Rhetoric, Rhetorical Sensitivity, and Teaching for Transfer

By Lisa Ede

I want to say how pleased I am to be here with you today, and I have to say that from my perspective you have a huge amount to celebrate.

— Not that you didn’t before.

— Your writing program has always been unusually strong, as evidenced by the program’s recognition with a CCCC Writing Program Certificate of Excellence, the highest form of recognition that CCCC offers.

But as you know better than I do, in the past few years you’ve negotiated the rocky bureaucratic shoals of academic restructuring. Fortunately, the movement of the writing program out of the English department into its own freestanding Department of Writing Studies was something that you wanted to do. And now here you are with your own departmental identity, a new chair, a lively and responsive curriculum, and strong faculty development opportunities. In preparing for this workshop today, I read a number of articles in your blog “Deep Down in the Classroom,” and I was impressed.

So kudos to all of you! And I want to be sure to tell you that I, the other coauthors of Everyone’s An Author, and Marilyn (whose vision for EAA sustained and inspired us) are honored that you chose to include our textbook as a primary text for your course. Thank you for including EAA in your curriculum.

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I Let My Students Grade Me!

By Jennifer Daly


My first semester teaching was an incredible learning experience, as every semester is. It was also the first semester we required the multimodal project as the final project. Having taken Digital Rhetoric as a grad student, I felt super prepared and excited for the students to experience composing an argument in this way. I felt comfortable with this type of composition—but it was only after the whole uncomfortable process of stepping outside the comfort of alphabetic text in Digital Rhetoric. Because many of the students seemed extremely uncomfortable with the assignment, I decided that, in true democratic fashion, we would take a vote. Would they like me to work alongside them? I would even allow them to grade me! So, the tables had turned…

After they almost unanimously voted yes, I had to set up parameters. I would offer extra credit in the form of 2 points added to the final project of their choice if they followed the instructions presented for each of my drafts and graded each one (totaling 3 graded assignments in all). The assignment is as follows:

“I will work alongside you throughout the entire project’s process. Your due dates are my due dates. I will post my project in the discussion board, and you must grade it before the next draft is due. You must include the following criteria:

  • 1 piece of positive criticism: what is working and why? 2 sentences minimum.
  • 1 piece of constructive criticism: where do I need to clarify or what do I need to work on? 2 sentences minimum.
  • Give me a grade: utilize the grading rubric we created together and grade my project. 1 sentence minimum explanation.

If you grade each draft in time, totaling 3 grades, email me with the project you want your extra points added to by the due date of the final portfolio.” Continue reading

Let’s Revisit This Plagiarism Thing…

*Student names and identities have been thoroughly changed*

I know what you’re thinking: Another post about plagiarism. We get it. We’re using Turnitin. Let’s move on already.

But here’s the thing. I’ve been teaching in academia for over ten years and last semester, I had a case unlike any I had ever seen before. Without getting into too much detail, I will say that it was blatant and that the student had many creative excuses and spent a good amount of time fighting my decision. The story itself could be its own blog post, a cautionary tale about what happens when you choose to spend your time trying to get out of a situation caused by you not managing your time intelligently in the first place, but I digress…

The reason I really want to talk about this is because I didn’t “officially” report this student to the conduct office the first time. I did what, I think, many of us do: sat down with the student, instructed him on the correct way to cite the source, gave him the benefit of the doubt and required a rewrite of the assignment in question. In my mind, I had emailed him regarding all of this and I had proof of the match, so I figured that doing this was enough and if something came up later, I had what I needed.

I didn’t report him officially because I didn’t want him to get in trouble with someone outside of our class. I work hard to make sure my students know that our writing classroom, be it physical or virtual, is a safe space, a place where they can be free to make mistakes and learn from them. In a sense, I was afraid for him, felt protective of him. But I should have reported him.

Why? Well, if we report a student for something like this, unless we recommend it, the punishment for a first offense will be pretty similar to what we would do on our own, actually identical. The only difference is that someone in the conduct office sits down with the student as well and I have to think that doing so must be really effective in essentially scaring the student into not doing it again.

But I still find myself reluctant. I want to use these moments as teaching moments, but the student in question later showed himself to lack any motivation for improvement or movement toward an understanding of what he did wrong. The ethics of the situation were lost on him. He was more worried about getting out of it than she was about comprehension of the “crime” and possibly learning from it. If I had reported him the first time, perhaps he would have been more likely to understand the seriousness of the situation, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to betray him.

This loyalty is possibly misplaced, but I like to have this connection to my students. It’s just that even now, I recently discovered that a student copied small sections from a website into an early assignment. I am going to give her a chance to revise with citations and hope that she just didn’t know she had to formally cite a source in an early assignment. But do I report it? What would you do?

Involving Students in Syllabus, Reading, Assignment, and Lesson Plan Creation

By Shiladitya Sen

Over the last few years, I have been experimenting with involving students in the decisions that I make about various elements of my courses. It was, for me, a natural progression from the fact that my class discussions are always heavily mediated by the ideas and interests that students bring to the table. Thus far, my experiences indicate that involving students significantly increases their engagement in the course, conveys the fact that the classroom is a shared space where they have a responsibility to contribute, and makes students much more understanding—and appreciative—of the ways in which the course is designed to cater to their needs while holding them to the required academic standards. Here are a few ways that I have done so, across multiple courses.

My most substantial use of student input in syllabus/reading decisions was in the two World Literature courses that I taught in the English department in the Spring and Fall of 2015. I was certain that I was not going to teach any texts written in the USA or the UK, and that all our readings would be non-English texts, but beyond that I had a gigantic list of possibilities. So, I decided to get the students involved in the decision. After initial introductions and having explained the parameters for the course, I gave students a list of texts broken into six groups (e.g. The Ancient/Classical World; Medieval Europe; Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century). I then had them each pick one text from each group, write the list on a sheet of paper, and give it to me. To facilitate the decisions, I shared a little about the texts and had them look up information online before choosing. Once I had their choices, I simply chose the six texts that got the most votes, added a seventh to round out the list, and we had our readings for the semester.

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Teaching Revision with Manuscripts

By Jennifer Daly

Synthesis of an Idea:

During this summer’s National Endowment for the Humanities two-week seminar “Transcendentalism and Reform in the Age of Emerson, Thoreau, and Fuller” we would get together for discussion forums on everything from our own writing to pedagogical practices to activism inside and outside the classroom. One evening, a professor had mentioned the Digital Thoreau Project as a way to show the students the synthesis of Walden and to track the very deliberate changes Henry David Thoreau made in each of the manuscripts.  After much thinking, I had the thought that this could be done with almost any writer—as long as there was a manuscript. I decided that I would utilize manuscripts to open a conversation about process and revision with First Year Writing students this year and see if it was accessible to them.  There was a chance that they a) wouldn’t care, or b) it would fly over their head never to be seen or heard again.  I was hoping for many things—none of which involved calling the lesson plans a total loss.

A huge part of the revision process is being able to disagree with yourself, and I think this is something the students grapple with the most. I know I did when I was a student, and I still do today. Just recently I was reviewing an essay I had written a few years back to prepare applications for PhD programs, and as I reread the essay and worked on some revisions, I realized that I did not agree with myself at all. Cue existential crisis—do I even know myself?! This is a story I have told all of my classes this semester. It is important for them to know that it is ok if they reflect on their work and find that they don’t agree with it.  That means they are growing and learning: the two most important results of their educational career.  I had difficulty with this, and I tell them about how I reached out to my own mentors in a state of panic (thank you, Caroline Dadas and Tatum Petrich!). I like to think they find it amusing while also absorbing the notion that it’s ok if they don’t agree with their former selves.

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Using “they” as a singular pronoun

Earlier this year, the AP Stylebook announced (see the article below) that they (see what I did there?) were allowing the use of “they” as a singular pronoun.


What little discussion of the subject I have encountered among friends and other academics, in person and on social media, indicates that Colleen Newvine, product manager for the Stylebook, was accurate in stating that “Some people will be furious; others won’t think we’ve gone far enough.”

Personally, in my classes, I allow students to use “they” as a singular pronoun, for the same reasons as the AP Stylebook (“recognition that the spoken language uses they as singular and we also recognize the need for a pronoun for people who don’t identify as a he or a she”). I have long thought that the absence of a non-gendered singular pronoun in English besides “it” is a significant weakness in the language, and “they” is enough of a workaround for me—and, experience indicates, for my students.

I have a few requirements for students who use “they” in this manner. Clarity (something that AP too emphasizes in their explanation of how “they” can/should be used) is of high importance to me, as is consistency, so I require students to provide both when using “they” as singular. As part of the above, students are expected to make it clear via the context that “they” refers to an individual. Of course, I ask students to seek for clarity and consistency whenever they use language, so I have to do nothing new in this regard.

I have many reasons for being comfortable with this shift. Since I engage regularly (and ask students to do so) with the issue of how language asserts and creates/supports power, often serving to disenfranchise those who fall outside the supposed bounds of social acceptability, I want the English language to be more inclusive and egalitarian. As a multilingual speaker of languages (Bengali and Hindi) which actually include non-gendered singular pronouns, I’ve long considered, as I noted previously, its absence in English a flaw. And as someone who studies (and enjoys) the way language changes and morphs over time, accepting such change is hardly a difficulty. When I teach Shakespeare, I explain to students that, contrary to their expectations, “you” is the formal term and “thou” the informal term in the plays, since that was the customary usage of the time. As my students and I discussed this week in class, any language is an almost completely arbitrary sign system. If one is consistent enough with it to be clear, that’s good enough for me. Experience too shows that allowing the use of “they” as singular does not hurt clarity of communication in my classrooms at all.

What about you?

The Political Classroom

As a follow-up to our roundtable from March on dealing with politics in the classroom, here’s some additional material, provided by Mike Laser.

Mike suggested the book The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education (by Diana E. Hess & Paua McAvoy; Routledge, 2014) as a good source for those interested in this subject. He also kindly collected these notes on the book and what it says:

[An observation: the book refers to classes in which discussion of political issues is a central part of teaching. These are mainly high school history/government classes. Freshman comp classes can adapt these ideas—but, for the teachers portrayed in the book, training students to deliberate together on these issues is the primary goal.] Continue reading