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Media Literacy Institute

Starting on Monday I’ll teach a one-week intense Media Literacy Institute. Our focus this year – especially relevant to the contemporary political climate – is Digital Citizenship.

This year’s focus was inspired by my freshmen composition students. Several times, in several different semesters, in several different sections, students mentioned not feeling like adults, not feeling like contributing members of society, not feeling like citizens. While they take full advantage of the rights of 18yos (and older) with tattoos, piercings, and cigarettes – the lack of connection to their power as citizens bothers me. So I decided to begin investigating the connection to digital life, and extend that to the media literacy institute.

Most importantly, students need to feel connected to their devices and have that connection validated long before they can access voting booths. Off handed comments like “social media is ruining everything” does far more damage than most people think. Instead, mentioning the benefits of social media use, the power of social media use when deployed in meaningful, thoughtful ways should be discussed with teenagers, daily.

So, I’ve done this rant before right – what’s different in this post.

Well, games. My focus, my specialty at the institute is videogames, games, and play. Similar to the digital citizenship call for regular (daily!!!) positive reinforcement, I’ve spent this past week developing the ‘game’ we play through Twitter to support learning, reflection, self-assessment, mindfulness, and playfulness so student-educators develop an awareness of gameful mindset.

Today I’m struggling with why I even call this a game. Technically……it’s a worksheet.

I attended a digital workshop on learning assessment techniques and ways of supporting active engagement in the classroom recently. This was the first time I’d seem worksheets used for active learning, in meaningful ways. So while i’m saying worksheet – I really mean this active learning approach to worksheets where students take notes – and the worksheet is structured around the events of the days – and students post comments and reply to peers through Twitter. The active engagement with course content through twitter posts is designed to support a positive experience with social media, to build a learning community in Twitter (it’s an amazing place for educators).

So I took a break from designing this game and graded my other summer classes Tweet of the Week assignment where they similarly play a Twitter based game. For the first time in my #drpgame history, half the class is playing the game. Most students cite ‘extra credit’ as the reason for playing. But honestly, and sorry to students in that class reading this – is 3 points really going to make a big difference? Maybe, but most likely not. BUT, I really do think the anticipation of the reward, the gameful understanding of rewards for play are making the minimal 3 points worth it. This tells me a lot about what my junior level students bring to the game i’ve designed.

As I returned to my grad class game design I began wondering how I could guess what these students would bring with gameful understanding to games – in a course that is a part of a series of Institutes designed for educator PD credits. In other words, in what ways will the Institute design for educator PD credits influence how student-educators approach the course – which will influence how they approach the idea of game. What version of gameful mindset will they bring?

Are games extra credit – or rewards for student behavior? In which case – the game is supposed to serve as the reward. How does this influence ‘game’?

Are games horrible things that students play on their own time? This will really influence what student-educators understand ‘game’ to be. If they default to games = Grand Theft Auto and all the violence/misogyny/etc. ‘game’ will be understood negatively, as having no place in the classroom (random side note: I have played GTA for a class demo before, I’ve also played FarmVille)

Are games spaces of learning? At the end of the day I want students to say yes to this – but I want them to also recognize they need to support learners with recognizing their own learning in these spaces.

This is what brings me full circle to my freshmen again. My freshmen composition students don’t see their own power, they don’t recognize their own adulthood and the ‘rights and responsibilities’ awarded with their 18th birthday. Contemporary society regularly critiques social media an videogames as the root cause of all evil. If we (educators – yes i’m calling on all educators) to approach these ideas in a positive light – including games in the curriculum, as the curriculum, in support of learning will only support a student so far. Students need the awareness of learning supported and reinforced, they need help recognizing their own learning and awareness or the empowerment, the responsible use, will never happen. They won’t recognize their position as civic participants in those spaces because they’ve associated the contemporary negativity with social media/videogames outside Professor P’s class [insert teacher name here].

My exploration of what is a game reminded me of how much I need to reinforce for educators, the need to positively approach the media, and help the student be aware of when they positively approach and when they negatively approach so they understand their own position – so they begin to develop as a digital citizen.

So thank you Media Literacy Institute – whose was influenced by students – for reminding me of what I need to help teach students, every day.


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Annotating Texts

Spring 2018 I used more digital texts and OERs than I’ve used in previous semesters. Fall 2018 I am not requiring a textbook for my composition courses (just the One Book All American Boys which can be checked out from the library). What I usually see associated with discussions of Open Educational Resources is Open Pedagogy.

At the heart of Open Pedagogy is discussing the ways OERs shift the practice of education, the ways we approach classrooms. As a member of an English department, I see articles circulated by literature faculty about how little students read literature when they read the text digitally. While I appreciate their concern for student reading of texts, the studies they circulate don’t compare how well students remember and engage literature when they read from a traditional book. This is where Open Pedagogy discussions should be so important to education – how do we support students reading texts? Not just digital texts, but traditional texts as well.

There is a lot to be said about Open Pedagogy, what I want to consider right now is the One Book All American Boys. In my summer Web Writing and Content Management course several students are using the audio book to complete their reading this summer. Now that they are working through web-based book review content writing, I’m wondering if I should have done more scaffolding (this being the open pedagogy connection).

While children have books read to them, hearing books becomes less common as students progress through grade levels. While I don’t doubt my students will craft interesting assignments based on the reading they’ve completed – it’s the ‘non-traditional’ mode of the book that raised the connection to Open Pedagogy for me.

To help students as they read, I asked them to tweet images of ‘reading’ to open twitter discussions of what it means to read, and how we read in various ways. The students using the audio book struggled with this assignment a bit more. While I could discuss at length the ways we’ve taught students to complete assignments ‘the right way’ what was more important for me was how few of the students using the audio book chose to complete these tweets – making up the twitter writing with different tweets instead.

I see this as a failure in my pedagogy, in the assignment. I didn’t provide enough room in ‘reading’ to accommodate the different modes students accessed the book. I defaulted to the typical teacher ‘students will purchase the book and read’ mindset – then designed my assignment scaffolding accordingly.

As I begin to grade the assignment submissions I want to also begin to shift how I practice education so students accessing the book in different formats find additional ways of engaging with the text and the course twitter discussions.

Returning to the reading studies so often circulated, my students using audio books struggled to represent ‘reading’ because they were listening. But for most educators, the thought process of ‘reading’ is the important element that I want students to recognize and better understand. I want to teach students how to engage with texts for specific purposes in specific contexts, then recognize their own learning so they can engage better across contexts. Students, even good students, don’t arrive at college understanding what to do with assigned reading. While studies tend to blame digital texts, distraction, lack of deep reading for that problem, I want to take the more positive approach. Why not shift our educational practices and teach students how to read for our classes, and help them recognize those practices so they can adapt them to new contexts as necessary for life-long learning.

I want to push for an understanding of Open Pedagogy that isn’t just a focus on reimagining educational practices, but that reimagines educational practices with a focus on transfer by bringing awareness to the content AND practices learned in various areas to support life-long learning.

And since that sounds so easy……GO! 🙂

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Books, Books, Books

I have several in-progress projects right now that i’m reading for, and i’m finding so much interesting cross-over across these ideas. So, I’m making a “what i’m reading now and in the near future” list. I was inspired by a colleague who posted his summer reading list, but some of these are currently halfway read – so Summer Reading List didn’t seem to fit my understanding of my list. So I’ll call it Books, Books, Books – and then add more as the projects change – YAY!!!

  1. A Guide to Documenting Learning by Tolisano and Hale. This is one that I’ve already started, and it is so so so good. Active learning is important, and meaningful, but (and this is a cross-over alert) helping students recognize their learning so they can apply/transfer their understanding of understanding to new situations is SO important. Finding ways of helping students document and notice their learning is hard. This is where (so far) Tolisano and Hale provide really interesting ways of conceptualizing and applying these ideas. Many of the ideas are more K-12 focused, with some college level scattered throughout. But, the baseline ideas are easy to adapt by grade level AND discipline! I’m about halfway through this one, it’s excellent!
  2. Understanding Writing Transfer by Moore et al. This edited collection discusses various aspects of writing transfer. While not all chapters apply to every composition context – the broad range of topics and approaches to supporting learning transfer are so important for contemporary composition instructors. I’m looking forward to new ideas, and theories to support my existing SoTL work.
  3. Agents of Integration by Nowacek. More transfer research!!! Transfer requires a basic understanding, a working model of your own knowledge. Nowacek analyzes and discusses that self-model through rhetorical situation. I’m interested to see how framing and context support transfer and understanding of rhetorical situations.
  4. Create to Learn by Hobbs. Digital making to support digital literacies development – yes please :). I’m interested to see what tools and assignments and ideas Hobbs discusses in this book. I’m a big fan of her work – and this will be read before the Media Literacy Institute so I can help teachers consider assignment design to support critical engagement AND literacies development (i’m sure i’ll throw in tons of metacognition to tie all these theories together too!).
  5. Producing Good Citizens by Wan. I think this will be my book report selection for the Media Literacy Institute (#medialitmu assignment). I want to experience the assignments with the students – and I am really interested in the connections between Freshmen/English Composition and Digital Citizenship. While the connection to citizenship training is not new (this is what i’m hoping to rediscover with Wan), I think the connection to Digital Citizenship can be improved while supporting learning to write with a teaching for transfer model. I’m hoping to also find some connections here that can support early theory development for the International Policy Conference on campus in October.
  6. College Writing and Beyond by Beaufort. This is more transfer background reading. The TFT model my colleague and I have designed (and are testing) includes transfer-focused key concepts, then application of the key concepts through a theme. Beaufort is often cited for her critique of theme-based writing (themes without the TFT) so I am working through some theory development for a paper about our data results.
  7. Algorithms of Oppression by Noble. I have been wanting to read this book since before it was published. I participated in a Faculty Learning Community Fall 2017 on Raising Race Questions. It was so important, and so helpful. It raised a lot of important ideas, and led to a lot of important discussions about race, gender, and class in my freshmen English Composition courses. I’m really excited for further connection to digital tools. This is another that I plan to finish before the Media Literacy Institute to help support idea generation for K-12 teachers :).

So this is my list so far. Lots to read before July.

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What is Writing?

This semester I’m teaching an Advanced Composition course – Web Writing and Content Management. I have all these wonderful, newly published, short articles on why web design, web planning, web implementation, information architecture and user experience design need to work with content creators – the WHOLE time. Fantastic for supporting the goals of Advanced Composition through Web Content Management and strategy, right?

Since it’s week 1 I’m introducing ALL the ideas – what is writing? Key concepts to build foundational knowledge to support future transfer. As I post Active Reading questions to support engaged learning I’m struggling with the non-Composition perspective of writing – learning to write as a skill that will benefit you (learner) forever.

Yes, I completely, 100% agree with that position, BUT I want to know what “learning to write” means. How does one show they can write? If this huge category of web creators need writers, the implication is they need help with writing – so how is successful content measured.

Yes, I study writing so I clearly have all the writing questions – but I’m genuinely curious how this functions in the businesses. I know a few faculty have worked with companies to support writing, and written studies on this, but I’m interested from the teaching perspective. How do I help my students (many are not Writing Studies majors) recognize the need for good writing, and teach them to argue for and value their abilities to employers who don’t understand the skill set?

I love the sequence of a one semester Freshmen Writing and a one semester Junior Writing, but I also feel like Advanced Composition is really complex for the Capstone support and post-graduation support required from a 15 week course. I need to structure readings and writings to support assignments, that have real-world applications, and help students use their writing development to support post-graduation – when they are more concerned with graduating on time. So when the super relevant articles for class emphasize “learning to write” – which is supportive of my curriculum and their learning in my course – how do I also support questioning what that means to support post-graduation critical thinking?

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Discussion Boards and Online Teaching

I was reading a thread in an online teaching forum about late discussion board posts. Many of the educators were willing to allow some points beyond their syllabus stated policy for comprehension, but not engagement. However, one poster equated the discussion board to the classroom essentially stating educators don’t hold make-up classes for students so why award points for late work.

I should also frame this with the fact that I have a fairly loose late policy – each student has one free late assignment – no questions asked (I don’t want to know about the vomit, or the grandma, or the dog, etc.) AS LONG AS THEY NOTIFY ME IN ADVANCE. They only need to notify me a few minutes in advance – the policy is an automatic yes if you’ve asked – I see this as a way to get better papers and slightly less stressed students.

So with the understanding that late policies are set by instructors and institutions, and vary greatly, I want to focus on the idea that the discussion board = class.

When I wrote my dissertation, Scott Warnocks Teaching Writing Online: How and Why was one of the most comprehensive texts about online composition courses. It still holds a high place on mosts lists (include this one). Warnock recommends instructors translate their face-to-face curriculum online, emphasizing the writing possibilities in digital spaces. In many ways, this reliance on translate or migrate is similar to the discussion board I’m following – instructors make a direct one to one connection between what happens in face-to-face class and what therefore must happen online. However, this overvalues the face-to-face classroom model.

Not all classrooms look the same. I need to say this again, Instructors choose to teach their classes in ways that meet curricular goals effectively for them. Not all classrooms look the same. So, why do online courses needs to look just the face-to-face course?

I understand and agree that many students are new to online learning – reinventing the wheel with design and learning decisions students don’t understand in the online classroom space can be problematic – instead of learning content students focus on understanding navigation, design, and basic instructions. I don’t want to purposely confuse students, but I also think if we continue to tell them that discussion boards = class they will continue to phone-in their discussion posts. Not all students thrive on active participation in face-to-face classrooms, but discussion boards don’t offer the type of flexibility that classrooms do (it’s harder to notice if a student is struggling and/or disliking the forced conversation in posts the way instructors can notice in the classroom).

In the Spring semester I’m leading a small departmental reading group about teaching online composition. I’m really hoping to develop conversations like this – how does design influence how students learn, and how can online composition courses use that to facilitate better learning? Let’s move away from an online needs to resemble a face-to-face and begin the questioning and the inquiry from the point of learning in digital space. Since learning is the goal, let’s reimagine ourselves as less point calculators for discussions that should resemble a classroom, and consider where we can design moments of learning about writing, where meaningful feedback can be returned for student learning and writing improvement. I hope I can quickly shift everyone away from using a tool because it ‘mimics’ the classroom, and focus on using tools that support good learning about writing.

This ended up being a rather hopeful – my year ahead post. Well, tis the season and all 🙂

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Representation and Space

Yesterday I saw a headline about Wonder Woman and the importance of representation for young girls (here’s the Huffington Post article). The video and article highlight the importance of female representations of power and success for girls and women. But, in a space highlighting representation – men overshadowing women is also a prominent feature.

The interaction between Gadot and the young fan is beautiful. What I struggle with is how the Flash actor, Ezra Miller, steps in and offers advice. The way Ben Affleck is shown applauding the interaction (while talking to Thor actor). The way the author of the post discusses all as this male support as positive. Yes, male support for female empowerment is important. Yes, male support for female emotional responses to representation is important. But, Miller stepping in and taking over the conversation, talking over Gadot is a problem. Miller’s overall message is great, affirming of emotional responses is amazing – but why not let the young fan have her moment with only Gadot?

While Wonder Woman as a movie is not perfect feminism, it is a great opportunity for representation and discussions of the importance of representation. What I noticed from this Huff Post piece is the importance of how we discuss representations and support each other. The NBA had an interesting campaign to Lean In and support women – but the question remained at what point is leaning in adding your voice to a conversation where you’re already heard.

Intersectional feminist critiques of white feminism often point to the way white women will talk-over other feminists. How could feminists engage in public spaces, while supporting each other, without being talked over? This has elements of rhetorical listening – but when a space to listen is created how can underrepresented voices feel empowered and valued to speak? In focusing on just this article/clip, Gadot and the young fan had a moment of silence that presumably held a lot of meaning to them (or at least to the young fan) – how could a public understanding of rhetorical listening attune the fellow cast members to the importance of that silent space?

To practice this – what could this look like in classroom space? How can we create comfortable silence that helps all learners feel valued for what they brought to the classroom space that day? I can see elements of mindfulness throughout this blog thread – awareness and attention to the present moment as a way to create safe space for other voices to be valued for the approach to communication necessary and meaningful for them.

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Technofeminism and Romance: A Book Review

In my ‘free’ time – or basically when I need to read something besides academic – I read Romance novels. Grad school taught me to be really good at reading, voraciously, so my fun reading is normally limited to free romance novels. This is one such read:

Ink Witch (Book One of the Kat DuBois Chronicles) by Lindsey Fairleigh

While I normally avoid books that are not standalone – because they are designed to sell the remainder of the series – I found the plot summary for this one to be interesting. A secret society of near mortals living in Seattle. The main character – Kat DuBois is a tattoo artist/tarot card reader who needs to save her brother.

I don’t want to reproduce a typical book review here – instead I want to focus on a fairly minor portion of the story.

***Spoilers ahead for those interested in reading the book***

There are interesting biological facts to the Nejereet, once entering their mostly immortal state, the Nejereet female is essentially infertile. Nejereet enter the immortal state by essentially dying, freezing them at the age they died (for Kat that’s 18) – hormones, looks and all.

The secret society, Nejereet, operate under the guidance of a governing council with a rogue faction. What I find interesting about this rogue council is the scientific testing on their own people and humans to play with female reproduction. The characters converse about the stakes if humans learned about near immortal gods living among them, the war that would break out, and the need for human females to birth children for the Nejereet population to survive (even near-mortals need children). The obviously conclusion for these characters is the experiments must involve fertility because working with female humans who can birth future Nejereet is essential to the survival of their species.

There is so much happening in this moment. I’m not talking plot development, I’m focused here on the ways meaning making practices are expected of the reader. The ways female fertility is the obvious focus for scientific experiments and the survival of two species (humans and Nejereet).

The most amazing part is the ‘obviousness’ of female reproductive biology as the ultimate answer for scientific examinations of the Other. When I read Technofeminism a few weeks ago I found Wajcman’s discussions of reproductive science and technology wanting to take control over reproduction. But I was amazed at how smoothly this worked into the Ink Witch narrative, the rogue governing council were obviously the ‘bad’ guys for experimenting on reproduction and shifting the power balance.

The noticing of power balance was also really interesting to me. While fertility experimenting specifically on women reduces women to ovens instead of independent people who can rationalize and decision make. But what was important in this conversation was the shift of money and power that would result if the experiments were successful – of the use of ovens to gain power and money. The concern was less for the women, and more for the shift in power that would disadvantage the masses.

Overall, this was a minor conversation in this book. While this would be incredibly difficult to explain to freshmen in a composition course, I love the subtle expectations of sense making required from this scene. The use of these experiments to develop the good and evil in this universe so quickly is amazingly complex – female readers, as the primary audience of romance novels, are expected to understand good versus evil based on biological experiments that reduce them to ovens.

I’m really interested now in how other readers reviewed this book and the entire series. In what ways do popular (is this book ‘popular’ in the romance genre?) fiction novels reflect the lived cultural experiences of readers? Who are the readers being reflected? Where are they learning the values included? I don’t often read science fiction (unless there are werewolves, shape shifters, dragons, then sign me up!) so I can guarantee the book blurb did not sell this book as science fiction. For readers less familiar with such a genre – how do they make sense of such a technology driven scene? How can these subtleties help students better understand the functions of the rhetorical situation in all communication situations? How can this also help students understand how popular culture functions as a site of resistance and hegemony (thanks Hall)?

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Book Review

Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and Media Literacy: Connecting Culture and Classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

One of the biggest struggles, as a reader of texts on digital and media literacy in classrooms, is finding a book that balances theory and practical classroom application of the theories. In an effort to avoid being prescriptive I’ve read too many texts that provided only theories and discussions of existing studies with no classroom application. I’ve read others with too little focus on the theory that influenced and supported the lesson plans. Unlike others works, Hobbs finds a great balance of theory and example lesson plans.

Underlying Hobbs discussion is the need to help students develop working theories of media and digital social tools, to strengthen their practices with these tools, and to develop their critical approaches to these spaces.  This focus matches my goals when using and discussing digital media tools.  Students need to learn to use the tools and avoid letting the tools use them – critical approaches to what students know and what they experience is so important for meaningful student engagement with the tools used.

In my advanced composition I require students to follow a social media user of their choice. The only recommendation I have for selecting a user and space is for students to not picking something too close to their heart – it can be difficult to analyze and critique your own fandoms. As I was finishing this book I received an email from a composition student thanking me for requiring students to critically engage with social media. Despite early skepticism with using social media – she appreciated the assignment and the chance to critically engage with a social media of her choice.

For this assignment at least, approaching social media to help students develop critical practices was a success. Developing assignments with Hobbs goal of developing more critically engaged students is possible! YAY!

While I’m updating my syllabi for my Summer and Fall classes I’m continuing to consider additional ways to develop more critical literacies practices. While we, as a class, brought in real-world examples early in the semester, we didn’t continue with this practice. I want to continue to support this practice in students and am consider ways of modifying my Twitter assignment to encourage (require) students to critically engage with news media in addition to the social media assignment. Both support critical reading and writing – the major goals of composition courses – and will allow for both academic and public genre writing.

Reading Hobbs book emphasized the importance of critical engagement with news media. While her book barely touches on videogames – my favorite media form – I really appreciated the mix of theory and practical application of digital and social media to support literacies development.

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While I was teaching at NAU we developed an undergraduate videogame symposium to support undergraduate research in a topic they loved – videogames. During the second year we ran the event we used the idea of STEAM – Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math – as the guiding theory for the event, drawing the humanities into discussions of technology.

The push for STEAM education has continued to grow since our conference two years ago. I just saw a webinar hosted by Ozobots on using Ozoblockly (their programming app) to foster STEAM classrooms. What caught my eye about their webinar sign-up is the reduction of STEAM to “art and technology” as they relate to their programming color commands.

I personally love the Ozobots because of their color coding – these color codes do support easy learning of programming basics (I haven’t played around with the Ozoblockly app since I don’t have a tablet). I also love that the Ozobots light up with so many different colors – the programming of personality is really engaging.

What i’m not understanding is how this use of colors means Art. I also missed the webinar, so i’m sure it was more engaged than I’m discussing here, but honestly the Ozobot webinar description is just the starting point for my thought pattern here.

As a Humanities faculty member, when I discuss STEAM I see “Art” as the stand in for Humanities in general, more specifically Humanities based critical thinking, critical reading and critical writing. There is a ton of important criticism on the inclusion of just the A and the collapse of all Humanities fields into Art, there is also important criticism on reading the A as Art and not understanding the depth of opportunity available from a more nuanced understanding of Art. I am not going to include these discussions here, they are easily available to those interested.

What I want to focus on instead are the underlying questions:

  • Why did the advocates of shifting from STEM to STEAM (a lot of the research points to changes beginning at RISD) focus specifically on Art? Is the goal artistic creativity, tinkering, critical engagement, or something more specific to art? Since creativity and tinkering have existed in other humanities fields (remember Social Studies classes in Junior High with the student video assignments, debates – that’s one example of creativity and tinkering in the Humanities most of us experienced), why Art – basically was “Art” selected for a cool acronym, or is there something specific that has been left out of subsequent discussions?
  • Why should STEM education see a need to include Art? What is happening, maybe not well, that drives this need?
  • While STEAM is becoming more popular, why isn’t this acronym also addressed at the collegiate level? We required curricular general education requirements to support a broadly educated student (breath is the horizontal bar in a T diagram) and a major/minor for a deeply educated student (depth is the vertical bar in a T diagram). But when makerspaces and digital labs are created, discussed, funded, why aren’t humanities faculty included in those discussions?

I have a whole slew of reading to accomplish this summer to help me address these ideas. This is partly for a Graduate seminar this summer and a Graduate seminar in the Fall (which will include a publishing opportunity – former grad students let me know if you want to be involved because I know i’ll need more authors). This is also partly for a conference in October – Feminism and Rhetorics (I was accepted, YAY).

How can feminist pedagogy help STEAM? How can feminist pedagogy (i’m starting with bell hook’s Teaching to Transgress) help curriculum design that both supports student learning/engagement, and supports student critical learning/engagement with technology. I want students to develop critical reflection on their technology choices, by using technology to learn composition – to develop their own working ideas of writing (#teachingfortransfer).

As a first step, these are the questions I have at this point. I’ll continue to develop the underlying questions about STEAM which influence the approaches used by technology companies to aid teachers in integrating technology in the classroom – to find ways of disrupting the expectations for college classrooms.


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Let’s Talk About Grammar

I know the research on direct grammar instruction shows it has no effect, sometimes even a negative effect when it takes away from composition instruction (NCTE affirms these findings here).

As I read Warner’s piece on Inside HigherEd (here) about pushback comments to direct grammar instruction I considered the times when I’ve lectured on grammar.


When discussing rhetorical moves made by academics in different disciplines, part of the discussion looks to grammar structure too. The passive construction of methodology details provided in the sciences is very important to that field, so it needs to be discussed as part of the style of the discipline. In understanding style and noticing these choices, the complexities of audience become more clear.

Well, let’s be honest, the goal of this conversation is to help students realize there are different grammatical values in different disciplines. All disciplines care about presentation, academic support, proper use of MLA/APA/AP/Chicago/IEEE/etc., argument support, clear argument development, consistent format and organization. The problem is, the grammatical details catch faculty members, so their significance to writing takes on more weight.

When discussing this with a freshmen class, it’s necessary to provide an example. So I use my son.

Marshall was accepted to [insert prestigious school here].

[insert prestigious school here] accepted Marshall.

These style choices rely on some element of grammar knowledge – students must identify the subject of the sentence, the verb, and the object to understand how the style choice significantly changes the meaning of the sentence.

This first step is where many students often struggle. They struggle to identify the parts of the sentence.

After I help them with the first sentence they are rockstars with the second. BONUS: I can see learning transfer across a short time period – which is amazing.

Grammar versus Style

At this point I often wonder, am I directly lecturing on grammar with this style example. Will this style example/discussion carry weight in their learning so they access these ideas in new writing situations.

It’s such a small part of the overall curriculum (again, focused more heavily on the argument presentation ideas above) that I doubt it carries – but it holds so much significance. While it’s grammar, I’m imparting knowledge on basic grammar functions, the real focus of these discussions is style. What is the place of style in composition teaching?

Based on disciplinary feedback, my department has considered the idea of creating stand alone style courses (there are amazing books on style that can be incredibly helpful). But not all students will volunteer for this approach to writing.

As I work through final grading for the Spring 2017 semester I begin to plan my next courses. While I’m teaching mostly Grad classes this summer, I will also be planning a curricular overhaul of FYC in the Fall. Is there a place for style discussions? I’ll also be teaching a Junior level composition – are juniors more prepared for this discussion?

Also, if I work it into the curriculum, where would it be 1) the easiest to teach based on surrounding assignments (hello scaffolding)? 2) the most meaningful to students (hello transfer)?

While I don’t think I’ll have THE PERFECT (imagine this in a big booming voice) answer, I will play around with this idea as I create new curriculum.

This might be a bigger project requiring a shift in disciplinary understanding of their own writing practices. While they often point to comma errors and split infinitives, is the underlying concern more one of style, or truly grammar. On a side note –  we all make these grammar mistakes. And may I remind these faculty of the most famous “To boldly go” split infinitive?

Now, on to exploring the place of style in an updated, Teaching for Transfer modeled composition curriculum.

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