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Multimodal Mondays: No Fear Gramm(r) and Students' Top 5 Lists for Rhetorical Growth

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Bohannon_Pic-150x150.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law Bohannon (see end of post for bio).

Where did summer go? As I write this first post of a new academic year, I am looking forward to trying out some digital, public scholarship with my students and also reflecting on a first week icebreaker, in which my upper-division writing majors participate. In my classes we call it “No Fear Gramm(r),” deciding to intentionally misspell/(re)spell the word in order to indicate the no fear aspect of the label.

Context
No Fear Gramm(r) is a low-stakes opportunity to use traditional diagnostic tools to create dialogic growth and community.  In a class of eight professional writing majors, students not only take the diagnostic, but they share their top five grammar issues with each other in a discussion forum, responding to coursemates and finding commonalities among everyone’s usage mistakes.

Assignment
Students take a Grammar Diagnostic from Writer's Help 2.0 for Lunsford Handbooks. I don’t assign points to this assignment, but I talk with students on the first and second days of class about how we will use the results as departure points for the entire semester to grow specific qualities of our grammar usage. Although I don’t use the Gradebook option, Writer's Help does have one, so you can assign and grade the Diagnostic as well as the accompanying grammar exercises.

Learning Objectives

  • Examine results of a grammar diagnostic for areas of improvement
  • Compare diagnostic results to others’ in an open discussion forum
  • Synthesize content-meaning through dialogic writing and shared semantics

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.

Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation
My students and I run this writing assignment during the first week of the semester as a low-stakes icebreaker and departure point for semester-long evaluation. To prepare, I embed the Writer's Help link in our class LMS as a Newsfeed item; I also email students before the first day of class with the same link and an explanation of what we are going to do.

In Class and/or Out

Students begin by joining our Writer's Help course and then take the Diagnostic I have assigned.  You can either have students complete the diagnostic in-class if you teach in a writing lab or have students complete the assignment on their own.  I have tried both and have found better results when students work on this assignment outside of class.  Since this assignment is low-stakes, I really only care about their authentic participation, however I can get it. After students receive their results (immediate), they write up their top five grammar issues and post them, along with a reflection, in our online discussion forum. Then, they interact with classmates in the forum, seeking out connections and discussing why these issues exist. We re/group in our face-to-face class the next week and examine interesting conclusions together.

Anecdotal Results

This semester I have eight students, two are non-native speakers, and the results showed many commonalities.  The Top Five below represents elements of grammar reported by all students, in order of descending occurrence.

1. Pronouns

2. Parallelism

3. Semicolons/apostrophes

4. Specific uses of Punctuation

5. Sentence Structure/verbs

Students will keep their Top Fives at-hand as they work through informal and formal writing opportunities during the semester.

Reflections on the Activity – Students

My Reflection
For me, low-stakes writing means “no worry” opportunities, where students write openly, without fear of grading or making mistakes. This assignment is multimodal because students use real-time tech to see a snapshot of their grammar issues and then participate in digital forums to connect with other students about the same issues. “No Fear Gramm(r)” counts for me, in terms of multimodal composition, because it encourages students to reflect on their own writing practices and become active participants in community-driven, digital conversations about writing. Try the assignment and let me know what you think.

Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) department 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, critical pedagogies, and New Media theory; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at: jeanne_bohannon@kennesaw.edu and www.rhetoricmatters.org

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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.