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Rachel Marks helps students “gain a deeper understanding of how writing works in the world"

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Rachel Marks_BNS_Headshot.jpegRachel Marks (recommended by Angela Rounsaville) is pursuing her PhD in Texts and Technology with an emphasis in Digital Humanities at the University of Central Florida, where she expects to defend her dissertation “On your Left!”: Exploring Queerness, Masculinity, and Race in the Marvel “Captain America” Fandom in May 2024. She currently teaches the first-year writing course Composition II: Situated Inquiry of Writing and Rhetoric and has taught Composition I: Introduction to Writing Studies in the past. She has also served as a consultant at the University Writing Center and as a student editor on Stylus: A Journal of First-Year Writing. Her research focuses on LGBT representation in popular media, fan interaction and critique on social media platforms, and how fans respond to representations of queer characters in the media.

How do you engage students in your course, whether f2f, online, or hybrid? 

I normally teach face-to-face classes, and I like to balance the time I’m lecturing with hands-on activities, particularly activities that get students thinking about their semester-long research projects. These activities include quick-writes or brainstorming activities, where students spend 5-10 minutes writing about their thoughts on a reading or on an upcoming paper. I also have group activities, where students can collaborate in order to apply something we’re learning in class to a real-world situation. One example is my rhetorical situation activity, where students evaluate the rhetorical situation in a video discussing the creation of Pandora at Disney World. While I do spend some time in each class lecturing, I try to hold student attention with visuals like slides, example papers, and videos relating to that day's topic. On days when we’re preparing for a major paper to be due, we have peer review sessions as well as workshops where students can receive feedback from their peers, discuss their papers, implement feedback, and ask questions. I also hold “one-on-one” conferences each semester, where in lieu of class, every student individually can bring in their work and discuss their research projects with me, getting feedback on their writing in real time. 

What is the most important skill you aim to provide your students? 

I want my students to gain a deeper understanding of how writing works in the world, as well as gain writing and research skills that they can take into their majors and career. I first want my students to realize that there is writing all around them, in everything they do, whether that’s posting on social media, applying for a job, or taking notes for classes. Then, for their research projects, they choose a community that they're involved in and study how writing and communication helps that community to function and meet its goals. I then have them take the research they collect from both their communities and our library database to create a research article in the style of an academic journal. This gives them awareness of both common academic genres and scholarly research, as well as everyday writing that occurs in their communities. Many of the students going through the composition program, particularly at my university, are in the sciences or in engineering and don’t particularly “like writing.” I want them to realize that writing is an important skill to have, both in and outside of the classroom, even if you aren’t in the humanities disciplines. 

What is it like to be a part of the Bedford New Scholars program?

This program is a unique opportunity to be able to hear from scholars and professionals in the composition and higher education fields that are outside of my university. So far, I’ve really enjoyed being able to collaborate with other composition instructors and share teaching ideas, work with the editorial team to learn more about instructional materials, and hear from composition pedagogy experts. Our Bedford New Scholars summit allowed us an open environment to talk about new teaching ideas and learn about interesting course materials, both textbooks and digital tools. I’ve been surprised at how much I have in common with other composition instructors in both the challenges associated with teaching as well as the rewards.  However, I’ve also appreciated how many different approaches to engaging students I’ve been exposed to that I wouldn’t have been otherwise. 

How will the Bedford New Scholars program affect your professional development or your classroom practice?

The Bedford New Scholars program has given me a greater appreciation for higher education publishing and the possibilities for interactive materials that can be incorporated into my courses. I plan to take better advantage of the variety of rhetoric and composition textbooks Bedford offers, as well as supplemental materials like classroom activities, assignment ideas, and multimodal texts like videos. This program has also encouraged me to think “outside the box” when it comes to my teaching and lesson planning. I have seen the kinds of assignments, lessons, and conversations with students that are possible and am excited to incorporate new ideas and approaches to my practice. The “Assignments that Work” workshop encouraged me to share my own assignment ideas with others to get feedback and also provided me with an archive of assignment ideas that I can potentially adapt for my own course in the future. 

Rachel’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 Rachel’s assignment. For the full activity, see Peer Review Worksheet.

My assignment that works is a worksheet used for in-class peer review sessions. For this, students bring in their rough drafts, swap papers with a partner, and give each other feedback while they are together and can collaborate. However, when I first did peer review in class, there wasn't enough structure—students didn’t know how to respond to their peer’s papers, so they would either comment on sentence-level errors or make generic comments like “good job” or “interesting topic.” They now complete a peer review worksheet which is based on the rubric for their major papers. For each section of the rubric, students say whether their peers completed that component, what they did well, and what they can improve upon or clarify. At the end, they give summative end comments with overall impressions of the paper and questions for their peers. This not only helps students focus on the goals of the assignment and the most pertinent parts of the paper when giving feedback, but also helps them review the requirements of the assignment for themselves. Lastly, since I base my feedback on the rubric, this peer review worksheet helps students give their peers feedback in a similar way. 

Find Rachel on Twitter @RachelKatMarks.

About the Author
This is the shared account for the Bedford New Scholars TA Advisory Board.