Tools for Writing

So I may have (sadly) missed the first digital writing class, but I’m doing my best to dive into things, starting with this video response to some of the prompt questions. Specifically, I chose to think about “who gets to be a writer?” and “what does it mean to write?”

The final point I come to here is about the need for tools to facilitate writing; I’d like to clarify that by “tools” I don’t just mean the physical materials of writing (pen, paper, computer, typewriter, camera, copy machine, whatever). I also think literacy is a tool, education is a tool, opportunity is a tool. There are all kinds of things–tangible and intangible–that can encourage and facilitate writing if you have them, and can be major roadblocks if you don’t. It’s something I want to think more about as we look at different ways of creating writing in this class. What tools are needed? Who has access to those tools? Who doesn’t? How can we increase access, for ourselves or for others (like students)?

Word Clouds!

So I just discovered Wordle, which lets you paste in text or link to a website or blog and it quickly creates a word cloud based on the text used. It’s really neat! I wonder if this might make a cool and useful visual for teaching philosophies: you can easily see what kind of things you are emphasizing by looking at which words show up most prominently. Seems like a quick easy way to add a visual, I thought you all might want to try it out!

This word cloud is based on my blog for this class:
Wordle: Teaching Composition Blog

Multimodal and Digital Teaching Philosophies

So I’ve been thinking about the concept of a multimodal/digital teaching philosophy and what exactly that might look like. We’ve looked at quite a few digital tools throughout this course, but I worry about using digital tools too arbitrarily. I’ve been trying to figure out what tools can be used to really contribute to and enrich a teaching philosophy in a meaningful and practical way. I can’t say I’ve drawn any conclusions yet, but I though I’d share with you some of the examples I’ve found while browsing the internet in search of answers. Some of these are clearly better than others, but I think the bad examples can be as useful as the good ones, so we have an idea of what we might want to avoid.

I’d love to get some comments from people about your thoughts on these. Which ones work? Which ones don’t? Why? Do any of them look like something you would want to use? Are they practical and innovative or just novel and cute?

Prezi presentations:

Videos & Animation:


Alphabetic with embedded elements:
(some of these are also good examples of teachers’ professional websites)

I was surprised to find this teacher chose a wiki format for her class and professional information. Do you think it works?

Meaningful Writing Projects

My most meaningful writing project was a poetry portfolio I created in an undergraduate poetry workshop. This project was meaningful for both the process and the product. It was the first time I participated in a writing workshop and the process of having my work critiqued by both the class and the professor collaboratively was so useful and informative. I learned so much about how my writing was being received by readers and what I needed to work on to make my writing stronger. I also learned a lot about what was already strong in my writing. The other meaningful part of the project was the product, the final portfolio I created. It was a themed collection of poetry I had worked on throughout the semester, and I was very proud of both the work I put into it and the positive feedback I received from my professor, whose opinion I highly respected. Seeing my work collected and praised provided a huge boost to my confidence in my writing, and even to this day I sometimes reflect on that experience when I feel self-conscious or have doubts about my abilities.

I was torn between writing about two different meaningful writing projects, so I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity to blog about my other one as well. This one was quite different, an analytical research paper*, but also represented a new experience that was really meaningful for me. It began as just another research paper for a lit class, Shakespeare II, but it was one I particularly enjoyed writing. I was nearing the end of my undergrad program and was thinking about applying to grad school, but I knew my application would need something extra to make it stronger, so I decided to submit my paper to the Massachusetts Statewide Undergraduate Research Conference. The entire process of preparing for the conference was new to me. Starting with my simple 8-page assignment, I partnered with my favorite lit professor who advised me on where I could develop the paper further; I developed an abstract to submit to the conference which conveyed the purpose of my paper; I did much more in-depth research on my topic than I previously had the opportunity to do; and I took the more-developed version of my paper and boiled it down to an abridged version that I could present in the 10 minutes I would be allotted at the conference. The conference itself was also an exciting experience. All the students who were presenting and a few sponsoring faculty members met early in the morning and drove out to UMass Amherst together in rented vans. A group of other girls and I, all English majors, spent most of the day hanging out together in the school cafeteria talking about our papers, looking over each others’ work, and commiserating about how nervous we were. It was really exciting to feel like a contributing member of a large and active academic community, and the whole experience was like a glimpse into the world of professional academia. It did so much for my desire to pursue the study of literature at a higher level, I really feel as though this project was a first step in a direction I expect to follow for a long time.


*Note: the citations in this version are incomplete!

Creating Effective Writing Assignments

What makes a writing assignment effective? Why do we create writing assignments, anyway?

Okay, I realize my second question sounds a little bit ridiculous. But since many of the pieces we’ve read this week point out the importance of considering purpose when creating assignments, I think it’s worth taking that consideration down to the most basic level. So why do we create writing assignments? Firstly, and most obviously, because we are teaching writing and the students need to practice. Secondly–and I do consider this secondary to the need to simply write for its own sake–teachers need something to evaluate. If we are to instruct, to advise, and to guide, we need to get a good look at what we’re working with. But these are only answers to why students need to write; why do we need to create specific assignments for them? Could we not just ask our students to turn in a piece of writing each week (or each month or each day) for evaluation and review? Why must we give them specific direction?

Let’s imagine for a moment that students did choose all of their own writing assignments. One student may turn in deeply personal and confessional journal entries each week for the entire term. Another might turn in copies of short themed essays written for history class, with one or two pieces of creative fiction. A third might start the term interested in writing poetry, and end drafting resumes and college admission essays. While a class structured this way might seem appealing to strong and experienced writers who know what they want to pursue, most students (particularly in high school) require a push to try a variety of writing styles and forms. The third student, for example, may enjoy and benefit from the feedback on their poetry writing, but by the time they realize they need to work on college essays, they discover their previous work will be no help at all in approaching this new task. So one of the reasons we create assignments must be to ensure that students get writing practice and instruction in a variety of areas that will be of use to them.

Another reason, I imagine, is to establish criteria by which to evaluate their work. While I believe that there should be quite a bit of flexibility allowed within an assignment, to allow students to experiment and develop personal style, an entirely open assignment would be rather difficult to assess. Particularly clever students could defend any criticism of their work by claiming it was their intent to do whatever it is they did, and any teacher could find themselves at a loss on where to begin critiquing a work whose purpose is unknown. Setting specific goals for an assignment allows a teacher to assess whether those goals were achieved and how the student worked towards achieving them.

While I know this may all seem a little silly, I think it’s necessary to think about before approaching my first question: what makes a writing assignment effective? We’ve established that assignments should be varied, and each should have some relevance and benefit to students’ lives (and yes, poetry and creative fiction are also relevant and beneficial!). Assignments should also include clearly stated goals, to assess how students respond to rhetorical situations and to give teachers a starting point when evaluating student work. But what else? Lindemann would say (and, in fact, does say) that an effective writing assignment needs quite a lot more, and should have nearly every detail of a practical, realistic, and mature rhetorical situation clearly described (215-9). But, if she’s striving for realism, is this realistic? How often are all of the variables in a rhetorical situation made explicit in real life? Consider her example of an assignment to write a three page letter analyzing a college brochure, addressed to the admissions counselors who wrote the brochure. First off, how many brochures list the department that authored them? One might deduce that it was the admissions department, since they are the most likely to be involved in projects intended to bring in new applicants, but could there not be a marketing or public relations committee involved? Typically in real life, when writing a letter to an institution, it is not entirely clear who will be reading your letter and why. Perhaps it will be an intern who will give it a cursory glance before tossing it into one pile or another. And three pages? What kind of maniac writes a three page analysis of a brochure in any situation but an artificial writing assignment? I can’t help but wonder if Lindemann’s idea here is to familiarize students with actual letter writing or if this is just a thinly veiled essay after all. It strikes me as odd that she opposes asking students to argue a position they don’t necessarily agree with (an exercise that could have significant value), but sees no problem forcing highly detailed situations and perspectives on students through overwrought assignments.

Bean does a bit better in Engaging Ideas, describing a variety of ways to approach assignment design that don’t micromanage quite so much as Lindemann. His example of McLeod’s assignment handout demonstrates some of Lindemann’s ideas, but better (101). The rhetorical situation–an undergraduate conference–is academic but realistic. The details of the topic are built into a problem students can approach in their own way, rather than filling in a prescribed perspective. Overall, it manages to be specific without being overbearing. Still, perhaps it’s the expressivist in me, but the methods Bean and Lindemann outline for developing assignments seem too detailed, too technical. I don’t just want to know if my students can do what I tell them to do, I want to know what they’re capable of creating. Like critical reading skills, students should be encouraged to develop critical writing skills, to find a purpose that makes sense to them, to think about perspective and develop it independently, to devise their own ideas about a subject. My instinctual push back against the carefully laid out directions for assignment building is what led me to ask my silly question; why create an assignment at all? I need to know what an effective assignment must be before thinking about what it should be.

The suggestions Lindemann and Bean give for creating assignments are certainly useful and thought provoking. I have no doubt that I will reflect on them in the future when creating assignments of my own. I do not, however, expect to follow their examples too closely. I want assignments that are creative and unusual, assignments that challenge imagination and push students to explore different perspectives and ideas–while also serving a practical purpose and setting a clear goal. I don’t want to limit my assignments exclusively to rhetorical situations they are most likely to encounter in their academic and professional lives, because I haven’t the slightest idea what kind of rhetorical situations they will encounter. It’s a big strange world out there after all, I can’t prepare them for whatever situation they wind up in. What I hope I can do is encourage and develop the skill and ingenuity they’ll need to figure those situations out on their own. Perhaps I’m being too idealistic, but I think it’s worth shooting for anyway.

Experiences with Multimodality

I’m so excited to be talking about multimodal composition! It’s such a great topic and there’s so much that can be done with it, I can’t wait to hear other people’s thoughts/experiences. So much of the reading I’ve done has made me think about the ways multimodal composition exists in my own life, so that is what has inspired my prompt:

What experiences have you had with multimodal composition and how can that experience be useful in a classroom setting?

This topic has been especially relevant to me lately because I have spent this past week trying to develop a website for my pet project, a literary magazine publishing creative writing and art by young women ages 14-25. The magazine is called Mock Orange, and you can click the link to see how the website is coming along so far! As I was reading chapter one of Selfe’s Multimodal Composition, I thought a lot about the rhetorical nature of the choices I needed to make with my website. Even though the site is very minimal–a rhetorical choice in itself!–I spent a lot of time tweaking details about how the information on the site was presented, both functionally and aesthetically. In working with such a minimalist digital text, I found that details like font size and particular shades of color had a very dramatic impact on the overall look of the site. Though I started with a template (I built the site through WordPress), there were some subtle features I wanted changed. For example, the gray circles that function as links to each of the site’s main pages began as a lighter shade of gray. On brighter monitors, the gray was extremely light, and was in some cases difficult to see. I love the dynamic nature of the darkening circles (hover over them with your cursor to see!), and I believe it contributes to the simple-yet-modern look I want, but since the goal of my site is to encourage people to read about the magazine and submit their work, I wanted it to be as clear and accessible as possible. The circles needed to darken, but not too much.

Which brings me to another experience Selfe talks about–the learning curve. I am no web designer. I don’t know the first thing about CSS coding… or at least I didn’t before I started working on this site. To make the changes to the template I wanted, I had to get into the coding and make the changes manually from there, which means I had to learn what the existing coding meant and what code I needed to make the changes. This is likely a little more in-depth than would really need to be done for a classroom project, but basic premise is the same. I didn’t learn everything there is to know about CSS–I certainly couldn’t build a website from the ground up–but I was able to identify what knowledge I needed for the task I wanted to accomplish and then to learn enough to fill that gap. This experience is definitely something that I think could inform my use of multimodal composition in the classroom. One of my favorite things Selfe says in regards to the learning curve teachers may face was that “teachers serve students as role models in life-long learning”. Realizing that you can learn and adapt to new models of doing things, whether student or teacher, is so valuable, and I think it’s a wonderful thing for students to see their teachers tackling some learning themselves.

The other experience brought to mind by this topic came to me while reading chapter three about composing assignments. I particularly loved the points made about how putting student work into the world outside of the classroom can enrich students’ work in so many ways–it becomes more engaging, they take more responsibility, ideas about audience and intent become more concrete. It made me think of one of the most moving school assignments I have ever seen, created by a creative writing teacher at Salem High School, Kim Masterson.

I was fortunate enough to observe one of Kim’s classes and to talk to her about the project, called “I LIVE HERE”, and to look through some of the students’ artifacts. Essentially, each student had to choose some object (artifact) from their lives and write a short piece explaining the significance of that artifact. The writing was then usually incorporated into the artifact itself; some students just stapled their written work onto the object, but others got more creative and really intertwined the writing and the physical artifact. Finally, the classes created and edited a video with each student holding their artifact and talking about its significance. For many, it was a very emotional and personal experience that is beautifully presented in the video. The varying levels of modality, along with the creation of the video which was posted publicly to YouTube, obviously engaged the students on far deeper levels than a simple essay could have ever accomplished.

Please watch this video and see for yourself the amazing work that can be done when you open up to multiple modes of expression!

Lit Review Proposal: Feminist Pedagogy

For my literature review project, I have begun to explore feminist pedagogy in composition studies. Explore is really the most appropriate term, as I feel like the focus of my review is taking shape as I gather and review resources.

The guiding question I am using for my research is “what is feminist writing?” with a secondary sub-question of “how can this writing be fostered in a composition classroom?” To explore the idea of feminist writing, I am looking not at writing that deals with feminist social issues, but rather at what compositionists say about women’s writing and gendered perspectives on writing. Thus far this includes ideas about how and why women write; how their writing is received, or how they expect it to be received, and how that impacts their motivation and process; and how and why women’s writing differs from men’s—both in reality and in perception—and what can be learned from those differences.

I feel at this point I may need to defend against a common objection to this line of study and inquiry. Some feel that looking at writing from a gendered perspective is inherently sexist itself and would insist that women’s writing should be treated and considered exactly the same as men’s writing. However, it is a fact that in our society women themselves are, on the whole, treated and considered quite differently from men. To ignore the significant social differences would not level the playing field, but would rather allow existing systems of privilege and oppression to go unacknowledged and unchecked. Thus, studying writing with an eye towards the impact of gender is an appropriate step towards feminist goals of equal opportunity and respect.

Clearly, feminist pedagogy is deeply intertwined with feminist ideals and ethics. Those feminist ideals, though their most basic precepts have remained the same, have shifted in focus and tone throughout the history of the feminist movement. To further explore and to accommodate this, my literature review will look at questions about feminist writing chronologically, using the three commonly referred to waves of feminism as an organizational guide.

The first of these waves is loosely defined as the mid-19th century through the early 20th century, and is most associated with the women’s suffrage movement. While there is little written explicitly about women and composition studies at that time, there is a significant body of work on women’s writing, literacy, and education. From this work, I hope to extrapolate some general scholarly view on what would later be considered feminist writing, though those terms were not in use at that time.

The second wave focuses on the women’s liberation and civil rights movements of the 1960s and early 70s. Composition studies at that time began moving toward new ideas about expressivism and process theory, ideas which seemed to be taken up eagerly by feminist academics as they sought a new pedagogy to accommodate expanding career and higher education goals for women.

The third wave of feminism is usually considered to begin in the early 1990s and is a period with a great wealth of writing on the topic of feminist pedagogy. Women at this time had gained a more significant place in academia, and as a result more compositionists were doing a great deal of work to assess the progress that had been made in feminist pedagogy and to determine what steps were needed to keep moving forward.

As I proceed with my research and refine my list of resources, I may also include a postmodern period in my feminist chronology. Some consider the third wave of feminism to extend into the present, but many refer to the current feminist moment as postmodern feminism. Postmodern feminism is typically associated with a broader perspective on what feminism is and who it should address. In composition studies, this is reflected in concerns such as how to consider male perspectives in a feminist composition classroom, examinations of the specific challenges that face female writers of color, and how feminist pedagogical concepts can accommodate non-binary gender and other queer identities.

While this topic does in many ways seem daunting, I believe that by focusing on specific movements within feminist history and choosing a small sampling of resources from each period that illuminate the key concerns and conversations of the time, the end result will demonstrate clear correlations between the progression of feminism and how that progress impacts and is reflected by the work done by and about women in composition studies. This will give a fuller, more historically accurate picture of what feminist writing is and how it can be, should be, and has been handled in the composition classroom. Below is a list of resources I am currently looking at as I begin my exploration of this topic; it is a list I expect to expand and to change as my research progresses.


Brown, Ruth Nicole. Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-hop Feminist Pedagogy. New York: Peter Lang, 2009. Print.

Crabtree, Robbin, David Alan. Sapp, and Adela C. Licona. Feminist Pedagogy: Looking Back to Move Forward. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 2009. Print.

Donawerth, Jane. Rhetorical Theory by Women before 1900: An Anthology. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Print.

Foss, Karen A., Sonja K. Foss, and Cindy L. Griffin. Feminist Rhetorical Theories. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Pub., 2006. Print.

Gabriel, Susan L., and Isaiah Smithson. Gender in the Classroom: Power and Pedagogy. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1990. Print.

Greer, Jane. Girls and Literacy in America: Historical Perspectives to the Present. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2003. Print.

Hooks, Bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Jarratt, Susan Carole Funderburgh., and Lynn Worsham. Feminism and Composition Studies: In Other Words. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1998. Print.

Kirsch, Gesa. Feminism and Composition: A Critical Sourcebook. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. Print.

Lunsford, Andrea A. Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 1995. Print.

Ritchie, Joy S., and Kate Ronald. Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 2001. Print.

Sheridan-Rabideau, Mary P. Girls, Feminism, and Grassroots Literacies: Activism in the GirlZone. Albany: State University of New York, 2008. Print


The Colonel’s Last Battle

There is a kind of person known as a “man’s man.” He is someone who is strong, rugged, independent. The sort of man other men admire and want to be around, The Colonel was that sort of man.

I first met Colonel Mustard in high school. He wasn’t yet the Colonel then, but he still started his share of battles. He was pig-headed and proud, but handsome enough to charm those who might otherwise have hated him. Perhaps it was one of those old battles, long past but never forgotten, that led the Colonel to his end. The sad irony of a man who comes home from war to be felled by a childhood friend.

It wasn’t our first Christmas party together; we held them nearly every year to keep in touch. So many of us have gone separate ways since those high school days, down different paths in the same city. We thought it was important to stay connected to our pasts, and to each other. Maybe it was our fault, for not letting go, for keeping one foot in a place better left behind.

We still don’t know who killed Colonel Mustard. We may never know. Whatever the details may be, we do know that we’ve lost a friend, a patriot, and a man’s man. A man none of us will be able to forget.

What is rhetoric?

What do you understand and not understand about rhetoric, the rhetorical situation, and related concepts?

Rhetoric seems essentially to be an awareness of and attentiveness to the way people communicate messages. This is primarily through language, but can also encompass things like timing and body language.

The primary question this raises for me is whether rhetoric is an element in any and all kinds of communication. Based on our readings, the answer seems to depend on who you ask.  In the video we watched, the answer seems to be yes, that rhetoric is something people are engaged in almost constantly. However, this may be part of the filmmakers’ own rhetoric, reflecting their desire to define rhetoric in a way that demystifies it and makes it accessible to the general public.

Contrastingly, in Bitzer’s article about the rhetorical situation, rhetoric is described as something that is distinct from scientific, philosophical, poetic, and other kinds of discourse. Rhetoric is instead something that is generated in response to a specific type of situation, one that compels the speaker to speak for the purpose of affecting change. Most of the examples referenced are political speeches given by prominent figures in response to a significant event, where those speakers were required to make a statement to provide context and ideological guidance for perception of the event itself.

In Vatz’s article, an opposing but closely related position is taken, suggesting that the situation does not generate rhetoric, but that rhetoric shapes and even creates the situation. This view, though in many ways seeming opposite, is still actually much like Bitzer’s view in that both connect rhetoric and situation intrinsically. One of the more interesting points of Vatz’s view is that “Political crises . . . are rarely ‘found,’ they are usually created” (159). This gets at what I believe to be the most valuable and fascinating part of rhetoric, examining how our speech and discourse affects real change and creates meaning in the world. The example of the Cuban Missile Crisis is a strong one; a crisis exists not simply because of an external situation, but because we call it a crisis and engage in a particular type of rhetoric that establishes it as such. We have touched on this concept in class as well, referring to the many “crisis” situations in literacy and education. Still, this definition of rhetoric and its function seems to reinforce the idea of rhetoric as something that belongs to certain people in certain situations-whether it creates those situations itself or is created by them.

Ede and Lundsford’s piece takes a bit of a different approach, considering the role of audience and how we address them in developing rhetoric. The opposing approaches discussed (audience addressed/audience invoked) seem similar to the opposing views of Bitzer and Vatz; is the audience an objective fact to be addressed or are they created by the rhetorical choices we make? Ede and Lundsford want to blend these approaches, considering both knowns and unknowns in thinking about audience. Even with this compromise, however, they still maintain some basic assumptions about audience—primarily that the audience is made up of numerous individuals who are at least partially unknown to the speaker, and who are engaged in a one-way communication in which they are passively spoken to. This concept of audience would not hold in a definition of rhetoric which included informal conversation between individuals, for example, and thus would exclude that type of communication from its definition of the rhetorical.

So with one yes and three no answers to my original question about whether rhetoric is a factor in all communication, I should probably resign myself to the fact that it is not. But I won’t. If we look at the rhetoric of these works themselves, it seems that there is a distinct difference in approach between those who seem to be addressing a more specialized academic audience and those (as in the video) who address a broader population. With this consideration in mind, it makes sense that the academics would prefer to focus on the more formal, more traditional, and larger-scale conception of rhetoric (as in a political speech of historic significance) as a way of demonstrating the grandness and deep importance of their field, and of having deep roots of past study to draw on. The makers of the video, however, seek the exact opposite and want to scale back rhetoric, making it less specialized and less grand. So which is the truth? What is rhetoric really? The most likely answer is both the grand and the mundane, and all discourse in between. We may choose one type or another to study or to emphasize for our own purposes, but rhetoric is always a significant factor in communications, whether they happen on a grand scale or an intimate interpersonal setting. I hope, in continuing to study and discuss rhetoric, we are able to consider more closely this informal form of rhetoric, as I believe there is much we can learn from it about not only how we write but how we teach writing as well.