Celebrating Student Writing in Pandemic Times

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At Stanford, May has always been my second favorite month of the year. First is always September, when fall term opens and we welcome a new class of students: nothing can match the excitement and anticipation I feel then. But May comes very close because that is the month we celebrate writing, with awards presented to first-year writing students, second-year writing students, and students in writing in the majors courses. Over the decades, I have been consistently elated by the depth of research, the quality of thought, and the unique voices that these awards honor.

Traditionally, these awards—like similar ones all over the country—were presented at receptions on campus, with friends and family and instructors there to congratulate and celebrate the writers. But then came the pandemic, the shutdown of the entire area, and the shift online. Like teachers everywhere, the Program in Writing and Rhetoric instructors at Stanford, under the always brilliant leadership of Adam Banks, Marvin Diogenes, and Christine Alfano, worked ceaselessly to adapt to the new learning and teaching environment and to meet students—and student needs—wherever they were. And like students everywhere, our students worked to meet the challenges of online writing seminars, learning to work together in online teams, to deal with the glitches and intricacies of Zoom and other virtual meeting spaces, and to try to stay connected, to build and maintain a virtual classroom ethos.

It hasn’t always been pretty: I’ve talked with teachers across the country who were exhausted, frustrated, and stretched beyond the limit, and more than once I’ve wondered whether I shouldn’t be thankful to be retired (I taught a small online grad class in summer 2020 but nothing more).

Yet here we are, over a year after the lockdown and shift, and I’m wondering how best to recognize and celebrate the student research and writing and speaking that occurred during this pandemic, online year. Thinking through this issue led our writing program to make this announcement:

Since Spring 2020, all PWR 2 courses have been taught online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically, Lunsford award [the award for second-year writing students] honorees would present in front of a live audience and two winners would be selected. Giving and recording an oral presentation in an online environment provides both new challenges but also new possibilities and we saw a range of creative and powerful responses to oral presentation research. We've created a gallery of Spring/Summer 2020 honoreesFall 2020 honorees, and Winter 2021 honorees, featuring the exemplary work that students produced in their fully online environments.

So this year, the program decided to honor every student nominated by an instructor—and to create a gallery of the work of these students for all to enjoy. I’ve been dipping into these galleries for the past week and I have been impressed, over and over again, by both the research these students have conducted during this very strange and very trying year and their presentation of that research. So once again, May is bringing me great happiness in the form of these remarkable presentations. Please dip in too!

I’ll be taking a summer break from blog postings as I anticipate a new fall term and some form of returning to campus. I will be catching up on reading, doing some writing and research, and working in my community organic garden. And I will be thinking of teachers of writing everywhere, and of our students, wishing for a healthy, productive, and restorative summer for all.

Image Credit: "MacBook Minimal Setup" by MattsMacintosh, used under a CC BY 2.0 license

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About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.