Emily Gresbrink helps build her students' individual practices by letting them make "safe mistakes"

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Emily GresbrinkEmily GresbrinkEmily Gresbrink(recommended by John Logie) is pursuing her PhD in Rhetoric, Scientific and Technical Communication at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. She expects to complete her degree in 2024. Emily currently teaches University Writing, housed in the First-Year Writing program. Her research interests encompass technical communication, the rhetoric of health and medicine, pandemics, rhetorical analysis, archives, bioethics, and mentoring. She also serves on the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts Assembly as a Graduate Student Representative, co-chairs the graduate student mentoring subcommittee for the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication (CPTSC), and works with the mentoring committee for the Online Writing Centers Association (OWCA).

How does the next generation of students inspire you?

I am always inspired by the creative approach students take to assignment prompts. Giving them something open-ended like a discussion post and getting a range of answers is reflective of different career paths and scholarly goals, but also of the way students think and process their work. I love seeing how students think, and how those thought processes come out on paper and multimodal assignments. Sometimes I get caught up in my own process of writing that I have been comfortable with for so long, and it’s refreshing to see how a younger scholar might approach a similar task. 

I am also inspired and invigorated by the commitment to real-world change, intervention, and action my students bring to and from the classroom. Academia exists within a bubble, and it can be hard to take what we learn out of the classroom and interject it into the world. But I see and hear the ways that students want to make a difference — say, “I can use my voice to be more confident when I write about issues I care about” — that keeps me coming back to the classroom, easily. This next generation of students is going to be a paradigmatic shift in the way things are done in the world. It’s so exciting.

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

So, hear me out: Ratatouille (2007) was really onto something when Chef Gusteau said, “Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true — anyone can cook.” I tell every one of my students that on the first day of class, and sometimes people are like … “Why is this instructor talking about a Pixar movie?” 

But genuinely, I feel that way about writing — anyone can write. The skill I aim to provide my students, then, is individual practices: that is, how to tease out writing in a way that works for their position, their minds, and their bodies. Not everyone will like the pen-to-paper approach and some will like podcasting or audio forms of writing. That’s okay; let’s run with more audio-based feedback and writing remixes. Someone else might be a very technical, document-based author. Great; let’s lean into editing techniques, document design, and get them where they want to be. Letting students make safe mistakes, find what works for them, and get into the cuisine and chef skills they like (to keep the cooking metaphor alive) will help them create a writing piece (culinary masterpiece?) that fits their style. 

What would your blue-sky courseware look like for a composition course? 

That is a good question. I am a major fan of all-in-one tools, especially ones that include textbooks, assignments, peer review tools, calendar apps … the less clicks and stops my class has to make in their busy lives, the better it is. 

I liked being able to play around with Achieve’s peer review tools this summer during the Bedford New Scholars summit. That had a slick interface. There was not a confusing exchange of emails, cross-platform integrations (email suites to LMS), and it was all in one place. And you could edit and share feedback right in Achieve, which was nice. I also really like having a good textbook to ground the coursework and discussions throughout the semester. I have previously utilized 50 Essays in a section of first-year writing and my students liked the variety of essays they got to read over the course; having everything in one place for them made it easy instead of carrying around a lot of books or having to sift through a bunch of files. Oh, and having e-book availability is great too! 

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

Oh, it is super fun. We met for a week in June and clicked right away. Every one of the other scholars in the group brings so much to the table that is unique and fulfilling to composition and pedagogy. I remember leaving our virtual event in June feeling so refreshed and ready to teach again. I am still thinking back to that week even now and calling into the ideas and topics we talked about during that time. 

It is valuable as well to see and engage with how publications, textbook development, and production works as well. Sometimes as emerging scholars in graduate studies, we do not get to see that; we just work with the texts. But being able to collaborate with the folks who make the books we use is interesting — we can ask questions about publication, pedagogy, development, and the backside of what makes a book. It’s genuinely really fascinating to understand, and it has given me a greater appreciation for textbook development. 


Emily’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 Emily's assignment. For the full activity, see Literacy Narrative.

My assignment that works is a literacy narrative. I utilize this assignment when teaching first year writing. This is the first assignment my students and I work together on, and it is often the favorite of the whole semester.

Briefly stated: A literacy narrative in this context is both a reflection and narrative — it’s a free-flowing piece of writing that allows students to dive into their identity as writers, but also lets them settle into a practice of writing and revision that they will use throughout their semester and beyond. They get to choose their own story under the direction of one prompt: writing about a time where writing impacted them. 

This assignment works because it is a space for students to make productive mistakes and find their footing. Students have liked to ease into the writing process with a space to talk about themselves — they are experts in their own lives and experiences! — rather than a hard research topic. And there is some sort of catharsis about writing about writing. I cannot tell you how many students write about the trauma of ACT or SAT exams and how this class could serve as a reset for that unpleasant experience. 

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