Coffee Seminar: A Cup of Life Lessons

Teaching and learning comes in many forms – in this anecdote, Stony Brook University Writing and Rhetoric’s Joe Labriola explains the scholarly value of his end of semester fresh pour over coffee seminar!

The end of the semester is a time of substantial stress – for both students and teachers alike. The former often find themselves immersed within panicked, self-insomnia-forced study sessions, while the latter face the alternate side of the finals madness spectrum: grading. We writing teachers in particular have our work cut out for us. A crude calculation will reveal that on average, one can expect to grade over 350 papers in little more than a two week period, easily totaling at least 2,000 pages.

Now that’s no small beans.

Luckily for us, beans come in all shapes, sizes, and most importantly, flavors. And so, enter the coffee bean: our warm dark friend and savior. There’s a long-form joke of sorts every

The brewfessor in action.

semester where I note the number coffee cups (or lack thereof) dotting my students’ desks during the first week, commenting, “Wait until finals.” Fast forward three paper drafts later, and voilà, the winter forest of greeny Starbucks Choka-mocha-lattes is in full bloom.

In crafting my own last day of class activity, I thought about what lesson I really want my students to walk away with. While I could have chosen to focus on re-emphasizing any of the broader skill-sets of rhetorical analysis, audience awareness, modes of persuasion, etc., I realized that it is truly the desire to learn, the passion to do something well and effectively that lies at the heart of my teaching.

If you can inspire somebody to want to learn, then you’ve helped them to strive forever beyond merely memorizing the obvious material lessons.

A coffee seminar works well in this sense due to the many misconceptions of what makes a good ol’ cup o’ Joe. Students start the last day of class asking “Where’s the milk and sugar?” and end with “So what size Chemex do you recommend?” (A freshly brewed pour over coffee should be flavorful enough where adding sweeteners would be a crime.)

Our final day coffee seminar shows that with a little bit of time, care, and patience, you can craft a warm brew that will redefine your sense of how coffee should taste. One student who emailed me after class, describes this realization perfectly:

I am more than grateful I had you as my writing professor — I mean, who would have known you’re not just a writing prodigy but also a self-taught barista? Now my Starbucks Americano that I get every morning tastes simply “meh” (and not worth the price) after having your freshly brewed coffee. I think you should definitely consider opening your own café one day. Thank you once again for guiding me to succeed in this course, and I wish you a cozy winter! (Kim)

A standard medium sized Chemex Coffeemaker along with cone filters and freshly brewed whole beans.

This sentiment is echoed by many others, who come to similar conclusions as we walk through the purpose and process of how to reach such a delicious final product.

I won’t go through each step here now (but click here to check out a video tutorial). Amazingly, having internalized the process myself, I forgot just how much there is to discuss; what I thought would be a five or ten minute talk evolved into a 45 minute hands on lecture. But the short of it is that via the steps we walk through – from grinding to temperature/weight calculations of water and beans, to other points of chemistry – students are able to see up close how attention to detail can redefine a common commodity in life that you may have thought you knew everything there was to know about.

And herein lies is the last day of class lesson. Always keep learning – even about what you already “know”. You might like how it tastes.

So how do you teach the last day of class? Do you have any strange/unique/delicious traditions? Please share in the comments below!

 

Work Cited

Kim, Ji Hae. “Re: Portfolio.” Received by Joe Labriola, 12 Dec. 2017.

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Professional Skills: Speaking

by Steven Dube

(Part one in a series of articles on developing professional skills in the writing classroom.)

Initial Fears

Jerry Seinfeld has a bit about public speaking in which he references “a study that said speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person… Number two was death.”

Then he pauses in amazement. “Death is number two!”

The punch line: “This means to the average person, if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

This fear is not something I considered when I first had my students read aloud as part of in-class workshops. It was simply how we edited—they’d bring in drafts of their essays and read from them. It had nothing to do with any plan to teach public speaking. But, in fact, this is usually the activity my students dread most, at least initially. Students typically have a much bigger problem reading out loud than editing or writing. They grumble, they give long preambles before they begin, and they ask if they can go last.

And yet, though not what I intended, this has become one of the most successful elements of my class. I see the dividends in end-of-semester portfolio cover letters that tell similar stories about students who were afraid at first to read their work out loud but ended up either looking forward to the activity or at least got used to it (OK, some of them still hate it). One student recently wrote that, after her Writing 102 class, she is “no longer afraid of public speaking.”

I find such results amazing because I didn’t really do anything. I don’t comment much, if at all, on my students’ reading ability other than an occasional statement of general praise such as, “You read that well.”

Exposure And Response Prevention

But maybe that’s enough. The lesson illustrated above is related to a theory I’ve read a great deal about lately—exposure and response prevention therapy, a technique for alleviating anxiety that involves doing the anxiety-provoking task in a safe environment. The ‘exposure’ is the anxious feeling they get when they read aloud. The ‘response prevention’ comes from not avoiding speaking. You actually have to feel the anxiety and read anyway. In other words, if my students have become more confident speakers, it wasn’t through my specific instruction so much as that they exposed their fears as being false. Of late, I’ve been assigning extra credit presentations as part of the class, which allows students to get even more exposure. That’s the key; with exposure and response prevention, instead of avoiding the activity, you actually look for as many chances as possible to engage with it.

Teachers can relate. Some of us got into teaching feeling perhaps a bit uncomfortable speaking in front of a group. Some maybe were more comfortable. Either way, you had no choice but to speak in front of the class. The more you did so the easier it became. At the core of my approach is giving students the same opportunity.

OK, It’s Not Always That Easy

Sometimes students do still struggle with speaking, or they’ll refuse to speak in the first place. One student recently emailed me to say that she was simply too afraid to read in class—just the thought made her stomach hurt. Despite my encouragement, the student continued to refuse. She wasn’t going to succeed in public speaking because she was avoiding it. Instead of exposing the fear as false, this avoidance only made things worse. She kept on putting off reading and only became more and more anxious as a result.

I wasn’t sure what to do about this avoidance until I read Stopping The Noise In Your Head by Reid Wilson, a psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders. In his book, Wilson describes how people tend to avoid feared situations, much like what my students face, and suggests an unusual but powerful approach, a paradoxical approach.

Wilson notes that when most of us are taking on a difficult task, such as speaking in public, we have a lot of anxiety. But what if we alter our negative mindset? To illustrate this alternative, Wilson describes the first time he was ever asked to lead group therapy as a graduate student, a very anxiety-inducing activity. But then something changed: “[O]ur professor, Dr. John Gladfelter, introduced the task. ‘Here’s the assignment: I want you to be the worst group therapist you can be. Just be as bad, as incompetent as you can possibly manage’” (189). It was a startling change in mindset. Wilson describes realizing the method to the madness: “we relaxed by receiving a reprieve from having to do everything perfectly. As we took our attention off our fear of failing, we stopped focusing inward. We had more outward attention available” (189).

This story resonated with me because in recent years I’ve been experimenting with many paradoxical techniques in my classes. Specifically, I’ve been encouraging students to make as many mistakes as possible. The goal—to make them feel more comfortable reading from their drafts in class. After reading Wilson’s book, I realized I could apply this approach to speaking skills as well.

It’s an approach that addresses the true problem students face, not any particular deficit in speaking skills, but instead the nervous chatter streaming through their brains. “What if I mess up?” we often ask ourselves. “What if I’m awkward?” Usually the conclusion is extreme: “I’d be embarrassed, humiliated.” Of course, this self-talk only makes us more awkward and leads to more self-consciousness—the exact result you feared in the first place.

Now, when my students express anxiety about reading aloud (or writing), I try to playfully defuse any negative self-talk. “Make as many mistakes as possible!” I tell them. “Try to be as awkward as possible!” Sometimes, I go even further: “Can you make the worst presentation ever?”  There’s lots of room for improvisation and creativity with this paradoxical approach.

The reason why this approach helps to defuse the anxiety is simple. If we tell ourselves, “This presentation must be flawless,” we, not to mention our audience, are likely to leave less than satisfied. If we tell ourselves, “I want to make a presentation full of mistakes, and I want to feel anxious the whole way through,” we’re actually less likely to be anxious.

Students tend to enjoy this new, exciting attitude. It helps them relax and stay in the moment. It keeps them focused on what they’re saying—and it’s more fun!

Works Cited

Seinfeld, Jerry. “Jerry Seinfeld: I’m Telling You For The Last Time”. HBO, 1998.

Wilson, Reid. “Stopping The Noise In Your Head: The New Way To Overcome Anxiety

           And Worry”. Health Communications Inc., 2016.

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PWR’s In the Spotlight – Wilbur Farley on JEOPARDY!

Check out Stony Brook University PWR’s very own Wilbur Farley on JEOPARDY! on November 21, 2017!

 

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PWR’s In the Spotlight – Michelle Whittaker

Check out Stony Brook University’s very own Michelle Whittaker as she reads to both students and faculty from her poetry collection SURGE.

 

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A Monster of a Draft (Part Three)

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 three of her four part series! (Click here to check out part two)

Is “live drafting” the inevitable way of future teaching?

Part Three: Modern Complications in Defining ‘the Draft’

by Kimberly Towers-Kubik

Now an entire semester removed from what originally prompted this journey, I have further thoughts on what makes the draft so complex, and they are related to a couple of age-old questions:

  • How has technological advancement impacted draft development and are these ‘advances’ for the better or for the worse?
  • Should we embrace these changes or should we hold on to tried-and-true methods to retain the progress that has already been made in understanding the draft?

Drafts have traditionally been submitted via paper copy. This means of submission has the effect of making documents feel static, which can unintentionally cause students to pause. Waiting for professor feedback, students may avoid making drastic changes to a draft and as such, progress is potentially put on hold.

Such time lapses can be particularly damning considering the extremely short length of the semester. Students run the risk of losing track of thoughts that might have helped to facilitate the advancement of ideas within the paper.

The “live draft” is truly changing the way teachers can work with their students.

Now, however, with the invention and integration of Google Documents and other such technologies into the classroom, drafts have gained a sense of movement because they are live. When students exclusively use such technologies, they can not only access their documents remotely from anywhere at any time but they can also keep track of their thoughts by leaving comments on their own drafts for potential future exploration.

Such comments might seem far less permanent or daunting than a partially explored idea or sentence clumsily embedded in a draft on a Word document and far less difficult to misplace than a quick note scrawled on a paper copy. As such, ideas are not lost (even if a comment is deleted, as all comments are stored) and the potential for thought to imbue further thought at any given time flourishes.

The implications of live documents from the professorial perspective are similarly widespread. Professors have the opportunity to see and comment on papers in their most current form. They can also do so while a student is simultaneously logged into a document almost as an impromptu tutoring session, which can help a professor aid with troubleshooting, provide encouragement, and allow for the exchange of thoughts.

Furthermore, professors can view how the draft came to be as a result of the history-tracking function. Students who are aware of this function might even more fully engage with the writing process knowing that the document, in its live form, can be viewed at any time as can the history of its development. To those who teach composition, the implications of a live document versus a static document are clear. They can provide professors with an opportunity to help students conceive of their own individual processes, a goal it seems all scholars and practitioners can agree upon.

For all that is good that comes with these advancements, however, there are still some drawbacks to consider. Some professors may prefer the static document because it can pause the swirling chaos of student thought. This can provide time for reflection on the part of both student and professor and work to control the nagging compulsion that technology and a live document can invite. It is also important to remember that it takes time to read, grade, and provide feedback on drafts. Hence, by the time a professor gets around to looking over the very last student’s live draft, it might be a week or more past the deadline. As such, a professor would ethically need to grade the draft as of the due date using the history tracking function to uphold fair grading practices, and in this case, the professor might as well ask for students to submit paper copies because of their static nature.

The draft – how it is defined and how it functions – lurks in muddy waters. With differing student processes, professor objectives and preferences, and the technological environment clash, it is difficult to gain footing with a topic that becomes increasingly complex as the years go by. Hence, a re-conceptualization is most sorely needed. In my last installment in this monster of a draft, I will explore the ways in which we can free ourselves from the limitations that strict definitions invite, all of which center around a context-based approach. See you there!

Do you have ideas of your own related to this concept of a ‘live draft’? Please comment below, and like, subscribe, and share!

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Beyond the Word

by Joe Labriola

I recently sat down with Stony Brook University’s Undergraduate Student President, Ayyan Zubair – before his speech to the campus community about the recent ending of DACA – to discuss the role of writing, rhetoric, and effective communication as a student, activist, and emerging global citizen.

Photo credit: Ayyan Zubair and the SB Statesman

What do you think the value of writing and rhetoric is for students across academic disciplines?

I have a lot of friends who are pre-med – I’m a math and economics major. And if you can’t write, you really can’t speak that well either. For example, whether you like Obama or not, you can’t deny that he’s a brilliant speaker. And why is he a brilliant speaker? Well, he’s able to write. I’m actually reading his book right now, The Audacity of Hope. His story’s amazing. I’m waiting for his next one after being president – to see how his mindset changed over time.

And without the ability to write, how are you going to function in society? The ability to make an argument – whether that’s with LOLs or higher vocabulary – it’s essentially the same. Sometimes it’s better to use more informal text, but the ability to write is the same. If you can write, you can express your thoughts eloquently whether with LOLs or not.

How do you use some of the writing and rhetoric skills we covered in our class? Academically? Professionally? Personally?

I’ve always liked to write and read. What I’ve started to do is when I read opinion articles of The New York Times, or especially something like the Wall Street Journal that I might disagree with, I’ll email them saying, ‘While I agree with this, this, and this, I also feel this.’

I’ve also always found that writing is immortal in a sense. We’re still reading the words of those who died millennia ago. But our conversation right now will be lost to history – unless you write it down. No one will ever know what happened, unless you write it down.

What skills and understanding do you feel like you’ve gained from studying writing?

Our writing 102 class teaches you the skills to help you as a writer. You can see a marked improvement. The best writers read a lot, but they also write a lot. And if you don’t write, then how are you going to get better at it? You can watch all the basketball you want, but if you don’t practice free throws, you’re not going to get better at them. I’ve acquired these skills – rhetorical strategies and philosophies – and now for me in the past couple of years I’ve tried to implement them in things like my speech here.

And things like this [my speech] – where people value my opinion – whether they agree or disagree with them, it’s pretty cool. Especially being someone who’s felt marginalized, one, because I couldn’t speak that well growing up. And then, me being Muslim, so not feeling completely home at school, and kind of not having my opinions heard. So I really enjoy writing – I’m just as passionate about it now as when I was running, probably even more so.

How do you see the lessons you’ve learned from WRT 102 serving you in future endeavors?

My goal – for this year especially – is writing for a larger audience. I love writing op-eds and I can write for my Huffington Post blog or on Facebook or whatever, but I’d like a bigger medium like Newsday. And hey, if the New York Times comes calling…

I also want to write novels. Maybe after my LSAT. Have you seen Fresh Off the Boat? I’ve always wanted to remake that from a Muslim point of view – to expose people to what a Muslim family is really like.

I’d like to start a podcast too. My idea is like a “President’s Corner” type thing to highlight different people on campus, like the captain of the football team, or a professor who just published a paper. I don’t want people living by my opinion, but me being in the position I’m in as president, it could be really interesting. Also having a platform of, say, college democrats and college republicans to have a discussion. Let’s talk, you know?

You used to have an excuse: Oh, the big media outlets won’t let me in; the big newspapers won’t let me in; the big T.V. companies won’t let me in. But now, you can just record a podcast and post it on Youtube. You can write a book and self-publish. You can build a following yourself.

Any advice to your fellow classmates on the lessons that you’ve learned from writing and rhetoric – both in the classroom and out in the world?

Know your audience. Like the speech I’m giving today: it’s not one steeped in policy or minutia – it’s all about emotional connection with people. The dreamers especially. Speaking to them and saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to stand with you.’ And that’s important.

An added benefit of writing – and writing well – is you become more organized. If you write a piece and don’t make an outline, you’re just rambling to a certain extent – unless you have some sort of mental or physical outline. I remember our research paper outlines helped a lot because you have to say, ‘Okay, paragraph one is about this, and so on.’ And because of this type of organization I was able to transfer that skill. It even carries over into time management, like ‘today I have to do this, I have to talk to these people, about this issue’ and how to order it. I think that’s invaluable. I mean, what’s more important than communication?

Writing is a process. Trial and error. But you have to focus on what is done right as well as how to fix mistakes. Like what I wrote here in my speech: ‘The dream that in America our dreams can only be limited by our capabilities, not our circumstances,’ that’s a concept I had in my head of using this idea of a ‘dream’. I didn’t know how I was going to use it. The first draft was not good, but eventually I worked on it and found the right way – but just having it in my head wasn’t doing anything.

My recommendation to other students is to write as much as possible. But that’s for anyone really, whether in your diary or blog or whatever it is, and get as much quality feedback as possible. I always want diverse feedback. In writing it’s imperative.

The beauty of rhetoric, literature, and truly great works of writing is that every word, every syllable, and every intonation is there for a reason.

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The Value of Teaching Translated Texts

Join our PWR’s very own Dr. Nezami as she shares her wonderfully fruitful experience at Kent State University’s NEH Summer Institute, exploring the immense benefits of teaching students the value of cross-cultural literacy through global texts.

 

The National Endowment for the Humanities

Summer Institute for College and University Faculty

Kent State University

June 2017

Dr. Rita S. Nezami

 

Introduction to Cross-Cultural Literacy:

          I returned from Kent State University’s NEH Summer Institute after spending 25 days presenting papers, sharing ideas, listening to talks, having discussions, and learning about teaching translated texts. The topic, “What is Gained in Translation: Learning How to Read Translated Texts,” was dedicated to the study of texts in translation as a means of developing cross-cultural literacy and to exploring what can be gained by introducing translations in the classroom. The institute provided “the theoretical models and applications developed through Translation Studies that can enable us to exploit translation as a teachable moment.”

These strategies are designed to make students aware of the universal issues embedded in other languages and cultures, and also to highlight their own awareness of the cultural specificity of their own modes of thinking and being. The overall goal of the seminar was to develop “systematic approaches to teaching translated texts so that readers can perceive the worldviews to which those texts give us access.”

The NEH Summer Institute provided participants with “the resources necessary to engage with the unique issues posed by translated texts and raise awareness about the crucial role played by translation in the making of cultures” and facilitate cross-cultural communication. The readings and discussions enabled us to use translated texts more knowledgeably in our classrooms, research, and literary translation.

 

Ideology and Methodology:

          The institute’s approach was “collaborative” and “constructivist.” The seminar’s daily sessions were also devoted to theoretical readings on five main themes: relationships, time, space, authority and individuality; from a variety of disciplines: literature, philosophy, intercultural communication, history, performing arts.

Readings included writers, scholars, and translators such as Roman Jakobson, Lawrence Venuti, Kwame Appiah, Susan Bassnett, Momammad Ghanooparvar, Jorge Luis Borges, and others. These readings offered us an opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the most current translation scholarship and issues in cross-cultural communication. They also offered guidance by seasoned translators on how to incorporate approaches to reading in translation into our own research and teaching. As a literary translator, I am interested in texts that reflect cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural issues. Such texts make our students aware of various disciplines and how they are related. They also spur students to learn about other cultures and ways of being through interdisciplinary and intercultural conversations.

The sessions were structured around a discussion of the readings and group work in which we had to bring in texts from our particular discipline that we wished to discuss. Participants were from a variety of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, from literature and applied linguistics to history, religious studies, communication, cultural studies, anthropology, and philosophy; as well as a variety of languages and cultures (European, Asian, African, and Middle Eastern). 

Resulting Pedagogy:

          The NEH experience helped me realize the importance of teaching translated texts in all my writing courses. In WRT 102, WRT 302 and WRT 303, I teach fiction and nonfiction that is often in translation. While reading translated texts and writing their textual analyses papers, for example, students look closely at word choice, phrases, and expressions that seem foreign yet intriguing. They ask themselves why commonly used words or phrases in English are replaced by unusual ones in translation.

One such phrase, for example, is the use of “my little liver” instead of “my sweetheart” as a term of endearment. The word “liver” is frequently used in South Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. Instead of rejecting this cultural strangeness, I urge students to instead understand why there is such a difference and why the translator has decided not to domesticate such moments to make the text more palatable for the Anglophone, Western reader. By understanding and appreciating cultural differences, students learn to accept the fact that there are other cultural ways of being, and that the American way is not the only way.

The comparative analysis of various translations of cultures from texts in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish into English helped me understand the various cultural nuances that enrich the texts and inform readers about the rich cultural differences captured through world languages. Teaching in culturally diverse classrooms at Stony Brook, this NEH experience will further help me appreciate and guide students’ understanding and approach toward the readings of translations and the language of these texts, including word choice, syntax, and semantics. If students have another language, my WRT 303 (personal essay) students first write an essay in their native tongue and then translate it into English to see how the writing is different from essays written directly in English. Especially when writing through translation in this creative nonfiction genre, their word choice and syntax (structure that may be directly influenced by their native tongues), though unusual, often add an interesting and poetic touch to their English language. They discover and are surprised to see what is gained – or lost – in the translation process.

Further Lessons of Translation – What is Gained?:

          Twenty-five scholars and teachers were selected from the United States to participate in the institute. Each day we had to read about 100 pages of scholarly essays, discuss them in small groups, and present our own thoughts and criticism. We were encouraged to present our own projects pertinent to issues of translation and cross-cultural competency and to make formal presentations of our individual case studies. I read one of my literary translations, discussed my claims about translation and cultural domestication, and spoke about the translation process and how and why I teach translated texts in the writing classroom. I also shared my experience teaching experimental writing through translation from a source language into English.

On the last day of the seminar, I read my translation from French of a novella, By Fire, which was published in The New Yorker in 2013. The audience warmly responded to it. I have been teaching this novella and my book of translation on the Arab Spring (published in 2016) for several semesters in WRT 102. The book is divided into three sections: my academic introduction to the Arab Spring and the young Tunisian’s self-immolation that triggered the revolts in the MENA region so that readers may enter the following two sections, nonfiction and fiction, with confidence. Looking at the young man’s suffering due to unemployment, poverty and police violence, most students are able to understand his plight, though not his society and culture. Some students see him as a hero, while others see in him a weak and stubborn character as he refused to bribe the police and continue working as a street fruit vendor to support his family. Condemning his decision to commit suicide, students ask questions like why couldn’t he move in with his girlfriend’s family? Why didn’t he emigrate to Canada? Or why didn’t he bribe the police? Because students don’t understand the Muslim man’s religious, social and cultural background, their questions are justified. Yet, as I explain what is permissible in such a society, culture, and religion, students do begin to understand that there are no easy answers, and that what is possible and natural here may not be the case there.

Back at Stony Brook, I would like to share the NEH experience with my PWR colleagues individually, if they are interested. I hope to share with them my experience of teaching how to read and write about translated texts in the writing classroom to foster global citizenship and bring about global perspective and awareness.

So to answer the question what is gained in translation, how reading and writing about translated texts affects students’ thought process and knowledge level, I must say that much is gained:

  • Students are intrigued by other cultures, traditions, values, and ways of being
  • Students ask questions about the differences and have animated discussions
  • Students become motivated to learn more about various universal issues
  • Students become sensitive and realize no culture is superior or inferior to another
  • Students learn to respect and tolerate other perspectives, languages, and religions
  • Students become mature thinkers while they read, especially literary translation
  • Students write about these texts thoughtfully and in a compassionate manner
  • Students break their thinking bubbles and emerge as informed, global citizens
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Summer Happenings with PWR: Pre-College Institute

by Program in Writing and Rhetoric Faculty

     With summer in full steam, so is Stony Brook’s PWR! In addition to offering many inter-semester courses, Stony Brook’s Writing and Rhetoric faculty are involved in a wide range of further academic and professional development projects – both here at the university and abroad.

     One program in particular, the College of Arts and Science’s Pre-College Institute, offers high school students an invaluable glimpse into the life of a college student via an immersive week-long stay at Stony Brook University. Here, students are exposed to lectures, social activities, and many other college prep training and resources.

The Pre-College Institute graduation ceremony!

     As part of the Pre-College Institute, students are enrolled in a variety of exploratory courses, including: music, philosophy, science, and writing. For most, this is their first exposure to college level writing. Their two-part, Monday and Friday writing class focuses on the nature of writing as a rhetorical tool, and furthermore, how to use this understanding of persuasion and audience awareness to craft a full college essay. As is the nature of writing, however, the value of these lessons intertwines with others, expanding far beyond just putting pen to paper.

     Perhaps these sentiments are best summed up by the PWR faculty themselves who teach these workshops:

“​The pre-college introduction week crushes a four-year college experience into 5 days for these young students, many of whom are away from home for the first time. The idea of college as a door to the future was evident in their faces, in their questions. The majority had never done free-writing before or mind-mapping. This class gave them the empowering message that college is their turn to start speaking their own thoughts. They no longer have to parrot back a curriculum. Those who ‘got’ this message looked liberated and a bit scared, as independence also brings much responsibility.​”

– Carolyn A. Sofia, Ph.D.
Lecturer, Program in Writing and Rhetoric

“The high school students I worked with were humble, and driven. Many shared with me on Friday that getting the opportunity to attend the summer institute was a life-changing experience for them. Having taught them their first class at 9am on Monday and another again on Friday, I can personally attest to the students’ dramatic transformation in just five short days! I am grateful to have been part of such a vital community program.”

– Jennifer Young
Lecturer, Program in Writing and Rhetoric

“What was perhaps most surprising – and rewarding – was how interested the students were in what I as a Stony Brook faculty member had to say about the nature of the college process from start to finish. ‘How did you become a professor?’ they asked? ‘How much time do we have?’ I answered. This seems to be the real goal of the program here, and it applies to the college essay as well: showing them that there is no one set path through life – or college – and that our diversity and differences are what make us unique. In turn, these self-reflections are well-worth considering when writing something that should be thought of ‘out of the box’ like a college essay.”

– Joseph Labriola
Lecturer, Program in Writing and Rhetoric

“This is my second year participating in the Pre-College Institute, and I think it’s one of the finest things the University does. The faculty who volunteer their time, including the four PWR members who taught the two-day writing classes, do so with admirable enthusiasm, and I’ve found the students to be enormously grateful. I taught a fiction writing workshop on Wednesday, and the students were not only eager to offer inferences on texts they’d just read but also share writing they’d just done to people they’d just met. By Friday, many of the students looked alternately exhilarated and exhausted. Several confessed that they couldn’t bring themselves to sleep, so excited were they to talk about all of the new things that were happening.”

– Kevin Clouther
Associate Director, Program in Writing and Rhetoric

     Clearly, these students greatly value their time at the Pre-College Institute, as do the instructors. To expose young minds to new horizons is a wonderful thing, and one that this program does exceedingly well.

Posted in Rhetoric, Supporting Students, Teaching Writing, Writing & Rhetoric | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

t(A)m(P)a

Thoughts from Joe Labriola’s 2017 AP grading journey!

Joe 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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