Author Archives: Katelyn Connor

Katelyn Connor Multimodal Writing

In our “new normal” (I hate saying that), I think that multimodal writing and communication is important more than ever. We are living in an increasingly digital world, and the ways that we communicate on a daily basis have changed drastically. I agree with Takayoshi and Selfe’s article that there is an urgent need for more multimodal writing assignments.

As someone who teaches business writing, my main goal is to give the students the confidence to be flexible when faced with new challenges in their writing at work. I try to give them many different assignments, both short and long form, that will help for larger assignments but those don’t necessarily address the daily needs of communication. As I write this, I’m receiving emails, getting Microsoft Teams messages, and will eventually prepare a PowerPoint presentation for an upcoming account meeting. While I dream of writing beautiful essays and letters, the reality of my work life is multimodal in so many different ways.

I think I look at multimodal writing skills as separate from the general writing skills I am hoping to teach: organization, transition, traditional formatting. In reality, these are the same skills, just executed in a new format. While I have students mainly work in PowerPoint for certain presentations, I’m always impressed by the students who use Prezi, or create another type of presentation. I think it would be important for me to open up assignments for different forms like podcasts or videos. The process to create a cohesive narrative or argument remains the same- the students now are executing the very core of what I hope to accomplish as a teacher: flexibility in different formats. I found Sweetland’s multimodal guide incredibly helpful for planning future assignments that can incorporate multimodal writing.

My Thoughts on Grammar

As a student, I LOVE grammar. I love thinking about it- I find diagramming sentences one of those eerily calming things to do in my mind. It’s like my version of a rubik’s cube. I went to Catholic school all my life, and those nuns and brothers really held “proper grammar” next to godliness. For me, these lessons just clicked. I was also a native English speaker, an avid reader, and had a mother as an English teacher. I very clearly see that my elementary and secondary education was rooted in a white, religious, middle-class experience.

Therefore, I cannot in good faith use my experience of learning grammar as a measure for my students. I believe that using my narrow definition of what I was taught was “proper grammar” would be a racist, classist, xenophobic way of teaching. Besides, who wants to be that person on Facebook who tries to end an argument by saying “you’re*?” As Dunn stated, “As a recent rhetorical analysis of grammar rants has demonstrated, many such rants are laced with moral judgments about the departure from allegedly proper grammar. In a disturbing, repeating trend, the offending speaker or writer is seen as uneducated and lazy, the latter judgment being connected not too subtly to one of the Seven Deadly Sins (Sloth).” I certainly don’t want to lay a curriculum’s foundation on being a jerk.

That being said, as I teach business writing, grammar is part of many different lessons. As we discuss the proper tone and formality for an external business presentation, or an email to your boss, grammar inevitably comes into play. Dunn’s quote of Elizabeth Wardle really put my teaching into perspective when she says “’There is no such thing as writing in general.’ Every writing project is constrained by previous iterations of that type of writing. Is it a memo, résumé, game manual, business plan, film review?” Since there is no such thing as writing, can there even be such thing as proper grammar in general?

Similar to Dunn’s point above, I try to focus on how writing will need to ebb and flow to accommodate different audiences and different workplaces. My goal is to make flexible writers- and their flexibility will make them strong writers, and good writers. We talk endlessly about industry terminology, similar to Harris’s note on COIK. We address those challenges together and make sure when we are reading student writing that they define any acronyms or industry terms that the other students wouldn’t know. It’s a collective learning- a future lawyer can learn more about a future computer engineer’s world, and the engineer can practice being explicit in different formats, and making their writing clear for a lay audience.

I took a grammar class in college and was super proud of an essay I wrote entitled “I Give a Fuck About an Oxford Comma,” just to come to realize that it truly does not matter. When ESL students are working so hard to move from one language to another, they’re doing four times the work I will ever do to express myself in English. That by itself is cause for celebration and acknowledgment. Instead of saying “this is a run-on sentence” I try to say things like, “this sentence isn’t clear to me. How can we rephrase what you’re trying to say?” so that they can think through how to improve their writing in real time.

While I don’t grade based on grammar, I do have a PowerPoint presentation of grammar memes. It’s a list of 20 common grammar mistakes, and we talk about them as a class, and then work it out in sentences. Many students find it mildly entertaining, and have a moment of clarity with at least one, but I’ve long since abandoned my thought that seeing one meme will change a writing style that is years in the making. Instead, my hope is that by encouraging them to read and assigning them different types of writing throughout the semester, they will naturally experiment with different types of writing and their grammar will develop as well.

Katelyn Connor Blog Post 2

My research journey actually did start with my freshman writing class in undergrad, and it affected my every academic and professional move thereafter. The topic was food studies, and the first assignment I had was to write about my favorite food. I was a terrified, exhausted pre-med freshman, and was expecting to have some difficult, stodgy writing assignment. Instead, I wrote about the strawberries that never grew in my parents’ backyard, and the little farm stand the next town over where we would get the seeds from. (The strawberries never grew because the fat squirrel- affectionately named MF, or “Mommy’s Friend”- always ate anything that came up.)

My professor recognized the farm stand, and it started off a wonderful mentorship and friendship, where he graciously made room for my growth in his classroom. He also thought my squirrel joke was funny. He convinced me to change my major to English (over pizza on Arthur Avenue- who could say no?) and prompted a significant grappling of a nuanced past that I was previously unable and unwilling to see. He was the one who made all my writing become deeply personal as a student. He took very literally “reading the self as a text,” in his classroom. We explicitly discussed the historical, social, and political implications of what we eat, how we eat it, and who we eat with, which squarely placed my classmates outside our small childhood bubble and into the world at large.

After my major-changing writing class, I became a writing tutor, and noticed that many other students were dealing with similar affronts to everything they knew about themselves. But, it was one student in particular who really changed how I saw writing to be a personal tool for growth. He was in a class called “Death as a Fact of Life,” and he was asked to write about someone who died. He sat with me for an hour to write about the death of his mother. The tutoring session turned more into a grief counseling session for the student, where he shared that his mother recently and suddenly died, making the assignment all the more raw. This willingness to “lay it all down on the line,” or even to take on “themselves as texts” that Kynard describes allowed for the release of his emotions, and allowed me, a stranger in a cubicle, to effectively make space for it.

This session, and many others like it, stuck with me. I began to follow the writing professors around- stalking their syllabi to see if I had the opportunity to tutor students in a more meaningful way, or if a final paper or writing prompt would bring them to the writing center. This obsession turned into a research grant where I worked with a writing professor and a psychology professor examining meaning-making in drafts of freshman writing classes. I took both a qualitative and quantitative approach- choosing key words that indicated growth, as well as taking the symbolism and meaning from the actual story they were telling, and how these developed through the drafts. The grant was small, and only lasted the summer, but it was enough to cover what I would have made at my restaurant job and then some, so I was thrilled to not have to go back home for the summer. I examined two classes, in total about 30 students, and their drafts that they submitted throughout the semester. All the students needed to agree to hand over their work to me for the sake of the project, and some were even excited to hear that they would be part of the project. It turned into about a 40 page paper, where the results confirmed what I had originally hoped- that students who put it all on the line were more likely to show meaning-making in their final drafts.

After this experience, I met with my freshman writing professor, who suggested I look at Narrative Medicine, since I was becoming so interested in the personal narrative and expressions during times of transition. At the time, I didn’t have plans to go graduate school right after undergrad, but this professor always pointed me in the right direction. In this way, my initial research interest that first started with writing about my own personal experiences, brought me to teaching writing myself, and hopefully to do it full-time. I strongly feel that this is a calling for me, and every step brings me a little closer to understanding where I should be.

I try to invite the students to bring in their personal lives as much as possible in the writing class. I teach business writing for City Tech, so the material itself is incredibly dry. In order to keep it interesting, I ask the students to talk about the jobs they have now, or their ideal jobs they are working towards getting in the future. Their final paper is a problem they see in the workplace, and I really challenge them to identify something that angers them about the workplace- something they feel passionate about. The students who end up doing this always have a better finished product, however, they do say that the assignment was difficult. I think it’s important for them to identify the problem and then ask the questions “how can I fix this?” in a way that challenges their original idea of a thesis statement, where they need to have an answer before they even ask the question. It sparks true research, true curiosity, and true problem-solving in a real-world situation.

When it comes to future classes, I love the idea of taking something so universal- like eating, family, music, humor- and using it as the crux of a writing course. These topics are easy for a student to identify with, and to begin the process of self-reflection, while also pulling the topic outside themselves in order to objectively analyze it. Additionally, I think these kinds of topics ask the students to expand on their thinking of research being something cold, informal, or impersonal.

Katelyn Connor Blog Post 1

I really enjoyed the article “Navigating Genre” by Kerry Dirk. As my colleague already mentioned, Dirk takes a wide approach to looking at genre and how it affects communication. I think it’s crucial to look at genre and writing in this way early in the semester. It’s important for students to think about what we talk about when we talk about writing, structure, expectations, and so many more aspects of interaction when we write.

I enjoyed thinking about Dirk’s article in the context of Writing in the Workplace, which is the course I teach for City Tech. What are some of the expectations that we bring into the workplace? How does workplace location affect the way we respond to certain situations? Are they correct?

I love looking at how young professionals and students-turning-professionals view their workplace, specifically in comparison to their classroom or their home. In the context of the pandemic, for many it’s all the same location, but vastly different communication spaces.

I’m also excited to discuss how malleable a genre can be as well. Again, when looking at the workplace environment and expectations for communication, I like to ask the question “what genres can be broken?” or “what SHOULD be broken?” I think these questions are even more important when we look at how certain companies reacted to the Black Lives Matter movement and their call to be better. In order for many companies to do this, they had to break their own rules about what we can and cannot talk about when it comes to work and race. Additionally, how authentically do they allow their employees to engage at work, and how does that change the rhetoric?

My favorite part of Dirk’s article was when he fully admitted that being a writing instructor isn’t about knowing everything. In fact, when you accept that you don’t know most things, it brings about opportunities for students to have authority over their own writing and gain confidence for future communication. I’m excited to learn how to “write along” with students and to remove that boundary of authority to get the students to engage the most authentically with their own work.