Here’s my idea:

I am wondering whether I can get some help from my WPA friends who might post some ideas in the comment section here.

Here’s what I’m looking for:

Supposing you agree with me on the following claims about good teaching:

1. Authentic (I’m trying to re-authorize that adjective) education encourages students to do more of what was being taught, long after the class was over (Dewey).

2. You have done part of your job as a teacher if your students have a more positive attitude toward writing after having been in your class than when they came in.

3. Writing assignments (we should find another way of naming them) should place students in authentic writing situations–writers writing about something they care about to people they care about and for reasons that draw them into the writing situation (as I have been drawn in here). In authentic writing situations, students of course need to be doing something more than writing for grades.

4. Students should enjoy responding to the writing assignment and should want to read how other students have responded and enjoy responding to those responses (and responding to responses to responses); and teachers should be eager to read and respond to what their students have written.

We have a second quarter writing course at Drexel. The nominal (and quite expected) focus is Persuasion. For the moment, I’m going to collapse the surpa-genres of Persuasion and Argumentation (Kinneavy).

I don’t want a lot of reading in the course. In fact, I could get along without any outside reading–I prefer to have students reading what  others in their class have written. So I’m trying to imagine three writing assignments that might fall under the persuasion/argumentation category. These assignments do not necessarily have to be sequenced. At some point, I think we teach our students something valuable about writing by having them write simply for the sake of writing, of figuring out who they are and what they’re doing here by trying to write it down (almost a non-audience situation).

So do any of you have ideas that you can include in comments below? I mean ideas you have tried out and have worked? You know they worked when you couldn’t wait to read what your students wrote–when you didn’t procrastinate but got right into reading and responding (authentically) to what your students wrote?

These ideas need to be only loosely connected to the persuasion/argumentation vortexes of the communication triangle. As I have suggested, they work better when they slide toward the expressive vortex. We might begin by a first writing task. Something like:

Almost everyone in this class is on the cusp of life–you have grown up and are entering into the world where what you say and do counts not only to your immediate social circles but to others, to people you seem to only rub against. This class is a good example: at this point, you don’t know each other. You come from a variety of social experiences within which are embedded different beliefs about how people should live. For this essay, I would like to have you think about your classmates and explain to them what you think are the most important values to which you should cling as you make your way through life. I would urge you not to write about cliches, the values like freedom, democracy, and so on–but rather to dig deeper, to try to get at who you are and what you think will make your life worth living not only for yourselves, but for others.

I know this is a complicated writing task, encouraging a superficial response based on the values you think others will agree to. Maybe in this response, you will be able to explore the not-so-readily-agreed-to values.

Ok.  So here’s your writing task: Think about the task and give me and your classmates an hour of your time and post your response to our discussion thread . . . . where we will read and respond to each other’s responses.

3 Replies to “Help”

  1. Hooked. My first click on your blog, Irv, and I'm hooked. Wish I had an "assignment" to suggest, but truth is, I clicked on this particular link because I'm in search of same thing. Precisely, too, the connection with values…persuading others about values. So, I am going to run with what you've blogged, and hope to return the favor some day. Peaceably, Marsha Lee

  2. Thanks so much, Marsha. Truthfully, I don't know what I'm doing with this blog. I think I'm trying to create a vortex with others who want to get students hooked on writing (as opposed to teaching them how to engage in evidence-based writing and so on). I think teachers who want to get out of the really dumb writing tasks can find ways of supporting each other. I love to read serious student writing. At any rate, thanks, Marsha.

  3. I have used cultural texts often for this sort of project. My students always seem to enjoy when I use Flobots "Handlebars": it is such a rich text. I will use this to open up a rhetorical analysis section. I will scaffold up having the students first look at the lyrics in print, listen to the audio only after, and finally watch the music video. I have them write basic observations, share in pairs and then come together as a full class. I follow this process between each step. You could have them diagram an argument presented in the video using the Toulmin model if you feel the need to anchor to more traditional rhetorical models, but I usually just use this process as an opener for their own rhetorical analyses of cultural texts (music videos, songs, poems, scenes from movies, advertisements, etc.)

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