In the constant connectivity of our world, I would be short-sighted to devalue what my students often bring to the classroom: multiple literacies and savvy rhetorical skills. Truly, students are engaged in complex, fast-paced rhetorical situations everyday; however, they may not be mindful of their rhetorical aptitude and how to transfer those skills to various writing contexts.
As an English lecturer, if my overarching goal for my students is for them to become aware of their rhetorical capabilities, I focus on the following three aspects within my composition pedagogy:
Intentional Rhetoric for Authentic Audiences
Practically, my main goal for my students is to exit the course with greater knowledge of how to use language for specific purposes, namely argument and persuasion. Of course, my students will display this increase of knowledge and skills by writing for various purposes and audiences, but also they will exemplify this by being able to comprehend and discuss (face-to-face and online) various texts, especially for rhetorical analysis. To achieve this, reading and writing are inextricably linked in my classroom, as both require critical thinking skills to make meaning.
To begin, my students consider how a text is pieced together and ask: what makes this writing: Effective? Ineffective? Memorable? Credible? Logical? Problematic?
When students are able to identify explicit and intentional uses of language at work, they are equipped to be more intentional about their own rhetoric. This is why reading a variety of texts is fundamental in my writing courses. Typical texts may be commercials, company logos, their own social media posts, op-ed pieces, and critical essays to name a few.
My students then begin their own argumentative writing project. Because I find that a student makes varying measures of success if they thoughtfully consider how their rhetorical choices affect an audience and achieve the writing’s intended purpose, I aim to provide authentic audiences (often outside of the classroom). Whether they are emailing an expert in their field of study, or posting a draft on a public class space, an authentic audience affords students the experience of crafting a message that will elicit a response that carries some risk beyond our classroom.
An example of one such assignment is the “Researched Rogerian Letter” my students create over the course of the semester. Because of the progressive nature of the assignment, my students begin with selecting, reading and then rhetorically analyzing three published op-ed pieces regarding a focused issue in their field of study. My students then select one of the pieces they would like to respond to in order to engage in an argument to reach a goal. Through a Rogerian approach, the student writes a letter to the op-ed author, finding common ground and arguing their position, utilizing secondary and primary research. The letter is emailed to the author once the final version is complete. Instead of viewing argumentation as a hostile fight, the student must understand their audience, establish shared values and consider how the varying points of view can work together- all skills they need for argumentation in their everyday experiences. Many of my students have received replies from their authentic audiences (often professionals in the field), and students now have real ideas at stake and often undergo a broadening of their perspective. Through this assignment, students understand argument as an artistic conversation- a meaningful, educated dialogue to reach a goal.
Most students I have taught in my career have followed a writing process that is linear and produces a product that may lack connection to other writing within that course. I, on the other hand, teach a writing process that is recursive and flexible, depending on student needs. Drafting, brainstorming, sharing for feedback and publishing are all stages that students may visit many times in their own unique pattern. While all students have due dates and minor assignments to complete within a major project, I require them to reflect on how they arrive at each stage in their own autonomous process.
Moreover, I give credit value for the writing and reflection produced throughout each stage, such as drafts, feedback and peer discussion about their writing journey. Many peer reviews are also done online to allow more time for thoughtful feedback. Practically, I design almost every class session for time to work with each student individually as they work with one another in writing circles. I sit with each group and talk to them face-to-face about their writing—their struggles and triumphs. Equally important, my students’ writing processes include writing conferences with me, one-on-one, at various times throughout their major projects. This dialogue is beneficial, as it provides another opportunity for students to flesh out their writing rationales with a real audience. I also use technology to provide even more specific feedback and “meet” with students online throughout the drafting process. We see the raw ideas transform into something clear and powerful together, as a community of writers.
Most importantly, the writing assignments in my courses are progressive, allowing students to repurpose, revise and reconsider their writing the entire semester, which, after all, is a happy reality as an academic. In this way, my students begin valuing their own work throughout the writing process as useful and transformable.
I incorporate a type of “writing about writing” approach that allows students to write, think and talk about their own rhetorical choices and writing processes; and this aspect of my philosophy is what ties all others together in my courses.
Instead of assuming that students who write well in my course will transfer those writing skills to other courses, I intentionally implement major and minor assignments for students to mindfully consider how writing works; discussing how we write allows students to perceive skills less as automatic and more as intentional tools they can select for varying rhetorical situations.
To illustrate, my students keep reflective blogs which require them to consider their writing choices throughout each writing assignment. They are required to consider how their writing affected their audience, as evidenced by peer and instructor feedback, because this system of learning demands more mindful writing.
To demonstrate, a major writing assignment in my first-year composition course is “Writer Reflection/ Rhetorical Analysis,” a final paper that requires students to rhetorically analyze their own argumentative semester projects. This assignment is a true practice in both metadiscourse and analysis.
“Talking about writing” is also relevant to my course goals in that speaking requires shared understanding of various aspects of rhetoric and composition, as well as immediate comprehension and feedback; for example, my student-writers collaborated to create an online podcast Writer(‘)s Speak! where they, essentially, created a student-writer discourse community, reflecting on writing studies and writing as a process.
Similarly, my students participate in “Writing Update”presentations – short, informal dialogues about their writing process – once during each major writing assignment. This activity allows students to both reflect on their writing, but also receive feedback from the whole group about their progress.
As an educator, I want to give my students the gift of self-awareness as writers, so they will be able to discover their own writing identities, pitfalls, needs and pathways. As mindful rhetors, they will be better prepared to artistically enter the scholarly conversations within their communities- and beyond- to promote positive change.