Category Archives: 1101 Unit 3-New Genre

Multi-Modal Writing and Grammar

Let’s’ start with what I love and then I’ll write fifteen to twenty paragraphs explaining very carefully my position on academic writing and grammar. Thanks for asking. Have a seat. Smoke if you got ’em.

Martin Brandt’s book excerpt was fun and engaging and I would like to find ways to work with his ideas more.

The Annotated Bibliography is a wonderful assignment and I’ve been meaning to say this for two semesters now. I can’t say enough about how much I like it, but I’ll try.    I honestly can’t figure out how I didn’t come up with it before.  It’s so obvious and solves so many problems both basic (stop plagiarizing) and complex (what kind of source is viable?).  I embrace it.  Fully.  They could have been doing this the whole time!  I will never go without it again.  I think I’d like it better as a series of mini-assignments that get folded into a final project, but that’s just a tweak I might add.

Representing themselves in different media will be important in student’s careers and educations, and I’m happy to fold a podcast, a TikTok, or a TedTalk style video into my syllabus. It’s liberating to be told to keep students up to do date with technological advances.  Students need more multi-modal writing assignments.  How could they not?  Most of their communication will be in these new forms and we would do them a disservice not to guide their use.


Please don’t yank the basic research paper or the basic essay.

I’ve been haunted for many years now by a conversation I had with a friend who worked for a legal staffing firm who told me his firm would not consider even interviewing a student from City Tech for a paralegal position because their writing was notoriously terrible.  He told me this full well knowing I was a writing instructor there (and he had worked as a CUNY adjunct himself).  I also had a friend at the Board of Education tell me that they didn’t accept candidates from another non-CUNY college I worked at.

These chilling conversations strengthened my resolve to make absolutely certain that my students could work in whatever genre they met.  Could they fill out a job application?  Send a thank you letter?  Write a colleague a work email?  Present a school with a decent sample of academic writing?   To do that they need to write in all different genres, including standard possibly soul-deadening academic ones.

I am wary of the idea that teachers will turn students off writing by teaching them to do it in an academic manner or that by teaching them grammar they will be crippled as writers.  I sense the belief that by teaching them to write a five paragraph essay or a four page research paper they will become so traumatized that they will drop out of school– they will HATE writing more than anything, or even worse, that my teaching them to write in standard edited American English is going to ruin them.  Literally, they are going to drop out of college because they will hate academic writing so much and then they will be shut out of so much of what society has to offer that they will be forced to a life of crime.

I’ve always assumed it was the other way around.  Yes, they are absolutely traumatized, yes, they are scared and hate it and don’t see the point.  At least when we meet, that’s sometimes the feeling.  But when I’m done with them, I hope, if all goes well, that  they will be great at writing.  Or at least, Very Good.  And being Very Good at it makes them like it a little, or hate it a little less.

I have always assumed that the problem wasn’t that people were teaching research papers and certain structures, but that they were teaching them poorly.  If you watch how grammar gets taught, even the tone becomes sort of punitive and mean and sadistic.  Delores Umbrage, that famously terrible teacher, would probably run a tight grammar class.  And I suspect five paragraph essay structure might somehow turn teachers into assholes, because power corrupts, and that’s what is making students turn a way from an education.

A certain tone of voice.  A certain disdain.  Contempt.  Strict standards vaguely expressed.

But I felt like it was my job to prepare students for all the  professors, mean professors, tough graders, angry “normed” adjuncts sitting in windowless rooms marking their way through hundreds and hundreds of papers over the course of a weekend for 40% of their actual salary.

I’ve been using five paragraph essay structure to stack the odds in students’ favor in these situations — if students know one paragraph is all about red and another paragraph should be all about about blue, then they won’t repeat what they’ve said about red in the second and third and fourth paragraphs.  I write the words RED and BLUE on the board in huge letters.  I give them quizzes on red and blue paragraphs.  And then I have them free write and free write, to get the taste of being ashamed out of their mouths.

I worry that removing the basic research paper from composition will put students at an academic disadvantage when they go on to other classes or programs.  I always assume that after Tech they are going straight to MIT to do their graduate work, where they will have to write a research paper at least once.  (Or possibly NYU or the Graduate Center or Teacher’s College.)  What’s going to happen to them there if they’ve never encountered the most basic (if boring and possibly silly) forms of academic writing?

I do think working in other genres or in more engaging writing projects will make them better writers and ready for the workplace, but if they don’t have any clue how to write a basic boring old research paper, even how to focus on writing something that’s not fun, not scintillating, I think their lives might be the worse for it.  Possibly not life-of-crime worse for it, but embarrassment awaits.

Also, I started teaching grammar because the students were freaking out about it.  Not all of them, but enough of them, were so frightened of grammar that I thought it would just be easier to teach it than to try to talk them all out of worrying about it.  I tried to teach it in a way that wasn’t shaming and punitive, but still relevant.  I would never write students mistakes on the board–even doing so  anonymously is a sadistic practice.  I just can’t be funny or humble enough to pull this tactic off.  I would just write my own made-up mistakes on the board and have them correct them, and the mistakes might match a grammar lesson.  The whole thing took 10 minutes a class and seemed to calm their nerves.

I do wish these composition experts would stop using words like “inflicting” when they talk about teaching practices. “But those promoting these grammar drills should also be shown how to observe what happens in their classes when they inflict such lessons on their students, as well as how to document the before-and-after writings of these students. Perhaps
their first-hand experience will convince them when other people’s research could not.”  There’s a lot of English-teacher shaming going on in these articles.  I understand they’re lobbying for change, but their case is specious.  Teaching grammar can be empowering, or humiliating, for students, depending on how it’s done.  Certainly this writer can’t possibly be arguing that just knowing grammar makes you a worse writer?

I’m willing to wager that some writers have managed to produce works of staggering beauty, all the while knowing grammar.

It’s self-consciousness about grammar that cripples us as writers.  That’s why, I wager, students writing doesn’t improve when you teach grammar.  (Not that I think teaching grammar improves writing–but that’s another essay.) But we have to get them past the self-consciousness.  Get them to focus on the flower bed and not always be thinking about what kind of gardener they are, how they look as a gardener, what kind of grade they’ll make as a gardener or if they should take another selfie.

Meanwhile, in our efforts to prepare students for a world of new means of communication, which we absolutely must do, I hope to also remember that the new fast methods of communication sometimes preclude, by their nature, meaningful, slow thought.

The new constant ticktocking instagramming texting communication illuminates with the quality of a strobe light. The communication goes on around us almost as if no one is doing it, it’s just happening. The accumulation of all this multimodal communication running at us all day long is that we all enter a sort of nod where we just flick ideas back and forth like spit wads.  Doing great! Love this! Thanks so much!   We ping memes and images and bright chirpy little jokes with kittens falling all over pianos back and forth relentlessly.   How can I encourage my students to think, to look for facts and substance in this digital haze?  

Thank you for getting to the bottom here.  Nice to see you down here.  Really enjoyed thinking about these issues with other people.


Upcoming readings and some generative grammar resources!

For Weds, April 28: Please read this article by Takayoshi and Selfe  and look over these resources on teaching multimodal writing from the Sweetland Center for Writing. Both are on teaching multimodal writing in FYW classes.

Then write a blog post about your thoughts on the articles and how you feel about teaching multimodal writing: Have you done it? Do you like it? What are your concerns? Do you have good ideas? Things you would like to try?

For May 5, we will meet on zoom. Before we meet, please familiarize yourself with Unit 3 of 1121 HERE . Please also look at the handout HOW TO MAKE A PODCAST THAT MATTERS from the New York Times

And…. here are a couple of resources for teaching generative grammar. These are just here for you to use if you want to

First, this site on strengthening sentence variety from the Texas Gateway is very useful. Remember to follow up immediately with exercises in which students look at their own writing!

Second, an excerpt from my friend Martin Brandt’s book on generative grammar is below. I think sentence focus is often quite a complex issue, but I do like this chapter and look forward to reading the rest of Marty’s book!

Download (PDF, 1.57MB)

Invisible Knowledges – Kynard Response

In the previous semester, I had a student who, for his final paper, could not precisely get at what it was he wanted to actually write about. There was something about his writing that always seemed evasive, inconclusive. At first, I was confused and assumed that he was not comfortable with writing or did not really spend much time on the assignment. But when we sat down for a meeting, the more I prodded to try to get to what might interest him, (as he said he just could not articulate what he wanted to) – he finally said that he felt that his previous education had left him uninterested in education itself, because it limited him from his interests. This was what he had been trying to write about, but felt uncomfortable making that statement. The high school he attended before had no music classes, no art classes. He felt confined, and therefore he felt he was restricted to only science and math and technical fields. He did not want to pursue them, but to him, these were the only acceptable fields. This restriction seemed to resonate in him so much that even as I tried to elicit from him what it was he was really interested in, it was as if he felt ashamed to admit that it was music he was interested in – he was so hesitant about uttering it almost as if it was a bad word, a curse. When he finally said it, and when I finally understood, he expressed a sense of relief – he could finally say it out loud. His inability to articulate his thoughts and interests in education reflected for me the same restrictions he felt imposed upon him before – something that was not a legitimate field to be studied or valued, and therefore not to be expressed, for fear of being shunned, chastised, and set upon another direction.

Even when I finally clarified to him that he could most certainly integrate that into a paper of its own, he did not believe me – he seemed very hesitant to continue with it, or did not think it was possible. Discouraged, he said he would avoid the topic altogether. This reaction made me think of the ways by which educational systems and the ways by which we reify or denigrate certain knowledges, rhetorics, or languages, as Kynard said, “get on the right side of.” The student felt he could not possibly “get on the right side” by discussing what he was actually interested in. This also made me consider how to establish from early on conscious practices and spaces of discussion within the classroom that ensures that students recognize that they do not have to abide by the formulaic regurgitation they have likely been taught. Most of the time, I generally comment on their papers individually if I see this occur, and sometimes possibly bring it up in writing workshop, but never as a conscious acknowledgment that they have been taught this and therefore is harder for them to break out of it. I think establishing this early on, situating the self within the social, political or cultural problems, would set the stage to become more comfortable with doing so even with research.
Personally, even I myself have encountered this denigration of “self as text” with the harsh phrase of “me-search” (in the sociology field). Yet I think this kind of rhetoric itself is privileged, in denying the reality that all research and writing is rooted in some form of positionality (the term we use in the social sciences for this). Yet, recognizing positionality is still a very recent phenomenon in the field. But I think recognizing it, especially for students, can be the start of work grounded within the uniqueness of their own worlds – and oftentimes, we (as a formal educational system) deny students this. And thus students themselves shy away from exhibiting that reality, connecting that reality to their work, because they deem it illegitimate, invalid – because it has always been considered invisible or denigrated in their surroundings. Particularly, educational settings. The role of educational settings defining formal, or canon knowledges, I think is extremely important. And perhaps by recognizing this, discussing this, in class, can open up those conversations as well. I think much of it also has to do with coming to encourage students to explore their own unique realms that only they can write about – through shorter writing assignments, until embracing that uniqueness within research as well.

“Getting On The Right Side Of It”

I really enjoyed Kynard’s piece and admired her ability to draw out the idiosyncrasies that each of her students brought into her classroom. I think that we can all relate to encountering that formulaic research paper that feels like it was written by a bot. But one focus I was hoping we could discuss is how we, as instructors, may unconsciously perpetuate this formula. As I was reading the piece, I was blown away by the type of writing that Kynard’s students Malcolm and Rhonda were able to produce. At the same time, an odd question popped into my head, which was, “how would I grade something like this?” It sounds so silly, but when I think about it, many of my rubrics are inadvertently holding up those old formulaic structures, with 20% dedicated to structure and 20% dedicated to research/quote integration etc, meanwhile I’m saying things like “try to incorporate your voice!” or “Write about something you’re passionate about!’ I now see how this is somewhat contradictory. So, I think Kynard was correct when she pointed out that these papers are not only easy for students to produce, but also easy for us to grade because they are so familiar. There are also qualities to a formulaic research paper that are easy to “measure,” for lack of a better word. If students begin centering personal styles of writing and individual experiences in their research, it becomes a bit more tricky to craft a rubric that captures all that may be produced. I suppose, then, my question for everyone is, how would you grade assignments like those described by Kynard in her piece? I would love to find more of my students’ voices in their writing. At the same time, I fear that encouraging too much personal experience may cause the research paper to drift into the territory of a narrative assignment. Maybe these are arbitrary boundaries, but I do think there is a way to craft the requirements for a research paper that encourages the type of self-exploration Kynard is advocating for while also keeping research centered…if that makes sense. I’m not sure! This is making me self-reflect on my own understanding of what research is and what the desired goals of research should be. I will add that I recently read all of my 1121 student submissions for the letter/speech discourse community assignment and I did see wisps of this “self as text” happening within these pieces. It was incredibly rewarding and fun to read the students write about a community and issue they feel passionate about, while also integrating some research into their work.

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.

Hi (sorry this is late)! Work for Feb 24

Hi everyone!  I was having some technical difficulties, but everything is up now.  But since I have been remiss, I’m making deadlines much later.

Note: We will not be meeting this Weds, March 17, (though there is asynch work throughout the week.). We will meet synchronously on Weds March 24! 

By Mon, March 22 (6 pm): 

  1. Please read and annotate the Carmen Kynard article on our Perusall site.
  2. I’ve also added an optional article by Nelson Graff, which was the basis of our Unit 2/3 assignment, so it’s certainly worth a read.  Feel free to add some annotations here too.
  3. Write a blog post (here on the Open Lab) about the following:
    • Think about a time when you got really interested in something and researched that thing. How did you get interested? How did you go about the research? What did you DO with that research?
    • With Kynard (and Graff, if you read him) in mind, how might we (or how do you already) expand the definitions of a research paper to more fully contain the curiosity and delight of “real” research?

By our next meeting, March 24: 

  1. Read over your colleagues’ blog posts and comment on one or two
  2. Watch THIS video about the final portfolio. We’ll talk about it, but if you have questions beforehand, feel free to post them in a blog post here on Open Lab (use category 1101 Portfolio)
    • HERE is the slideshow (without my commentary) that you can share with your students.
    • HERE is the final portfolio assignment for the model courses (including reflection).

Incidentally, to make that video, I used screencastomatic and, for the graphics, canva.  Both have both free and paid features.

Screencast-o-matic is a screenshot program that records the screen and your voice (and your face,  if you want.) I often use it for commenting on student writing.


Kieran Reichert FINAL 1101 Unit 3

UNIT 3: Writing in a New Genre (adapted from T. Clarke’s sample)

In Unit 3, you will be using your research from Unit 2 to compose a document/artifact in a new genre. You might want to write a declaration, a review, a manifesto, a rulebook, a magazine article (from a particular publication), a comic book, a children’s book, short story, a video essay. Perhaps you want to create a multigenre piece that mixes multiple genres in the same document, or a multimedia piece with a written component. I hope you get the sense that the possibilities are endless; you have multiple publishing options for your Unit 3 genre. Hint: Think about your audience and the best way to communicate with them. In my example, my audience would be soccer fans, and therefore I might choose a genre that soccer fans are familiar with, like the match review, or tactical analysis. The same would be true for whatever issue/community you choose.

The possibilities are virtually endless. The caveats are:

1. You must have a rhetorical understanding of the genre you choose.

2. You must make use of the research you did in Unit 2.

3. You cannot simply write an “article.” You’ll need to be specific, and the genre must contain words. It would help you to have a specific example (or model) of the genre in which you choose to write. You will have written about this genre, in some form, so use the knowledge you already have, and the knowledge you will gain from further research, to craft the best version of a document in the genre you’ve chosen. If you are choosing to do something say in video or song, you must transcribe the words. The final word count for this will be 1500 words, at least.

Some ways you might want to get started:

● Question your intent. Think, “What do I have to say? Why do I care about this topic? What is the best genre for me to communicate what I have to say?”

● Choose a genre you like and that you think best fits your intent. If you decide for instance that you want to talk about bodegas, or your bodega specifically, perhaps an exposé is best.

● The point here is, the topic and genre should gel.

Outline of Tasks:

1. Proposal. Consider again how your research and genre analysis in Unit 2 has addressed/influenced your line of questioning. What do you want to say? Why is your topic important to you and to the community at large? Which genre is best suited to communicating your message? Type your proposal.

2. Outline with sources chosen and genre mentor text (model or example of the genre you would like to compose in). Once you’ve narrowed your focus/have chosen your genre, outline your argument. How will you support your general claim? What kind of sources would strengthen your argument? Which genre will serve as your mentor text?

3. Rough draft. Begin writing. Bring in research and the methodological knowledge you’ve gained from our investigation into genre and rhetoric. Look to your source/mentor text for ideas about structure. Bring two (2) copies of your rough draft to class to participate in the peer writing-workshop.

4. Based on feedback on your rough draft, conduct further research, if necessary, to support your

claims/vision. Incorporate reflection and feedback in order to improve the final product.

5. Final draft.

6. Reflection. Your reflective letter should be at least 500 words.