Bedford New Scholar Christopher Peace on the importance of teaching rhetorical genre theory in comp

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Peace_MLA.jpgChristopher Peace (recommended by Louis M. Maraj, on behalf of DBLAC) is pursuing a PhD in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Kansas. He expects to finish in May 2022. He currently teaches Composition 102 and plans to teach a 203 course on Digital Storytelling in Fall 2020. He has also taught online first-year composition and world literature. His research interests include rhetorical genre studies, (African-derived) religious rhetorics, writing ecologies, spatial rhetorics, digital storytelling/mythmaking, and ecocomposition. He also serves as a professional tutor for the KU Gear Up program and is an affiliate of the Project on the History of Black Writing.


What do you think is the most important recent development in teaching composition?
The recent materialist turn in rhetoric and composition is important for teaching composition because it provides language to describe the multifaceted spatial dimensions of language and composition. Engaging with the spatial dimension of language is articulated through genre, which is the dimensions of typified communication that responds to the rhetorical situation. Rhetorical genre theory and mapping allows for a spatial engagement with composition in innovative ways, especially for multimodal composition. I’m interested in multigenre projects in composition: writers compose in multiple genres that are connected rhetorically, and they explain how different genres circulate differently in discourse communities. I think projects like this ask students to engage materially with certain discourse.

One of the most important pedagogical shifts in composition studies has been the move from product-centered teaching to process-centered teaching. Instead of student writers focusing on the product of writing, process-centered pedagogy focuses on the multiple processes that occur during the act of writing. A focus on materiality expands on the situatedness of writing in an academic context, and I think it has given students more options in completing the tasks they must solve in coursework.

What is your greatest teaching challenge?
My proposed class for the Fall semester was canceled due to low enrollment, and I am now teaching a Professional Writing class. The Professional Writing course is divided into two eight-week online courses, and the modules for the courses are already set up for me. Therefore, I don't have as much control with this course as I did with my proposed course. I have some control over the syllabus, but my department has suggested that I shouldn’t change anything because everything is already set up for the online course.

Currently, my difficulties with teaching involve moving around content to make it more comfortable for me to navigate. With the syllabus already designed, it feels like I have to learn just as much as the students, and it places me in a less stable situation when speaking through the course material. This course is generally online, but I want to make sure my students access the learning goals of this course in a way that is just as effective as an in-person course. I enjoy small-group conferences, so I will definitely find a way to implement that more into this online course.

What is it like to be a part of the Bedford New Scholars program?
I’m sure my experience with the Bedford New Scholars program has been unique due to the current pandemic, but our distanced situation hasn’t stopped the success of the program. Reviewing Everything’s an Argument was one of my first experiences as a Bedford New Scholar. First of all, I was surprised that my opinion mattered enough to be asked to review a well-known textbook. I’m really excited to be a part of that process as an upcoming academic, and an instructor who teaches argumentation frequently in composition courses. I believe that reviewing textbooks at this level is necessary for the cultural inclusion needed in the texts we normalize in academia.

The BNS Summit was engaging and made me aware of my pedagogical leanings. It was really great to share teaching experiences with other Scholars. Although we couldn’t meet physically, the breakout sessions during the summit were personal and added a layer of closeness needed to have a successful experience. I didn’t feel out of place when it came to interactions with others. I know this experience will be beneficial to my future in rhetoric and composition, and to any editorial opportunities that may come my way.

What have you learned from other Bedford New Scholars?
I learned the most from other Bedford New Scholars during the summit. During the “Assignments that Work,” I learned a lot of practical moves from other Scholars. One Scholar reviewed a student information sheet—I had never thought to do the assignment in the way the Scholar presented it, especially since the assignment was geared toward preferred learning styles. I think more assessments like this could impact how my semester is set up toward the beginning of the course. I enjoyed another Scholar’s assignment that scaffolded synthesizing primary research by asking students to identify the rhetorical situations present in interviews, observations, and analyses. I’m always looking for ways to make primary research easier for students to follow, so having them see another person do primary research is a great way to explore synthesis.

I liked sharing our teaching philosophies as well. The philosophies were articulated in multiple ways, and I gained several ideas about the complexities of my own dispositions to teaching. As Dr. Kendra Bryant mentioned, “philosophy” is about the love of knowledge. Being with a group of scholars to talk through the inspirational and emotional impulses of our teaching philosophies helped me articulate why I’m on this journey of completing this doctoral degree.


Christopher Peace’s Assignment that Works

During the Bedford New Scholars Summit, each member presented an assignment that had proven successful or innovative in their classroom. Below is a brief synopsis of Christopher's assignment. For the full activity, see Multigenre Dystopian Invention.

The Multigenre Dystopian Project is a multigenre project that asks students to invent a dystopian society through the creation of multiple genres. A dystopia is often characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of governing and normalized social control of space, with seen or unseen intentions. It suggests different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions, and a state of constant warfare or violence. In this multigenre project, students create an original (as possible) dystopian society using written and visual genres. They come up with a fictional (or twistedly realistic) place that is intended to be perfect but has gone wrong due to some external reasons. Students invent social media, medical, and legal genres that express tension between the governing body and protesting citizens. This project aims to connect rhetoric of place and space with genres of writing, power, and control. I like this project because students combine rhetoric, creative writing, and literature together in a way that is unlike the standard essay—students are usually excited to be as multimodal as possible when creating different genres for their dystopias.

About the Author
This is the shared account for the Bedford New Scholars TA Advisory Board.