Laura Hardin Marshall (referred by Paul Lynch and Nathaniel Rivers) is the Writing Support Coordinator at Webster University and a PhD candidate in rhetoric and composition at Saint Louis University, specializing in Rhetoric and Composition. Her research focuses on the response practices of writing instructors and consultants, examining what feedback we offer to students, how we offer it, and what students then do with that feedback as they work through their revisions and future assignments. She has taught courses on basic writing and college preparation, introductory and advanced composition, and writing consulting and has published articles on writing program and writing center administration.
What do you think is the most important recent development or pedagogical approach in teaching composition?
The overall move toward more diverse and inclusive conceptions of composition, language, rhetoric, and communication have made an enormous impact on teaching and learning—or it has the potential to do so when more instructors, administrators, and universities embrace it. Similarly, many composition instructors have re-envisioned the five-paragraph essay and more traditional thesis-driven composition. By moving away from more formulaic and/or academically traditional types of writing (which often put US- and white-centric conventions on a pedestal), we can help students conceive of writing in more diverse ways that meet their linguistic and rhetorical needs. It feels as though so much of composition instruction still centers certain “right” or “standard” ways of thinking and doing that only actually fit very specific and rigid situations, and we do students a disservice by limiting the scope of what they can do! As writing instructors we can do a much better job at being transparent about identifying and knowing how to work with (or against) the contexts and conditions at play when we choose what and how to write. By understanding context and timing, situation and audience, we can better know how diverse and versatile (and enjoyable!) writing can be.
What is the most important skill you aim to provide your students?
I like to emphasize rhetorical situations and kairos (having a sense of timing that is appropriate, intentional, and suitable for the given situation). When we write, there is so much more to it than developing and supporting a thesis, but students are often stuck in a very narrow mind frame. So many students seem to approach writing by thinking of it only as a thesis-driven, five-paragraph essay that’s been drilled into them year after year, and that style of writing is so often (sadly) devoid of creativity and context, often with an audience of one. They’re taught a form of writing that never sees the light of day. When we can point to other assignments and writing contexts that call for diverse ways of communicating, students can better see what composition is (or should be) truly about. They have to be able to see who they’re writing about or to (and the potential diversity of their audiences), in what locales and modes, at what time of day or year. I believe that when students can identify the wide variety of elements at play, they have a better understanding of the possibilities and choices that go into making composition work.
What is it like to work with the editorial team at Bedford/St. Martin's?
The Bedford/St. Martin’s editorial team was such a delight to work with! I initially thought most of the events would be focused around “selling” us on certain textbooks and/or instructional tools, which we would then be encouraged to adopt in our classes or programs. That couldn’t have been further from the truth! The editorial team was so clearly invested in learning what composition teachers and scholars want and need in the classroom. They cared about hearing about our experiences: what has worked, what hasn’t worked, what have we observed about student engagement, etc. I didn’t realize the care and intentionality that goes into developing educational materials that work for instructors and students, but the team very much demonstrated those qualities. They came through in each of the events they planned. It was such a pedagogically energizing experience!
What do you think instructors don't know about higher ed publishing but should?
I think many instructors—like me before this experience—don’t know how pedagogically informed higher education publishing is. I initially thought that commercial textbooks were developed and written by people who were far removed from actual classrooms and students. If nothing else, I assumed that most of the offerings would have mostly stodgy concepts and practices focused on a “current-traditional” sort of pedagogy, i.e., quite out of touch with current issues and practices. My experience as a Bedford New Scholar made it very clear that higher ed publishing is aware of and wants to tap into pedagogies that are more inclusive and functional for an every-changing student and instructor population. The offerings and the technological tools they develop are much more progressively student- and instructor-centered than many might imagine. And they’re so friendly and willing to be hands-on! I was surprised by how many resources were available to help instructors maximize how we teach and support students.
Laura’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 Laura’s assignment. For the full activity, see Double-Entry Research Log.
The double-entry research log serves to orient students to the wide range of tasks involved in academic research. The accompanying citation exercise helps illustrate that citation conventions—though seemingly arbitrary—have purpose and meaning for academic readers. (It also promotes regular and early citation.) It also gets students into the habit of thinking about and responding to the research they find. Students in the early stages of researched writing often think about quotes as evidence they can lob at readers without any follow up; they pass the “ball,” and then it’s up to the reader to run with it. With the double-entry log, though, students know they’re supposed to stop and think about the idea they’ve chosen, and we’ll talk throughout the semester about how they’ll do the same when they incorporate the quotes into formal writing. The screenshots help me as an instructor assist students in quoting and citing correctly; they’ll be used later when we discuss paraphrasing, too. Lastly, summaries help students understand the piece and practice conveying authors’ claims clearly, but it’s also a useful reminder of what each source is about, which can often become fuzzy the deeper into the research process we go.