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Andrea A. Lunsford

Writer’s Club!

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Apr 2, 2020


I may be sheltering in place and social distancing, but like so many others I am lucky to be able to connect with friends, loved ones, students, and teachers online. Recently I have gotten inquiries from teachers who have been teaching with one or another of my textbooks, and I’ve been able to send additional materials and links that they can use with their students online. This reminds me that in many ways teachers are first responders too, and heroes to their students (and to me). I feel so fortunate to be in contact with them.


And I am VERY lucky to have two particular young friends—in 2nd and 4th grades—who have joined me in a Writer’s Club. I have known their dad since he was 2 years old and think of him, his wife, and the girls as family. Leah (2nd) and Maya (4th) have been in Japanese immersion classes but are now schooling at home and every day, or every other day, we write back and forth. Yesterday brought an even bigger treat when we got together on Facebook for half an hour and I could see projects they were working on (a space craft and a quite large airplane carrying loads of cotton candy and other sweets) and some of their drawings.


I hope their work will bring smiles to you, as it has certainly done to me.


Poems by Leah


Cats Dogs

Little and cute

Snuggly Sleepy

With cat paws



Trump bump



Humph! Humph!


Poems by Maya


Dear coronavirus aka COVID19,

Please go away to another galaxy

NEVER come back

We have way too many things going on and now schools are closed

Because of you.

We can only see our friends and family virtually.

And we can’t go out of our house!

We can only go out for food and maybe clothes!

And the restaurants are all closed

So now we have to be six feet apart if we do go outside!

So, please do not be such a pain!



Flowers are soft

Light as a feather

Outstandingly blue

Whenever you look

Every bright day

Right in front of you.


I have many more, of course, but hope these few will brighten your day. I am sending virtual hugs and wishes for keeping safe to teachers and students everywhere.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 865116 by picjumbo_com, used under the Pixabay License

Feeling like I have been unwillingly dropped into a Camus novel (The Plague) or famous diary (Pepys's will do), I find writing this blog to be a very strange experience. The thing is, in spite of multiple reasons to be particularly concerned about it all (the governor of California has both spelled out and operationalized those reasons), I have a duty to stick to the script here and limit myself to a semiotically-relevant topic. And since I was already thinking about the analysis to follow before the pandemic came down, I'll simply stay with it, because, as it turns out, there are significant connections between the plague and what I was already planning to say.


So, here goes. What I've been thinking about concerns the clear generational divide that has emerged through the course of the Democratic primary season, with Joe Biden sweeping the late-middle-aged and seniors vote and Bernie Sanders attracting practically all younger voters. In the "OK, Boomer" era, this was only to be expected, being yet another indicator that the split between the old and young in America, which was destined to emerge anyway as the huge Baby Boom generation ages in place, is now gaping asunder at increasing speed.


There is an irony about all this, however, for it was my generation (yes, I'm a Boomer) that invented the "generation gap" in the first place. We also were largely responsible for the transformation of America into a consumerist-driven youth culture, having enjoyed a pampered childhood lavished upon us by parents who had survived the Depression and the War and who wanted their children to have the kinds of things that they had lacked. So, we got Disneyland, TV, and a consumer culture that was capable of commodifying anything—including, paradoxically enough, our own brief rebellion against consumerism in the 1960s. And to complete the irony of it all, we were the ones who rallied around the slogan "never trust anyone over thirty."


So, um, well, there is something distinctly karmic in the air as we encounter a new generation of voters who, let us say, aren't conspicuously fond of us, as is plangently evident in the observation by a politically disaffected Sanders supporter that “to win us back, the Democratic Party needs to actually listen to us and serve us. Or else they need to die and we will create a new party ourselves.”


With a lot of us Boomers now under official orders to "self-isolate" in order to save our lives (I'm good with that), such rhetoric can't help but have a chilling ring to it, but it doesn't really worry me. For one thing, it was spoken before the plague erupted and would almost certainly not be uttered today. But more importantly, we are all, one way or another, in the same boat now, with all of our lives at risk—if not biologically, then economically and psychologically. This whole thing is a mess of historic proportions, and we are all simply going to have to pull together to get through it.


Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 4087018 by geralt, used under Pixabay License


Last week I wrote about the importance of writing in times of crisis—times like we are experiencing right now. Writing connects us to others and enables an important form of intimacy that can stretch across great distances, and many of us are finding that taking time to write to loved ones, and especially to those with whom we have lost touch, is worth its weight in gold. As this virus continues to rage, I say keep it up and spread the word: writing helps!


Today I am thinking of another activity for students I work with: asking them not to “follow the money” but to “follow the story.” The struggle for who and what institutions will control the narrative of America’s response to and encounter with the coronavirus is ongoing, and it is reaching an especially intense state as I write this. Will the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force take control and be the voice citizens listen to and trust to provide an accurate narrative? What other narratives are out there, working away? Those provided by scientists, doctors, and those associated with the NIH and CDC? Congress, where the story being told by Republicans and the story being told by Democrats are completely at odds with one another? Traditional print and TV media that are reporting sometimes wildly varying stories of what is happening and what we should do about it? Or social media, where conspiracy theorists are busily trying to sell their narratives as the ones we should believe and trust? All of these—and more—narratives are currently in play. Why not, then, ask students to work online in pairs or small groups to track these narratives and to subject them to careful, fair rhetorical analysis.


In this time of social distancing, sheltering in place, and self-isolation, activities like these can give students something concrete and specific they can do, something that can help them understand how narratives circulate in our society and how they gain (or lose) power over how and what we think. More important, they can share their findings widely with others whose perceptions are daily being shaped (and often manipulated) by such narratives. Thinking clearly and rhetorically is one thing we and our students can all do to survive this pandemic.


Please. Stay. Safe. And aware.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 791029 by kaboompics, used under the Pixabay License

Striving for community in this strange and estranging moment, I am here to champion the work we do—even in non-global-pandemic times—to teach our students the value of critical visual literacy. Now, these lessons are even more crucial.


Isn’t it fascinating how this particular image of coronavirus-related health behaviors took off a few weeks ago?


The simplicity of the visual rhetoric made this a highly shared and hashtagged image (#lowerthecurve) since it clarified the math of exponential infections. Fast on its heels, though, came critiques about the shortcomings of its simplicity. Then came a tsunami of more nuanced public health visuals, any of which could make for interesting teaching, including this free-to-access Washington Post series of models.


By the time you are reading this and are navigating the process of teaching the rest of your semester online, you already might have designed assignments that address this unsettling, united-in-our-social isolation moment, perhaps by inviting students to analyze, compare, and critique these pandemic-related images. For assignment inspiration, you might revisit Bedford New Scholar Carrie Wilson’s post on visual rhetoric and digital literacy.


Because March is also Women’s History Month, I’d like to recognize that while we are rightly celebrating the scientists who are working hard to address the pandemic, we might also acknowledge the barriers to careers in science that remain widespread for women.


I give a shout out to two women who contributed early on to the science of public health in this essay for our local NPR affiliate, WVPE. There are many more women scientists to celebrate, but they are still a minority in most scientific fields.


In the forthcoming 5th edition of From Inquiry to Academic Writing, co-authored with Stuart Greene, we offer a pithy reading on “Global Gender Disparities in Science” that includes visual representation of the gender imbalance in scientific research output.


In this very teachable text, Cassidy R. Sugimoto and colleagues use bibliometric analysis to demonstrate the structural inequalities that keep women from pursuing and succeeding in many scientific fields:

Our study lends solid quantitative support to what is intuitively known: barriers to women in science remain widespread worldwide, despite more than a decade of policies aimed at leveling the playing field. UNESCO data show that in 17% of countries an equal number of men and women are scientists. Yet we found a grimmer picture: fewer than 6% of countries represented in the Web of Science come close to achieving gender parity in terms of papers published. (From Inquiry to Academic Writing, 5e)


Sugimoto et al. argue that we are cheating ourselves out of crucial scientific insights when a country fails to “maximize its human intellectual capital.”


This pandemic is already teaching us many things. Reminding us of the value of science, and public understandings of scientific research, is among those vital lessons.


Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 3412498 by kreatikar, used under Pixabay License

Over the past two or three weeks, most of us have made the shift to online learning as part of our nation-wide response to the corona virus pandemic. A number of helpful resources have been posted, from the most basic steps to these excellent ideas from Tina Shanahan specifically related to the corequisite course online.


As I have been shaping my courses for the move to an online environment, I have tried to follow the same principles I would use to design a face-to-face composition and corequisite paired course: structure, redundancy, transparency, connection, and opportunities for “high-quality” talk. 


Structure: My online course is organized into weekly folders containing all readings, handouts, and assignments, so that students can access material easily. An overview to each week’s folder reminds students of the goals and due dates for the week.


Redundancy: Key information is available in multiple places and in multiple formats.  For example, in addition to the overviews in the weekly folders, I post reminders in the course calendar, in the announcements (seen on the log-in screen), and in regular emails. I have colleagues who build in redundancy via texts, tweets, or apps such as Remind.  


Transparency: I try to outline the purpose of assignments so that students can propose reasonable alternatives if circumstances or technology make completion difficult. If students are having trouble completing a reading journal in a Google Doc, they might propose a photo of a handwritten journal sent via email or text. If a student’s proposal fulfills the assignment goals, then I’ll take the alternative, no problem.


Connection: In a typical semester, I try to connect with online students at least once in a F2F or virtual one-on-one session, and that connection is all the more important in this mid-semester shift. That connection could occur via Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, or any other online interface—or by phone. I think it’s important to frame these check-ins with a personal connection, before turning to academics. Is the student well?  How about his work? How’s her family doing? What is the biggest challenge at the moment? Are there resources (food pantries, campus medical clinics, community support) that might be helpful to the student? 


“High-quality classroom talk”: This phrase comes from Myhill and Newman (2016), who suggest that students learn to think metalinguistically and apply that thinking in their writing through “high-quality classroom talk.” I think my greatest concern in the shift to a fully online environment was the loss of in-the-moment classroom talk about writing. But there are ways to foster such talk online, even if you have been discouraged from synchronous class sessions (which may not be feasible for all students). Of course, individual check-ins and online peer review (via Google Docs or other collaborative platforms) can support metalinguistic talk and reflection. Another option is the discussion board. If you choose to use a discussion in your online corequisite, consider the following ideas:


  • Make sure students are comfortable with the format. You can record a short video (via Kaltura or another screen capture tool) to show students how to write, post, read, and reply in the discussion board (these will vary depending on your LMS). You might also offer to walk through the process with students during an individual check in.
  • Clarify the purpose of the activity and make discussion prompts specific. If students are going to discuss a reading, ask 3-4 guiding questions, with a focus not only on paraphrasing content but also on analyzing, extending, and applying. Focus on questions where a range of answers are possible for exploration.
  • Provide guidance as to the number, length, and formatting expectations for posts. If you expect complete sentences, make sure students know this up front—as well as the guidelines you will use to assess and evaluate their contributions.
  • If possible, use multiple deadlines across an extended period of time. For example, instead of asking all students to post a reply and 3 responses by the deadline, set three deadlines: Post an initial response by Wednesday, respond to a classmate by Sunday, and respond again by Tuesday. You might want to negotiate deadlines in your weekly check-ins with students.
  • If you are using multiple deadlines, join the discussion yourself, providing additional clarity, probing answers, modelling discussion strategies, and suggesting ways of connecting and developing ideas further.
  • If your class is large, consider dividing into smaller groups for more efficient online discussions.
  • Use the discussion as a platform for continued learning:
    • Ask students to summarize or paraphrase the most important conclusions from a discussion.
    • Ask students to review a discussion as part of a reading or reflection journal.
    • Revisit discussions. If you’ve added a new reading, for example, you might ask students to pick three comments from a prior discussion and consider how the new reading confirms, contradicts, or complicates their previous conclusions.
    • Quote student discussions in your announcements, comments, handouts, videos, or other materials. Show the students that you are reading and thinking about their ideas.
    • Allow students to use a class discussion as a source for an essay assignment, citing their classmates as authors.


Online discussions actually provide a natural opportunity for integrated reading and writing instruction, but students do not always find their footing quickly or easily in an online forum. Your online presence—along with clear directions and multiple opportunities for participation—can ease students into the process.


Ultimately, the shift to online instruction can be anxiety-inducing for instructors and students alike. Find support among colleagues and technical staff—and know that rough spots are normal. In fact, my last suggestion is perhaps the most important: grant your students—and yourself—a hefty measure of flexibility and grace.

Today’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodrigue, an associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts.



Like thousands of other professors, I am in the process of transitioning my face-to-face courses online. While my teaching and work heavily rely on and are informed by technology, I’ve never taught online. Why? Because I’ve never wanted to. I like to see my students, read their faces, hear their voices, chat with them after class, and say hi to them in the hallways. It was fairly easy for me to re-imagine my curriculum in an online setting, though. Yet I did encounter some unexpected struggles. I faced some logistical issues, namely figuring out how I was going to hold synchronous meetings with two young children screaming “mama” every five seconds in the background. Perhaps more importantly, I struggled with how I was going to redesign my last assignment. I had to stretch out my second assignment in order for it to actually work online, so that left only one week for students to complete something comparable to a final assignment. I didn’t know what that something might be. I thought of not doing anything at all and just reworking the original grade percentages, but then I felt paranoid and insecure. If I assigned nothing, would that still make me a fairly decent teacher?


I debated about this for a long time. During the messy debate in my overwhelmed, anxiety-ridden brain, I suddenly thought maybe I should just heed the advice of the million people on social media frantically sharing ideas for online teaching: identify the most important goal(s) and outcome(s) of the class, and then design a simple, bare-boned assignment that supports students in achieving those goal(s) and outcome(s).


I called my dear friend, colleague, and experienced online teacher, Dr. Amy Minett, to ask her advice about logistical issues as well as to brainstorm possible ideas for my last assignment. She helped me figure out the synchronous conferences/future screaming child scenarios and graciously brainstormed with me about final assignment possibilities. The classes I’m teaching—two sections of Audio Storytelling—are the second course in a three-course vertical writing model in our general education curriculum. My first idea, informed by common social media advice, was to design an assignment that bridges the second and third writing classes in the vertical writing model, offering students the opportunity to reflect on what they learned in my class and the ways in which the curriculum might have prepared them for work in the third required writing class. After talking through this plan, Amy said something that shifted my entire thinking about what might constitute a meaningful writing assignment in a time of crisis. She reminded me that we are living in a historical moment and that providing students with the opportunity to dwell in the moment--to reflect, to express their thoughts, their feelings, and their experiences—in writing could be helpful and meaningful. I immediately thought a version of an oral history would work perfectly in an audio storytelling class, but I was torn. Do I do the “pedagogically responsible” thing and create an assignment that bridges the two required writing courses? Or do I focus on the here and now, and create an assignment that enables students to use writing as a means to express, to learn, to reflect, and to record and preserve their experiences during an unprecedented crisis that will likely change the world and how we live in it?


I opted for the oral history-like project, and here is why. First, research shows that students find writing assignments that connect to their personal life meaningful. Second, while this assignment may not do all of the work needed to help students transition to their third writing course or reinforce rhetorical principles they’ll find valuable for life, it does support them in strengthening their knowledge and habits of mind that have been associated with success in college: writing is a process and rhetorically situated; it’s a means to learn; and it’s a way to strengthen metacognition and practice flexibility. Yet more than either of those reasons is this: an assignment like this is humane, caring, and compassionate, and all three are desperately needed in a time of crisis. Students are isolated. They’re anxious. They’re scared. Their entire worlds have drastically changed within a week. Some might feel like the Apocalypse is coming at any moment. Some might feel too scared to tell anyone how they feel or may have no one to talk to. Some may be food insecure or housing insecure or returning to homes where they feel unsafe. Some don’t have internet access or computers. Some have never taken an online course or never wanted to. A meaningful reflective assignment provides students space to dwell and reflect, which may be therapeutic or cathartic or it might help them understand something about the world or about themselves in the world. It might be uncomfortable or difficult, and they may even hate me for assigning such a project. But I want them to know that they matter, their voices matter, their experiences matter, and I, and maybe even the world, want to listen to them, support them, connect with them, and care for them.


An audio project, which has potential to be played on the radio or on a podcast, is particularly apropos to our current context: audio stories have historically been known to provide marginalized people the opportunity to be heard, to speak for themselves, and to tell their own story with their own voice. Further, voice, according to Radio Producer Jay Allison, has a unique power in connecting people. He writes, “a voice can sneak in, bypass the brain, and touch the heart…. in hearing your mother’s voice, she becomes, in a way, my mother, and I am drawn back to my own history and to .” (Jay Allison, Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound). The sharing of voices brings humanity, empathy, and compassion to the forefront, and most importantly, has the potential to unite people in a time that demands we stand at least six feet apart from one other. I can only hope that this kind of assignment can make students feel, even if it’s only for one second, that they are not so isolated and alone. And perhaps one day, they might return to their recording and feel grateful that they captured their memories and experiences of this significant moment in history.


The below assignment can be adopted or adapted in any course in any mode of writing.


We are in a historical moment, one that will be discussed, taught, and analyzed for decades to come. It’s a moment that’s confusing and scary; a moment that is understood, felt, and interpreted in different ways and in different pockets of the world.


One way people learn about and remember historical moments like this is through oral histories. Oral histories are audio or video recordings that preserve and capture a person or group of people’s memories, experiences, feelings, personal commentaries, and understandings about a person, an event, an issue, or a life at a particular moment in time. Many oral histories emerge from well-prepared interviews and are often placed in an archive or a library.


For this final project, you will compose a personal oral history-like project that captures your impressions, feelings, commentaries, and/or understanding of what’s happening in a world facing an unprecedented health crisis. This audio recording will be a piece of history that you (and maybe others) can return to in the future to further reflect, understand, analyze or remember how you perceived life during a pandemic and looming economic crisis in 2020. And if you’re willing, it will be a collection of personal oral histories about the pandemic that will be played on the Salem State English department radio show/podcast, Soundplay, at some point in the future.


You can approach this assignment in any number of ways, and you can exert as much time and energy on it as you want. You might make this oral history a combination of personal narrative, media clips, and maybe even interviews with other folks that work to construct a robust telling of the past month or so. (I created an audio piece like this for the Women’s March in 2017.) Or you might record snippets of yourself speaking about your life experience each day over the next several weeks: you might string them together to create an audio remix or a montage. Or, at the end of a particularly difficult or hopeful or even mundane day, you might capture yourself speaking in free form or in verse or in a stream of consciousness about months, weeks, or even a moment of your life. There are many other ways you could approach this project: I encourage you do whatever you think seems most fitting for capturing and audio engraving your perception of this moment in time. The only assignment requirement is that you use your own voice. 

This blog series is written by Julia Domenicucci, an editor at Macmillan Learning, in conjunction with Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl.


Graphic of people interconnected with lines


Grammar Girl podcasts of every topic can be smoothly integrated with online classes. Take one of our previous blog posts (listed later in this post) and pair the suggested podcasts with one of our ideas for online assignments—or create your own!


Podcasts have been around for a while, but their popularity seems to increase every day—and for good reason! They are engaging and creative, and they cover every topic imaginable. They are also great for the classroom: you can use them to maintain student engagement, accommodate different learning styles, and introduce multimodality. 


LaunchPad and Achieve products include assignable, ad-free Grammar Girl podcasts, which you can use to support your lessons. You can assign one (or all!) of these suggested podcasts for students to listen to before class. Each podcast also comes with a complete transcript, which is perfect for students who aren’t audio learners or otherwise prefer to read the content. To learn more about digital products and purchasing options, please visit Macmillan's English catalog or speak with your sales representative. 


If you are using LaunchPad, refer to the unit “Grammar Girl Podcasts” for instructions on assigning podcasts. You can also find the same information on the support page "Assign Grammar Girl Podcasts."


If you are using Achieve, you will find a "Quick Start Guide: Grammar Girl and Question Bank" in your Welcome Unit. You can also find information on assigning Grammar Girl in Achieve on the support page "Add Grammar Girl and shared English content to your course."


Ideas for Using Grammar Girl Podcasts in an Online Classroom

Choose a previous blog post and review the suggested podcasts. Then, adapt an assignment from that post or pair with one of the ideas here.


Grammar & Punctuation:


Word Choice & Word Usage:


Other Topics:


Assignment A: Assign students one or more podcasts to listen to before class. Ask students to evaluate the features of the podcast: 

  • What elements does the student feel are essential to a podcast? 
  • What does the host do to connect with the listener? 
  • How do the host's tone and voice impact the listener's experience? 
  • What elements of the podcast best helped the student absorb the information?

If your class meets at a certain time, discuss these evaluations over video or audio; if your class does not meet together, have students post their comments to a discussion board or shared document and comment on at least one other evaluation.


Assignment B: Assign several example podcasts. Ask each student to listen to them and then choose a grammar or punctuation topic. Students should research the history of their topic, including any recent changes or controversies, and then write a short podcast script of about three minutes. Then, place students into groups or two or three and have them peer review the scripts over email, a shared document, or another method. Don’t forget to have them cite their sources!


Assignment C: After writing a script (Assignment B), ask students to record it. Instruct students to create a podcast (or give them a choice between a podcast, video, or lecture slides with audio). Alternately, have students work on the scripts and recordings in small groups of two or three. Students should also adapt the script into a final transcript to accompany the final product.


Credit: Pixabay Image 3846597by GDJ, used under a Pixaby License


I am writing this post from my home by the ocean on the northern California coast. Our small local clinic has asked all folks my age to “shelter in place,” so I am doing that, along with washing my hands every time I turn around and taking other precautions. Most of all, though, I am thinking of all those students now attending classes remotely, all those people whose jobs are in jeopardy, and all the small businesses and arts organizations whose razor-thin budgets are already stretched to the limit and who are having to lay off staff and take salary reductions. And, of course, all those suffering from COVID-19. These are dark days indeed, and they are made darker by the utter incompetence of the current administration.


In such a time, as we know from decades of research, writing can help. Writing that expresses and gives vent to feelings, that captures and shares feelings, and that sets out ways to respond to a crisis—step by step, day by day—can ease tension, even lower blood pressure. So it seems to me like a very good time to think about using writing in these ways, and encouraging—even assigning—students to use writing in these ways as well.


In addition, I have found myself thinking of people I care about but have lost touch with, or of loved ones that I too often may take for granted. And I’ve been acting on these thoughts, taking time each day to write (text, email, or, my favorite, longhand letters and cards) to at least three people, asking how they are, if I can do anything to help, and telling them at least a little bit of how much they mean to me. I feel like I’m sending out messages in a bottle—messages of caring and of hope.


Might these weeks of self-isolation, social distancing, and quarantine be just the right time for such writing? I think so—and recommend it. In the meantime, stay safe.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 828911 by Free-Photos, used under the Pixabay License

Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at or visit her website: Acts of Composition.


For this assignment, students explore historical contexts through oral and visual histories of a time period or event. They read, watch videos, listen to historical accounts, and follow up with an experiential journey to a museum on the same subject. Although teachers can choose any time period or subject that fits in with their course content, I had students focus on WWII oral histories and then attend a campus exhibit to extend upon that knowledge in this particular class. In addition to interacting with these digital and visual stories, students curate their own images at the museum to contribute to a collaborative slide show in which they both choose an individual perspective and work together to read across their ideas and images. Teams create a presentation with images, impressions, and take-aways.


Background Readings and Resources

The St. Martin's Handbook, 8e: Ch. 11: Conducting Research; Ch. 17: Oral and Multimedia Presentations
The Everyday Writer, 7e: (also available with Exercises): Ch. 10h: Conduct Field Research; Ch. 19c: Create Slides or Other Visuals
EasyWriter, 7e: (also available with Exercises): Ch. 11f: Doing Field Research, Ch. 10: Creating Presentations



Steps to the Assignment

Students briefly summarize and share their selected stories and ideas with others and through an online discussion.

  • Schedule a Museum Visit: Instead of meeting in our regular class, I had students meet at the Museum of History and Holocaust Education which was on our campus. I worked with the museum staff ahead of time to shape the experiential portion of the assignment and select the subject matter. Although the assignment can be completed without the museum visit, it takes the stories and adds another multimodal dimension through visual artifacts and interactive exhibits.
  • Image Curation: Each student tours the museum and curates at least five images that represent their impressions/ideas from the exhibits. They should take field notes, capture quotations, and write down their impressions from their visit.
  • Students prepare individual slide for team project/meeting: Students choose one of the images and create an individual slide to contribute to a team slide show on the exhibit. They include their image and a short description along with a specific reference or quotation that supports their impressions and include their name at the bottom of the slide.
  • Teams Create a Collaborative Slideshow: Team members present their individual slides to the group to combine for a team presentation that addresses meaningful observations, interpretations, and ideas from the exhibit. In addition to their individual observations, team members complete follow-up slides in which they synthesize individual perspectives with a bulleted list of take-aways from the experience as they read across them as a group. They are required to title the presentation and include a team photo at the end, along with references.
  • Presentation: Team members present their slideshows to the class and compare observations from the other groups.


Reflection on the Activity
I like this assignment because it involves students in several types of multimodal learning and composing experiences. They engage with digital oral and visual histories, visual artifacts, and experiential learning. The assignment asks them to move beyond passive reading and bring their subjects to life through these multimodal extensions. Although all of the students attended the same museum, it was interesting to see where they chose to focus their attention. Some students focused on the visual artifacts of the time period, such as propaganda posters, while others looked at gender roles during the war, racial disparity, and regional participation. Others explored lifestyle artifacts that represented cultural ideologies of the time, typical living spaces, lifestyle artifacts, and occupational trends. I found the students much more engaged when they connected with the interactive digital resources and immersive experiences than if they just read the texts on their own.


As may be apparent from my title, I am writing this blog on the morning of Super Tuesday: that day on the cusp of winter and spring that the major political parties in the United States have chosen to lurch forward into high gear towards their summer nominating conventions after months of slow-motion maneuvering on the roads to Iowa and New Hampshire. I am deliberately not waiting to learn the results because the outcome of this day is not what I am writing about. Rather, I am looking at the process and the ways in which it closely resembles the structure and experience of popular entertainment.


To begin with, let's look at the name chosen for the day itself: "Super Tuesday." Actually, that's a bit of a misnomer, because unlike the Super Bowl—whose name it closely resembles and connotes—Super Tuesday doesn't actually decide anything. The game, tomorrow, will still be far from over for the Democrats even after all the votes are counted (and California's final tally may take an entire month to complete), making the day more like one in which multiple playoffs are occurring. So, why, we might ask, has it been given such a grandiose label, a title without an actual title?


That's easy. "Super Tuesday" evokes the excitement of "Super Bowl Sunday." It gins up voter interest, making the election that much more like a sporting contest, and, not so very coincidentally, increasing fan—I mean voter—attention to the mass media outlets that profit from the number of viewers of their election coverage.


In a similar manner, the long run up to the nominating conventions, which are much like league championship games, resembles all of the elimination mechanisms—playoffs, heats, Olympic trials, and so on and so forth—by which the sporting world builds an ever-narrowing pathway to a prize that only one contestant can win.


But if electoral politics are like sports, they are also like movies (or television shows, or novels, or short stories, or plays) in that they tell stories, complete with characters (heroes and villains), drama, and suspense, whose outcomes capture their audiences in a gestaltic grip that leaves them hungering for denouements. In this way, election polling doesn't only provide campaign information to candidates and odds-making guidance to potential donors but also previews to end results that, even when the polls turn out to be completely wrong, feel like glimpses into a real future. And the fact that those polls can create such feelings right up to final Election Day itself on the first Tuesday in November only increases their resemblance to the gestaltic experience of traditional storytelling.


I speak from experience. For even when knowing better, I'm checking Real Clear Politics every day to see what the latest polling says. Though the polling numbers are all over the place and patently unreliable, I still get that little surge of satisfaction that comes from the feeling that the future is something that I can see now—which is pretty silly of me, but if entertainment relied on rationality alone, it wouldn't be entertainment.


So, I'll wait up until late tonight knowing that today won't resolve anything and that even today's results won't be final for quite a long time, because I'm in too much suspense over the whole thing not to. And I am confident that I won't be the only one.


Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 1319435 by amberzen, used under Pixabay License


I’ve written before about Hi From The Other Side, a website envisioned and developed by a former student of mine in 2016, along with two of his “more techie” friends. Hi From The Other Side matches up people with differing views, introduces them, and helps them start a respectful conversation with one another. In their words, “We pair nice people across the political divide to talk like neighbors. Not to convince, but to understand.” When asked about who sponsors the site and whether it is nonpartisan, the website explains that “this wasn't an initiative from a political organization or anything, just people who care about being better listeners.” And they have had a great deal of success in bringing people together. I’ve also written about Living Room Conversations, another site started to help bridge differences and enable better listening and understanding. This is a “transpartisan” group founded in 2010 and dedicated to “realizing civil discourse through conversation.”


Now comes AllSides, another effort to broaden understanding and promote respectful, civil discourse. AllSides is a multi-faceted site, offering news from across the political spectrum and labeling news items as “right,” “center,” or “left.” Providing differing perspectives on topics helps readers see them from several angles and thus expand their thinking about the topic. In addition, like Hi From The Other Side and Living Room Conversations, AllSides provides avenues for bringing people together for respectful discussions. They describe, for example, how their “Mismatch program and civil dialogue partnerships provide opportunities for respectful conversations with people across divides. Listen, be heard, and converse with your political ‘other’ in a respectful way.”


Most intriguing to me is their latest program, AllSides for Schools. Launched in 2019 in partnership with Living Room Conversations and The Mediators Foundation, this nonprofit group is in

response to the needs of teachers who seek to address a double crisis in the classroom of decayed media literacy skills and atrophied abilities to communicate outside the safe filter bubbles students [have] created for themselves in person and on social media. . . . AllSides for Schools provides a more comprehensive digital media literacy experience by centralizing and expanding resources for teachers who want to bring lessons on news literacy, critical thinking, and conversation across difference into the classroom.


I’ll admit to being near despair many times during the last three and a half years, as I’ve watched what counts for a national conversation deteriorate into a shouting match (at best). But sites and programs like these three have sprung up in response to that situation, showing that when people of good will and sound ethics put their minds to it, they can provide alternatives to the despair and the shouting matches. I hope they will lift our spirits as well—and give you additional resources to use in your own classrooms!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3649196 by Alexas_Fotos, used under the Pixabay License

Author’s Note: This post was written prior to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. While I believe the advice to students remains sound under normal circumstances, clearly there are times when they have little or no control over their ability to learn.


In last month’s post, I interviewed Kathy Molloy and Diego Navarro, two former instructors who now work for the Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges. Kathy and Diego offered valuable advice for reaching out to and retaining students, reminding us of the crucial role the affective realm plays in college learning. 


Community college professors know from similar research, and from our own experience, how important it is for students to feel connected to their instructors, their fellow students and their campus. Yet we also know that college is a time when students become independent and responsible for their own learning. So how do we balance our obligation to provide the necessary support with students’ equally important need to become self-sufficient?  


There’s no universally applicable answer, but I think both students and instructors must acknowledge that there is a tipping point between appropriate and excessive support. I’m remembering a story told by a professor at another college who had tracked her student down after the semester was over so that she could personally administer a final exam he’d failed to take. She was proud of herself for the extra effort—and surely, that dedication is the sign of a big heart—but I couldn’t help, both then and now, wondering how her student did the following semester, when his next instructor might not have had the time, wherewithal or inclination to go to such extraordinary measures to ensure he passed the class.


This month’s post addresses the concerns that story raises for me, focusing on a few areas where student agency is critical. When I’m talking with my own students about what it will take to succeed in my first-semester composition course, I begin by having them write informally about their reasons for pursuing a degree and who they imagine congratulating them on graduation day. Their motivation has to be central to their education, although, of course, I can’t help also offering my own advice, which goes something like this:


Congratulations on having the desire and courage to take a community college English class! In this course, you’ll be honing your reading, writing and thinking skills in ways that will be useful not just in other college classes, but throughout the rest of your life.


For a few lucky folks, the class may be a breeze, but most students will have to work hard throughout the semester—negotiating competing demands and overcoming a range of challenges. If you find yourself in the latter category, I have a few suggestions.


Take advantage of support services.

If you have a problem during the semester, chances are there’s someone on campus whose job it is to help you take care of it. In addition to seeking reading and writing advice from your English instructor, you may also turn to the experienced tutors who staff your campus writing center. If you are dealing with issues outside of this class, academic, personal, financial and career counselors can guide you past any number of obstacles. When in doubt, reach out: ask someone for assistance, and keep asking until you have the result you want.


Talk (and listen) to your instructor.

In your English class, your instructor is the individual—other than yourself—most focused on your success, so make a point of getting to know your professor early in the semester. Even, or especially, if you’re shy, let your instructor know you care about your success in this class.


It’s equally important to listen to what your instructor has to say, and not just when they are speaking. English teachers often communicate most effectively through the written word: before you ask a question in person or by email, see if your professor has already answered it in the course syllabus, or in the prompt for your current writing assignment.


Remember, too, that like a boss at work, your instructor may be very different from you and may not necessarily act like a best friend. Keep your eyes on the prize, which means learning to read and write well, and moving toward your degree. Just as you wouldn’t quit a good job because your boss isn’t a perfect human being, don’t let a teacher’s annoying habits keep you from participating fully in class.


Be willing to make sacrifices.

You can be confident that your instructor and your college want you to succeed, and they are doing everything in their power to make that happen. Inevitably, though, there will be times when you’ll have to give up something important order to achieve your academic goals. Those sacrifices might be as (relatively) painless as passing up a cool vacation during midterms. At other times, the trade-offs may be more significant, like turning down much needed hours at work, or finding someone else to cover family responsibilities, to ensure you are able to study for a test or complete a paper by its due date.


Take responsibility for your actions.

While other people care a great deal about your academic success, ultimately you are the person responsible for passing this course, and all the others that will lead to your graduation. If a grade doesn’t go your way, do your best to get over it and move on to the next assignment. And don’t assume that you can skip assignments without any consequence. Unlike in high school, where the “park and pass philosophy” may result in a passing grade, in college, the responsibility is on you.


Don’t give up.

Ideally, all your hard work will pay off with a passing grade. If it does, way to go!


However, not passing this semester’s course doesn’t mean it was a failure. Community colleges were created with second (and third and fourth) chances in mind. Rather than wallow in frustration or anger, remind yourself of how important a college degree is to your goals, and think of all the skills you’ve learned in your composition course. Even if you haven’t yet mastered the ability to read, write and do research at the college level, you have been practicing those skills for several months, and that practice will serve you well the next time you take the class.


It’s now completely official: the august Modern Language Association, for most of a century the maker of writing rules and guidelines, has posted an update on The MLA Style Center website and declared in “The Source,” their newsletter: “Using the singular they is a way to make your language more inclusive and to avoid making assumptions about gender.” MLA acknowledges that this violation of “grammatical agreement” was long frowned upon, but today they argue that it is not just acceptable but preferable. They cite Merriam-Webster, whose online dictionary now includes a new definition for “they” that says the term can be used to refer to persons whose gender identity is non-binary. MLA accepts this definition and adds that “they” should also be used to refer to a person whose gender identity is “unknown or irrelevant to the context,” as the new seventh edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association puts it. MLA stresses that writers should “always follow the personal pronouns of individuals they write about,” and then goes on to give examples of how to use it both for a specific person whose pronoun is “they” and as a generic third-person singular pronoun.


I (and my textbooks) agree with MLA, which declares that singular “they” “has emerged as a tool for making language more inclusive… and the MLA encourages writers to accept its use to avoid making or enabling assumptions about gender.” Can’t get much more clear and direct than that!


To many writers, including me, this usage does not come trippingly off the tongue: it takes consistent practice and attention to take up this new and important convention. So I’m grateful to MLA for this latest update on The MLA Style Center site and for all the detailed examples they offer there. You may want to invite your students to check it out here.


I’m also grateful for our language, which keeps changing and adapting and evolving. It’s one of the reasons it’s so much fun to teach writing and speaking today!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2178566 by Pexels, used under the Pixabay License

Students are experts at seeing through assignments that waste their time. And thank goodness. We are at our best when we live up to students’ expectations for meaningful engagement on topics that matter.


This recent social media exchange between two graduate students captures all that goes wrong when we require students to go through the motions of scholarly conversations.



A long stream of commiserating comments followed, including this pitch-perfect parody of an online discussion post. This response racked up the most “likes” and made me laugh out loud:



Whether or not you teach online, I’ll bet you recognize the requirement behind this performative exchange. The instructor gives points for students to respond to one another, and students perform, right to the word count, even if there’s not much to say. Sometimes, students give us exactly what we deserve.


There are plenty of analogous exercises inside the classroom that deserve skewering in this manner, too. For example, sometimes, we ask questions that are thinly veiled checks on whether students have done the reading rather than asking what they think about what they have read. I have gleaned many insights about meaningful exchanges in the classroom from linguistic anthropologist Dr. Susan D. Blum, author of I Love Learning; I Hate School: An Anthropology of College (Cornell University Press, 2016). Following Blum on Twitter (@SusanDebraBlum) is a daily pedagogical delight, as in this recent exchange Blum shared between Danica Savonic and Cathy Davison on what happens when we ask students to set the conversational agenda in the classroom:



Now, those questions are worthy of our students’ time and attention, and they promise to deepen the instructor’s understanding, too. We can invite students to participate in rote facsimiles of academic conversations or we can welcome them into the deeper world of significant meaning-making. Both approaches take energy and time. One approach fosters a skill that can last a lifetime.


As Stuart Greene and I finalize the details for the 5th edition of From Inquiry to Academic Writing, I am grateful we are including Susan D. Blum’s wise, student-centered writing to inspire students and instructors alike.


Who are you following on social media for pedagogical inspiration? What are your favorite insights for meaningful student engagement in class or online?

The news that "Sonic the Hedgehog" had to undergo a substantial CGI redesign after its core audience panned it in the trailers inevitably has reminded me of the fate of the movie version of "Cats," which also had to go back to the digital drawing board in the wake of a disastrous YouTube premier. But while it appears that the humanoid hedgehog's re-vamp has been more successful than that of the fluffy felines, the semiotic significance of the viewer-compelled re-workings of these two movies is very much worth exploring.


I'd like to begin that exploration with Jean Baudrillard's thesis that in the age of the "sign" (his term for postmodern capitalism), signification is a one-way street, with corporate elites broadcasting their signals (which include everything from billboards to feature-length movies) to a passively receptive audience whose only possible resistance (and a futile one of that) is to vandalize the signal (Baudrillard's example is scrawling a mustache on the "Mona Lisa"). While I've never been a fan of Baudrillard's often unsupported pronouncements, his fundamental point about the top-down vectors of the mass media is a valid one (more or less)—or was when he formulated it. But the fully interactive Internet, with the accompanying rise of social media to worldwide eminence, has changed all that. For now, the mass media aren't one-way streets at all: they are multi-lane superhighways on which the signals are flying in every direction. The medium is no longer the massage (yes, that was McLuhan's actual phrase); it's a democratic free-for-all.


That's probably the fundamental takeaway from the "Sonic/Cats" fiascos, but there is a second, rather less inspiring, signification to consider. For the often vitriolic piling-on evident during such eruptions of fan outrage is all-too-reminiscent of social media "shaming" campaigns, of online bullying and "cancel culture." Certainly the slings and arrows of outrageous Twitter attacks are not going to do any real harm to the well-heeled captains of the entertainment industry (just look at the way that the creators and cast of "Game of Thrones" essentially shrugged off fan demand for a major reset of the blockbuster series' final season), but there appears to be something habit forming in the generation of social media mobs. Denouncing movies is, in the larger scheme of things, pretty trivial stuff, but the online trials and executions of offending films have to be taken in the context of the vastly more serious campaigns undertaken against vulnerable individuals, who can very definitely be harmed by such outbursts (consider, for example, the recent case of Gayle King).


So, as is so often the case with the new media, we are looking at a mixed message here, one that combines a populist liberation of the masses from corporate (and other forms of elite) control, with a dark vision of mob rule. And that's no trifle.


Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 1174228 by Pixaline, used under Pixabay License