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.

Are indexes obsolete?

posted: 1.29.15 by Andrea Lunsford

A posting on the Free Library Blog recently caught my eye, particularly the following paragraph:

Most students also don’t know that many books are indexed. Thus they are unaware that the nature of the assignment might not require that they read the whole work, but rather that they use the index to find the relevant sections which address their own topic. As long as they understand that context matters and learn to read efficiently within a work, they need not be defeated by hundreds of pages of text. Without these skills, it’s a safe bet they haven’t been introduced to bibliographies, chasing notes, or any myriad of other useful appendixes at the back of the book. (See What students (and often their teachers and their principals) don’t know about research and an enriching liberal education.)

Students don’t know books are indexed? I was mildly surprised to read this . . . until I had a chance to interview seven college students from as many different universities in the last few weeks. I was asking these students about their writing in general, as well as about their writing assignments and about how they went about fulfilling them. Since all the students were using a writing textbook, I asked about that too. The students were all bright and full of good insights—a lot of fun to talk with. And I learned a lot about how they thought about their weaknesses and strengths as writers and also about how they went about finding answers to questions they had about writing. “Where in your textbook do you go if you want to find some information?” I asked.

And that’s when I got surprised. A couple of the students said they looked in the front of the book (that would be the table of contents, though they didn’t call it that). Others said they flipped through the book or looked at the key words on the tabs that divide the book to see if they could narrow down their search. One student, who was using an electronic version of a textbook, used the search function. None of the students mentioned the index. Eventually, I asked one of them “would you ever look up something you wanted to find information about in the index?” The reply: “where is the index?”

If your textbook’s index has a listing for ‘indexes’, will your students know where to find it?

I’ve thought quite a bit about this response and should probably not have been surprised.  After all, students are so used to searching online for information, using search boxes and keyword searches, etc. Still, a great many students are using books, including reference books, and for these texts the index can be absolutely key: as the library blog notes, without an index a reader is left to sift through the volume searching for information.

So here’s one of my resolutions for 2015: I intend to make sure every student I talk with in a class or in the writing center knows where to find the index in books—and how to use it.  A little time spent practicing with an index will take up very little time, and it could end up saving a LOT of time.

Do your students know where to find a book’s index and what to do with it once they find it?

[Photo: The index of The St. Martin’s Handbook, Eighth Edition]

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Handbooks, Working with Sources
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Multimodal Mondays: Composing within the Blogosphere

posted: 1.26.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn.

When I first started using blogging in my classes it was in an advanced writing class as a specialized genre, presented as an extension of the classical essay form. This was easy to demonstrate to students because of the particular characteristics:  the desire to discover, the conversational tone, the writerly movement between the specific and the universal, the strong sense of audience engagement.   I also have students create electronic portfolios in many of my classes. The portfolios provided a place for students – as working writers – to revise their writings and showcase their work in public arenas.

This past semester, I deeply integrated blogging into my first year composition class.  It was through blending these ideas that I realized the amazing potential of this genre for student writers in our digital age.  It is not a question of merely integrating digital assignments into our classes.  These student blogs were not just a collection of random thoughts written journal-style.   The blogs my students composed gave them opportunities to create and manage their online identities while also creating a working portfolio for their developing academic careers.

In this class, I had students look deeply at their digital identities and connect rhetorically – through text and image – with larger audiences. Although some of them had blogged before, this particular blog had students creating spaces to explore their own interests while at the same time shaping serious academic writings and projects related to their areas of study.  Although they sometimes questioned me along the way about the ”academic”  nature of this writing, it is clear to me that the lessons learned were some of the most academically rich I got from students in years.

Here are just some of the goals and skills students took from this engaging project:

  • Rhetorical awareness (audience, purpose, situation, context)
  • An understanding of the relationship between text and visual
  • The importance of contextualization as meaning-making function
  • A sense of ownership and responsibility as a communicator
  • An understanding of genre, format and conventions

The Assignment:  Creating and Organizing the Blogs

  • I have students use WordPress because it is easy and accessible.  It doesn’t require too much prior tech-knowledge and has flexible templates that allow for modification and customization.
  • Although students have some freedom to choose the direction and emphasis of their blog, I do have assigned categories that must appear in all of them. See my Revising and Shaping your blog Assignment) for details, categories and criteria. The common structure and expectations allow students to create both particular digital assignments and purposeful curation spaces.
  • I assign students a series of digital assignments (See Literacy Timelines, Lifehacks,  Composing Visually and Mapping for examples from previous MM posts) to give them heuristic practice using online tools and generating online compositions.
  • I do my best to communicate to students that the blogs are “acts of composition” that draw upon many rhetorical strategies and writing skills. See my Revising Your Blog assignment for guiding students to identify the rhetorical situation, format and categories and rhetorical criteria expected for evaluation.
  • I present the blog and its contents as a continuous act of deep revision. Students often engage in feedback sessions through small group work, full class workshops and weekly online commentary. They return to their blogs and reshape them and building them through these interactions.

Reflecting on the Activity
Although students initially struggled to fit the blog into their vision of what happens in writing classes, they eventually came to understand the connections through the semester. Their blogs started out lacking content, rhetorical awareness, organization, and visual components, but many students felt the rewards at the end of the term as demonstrated in their final course reflections:

Probably the most impactful responses involved students’ increased sense of rhetorical awareness through a stronger emphasis on audience and purpose.  Nick says,

For me, overall this term I learned a vast amount of knowledge about writing. This course taught me to look deeper into subjects, and that grabbing the reader’s attention is important but keeping it is crucial. I learned different writing styles through the digital assignments and the blog and how they communicate a theme or purpose better than other styles. I realized that especially when I was writing my feature article because the writing style depended on keeping the reader’s attention and relating it back to them. With all of the lessons combined, I can confidently say that I am a better writer because of this course.

Or consider Savannah’s response as she reflects on her changes throughout the course,

As I look back into the first half of the semester and compare it to the second half, I see that my engagement with the audience has increased drastically.  I found out that digital literacy is more than just writing, but composing and being visually literate.  This correlated well with my work on my blog in that I eventually made it for myself.

Savannah and others repeatedly refer to a strong sense of ownership that was new to them within a classroom/assignment context.  Although there were common categories and assignments, I encourage students to choose their exploratory blog posts and additional categories that might suit their particular interests, areas of study or future needs.

Phillip says,

I feel as though these blog posts allowed me the opportunity to fully express myself, which was something I haven’t been able to do in the past. The beginning assignment posts were open-subject blogs that granted me the freedom discuss things that were important to me.

Phillip chose subjects such as a painting analysis and translation of a Hispanic artist, an examination of a peculiar object in his neighborhood, a critical examination of the purpose of  blogging, a restaurant review of the Slice of Life Pizza, and his feature article on the design process that an architect typically follows when working on a project.

Or as Ty puts it,

everything you put on your blog is because you wanted it there – not something that you followed or found but something that you created.  This is the place where your digital identity comes true — although I used Facebook and other things on the internet I never had a digital identity until this class.

Perhaps the most satisfying, for me as a composition teacher is that the project helped them create a space to continue their writing beyond the scope of the class.  The way that this particular blog was designed opened spaces for them to collect and share work from their future classes and areas of study, their own place for critical reflection and a way to shape their digital identities and share their ideas with others.

Cam appreciates the fact that this is the “only place on the internet where I have my own domain, so I was proud of that.”   Or, consider Savannah’s plans to use her blog in the future to store and reflect on her work as an architect (something she might use in a future portfolio) and also as a place to share her paintings and illustrations.  She has come to see all of these projects as part of her digital identity and understands the importance of representing herself online.   She says,

I plan to continue my blog further to where I have an active audience. I also plan to further my learning in composition for specific audiences through my blog; Relevancetome This course has taught me so much and can easily prepare for many online writings in my future. With how most of the world is now turning towards technology, I’m thankful this course used technology in each of the writing assignments. I will push my blog further with posting of new artwork and sharing my blog on my social media sites. I feel my blog has come a long way from the beginning of the semester, but has so much more to be done. A goal of mine would be to have many followers who love to view my artwork as well as read my compositions.

I have linked to some of my students’ blogs-in-progress and the Revising and Shaping Your Blog assignment. Check them out along with other multimodal assignments on my Acts of Composition website.

Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Southern Polytechnic State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things.  She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. This week, Kim shares her blogging assignments and student responses to the activities. 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: Assignment Idea, Guest Bloggers, Multimodal Mondays, Revising, Teaching with Technology, Writing Process
Read All Andrea Lunsford

What’s your word of the year?

posted: 1.22.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Surprisingly (to me at least), Merriam Webster announced “culture” as their Word of the Year for 2014, noting that it was the single most-searched-for term during the last twelve months, coming in ahead of “nostalgia,” the second most-searched-for word. Over at Oxford, they pronounced “vape” the word of the year, in a nod to the e-cigarette movement. And dictionary.com went with “exposure,” related to the fears surrounding Ebola.

Of these words, “nostalgia” makes the most sense to me, given that so many 50-years-after events, such as passage of the Civil Rights Act, came to mind. But after I read Dennis Baron’s year-ending post on his Web of Language blog, I sat down to think again. Baron selects “torture” for his 2014 word of the year because, he says, “it’s the epitome of what went wrong, not just with counterterrorism, but with everything.” He has a point. Given the series of beheadings, abduction and massacre of children, and ongoing unspeakable atrocities of ISIS, “torture” seems like a pretty good choice. The argument raging around this word is, of course, partially a definitional one: are “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding “torture.” For now, the answer in the U.S. seems to be a resounding yes, despite former Vice President Dick Cheney’s avowal that he would “do it again in a heartbeat.” (Check out Baron’s entire posting here.)

But I believe there are alternatives to “torture” as the word of the year for 2014. Among the many signs of such alternatives, I would spotlight a young Pakistani woman, shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating schooling for all children. You know her already—Malala Yousafzai, co-winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize (presented jointly to Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi for their “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education”).

Malala Yousafzai

 What’s the word I would choose to characterize Yousafzai? Many come to mind, but to me, “perseverance” comes closest to what she represents to me—her absolute refusal to give in to murderous attacks and intimidation, her absolute perseverance in pursuing the cause of education for all. That word also captures the heroism of doctors and nurses across the African nations most affected by Ebola. And the voices of all those this past year who have protested against oppression and for social justice for all. Perseverance.

I wonder what your word of the year might be—and even more I wonder what your students’ word of the year is. I intend to ask this question in the coming months as I visit colleges and universities around the country. For now, I’m sticking with “perseverance.”

[Photo: Malala Yousafzai photo by K. Opprann from Nobelprize.org]

Comments: (0)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Popular Culture
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Are You Listening?

posted: 12.29.14 by Andrea Lunsford

When “elocution” and speaking began to fall (or were they shoved?) out of the English curriculum fairly early in the 20th century, they took with them attention to listening. In fact, the hegemony of print (put it in writing, please!) focused attention more and more on written words and their correctness. My grandmother remembered near-daily recitations (at 96 she could recite the poems she memorized and performed in middle school), but only a decade or so later, those exercises were gone, replaced by reading and writing.

The late 20th and early 21st century, however, have seen a spectacular return of the spoken word, so much so that even college curriculum committees had to take note. Thus it’s increasingly the case that writing centers now include speaking and presenting (Stanford’s writing center is now the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking, for instance) and that writing courses now teach students about presenting their work in both written and spoken media.

But the exclusion of speaking from the curriculum took with it another important ability, that of listening. And while speaking has been making a formidable comeback in writing classes and centers, listening is still most often given lip service only. In spite of Krista Ratcliffe’s magnificent work on listening (Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness) and the work of those scholars who answered her call for more research on and understanding of listening, few teachers fully engage the issue in their writing classrooms. And with good reason: teaching listening is HARD.

What a treat it was, then, to open the November 2014 issue of College English and find Steph Ceraso’s article “(Re)Educating the Senses: Multimodal Listening, Bodily Learning, and the Composition of Sonic Experiences.”

Ceraso’s article makes a major contribution to research on listening, especially by insisting that listening is a fully embodied practice that goes far beyond ears only. In addition, Ceraso introduces us to “sound studies,” arguing that “we must reimagine the ways we teach listening to account for the multiple sensory modes through which sound is experienced in and with the body”: this is “multimodal listening.” This thesis certainly got and held my attention by helping me see that my focus on multimodal composing is incomplete without an accompanying pedagogy for multimodal listening.

Along the way, Ceraso introduces readers to how a deaf percussionist, Evelyn Glennie (who performs over 100 concerts a year) learned to listen multimodally, quoting from some of Glennie’s autobiography as well as from an interview Ceraso conducted with her 2011. If you have friends who are deaf, you may have experienced ways in which they “listen” holistically. Still, it was stunning to read of Glennie’s  multimodal listening practices and to realize, slowly, that I or anyone else can learn to experience the kind of tactile interaction with sound that is, in effect, a kind of touch.

Evelyn Glennie explains embodied listening and shows off her skills.

Later in the essay, Ceraso addresses the practicalities of such teaching, saying that

Teachers of multimodal listening must design assignments that encourage the kind of heightened awareness that enables students to learn and grow with every new sonic experience. To develop as listeners, students need to unlearn the listening practices that they have become accustomed to in their everyday lives. We need to find ways to defamiliarize these habitual practices—to make them strange again.

And she goes on to outline not only some ways to practice embodied listening in the classroom but also to outline four ways that our teaching of multimodal composing will be enhanced by attending to multimodal listening.

I came away impressed and convinced by this article, from which I have learned a great deal. Now I hope to try out some of what Ceraso suggests in my own listening (I clearly need to “unlearn” my habit of listening only with my ears, for example) and in my teaching of multimodal composing. As always, I am grateful to scholars such as Steph Ceraso for leading teachers of writing in such exciting and provocative new discoveries.

Comments: (3)
Categories: Andrea Lunsford
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Holiday Wishes

posted: 12.22.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Over this holiday season, I’m spending time on the northern California coast, where we’ve been rocked by much-needed storms and rain for the last two weeks. I sit in my upstairs study, looking out toward the Pacific as the huge swells advance and crash onto the little cove beyond my house. I’ve spent some time sending Happy Holiday, Happy Hanukkah, and Merry Christmas cards and some time walking (in between rain showers). But most of my time has been spent writing—upcoming talks, new chapters for textbooks, and a lot of email messages to those I love most—like my grandnieces Audrey and Lila, here dressed up with me for our annual outing to “The Nutcracker”:

How lucky I feel to take such pleasure in work, the work of writing, that shapes my days and that shades into communion with family and friends. So on this holiday season, here’s my wish for writing teachers everywhere: may you be with those you love best, and may you write long and well to those you can’t be with. Writing the ties that bind.

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

How’s Your Writing Center Doing?

posted: 12.18.14 by Andrea Lunsford

A week or so ago, I  traveled to Miami University in Ohio to meet with the National Advisory Board for the Howe Center for Writing Excellence, a group that includes Kathleen Yancey, Marti Townsend, Chris Anson, and Steve Bernhardt along with Kate Ronald, Director of the Howe Center. I’ve been on this Board since the inception of the Center, so I’m always glad to visit and learn about what this exemplary Center is doing. As always, I came away impressed. Student tutorials have increased exponentially, as have the number of workshops offered for students at all levels. The Center sponsors many events, including a new writing prize for international students (a GREAT idea) and “Takeaway Tuesdays,” the day when students who come in for a consultation get a prize in return. Some of the consultants told me that they had noticed that Tuesday seemed to be their lightest day of the week—so they came up with the idea of small prizes as a way to encourage students to come in more often on Tuesdays. I also spoke with graduate students who help to coordinate the Center and loved hearing the passion in their voices when they talked about the work they were doing. I expect that these graduate students will be conducting some major research in the Center, research that can contribute a great deal to our field.

At my home university, the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking is also booming: more students than ever are using the services of this Center, and bringing in speaking and presenting has been a big success. During finals week, I spent a very profitable three hours in the Center, participating in a Program in Writing and Rhetoric 2 Conference, which brought students together in panels to present their research findings to an audience beyond their classmates. I managed to hear seven presentations, about topics from the relationship between agribusiness and health to “pretotyping,” a technique developed by Alberto Savoia while working at Google and currently being taught in Stanford’s red-hot d.school. (I’d never heard of it but was intrigued enough to do some digging after this presentation.) The student speakers were well prepared and articulate, and they all used slides very effectively. I thought back to the first years we were teaching PWR 2 and focusing on oral and multimedia presentations: these students are performing at a much higher level now—I was wowed!

In spite of this evidence of booming writing centers, I continue to hear about center directors losing their positions and centers even being closed. I can’t think of a worse idea. Especially at a time when students are facing larger and larger classes and higher and higher fees, a college writing center is one of the best things students have going for them. I’d love to hear how your center is doing!

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

Casket or Coffin? The New York Times and Style

posted: 12.11.14 by Andrea Lunsford

In mid-November I was skimming headlines when this one caught my eye: “Please, Don’t ‘Decry’ the ‘Divorcee.’ Or Give Us Your ‘CV.” The Times Guide to Modern Usage.”  Intrigued, I clicked and read on.  In this brief piece, Susan Lehman, former deputy editor of the Sunday Review section of the New York Times, provides a “sampling of terms that should be used with care.” Lehman opens the column by saying:

We investigate subjects here.  We do not “probe” them. And no, none of the bodies here are buried in “caskets”; The New York Times Manual of Style prefers the term “coffin.”

Definitely not caskets, according to the New York Times.

She then goes on to list twenty-three words or phrases that are objectionable to the Times, from “access” used as a verb to “undertaker” which “may be used interchangeably with funeral director” and is much preferred to “mortician,” which should not be used.

I’ll admit to finding the list a bit strange, not to say peremptory: for example, “anchor is the preferred term for the chief reporter on a news broadcast.” Fine so far. But then the Guide goes on to say that “Anchorman and anchorwoman are acceptable, especially in direct quotations. Do not use anchorperson.” My jaw dropped at the “especially in direct quotation! OF COURSE those terms are acceptable in direct quotations: otherwise, the quotation would not be direct. As to “anchorperson,” it is surely grating to my ear, but I wouldn’t go so far as to ban it!

I’d love to know why the Times prefers “coffin” over “casket” or why it thinks the term “decry” “is stilted and archaic-sounding.” And while I agree with the Guide that “fondle” is an inappropriate term to use in descriptions of “rape, assault or unwelcome advances,” their acceptable substitutes (“grab” and “touch”) don’t seem especially appropriate either.

Reading this piece made me think about the need for teachers of writing to help students examine their choice of words and think carefully about appropriateness, but doing so without appropriating or taking over the student’s language. I was recently tutoring an older student who was writing about his experience in prison and about the changes he had undergone as a result of that experience. Throughout his draft, he used vivid descriptive language, some of which might be deemed inappropriate by some people. But to edit out that language seemed to me to diminish the power of the point he was making, not to mention interfere with or change the voice he was using to make that point.

So I’m glad that the Times Manual of Style and Usage is able to make such pronouncements about what is and is not appropriate with apparent ease. In the writing classroom and in tutorials, however, decisions aren’t always clear-cut, nor do they yield to hard and fast pronouncements from above.

[Photo: Coffins, Gondar by Rod Waddington on Flickr. Shown here cropped.]

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

Multimodal Mondays: Wrapping it Up – From Digital Badges to E-dentities

posted: 12.8.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law Bohannon.

 I began my posts for this semester’s blog with a piece about e-badges, and how students develop their e-dentities through the production of personal e-badges.  As my students and I wrap up our semester, we are thinking about what it means to create and nurture our e-dentities.  We have developed and grown our e-dentities for the past few months on public domains, through an initiative led by the University of Mary Washington, Emory University, and this semester, at my school, Southern Polytechnic State University.

Called Domain of One’s Own, this initiative gives students the opportunity to host their own web domains.  Professors across participating campuses have utilized the tools provided through Domain to enhance students’ ownership of personal web spaces in innovative and diverse ways.  For me, blogs are a key element for students to demonstrate agency in their own public, digital writing spaces.   My students have used their personal web spaces this semester to develop and interrogate their multiple e-dentities.

Student agency in practice is an inherently organic and self-directed rhetorical process. When successfully accomplished in a first-year writing class, however, a few guidelines can help students, who are digital natives but not necessarily digital rhetoricians, discern what they want to produce, guide them in the accompanying multimodal textual productions, and help them revise their rhetorics to best reflect overarching goals for e-dentity productions.  What I present here is a DIY assignment that encourages students to produce and think critically about their e-dentity acts of composition.

Assignment Goals

  • Produce a biographical blog post describing your e-dentity(ies)
  • Employ multimodalities as rhetorical delivery devices
  • Achieve meaning through critical production of digital texts on-screen

Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts on rhetorical elements 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
Prior to assigning this project, the class discusses multimodalities of texts that we produce across digital discourse communities. We read Bohannon’s Multimodalities for Students and watch e-dentity explanations from fellow students: Jenkins on E-dentity; Mayfield on E-dentity; Finnigan on E-Dentity.

In Class and/or Out
After creating their badges (first part of the assignment), students Google themselves and write a brief, low-stakes analysis of what they find. Thinking then about personal, professional, and educational goals, students brainstorm their various e-dentities, or lack of them.  In groups and as a whole class, students discuss the invention of their desired e-dentities. Then, using the class-constructed Who I am Online guidelines sheet (feel free to make it your own), students begin the write-revise process with their blog posts that embody their e-dentities.

Students employ multimodalities in the forms of gifs, podcasts, visuals, Youtube videos, and word clouds in their blog posts to define and analyze their e-dentities. Instructors should Use an LMS or their own web spaces as community spaces for students to post links to their blogs.

Next Steps: Reflections on the Activity
At the next class meeting(s), students discuss and show their e-dentity blog posts then justify the rhetorical choices they made in their textual productions. They evaluate their invention, style, and the Elements of Multimodalities. The entire community provides feedback before, during, and after the presentations, engendering synthesis of the elements of rhetoric for everyone.  One key component of this assignment is its residence in the genre of public writing.  From brainstorming to production to re-production, students perform their compositions within their class community and also for a wider audience that exists outside of university walls.  In fact, many students receive blog comments from readers who come across the blogs through a Google or similar web search.

This assignment requires instructors to straddle a fine line between experimental learning and critical guidance towards digital rhetorical productions. In my experience I have found that authentic student engagement grows out of democratic writing and discussion opportunities.  Students are far more likely to engage in a composition course if they feel that they can exert their agency to affect writing and learning outcomes.  For us as instructors, our fundamental role is our ability to let go of our authority and break that substantive binary that separates teachers and students in learning spaces.  When we re-center ourselves around our class community we facilitate rhetorical growth for us and our students, helping them develop informed voices as they participate 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: Student Blog Posts

Also, please leave me feedback at www.rhetoricmatters.org.

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

Why I Value Conferences So Much

posted: 12.4.14 by Andrea Lunsford

A recent discussion on the WPA listserv about conferences—the pros and the cons—caught my attention. I read with great interest, particularly as Bob Yagelski described the writing program at SUNY Albany and the important role that conferences played in it. Bob’s comments reminded me of one of the great lessons we learned during the five-year longitudinal Stanford Study of Writing. In interviews during these five years, and in conversations since, students told us over and over that what helped them improve most in their writing was what research team member Paul Rogers dubbed “dialogic interaction.” Students spoke of such moments with near reverence, describing times when they were in conversation with an instructor—or a friend or family member—about their writing and suddenly a light bulb came on, they saw ways to change and grow and improve, seemingly all of a sudden.

Our study convinced us that such insights are nurtured through careful, often intense, conversation.  This is an example of a cognitive leap in writing ability that is stimulated by talk. As a result we emphasized purposeful working conferences even more in our curriculum (Stanford writing instructors meet with students at least three times in conference every term).

Of course many teachers have such large classes that frequent conferences aren’t possible. But instructors are coming up with ways to use technology to help in such situations—from holding online “office hours” to software programs that allow for real-time conversation. In writing about conferences at SUNY Albany, Yagelski referred to New Hampshire’s inimitable Donald Murray, who argued that he did the best (and really all) of his teaching of writing in conference. There are legions of former students out there who would support Murray’s claim. But such conferences need to be carefully prepared for by the student, who comes in with questions and ready to talk about a particular draft. The instructor too needs to turn on the rhetorical listening advocated by Krista Ratcliffe and be “on” throughout the conference, so as not to miss an opportunity for a moment of insight.

I came across the picture below just the other day, and it took me back several years to a series of conferences I had with a graduate student studying Shakespeare in China. This student, for whom English was a third or fourth language, was struggling with some very complex concepts, and we spent hours talking about them, with me doing a lot of hard listening and questioning—and the student trying out answer after answer, draft after draft. Very recently, I ran into a mention of this student and was thrilled to find that he is now a tenured professor.  I don’t know what he would say about the power of conferences, but I expect he is now using them in his own teaching!

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

Multimodal Mondays: Composing Visually-Making Meaning through Text and Image

posted: 12.1.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Professor Kim Haimes-Korn.

We are all well aware that visual rhetoric has the power to communicate meaning on its own or in concert with text.  We interact with so many images every day that influence us, shape our perspectives and move our emotions. As teachers, we are usually comfortable engaging students in visual analysis where they participate in acts of interpretation. Multimodal composition offers students ways to extend those efforts and compose through visuals as well.

Generally, when students start composing visually they think primarily about the aesthetic appeal.  Although this is an important layer of visual impact, I encourage them to go beyond aesthetics and think about the ways composing with images is another rhetorical act in which we make choices about our purposes, audiences, subjects and contexts.  Our lessons about issues such as style. persuasion, voice, are still front and center in our writing instruction.

We learn that the bringing together the textual and the visual promotes more opportunities for meaning making. This is particularly true when we have our students composing in visual mediums because of the need to compose context and identity online. Digital and visual projects call for students to go beyond just drawing from context and allows them to create it as well.  Images have the potential to act on both literal and figurative levels and express meaning on their own or in conjunction with text.  I explain the ways students can go beyond the literal and compose representative images.  For example, if students are writing about travel experiences, they can take a picture of an actual place they visited or they can compose an image that represents their sense of place. Of course, once we put these compositions into the larger, public conversation, interpretation is communally constructed; but teaching visual composition and textual contextualization is part of writing in digital contexts.

Mobile technologies allow for us to easily compose visuals with built-in still and video cameras with good enough resolution to use in documents and on the web.  This technology (along with other photo-editing tools) offers us a variety of ways to easily integrate visual components into our assignments.   It is important to also remember that we need to teach ethical citation practices for visuals and to introduce students to copyright free image searching tools such as Creative Commons.  We can instruct students to introduce, reference, and situate their images and to compose purposeful captions that connect back to their texts.


  • To increase student awareness and engagement with visual rhetoric and composition.
  • To understand the relationship between the textual and the visual.
  • To emphasize parts of the writing processes such as invention, drafting, revision and editing.
  • To introduce document design.

Background Reading for Students and Instructors

  • §  The St. Martin’s Handbook: Exploring a Topic (3a), Design for Writing (23a-b)
  • The Everyday Writer and Writer’s Help E-Book: Exploring Ideas (6a-f), Making Design Decisions (9a-b) 
  • Writing in Action: Explore and Narrow a Topic (5a), Making Design Decisions (8a-b)                    
  • EasyWriter: Exploring a Topic (2a), Designing Texts (2f), Planning Assignments (4a)
  • Creative Commons and other public domain sites.
  • Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) resource: Visual Rhetoric Overview – Background and Presentations
  • University of Houston’s informational site on Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling

4 Assignment Ideas for Composing Visually
Invention:  I often ask students to brainstorm through image search engines that allow them to search by topics or keywords.  They can highlight and pull the keywords from their written documents or from outside readings to increase their visual knowledge on a subject or follow a concept visually. This exercise can also introduce them the difference between literal and representative images.  For example, they might conduct image searches on keywords such as procrastination and time-management if they are researching this topic. Students can also generate words that get them to reflect back on experiences in their life with terms like high school or explore abstract terms such as change.  Google has a strong image searching tool but they can use other search engines as well.

Drafting:  You can pair writing and visual assignments. For each writing assignment have students compose six representative images that speak to the purposes and ideas in their written texts. A variation is to have them include them as visual sources within their papers. Eventually they have to thoughtfully incorporate them into their drafts and contextualize them with purposeful captions and citation information (if they are using images that are not their own). Teach document design and have them carefully consider and practice design issues such as color, size, font, pull quotes, and images. Introduce design principles such as contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity (See Purdue OWL resources on Visual Rhetoric).


A snippet from student Randy Brown, Jr. Click here to see his full project.

Digital Stories:  Have students take a series of images that tell a story in a sequence. This is a good time to reinforce ideas about narrative structure, arrangement and transitions. Sometimes I guide them with a prompt or just have them go on a photo journey in which they compose in ways that connect one activity or scene to the next. I ask them to tie these images together in presentations that can integrate text, narration and audio or stand on their own. Students can use digital storytelling tools and edit their stories or present them as a slideshow with presentation software.

Blogging:  Blogging is a good way to get students to understand the relationship between text and image. The form itself calls for students to represent themselves visually through connecting pictures to posts, shaping a profile, and composing their online identity. On my students’ exploratory blog assignments I have them insert an image along with a post. They design categories for their image gallery and create a place for future academic projects. Obviously, this is a great place for them to showcase the multimodal assignments they create in our classes.  Rhetorical issues such as audience, purpose, and context become very important in this format as students are shaping their e-dentity by communicating with audiences outside of the classroom.

Reflections on the Activities

I find that students are very comfortable working with visual composition as they are familiar with visual culture and communication. At first they see this as the job of professional writers, but they soon realize that the multimodal tools today allow for all writers to communicate visually. I also notice a stronger sense of ownership when they transform their work from the look and feel of an academic paper to something that has visual depth. It gives them a stronger sense of audience and helps them to understand the larger rhetorical situation and the complexities involved with communicating meaning. Visual composition opens their eyes to the possibilities for multiple acts of composition.  Any of the activities described above can extend existing print-based assignments through the multimodal lens of the visual.

I have linked to some of my students’ work in which they compose visually.  I included some of their  blogs-in-progress and some visual documents that demonstrate rhetorical uses of images and document design. Check them out at my Acts of Composition website.

Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Southern Polytechnic State University.  Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things.  She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. This week, Kim shares visual composition assignments and some of her students’ blogs and visual compositions.  You can reach Kim at khaimesk@spsu.edu or at 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, Visual Argument, Visual Rhetoric
Read All Andrea Lunsford