Brittny M. Byrom (recommended by Michael Harker) is a PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition and serves as the Associate Director of Technology and Finance of the Georgia State University Writing Studio. Her primary research focuses on the intersection of theories of rhetorical empathy and beauty and justice. Her work in writing center research concentrates on developing balanced practices between tutor emotional labor and collaborative learning environments. Brittny began teaching in 2017 and began working in writing centers in 2015.
What is the most important skill you aim to provide your students?
The most important skills I aim to provide students are self-reflection and critical analysis. I design my course with ideas of Rhetorical Empathy (Lisa Blankenship &Eric Leake) and justice (Elaine Scarry). My primary goal is to provide diverse materials and design engaging activities that help students communicate their reactions to content while making space for fellow students to communicate their own reactions. Understanding why we react in certain ways to certain material and discussing how we each respond to similar material differently demonstrates how to read and interpret texts from distinct perspectives and lenses. I believe such reflexive practices prepare students for productive critical analysis discussions. By knowing how we reached a conclusion and discussing different perspectives, students can more thoroughly and thoughtfully explain their arguments and the rationale backing up their stance.
The most common issue I have found students struggling with is figuring out what they want to say about a topic. They come with some facts and details; however, they struggle to say anything about the mound of evidence provided. I hope that by helping students develop self-reflection skills they can figure out what they want to say and why they want to say it.
How do you ensure your course is inclusive, equitable, and culturally responsive?
Georgia State University serves a diverse population who come from a wide range of backgrounds. In order to engage students and create an inclusive classroom, I intentionally diversify the course’s reading list so it includes content creators of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender and gender identities, sexual orientations, religious backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, and persons with disabilities. By having course materials representing different identities and backgrounds, students can—hopefully—find someone with whom they identify and someone they have never before encountered. Routinely adjusting the reading list and mindfully making space for diverse creators demonstrates the thoughtful practices and skills I want my students to develop.
Given that my students are from diverse backgrounds—often folks from minority groups and systemically disenfranchised backgrounds—I acquainted myself with my university’s abundant student resources. I provide students with a list of additional resources in the syllabus and through our online learning system with up-to-date information, and we spend a day reviewing those resources. I practice the adage, “you cannot write when you have a leaky roof.” Life happens; hopefully, we can provide access to resources that support students’ needs.
What is it like to be a part of the Bedford New Scholars program?
I have enjoyed being a part of the Bedford New Scholars program! As a fifth-year PhD student, I encourage incoming graduate students to create community among each other in our department; however, the longer I’m in my program the more I recognize the importance of meeting scholars outside of my university as well as meeting the publishers who work in our fields. While this recognition is obvious to seasoned academics—especially since these meetings are common activities occurring at academic conferences—many current graduate students have not had the opportunity to participate due to pandemic concerns. The connections we make as junior scholars are crucial for graduates completing their programs and heading into the job market.
Thankfully, the BNS program provides such opportunities while accommodating travel concerns. This program has provided me the opportunity to meet with fellow scholars who are as excited about teaching, join workshops with leading scholars in my field, and learn about the publishing process. Additionally, the BNS program afforded me opportunities to work on projects that align with my academic and teaching interests.
What have you learned from other Bedford New Scholars?
During the “Assignments that Work” presentations, I learned creative ways to teach students common concepts. For example, Laura Hardin Marshall presented how she teaches MLA formatting using a menu. She designed two menus—one using typical menu formatting and one with that formatting removed—to demonstrate to her students the importance of formatting! It is easier to teach the importance and use of formatting by having students read through and respond to a common item that has a lot of detailed formatting that has had that formatting removed. Creative visuals such as Laura’s example are valuable teaching tools that aid students see the importance of the concepts that we instructors try to teach. Talking students through each step of MLA formatting is not as eye catching as a menu with no formatting. It is those interesting and visually jarring pieces that can lead to productive conversations about the day-to-day concepts students need to learn.
Brittny’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 Brittny’s assignment. For the full activity, see Photo Essay.
I presented my “What is Beauty: A Photo Essay” assignment during the Assignments that Work workshop. The assignment requires students to identify something they consider beautiful—I typically theme my courses, and this particular class was themed on beauty—and they take photos of that person/place/thing. The main requirements are that students must take the photo themselves (screenshots do not count) and organize their photos and caption-style paragraphs in a narrative form. This assignment establishes the topic students will research for the rest of the semester, so clarity is essential. The goals of this assignment are to (1) get students thinking creatively about their research topics, (2) get students reflecting on what emotionally moves them and why, and (3) get students utilizing, often overlooked, campus resources such as borrowing camera equipment. I developed this assignment because I was tired of grading essays about perfunctory and, frankly, boring topics. In order to complete the photo essay assignment well, students are pushed to be creative and thoughtful about their noun that represents beauty since they will be researching that topic for the remainder of the course. My students enjoy the challenge!
Find Brittny on Twitter and Instagram @brittnybyrom.