Author Archives: Jackie Blain

Multiple Genre Assignment revision

Note: I don’t have the readings set yet.

Overview: In our last unit, we got familiar with genres: what they are, how they work, how some audiences get privileged over others, how individual examples both follow the genre conventions and alter them. For this unit, you’ll:

  • choose a current social/political topic or issue that’s personally interesting to you,
  • pick artifacts/examples from five different genres that give you different perspectives on that issue,
  • create your own “response” artifact in a specific genre that addresses your topic or issue,
  • reflect about what you did and how you did it.

Go exploring! You’re not trying to prove a point or defend a position. You’re looking at how we talk about ideas in different ways and for different audiences. You even get to start by Googling and Wikipedia-ing and following links down long and winding trails.

Assignment Specifics: You’ll be able to do this individually or in groups of up to three people once we’ve talked about topics and issues. Here’s how it will go:

  1. Pick a topic and issue. Do a “Googlepedia” activity to find some ideas. Brainstorm all those ideas to see which one attracts you the most. Create groups if you want.
  2. Write a 1-page background report based on primary and secondary sources. This will give you a chance to dig into the various contexts of the issue in a general way.
  3. Collect genre examples/artifacts from 5 different genres. Write brief rhetorical analyses of each artifact similar to what you did in Unit 2. I’ll provide a list of genres, but if you find something especially wonderful, give me a chance to approve it (and add it to the list).
  4. Pick a genre to create your own “response” to the issue. Now is the time to really get creative! Create a video, write an op-ed, do a photo essay, create art or cartoons or comics, compose a song.
  5. Write a Reflection about the Project.
    • Why did you choose this issue? What opinions and assumptions did you have at the beginning?
    • What surprised, delighted, angered, confused you about the 5-genre artifacts?
    • Thinking about your own genre “response,” why did you choose this genre? What audience were you trying to reach? What did it do that the others didn’t so that you could reach that audience? How did you reinforce or challenge the conventions of your genre?
    • What were the challenges you ran into doing your genre artifact? What do you think was successful about it?
    • What did you learn about how multiple genres work to address a specific issue?
  6.  “Publish” your artifact by posting on OpenLab.

Learning Outcomes This Assignment Addresses:

  1. Read and listen critically and analytically in a variety of genres and rhetorical situations.
  2. Adapt to and compose in a variety of genres.
  3. Use research as a process of inquiry and engagement with multiple perspectives.
  4. Use reflection and other metacognitive processes to revise prior assumptions about reading and writing, and transfer acquired knowledge into new writing situations.
  5. Demonstrate the social and ethical responsibilities and consequences of writing.
  6. Compose in 21st Century Environments.


1101 rough ideas

Like Carrie, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about reading, and also doing a ton of research and reading about reading over the break, and I realize I haven’t ever really taught that. Read a film, no problem — I can get a class to hold forth about shots, angles, lighting, single takes, establishing shots, etc., until we’re all exhausted (and used to do in my film classes), but I don’t enjoy or get as much out of close written-text reading. But after all this research, I do want to incorporate/test out some of Carillo’s strategies as well as Salvatori’s focus on how to deal with difficult texts. Like the rest of us, I really am tired of students not doing the reading… because they don’t know how to read in different ways for different contexts (sort of like genre!). We’ll see; it will be a learning experience for me AND the students.

I also want to more efficiently build in reflection-in-action (Yancey’s term) throughout, and especially using reflections to aid revision as Lindenman  et al. lay it out. I’m hoping some better scaffolding and praxis will lead to a better Theory of Writing/Final Reflection (been doing a lot of reading about that, too).

That said, here are my general thoughts about the 1101 units.

Literacy Narrative: I’ll probably do this more or less the way I always do it, focusing on literacy in general and writing in specific. I go more or less in this order: 1) literacy (a bit from Brandt) and what how they define it; 2) what they believe about writing and why; 3) literacy sponsors (I did throw a little about personal discourse communities in this term, and it seemed to work well); 4) quite a bit of low stakes posting; 5) examples of different literacy narratives (I’m going to try to do more mentor-text analysis); 6) their own essay on a specific aspect of their literacy designed to get them away from a “this is my life in chronological order” garbage they tend to want to write; 7) workshopping and revision strategies; and 8) reflective writing all along, including a final one after their essays are drafted. I have them do a lot of sharing throughout, so that they see they’re not alone in their beliefs and/or fears, and I have to disabuse them of the tendency to “give the teacher what she wants,” but even though this seems like a lot, I think this unit is critical to re-setting students from high school to college, and un-teaching bad habits so they’re more receptive to what we’re now trying to do in terms of transfer. And now I’ll get off my soap box.

Rhetorical Genre Analysis: Now for the new stuff, and here I’m still very foggy. I’m in love with the Graphic Guide Robert showed us last time because the language is not dumbed down, the theory is pretty much up to date, and it builds in visual rhetoric/analysis along with written textual/rhetorical analysis. We will have also talked about rhetorical situations and genres a bit in Unit 1, so I want to start with revisiting those concepts, including how to analyze a genre rhetorically. Then I would like to send them off to investigate a specific genre, largely what Robert has in his Assignment in our initial curriculum materials — pick a genre, find as many multi-modal examples/artifacts as possible, analyze each one rhetorically, then write an essay about what they’ve learned about that genre. Along the way, I’ll have them write about things like, who’s privileged by the genre and who is excluded — all that good ideological work that goes along audience and context. I don’t think I want them to compose in that genre, not yet anyway, and I’m wondering about whether it would be more instructive for them to examine unfamiliar genres (I read something about that last week) as a way to put their own assumptions aside, or whether just laying out those assumptions before they start would do the same thing. 

Multiple Genre Project: Well, this is familiar to me since it’s a re-imaging of the Inquiry project I do now — finding a personally-interesting topic and digging into it by starting with questions instead of answers. I personally have never had a problem with students finding something they want to investigate, but we do a lot of collective brainstorming with giant Post-Its on the wall in one of my favorite in-class activities, which seems to get them going in the right direction; I also let them change their focus as they do the investigating if something starts to draw their interest. This term, I had them do a Googlepedia activity in class before we did the Post-Its (we had computers, although in other classes, I’ve had students use their phones to get started) where they we threw some topics/issues on the board, and then they did what they would normally do when they research something: start with Google Search and Wikipedia (no sense ignoring them, I figure); as they click through, they keep a lot of where they go and why. Not surprisingly, this activity led them to some great issues that they’re now working on. I do want to use the MGP template stuff Robert pointed us to flesh this out a little more (not sure how yet, need time to think!). I would like to end up with 1) an introduction which includes why they chose this issue, a summary of what they found, and what their opinion of the issue is now, and 2) a literature review that includes brief rhetorical analyses of each source/artifact, building on what they learned to do in Unit 2. Now… as for the culminating piece — I haven’t been unhappy what I’ve had them do before, but I’ve been re-reading Nelson Graff and I really like his “write something for a journal, etc.”

Well, this has gotten long… forgive me for indulging in my usual “thinking on paper.” See you later today.

Ellen Carillo links

Since we all seem to be talking about reading in general, and Ellen Carillo in particular, I found the links to pdfs of two of her things: A Writer’s Guide to Mindful Reading (book) and “Creating Mindful Readers” (article).

Update: This is Robert hijacking Jackie’s post (you can do this as admin!!). Let me also add Carillo’s “Navigating the Storm,” a piece about reading in the age of fake news.


The Terrible, Horrible, No Good….

This has been one tough semester for a couple of teaching reasons. One is just my 1101 class itself; I’ve complained enough about them but Robert suggested I find some of the work people are doing about the rhetoric of silence, which has now become my favorite new feminist schtick — how to turn passive-aggressive into transgressive.

But that’s a digression. The students have actually begun to do some good work on their Inquiry projects. Their Literature Reviews are due Friday: citation plus mini-rhetorical analysis on their most interesting sources, which was a compromise on my part — I wanted a list of everything they looked at, cited or not, along with a brief rhetorical analysis so they (and I) could analyze them as a whole. Yes, that sounds like an annotated bibliography, but it’s done with a set of questions about rhetorical situational analysis. While my students are still a bit befuddled with the “don’t give me a book report” approach of “Start with questions, not with answers that you’re trying to defend,” some of what they’re turning up has been surprising them, especially since a rhetorical analysis requires them to think specifically about who the rhetor is and what the larger context is, something most of them have been able to avoid so far in “research papers.” So I consider that a win on a lot of levels.

The other issue I’ve had is that, like Carrie, I’m tackling 1101 and not 1121 (although she has both), so I’ve had to try to filter the assignments through a first-term lens. My students are with a couple of exceptions very young, right out of high school, and stuck in that liminal space between two modes of existence. Liminality is, in my opinion, usually a good thing because it means anything goes, at least to a certain extent, but it can be terribly confusing. [In a way, I think we’re all in a bit of a liminal space as we go through this “experimental” experience, examining the old assignments and activities and approaches in light of wanting to teach more for transfer and about writing.]

So in some ways,  I feel like the first half of the course was, if not wasted, then at least a churning mess with silent students not giving me any feedback (and my having to drag work out of them) and me tap dancing around the course materials. Early this week I was, in fact, questioning both my own sanity and my ability to teach (which seems to happen every term for the past however-many-years I’ve been teaching). But after a couple of conversations, I feel like I may have finally gotten a handle on at least the inquiry/genre assignment, as I mentioned above. And, of course, that’s as we’re now going to be re-arranging things in both 1101 and 1121 for the Fall, which is typical, I suppose.

At any rate, I’ve requested an 1121 class for the Fall to go along with my Learning Community 1101 (which is a whole other issue: how do we do our new curriculum and still do what we’re expected to do for FYLC?), so I’m hoping to get more clarity as we go toward the end of this PD and set up for next year. My real bottom line is that I feel supported in my quest to teach a composition class that’s actually about writing, something I’ve generally had to do under the radar up to now, and that’s a wonderful feeling, liminal dislocation and all.

Discourse Community Activity

HI all. Following on Kim’s comment (I think it was Kim) about never teaching Swales again, I thought I’d share this lecture/activity I got this from Portland State University some years ago. II did tweak the original, but’s a nice explanatIon of Discourse Communities  and a set of activities. It’s probably better for 1101 than 1121 but I wanted to share it anyway — along with a three-part activity. It makes Swales a lot more student-friendly.

I’ve used this in previous classes where it’s worked really well, but I’m changing the activities a bit this year. For Phase One, after the students brainstorm their own communities, they’ll create a Discourse Community web, using the one in Anne Beaufort’s course outline as a model. For Phase Two, I’ll see if I can get them to talk about taboos or at least write about it on their Web. And for Phase Three, I’m turning it into a blogging assignment.

After that, they’re going to read Perri Klass’ New York Times column from many years ago (the pdf is below) about being a medical student, and have them tease out the features of that discourse community. (Complete honesty, I got this from Jeff Sommers’ article about doing a virtual workplace ethnography for my ENG 2570 class where it worked well.)

Hope somebody finds this useful. At least it’s something to talk about this week.



Ideology and history

I first read Berlin 10 years ago when I started studying rhet-comp seriously. And, like Aaron’s initial reaction, I was pretty blown away by what I saw as the heart of the article: that we should be as aware of why we teach the way we do as we are of what we teach. At the time, I was surrounded at the community college where I was teaching by a clear separation of pedagogies: some were student-centered, many others were what I came to know as current traditional, and the CT bunch always denigrated both expressivist and social-turn instructors as being “too lenient, too concerned with students, and not rigorous enough.”

Unfortunately, I think that battle is still raging, or maybe not even recognized as a battle by people who haven’t read Berlin (or more current writers) or who aren’t aware that there’s a battle at all, and maintain a CT  adherence to rhetorical modes and traditional grammar. Happily, I don’t believe this group of ours is in that category. But having this issue brought up for conscious discussion is, for me, perhaps the most important aspect of this article.

One other thought I had about how it’s written is my memories of being in a doctoral program in the mid- to-late-1980s. Cultural studies (media studies, for me) was fighting for acceptance in U.S. higher education (the Brits were already there), and there was a major paradigm shift, taking us from more textual analysis to Marxian political-economic theory and cognitive psychology. I and my fellow grad students found a lot of the newer theoretical stuff to be both patronizing/patriarchal (even when written by women) and almost incomprehensible in its formal language and lecturing tone. Much discussion ensued, the consensus of which was that the new paradigm, struggling to take make a place as a rigorous field along with psychology, economics, etc., chose the formal academic essay as its genre for convincing the skeptical. What I’ve read of rhet-comp from that era is, in many cases, similar to Berlin in tone and formality, largely, I suspect, as a way of establishing the field as a true discipline.

Forgive the digression (too many pain killers), but I think reading Berlin now is an exercise in historical research and a raising of consciousness for people who were trained in literature and not in composition (the case with most English faculty), demonstrating that current composition pedagogy is not a fad, but is in fact a reflection of how ideology works on us as teachers… and why we should take it seriously.

Silence is sponsored

These past two weeks have been an out-of-control roller coaster. Since we’ve been focusing as a Professional Development group on 1121, which I’m not teaching, I’ve been working to bring the various elements into the 1101 course outline, and, frankly, it’s been a bit overwhelming in terms of the amount of content and variety of focus. The good news is two-fold: 1) I’m finally able to bring current composition pedagogy into a unified curriculum in my 1101 class (I’ve been doing it piece-meal for 10 years), and 2) I seem to be working my way toward a unified set of scaffolded assignments that admittedly slow down the pace of 1101 but which I think could make the class more effective. I won’t bore everybody with that at the moment!

What I will say is that being able to front-load key terms and the reasoning behind what we’re doing has been pretty rewarding so far in terms of student buy-in. They’re already using terms like metacognition and reflection when they talk… when I can get them to talk. This is, as they say, “a quiet class.” Even my fail-safe ice breaker didn’t seem to get them engaged with each other. So this past Monday, when the pair-share activity about Cisneros and Malcolm X died a horrible, ignominious death after two minutes, I tossed out the lesson plan and asked how many of them consider themselves talkers — in or out of the classroom. There were only three out of 24. But then I asked them why they were all listeners. The ensuing discussion that broke out shouldn’t have surprised me but it did, because it ended up focusing on their literacy sponsors: the expectations of family, the demands of fitting in to a classroom, the fear of ridicule or bullying if you’re smart, especially if you’re a black male or a girl. We ended up writing group high school horror stories… which were hilarious. And then they quit talking again, but their eyes were on me and not on the computers, which I call a win. I now know I have a quiet class, but an engaged one.

And that brings me to this: I sometimes forget how young the 1101 students generally are, how much they need to be both gentled and prodded out of their high school mindsets. Right now, we’re beginning to talk more about their personal rules for writing, how they learned those rules, how they get blocked, why they don’t like writing, etc. They got a lot from the Mike Rose piece, and I think that having them continue to reflect on those things, and connect rules and sponsors, is well worth taking extra time on this Unit.

That said, I do look with envy at your posts about the Literacy Narrative unit with your 1121 students.

Can’t wait to see everybody! — jackie

Interesting article

Hi all. I found this article in the December issue of TETYC. An instructor interested in Teaching for Transfer and reflection was trying to find a way to build reflection activities into the early parts of her assignments. This details what happened (mostly good) and how she wants to modify it. It might be worth a look. Megan J Bardolf, Modifying Classroom Routines to Provide Reflective Space