Annotated Assignments

Writing Into The Day/Analysis of an Ad

Used in: All Courses

In all of my courses, I begin each class period with a “Writing Into The Day” prompt that students work on for 5-10 minutes. This gives time for students who are running late to arrive without missing important information and offers all students time to warm up their minds and transition from their previous class or activity into “English mode.” Often, the prompts ask students to reflect on that day’s reading, reflect on what we did during the previous class, or begin thinking about ideas for today’s lesson. Aside from the pedagogical value of these tasks, transition time itself is an essential practice for accommodating students’ diverse needs. Many neurodivergent people struggle with abrupt “task-shifting,” and transition time alleviates that difficulty. But this practice is also valuable for any student who is mentally preoccupied– whether their head is buzzing with knowledge from their previous class, or they’re stressed about work or personal issues, a little bit of time to collect yourself and redirect your mind is valuable for learning.

In my Comp 1 (John Jay and NJCU) and Comp 2 (Fordham) courses, the Writing Into The Day prompt is frequently to analyze via guided prompts a picture of an advertisement or other poster that I found in my daily life here in New York City. Very often, especially in the case of ads from the subway, the students have already seen these same images, or see them in the following days or weeks. Occasionally, I will bring in a political meme or other digital artifact instead. This activity gives students the opportunity to practice applying their rhetorical knowledge and skills while reminding them that persuasion — rhetoric — happens all around us. For students who have studied rhetoric before, perhaps in AP English, most have only studied rhetoric in terms of speeches or great works of literature. My goal — and many of my students’ unit reflections confirm I am succeeding — is to get them to think about rhetoric all the time, from their commutes to their conversations with their friends and family.

Scientific Communication Project

Used in: Writing In the Disciplines (John Jay)

Assignment Sheet and Rubric

I designed this assignment to replace my original “imaginary scientific paper” assignment (discussed under Writing In the Disciplines on the “Courses Taught” page) because I realized that while only some students were in majors or would go on to careers in which they needed to write lab reports or similar forms of scientific academic writing, everyone can benefit from learning to find accurate scientific information and communicate it effectively to others. This applies to one’s individual needs (e.g., determining what Covid-19 precautions or treatments are actually effective), discussing with friends and family, listening to the news, or teaching children (your own children or the children of friends and family members) about topics, in addition to potential workplace scenarios.

The first part of the assignment, in which students must identify a scientific topic around which they perceive a communication need and then research it, is essentially a less formal version of an annotated bibliography. Rather than focusing on accurate use of citation styles, I want students to practice evaluating and summarizing sources and making connections between them.

In the second part of the assignment, students are asked to think about how they would communicate what they learned to a variety of different audiences. Not everyone wants or needs to know all of the details they learned in their research. So they must decide what information to include and in what form to present it to three audiences: a peer, a child, and a third audience of their choosing. After creating their communications, they also send me a reflection of why they choose the third audience they did and the rationale behind how they chose to present the information to each audience.

Many students chose the topic of the Covid-19 vaccine and how to persuade others to get vaccinated, often their family members. For the third audience, one student selected the imam at his mosque, with the rationale that other people at the mosque respect him and value his opinion, so encouragement to get vaccinated would mean more coming from him than from the student.

Personal Narrative: “This I No Longer Believe”

Used in: Composition 1 (NJCU and John Jay), Composition 2 (Fordham)

Assignment Sheet, Rubric

I’ve taught different versions of this assignment since Fall 2018. For this essay, the first major paper of the semester, I ask students to write a personal narrative about how they came to change their belief about something.

Very often, especially in AP Language and Composition classes due to the timed nature of the exam, students learn to pick a position and then come up with evidence to support it. Often, students learn that the only positions on an issue are “Pro, Con, or Qualify,” a belief reinforced by the GALE Opposing Viewpoints database, which many high schools provide access to. I believe this approach is in contradiction to the goals of research, inquiry, and learning. The purpose of this specific prompt is to help students begin breaking out of this mentality. Because they have already held multiple positions on whatever topic they choose, they are more easily able to approach multiple perspectives on the issue with empathy and nuance. We use this as a starting point to begin discussing the complexity of beliefs, evidence, arguments, and ways of knowing throughout the rest of the semester.

Going into the Fall 2021 semester, I was dissatisfied with the ways I had assessed this assignment in the past. Very often, it seemed, the rubrics I made did not align with my goals for the assignment or what the students were actually doing in their writing. Rather than revising my rubric on my own, I pasted all of the past versions, plus rubrics for other personal narrative assignments created by colleagues, into a shared Google Doc and asked my students to comment on the various rubrics with their thoughts, questions, feelings, and suggestions. After reading their reactions to the rubrics, I wrote a new version, which we then discussed in class before finalizing.

“Rhetorical Landscape Report”

Used in: Composition 2 (Fordham)

Assignment Sheet, Rubric

When I first taught composition at New Jersey City University, the second major paper of the semester was a straightforward rhetorical analysis paper. However, upon reflection after the semester was over, I realized this didn’t really build off of “This I No Longer Believe” or build up to the final research paper. When writing my syllabus for Fordham this year, I decided to try something new: what I’ve termed a “rhetorical landscape” report. After asking my students for feedback, I believe this assignment needs revision before further use, but it fits into the curriculum and student learning objectives much better. As I had hoped, many students used the research they began in their rhetorical landscape analyses as springboards for their final research papers, and even more reported learning an enormous amount while completing this assignment, both about their topics and about writing.

Instead of analyzing a specific text or pair of texts, this assignment asks students to “read around” an issue until they get a sense of the overall conversation: what are the main points of view and ways of arguing for them? Who are the typical speakers or kinds of speakers? Who are their typical target audiences? What is their rhetorical purpose? Students are encouraged to use both scholarly and popular sources (including TikToks, Instagram comments, Reddit posts, etc.) and to not worry about whether it is true or if they agree with it: the purpose is to know what people are saying and why, regardless of whether it is accurate.

Inquiry Essay

Used in: Composition 1 (NJCU and John Jay), Composition 2 (Fordham)

Assignment Sheet and Rubric

While in some ways this assignment is a traditional research paper, it is also framed to emphasize the importance of genuine inquiry/curiosity (rather than finding “good” sources to support a pre-existing point of view) and applying the rhetorical tools we’ve been studying over the course of the semester to students’ own writing. I encourage students to pursue “whatever rings their internal curiosity bell,” underscoring the assumption that everyone has curiosity about some aspect of the world. Last semester, one student originally chose to research the environmental impacts of fast fashion and, in the process, discovered the Uyghur genocide. She had never heard of this ethnic group before, much less known they were being subjected to systemic violence, so she abandoned her previous topic to investigate this instead. She learned a lot, and then shared her findings with the class during “Research Show and Tell” in the final week of the semester. Her writing process is emblematic of everything I hope to achieve with this assignment.