This blog post was originally posted on May 14, 2020. Amid the daily reports of admissions to hospitals, of numbers intubated or in ICUs, and of the unthinkable roll call of deaths, I’ve felt almost numb with grief. And with anger, too, as I see how many are ignoring the recommendations of scientists, physicians, and healthcare workers across the nation and, indeed, the world. As I read reports and look for the best information, I do what all of us teachers of writing and rhetoric do: I examine the statements with a rhetorical eye, looking for what makes them effective—or not. For what makes them memorable—or not. And for what they reveal about networks of power and prestige. I’ve taken a look, for instance, at recent CDC reports and guidelines, and—at the urging of TV commentator Rachel Maddow—compared the language used in them to the language of earlier reports. What even this cursory analysis reveals is that the current language has been watered down considerably: “directives” become “recommendations” become “suggestions,” for instance. “Must” becomes “should” becomes “may.” Imperatives disappear. I’ve seen enough now to realize that the CDC experts (or at least those who write their reports) have been put on a leash, their messages “massaged” to allow state and local officials more control. But not all health officers are falling into line: daily we see one or another come forward to tell the blunt truth to the people of their town or county, even if they cry while doing so. Some are more persuasive than others, and perhaps none more so than Dr. Amy Acton, the Director of Ohio’s Department of Health. For months, she has been on the front lines, implementing early and aggressive action against the coronavirus and incurring praise along with a lot of blame. In spite of the attacks against her, Acton has been largely persuasive, and in an op-ed video piece in the New York Times last week, Sanya Dosani and Adam Westbrook carried out a brief rhetorical analysis to show why. In the 7-minute video, Dosani and Westbrook introduce Acton and then show how she uses repetition, metaphors, and personal pronouns to get her message across—and make it stick. In all, they watched seven weeks of press briefings, and identified three overall strategies that Acton relies on. The first is empowerment, which she deploys when she speaks directly to Ohioans, moving from “I” to “you” to “we,” in telling them what they are capable of doing and saying she is confident they can do it. “I’m not afraid,” she says, “I’m determined.” Her words over the weeks help listeners become determined too. In addition, Acton is brutally honest with her audience: she does not pander or try to sugar coat what is happening across the world. This honesty, and her willingness to say what she does NOT know, builds her credibility and helps connect to the viewers as well. But Acton combines that brutal honesty with vulnerability, empathizing with her audience and acknowledging, over and over, how difficult these times are and how difficult they are to face, while also acknowledging that we are all in this together. This kind of rhetorical analysis seems like a good thing to do with students: ask them to look carefully at the press briefings of the top health official in their state and analyze how effective this person is at relaying information and inspiring confidence. Do the themes of empowerment, honesty, and vulnerability show up in these statements? How do the officials use pronouns to bring people together? How do they use metaphors to bring the message to life? I’ve been watching the daily press briefings of our governor here in California and am beginning to recognize his go-to tropes and metaphors, his use of what I would call “corporate-speak,” and his notable use of gratitude, of thanks, of praise to every group as well as to the people of California. More on my analysis of Governor Newsom’s language to come. For now, stay safe, and practice rhetorical analysis! Image Credit: Pixabay Image 899477 by Skratos, used under the Pixabay License
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This blog post was originally posted on May 7, 2020. Before the pandemic, I had never heard of Zoom. What a difference a couple of months can make! Now, like most of you I expect, I find myself “zooming” on a daily basis: Boards I serve on meet via Zoom; community volunteer groups gather via Zoom; classes convene via Zoom. Last week I even “zoomed” with the four young men who rescued me and two friends from the Christ Church Cathedral when it was destroyed in a 2011 earthquake in New Zealand; with a former student and his two young children; and with a group of women who were sharing, virtually, wine and cheese. I feel a bit zoomed out! During these sessions, I’ve also had an opportunity to see myself in the little Hollywood Squares boxes—or sometimes on full screen—and it’s been sobering. Of course I look my age—it is what it is!—but to me I look WORSE, sometimes much worse, than in real life. Have you or your students had the same experience? Thinking about this screen presence reminded me of a “media prep” session I was part of eons ago when I was on the MLA Executive Council. A media consultant came in to coach us on how to present ourselves on TV. I remember the consultant telling us that on television, the camera exaggerates everything: “if you barely lick your lips,” she said, “it will look like your tongue is all the way out of your mouth.” And she showed us what she meant! She also coached us to lean slightly forward when looking into the TV camera, telling us that even a slight backward lean would come across as “slouching.” I don’t remember anything else, but these tips came back to me as I was looking at a Zoom session (or Skype or FaceTime or . . .). What can I do, I wondered, and what can I recommend that instructors and students do to make the most of Zoom and similar sessions? Some ideas came quickly to mind: Make sure you’re in a quiet and uncluttered space so that nothing distracts from what you’re saying. Pay attention to where the light is coming from so that it’s not shining directly down on you, creating weird shadows, or washing everything out. (Some people recommend using a selfie ring light, but I don’t have one of those so I look for places where the natural light is soft and clear.) If you’re using a laptop, prop it up on books so that you can look slightly up and into the camera rather than down at it. And remember to actually look into the camera—something I constantly forget to do! Dress simply in clothes that don’t glitter or glisten. (I learned this tip before a TV appearance where the host insisted I change clothes entirely because the suit I was wearing had a sheen to it which caused a lot of glare on camera. Who knew?!) I’m sure professional media folks can offer a lot more tips, and you probably know more too. (Please send them to me!) In this new world of living online—which we may be doing for the rest of this year—I for one need all the help I can get. So here’s looking at you, kid—on Zoom! Image Credit: Pixabay Image 5059828 by Tumisu, used under the Pixabay License
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For the past few months, I have been analyzing the feedback I gave first-year composition students during the spring 2019 semester—looking for patterns in my lexical choices, references, and syntax. Student progress that semester was uneven at best, and I want to know how students experience my feedback and whether or not what I am doing, especially in written feedback (I also give oral feedback in individual and group conferences), is accessible and useful to students? Do I need to make adjustments, or perhaps make the format and style of the feedback a matter of explicit instruction early in the term? In short, do I need to teach students how to read my feedback? I presented some of the findings of my research at the NOSS 2020 Convention in February, before our stay-at-home orders were issued, and there’s an article in process.
But one feature of my feedback is on my mind today. In a recent video chat with a student, I heard myself say, “So, how are we doing?” Most of the time I address students in a face-to-face conference using a second-person pronoun: you. So the appearance of that we made me wonder: do I use we a lot in my written feedback? If so, in what contexts? What does that communicate to students?
In one data set of 11,644 words—my post-conference written responses to 28 literacy narratives—the word you predominates in terms of personal pronouns: 535 uses, or 45.94 times per 1000 words. Given that I am speaking directly to students in these comments, there are also many instances of I/me: 210 tokens, or 18.03 times per 1000 words. But there are also many uses of we/us: 145 tokens, or 12.45 times per 1000 words.
Obviously, the first person plural pronoun includes the speaker/writer (in this case, me), and upon first glance, it seems that my feedback frequently emphasizes collaboration, showing that the student and I are working through the process together. But a closer look at the various uses of we/us in this particular feedback set suggests a much more complicated picture:
We=student and teacher
We need to work on verb tense here… we are working in the past.
We=generic (writers, speakers, people)
We can’t introduce the quote that way… we need to set it up differently.
We are articulate about something, which means we can speak well about it.
We=readers of this paper
We need additional detail here; right now this is difficult for the reader to follow.
Don’t leave the reader to wonder if we are going backwards or forwards in time.
We= the class
We will talk about this format in class.
I don’t worry that my students will misread these various instances of we; after all, we use the word in similar ways in speaking and in our online interactions. Of course, there are possibilities for awkward social miscues (“Oh—you meant you and John, not the three of us! Sorry!”), but I don’t think these would arise in the reading of the feedback.
Rather, the different uses of we in my feedback show (along with other language choices I make) that I am negotiating different stances with my students. At times, I am the expert, making recommendations I expect students to follow. At other times, I am a collaborator, brainstorming with the student ways to expand meaning or solve writing problems. Still at other times, I am a reader, giving feedback that represents what I think readers in general might experience when encountering the student text. I offer such descriptive feedback so that students can determine what they as authors want the text to accomplish.
Those of us with extensive experience in writing workshops, collaborative work, publication with an editor—we’re familiar with these various stances and can respond effectively, maintaining our own sense of ownership as we write with experts, collaborators, colleagues, and general readers. But do our students know how to read and put feedback to use when it comes from what seems like disparate and changing voices in the comment stream? The supplemental instructors and writing fellows who have worked with me in my first-year courses have told me that students are sometimes baffled by my feedback, and they aren’t sure what to do with it. Most of them, particularly in my IRW corequisite courses, haven’t gotten that kind of feedback before. They seem to be much more familiar with directive comments: “Aren’t you going to tell me what to do? That would be easier!”
Carless and Boud (2018) have developed a working model of feedback literacy, a model I want to apply in my FYC and IRW courses in future semesters. In the IRW course in particular, learning to read feedback and manage the stances negotiated within it forms a critical part of the academic reading we need to teach. The question, of course, is how best to model this reading and support students as they work with our feedback.
Do you teach your students how to read, manage, and respond to your feedback? What strategies have worked for you?
Real Writing with Readings
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This blog series is written by Julia Domenicucci, an editor at Macmillan Learning, in conjunction with Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl.
Grammar Girl podcasts can be smoothly integrated with online classes in endless ways. The last “Teaching with Grammar Girl” blog post, “ Using Grammar Girl Podcasts in an Online Classroom ,” offered suggestions for podcast-based assignments that pair well with teaching online, and today’s post will expand upon those options!
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 ."
Assignment: Using Grammar Girl Podcasts to Support Low-Stakes Writing
Find a podcast, article, or other work that ties into current events. For example, you could assign the NPR article “Tips From Someone With Nearly 50 Years Of Social Distancing Experience” by Rae Ellen Bichell (suggested by @tonnawonder in response to Grammar Girl on Twitter). Then, ask students to write a paragraph or two responding to the reading, without worrying about grammar, punctuation, or style. These responses can be submitted privately or discussed in a live meeting.
Then, identify the top two or three errors made by students in these pieces, and assign relevant Grammar Girl podcasts for students to listen to before their next writing assignment.
Be sure to review “ Using Grammar Girl Podcasts in an Online Classroom ” for ideas on which podcasts to use!
Other Ideas for Teaching Online
Recently, Grammar Girl posted across social media to ask teachers a timely but important question: what is working in the sudden move to teaching online?
You can read the full responses on Twitter and Facebook . Ideas that have worked for other instructors include:
For live meetings, work in systems that students are most familiar with, such as Discord. If you are using Zoom, don’t forget about the breakout rooms option!
Find a positive or uplifting podcast, article, or other work for students to respond to.
Share a link to a relevant Youtube video or, in a live meeting, share the video on your screen for everyone to watch together.
If you record a lesson, upload it to YouTube or your LMS to easily share with students.
For even more ideas about teaching online, be sure to explore Macmillan Learning’s webinars about virtual learning .
We’d love to hear from you--what has been successful for you when teaching online? Post below or add your reply to Grammar Girl on Twitter or Facebook!
Bonus: Grammar Girl has a new request on Twitter this week ! What do you do or where are you when you listen to Grammar Girl podcasts? If you don’t regularly listen to Grammar Girl podcasts but do listen to other productions, we’d still love to hear from you! Post your answer in the comments below or head to Twitter with the hashtag #WhereIListen.
Credit: Pixabay Image 3412498by kreatikar, used under a Pixaby License
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Listening, as I do almost every week, to StoryCorps on NPR, I have been struck by how quickly that organization has adapted to the new pandemic conditions, shifting from two people face to face in a booth recording their story to an online system that allows the project to continue—at a distance—through StoryCorps Connect. As I listened to some of the stories posted there, I thought of what a valuable trove of oral histories are being recorded and preserved through this project and what a valuable teaching tool the archive is. I started browsing around the Internet, looking for other oral history projects and found many that beckoned to me. The University of Illinois has a very large collection called Voices of Illinois, and I spent a couple of very rich hours reading the words of women in the 1930s talking about their lives, their education (or lack of it), and their experiences during the Great Depression. And by coincidence, I have been in touch with a Navajo student—a fabulous writer now in college-at-home—who is part of a project to collect oral histories from Navajo elders. This combination of coincidences makes me think that this time of coronavirus might well be a very good time indeed for oral histories. Students working from home will usually have access to parents, grandparents, or other adult relatives as well as to siblings. And most will have access to a phone for recording too. While sheltering in place and keeping social distance, they have a great opportunity—and the time—to gather family stories and to capture the voices of family members talking about their experiences living through these very difficult times as well as about their important memories of the past and hopes for the future. Fifty years from now—even ten years from now—these stories will have great resonance; they might even start a family tradition of gathering oral histories over the years. I am certain there are teachers out there who are doing oral history projects with their students. I would so love to hear about them and to read or listen to some of them if they are available. In the meantime, I’m going to see if I can encourage the young students I know to get busy on their own oral history projects! Image Credit: Pixabay Image 541192 by Satermedia, used under the Pixabay License
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Morgellons, the controversial disease at the heart of Leslie Jamison’s essay “Devil’s Bait,” differs from COVID-19 in significant ways. And yet Jamison’s central question seems usefully relevant to the current pandemic and its concomitant quarantine measures. She writes:
This isn’t an essay about whether or not Morgellons disease is real. That’s probably obvious by now. It’s an essay about what kinds of reality are considered prerequisites for compassion. It’s about this strange sympathetic limbo: Is it wrong to call it empathy when you trust the fact of suffering, but not the source?
I’ve been thinking about empathy quite a bit in relation to social distancing. On the one hand, social distancing is a selfish act: it keeps me safe from infection. On the other hand, though, social distancing is an ethical duty. It’s as much about protecting others—others I may not even know—as it is about protecting myself. Part of what enables me to make the sacrifices required of social distancing is empathy, much like the empathy Jamison comes to feel for the sufferers of Morgellons disease. And empathy hasn’t simply enabled social distancing; it’s also engendered prolific acts of kindness in response to the pandemic.
What I like about using Jamison in this context is that her essay offers a kind of limit case for empathy. With COVID-19, the suffering is all too real, all too visible. But Morgellons is a disease that may not be a disease. As the quotation above makes clear, Jamison works from the reality of suffering to formulate an empathetic response and that’s a useful maneuver for students to consider.
There are, too, some other interesting connections between Jamison’s discussion of Morgellons and the COVID-19 pandemic:
Like Morgellons, some still insist that COVID-19 is a hoax or caused by 5G cellular towers.
Like Morgellons, there currently is no cure for COVID-19
Like Morgellons, the pandemic has prompted dangerous bogus treatments, including zinc and tonic water, colloidal silver, and, sadly, fish tank cleaner. Jamison’s experience with sufferers of Morgellons, like so many people in the pandemic today, reminds us that fear and desperation are themselves contagious and deadly.
Here are some writing assignments you might consider:
Using Jamison and one other reading (from class or that you have located on your own), write an essay about the role of empathy in mitigating epidemics and pandemics.
Considering the ambivalent report about Morgellons from the Centers for Disease Control and the self-activism of those with Morgellons, write a paper about the respective responsibilities of governments and individuals in response to disease.
What are the best strategies for distributing reliable information about a disease? Use Jamison and any research you might want to do on COVID-19 to support your response.
How is the experience of dealing with a chronic disease different from other kinds of disease? Use Jamison, and if you have a chronic disease yourself, your own experience.
Empathy is one of the core concepts in this edition of Emerging. It’s times like these that really demonstrate the value of thinking and writing about it.
Image Credit: Pixabay Image 4939288 by geralt, used under the Pixabay License
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One of the key principles of Signs of Life in the U.S.A. is the critical role that cultural mythologies play in shaping human consciousness and the way we experience our world. So, as we face a pandemic disease that is disrupting, and will, for the foreseeable future, disrupt our lives in ways that are likely to confront us with new and unexpected challenges in the months and years to come, an understanding of how cultural mythologies work has become more important than ever before. This is because one of America's most fundamental mythologies—the belief known as "American exceptionalism"—is now being starkly challenged by the realities of living in the shadow of COVID-19. This belief is that America has always been the exception to human history—that America, alone among the nations, is immune from tragedy, from unmitigated disaster, from decline. A corollary to this belief is the conviction that America has always been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of history, a City on a Hill that will lead the rest of the world to freedom and prosperity. The pandemic, and America's response to it, is challenging that confidence. So, amid the profound distractions to life and learning that COVID-19 is presenting to your classroom, focusing on the ways in which cultural mythologies—especially American exceptionalism—not only shapes our consciousness but can also present barriers to a clear understanding of the challenges that face us as a society, is something you may want to do if you are using, or plan to use, Signs of Life in the U.S.A. in your class. You could begin this by assigning the introduction to the book, concentrating especially on the discussion of cultural mythologies, along with the introduction to chapter 7, "American Paradox: Culture, Conflict and Interpretation in the U.S.A." (this will be Chapter 1 in the 10th edition), which goes into greater depth about American mythologies. After the principles explored in these introductions are clear to your students, assign Barbara Ehrenreich's reading selection, "Bright Sided," which explores in depth the effects of American exceptionalism in shaping America's fundamental optimism as a society and its concomitant tendency to be unprepared for disaster. Take as much time as you need, for once these readings are mastered, your students will be ready for an essay assignment on how Ehrenreich's essay, generally, and the mythology of American exceptionalism, more particularly, pertain to America's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Your assignment could direct your students to support, refute, or qualify the argument that American "bright-sidedness" left it unprepared for the full brunt of the disease and that our unenviable status as having the world's most cases of COVID-19, as well as deaths, is a sign that American exceptionalism is indeed a myth rather than a reality. Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 1149896 by Free-Photos, used under Pixabay License
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It’s Easter Sunday, it’s raining, and I’ve been in my house for almost a month. I was hoping this blog post would come together quickly, that I would have some technical trick or insightful advice to impart to all of us who have moved composition and IRW courses online. But I don’t have any wisdom or online teaching hacks to share, and the post hasn’t come together at all. This is a mess. Last week, I intended to conference with each of my composition students individually to discuss the discourse community profiles they are composing for their final project—or at least the thesis and outline for these profiles. But I’ve only managed to connect with about half of the students, despite multiple attempts to contact them via email and our university-based online outreach program. I also have a couple of upper-level courses that were online even before the stay-at-home orders were given; one class was supposed to submit drafts of the literature review for their course projects on Friday. I got two drafts and a host of emails requesting more time—which I of course gave. What can I say? I am trying to finish an article by a self-imposed May 1 deadline, and my literature review has not emerged out of my research and early drafting, either. I’ve read it and re-written it a number of times. I look at the varied chunks of text I’ve written, texts that teeter precariously on top of each other like Jenga blocks. A few sections must be deleted, but I’m afraid the whole thing will topple when I pull them out. It’s a mess. The first-year writers I have met with are, without exception, apologetic. “I’m sorry I haven’t done more. I can’t seem to focus very well. I keep getting stuck on the wording here, and nothing sounds right.” “It’s a mess, Dr. Moore.” I’ve been thinking about that word—mess. Growing up in the deep South, we used mess in the sense of casual clutter, temporary and rather normal disorder or dishevelment: “Have you been playin’ in the mud? Aren’t you a mess!” “You know we’re gon’ have to straighten up this mess before you can go outside, right, sugar?” “A little mess never hurt nobody…” But mess also meant a portion—a meal’s worth of something. My accountant father loved to fish and garden. He’d come in on a Saturday afternoon in the late summer and announce he’d “caught a mess of fish,” or “picked a good mess o’ butterbeans.” That second use of mess—a portion of food—reflects the etymology of the word, from past participle of the Latin verb mittere, (missum), which meant “to put,” as in “to put on the table.” It also came to mean a place where food was shared by small groups, hence the notion of a mess-hall. That the food served might not always by appetizing, or that it might only be fit for animal feed, may have led to the idea that a mess is chaos. Yep, this is a mess. But it’s ok to be in a mess—even to be a mess. We can call it what it is, and neither I nor my students have to pretend otherwise. We don’t have to like it. Still, it’s ok. This mess isn’t going to last forever. And a little mess may be just what we need to sustain us in this moment—a mess of beans plus a mess of okra and a little pork may not be a gourmet dish, but with patience and imagination and a little effort, it will make a meal. When students tell me that their work is a mess, we can talk about what drew them to their topics to begin with, or what they hate about doing research, or why anxieties or tangents keep distracting them. Maybe as they talk through the mess, possibilities will arise; an outline will take shape. Maybe not—but we’ll keep talking. Yes, we’ve got a mess right now—but it’s ok. We’ll muddle through the class, the semester, and the quarantine. The written mess we’re looking at together will eventually be discourse community profiles, literature reviews, a decent article, or maybe even a blog post. It’s a mess. It’s still raining, and this blog post will not rank among my best. But having written it, I think I’m ready to take another stab at that literature review.
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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. Since college classes have moved online, there’s been an uptick in plagiarism across the country. Professors are talking about it on social media and on listservs, providing different perspectives and advice on how to handle plagiarism in student writing. On a Facebook page that focuses on teaching college during this crisis, one professor says, “During a PANDEMIC, plagiarism is a non-issue. During the best of times, students cheat, and they will continue to cheat, but who cares?” Another instructor says, “…my plan is to deal with it as I always have. Plagiarism is theft and universities, like mine, have strict rules.” I thought I’d use this post to voice my own thoughts about plagiarism and how faculty might deal with it during this global health crisis. First, a little background on plagiarism. Plagiarism policies in higher education are often positioned in moral terms. Students who plagiarize are often described as dishonest, sneaky, lazy, or just simply unethical. Yes, plagiarism can be intentional. Students might buy a paper off the internet because they don’t feel like writing it. Or they may go to Wikipedia and cut and paste information into a paper because they don’t have time to find resources or read them. Or they might be struggling with personal issues (like many students are right now) and think plagiarizing is the only option for passing a course. Are there other reasons why people might plagiarize? Yes, and that’s an emphatic yes. Many institutions and instructors do not recognize the plethora of other reasons why students copy directly from sources or patchwrite (a form of plagiarism defined by Dr. Rebecca Moore Howard as “copying from a source text and then deleting some words, altering grammatical structures, or plugging in one-for-one substitutes.”). Plagiarism can be unintentional. Students might not understand what they’re reading, or they may be unfamiliar with discipline-specific terms and language. If students lack critical reading abilities or feel incapable of navigating a foreign discourse community, they will certainly have a difficult time summarizing or paraphrasing a source without appropriating its language. Students might not have a good grasp on citation practices or how to work within certain citation systems. They may have never learned how to effectively summarize, paraphrase, or cite sources, or they may not even understand what plagiarism is or constitutes (especially students who did not grow up and attend schools in the US). Whatever the reason, we should try to remember that students are learners and developing writers. They’re not bad people. They’re not thieves or criminals. There’s a reason why they are plagiarizing. In the midst of this global health crisis, we can transform instances of plagiarism into pedagogical opportunities. Below are some guidelines for how you might do so. Rather than immediately report students to the institution or automatically give them an F in the class, consider talking to them first. Ask them if they know what plagiarism is. Ask them if they know they plagiarized. Ask them why they plagiarized. Remember they are humans living in an extraordinarily difficult moment. Consider giving them an opportunity to revise their papers. Point them to resources that will help them work with sources. ( Purdue OWL is a great resource) Suggest they work with a tutor in the writing center. Provide them with specific feedback on how they might work with sources in their papers. Provide them with guidance on how to better understand the sources with which they are engaging. At this moment in time, teaching with compassion is critical; I hope these guidelines provide one way professors might enact such a pedagogy.
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I am thinking every single day of all the teachers of writing across the country who are now teaching their classes online, and wondering how it is going, how difficult it is to prepare for these classes, how the students are responding, and most of all what everyone is learning from what is for many a different mode of interacting with students and of creating knowledge together. Sometimes I feel grateful that I am retired, watching from a distance and checking in with my Stanford Program in Writing and Rhetoric colleagues, who are doing brilliant work. (That group of instructors—always exploring, always innovating—are clearly up to the challenge and they are helped enormously by the inimitable Christine Alfano, our Associate Director and leader in all things technological.) But other times I am a little sad to be on the sidelines: like so many others, I want to be helping out and doing something productive—especially something helpful for students. I wrote two weeks ago about the writers’ club I have going with a second-grade and fourth-grade friend: these back-and-forth poems, stories, and drawings have kept me engaged and looking forward to what may appear in my email inbox next. In the last week, however, I’ve been spending a lot of time on FaceTime with my beloved 10th-grade grandniece, who is working away daily on “homework” (isn’t it all homework now?). She has assignments from all of her classes and she doesn’t seem to always know the teachers who are assigning this work, but she is trying hard to keep up. I think she likes the control she can exert in working from home, and I’ve felt privileged to join her some days (“It’s more fun with company, Aunt A”). One day last week she wrote an entire essay on why the electoral college should be abolished—talking through ideas, writing some, then reading aloud, then stopping to look up some information, then reading to me, then writing more. She didn’t seem to want or need any help, and it was a joy to watch her mind at work as she puzzled through the reasons backing up her position and came up with a convincing argument. All together it took two and a half hours. Another day she created a 15-slide presentation called “A Snapshot of My Life” for her psychology class that involved working through Piaget, Kohlberg, and Erikson’s stages of development and illustrating them with examples from her own life. Working systematically, she crafted her examples, illustrating them with photographs of her at various points in her life and then using open source photos to illustrate later stages of development—her in five years, her in twenty-five years. Asked to summarize part of a novel from one character’s point of view for another assignment, she drew a 22-panel comic that went far beyond what she was asked to do. These assignments—and others; yesterday she was working on a civics assignment asking her to assume she was president of the United States and describe a day’s activities that would include all of the functions of the president—seem well suited for work at home, and my grandniece is clearly stepping up. Indeed, she seems to me very much engaged in this work (though she complains sometimes and “just wants to get it done.”) And she has lots of online resources to turn to, both from her school and from her own online experience. She introduced me to a “super cool” site, iCivics, that she said was amazingly helpful and clear. She was consulting it as she did her civics homework and praising it so much that I decided to take a look. And what a site it is! It was founded by Sandra Day O’Connor, who calls it her best legacy: “The practice of democracy is not passed down through the gene pool. It must be taught and learned anew by each generation of citizens,” she explains. Started in 2009, iCivics now reaches over 5 million students in elementary, middle, and high school and engages them in role-playing and other games through which they embody governmental practices, such as assuming they can be president of the U.S. and carry out the president’s functions for a day. For students who are fairly self-directed, who have computers and access to rich resources like iCivics, and who have teachers who are providing engaging and meaningful assignments, this pandemic-induced, at-home schooling may be working very well, as it seems to be (so far) for my grandniece. But I worry about students who are not so self-directed, who do not have computers or access to online resources, or who thrive best in the presence of their teachers and others. Just today, my governor, Gavin Newsom, announced a new round of funding intended to get a computer or tablet into the hands of every child in California who lacks one. That seems a good first step, and I’m grateful for it. In the meantime, I need to find more ways to connect with students out there—from kindergarten through graduate school—who think that learning is “more fun with company.” Please let me hear ideas for how I can do more, even while I’m sheltering in place. Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3038994 by khamkhor, used under the Pixabay License
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Many instructors who began the semester in face-to-face classes have spent the last weeks breathlessly surfing all seven waves of grief. It started with shock, if not denial, as we helped our students adjust to the reality that our classes will conclude in a transformed and virtual world. Then came the pedagogical pain and guilt, induced by the tsunami of emails about online teaching resources. Some missives were well-meant, from our heroic campus teaching centers, for example. Some were purely predatory, as for-profit agencies flooded our inboxes with “tips and tricks that all the best online instructors” were supposedly using – for a price, of course. Wherever you are in the timeline of reorienting yourself to pandemic-era teaching, you might be comforted, as I have been, by the more recent posts about focusing modestly on our essential course goals rather than imagining that technological bells and whistles will replace the embodied experiences of in-person teaching. Because my students are writing about sustainability topics, a theme of the semester has been on the value of relationships, whether through biodiversity, interdisciplinarity, or rich interconnections between classmates. In pre-pandemic times, we began each class period with quick community-building exercises, including a student-generated question of the day for lightning “get to know you” rounds (“Are you a cake or a pie person?” “What’s your favorite plant?” “What’s your dream travel destination?”). Early on, we took the time to do a version of this Danish “All that We Share” exercise, in which students were randomly sorted into groups of three and asked to find three things they had in common – the more unusual, the better. The earnest conversation and laughter bubbling from these groups of near-strangers in January was heartening as they discovered their shared love of particular condiments, favorite flavors of Takis, or numbers of tattoos. Why use precious class time for such exercises? Because investing in trust and emotional safety in the classroom community fosters deeper meaning-making all semester. Kathy Molloy and Diego Navarro’s ideas on the power of “affective learning” have bolstered my belief in these practices, including their reminder, “Slow down your tempo; become curious; listen beyond words to student needs, concerns, or aspirations to understand their struggles.” These practices are all the more timely during these traumatizing weeks. I sure do miss the in-person snap, crackle, and pop of my students. In the last few weeks, I have simplified aspects of my syllabus and have mourned some of the “lost” opportunities to learn with them. The foundation we built together, though, is visible everywhere, despite our physical separation. I see their investment in one another in their thoughtful engagement on discussion threads and in their assignments, as they consider texts through the newly estranging and enlightening lens of pandemic worries. Some students have described discussing class ideas with family members, inspiring conversations that wouldn’t have happened when they lived apart. I invited students to share, optionally, little videos of their pandemic experiences, after offering my awkward contribution with my favorite coffee mug and the ukulele I’m practicing more often these days. They have responded with aplomb, and I’ve been moved by their video selfies of a quiet corner in a basement or hilarious close-ups of the quivering nostrils of a favorite dog or cat. Some students have shared their worries about being laid off or being considered an “essential” worker, suddenly burdened with shifts that devour their study time. Some are frightened of handing money as they deliver food or terrified that as they sanitize grocery shelves for others they will sacrifice themselves to the virus. Some have more time, but less energy. All seem to feel unanchored and grateful to the kindness of the classroom community and the connections they actively built before our physical separation. I am right there with them. I’m grateful, too, to know that I am part of a wise pedagogical community. I hope others chime in to Miriam Moore’s call to record our experiences so we can share our strategies. More than ever, I know that my work – and my honor, really – is to be a steadying presence for these students in a profoundly unsteadying time, whether through Zoom, or phone calls, or discussion threads, or emails, or even texts. So, perhaps I’ve reached the grieving stage of acceptance and hope. Where are you? Photo Credit: April Lidinsky
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Like all of us, we’ve been scrambling here at Florida Atlantic University, first to rapidly transition every course online, then to imagine all of summer online, then to work out and implement a Pass/Fail grading policy, and now to think about adjusting the various fees for summer classes. Change is the new constant, and so we adjust.
In the midst of all the madness, I’ve been thinking about how to use Emerging to teach issues connected to the current COVID-19 pandemic. I thought I would share these thoughts with you, in case you find them helpful as you think about summer or fall courses.
Emerging doesn’t have any readings on pandemics but it does have one on epidemics: Andrew Cohen’s essay “Race and the Opioid Epidemic.” Cohen’s piece has a simple message: the crack cocaine epidemic, racialized as a black epidemic, resulted in severe sentencing guidelines; the current opioid epidemic, perceived as a white epidemic, is resulting in an emphasis on treatment. Cohen thus connects politics, health, law, epidemiology, and the complex undercurrents of race and class in America.
There are a number of ways one might use this reading to invite students to examine the reaction to COVID-19 in the United States:
First, let’s keep in mind that while the COVID-19 pandemic rages, the opioid epidemic hasn’t gone anywhere. We’re tallying a terrifying number of deaths from the pandemic, both here in the United States and around the world, but COVID-19 and the essential social distancing and isolation we are practicing to fight it has and will lead to even more deaths from other factors, including opioid addiction. So, you might have students look into the current state of that The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains a page of statistics on the crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a useful page as well.
Given that 12-step programs represent a proven treatment for addiction and then also given the requirements of social isolation, you might have students explore how addicts in recovery are coping in the pandemic. Virtual meetings are central to that response, and thinking about how connection is facilitated through technology can then set up interesting counterpoints to other readings in Emerging which suggest that instead that technology disconnects us (Sherry Turkle’s essay, for example).
Addressing the pandemic more directly, you might ask students to explore the intersections of epidemiology and politics as they are happening today. You might have student research some of the details of the recent two trillion dollar relief bill. Here in Florida, the pandemic has prompted suspicions that the state’s unemployment benefit website was designed to fail by Republicans.
COVID-19 has also been racialized, leading to increased attacks against Asian-Americans. You could ask students to investigate this racialization in the context of broader racism in the United States or the deployment of race as a fear-based reaction. Students might also consider the intersection of race, health guidelines, and personal safety that has led to some people of color deciding not to wear face masks.
One of the consequences of the harsh sentencing guidelines in response to the crack cocaine epidemic is a burgeoning prison population. Prisons represent the very opposite of social distancing, leading to concerns of outbreaks in these populations. Students could investigate how governments are responding to this threat and how that response relates to broader issues of a culture of incarceration.
Of course, the pandemic may be the last thing you or your students want to talk, think, and write about. But sometimes critical thinking is, well, critical in response to a crisis. Everything has changed with COVID-19 and some of it has changed forever. Engaging reasoned thinking in the midst of these changes may be the very thing we all need.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website : Acts of Composition. Inside, looking out -- Image-a-Day Challenge, April 2020 Overview None of us could have imagined that we would be living the lives we are now. For teachers, the Corona Pandemic means moving our instruction online in record time. The impact has quickly and dramatically reshaped the ways we view education or, as Andreas Schleicher, head of education at the OECD reminds us, that “Real change takes place in deep crisis,” he says. “You will not stop the momentum that will build.” Luckily, we have many resources as teachers come together to ask important questions and share ideas such as the journal, Hybrid Pedagogy or the Facebook group, Pandemic Pedagogy (with close to 30,000 members and contributors) where “Educators, students, and others share insights, best (and worst) practices, advice, successes, challenges, and research about converting to fully online instruction during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.” Despite the isolation, anxiety, and frustration, the pandemic has engaged us in teacher-talk and forced us to take a close look at our teaching practices. I have found renewed opportunities to brainstorm with teacher-friends and colleagues about new assignments and activities and the ways we might modify existing assignments to fit within our current context and cultural moment. Although we all feel a bit overwhelmed, it is a time for deep reflection on our teaching as we rethink our roles in this new instructional environment where everything is digital and . . . potentially multimodal. It is in this spirit that I decided to reflect upon and share some of my previous Multimodal Monday posts and offer a roundup of some assignments and activities to consider as we shape our classes for these new contexts. Synchronous Virtual Gatherings – Zoom meetings, teamwork, class discussions – oh my! Although I already had many components of my class online, I had never tried to create virtual, synchronous classes. It is a challenge, but I was determined to maintain interactive discussions in this online environment. Thankfully, my students were already practiced in meaningful class discussions, productive teamwork, and peer response, so the shift to an online format was easier. I had my doubts, but we have managed to maintain the class vibe in these virtual settings. I have continued community building activities like Class Playlists and Digital Tools for Critical Reading that help students prepare for lively, connected discussion. Community Engagement – I regularly incorporate community engagement projects in many of my classes. Those partnerships fell away as news from the pandemic spread. We had to regroup. I gave students opportunities to take ownership and create their own assignments to address community awareness and career preparedness. My Digital Storytelling class decided to create community awareness stories of the cultural and personal impact of the pandemic. My Careers in Writing class (who were originally going to engage in a professional writing and editing project) decided on Free Range Writing or Choose your Own Writing Adventure assignments in which they curated publication opportunities and went through the professional processes involved with submitting content for publication in digital spaces. Image Assignments and Visual Rhetorics – I love multimodal image assignments, and they work well in online contexts. Students can curate for the Image-a-Day Challenge in which they capture daily images and perspectives for critical reflection. I also like the Digital Visual Series Assignment in which they create a series that represents the connections between artifacts and ideas. The pandemic has also brought with it memes and a slew of other digital content. Students can create their own memes that capture their cultural observations as they combine text and image to produce artifacts of cultural critique. We share these assignments during our virtual class meetings and create collaborative Grab and Go Galleries. Time for Podcasts – What a great time for students to engage with podcasts in this Podcast Review Assignment. This multimodal assignment asks students to select and create a podcast series of at least five related episodes of a subject of their choosing. They listen and review a self-designed series in an interactive blog post in which they present an overview, review each episode, and connect to larger ideas through the lens of their own perspectives. They present their ideas in our virtual classroom for response and discussion. Reflection on the Activities If there is one thing we have come to understand through this struggle, it is that we are in the middle of a massive paradigm shift. We are pressed to look at our pedagogies and what we value in so many ways. Although we all want to return to normal, the reality is that we are creating a new normal that will be influenced by this defining time in our culture. Even though we have been dropped unprepared in unknown territory, we can embrace innovation and the freedom to experiment – to complicate, to reflect, and to share ideas with others during this time. Schleicher sees the potential value for students who “will take ownership over their learning, understanding more about how they learn, what they like, and what support they need. They will personalize their learning, even if the systems around them won’t. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle” (Anderson). It is clearly time for us to revisit our ideas on education and learning and to use these lessons to continue to provide meaningful experiences for our students. As teachers and students, we need to develop our digital literacies and multimodal skills to effectively communicate in these new rhetorical contexts and in our new world. Anderson, Jenny. “The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Reshaping Education.” Quartz, Quartz, 31 Mar. 2020, qz.com/1826369/how-coronavirus-is-changing-education/.
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Today's guest blogger is Daniel Lambert. Daniel has taught Literature and Communications courses for Colorado Technical University since 2010. In addition, he teaches on-ground English courses at California State University, Los Angeles and East Los Angeles College. He was nominated for the Distinguished Faculty of the Year Award at CTU in 2017 and 2019. Daniel enjoys writing fiction, essays, and poetry. He published a poetry collection, Love Adventure (with his wife, Anhthao Bui), in 2017. He published his first collection of short stories, Mere Anarchy, in 2016. His fiction appears in the anthologies When Words Collide, Flash It, Daily Flash 2012 , and Daily Frights 2012 . His writing also appears in the periodicals Silver Apples, The Daily Breeze, Easy Reader, Other Worlds , and Wrapped in Plastic. The term “theme” may be defined as “the central idea embodied by or explored in a literary work. . .” (Gardner 1437). Some students, and even some instructors, may undervalue the importance of theme. However, the importance of theme can be better understood when we view it as a way to bridge the gap between literature and “real life” events. For example, with the spread of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) causing most colleges to transition from on-ground to online teaching within a matter of days, our students are contemplating the pandemic’s worst-case outcomes. How can we as instructors help to put these concerns in context? Perhaps by teaching the theme of apocalypse, which reminds our students that they are not alone: authors have contemplated the end of the world for centuries. The double threats of pandemic and climate change have engendered an increasing concern for the health and well-being of Earth and its inhabitants. Science fiction author Sheila Finch suggests that apocalyptic literature provides a type of catharsis for the reader: “There’s something compelling about other people’s horrendous events, the greater the destruction the greater the fascination, just as long as we ourselves are safe” (104). We can illuminate this fascination for our students by comparing the work of two poets: William Butler Yeats and W.S. Merwin. The apocalyptic imagery throughout W.S. Merwin’s poetry mirrors similar imagery in William Butler Yeats’s work; specifically, his poem “The Second Coming.” Yeats was influenced by the carnage of the First World War to imagine a time when “things fall apart” (3). Merwin evokes images of ecological disaster rather than man’s inhumanity to man in “Rain Light” when he describes a hill emblazoned with “the washed colors of the afterlife” (9) at a time when “the whole world is burning” (12). In the first stanza of “The Second Coming,” Yeats tells the tale of a time of chaos in which humanity is separated from nature and God. Nature, in the form of a falcon, tries fruitlessly to reconnect with man: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” (1-4). Merwin also uses avian imagery, as well as the image of an endless and pointless loop, in his poem “The Speed of Light”: “…we did not see that the swallows flashing and the sparks / of their cries were fast in the spokes of the hollow / wheel that was turning and turning us taking us / all away as one with the tires of the baker’s van” (16-18). The natural world succumbs to industrialization as the speaker laments the end of the day: “… we thought it was there and would stay / it was only as the afternoon lengthened on its / dial and the shadows reached out farther and farther…” (22-24). The speaker begins to realize too late that the end has arrived: “…we began to listen for what / might be escaping us…” (25-26). Finally, Merwin brings us to the end of the day “…the village at sundown calling their animals home / and then the bats after dark and the silence on its road” (27-28). In the second stanza of “The Second Coming,” Yeats describes a perversion of the Second Coming of Christ: after 2,000 years of Christ’s guardianship, 20 th -century Earth has given birth not to a savior but a destroyer; a god of war: “A shape with lion body and the head of a man, / A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun…” (14-15). Yeats ends his nightmare vision with a rhetorical question that leaves no hope for the future: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” (21-22). Merwin evokes his own nightmare in his poem “Rain Light.” The speaker recalls the dying words of his mother: “…my mother said I am going now / when you are alone you will be all right” (2-3). Perhaps the speaker’s dead mother is the ghost of Mother Earth. The speaker is mankind, who is left to tend a world in tatters. The world has lost its luster and is now only a shell: “…the patchwork spread on the hill / the washed colors of the afterlife / that lived there long before you were born” (8-10). Merwin’s poem ends on a bittersweet note, as the still-alive flowers provide a glimmer of hope: “…see how they wake without a question / even though the whole world is burning” (11-12). In his poem “My Friends,” Merwin addresses a theme visited by Yeats in “The Second Coming”: the devastating effects of war. Merwin’s speaker laments the degradation and ultimate loss of his comrades in arms: “My friends without shoes leave / What they love / Grief moves among them as a fire among / Its bells…” (3-6). These witnesses to war’s devastation lose their ability to see, but they can still hear the world ending: “My friends without fathers or houses hear / Doors opening in the darkness / Whose halls announce / Behold the smoke has come home” (21-24). Who is to blame for this destruction? Is it the predatory desire to destroy that is embedded in the human heart? “This message telling of / Metals this / Hunger for the sake of hunger this owl in the heart” (27-29). We are doomed to destroy the Earth and each other because we are predatory owls, hungering for the next kill. Will the apocalyptic visions of William Butler Yeats and W.S. Merwin cause your students to work harder to prevent the cataclysm of pestilence or climate change? Perhaps. More likely, the study of apocalyptic themes will cause your students to realize we are not alone: for centuries, literature has motivated us to weather the storms that assail us. Which authors do you use to teach the concept of theme? I would love to hear from you. Works Cited Finch, Sheila. Myths, Metaphors, and Science Fiction: Ancient Roots of the Literature of the Future. (Conversation Pieces Number 39). Seattle, WA: Aqueduct Press, 2014. Gardner, Janet E., et al. Literature: A Portable Anthology. Fourth Edition. Bedford, 2017. p. 1437. Merwin, W.S. “My Friends.” Poets.org. Academy of American Poets. n.d. https://poets.org/poem/my-friends . 14 November 2019. -----. “Rain Light.” The Merwin Conservancy. 2019. https://merwinconservancy.org/2013/10/rain-light-by-ws-merwin/ . 14 November 2019. -----. “The Speed of Light.” The Merwin Conservancy. 2019. https://merwinconservancy.org/?s=the+speed+of+light. 14 November 2019. Yeats, William Butler. “The Second Coming.” Literature: A Portable Anthology. Fourth Edition. Ed. Gardner, Janet E., et al. Bedford, 2017. p. 500.
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Well, I'm trying at any rate. Right now that means moving along with the 10th edition of Signs of Life in the U.S.A. We're in the copyediting stage, which can be (and is being) conducted entirely through digital technology. I remember the old days when we had to paste up every page of the text and mail everything in to Bedford Books. This was before the Internet changed everything—when researching new readings meant going in person to the library and photocopying every selection. An era of post-it notes on copyedited pages and endless back-and-forth FedEx or UPS deliveries, of word processing but no email file attachments. At least we had a toll-free phone number we could use when talking to our editor. And, no, I'm not nostalgic for that time. In fact, I don't know how we managed at all, especially when Sonia and I were also still composing editions of California Dreams and Realities, segueing directly from the completion of one text to the other in a continuous stream of textbook creation. And I presume that without these technologies, which we all take for granted now, there would have had to have been some sort of interruption to our work on the new edition of Signs of Life. But thanks to the Internet, we can all work from home (authors and publishing team alike), so “Number 10” will actually be wrapped up in record time. That's a comfort in these troubled times, when the future is largely a giant question mark and the present is like a bewildering dream. And that is an experience that requires no semiotic exegesis. Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 683901 by Hermann, used under Pixabay License
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