How Bedford New Scholar Josh Chase finds inspiration in his students

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(recommended by Marika Seigel) is a PhD student in the Rhetoric, Theory, and Culture program at Michigan Technological University. He expects to finish in May 2021. He serves as the composition program coordinator and teaches courses in composition, literature, and technical writing. He is also the managing editor of Portage Review, a transdisciplinary journal of undergraduate writing. His research interests are in rhetorical cultural studies, user-centered theory, and science and technology studies. He is currently exploring the rhetoric of conspiracy theories, the impacts of outlandish ideas on political discourse and culture, and the implications for technical communication and rhetorical theory.

Is there an instructor or scholar that helped shape your career in rhet/comp? How? 

The scholar who has most shaped my teaching is James Berlin. Berlin’s work outlines the history of composition studies and sketches the theoretical underpinnings of various classroom teaching practices. His work provides some much-appreciated context for the field I’m entering. Just as important, though, is Berlin’s reminder that “success in the classroom is never guaranteed” and that effective learning is the result of “dialectical collaboration—the interaction of student, teacher, and shared experience within a social, interdisciplinary framework,” a process whose outcome “is always unpredictable.” When I first started teaching — when I wasn’t sure if I could ever be a good teacher — Berlin prompted me to question whether I even knew what teaching was.

How does the next generation of students inspire you?

I’m very fortunate to be starting my teaching career right now precisely because the next generation of students is so inspiring. They’re often better writers than I remember myself being at 18 years old — or even now. I’m sometimes surprised when I introduce a reading or a concept that I think will be particularly interesting for my students only to find that a good number of them are already familiar with it. The idea that I could just create a solid semester-long curriculum and coast on that for a few years just isn’t an option: what seems profound to one group of students is often old hat to the next. So, in a very practical sense, my students inspire me to be a better teacher because I’m always questioning whether I have anything new to offer them. 

But they also inspire me in other ways. From climate change to growing inequality (and other challenges that we’ve yet to adequately address), the next generation seems ready to tackle the most significant challenges of our time. If rhetoric is symbolic action, then part of our job as writing teachers is to help our students find effective ways to act on these issues. For me, it’s hard to imagine anything more inspiring than that.

What is it like to co-design with the editorial team at Bedford/St. Martin's?

Honestly, before the summit, I was skeptical about co-designing with the editorial team at Bedford/St. Martin’s. I know next to nothing about educational publishing and imagined that I had little to offer them. They must know that too, I figured, so I just assumed the whole trip was an investment for them—a way of selling us on their products early in our careers. I was wrong about that. The editorial team had similar educational backgrounds and interests, they were familiar with the writers and scholars that have been influential for me, and they seemed genuinely interested in getting our perspectives on the work they plan to put out. They took criticism of their products seriously and didn’t seem interested in light or sugarcoated feedback. At heart, I think the members of the design team are teachers, too, and I’m already thinking about ways to adapt some of their workshops for my own classroom. 

What have you learned from other Bedford New Scholars?

Meeting and socializing with the other Bedford New Scholars were probably the best parts of the trip. These people are brilliant. Some of them just recently (and successfully!) went on the job market, so I was able to get a lot of good advice about that process. I learned a little bit about how composition programs from other parts of the country handle issues like growing class sizes and new teacher training. Through their Assignments that Work presentations, I learned about the different activities they’re engaging their students with and got some great ideas for adapting those activities for my own classes.

Josh’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 Josh's assignment. You can view the full details here: Situating your Research with the CARS Model.

In the Michigan Tech composition program, by the time students begin drafting their research papers, they have already spent several weeks researching their chosen topics. Part of the scaffolding for the research paper involves composing an expanded annotated bibliography, a project that asks students to summarize and analyze a variety of relevant texts, and to both describe and reflect on their research processes.

As an activity to help students transition from a primarily research-driven mode of activity into a writing-only mode in which they engage those sources, I introduce the “Creating a Research Space” model of introductions, as outlined by John Swales and Christine Feak. While it was originally designed as a heuristic to help writers overcome the hurdles of writing an introduction, I find that the CARS model is also helpful in a broader sense: for myself and, I think, my students, it offers a way of organizing controversies and finding entry points for our own contributions—a kind of roadmap for stepping into the Burkean parlor.

While I encourage my students to use the CARS model for abstracts and introductions, that is not what I emphasize in this activity and assignment. Instead, I ask them to locate the CARS moves as they appear throughout the paper. The aim is not for students to view the model as a simple checklist that leads to a more sophisticated introduction but to see how the moves guide their engagement with sources throughout the research and writing processes.

Works Cited

Berlin, James. "Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class." Chap. in The Norton Book of Composition Studies, edited by Susan Miller, 667-84. New York: Norton, 2009.

Swales, John M., and Christine B. Feak. Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essential Tasks and Skills. Vol. 1, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004.

Weise, Elizabeth. "Climate Change the New Vietnam War? Generation Z Poised to Change Us Politics with Activism." USA Today, May 6, 2019.

Learn more about the Bedford New Scholars advisory board on the Bedford New Scholars Community page.

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