Multimodal Mondays: Creating a Community Writing Contract in Your Syllabus

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221251_pastedImage_12.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Jeanne Bohannon (see end of post for bio).


It's here, readers. January and the first few weeks of spring semester are upon us. As I planned my syllabus, recent pivotal events got me thinking about communities and what we mean when we say we're part of one. I wanted to share with you this week an emerging idea about community learning with which my student-scholars and I experimented and provide you with opportunities to create your own sense of class community right in your syllabus as a contracted statement.


Context for Assignment
The best time to work through a community statement is usually after the first week of drop-add, when students have settled into class and enrollment numbers have been relatively balanced. My notion is that students have also become acquainted with each other and me, while they also have glimpsed a bit of my teaching style. This is a good time to introduce community-learning precepts.


This writing assignment is an in-class, crowd-sourced opportunity that can serve as a framework for class discussions and a baseline for creating common ground among different student groups.

Measurable Learning Objectives for the Assignment

  • Synthesize peers' writing styles into a communal product
  • Apply impromptu peer feedback as recursive writing process
  • Create a crowd-sourced public document

Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in dialogic, digital writing assignments. Below, I have listed a few foundational texts. You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.

  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 6, “Working with Others”; Ch. 28, “Language that Builds Common Ground”; Ch. 4, “Reviewing, Revising, Editing, and Reflecting”
  • The Everyday Writer: Ch. 27, “Language that Builds Common Ground”; Ch. 7, “Reviewing, Revising, and Editing”
  • Writing in Action: Ch. 18, “Language that Builds Common Ground”; Ch. 5, “Exploring, Planning, and Drafting”
  • EasyWriter: Ch. 1i, “Collaborating”; Ch. 18, “Language that Builds Common Ground”; Ch. 4, “Reviewing, Revising, and Editing”

In-Class Work

You will need a few supplies for this assignment. Bring a selection of sticky notes to class. After students have arrived, begin the class session by providing a definition of community writing/learning and why collaboration is important for writers across disciplines and professions. I use Andrea's Principles to emphasize that writing itself is inherently collaborative, whether we think of it in terms of digital or face-to-face interactions with various audiences and co-authors or as a kairotic moment to bring people together. After you have completed this activity once or twice, you will have a starting point for future iterations of your community statement.

After students have worked through an understanding of both the base meaning and the value of community writing, pass out the sticky notes, giving each student one or more. Ask students to generate a word or simple phrase that exemplifies their personal understanding of what community writing will denote in your class, then place their sticky notes on the wall -- no particular order necessary.

221250_pastedImage_10.pngNext, invite students to offer reasons for their word choice. Encourage them to discuss what communities they are or have been part of and why collaboration is key in both academic and professional environments. The University of Connecticut Writing Center offers some good collaborative writing tips that may help you here. As an extension, you may also arrange words in topical order, before you start typing up your community writing statement in your chosen format. I have had equal success with handwritten (use document camera) and electronic versions. I have also asked students to volunteer to lead the group composing with limited success.

After you work through this assignment a couple of times, you will have a relevant and rhetorical document that you can include in your syllabus and use as an icebreaker as well. This assignment lends itself to digital, democratic writing and unique contributions across types of classes because students choose their methods of composition, reflect on their process, and have the opportunity to present their work to their peers and publics.


Community Contract Example

Below is an example that came from my past two semesters of course communities and large group processing of this crowd-sourced, in-class writing opportunity. We decided to phrase our statement as more of a "you-driven" manifesto. What comes out of your experiences might be similar or completely different. Please try out this assignment and leave comments to let us know how your experience went!


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Jeanne Bohannon is an Assistant Professor of English in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth though authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies and critical engagement pedagogies; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at: and


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.