Work for our first asynchronous class!

Hi everyone!  I just sent you an email about our scheduling. We’ll have it sorted soon, I promise, but I want to get us started, so this week, we’ll work asynchronously and in two weeks, we will meet on Zoom (we are off next week on Weds and Thurs due to Yom Kippur)

Before we get started, you will need to make sure you’ve signed up for this site (if you haven’t done so already) and that you’ve signed in to our “class” on I sent instructions via email.  Once you have done those things, please do the following:

By Friday, Sept 17:

  1. Write a blog post (not a comment but a stand-alone post) introducing yourself as a reader, writer, teacher and… a person!  Please include some type of visual, if possible. HERE is a video explaining how to write a blog post on Open Lab if you need help. Videos are extra-great, but not required. Please let us know what subjects you would like to cover in this seminar. Feel free to also add any questions or concerns you have about this PD or this semester there.
  2. Complete THIS EDPUZZLE.  Edpuzzle is a program that allows students to watch a video but asks them to answer questions as they go. This video outlines the theory and pedagogy behind the model courses. But please note! It is about 25 minutes long. With questions, this will take you about 40 minutes! IF YOU CLOSE THE WINDOW BEFORE YOU FINISH, YOU WILL LOSE YOUR WORK! I suggest you try to do this in one sitting, if possible.

( HERE is a link to the slideshow (without me talking!) But please do the Edpuzzle!) 

By Weds Sept 22 (in preparation for our Zoom meeting): 

  1. Read and annotate the reading “Teaching for Transfer” on our Perusall site.  Once you are signed in for the site (using the instructions from our email) it should be fairly self-explanatory. Instructions are on the assignment.
  2. Read over your peers’ introductions on this site and make a few comments!

Please email me at with any questions! If you leave them as emails or questions on this site I may not see them for a while.

Welcome to PD Fall 2021

Hi everyone and welcome to the PD for Fall 2021. Happy to have you!

First things first: Please join this site HERE–just click “Join Site” Under the picture of Viola Swamp (I hope some of you have read Miss Nelson is Missing!)

Second, please fill out the Doodle poll HERE. Keep in mind that while this is for next week, the meeting will be recurring (though not every week.) Once we have a day and time set, I’ll send out a syllabus.  We’ll meet sometimes synchronously on Zoom and other times asynchronously.  Please note that Doodle has three options: yes, no and “if necessary.” Please use the third option for times you are begrudgingly available.

Keep in mind, you are paid for the PD (30 hours at your non-teaching rate.)  This is based on attendance and  contribution. Basically, this means that you show up, read the articles and write the blog posts more-or-less on time (so we can discuss them!)

There will also be a “bigger” contribution to the department, which we’ll talk about, which will either be a new unit that fits into the model course curricula, a tutorial for a educational technology, or anything else that corresponds with the model courses that you think might benefit the department at large. It’s not a huge amount of work and will probably arise naturally out of the work we do together this semester. Please don’t sweat it.

Lastly, I’ve made Unit One overview videos if they would be helpful for you.  Here is the overview for Unit One ENG 1101 (Comp 1) and here is the overview for Unit One 1121 (Comp 2) 

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.


Multimodal Projects

I have found the arguments put forward here in favor of incorporating more multimodal projects in composition classes to be compelling. I can also say from experience this semester that the students are far more excited about piecing together a project like this than a normal term paper. I have students producing podcasts, writing blog posts and creating brochures about a series of social justice issues. I agree with the sentiment that if composition is to stay relevant, it must adapt. Of course, there are lessons from traditional composition courses that should remain in place, it’s just a matter of applying these lessons to broader forms of rhetoric. I think that this works well with the genre awareness approach to composition as it makes the writing process less daunting and foreign. When I was going over multimodal texts with my class, we looked at various Instagram posts and discussed why they were multimodal, what forms of communication they were using, and how the meaning would change if any of the elements were altered. Students then started to see that whenever they post an Instagram post with a caption, they are already participating in multimodal production. It also helps to make concepts like the modes of persuasion more tangible. To demonstrate how music and sound could be a form of sonic rhetoric, I played my class two versions of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” speech.  The first version did not have music layered over it, and the second did. Then we discussed how the audio altered the way in which the speech was received.  Most students commented that it sounded more compelling and emotional, or in other words, more persuasive and engaging, which are two qualities we want students to be constructing in their own texts. In regards to transfer of knowledge and applicability, I think this is one of the best ways of “selling” composition to students. For years, I’ve tried to explain to my classes why composition matters, that it helps them become better communicators and writers, BUT it is incredibly difficult to sell the purpose of, say, a compare and contrast paper. The resistance makes sense – it feels artificial, as if these assignments can only exist in the bubble of the classroom. So, multimodal projects have a more direct transfer into everyday life. As mentioned above, everyone that uses social media is engaging with these types of texts. But beyond that, most professional paths now require some form of digital literacy, whether it is writing emails, editing web pages or keeping up with a company’s social media accounts.  Lastly, it creates a space for all types of learners. Rather than success in a composition class being completed predicated upon whether one is good with words or not, now visual and auditory learners can learn and create within the objectives and goals of a composition class while appealing to their natural talents.  Overall, I am sold on this path forward for composition (PS: it’s also more fun for instructors to grade / read!).

Multimodal Education

As an entirely multimodal person, who has spent many years unsuccessfully trying to bend myself into one mode, I find that I am still mildly conflicted by the ideas presented in Takayoshi and Selfe’s piece. Although the digital world has become all-encompassing, and obviously more so in the past year and change, the attitude that language, and purely “alphabetic” writing, is somehow passé doesn’t feel comfortable. Obviously this is not a zero-sum game, and multimodal seems to imply that we embrace a multiplicity of viewpoints. Paper and books were once state-of-the art technology. The study of rhetoric, as the authors point out, began by looking at oral communication, not written. Multimodal education can honor and respect the traditions, just as it seeks to incorporate new ideas and modes.

With my caveat in place, I see no reason why standards, elegance or literary ideals need to be compromised when working this way, and personally I like it, though with a little less focus on the digital world as such. We can bend technology to our will just as forcefully as it can bend us. Technology was invented by humans, choices were made, and perhaps we can apply a critical eye to the technology itself, not just to what was produced with it. As the authors say, “Grounded in the knowledge that comes from authoring multimodal compositions themselves, students can constructively respond to audio and visual compositions, developing critical perspectives that will serve them well as citizens who respond to any texts” (3). These critical perspectives should be applied to all the world, and especially the digital world, an artificial place that was created with an uneven application of art and care.

A few years ago, I read Lynda Barry’s book Syllabus and jealously considered her work. She teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a “professor of interdisciplinary creativity” and has put out a few books about her strange and novel approach to the classroom. Art, research, science, and writing are interwoven in idiosyncratic and delightful ways. Granted, what she talks about is all on paper, and I realize that that’s not exactly what’s being discussed here. Still, in my own work and education I’ve always tacked in the direction of the gray area between modes, like William Blake’s illustrated poems. I like that gray area best, and have always taught it enthusiastically in my own way.

I’ve always snuck in some multimodal assignments along the way, though again tacking towards paper, but was a bit sheepish about it, and never pushed it as far as I would have liked. We’ve spent time looking at and analyzing comic strips over the years (Krazy Kat and Little Nemo in Slumberland in the context of Modernism and Surrealism, looking at the rhetoric of the genre). We’ve always listened to podcasts and watched short art films to look at their construction: diegetic and non-diegetic music, use of voice-over etc. This semester I’ve introduced some small drawing projects as well based on our reading, but over the years we’ve always returned to the five-paragraph essay, as was the standard. The purpose of looking at these things was always to write about them in the end.

There are many multimodal ideas I would like to introduce in the classroom, though not all of them are digital. I always wanted to have the students create zines, for instance, collective zines using artwork and their writing, or individual thematic works. I’m sure there are ways to think about that project both in analog and digital terms. I’m also eager to explore making podcasts and sound recordings with my students. Some of the podcasts out there are beautifully written and hold to the highest standards of composition. I’ve had a number of students interested in using that genre for their unit 3 project and one who made a podcast last semester, and would like to delve into that a lot more.

A multimodal environment that fully embraces the multiplicity of modes is delightful to me, as it leads me to a teaching life more integrated with the rest of my work, education, and interests.



Multimodal Composition – I Say Embrace It

In the 1121 class I’m teaching right now the students are working on the “Documenting Your Life: Multimodal” assignment (unit #3). I have to say that I’ve enjoyed the process of helping them choose the modality for the assignment. We spent part of a class brainstorming the types of modalities they could choose, then I had them type up a brief proposal which included the reason that modality was the right fit for their story. Since the assignment is a personal one, no one would know better than them the best way to tell their own stories.

During the pre-post chat, the students were definitely participating more than usual. It was nice to see them enthused. And the students seemed eager to help each other as well; one person, for example, asked if she could do a TikTok (For the record, I don’t know TikTok at all – I’m not even sure if the correct terminology is a “TikTok” or a “TikTok video”). I asked the class what they thought about the student’s idea. After a bit one of them suggested that the student make a series of TikToks to tell her story. I thought that was a great idea.

In this instance, I feel like I’m learning from the students, and maybe it’s selfish of me, but I like learning from them. They seem happy to do it as well. So when I read this statement in the Takayoshi and Selfe article, “Students often bring to the classroom a great deal of implicit, perhaps previously unarticulated, knowledge about what is involved in composing multimodal texts, and they commonly respond to multimodal assignments with excitement,” (pg 4)—I found myself nodding along in agreement.

I could imagine some composition instructors, faced with the challenge of teaching multimodal assignments digging in their heels in a sort of “get off my lawn” way … but why? Things change. This is the world now. And have to admit that I love the almost scolding Takayoshi and Selfe give hesitant teachers when they write, “Teachers less than willing to make such a leap might be encouraged to remember that the rhetorical principles currently used to teach written composition are, themselves, principles translated from the study of oral communication.” Like I said: Things change. This is the world now.

One last thing from the article: I liked what the authors said about multimodal composition possibly bringing the “often neglected third appeal—pathos—back into composition classes” and I look forward to seeing how my students do it next week.

The second article, “Teaching Multimodal Composition” from the University of Michigan website, was helpful in affirming that I’m not going about teaching multimodal composition in the completely wrong way. (This is most likely thanks to Carrie’s excellent model classes!). I’ve had my students following this basic scaffolding of analyzing, finding models/mentor texts, proposing the projects, drafting their own versions and then workshopping, finalizing, and finally reflecting. I’ve always had scaffolded assignments, but this is more thorough, with more chances for feedback—which seems more important than ever for catching students from falling through the cracks now that we’re online.

One other thing I like about the multimodal composition assignments is that they naturally lend themselves toward examining a student’s purpose and audience. I think it’s built into the question of why this modality for this project?

I’m really happy with the changes to composition this year (okay, aside from the online aspect, which to be honest, I truly don’t mind much). I feel like the past years I was doing the same thing each semester, never quite sure if my students were learning anything. Now I feel like they are. And I know I am!

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.

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)