Category Archives: Teaching


In Praise of the Unheralded

Too much of what goes on around the teaching profession these days seems designed to undermine the confidence and effectiveness of teachers. I know, it’s not meant that way, not really. But low pay, false narratives about “failing” schools, imposed methodologies and mythical “outcomes,” the quantification of assessment, and the fallacious idea that “anyone can do it” (backed by training programs claiming a few weeks preparation is enough before entering the classroom) tell us otherwise.

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Mediated Reality

Genre Project

I’ma wantin’ ter git students ‘way frum what they bin athinkin’ ’bout genres. And I don’t know how best to do it. “Genre” has so many uses and I tend to view it with simplicity, as “form” coupled with “subject.” “Style,” of course, can be a part of “genre,” but I’ve been less interested in that. What I have stayed away from is “subject matter” as a definer of “genre,” in part because I replace that with “intent.” I have a similar problem with “mode.”

Let me be clear: I have no problem with the use of either “genre” or “mode” in the study of writing. I’m just not sure I want to use them with students, for our students have been so inculcated with the vocabulary of certain forms of writing instruction, forms that rely on words like “genre” and “mode,” that they look to these rather than than to audience and intent (my view, here, is heavily flavored by B. F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior which, among other things, grapples with a similar problem of the vocabulary or grammar).

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Genre Assignment


(This is still in progress*)

Students will be asked to do the following:

One: choose a topic of interest: this should be one that relates to current issues, problems, or experiences that are relevant or significant in our current society. For example: students can choose how mental health is viewed or understood in our society, police brutality, environmental injustices and movements, technology’s impact on our everyday lives, issues/topics that relate to a particular culture or discourse community, etc.

Two: Students will then be asked to research their topic. They will be asked to explore the various ideas, theories, or approaches to understanding the central concerns and questions that inform the topic or issue. They will be given specific questions to explore the topic that will help them to investigate the various arguments or points of view that one might find about the topic/issue.

Three: Students will then be asked to choose 3 to 5 genres that explore or incorporate this topic.

For example: a student might choose how our use of social media or technology impacts our identities and/or relationships. They then would be asked to find three different texts from three different genres that explore the topic. For example: they might find a short story about the destructive impact of technology on human relationships, a podcast about how tech impacts relating, and a researched scholarly article or essay about the topic. Students would then be asked to analyze and interpret each of the genre/text examples that they found.

Four: Students will be asked to choose a particular approach to, argument about, or side of this topic/issue. This can include a possible solution to a problem or taking a side or stance on the issue/topic. They then will choose a genre that they wish to compose in/model—this should be one of the genres that they explored in their research and analysis. They will use their genre product/composition to argue their point/idea/approach or to inform their readers about the importance of the topic/question/issue.

Five: Students will be asked to reflect on the processes involved in the project. This will include reflections on research, analysis, and composition in the genre. Reflections can take place after each step or stage of the project.  Especially useful can be the reflections on how writing in the genre might be useful for for our writing in other areas–for ex: students can be asked to think about how their writing changed when they modeled the genre as well as what they noticed about their writing.

There is also the possibility to have students reflect on their reading experiences–students can be asked to reflect upon how their reading changed, what kinds of strategies they used, etc. when they read and analyzed the different genres.

The project actually can encompass all 6 of the learning outcomes. I will elaborate on this and re-post/update…The last learning outcome that involves multimodality can certainly be added to this assignment–I will post more….

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.


Revised Memorial/Commemoration Genre Assignment for ENG 1101

Title of assignment: Who Deserves to be Remembered, and Why?

Readings: TBA

Rhetorical Situation 
Why are some of our cultural and historical figures celebrated, while others are overlooked? In this assignment, you’ll pick someone who you feel has been overlooked by history, and you’ll design a means of celebrating their life through a public memorial or multimedia genre. Why does this person deserve to be added to the annals of history, and why have they not been sufficiently recognized until now?

Genre Description 
In this assignment, you’ll pick a genre with which to memorialize your figure publicly and to an audience who will appreciate this gesture. Pick a genre that makes sense for your goals, and appeals to the audience you have chosen: you could propose a public architectural memorial, you could create a museum or institution of remembering, or you could create a commemorative music album, podcast, tribute essay, website, or other digital space to encourage remembering. Please be creative and the sky is the limit — even Twitter accounts can be rhetorically effective ways of remembering someone and celebrating their contributions!
You may work individually or in groups of up to three people. There will be time in class to discuss your ideas and self-select groupings if desired.

Components of Assignment:
1. Pick a topic, propose person to commemorate/memorialize. Write 1-2 page project proposal justifying this choice and asking research questions/brainstorming possible arenas for research to explore.
2. Pick a genre, research the genre, pick a mentor text. Analyze mentor text in class for rhetorical components, do some low-stakes analytical writing about the genre.
3. Conduct primary and/or secondary source research, report back on preliminary findings in low-stakes writing.
4. Draft memorial/commemorative genre, present genres in progress to class, get feedback
5. Revise and finalize Commemorative Genre, and submit Genre Reflection, in which you address:
— why did you choose this genre? What audience were you trying to reach, and why did this genre make sense?
— what was your mentor text and what did you learn from it about rhetorical moves that work in this genre? What were some generic features that you incorporated into your genre?
— what do you think was most successful about your creation of this genre? What was a challenge, and why?

Learning Outcomes that 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
6. Compose in 21st Century Environments

7th PD Seminar & Homework for 8th PD

  1. Read write-ups about the genre project.
  2. Offer commentary (round robin)
  3. Discussion
  4. Personal Reflection on how to more fully develop the assignment.
  5. Homework:
    • Revise the genre project assignment and write as a new post
    • Add the reflection component to the assignment.
    • Explain which Learning Outcomes the project meets and how.
  6. Please post your reflections about today’s meeting as a reply to this post.

ENG 1101 RGA and Multi-Genre Assignment Ideas

Hey Everyone, my apologies for the lateness of this post but I’ve been battling a fountain of nasal allergies for the past week, so without further ado, here we go:

Rhetorical Genre Analysis Project

I’ve done a themed ENG 1101 course in the past around the theme of “History and Memory,” which I like in some ways because it helps the readings feel organized and all talk with one another. So if I were going to import some of that course into this format, for the Rhetorical Analysis assignment, I would add a genre awareness component. Here’s a step-by-step idea for scaffolding it:

  1. Students each pick a text or cultural artifact in which a speaker is remembering something. Bring it to class and share.
  2. Analyze the rhetorical moves and situation that produced this genre with an in-class activity
  3. Each student then finds 3 more examples of this genre – can be about any topic, not just remembering. Bring those examples in and do a low-stakes writing assignment analyzing the features of this genre through this comparison
  4. Final “High Stakes” assignment involves writing an essay analyzing the features of this genre, and exploring how the original artifact effectively conveys an act of remembering.


Multi-Genre Inquiry Project

I have this memorial assignment that I’m very attached to, in which students propose a “new memorial” for a person, place, thing, or idea that has not be adequately commemorated in a public space or in American public memory. Students get to work in groups, research memorials that they find effective, research topics that they want to memorialize, and consider how to make an effective argument as to the value of their topic and the message that their memorial should convey.

I would expand on this project to have an additional genre component (which I’m feeling might be great if it’s done individually, since the group is doing the research and the proposal), in which they create a multimodal genre that conveys a persuasive argument about why this person/place/idea deserves to be memorialized. The genre should specifically appeal to an audience who would care about this topic, and be in a relevant form or medium for this audience. For example, an appeal to memorialize a hip-hop star might take the form of a song or a music video or video montage, whereas an appeal to memorialize Stephen Hawking (an actual topic from last fall’s ENG 1101 class) could take the form of an editorial to the scientific community, a web cartoon, or a more visual/schematic type of rhetoric….


That’s where the wheels are turning for me right now!



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.

The Wormhole

So, the main thing on my mind recently has been reading and research and how students aren’t really doing it. Like I said, I gave reading quizzes in 1101, which increased the amount of reading students were doing (I asked.) But it also increased the amount of resentment the students felt toward that reading (I asked that question too.)

I asked them what they like to read. They said, “things that are interesting.” I said, “what’s interesting?” They said, “things that aren’t boring.” I said, “what’s not boring?” They said, “things that are interesting.” I told them that studies have been done and only two things are universally interesting: murder and sex. But other than that, “interest” is in the eye of the beholder. But, when pressed, they finally told me that almost down the line they were ALL interested, not by topic, but by writers they felt were talking TO them. Writers who, we might say, are writing in the vernacular.

What in the hell does this have to do with units two and three? Well, I think the key to how to teach these units and how to answer the reading question (and how to answer the problem of surface research) are perhaps all linked, but I haven’t been able to fully flesh it out yet. That is this:

Unit One would be a literacy narrative as I taught it in 1121 this semester. That is, they write their education narratives, but they follow them up with group projects in which they research some issue that affects everyone in their group (how do family problems affect school learning? how does education differ for second language learners? how does high stakes testing impact learning?)  This way, research is seen as personal and social. And reading is not a chore so much as a way of finding things out.

Unit Two (and here I flounder) is a unit in which students find a topic about which they are curious. Something they’re dying to know. How do I get them to that question? (That’s my question. And my brain isn’t quite there yet. I’m sorry.) But I see the culminating project of unit two as sort of a lit review, but more than that– that is, an evaluation and accumulation of sources. Perhaps it includes: an interview, an evaluation of a scholarly source, an evaluation of a popular source (formal– like the NYT) and a popular source (informal– like youtube). I’m not sure if this is enough though. I want them to TRAVEL DOWN A RESEARCH WORMHOLE.

Honestly, maybe this is a project that begins with Wikipedia and travels down a wormhole. Like, start with Wikipedia, link to another article, do an interview, find a comic, find a scholarly article. The final product for this unit is an informational booklet or a website– just evaluating these sources. The Wikipedia Wormhole Project. 

Unit Three: Still noodling on this, and honestly I probably will not be able to think it through by tomorrow because I have a big meeting with my chair and these ideas about research and literacy are THE BIGGEST THINGS ON MY MIND but the plan is that they take all those sources and that information and they make something with it. But what? But how?

Thank you for your time and attention.

Penn State Learning and Tutoring

Feel free to delete this post, cohort, but I find myself with access to some nifty tutoring and writing resources at Penn State University. I am here for Spring Break, but PSU is in finals, and these joints are hopping. So just briefly, travel around with me! I am on my cell phone and want to share my geeky foray:

During high stress times, the Library offers tutoring services in spare rooms. This one was a “write in” event and came fully catered.

Tutors sit at informal stations, and there is room for people to work in a quiet group space on their own/while they are waiting.

Better, still, are the stand-alone centers. This is PSL (Penn State Learning), one of the three walk-in tutoring facilities on campus.

Kids sign in by computer and enter the class assiciated with the tutoring they want to receive.

They enter an area with cushy couches and small tables with signs saying things like “Japanese Tutoring” as though they were at a self-service restaurant. There are lots of electrical outlets for computer charging while kids wait for their tutor to be free. Clusters of kids form around a peer tutor, “Meetup” style, and the group shares q and a. 

A central hub area with a sleepy workstudy student keeps students directed to where to sit/wait. A screen displays how long a wait there is for a tutor listed by subject area. 

Vibe: Freeform energy within controlled, respectful, clean environment (well controlled chaos).

Like a hushed restaurant where the “service” is tutoring and the “menu” is academic subjects. 

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