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Gina Atkins wonders "not only how to teach antiracist comp but if antiracist comp even exists"

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Gina AtkinsGina AtkinsGina Atkins (recommended by Casie Fedukovich) received her MA in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition at North Carolina State University in 2021 and is now pursuing her PhD at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. She teaches English 101: Academic Writing and Research and serves on the First-Year Writing Program Council as the MA Representative. She is also CRLA III certified. Her research interests relate to developing antiracist pedagogy, antiracist praxis, accessibility in the writing classroom, and linguistic justice.

 

What do you think is the most important recent development or pedagogical approach in teaching composition?

History and research have shown that the perpetuation and teaching of academic writing has racist undertones that exclude various knowledges of underrepresented groups; as a result, it is not false to say that composition, especially academic writing is problematic. However, recent discussions about the field’s turn towards disciplinarity has asked scholars to examine this material reality regarding future sites of research and teaching. An interesting inquiry is not only how to teach writing in an anti-racist manner, but if antiracist composition even exists. And while this has caused some contention in the field, I am excited that scholars are looking into the field’s turn towards disciplinarity and how antiracist practices can, and should, be a core aspect of that turn.

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

In my writing classroom, I want to encourage students to expand their writing skills across various contexts of their choosing (e.g., academic, professional, or personal). I hope to impart that writing is a core communication tool that goes beyond merely essays, and that they can utilize their abilities, lived experiences, and linguistic knowledges to express themselves as writers. Several students come to the classroom having negative associations with writing and composition classrooms and I hope my classroom can mediate some of those anxieties and instead help students see that everyone writes, thus everyone is a writer. I also aim to expand student’s ideas of writing to see that it’s not just something they do in one or two English classes and never think about again; writing happens in computer science, in engineering, in business settings, and amongst friends and family. Through asking students to view writing as a ubiquitous communication tool, I want to encourage students to foster a culture and community of writing for themselves and with one another.

What do you think instructors don’t know about higher ed publishing but should?

Several instructors, including myself, see higher ed publishing as a capitalist structure that impedes accessibility to students and provides no material benefit to junior faculty seeking tenure. However, after working with and speaking with members at Bedford/St. Martin’s and the instructors who publish with them, I see the educational benefit of publishing is exactly because of the students themselves. For GTAs and junior faculty members, these textbooks can provide a great base for course preparation and for students, these textbooks can provide valuable and easy-to-digest information that is supplementary to their coursework. And as I said earlier, if we want to encourage a culture and community of writing, we need textbooks and other forms of educational materials that foster this. 

What have you learned from other Bedford New Scholars?

That course assignments can have the dual benefit of aiding student’s personal and academic goals and that the two goals don’t have to be mutually exclusive. For example, assignments can use gamification or even visual rhetorical practices to ask students to build critical thinking skills while scaffolding rhetorical concepts and student outcomes. I also learned that assignments can be creative in a way that pedagogically benefits us as instructors while enriching student’s experiences in the classroom as well. When I first started teaching, I dreaded having to think of my own assignments or making them specific to my classroom, but after learning from the other Bedford New Scholars, I see the excitement that can come from riffing on a previously seen assignment or brainstorming a new variation of one. While it may be a lot of work on the front-end, seeing how the creative assignments of others helped them grow as instructors really inspired me to look at course-planning in a new light.

 

Gina’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 Gina's assignment. For the full activity, see Teaching Stages of Revision and Peer Editing (The Ariana Grande Assignment).

In my classroom, I have my student’s peer review one of my graduate papers to give them an introductory idea to how peer review will occur in our class. I originally chose to use one of my papers because as a GTA, I didn’t have my own repertoire of student examples, but I also recognized that providing vulnerability with my students made them feel more at ease about sharing their own writing later in the semester. It also helped that the paper was a definite first draft where students had the ability to see the hierarchy of feedback that was necessary for specific aspects of the paper. For example, I asked students to prioritize feedback related to the genre, development of the argument, and the organization of the paper since it was a first draft rather than simply focusing on spelling and grammar that would be more helpful for a later draft. Another unexpected bonus is that letting student’s peer-review my paper and point out obvious issues that come with a first draft helps them see the benefit of not procrastinating or turning in a first draft themselves. As a result, they can note that writing is a reflexive practice.

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