Brendan Hawkins aims to help students understand genre "in their everyday decision-making processes"

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Brendan HawkinsBrendan HawkinsBrendan Hawkins(recommended by Elias Dominguez Barajas) is pursuing his PhD in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition at Florida State University. His research, teaching, and faculty development interests and experiences span rhetorical genre studies, histories of rhetoric, online writing instruction, and general education composition classes. He serves as a College Composition Program assistant director where his primary responsibility is mentorship for first-year teachers.

How do you engage students in your course, whether f2f, online, or hybrid?

When I started teaching online, I made weekly activity sheets that described the goals for the week as well as the readings and activities students would do. I have adopted a similar practice for my face to face, onsite teaching as well. I keep a running Google Doc with my lesson plans typed up for students to see. I project it on the whiteboard and use it as a reference point for class. It is a simple practice, but it helps students who are unable to attend that day (because I’ve essentially taken notes for them already) and it helps me both visually and verbally indicate where we are in the day’s plans. This move is a simple act of transparency that I try to implement throughout my teaching.

What is the most important skill you aim to provide your students?

I aim to help students understand the complexities of genre and how the concept functions in their everyday decision-making processes. They typically think of “genre” as a classification system but don’t realize the role it plays in not only how they understand but also how they respond to situations, particularly those in the writing classroom. We examine the contexts in which genres typically happen and how those genres shape how folks act and interact with each other. My favorite example is the small, unassuming genre of menus. If students can see how texts—produced and received as genres—function and interact with other texts and people(s), I think students are set to be effective communicators in a variety of situations, both curricular and extracurricular. 

What is it like to be a part of the Bedford New Scholars program?

I’ve enjoyed the chance to meet other instructors from across the U.S. Conferences are hard to attend (especially when they’re cancelled for pandemic-related safety concerns), so being part of Bedford New Scholars was a great way to meet other folks in the field and share ideas about teaching and about the ways we use instructional materials.

How will the Bedford New Scholars program affect your professional development or your classroom practice?

It’s a vague and/or cheesy answer, but I have lots of notes from the summer summit that I plan to revisit ahead of my next semester of teaching. I appreciate the time to sit and listen to how other teachers approach their teaching. It’s also great to hear about other courses and about other institutions, since I—as many other folks might—get tunnel vision when thinking about my own institution’s curricula and policies.


Brendan’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 Brendan's assignment. For the full activity, see Rhetorical Analysis Activity.

We have a common syllabus for our 1,000 and 2,000-level courses, which means our major assignments are the same across all sections. Therefore, I chose to share an activity I do with students that helps them build genre and rhetorical knowledge they’ll need both in these courses—particularly the 2,000-level course—and in their other classes. I provide the framing for the day’s activity (Figure 1) in a Google Doc I share with my students, which we use all semester for our lesson plans, notes, and activities.


Figure 1. Screenshot of the day's Lesson Overview.Figure 1. Screenshot of the day's Lesson Overview.


The lesson I’m sharing is a two-part lesson that asks students to (re)define key rhetorical terms we had been covering ahead of a rhetorical analysis project. Rhetorical definitions often remain too abstract for students to sese how these aren’t just terms but actual practices. As Figure 2 demonstrates, I ask students in the first activity to define the rhetorical term assigned to their group and then describe how it functions within the speech we were analyzing.


Figure 2. Grid students use for small group activities.Figure 2. Grid students use for small group activities.


As they completed the activity, students were able to both define and apply the definitions. I was able to move from group to group (via Zoom breakout rooms in this case) and challenge the ones who provided a vague or brief answer and help those who were struggling.

We then turned to practice rhetorical skills in another way. Students struggled in their previous activities to determine the difference between summary and analysis. The second half of the day’s lesson, depicted in Figure 3, asks students to summarize a section of the speech we were analyzing and then provide a separate analysis or evaluative statement about that part of the text. By the end of the activity, we were able to use students’ answers to the activity to build a rough outline of a rhetorical analysis we could write on the speech.


Figure 3. Excerpt of grid used for the day's second activity.Figure 3. Excerpt of grid used for the day's second activity.


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