Sowing Seeds for Spring

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Here in Indiana, scarlet and bronze are glazing the treetops, and I’m finding some pedagogical rhythm in this unusual semester. I miss whole-body teaching. I’m a pacer and gesticulator, and I relish the tactile clack and sweep of chalk on a chalkboard. 

I have, however, discovered quieter delights in teaching by Zoom. This semester, I encourage generous use of the applause and thumbs up “reactions” and smile at the visual waves of support that students offer one another when they work through a difficult idea or read a challenging passage aloud. Like L. Corinne Jones, I am inspired by the community spirit of the incoming class of students, who seem to grasp as fully as I do that being unable to read one another’s non-verbal cues means the quality of our conversation really matters.


Zoom’s “chat” function is useful for fostering those rich conversations. It offers a safe space for quieter students to share questions and ideas. A class discussion can be jump-started by asking each student to post in the chat space a key quotation from a text, or a discussion question, or the working thesis of their current drafts. Students can then call on one another to say more about one another’s ideas. When the class is engaged in a dynamic conversation, I often tell them I’ll be taking notes on their ideas in the chat space, giving them the opportunity to develop moderating (and self-moderating) skills. Sometimes, I ask students to take turns as class note-takers in the chat space, and they can learn in a new way why precision matters when quoting another person’s ideas. After every class, I share out that chat transcript, modeling for students how to take notes in a discussion course. This is also a way for all students to be democratically “seen” and heard, which doesn’t always happen in an in-person classroom.

The nuances of these conversations make me all the more excited to invite students to discuss the new readings in the 5th edition of From Inquiry to Academic Writing, ready for Spring 2021 courses. Stuart Greene and I gathered readings designed to inspire rich discussions about urgent issues. As I write this on the morning after the first “presidential” “debate” (I feel the need to place both words in scare quotes), I regret asking my students to spend 9o minutes witnessing rhetorical failures on so many levels. In marked contrast, our 5th edition introduces students to writers who model engaged listening and empathy, such as Andrew J. Hoffman, who demonstrates how to talk about climate change with people who don't yet understand the science. Also timely are selections from Nikole Hannah-Jones, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Ibram X Kendi, and Robin DiAngelo, among many other writers sparking complex and nuanced national conversations right now.

Just as I relish autumn’s kaleidoscope foliage while preparing my garden beds for springtime growth, I draw comfort from my students’ kind conversations now, while anticipating the richness of their thoughts on new readings. Planting those hopeful seeds is one of my favorite aspects of teaching. As a very worried citizen, it is also helping me to keep moving forward.

About the Author
April Lidinsky (PhD, Literatures in English, Rutgers) is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Indiana University South Bend. She has published and delivered numerous conference papers on writing pedagogy, women's autobiography, and creative nonfiction, and has contributed to several textbooks on writing. She has served as acting director of the University Writing Program at Notre Dame and has won several awards for her teaching and research including the 2015 Indiana University South Bend Distinguished Teaching Award, the 2017 Indiana University South Bend Eldon F. Lundquist Award for excellence in teaching and scholarly achievement, and the All-Indiana University 2017 Frederic Bachman Lieber Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence.