single object or concept on the planet.” Such drawings, symbols, and icons can help foster communication across languages, cultures, and space.

The student I spoke with was using a fish from the Project to act more or less like a bullet point, only more interesting—and appropriate since she was talking about marine biology.  Good idea—but once I was on the Noun Project site, I could imagine many other uses for these symbols, which the creators refer to as “a silent language that speaks louder than words.”

I’m not sure I would go quite so far: I don’t think visual symbols will replace words any time soon (and besides, words are themselves visual images when they are written down). But they work beautifully with words to help get messages across clearly and succinctly. Check out The Noun Project website—and be sure to click on the short video embedded on the home page!

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

Multimodal Mondays: PechaKucha Proposals

posted: 2.23.15 by Andrea Lunsford

In many classrooms, multimodal presentations are becoming par for the (composition) course, and other Bits authors and Multimodal Mondays bloggers have shared ways to take presentations beyond PowerPoint (see “Composing Identities with Literacies Experience Timelines” and “When to Prezi” for examples). Instructors are thinking not only about different types of presentations but about different ways—and contexts—to use presentations. Traditionally, presentations have been cumulative, a capstone on a well-developed research project. But presentations can also be useful tools for invention and for establishing a writing community in your classroom. Added benefits are building visual literacy and giving a platform for visual learners to brainstorm and share their ideas.

In this post, I adapt one of my favorite presentation formats, the PechaKucha (20 slides displayed for 20 seconds each with no pausing) to an idea-sharing event.


To present research proposals and build a writing community in a class PechaKucha Event.

Background reading before class

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

In class

For this activity, students will prepare a PechaKucha to present their research project proposals. (If you decide the 400 seconds of a full PechaKucha is too long, you may opt to have students collaborate on a presentation, or pair students who have similar topics and can be responsible for equal portions of the slides).

Take the time in class to explain the PechaKucha format and show some examples of the presentations, plenty of which are available at the PechaKucha website; it’s likely you’ll find a presentation on the theme of your course or your assignment, if you have a limited focus. It might be useful to share that the PechaKucha format was developed by an architecture firm to prevent architects from talking too long about their work. This means that this kind of presentation has real-world implications and a place beyond the classroom, and that it can be exploratory and perhaps even a bit informal. PechaKuchas are also developed to be events, featured in global PechaKucha Nights, which means that the social context of the format is one of its essential aspects.

In class, students should approach this activity in two ways:

  1. Students should use the guidelines from your research project to consider their argument, the sources they will research, and their ideas for how they might support their arguments: giving context, offering rebuttals, exploring entry points into the conversations, explaining why the topic is relevant, etc. Remind students that this stage is exploratory; they can provide several options they might pursue.
  2. Students should also think about how they might present their ideas visually in the PechaKucha format. They might consider photographs from news sources, data charts that piqued their interest (and might be used as sources later), abstract images that represent their ideas or research plans, even “selfies” in which students position themselves in the context of their arguments. Encourage them to be creative!

Together, develop criteria for a good PechaKucha proposal. For example, you might consider questions like the following to develop your guidelines:

  • What is the benefit of providing visuals to share your ideas?
  • What counts as a “visual”? Pictures?  Words? Something else?
  • How should you organize your proposal to have the most impact on your audience?
  • What are the benefits to presenting your proposal in this format rather than writing a formal proposal? What are the challenges?
  • What are the advantages of presenting to your classmates? How should the audience engage with your presentation?


Ask students to develop and present (or record) their research project proposals in a PechaKucha-style presentation that they will share during your class’s PechaKucha Event.

You can choose to structure your Event as a continuous presentation, with students jumping up to give their ideas when it’s their turn, or you can choose to have students present individually or in small groups. Adding in breaks allows for questions, while a continuous loop might make students feel like they’re all part of the same presentation and might add to a looser atmosphere.

Before the Event, have students submit their slides to you, and you can combine the slides, inserting a slide with the presenter name(s) before each proposal. Set the slides to advance every twenty seconds (check out the YouTube video below to learn about the basics of setting up a PowerPoint for the PechaKucha format).

Depending on your resources or goals, you might consider making the PechaKucha Event an occasion that expands beyond the classroom, much like the official PechaKucha Nights that occur in cities around the world. Perhaps you could schedule an event for multiple sections or your course so that students in different classes can share their ideas. It’s up to you! Regardless, making the proposal presentation more of an event will stress the importance of early planning and thinking for a research project and remind students that it’s not just about the final product—each step is important and event-worthy.

Reflection on the activity                  

Ask students to reflect on the presentations they and their classmates have created, using questions like these as prompts for discussion or writing:

  1. How did setting up the proposal in a PechaKucha format help you conceptualize your writing project? How did it challenge you?
  2. How will you use the audience’s interactions and questions as you move forward with your project?
  3. What would you do differently if you were to present your proposal again?
  4. What advice would you give to other students who are asked to do this assignment in the future?

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: Activity Idea, Andrea Lunsford, Audience, Multimodal Mondays, Visual Argument, Visual Rhetoric
Read All Andrea Lunsford