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Thoughts from Joe Labriola’s 2017 AP grading journey!

Joseph Labriola's Official Blog

Join me on my narrative musings of my travels to, during, and from my second AP grading journey in Tampa, FL!

Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and natureI suppose the trip really started the day before, on the highway, my 2007 Suzuki Reno sputtering and squelching down to a laborsome roll. The vainful revving cried all the signs of transmission trauma, and so rather than risk trying to press on, I pulled over and did the only reasonable thing that an at best moderately mechanically-minded college writing professor who had to be 1,300 miles away in Tampa in less than 24 hours could do: I called upon our Lord and Highway Savior, Triple-A.

One could find oneself questioning one’s sanity, packed in ‘old Joe’s’ tow truck along with his tools and drive-thru soda cups.

“I don’t care. But they track me anyways,” old Joe said, about as New Yawk as they come. He was an odd…

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“Teaching Writing with Global Issues: Why and How (part 2)” by Soni Adhikari

Join our Program in Writing and Rhetoric’s very own Soni Adhikari as she shares part two of her two part piece on the importance of emphasizing global perspectives in her students’ writing! Click here to read part 1!

Teaching Writing with Global Issues: Why and How (part 2)

In my previous post, I shared some thoughts and strategies about using literacy narratives of transnational scholars/writers to foster our students’ interest in the larger world. Here I will discuss how (beyond reading and discussing stories about people who cross cultural and geopolitical borders) can further help our students research and write about global issues or at least use transnational perspectives when writing about local issues. My key message in part 2 is that cross-cultural and transnational/global perspectives can help students generate new ideas and develop more sophisticated arguments about issues, whether transnational or local.

To start with an example, students in my current first-year-writing class write about global issues such as world water shortage, refugee crisis, terrorism, one child policy in China, free trade, conflict in South China Sea, and so on. I find that students are generally more interested in their writing (as well as research, learning, and making arguments) when working with global issues like the above. In fact, even when they write about local issues, which they can do by comparing them with issues elsewhere or bringing perspectives from discourse or research abroad, my students write more engaging papers overall. For example, some students have written about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and in states like California while comparing the local issues with global or transnational ones. Being able to bring new perspectives and more sophisticated understanding of the same problem from different places allows students to look beyond local debates on the issue. They are able to add whole new dimensions to their arguments.

Additionally, borrowing perspectives from other cultures and contexts can help students stop considering their own local ideas and perspectives as universal, logical, or valid while missing important aspects of the topic. Reading about social issues from around the world can provide them with lenses with which they can rethink their experiences and examine social issues that they had never thought about.

Using global issues and perspectives in the writing classroom is, however, not easy. So, let me discuss a few challenges and share how to overcome them.  

First, students may be daunted by the fact that there are too many things going on around the world and that many of those things do not affect them directly. If we introduce them to various global issues through readings (instead of simply demanding that they write about them), we can help them choose what they are most interested in.  

Second, students do not know where to look for sources and how much they need to know before they can take an intellectual position on a subject. This challenge can be overcome by providing students not only a list of topics and information sources but also annotated bibliographies and sample essays (that students can donate for future classes), class discussion of samples, one-on-one feedback, and support of librarians.

Third, when it comes to unfamiliar or complex global issues, students may find information but they may not know how to analyze it, whose perspectives are relevant, and how to detect bias. As a result, they often write superficial arguments and even reinforce bias and stereotyping about other cultures and people. I address these challenges by providing students a set of critical questions and asking them find and use sources from the part of the world where their issue is about.

In short, if we can facilitate the process of reading, researching, and writing about the larger world, we can help our students develop a sense of global citizenship and find greater opportunities for learning and personal growth in the increasingly globalized university and beyond.

Have thoughts of your own on how to foster these types of thoughts and writing within your own classroom? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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“Teaching Writing with Global Issues: Why and How (part 1)” by Soni Adhikari

Join our Program in Writing and Rhetoric’s very own Soni Adhikari as she shares part one of her two part piece on the importance of emphasizing global perspectives in her students’ writing!

This essay is my attempt to expand upon a section that I contributed to a blog post written together by several PWR colleagues in fall 2016. I also presented another version at the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Portland, Oregon in March 2017. Here I share specific assignments and teaching strategies, including the use of literacy narratives of transnational scholars, research work, and my own cross-cultural experiences and perspectives, for illustrating how I foster global perspectives in my students’ writing. I also discuss why I think we must integrate global perspectives. Let me begin with an anecdote that highlights the power of cultivating the sense of global citizenship, no matter where people belong to by birth, culture, or nationality.

A few months ago, my family invited an American couple living on Long Island for a dinner. The scholars had lived in my home country Nepal for 25 out of last 50 years, with the wife serving as Director of the American Lincoln School in Kathmandu and her husband serving as Director of the Fulbright Commission office in Kathmandu (among various other positions). The first voice I heard when my husband opened the door was of a man who spoke Nepali with amazing perfection. My two children, eight and six, spoke a few Nepali sentences, heavily accented like English, with the guests, before giving up and switching to English only.

Step back to take a wider global perspective when you get a chance…

As we sat for a Nepalese dinner, I learned from them that there has always been a sizable community of Americans in Kathmandu for decades and that it is growing. And what I know about Americans whom I had encountered in Kathmandu as I grew up was that they loved it so much that many of them spent their lives there. From the shoeless hippies of the 1970s to the diplomats who live in luxury in the capital, and from the missionaries whose number has dramatically increased in the last few years to visiting professors and Peace Corps volunteers, Americans who have been to Nepal just love it.

When listening to the couple who had lived, learned, and worked in different places around the world (during the other 25 years), I could not help thinking that my students (and especially American citizens) have the same kinds of privilege for experiencing the world if they want to. I could not dream, and still cannot, the same kind of mobility that my domestic students have in terms of travel access, resources, and language to travel the world. Even if my students cannot physically travel the world, they are more able than most people around the world their age are to expand their intellectual horizons by reading, connecting to people virtually, and working in professions that will allow them to connect and learn about the larger world. I thought that my students would be interested in doing so if teachers like me encourage them and teach them about the world.

The next day, as my first-year writing class discussed Suresh Canagarajah’s literacy narrative titled “The Fortunate Traveler: Shuttling between Communities and Literacies by Economy Class,” I was surprised that students expressed sympathy for the character in the narrative. In his story about moving back and forth between Sri Lankan and American academic communities, Canagarajah describes how he returned to the United States after teaching for a few years in his home country. For the students, both domestic and international, the story fit a perfect mold: they thought that the character escaped a developing country that was in political turmoil and violence and into an advanced country with greater opportunities as well as peace and security. However complex the actual issues may be, students read the text as a story of migration where there is a one-way street where a person goes from violence to safety, restrictions to freedom, lack of resources to abundance of them, and so on.

Start searching the world around you!

When I pointed out that Caranagrajah’s story actually explores complex social, political, linguistic, and cultural issues, students started to see that the story had issues that went beyond the traditional migration narrative. They started seeing how Canagarajah describes how people navigate, negotiate, and succeed when they cross borders and not just a story of “coming to America.” So, what began as sympathy for the character of the story turned into appreciation, and their own sense of self-sufficiency as citizens of a super power nation grew into an interest in global citizenship.

From challenging students to think about the complex dynamics of power and privilege, cross-cultural navigation and communicative negotiations in Canagarajah’s story, I have found that by reading stories like this, both domestic students and students from abroad can learn about the world and develop an intellectual courage that may some day help them live, work, and succeed abroad like the American couple I described earlier.

Moreover, reading stories from writers around the world provides students unique opportunities to develop their critical thinking and reasoning skills for their own writing. If, in the past, generations of immigrants like Canagarajah brought their knowledge and experiences to America, new generations of American students are also likely to go elsewhere in the world and make their own impact—indeed, our American students deserve the opportunity, like my American-Nepali guests had!

Be sure to check back soon for Soni Adhikari’s second installment as she continues to discuss the wide-ranging rolls of teaching cross-cultural and transnational/global perspectives in the classroom!

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PWR’s In the Spotlight – An Interview with Dr. Shyam Sharma

Check out Saher Jafri’s interview with one of Stony Brook University’s finest faculty members!

“PWR’s Spotlight is on one of the five exceptionally caring professors who were recently recipients of the annual College of Arts and Sciences Teaching Excellence Award. Representing the Humanities, Program in Writing and Rhetoric’s Dr. Shyam Sharma was awarded! His humble and genuine nature shines through in the following interview.

Click here for the full interview!

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A Monster of a Draft (Part Two)

Join the Program in Writing and Rhetoric’s very own Kimberly Towers-Kubik as she continues exploring the complexities of assessing paper drafts in part two of her four part series! (Click here to check out part one)

Part Two: What Is the Draft, Really?

by Kimberly Towers-Kubik

          In the past few semesters, when I abandoned grading for effort and assigned a grade based solely on the existence of mandatory components, it meant that my students were being forced to include elements that they were not necessarily ready to tackle. Contemplating this methodology and its effectiveness, it has recently dawned on me that assigning a grade for a draft might come into conflict with what we perceive as its fundamental purpose.

        I once took off points on a student’s draft because it had not included transition sentences. My justification was that while she did not need to have transitions for each body paragraph in her draft, a few here or there would have helped to make her structure a bit more clear in the early stages so that I could better guide her. She came to my office to discuss the points that were lost and told me that she had been taught in the past to leave the addition of transition sentences for the revising/proofreading phase. She had been told to focus more on the thesis at hand and on collecting evidence to help inform her opinion. This student was particularly bright and conscientious, causing me to wonder if, besides my own nudging, her previous teachers had also been in error in telling her to develop transitions later on in the process. Had they, too, disrupted her natural process?

          In order to understand the complexities of how we view the draft, it’s essential to look back to its roots. Strunk and White mention in The Elements of Style, originally published in 1959 and based off of Strunk’s much smaller 1919 version (xiii), that “the first principle of composition . . . is to foresee the shape of what is to come and pursue that shape” (15). By this definition, it appears that this early model included outlining and a projection of structure prior to the drafting phase. Hence, nudging my student to include transitions was an attempt to make her forge connections between her current and subsequent paragraphs which would then become indicative of the larger overall structure. This instruction at least loosely followed Strunk and White’s methodology. However, a fundamental conflict over how the draft comes into existence can be noted. Strunk and White go on to mention that sometimes, “the best design is no design” (15). They clarify that they are referencing less formal assignments but they do still acknowledge that in some cases and for some students, planning ahead is not mandatory which at first, appears to line up with the ideologies of Mills.

          Barriss Mills seems to promote the idea that writing is an individualized process for each student. In his 1953 article “Writing as Process,” he states that even at that time, “semantic theory conceive[d] of meaning in terms of stimulus and response rather than clearly defined and fixed areas of meaning attached to individual words” (19). While Mills is referencing, in part, meaning making and grammatical instruction, it should be noted that his point about stimulus and response mirrors individualized thought processes. For example, while writing, thought can imbue thought which then imbues further thought and so on. Therefore, while some students are putting a freewrite into paragraph form, they are enhancing and further developing a clear conception of their larger purpose.

          Hence, while some students benefit from pre-planning structures such as outlines, some might benefit from a gradual awakening of thought as a result of this back-and-forth process.

          Such a concept is echoed by Peter Elbow in his 1983 article “Teaching Thinking by Teaching Writing,” explaining, “when someone really gets going in a sustained piece of generative writing and manages to stand out of the way and relinquish planning and control – when someone lets the words and images and ideas choose more words, images, and ideas – often a more elegant shape or organization for the material is found” (37). Some students, including my former student mentioned above who was quite focused on following teacher instruction, could benefit from a more organic means of deriving a thesis statement. However, there is reason to doubt that Mills ultimately supports such freedom of gradual expression.

          While Elbow and Mills appear to have similar ideologies, Mills diverges upon further perusal of his article. He eventually goes on to state that “purpose is at the very center of the writing process” (20), which falls in line with Strunk and White’s stance that a goal needs to be conceived of early on. Furthermore, he states, “if related to the concept of purpose, the selection and organization of material can be made much more meaningful, as parts of the process of communication rather than as ends in themselves” and that “the cumbersome business of formal outlining . . . can largely be dispensed with” (23). While his sentiments on outlining may differ from Strunk and White, he essentially exchanges preconceived goal setting with the notion of purpose. At this point in the article, the reader is led to question the freeing nature of his point about stimulus and response, particularly if he encourages that student writers develop a purpose prior to the start of the writing process.

          Although I have only skimmed the surface on varying opinions on the draft, it is clear that even in its conception, our definition of the draft was in conflict. That being said and considering its roots, is it even founded to assign a number to its creation? Should a draft really be written with a particular purpose in mind? Should a thesis statement absolutely be conceived of prior to its creation and should an outline be developed based on this thesis statement? What about the interstitial spaces between additions to paragraphs? Does thought not occur between paragraphs, sentences, and words? Maybe it is time to reconceptualize the idea of the draft and maybe this rethinking has everything to do with context.

Works Cited

Elbow, Peter. “Teaching Thinking by Teaching Writing.” Change, vol. 15, no. 6, 1983,

          pp. 37–40. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40164191.

Mills, Barriss. “Writing as Process.” College English, vol. 15, no. 1, 1953, pp. 19–26.

          JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/371599.

Strunk, William, Jr., and White, E.B. The Elements of Style. 4th ed., Longman, 2000.

(What do you think about these stages and issues of drafting? Please feel free to comment and share ideas below!)

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Traveling (to class) Tales

Join our Writing and Rhetoric Program’s faculty in our flash non-fiction narratives about the most daunting challenges we’ve overcome to make it to class – a creative collaboration featuring Carolyn Sofia, MaryAnn Duffy, and Joseph Labriola.

“Commitment” – by Carolyn Sofia

Tmanwithpaperrunningwenty-five years ago I was sitting in the gardens at the Gran Hotel del Paraguay, a colonial, 19th-century hotel on the outskirts of Asuncion. Holding my soon-to-be, infant daughter, her dark curls resting on my shoulder, I whispered over and over, “Mbaé’chepa?” – Hello, how are you? – the only Guarani phrase I knew. A doctoral student at Stony Brook and a freeway flyer teaching composition at three different colleges on Long Island, I couldn’t afford to stay four months in Paraguay like other adoptive parents did. Instead, I visited for a week a few times to deal with court paperwork and to acquaint myself with the little doll who was becoming the center of my world. It was Thursday. I was due back on Long Island for my next class on Monday.

Once at the airport on Saturday my worries began to build. Spring Break had come early and winter had apparently decided to stay late. A big snowstorm was approaching North America’s east coast. While the jet was cruising over Brazil, an announcement came that the storm would force us to de-plane in Miami. Thoughts of my daughter were driven away by the faces of my students who were supposed to hand in an important paper at Monday’s class. It never occurred to me that the school might be closed due to snow.

Hordes of passengers crowded the Miami airport. With all flights destined for New York cancelled, every seat was already taken in the waiting area. Like hundreds of other people I ended up fitfully sleeping on the floor as the hours crept by with my arms around my bags. Sometime toward dawn a loudspeaker woke me. The voice said a first flight was leaving for New York; the airline would take tickets from any carrier. Bags grabbed, I began to run. Other people had awoken and were running too, but somehow I managed to get a seat on the flight.

In New York, the parkways looked plowed enough to get to a friend’s house in Nassau where my car was parked. The plan had been to sleep there on Sunday night so I would be closer to the college on Monday morning. As the limo maneuvered over the slushy roads, I felt myself becoming giddy with self-congratulatory thoughts – who actually manages to come from another continent to get to class? And, look how much life had improved – lousy airport food would give way to a home-cooked meal, the hard airport floor would be replaced by a cozy bed.

Laughing to myself on Monday morning, I switched on the TV. The local news channel said the college was running classes as usual that day. Three hours before class was scheduled to start, I went outside to dig out my car from the remaining snow. When I started shoveling, the smile quickly faded. A flat tire!  How could this happen? Every movement forward since Saturday had brought another challenge. Had I been out of my mind to go to South America the previous week in the belief that no one would notice, not least of all the weather gods?  Life had transformed me into Odysseus trying to sail past Scylla and Charybdis when I was supposed to be Penelope at home with my weaving.

Unbelievably, the AAA sent help quickly, so I got to the campus fifteen minutes early. Surprise: only half the class came. I marked the rest of the students absent and refused to erase the absence even though they complained to the dean that I was too strict.

Did my strictness matter? I hope so. Twenty-five years later my infant daughter is now grown and a mother herself. Those students are probably parents. I wonder if they taught their own children an important life lesson: we show up for what’s important to us.

“How I Got to Class This Morning” – by MaryAnn Duffy

I had just graduated from college with a degree in Philosophy. I had to make the retrograde move from Chicago to my parents’ house in Santa Barbara, California. I was lucky I had a place to stay while I figured out what I wanted to do, but I knew it couldn’t last long between my mom and me. I had to find work and my own place fast.

This morning was the start of all that.

I was reporting to my first assignment given to me by the local temp agency – fill in for as a secretary at a manufacturing warehouse. I dressed in a skirt and stockings, modest heals, my silky blouse – what I thought a secretary should look like.

I got in my used orange Datsun B210 hatchback, manual. It was my first car.  A half mile before I got to the job, the car lurched to an abrupt halt in the left-turn lane. The transmission to my first car fell out. I got out, tiptoed around the car when just at that moment, a man in a greasy jumpsuit with long very dark frizzy hair and a three-day beard pulled over on his antique motorcycle. We pushed the car to the side. I hopped on the back of the bike and was safely and punctually delivered to my first temp gig.

I crawled off the back of his bike, hiked my skirt down, and gave him a big hug. When I swung around to walk in,  I saw the whole staff looking out the window watching me thanking my knight in shining armor. I sat down in the cold warehouse at a grey metal desk, sticky with the years. Someone plopped a six-inch stack of paper-thin receipts in front of me and told me to put them in alphabetical order. I was also to answer the phone and yell back to the manufacturing area, “Phil, the phone is for you.”  It was loud and cold and fluorescent.

I called the woman at the agency and told her I couldn’t do the job and walked out.

Even though my relationship with my mom is difficult, my mother did – in a 1970s feminist kind of way – tell me to learn how to type so I could always support myself as a secretary. And typing got me out of temp work, into high-paying legal secretarial and paralegal work, which got me through graduate school, and as far away from that stack receipts and warehouse as I could get.

That’s how I got to writing class this morning.  

“Classathon” – by Joseph Labriola

runner1Of course it doesn’t start. The one time you actually plan to come early to school. In hopes of finishing those homeworks you forgot the day before. In hopes of getting everyone back their writing a class day early. They’d appreciate that – you think.

But your car isn’t starting, and likely won’t anytime soon. What to do? You could call a tow truck, or a friend for a jump, or say the heck with it all and make a nice breakfast instead as you figure things out. There’s still hope though. Hope to grade those homeworks. If you move quickly.

There’s a bus stop right up the road, maybe a quarter mile. The only problem – you think as you stubbornly begin trudging – is that its all uphill. But as long as you catch a bus, you might make it in time after all.

Panting, you sprint the final few hundred feet parallel to the bus as it slides up to the stop. You huff your way on-board, amazed by your seemingly Olympic achievement. At least the sun hasn’t fully risen yet – you think – patting the sweat from your brow. It’s early September, after all, and about to get a whole lot warmer today.

The bus is slow, of course. The ‘stop’ buzzer is broken so the whole ride is orchestrated by the same, long, whining, electronic ‘EHHHHHHH….’ for stop, upon stop, upon stop, upon stop…

But you should still make it – you hope – at least until the driver slows down to the side of the road. This isn’t a stop – you think – despite the ‘EHHHHHHH….’

“Engine’s overheating,” the driver gets up to declare. “Liability issue. Have to wait for a replacement bus.”

Replacement bus?? – you think – never so angered by such a seemingly non-angering phrase. “Do you have any idea when?” you ask, as congenially as you can.

The driver shrugs, reading his morning paper. “Could be minutes. Could be an hour.”

You have a moment of pause. Reflective emotions: rage, defeat, humor, and finally determination.

You sprint off the bus and begin down the street. The good news is, the trek uphill earlier turned out to be the perfect warm up. The bad, you have two-and-a-half more miles to go. But the Gods know you’ve come too far to give up now.

Of course the tenuous clouds are obliterated by the rising – and warming – sun as you continue on. Of course the ‘replacement bus’ whizzes by you only about quarter mile into your classathon.

You check the time, actually running the final mile or so with your backpack on. By the time you reach class, bursting through the doors, five minutes late, panting and drenched in sweat, your students gape as if you’re mad.

But you’re not mad. Not anymore.

You are triumphant.

“Sorry…” you say, catching your breath. “That I’m late… I wanted to get you back your homeworks today…but it just didn’t work out.”

Most still seem too shocked by your appearance to comment, though one brave, confused soul, asks, in all honestly, “What homework?”

Please feel free to like, share, and comment with any of your own daring travel anecdotes in the comments section below!

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A Monster of a Draft (Part One)

Join the Program in Writing and Rhetoric’s very own Kimberly Towers-Kubik as she delves into the belly of the beast: the draft. How should one assign drafts? Assess them? Part one of her four piece series will begin with the basics: an exploration of the pros and pitfalls of different modes of assigning and grading drafts.

A Monster of a Draft (Part One)
by Kimberly Towers-Kubik

          As I sit here, pondering and planning my curriculum for next semester, I yet again hit that brick wall that is ‘the draft.’ Every semester, I have reinvented how I conceptualize the draft: its place in terms of my grading policy, its merit in terms of purpose and usefulness, its place today in this age of technology, etc. As I near yet another reinvention, I’d like to share my thoughts in a few installments. Feel free to jump into the conversation as you see fit but be aware that these ideas are a product of my mental ramblings, a progression piece that is inductive. Hence, please make sure to read to the end where I make suggestions on how we can free ourselves from the monster that is the draft.

The Complexities of Grading ‘the Draft’

          There are many iterations of how I have dealt with the draft in terms of grading in the past. One was to give a grade out of 100% based on components such as thesis development, basic organization, and utilization of evidence. This method followed my secondary education training where a check minus was awarded 60%, a check 80%, and a check plus 100%. It was meant to streamline to make grading easier but unfortunately, it felt overly simplistic at times. For example, there were moments where a student’s piece, for one reason or another, was not quite a check plus but was most definitely more than a check. In these moments where I contemplated subdivision, I started to feel as if I needed a rubric for a draft to justify straying from my purported grading policy and doing so seemed to be too formal a step for a draft. Another problem I encountered was that I could never bring myself to award a student a check plus because every draft needs improvement and full credit implied perfection. These pitfalls are what prompted me to start toying with other strategies.

Good advice? Certainly a tricky mantra....

Good advice? Certainly a tricky mantra….

For a second iteration, I gave two grades: one was for effort out of 100% and the other was an approximation of where the grade would fall were it the final draft. The approximation did not count towards the student’s overall grade. The problem with this method was that I was essentially grading twice, which was an overly strenuous endeavor. For the first reading, I would try to ascertain how much care and thought was put into the draft, which was an arduous feat in and of itself, and assign an effort grade that seemed suitable. Then, I would read the paper again and grade it as if it were a final paper using our class rubric. This step, however, seemed counterproductive because being a draft, of course it wouldn’t meet the same standards as a final draft.

          Furthermore, logically speaking, my comments should have accomplished this task because they would ideally provide subtle prompting meant to guide the student towards fulfilling rubric requirements. My motivation for including this component was based on my belief that students in general are grade focused and as such, they would pay more attention to a number assignation (and hence, utilize my comments more thoroughly). Unfortunately, as with the first iteration, this method led to an unmanageable amount of grading and as a result, I came to another iteration.

          I began to assign only an effort grade to the draft while, of course, leaving comments. Being a bit less technical, I felt liberated and a bit more free to award full credit to students whose enthusiasm came across (through word choice, interesting sources, particularly well thought out thesis statements, etc.). This method, however, became problematic because it is extremely difficult to measure effort and the components listed parenthetically above, if absent, do not necessarily mean that a student did not work hard.

          Furthermore, my earlier fear (that full credit implied perfection) came to fruition when a student asked if his draft grade was an indicator of how well he would do on his final paper. In response, I explained that the grade was a reflection of the raw potential of the paper and that, with hard work, the paper could do very well. This student went on to fail the portfolio that semester in part because his research paper was limited in scope, the same paper for which his draft received full credit. This iteration left me not only frustrated with a lack of technical resolution but also fearful of potentially stifling a student’s progress via quantitative measurements.

          For this semester, I know I need to change my approach yet again because I have started to develop reservations. I wonder, is it reasonable to even give a grade for a draft in the first place? Are we as a discipline contradicting ourselves based upon the principles by which we teach when we assign a grade to a draft?

Be sure to check back soon, for part two of professor Towers-Kubik’ series on [the] Monster of a Draft! In the meantime, please share your thoughts in the comments below, like, and share!

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Experiments In Transfer

by Steven Dube
“I want my students to internalize the idea that they are not writing isolated essays in a writing class, but that they’re writers thinking through their choices, no matter what the context is.”

1. One common difficulty that students face in research is filtering out irrelevant information. A student, let’s call him James, may say that he wants to research the health benefits of organic food, and he will do so, but he will also include information on why it’s so expensive. First drafts are littered with interesting but irrelevant points. In class, we talk about filtering out information and how writing is as much, if not more, about what you choose to not write about as your topic itself. In fact, you can use your topic to filter out what’s irrelevant. It’s a pretty exciting moment when James gets this idea and rewrites his essay successfully.

The problem is that in his next essay, when James analyzes an Onion article mocking passive-aggressive behavior as ineffective; instead of using a quote to illustrate this aspect of the article, James chooses a quote about how we overreact to small matters. It’s the same issue we faced in the research essay. This quote is no more relevant than much of his initial research was, and yet James doesn’t see it.

He hasn’t made the connection between the research essay and the analysis essay. Semester after semester, I have seen students struggle in this way with skill application. The student has learned to focus for his research essay but cannot apply what he’s learned in his essay for history class. The student knows how to write with telling details for his personal essay but in his short story forgets to describe in detail the basic facts of the scenario.

——

2. Having many students struggle like this over the years has made me think deeply about the role of transfer in my classes. It helped me realize that there were many missing connections that needed to be made. I realized I needed to do more explaining.

One way I began to make transfer a part of my class was to add more direct discussion of it during the semester. These days, I would not have left James alone to discover the connections between essays. I would have, instead, pointed out the similarities in his writing problems across assignments (and later courses). I would have said something like, “This is the same issue we faced in the research essay. It’s a common issue that we all face in our writing – avoiding a mixed message, keeping out irrelevant information. We saw how it got us sidetracked in the research essay. Now, we can see how it sidetracks the analysis in this assignment. As you rewrite your essay, aim to omit quotes that don’t fit your focus.”

Previously, I hadn’t realized that I needed to get this specific as we worked on drafts, but soon I saw the benefit to this level of specificity for keeping the conversation going and illustrating how class concepts from one essay might apply to other areas. I want my students to internalize the idea that they are not writing isolated essays in a writing class, but that they’re writers thinking through their choices, no matter what the context is.

This work culminates, at the end of the semester, when students reflect on how they plan to use the skills of the class going forward for their portfolio cover letters. I don’t merely want them to think about transferring skills they have learned in this class but to also use the cover letter as on opportunity to put this skill into practice. I remind them that this cover letter is also a new writing context and they can approach it the same way, choosing to keep focus, writing with telling details, and so on.

In this way, once we’ve completed our first essay, transfer is weaved into the fabric of the course. The students get and like it; it gives their work meaning. For some, their writing mindset changes from that of completing writing assignments the way they think their professors want them written to actively making choices as a writer.

——

3. I give my students even more opportunities to think about transfer with an extra credit assignment: use any of the skills of the class in any other writing context (a paper for another class, a short story, a Facebook post). I don’t want us merely talking about transfer but also practicing it as frequently as possible. As part of the extra credit, the students have to write a page-length reflection about why they chose to use certain skills. Extra credit is given based on how successful and thoughtful the student is about their writing.

One of my students, William, wrote a reflection about an analysis essay in his Music 109 class that I liked because it gave serious consideration to what skills were and were not applicable in this case. He writes, “I incorporated many of the elements I learned to use in my writing assignments, but left out just as many because of the more formal setting… I decided against including personal details such as anecdotes or opinions.”

It’s interesting that he’s thinking about what skills he’s not using (in fact, I’ve added that element to the extra credit: use or don’t use any of the skills of the class). It’s clear that William is making choices based on the genre setting; he is thinking like a writer.

——

4. Putting transfer into practice has had an added benefit. It’s allowed me to see where my own instruction could be clearer. After seeing the power of narrative in the I-search essay, for example, I have had students over-apply narrative to their argument writing. I had one student present a story of how he made friends through social media as evidence that most people are not addicted to social media.

I had to explain that he was using narrative in a misleading manner. I explained that, while his example could be evidence of the benefits of social media, that didn’t mean that others weren’t using it in a destructive manner.

This process has made me reassess my strategy. I had been showing my students the power of personal narrative but not always explaining why and how it could be used. I now realized I was unintentionally suggesting that the personal could be applied indiscriminately. I realized that I needed to bring this up as a writing problem.

In this way, bringing transfer into the classroom shows me how my students are thinking about their writing and allows me to evaluate what’s working and what needs further refinement. Sometimes, my students’ attempts at transfer work and sometimes they fail. They’re always experimenting. But regardless of the results, the conversations generated by these attempts at transfer may be the main benefit of bringing it into the classroom.

——

Steven Dube is a lecturer in Stony Brook University’s Writing and Rhetoric Program.

Posted in Teaching Anecdotes, Teaching Tips, Teaching Writing, Writing & Rhetoric | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Memes as Global Communication

by Cynthia Davidson

While many of our students and faculty are well-traveled to the point of being cosmopolitan, prodigies of negotiating cultures physically, intellectually, and emotionally, traveling physically is not a condition of being a global communicator in the digital age. Global communication is coded into the multimodal system of signs that pervades the internet and traverses barriers of language, nation, region, and culture.

An example of a genre of global text is the much maligned, much loved, and lowly internet meme. When spread virally, memes revise to address the local conditions of their authors while opening themselves to readings flung far from those conditions. Memes, like the cyborg of Donna Haraway’s feminist parable, have no true origin myth; instead they have a multitude of origin points (it is often difficult or nigh impossible to pin down where a popular meme began) and are constantly being reborn through the art of remix.

While memes often seem innocuous, ridiculous, or simplistic compared to other kinds of texts, they frequently wield considerable communicative power. As Josh Fredman states, “The rise of Internet memes has created a new social currency that people can use to relate to one another — giving rise to whole new social structures that help to shape the future of society” ( “The Internet and its Impact on Global Communication”). Military analyst and entrepreneur John Robb believes that memes, which “generate tens of millions of impressions an hour…[s]everal orders of magnitude (100x) more than any other form of political communication,” are incomparable tools of political warfare at the present time in history, “providing a quick emotional hit in comparison to a long winded article with an uncertain payoff”  (“All Hail the Meme”).

Social scientist Rosaria Conté (2000) argues that memes are spread by actors, not some biological imperative or mechanical transmission (a theory which dominated the discussion of memetics in the late twentieth century, ie Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, published in 1976). Her argument has implications for rhetorical studies of memes as a genre of text with complex relationships  of authorship/audience/purpose/intent and complications especially to ethos.  (Dawkins had argued that memes were cultural transmitters analogical to genes, a theory that was widely criticized due to the incongruity of thought models in biology and cultural analysis.) She defines the effect of memes by breaking it down into components of content, form, and stance.

  • Content –The idea/s and the ideology/ies conveyed by a specific text.
  • Form –The physical formulation of the message, perceived through our senses
  • Stance— Information about the communicative positioning of the addresser in relation to the text/message, the context, and other potential speakers.

In an online interview with Henry Jenkins, Limor Shifman, author of Memes in Digital Culture (MIT Press, 2013), states, “While internet memes are all about individuals creating content, they are also all about individuals creating content with awareness of each other. Memes not only involve pervasive mimicry, they are also based on intense collaborative work and complex multi-participant choreographies” and they function to mark members of online communities as knowledgeable of the mores of that group: “In these contexts the duality of being both an individual and a part of a community is flagged on a daily basis: community members are expected to be original, but not too original, when creating memes.”

“pepper spraying cop” by anita hart. Source: https://flic.kr/p/aM3tYz (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“pepper spraying cop” by anita hart. Source: https://flic.kr/p/aM3tYz
(CC BY-SA 2.0)

The highly visual composition of most memes opens them to contrasting readings, as Shifman states: “Whereas in verbal jokes the target of mockery and the scorn expressed towards it are often clear, the openness of visual images and the lack of a clear narrative may invoke contrasting interpretations.” This openness to variant readings allows memes to cross borders easily. These borders may be political or cultural, as in the case of the example of this pepper-spraying cop meme that arose from an incident at the University of California-Davis in 2011. Shifman noticed that there were several divergent pathways for meme-creation in this case: one, as in the image above, was strictly playful (perhaps subtly pointing up the silliness or stupidity of targeting something as nonviolent as a sweater-wearing penguin), while others were more pointedly critical of the police officer by showing him targeting the Constitution or other iconographic images of American freedom. Yet others seemed to be celebrating the psychological “purging” effect of the attack by showing the officer targeting celebrities that they did not approve of, such as Rebecca Black, the maligned creator of the “Fridays” video  (Shifman 2013).

“Makmende Cover.jpg.” Source: http://tinyurl.com/gph2f8k (fair use)

“Makmende Cover.jpg.”
Source: http://tinyurl.com/gph2f8k
(fair use)

What Shifman calls the “international flow” of a meme, however, may call for a more specific type of divergence in creation and interpretation, since images may “need to be replaced or localized to make sense in new territories” (Jenkins 2014). She gives the example of “Successful Black Man,” an American meme showing a clean-cut Black man defying cultural stereotypes of laziness, which was replaced in Israel by “Akiva, the Humanist Ultra–Orthodox,“ an Orthodox Jewish man who defies stereotyping as a traditional male by acting in surprising, feminist ways, such as demanding his wife return to the kitchen only to have cooked her a delicious meal. But the flow of international memes does not always move from the Americas to Eurasia, as made evident by “Gangnam Style”’s massive success. Pop culture website Mental Floss recently published a review of several memes that originated outside of the U.S., including the Kenya-based meme makmende. Loosely based on Clint Eastwood’s DIrty Harry’s line “Make my day,” the word came to mean “toughest hero” or “badass” in the 1980s and went viral as a visual meme after Just a Band, a Kenyan house/funk/disco band, released a music video for their song “Ha-He.” The hero of the video became the visual face of makmende and the foundation of a string of viral variations. For more information, see Ekdale and Tully’s 2014 article, “Makmende Amerudi: Kenya’s Collective Reimagining as a Meme of Aspiration.”

Much has been made of the flattening effects of globalization (Friedman 2006); while his theorizing that community content, increased access to information, and developing technology flatten our societal structures is still debated, it can be theorized that the ease of the flow of memes across cultural, political, and even linguistic borders can potentially flatten the meanings woven across them. In classrooms, however, those flattening effects can be countered with reflection, research, and analysis. Designing assignments that ask students to treat the memes that wash across their screens as serious multimodal texts with global impact is a way to facilitate this. For example, when teaching textual analysis, instructors can ask students to:

  • analyze memes as multimodal texts, using the New London Group’s (1996) model for linguistic, visual, spatial, gestural, and aural (in the case of videos or songs/jingles) modalities (see Arola, Ball, and Sheppard 2014)
  • examine the rhetorical situation, audience, purpose, context, genre of a memetic text in the context in which they find it (see Arola, Ball, and Sheppard 2014)
  • examine design elements (emphasis, contrast, alignment, proximity, and organization) (see Arola, Ball, and Sheppard 2014)
  • research the history or lore of the meme, being aware it may have multiple “origins”
  • check the rhetorical situation, audience, purpose, context, and genre of any texts that were poached or remixed in the making of a memetic text as a part of the process of determining how it was meant to be taken/read
  • examine adjacent content and design to determine context of the meme’s delivery
  • discover implicit arguments through the analysis of the modalities and design elements used in constructing the meme
  • examine how context can provide ways to uncover racist, sexist, or xenophobic meanings coded into the construction of memes or their responses
  • research the cultural meanings of memes depending on the context in which it is found, and infer how readings might change as memes traverse social, political, and cultural boundaries
  • research and analyze reactions to memes on social media sites and others delivery contexts

After analysis, or as a part of process of analysis itself, a student could create their own meme as a response to the argument discovered through analysis using remix and write a reflection on their own choices as they relate to rhetorical features such as rhetorical situation, audience, purpose, genre, design elements, and argument. This is a fun and creative yet intellectually rigorous assignment that engages students on many levels.

Post-election 2016 addendum: I wrote this post before the Presidential election. I just wanted to add that in light of the role of political memes in the election cycle, this post may seem somewhat disengaged from current events, but I feel even more strongly that there is so much work to be done in responding to memetic cycling in a reflective, thoughtful, critical, and non-reactive manner by scholars, teachers, writers, and students across the globe.

For example, I have been reviewing the probable connection between the results of the election and anti-feminist memetic turns that were spread primarily through social media; these were out in the open, unhidden, for the most part, yet few were aware of their impact. These memes are also local and global. No one factor causes an election to occur, and this is only one meme cycle among countless others. The bottom line, as far as I can see, is that we all need to review and reflect upon points of view that may trigger us or turn us off, and understand for whom, and why, they are effective communicators.

What is your experience with memes either inside or outside the classroom? How do you feel that this medium for cultural expression can and should be used to positive rather than negative effect? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Works Cited

Arola, Kristin, Cheryl E. Ball, and Jennifer Sheppard. Writer/Designer. 1st ed., Bedford-St. Martins, 2014.

Conté, Rosaria. “Memes Through (Social) Minds.” Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science, edited by R. Aunger, Oxford UP, 2000. pp. 83-120.

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. Oxford UP, 2006.*

Ekdale, Brian, and Melissa Tully. “Makmende Amerudi: Kenya’s Collective Reimagining as a Meme of Aspiration.” Critical Studies in Media Communication, vol. 31, no. 4, 2014, pp. 283-298, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15295036.2013.858823. Accessed 7 Nov. 2016.

Fredman, Josh. “The Internet & Its Impact on Global Communication.Tech in Our Everyday Life, 2016, techin.oureverydaylife.com/internet-its-impact-global-communication-2961.html. Accessed 7 Nov. 2016.

Friedman, Thomas L. The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006.

Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, Routledge, 1991, pp.149-181.

Jenkins, Henry. “A Meme is a Terrible Thing to Waste: An Interview With Limor Shifman (Part 1).Confessions of an ACA-Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins, February 17, 2014, henryjenkins.org/2014/02/a-meme-is-a-terrible-thing-to-waste-an-interview-with-limor-shifman-part-one.html. Accessed 7 Nov. 2016.

Just A Band–Ha-He.” YouTube, uploaded by justabandwidth, 14 March 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mG1vIeETHc.

Miss Cellania. “International Internet Memes.” Mental Floss, April 9, 2013, mentalfloss.com/article/49977/international-internet-memes. Accessed 7 Nov. 2016.

New London Group. “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures.”  Harvard Educational Review, vol. 66, no. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 60-92, newarcproject.pbworks.com/f/Pedagogy%2Bof%2BMultiliteracies_New%2BLondon%2BGroup.pdf. Accessed 7 Nov. 2016.

Robb, John. “All Hail the Meme, the New King of Political Communications.” Global Guerrillas, 16 August 2016, globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2016/08/the-mediaglyph.html. Accessed 7 Nov. 2016.

Shifman, Limor. “Memes in a Digital World: Reconciling With a Conceptual Troublemaker.Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 18, 2013, pp. 362–377. Accessed 7 Nov. 2016,  doi:10.1111/jcc4.12013.

*original edition 1976

Image credits:

“Makmende Cover.jpg.”  Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Album_Makmende_Cover.jpg  (fair use)

“pepper spraying cop” by anita hart. Source: https://flic.kr/p/aM3tYz  (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Posted in Teaching Writing, Technology and Teaching, Writing & Rhetoric | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Engaging the Global: Some Teaching Strategies for the Writing Classroom

Written by Shyam Sharma, Rita Nezami, Cynthia Davidson, Soni Adhikari, Kevin Clouther

Introduction

     An increasing number of instructors in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric use global and transnational/cross-cultural issues and perspectives as curricular/pedagogical strategies to educate students as global citizens. As a recent group discussion and brown bag session indicated, we seem to “engage the global” in one way or another: by using literature from different cultures/countries and contexts/times, personal narratives and i-search process, news items and scholarly articles, translingual and transnational communication activities, cross-cultural research and experiential learning activities. In this essay, we summarize some of the teaching strategies and experiences that we shared among the group. We invite other colleagues to join the conversation and share their teaching ideas and strategies through the comments section below.

An "Artist's" rendition of The Globe of Perspectives, mostly to scale.

An “Artist’s” rendering of The Globe of Perspectives, mostly to scale.

Educating Global Citizens  – Rita Nezami

     Global literacy is an understanding of how the world is organized and interconnected. We live in a globalized world with which our students need to remain connected. Globally literate students analyze and think critically about the world and their roles in it. They understand and appreciate various global issues, systems, and relationships that influence people’s lives worldwide. Global knowledge can empower students to effect positive changes in an increasingly interconnected world. They are empowered by knowledge about terrorism, humanitarian crises, nuclear proliferation, climate change, and more. As a result, students may begin to see themselves as global citizens.

     Encouraged by PWR instructors, many of our students consider global events and news as subjects for argumentative research papers. Yet, some students continue to be satisfied with a horizon that they define by the limited content that they choose and filter via their mobile devices and social-media accounts. Even though we live in a world where global news is available 24/7 through a panoply of venues, some students remain uninformed about the planet beyond their immediate experience.

     As teachers, it is our task to convey the importance of open-mindedness and curiosity about the rest of the world. Part of the ethical aspect of our work is to give students a reason to pause and ask whether some global issues are especially urgent and warrant their attention. Exposure to a global perspective implicitly invites students to consider what moral obligations they may have to know what millions of people are experiencing.

     Global literature provides a powerful entrance to this larger sphere of human experience. Through it, students can directly engage with some of the most morally significant matters of our time: the anxieties of statelessness, the uncertainties of climate change, the fears of terrorism and racism, and the inevitable prospective conflicts over resource shortages. Writers whose aesthetic visions deal with these and other urgencies appeal to students’ emotions, intellects, and aesthetic sensibilities because their own lives’ futures and prospects are directly implicated. In these works, students enter into both immediately intriguing issues and the forces that will shape their own lives.

Memes as Global Communication – Cynthia Davidson

     We live in interesting times. While many of our students and faculty are well-traveled to the point of being cosmopolitan, prodigies of negotiating cultures physically, intellectually, and emotionally, traveling physically is not a condition of being a global communicator in the digital age. Global communication is coded into the multimodal system of signs that pervades the internet and traverses barriers of language, national, region, and culture. An example of a genre of global text is the much maligned, much loved, and lowly internet meme. When spread virally, memes revise to address the local conditions of their authors while opening themselves to readings flung far from those conditions.

     Designing assignments that ask students to treat the memes that wash across their screens as serious multimodal texts with global impact is a way to facilitate this. For example, when teaching textual analysis, instructors can ask students to:

  • analyze memes as multimodal texts, using the New London Group’s (1996) model for linguistic, visual, spatial, gestural, and aural (in the case of videos or songs/jingles) modalities (see Arola, Ball, and Sheppard 2014)
  • examine the rhetorical situation, audience, purpose, context, genre of a memetic text in the context in which they find it (see Arola, Ball, and Sheppard 2014)
  • examine design elements (emphasis, contrast, alignment, proximity, and organization) (see Arola, Ball, and Sheppard 2014)
  • research the history or lore of the meme, being aware it may have multiple “origins”
  • check the rhetorical situation, audience, purpose, context, and genre of any texts that were poached or remixed in the making of a memetic text as a part of the process of determining how it was meant to be taken/read
  • examine adjacent content and design to determine context of the meme’s delivery
  • discover implicit arguments through the analysis of the modalities and design elements used in constructing the meme
  • examine how context can provide ways to uncover racist, sexist, or xenophobic meanings coded into the construction of memes or their responses
  • research the cultural meanings of memes depending on the context in which it is found, and infer how readings might change as memes traverse social, political, and cultural boundaries
  • research and analyze reactions to memes on social media sites and others delivery contexts

     After analysis, or as a part of process of analysis itself, a student could create their own meme as a response to the argument discovered through analysis using remix and write a reflection on their own choices as they relate to rhetorical features such as rhetorical situation, audience, purpose, genre, design elements, and argument. This is a fun and creative yet intellectually rigorous assignment that engages students on many levels.

Cross-cultural meme

Cross-Cultural Perspectives as Teaching/Learning Tools – Soni Adhikari

     Using global or cross-cultural texts and research can help us educate students about the larger world and foster respect and empathy toward people in other places. But as a teacher, I find this approach useful for improving student writing about local issues as well.

     Recently, a student started his research assignment by arguing that media censorship severs a critical bond between the government and people, creating distrust and dissatisfaction in any democracy. While this was a good thesis, I also found it utterly obvious, requiring no “persuasion” as a result. When talking to him, I realized that the student had assumed the American context and discourse to be universally relevant. So, I gave him the example of how Internet news sites and social media caused panic and chaos in Nepal during a major earthquake recently. This encouraged him to research what countries already have regulations for situations like that and learned about different political ideologies and cultural values regarding “freedom of speech” and also about weaknesses in prevailing assumptions in the United States.

     The revised introduction of the student’s paper read something like this: Our media has become increasingly partisan, driven by profit motive, irresponsible about informing/educating people. … As such, in extreme situations, reasonable regulations could prevent potential crises and alleviate social harm. …. a reliable government agency could be useful in holding any corrupt and irresponsible media accountable when they spread blatantly false or harmful “news” and opinion. It could help the society to prevent panic and fear, harm to children or vulnerable groups, and disruption of general social harmony.

     While the student continued to focus on the US context, he greatly improved his argument by questioning (rather than embracing) mainstream assumption and problematizing it to take a unique position of his own, giving evidence from other contexts and discourses. He also found it easier to write the paper, which was more interesting and persuasive to read.

Literature Across Time and Space – Kevin Clouther

     Very little literary fiction and poetry in the United States is published in translation, perhaps less than one percent. As such, it is not uncommon to encounter undergraduates who have read little that was not originally published in their native language. As I teach a fairly traditional syllabus with most of my texts consisting of written works, I deliberately select literature from different languages and periods, so as to expose students to writing from across the world over the last three centuries. Invariably, students discover that while the experiences–loss, longing, love, etc.–are familiar, the circumstances are different. Magicians like Chekhov who are able to inhabit different ages, genders, and classes are particularly effective teachers.

     I find that the translator one selects is enormously important, so I make an effort to sample different translators for the same author and read interviews with translators, wherein they discuss their process. One exercise I enjoy is having each student write a sentence in a language other than English and then walk the class through the translation with careful attention to each decision. The following is a sampling of authors and translators I have had success teaching in the PWR. I would be happy to discuss any of these authors and translators with anyone who is interested. I would also be happy to hear what other authors and translators, like our own Rita Nezami, our instructors teach.

Italo Calvino, trans. William Weaver (Italian)

Anton Chekhov, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Russian)

Gustave Flaubert, trans. Lydia Davis (French)

Franz Kafka, trans. Susan Bernofsky (German)

Clarice Lispector, trans. Katrina Dodson (Portuguese)

Alexander Pushkin, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Russian)

Ivan Turgenev, trans. Constance Garnett (Russian)

Alejandro Zambra, trans. Megan McDowell (Spanish)

Activities and Assignments – Shyam Sharma

     Transnational and global issues have become extremely popular in Writing Studies, but the field is yet to develop a good repertoire of pedagogical strategies and practices. Here are assignments, activities, and resources that I use in my class (some are recycled from a two-part essay I wrote for Transnational Writing, a special interest group at CCCC).

Image-Searching “Universal” Ideas— Students google words like “beauty” and toggle to “image,” then discuss issues like internet’s representation of ideas, how context and ideology shape meaning, values/problems of semantic algorithm, etc. In one course, students follow up with short essays.

Words, Idioms, world Englishes— To foster critical language awareness, I use untranslatable words, hilarious failures of machine translation, and communicative misfires in movies to help students discuss usage, appropriateness, political correctness, etc, in different cultures and contexts.

Assignment: Academic Transition Narratives— International and domestic students write about transitioning US and to college respectively, then share the stories to discuss issues about and approaches to education.

Research Paper on Global Issues— For the research argument essay in WRT102, I require students to research/write about global issues (on topics like these) or use transnational/cultural perspectives. I’ve written more about the issue here.

Multimodal Group Assignment— Students interested in related issues form groups to research, write, and present their findings using collaboratively created multimodal material.

Discussion Essay— Students write about contested issues “without” taking a position but instead using different national, cultural, contextual perspectives. This is based on the ancient South Asian rhetorical tradition of Nyaya Sutra (rhetoric of justice).

Peer Feedback— I ask students to focus on translingual, transcultural, and transnational issues and perspectives—and NOT on lower-order concerns—when reading each other’s work. I provide rubric to foreground cultural perspectives, complexity, nuance.

Conclusion

     The field of writing studies is probably a little behind in responding to the globalization of the classroom and the need to update the mission of traditional liberal arts to the demands of our time. But the last few years have shown rapid response in our national conferences, research and scholarship, and local/departmental conversations. Coming together to share our experiences and ideas, we have realized that PWR has started to very productively respond to diversification of the student body, increase of international students, exposure of all students to other cultures and global issues due to emerging media, increasing number of issues that demand global response, and the response of higher education in the United States to changing geopolitical dynamics.

     As the teaching strategies and experiences we’ve shared above indicate, there are many benefits of helping students go beyond local contexts, issues, and perspectives. Some of those benefits include (1) educational in that students learn about ongoing issues in the world and learn to care about the world at large, becoming more respectful of others and different value systems, (2) epistemological in that they are able to generate more sophisticated ideas, arguments, and perspectives by not taking the local contexts and values for granted, considering them as universally relevant, (3) political in that they may start taking action, intellectually and physically, toward helping tackle problems that cross political and national borders, (4) sociocultural in that they develop the ability to communicate and work with people of different backgrounds and persuasions, and (5) professional in that they develop practical skills to join an increasingly diversified and globalized workforce, in both physical and virtual modes, and whether they cross national borders or not. In fact, research in multilingualism and cross-cultural communication also shows that people are mentally healthier when they are able to cross linguistic, social, cultural, and political borders.

     Given that engaging the global is necessary and beneficial in education, how can we enhance this component in our curriculum/pedagogy and mission? How can we make our work in this area more visible on campus? What are some of the specific teaching strategies that you use in your classes?

Please share in the comments below. If you want to add teaching materials to this conversation, please email them to us and we can add to the shared Google Folder, whose link we’ve shared on our listserv.

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