Influenced by a visiting speaker, Kara Taczak, I’m making some changes to how I teach First Year Composition to promote transfer. Drawing from both Writing About Writing and Teaching for Transfer, the new model will focus on threshold concepts or core concepts of writing to strengthen what students know about their own writing process to help students successfully transfer ‘good’ writing to new writing situations.
When I taught a 200 level Rhetorical Theory course we learned a lot of concepts, key terms if you will, that related to rhetoric and why rhetoric as a theory and field of research survived. Even during the Dark Ages when learning, knowledge, and schooling were very limited, rhetoric continued to be taught to Catholic Priests to help convert and deliver sermons to constituents. One of the key concepts that remained, and became a stronger aspect of theory, is the idea of intertextuality.
Teaching the idea of intertextuality from Smith’s Rhetoric and Human Consciousness is difficult. Smith focuses on Biblical intertextuality and the ways the Church interpreted the theory to benefit their Priests and constituents (it’s much more involved than this, but this summary serves my purposes here). Literature students recognized the concept and drew connections to how intertextuality operates in literature. Non-literature students never seemed to understand Smith’s discussion. I’m currently reading Stephen King’s The Drawing of the Three (#2 in the Dark Tower series) and the characters referenced The Shining in a discussion – basic intertextuality, but it’s engrained in the story so readers don’t recognize the moment as intertextuality (why did King reference The Shining at THAT moment? why not The Stand, etc.). But, intertextuality exists far beyond literature and novels, and some of the most popular television shows and movies use intertextuality in important ways.
After watching Game of Thrones (the episode that aired on Sunday 8/16), I read a blog by Erik Kane (he presented at the Undergraduate Videogame Symposium at my previous institution about blogging as a career post-English Bachelor’s – the students loved his candor) about intertextuality in GoT that could help a viewer make educated guesses on the direction of the show (there’s also compelling arguments for the need for viewers to recognize most of the intertextuality to follow the storyline development – cognitive requirements of modern viewing and fandom). While his post is looking at literary intertextuality in the television show, the use of text and a multimodal YouTube clip as support for his claim struck me as ridiculously helpful to teaching academic intertextuality – the dreaded citation.
Returning to the idea of selecting key concepts, for Fall 2017 I’ll focus on discourse community, audience, purpose, and ethos. I’m using They Say/I Say as the course textbook. As I’m finalizing the design for my internet-theme’d, Teaching for Transfer influenced pedagogy, i’m working in a way to use a blog post (internet-based reading and writing, with all it’s messy author-audience relationships and imaginings) to help students understand why citations matter (ethos, discourse community). In the GoT post, Kain uses a few interesting rhetorical moves that are helping me work through the connection to be made between theme (internet) and key concepts (learning about writing to write better).
First, the post begins with an image (yes there is a title, but i’m choosing to begin with the image) of The Magnificent Seven (his term). For those who watch, GoT has an endless supply of story lines and tons and tons of characters (i’m not a lit major so excuse my lack of literary terms to describe this). In using an image of the exact group he’s discussing, he focuses the reader’s attention on the small portion of the HUGE GoT world he’ll discuss in this post. This is such an important move in academic introductions. We humans have been discussing and theorizing since before the Ancient Greeks (the Greeks happen to be the most well preserved recordings). In selecting a topic for an essay, the hardest concept to teach students is how to enter that HUGE conversation and focus the point. Blogs, by including multimedia, allow for images to do much of that work for the author – IF the correct image is selected. From a Pfannenstiel’s key concept point of view, this allows Kain to focus his discussion on the purpose of his conversation within the larger discourse community.
Next, Kain establishes the background knowledge necessary to understand his claim – he contextualizes the mission and the characters involved. Again it speaks to the discourse community, establishing the necessary background information needed for the post without assuming too much or too little about the reader of the post (ethos and audience). The attention to audience here is really important, he makes educated guesses about how to introduce this information so his audience appreciates the information without feeling like he’s belittling their knowledge of GoT.
Now comes the intertextuality (with some ethos thrown in when he includes both the show and the book). We (readers) are being asked to re-examine existing information from the show as evidence for Kain’s analysis. After including the originals (again, the video clip and the passages from the book), Kain analyzes the information by explaining the clips along side his analysis – let me say that again in case any of my students read this post, by explaining the clip along side his analysis. He doesn’t assume the readers will draw the same connections, so he includes the original source, then analyzes it and adds his point.
The goal of this post isn’t to explore GoT theories, but to consider how the video clip functions as an academic citation – through intertextuality. While intertextuality isn’t a key term (it’s a difficult idea to grasp), it is influenced by and influences discourse communities and practices within discourse communities.
To develop a connection between the Magnificent Seven and GoT lore, Kain includes a video link with a clip from season 1. This is an expected rhetorical blogging move – include the thing that you reference for readers to know especially in the form of a video. This is also, essentially, a citation. Here is where my information comes from. Citations and intertextuality help an author establish ethos, they lend credibility to a discussion and claim by referencing other sources in very specific ways.
The specific clip selected is a choice to present the findings from the original in a very specific way. When I search on YouTube for “Old Nan tells a story” I have approximately 5,300 results. While yes, many are commentary and fandoms (so easily excluded) – this is the same situation student writers often find themselves in, wading through massive amounts of text to find the one that properly supports their point. What’s so important for comp instructors (and librarians) is the information literacy skills required/developed to wade through these videos. It’s the same required of wading through sources to find ones that actually support and develop the student-author’s text. If we consider any of the other videos in the YouTube list of 5,300 we can discuss all the reasons those videos would support Kain’s argument less well than the video he included. This is a real, lived citation making intertextual claims, embedded within a blog argument, to support Kain’s analysis of the episode.
Importantly, students read posts all the time that require them to understand these videos as citations, as intertextuality. They experience, analyze, and judge posts daily that rely on their ability to understand intertextuality and citations in writing. Will finding and analyzing such everyday lived posts help them transfer what they know from everyday sense-making to the academic essay, or will they still see citations as a ‘chore’ and ‘requirement’ of writing that simply make their lives hell?
Now, we’ll see if this focus on rhetorical moves of an existing blog post helps students understand the key concepts as they move through their academic papers this Fall……… show of hands for who watches Game of Thrones!