Guest Blogger

A Soundwriting Pedagogical Framework for Teaching Rhetoric

Blog Post created by Guest Blogger Expert on May 15, 2020

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.


Several years ago, I began incorporating sound projects into my undergraduate and graduate classes. These classes ranged from general education classes to English courses to graduate courses. As of late, I’ve been teaching sound-focused courses—Audio Storytelling and Composing with Sound—in the general education and graduate English program, respectively.


All of these courses have a unique rhetorical context. They have divergent goals and criteria, some of which I create and some of which are requirements of the class, and they are all situated within larger goals or missions of particular programs or departments. The students who take these courses are also very different with varying levels of interest, experience, and motivation.


These vastly different rhetorical contexts have prompted me to think a lot about my pedagogy and pedagogical decisions related to sound and soundwriting*: what should I teach in each class? How should I teach it? In what ways is my pedagogical approach similar and/or different across courses and curriculums, and what might that reveal about the place of soundwriting in college courses?


The trickiest class for me to teach is a general education undergraduate audio storytelling class that fulfills both an oral communication and writing requirement, specifically the second  writing course in a three-course vertical writing model. The primary goal of the class is to reinforce and build on knowledge students learned in the first writing course related to rhetoric, writing, and writing processes. The course also prepares students for the next writing course, which is situated in their major and focuses on disciplinary-specific writing. Yet the class, as evident in its title, Audio Storytelling, also seeks to provide students with an understanding of how to compose and produce documentary-style audio stories.


After testing out various methods and approaches, I’ve created what seems to be a successful pedagogical framework for usin###@g soundwriting to teach rhetorical principles and concepts, as well as communication processes, habits, and practices across modalities. This framework could be used in part or in full in teaching writing classes in a general education program and/or in a vertical writing model.


This framework is  comprised of three connected concepts that are presented and continuously referenced and reinforced over the course of the semester:


1. Soundwriters/writing is situated

2. Soundwriting/writers make choices

3. Soundwriters/writers who activate genre awareness and rhetorical awareness will be more effective composers


I intentionally draw a relationship between sound-specific writing, or in other words soundwriting, and writing for two reasons. First, the term writing, in the minds of most students, references alphabetic writing, the kind of writing they’re familiar with and have been doing since Kindergarten. Second, the term writing, which I explain to students during the course, can also be used as an umbrella term to reference composing and composing practices in and across modalities. I explicitly draw attention to this relationship in efforts to teach students that knowledge gained about soundwriting and soundwriters is applicable and transferable across all writing, as well as to expand their understanding of what writing is and does.


I present each concept one by one, looking first at how the concept is related to alphabetic writing, then how the concept is related to soundwriting. The first two concepts are taught back to back in the same class. We discuss the rhetorical situation, what it is, how it plays a role in any given writing situation, and how writers make choices in efforts to achieve their purpose with regard to their audience. We discuss Aristotle’s rhetorical appeals and specific rhetorical strategies that work to make these appeals in common school-based writing such as a research paper or a familiar kind of public writing. For example, I provide them with a fake rhetorical situation—a goofy dog-napping story that introduces them to the situation—and then ask them to identify some rhetorical strategies and how they function in a faux ransom letter produced from this situation. Once the concept of “soundwriters/writers make choices” is understood, I move them to looking specifically at sonic rhetorical strategies and how they function in soundwriting. Later, when they are asked to compose and deliver slide presentations, we discuss multimodal rhetorical strategies and how they function in multimodal writing.


Part of the last concept “soundwriters/writers who can activate genre and rhetorical awareness will be effective composers” is introduced along with the first concept: it’s impossible to talk about the rhetorical situation and not reference rhetorical awareness. Yet I spend the most time teaching this concept before students’ first major soundwriting assignment. I introduce genre awareness as a concept and again draw on familiar alphabetic writing to help them grasp the concept. Later, we move to soundwriting. The first major assignment asks them to produce a feature radio story, which is a common and fairly established genre in documentary-style podcasts and NPR shows. We conduct a genre analysis together, identifying the common and unique features of the genre. This collaborative work yields a guide to help students determine how to approach composing in this genre. This assignment also affords the opportunity to learn specific techniques and knowledge related to audio storytelling as content. The last assignment asks students to compose an episode of an existing podcast, which requires them to activate and employ their knowledge of these concepts on their own.


For each assignment, I assign alphabetic reflections or aural reflections in the form of audio process notes wherein students explain and reflect on their soundwriting in relation to these concepts. Further, I ask them to repeat the three concepts that inform the course at the beginning of every class, and I continuously make comparisons between soundwriting and writing they do in college or might do in the workplace to reinforce their understanding of these rhetorical concepts. The framework, and the ways in which these rhetorical principles continuously emerge in the curriculum, effectively equips students with knowledge they can draw on and employ in any given writing situation.


*(I define soundwriting as compositions created with sound such as voice, sound effects, and music, often crafted using audio editing software and meant to be heard via a sound-playing device such as the radio or a computer.)