For when 140 characters are not enough.


After the conference

As it turned out, The Computers and Writing conference really did what they could to allow me to get around with my very limited mobility. The kind people at St. John Fisher College found a golf cart and ferried me from building to building, so […]

Conference Fear

I really should be excited about going to Computers and Writing, and a part of me still is. It is the absolute best conference for people like me who are obsessed with rhetoric, composition studies, and all things digital. However, this time I am feeling […]

About expectations and required composition classes

About expectations and required composition classes

Writing I and Writing II are required as part of the gen-eds, a fairly normal thing for all universities. This universal requirement means that students who fear writing or who simply do not value writing as a part of their future must take it anyway. Enforced education is problematic and leads to resistance. I could expect a certain percentage of “problem” students who resist the course in some expected and unexpected ways, some fairly creative. Despite past experience, I choose to expect the best, most motivated students instead. They will aim for writing that connects to their interests and they will have interests. If they don’t, the class will be the place where they discover their academic interests through writing about them. It may well mean a change of majors, a small thing weighed against a lifetime of working at something they are indifferent to or actively don’t like just for the money. They may learn to like writing, be seduced by its ability to lead to new insights or to a greater understanding of self. They may not and continue to dislike it, but even then, they can gain the comfort of feeling competent at writing, an assurance that whatever writing task shows up in the future, they can analyze what is needed and succeed. This is what I expect and most of the time I get it.

Each semester the dance between expecting the best and the unexpected roadblocks play out. There are times teaching composition is a long, hard slog, and the last week of classes and finals week can lead to despair. Students that disappeared because of a heavy class and work load reappear in a panic. Students on the edge between grades begin to negotiate, give reasons why work “is not that bad” or question assessment categories such as audience. These truly are the weeks that define them, but it is also when I especially need to stay true to myself, to be the writing teacher I aspire to be. I vow to be that teacher. I must also acknowledge though that students need to bring a reasonable amount of effort to the class too and if they don’t, it is their choice. In order to stay fair to the students who did put in the time and effort, I need to play fair there too and have clear vision when assessing work.

Today is the last day of classes for my university, a good day to look back and think about my classes and the last things that need to be done. It is often a time for regrets and occasional triumphs. For example, I also teach a Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature class this semester. Its primary mode of assessment is writing, with fairly spirited discussion about the readings leading to that writing. They were engaged with the material and developed the habit of leaving the class together and continuing the conversation as they walked, settling in a spot across from the student union to talk more. This is not a required classes for anything, but it does fulfill a need for a certain number of hours of 300-level and above courses to meet the requirements for the B.A. Thank you, degree requirements. I have to ask myself, could this happen with composition? Could the academic writing approach (WID) engage students just as thoroughly as this class where students admittedly have a prior interest in the material?

My answer remains yes and no. Yes, they can be engaged in writing about the hot topics in their field, in building an approach to a subject that is uniquely theirs, However, not all Writing II students are passionate about their major, and preprofessional majors will always be difficult to write about on the undergraduate level. That is why that even though I stay with a WID approach in Writing II (modified WID in Writing I), the assignments are designed to give students experience in different kinds of writing that they could reasonably encounter later, either in future undergraduate courses, in graduate school (the focus of my 300-level Writing II), or in their work life post college. Postponed rewards are not always appreciated, So this day, a day of grading for me, I will celebrate what they have done and attempt in my comments to express and celebrate the progress they’ve made. Every single student has made progress, even the ones who stopped coming because of hard times and enrolled with me for a second try in the fall. That too, is a victory.


About DMAC

As usual, I hate how I look in photos and video, but this is a good interview video, taken at the Digital Media and Composition Institute. I wholeheartedly recommend their summer institute for any writing teacher who seeks more innovative teaching in 21st century literacies.

More LMS review

After the great Moodle breakdown last semester, I had to scramble to find something to replace it that did not require me to do the upkeep. The one-click options that remained with my host were not going to work. Canvas has changed its terms. I’m […]

Meme sample 4 for Writing II

10398602_1361034887334774_1264224153922483735_nThis is a popular meme, one that I was ready to share with others on Facebook or Twitter, which is a primary measure of whether a meme works or not. This one works. For those creating their own meme for Writing II, it is not a good example of the kind of meme that takes an issue and lends insight, the kind of argumentative, issue-based meme you will be producing.

The reasons why are not that complicated and have a lot to do with a common problem in critical writing, the use of cliches. This meme is based on an extension of cliches about
“living in the moment,” of which there are several since it is such a popular idea. Carpe diem, gather yon flowers whilst thou may, cowabunga, dude, and so on. It’s been a popular idea through the ages, leading to cliched language and individual cliches, which are phrases or metaphors used so often that they lose meaning as a unit and keep it as used language. For example, the phrase “hare brained idea” has now morphed into “hair brained idea” or even “air brained idea.” All connect to a metaphor of a tiny brain , like a hare, a cousin to the rabbit would have. However, when changed to the homonym hair  or even air by those who don’t know what a hare is, the phrase dilutes and becomes even more of “just something people say,” a common description of a cliche. Good academic writing works by looking for a gap in the literature, for a stance that not everyone agrees with. Building new knowledge won’t happen with stock language.

Back to the meme. If the basis of your meme is a cliche, that means it is also shallow enough in meaning that it can’t be used to convey a complex idea. Avoid cliches like the plague. Seek the higher ground. In today’s society, we like topics to be hotter than a stove lid, to be something that is the bee’s knees. Right? Right.


Meme example 3 for Writing II

This is one of several meme images  out there purporting to be screenshots of texts, Facebook profiles, or Twitter pages that are carefully constructed to present the person in a non-neutral, heavily female-identified way. This is not women as women see themselves necessarily, but it very […]

Meme example 2 for Writing II

Posted by Ben Richards on Friday, December 18, 2015 Once again, this sample is from Facebook, but this time with an identified user, Ben Richards. The strength here is the strong optimism of the text contrasted by the dismal conclusion, supported by the iconic figure of […]