Writer/Designer and the composition course

I posted the first of these photos to Facebook, but wanted to also blog here about potential uses for Writer/Designer. There are many–I think Writer/Designer is a flexible little book that could be used for both Writing I and II and also work for both a tech writing and an academic writing focus within those courses. I am considering it for my ENG 310 course in the fall, which is a Writing II for students who have at least 45 credit hours and are planning on graduate or professional school. It is also a good praxis accompaniment for the theory anthology I use for ENG 520, a pre-professional rhet/comp theory and praxis course for English Ed students, which is another course I will be teaching in the fall. I will think about that in a separate post.

As far as 310 goes, given the way I’ve focused assignments in the past, that will mean a major restructuring of the course, but one was due anyway. So, besides cute cat photos, I will use this post for a little speculating and planning for how I could make 310 more multimodal and thus more relevant to 21st century literacies and the way they will play out in grad school for these students who, for the most part, are about a year from graduate or professional school.

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In this first photo, Pierre is following instructions and letting me take his picture with the book. His furrowed brow tells us that he is also puzzled about what he needs to do with this book. I suspect the particular students I get with 310 will do the same at first. For the most part, they are clustered around several majors that have some overlap in emphasis: Pre-Professional Physical Therapy, Exercise & Movement, Psychology, Pre-Nursing, and Biology, with Biology and Chemistry majors really being pre-med or pre-dentistry.

These students have some similarities in writing backgrounds. Most do not have to do anything resembling a seminar paper in their major. They do writing, but lab reports are the main writing focus. So, I know collaborative writing is important for them, and I know that it is very likely that they will have to do some kind of grant or proposal writing in their futures. Last semester I tried out an essay where they defined a term, and that was good since they were forced to go to articles to see situated definitions in their discipline and ignore the dictionary. From that and other assignments, I know that when they do shift to persuasive, more academic writing, the shift from asserting that there is no viable viewpoint save “the facts” to acknowledging a contextual  viewpoint is difficult for many. Although some of these students may end up keen on research and the complex writing it demands, realistically, most will not.  All the same, they need to be familiar with more writing situations than lab reports. They need to be flexible writers who can analyze a rhetorical situation and devise the strategy best suited for success.

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Speaking of the rhetorical situation, the second photo, of both Pierre and Sophie this time, show them doing the sniff test. Is it food? if it is not food, then can we play with it? They are doing cat rhetorical analysis. That is not so different from what I need to do here. Upon reflection, this book fits the assignments I need to have fairly well. Customarily, I teach an article analysis, a definition essay, a collaborative writing project using Google Drive (usually one of the other assignments or a part of one), a proposal, an argumentative essay with minimal sources, a more heavily sourced research essay using the APA lit review format, and a CV/personal statement assignment. I may keep all of these and shift where the heaviest writing happens. For example, the definition essay could shift to a Prezi, Popplet, or Freemind, with differing definitions creating a visual web that includes quoted text, video, photos, and sound. The presentations would be shared, then used for a post-discussion paper that integrates and analyzes what was found in order to build a scholarly definition for the term.

One unexpected area where this text has a great advantage over any other text I’ve used for Writing I or II is how well-planned and grounded the section on rhetorical analysis is. This is always the most difficult writing for these students. It is fairly high-stakes too, since it is a foundational step for all later academic writing. In other words, if students can’t effectively analyze a single text, they will not succeed in selecting and integrating sources in later, more complex writing. Analysis is seen here from the global concerns end of most instructor’s rubrics: audience, purpose, context, author, and genre (xvi), and the mini-assignments contained should add up to a very complete understanding about what analysis does and how to do it. Based on what this book offers, I like the idea of changing my current assignment that analyzes an article within the student’s discipline. This is a difficult assignment for many since their true disciplinary training will not begin until they enter graduate school.  So, I will go back to an old assignment I’ve done before–analyzing a web site. Specifically, I will have them analyze the web site for the university that is their “dream school” for the CV and personal statement projects. This will ground the analysis and make it a real-world project. It will also allow them to analyze design choices, defined in chapter two as “emphasis, contrast, organization, alignment, and proximity” (31). It will be every bit as writing-intensive as what I did last time, but the preparation given in the text will make a huge difference for student success.

In other areas, Writer/Designer has a short assignment on “The Pitch,” which is an idea I have always used to introduce the proposal assignment. Finally, the book really lays out the steps for composing a large project well, and I am thinking of using “Designing Your Project” and subsequent chapters for the large researched project. This is quickly turning into a long post with a foregone conclusion. I will end up using Writer/Designer and supplement it with some of the articles/chapters from Writing Spaces, an open source writing text that I have used before. Bedford St. Martins also allows you to bundle Writer/Designer with Easy Writer for those who use that text, but I really like Writing Spaces, and think it will integrate well. So–good books, going to use then both.

 

 

 

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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