Sidney Blaylock (recommended by Kate Pantelides) is pursuing his PhD in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition at Middle Tennessee State University. He expects to finish in May 2021. He teaches Expository Writing and Research and Argumentation. His research interests include multimodality, rhetorical analysis, new media, cultural rhetorics, digital rhetorics, film, and afrofuturism.
What is the most important skill you aim to provide your students?
The ability to understand how to critically read and assess both texts and situations. Higher education should give students the ability and the resources to evaluate information and ideas that they come in contact with and to make informed choices. This practice should not only extend to what students read or write but to their daily lives. I want students to understand that the ideologies of close reading can give them strategies that can inform their interpretation of popular culture texts in addition to great literature, which helps them find meaning in the texts they interact with on a daily basis. I also want students to understand that the idea of the rhetorical situation undergirds human activities and human communication whether it is as important as giving a presentation to colleagues on the job or as mundane as ordering a coffee at Starbucks, so that they can navigate the world as successfully as possible. Without being able to critically read and assess texts and situations, I feel that students are at a disadvantage, especially from those seeking to misuse power or misrepresent facts and situations.
What is your greatest teaching challenge?
Getting students to understand that opinions, especially those that confirm a student’s own beliefs, are not facts, and cannot be relied on without question. I want students to challenge assertions found on social media, something many seem reluctant to do. I want students to look at the author of the information and to see if that person is credible--are they an expert in their field or a normal person, do they have a particular bias that you can determine, or do they seem impartial? Where does the information come from--an academic journal with multiple authors or one person’s social media account? How old is the information? My greatest teaching challenge revolves around getting students to ask questions and not simply take the information presented as fact. All humans have biases, things that they like or dislike, and I want students to understand that our biases, along with the biases of the person who is communicating with them, all are aspects of communication that must be negotiated before one can make a cogent and reasoned decision about a subject.
What have you learned from other New Bedford Scholars?
While there were many things that I learned from my fellow New Bedford Scholars during our time together at the Summit, there are three that I thought were highly important. First, like myself, I learned that getting students to learn critical thinking skills is a primary focus for all of us. We want students to understand the richness of thinking for themselves and learning how to critically evaluate information. I also learned that we each have diverse interests and experiences that inform our instruction. It is in this diversity that our strengths as educators come to the fore. I learned that my fellow Scholars have a wealth of knowledge and resources that I can draw upon to help better my own teaching. This was especially true in looking at the variety of assignments presented during the Summit. It was amazing to see the various types of assignments that integrated multimodal ways of learning. Seeing all of this amazing work helped to inspire me for the upcoming semester. I, too, want to create innovative and highly multimodal assignments that my students will see as fun, challenging, and inspiring, in addition to being informative.
What is it like to be a part of the Bedford New Scholars program?
It is an amazing experience! Not only are you working with the editorial team at Bedford/St. Martin’s, you also have access to nine other scholars who are in your field. This allows you to collaborate and interact in order to help shape the future of student learning. The editorial team at Bedford/St. Martin’s are an extremely knowledgeable and friendly group of people to work with, and are exceedingly helpful by explaining the reasons behind the decisions that are needed in the publishing world. Moreover, they also listen, which is a rare quality these days. They actively solicit feedback and truly want to know when something is working well, so that they continue it or expand it. However, they also want to know when something isn’t working, so that they can find a way to address the issue and fix it so that it works better the next time. Finally, being part of the Bedford New Scholars program is fun! The editorial team made sure that we found time to socialize and to collaborate in several fun and interesting ways--even on Zoom.
Sidney Blaylock Jr.’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 Sidney's assignment. You can view the full details here: "Go Forth and Find"
“Go Forth and Find” is a short lesson, designed to be mostly done over a class meeting or two. At the beginning of the unit discussing genre, I ask students to pair off and use their phones to take pictures of various “genre” items in the room, in the hall, in the building, and around campus (this can be modified to safe areas for virtual learning). I ask them to find information/instructions, a bulletin board, a poster, a graphic/image, a sign, and a “wildcard” (which can be any interesting item they found during the search). We then come together and discuss the various items that we’ve found, specifically noting the various affordances and constraints of the genre — looking for ways the items follow convention or the ways in which they deviate from the norm. This assignment tries to encourage critical learning and thinking in a fun way that helps students learn from (and with) their peers. Also, since the assignment happens early in the semester, it is a great way to, hopefully, form the bonds that will allow the class to grow into a strong learning community together.