Posts Tagged ‘assignment’

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Are You Ready for the Four Icon Challenge?

posted: 1.19.12 by Traci Gardner

If you want to encourage students to think about the symbolic nature of visual images, ask them to take the four icon challenge. I found this exercise on Johndan Johnson-Eilola’s blog, and I was immediately smitten. The idea originally comes from graphic designer and illustrator Kyle Tezak, who describes the challenge this way:

The Four Icon Challenge is my attempt at visually summarizing my favorite books and movies using only, that’s right, four icons. Boiling a story down to four elements gave me a surprising amount of insight into the author’s message and intentions, as well as the role recurring objects play in storytelling.

As Johndan explains in his post, Tezak reduces each text to four simple images shown in just three or four colors (including black and white). On his website, Tezak offers icon sets for The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit, Reservoir Dogs, and Romeo and Juliet.

Here are some student examples from Flickr, from an assignment to apply the four icon challenge to movies.

North by Northwest

North by Northwest



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Categories: Teaching with Technology
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Signs as Inspiration

posted: 10.17.11 by Susan Naomi Bernstein

The composing process involves gaining access to and wrestling with our most critical thoughts, then finding language to translate those thoughts into the action of writing. At times our thoughts, so clear and sharp as we devise them in our heads, may arrive on screen or page in muddled or muddied form. Our thoughts could be too personal or too remote, too vague or too explicit to state plainly to others. We may not have communicated our meaning according to the needs of our audience and our purpose. We need clarity. We need signs.

I especially love the signs in New York City. The signs not only mark geographic points or display rules or warnings, they also provide demographic and cultural details. Like all signs ought to, these signs help me to think beneath the printed surface to find more significant meanings. Signs give me an opportunity to ask questions that I might not contemplate otherwise.

For example, consider this sign at a busy intersection in Queens, New York:


Who is the audience for this sign? What is its purpose? What story does the sign tell? Do you consider the sign convincing? Why or why not?

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Developmental
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Reading a Book

posted: 10.11.11 by Steve Bernhardt

I mentioned in a post last summer that I was going to require my first-year comp students to write a paper based on their experience reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, an immensely popular nonfiction book that was selected on our campus as a shared summer reading for all incoming students. We are now in the middle of the assignment—and so far, so good.

I am convinced that everyone in my class has read the book, and most have intelligent things to say. This book lends itself well to essay writing, in part because of the range of issues it raises. As part of thinking through ideas for their papers, I asked students to list themes from the book that might be the focus of discussion: racial bias in healthcare settings, research ethics, tissue culture and cloning, the complex research process that the author pursued, health-care and scientific literacy, and issues of class and education. We worked in class to articulate thesis statements that would represent a real position or stance on some thematic issue in the book. We also spent time work-shopping one proposed thesis to see what episodes in the book might be discussed as part of the paper. We do all this work in public space, via Sakai, using the Forum tool. I haven’t seen the students’ first drafts yet—they are due Wednesday—but my sense is that they are working hard and developing strong ideas. [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea
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Audience Anyone?

posted: 9.27.11 by Steve Bernhardt

We are deep into our first major assignment in my introcomp, which involves a summary/critique of a text, with special attention to the author’s argumentative strategies. We are trying to establish terms of analysis—a common vocabulary we can use throughout the term. I also want to see how well students can read and respond to a source text. Students had the choice of responding to one or more texts: a Michael Pollan piece on why and how individuals should respond to climate change, a recent essay in The New Yorker by science journalist Michael Specter about attempts to culture protein cells in the lab as a potential meat replacement, and a TED talk by Josette Sheeran, head of the UN’s World Food Program, titled “Ending Hunger Now.” All three are engaging arguments by powerful communicators—just the fodder we need for rhetorical analysis.

I started worrying about audience, as I tend to do. Is there any real audience for such assignments, ones that call for close reading and analysis, followed by summary and critique? Sure, we can say “Your peers are your audience,” or “You are writing to a college-educated audience,” or even “I am the real audience, your professor.” However, none of these constructions is particularly useful in offering novice writers the sense of a real audience, or even a seriously imagined one.

Then two pieces came my way that encouraged me to keep thinking about audience. Cathy Davidson, writing in the Chronicle (of Higher Education) Review, observes that her Duke students’ online writing in class blogs was “incomparably better” than the writing they did on her traditional assignments (term papers and structured academic writing). Oh no, I panicked, I am teaching traditional writing! I should be doing blogs instead with my first-year students and they would not demonstrate the “jargon, stilted diction, poor word choice, rambling thoughts, and even pretentious grammatical errors” that Davidson found in the “traditional writing” of her students. They’d discover a real audience in the blog community and immediately write well. [read more]

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Categories: Uncategorized
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Writing About Food Redux

posted: 9.26.11 by archived

In the readings section for How to Write Anything, there are several essays that examine food: food as site of family or cultural tradition, food science and economics, and even reviews of food. I have also posted a series of assignment ideas relating to food in past BITS blogs:

Narrative: Personal Food History

Research Paper: Where Does Food Come From?

Review: Restaurant Critic

Proposal: New Food Ideas

But I was inspired to revisit this assignment after reading a powerful multimodal personal narrative in Harlot online magazine. The essay, by Sue Webb, mixes recipes with song lyrics, pictures, and personal reflections to tell the stories of her relationship with her father. Webb also does some really interesting things with the layout of the Web page and with internal and external hyperlinks. I think this is a great example of a multimodal personal narrative, but also a good example of how students might add diverse content to personal narratives they have already written, as a way to remix and revise. [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Jay Dolmage
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Writing Without Words: An Introductory Workshop to Theatre of the Oppressed

posted: 7.18.11 by Susan Naomi Bernstein

In mid-July at the Forum Project in midtown Manhattan, I experienced a full-day introductory workshop to Theatre of the Oppressed. I already knew that Augusto Boal, the founder of Theatre of the Oppressed, worked with Paulo Freire, educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Boal’s work literally embodies Freire’s philosophy of reading the world and reading the word. Theatre of the Oppressed recreates our seemingly familiar world as strange and unpredictable, as the actors and the “spec-actors” (the audience) compose through body and mind. Our efforts as participants help us to think and act critically to unravel oppression. We act and reflect on our own roles in perpetuating oppression as either the protagonist (the oppressed) or the antagonist (the oppressor).   Participants dismantle scenes of oppression, not only with the intent of challenging current conditions, but also of transforming reality to achieve social justice.

Most powerful for me was an activity called Image Theatre.  Image Theatre asks participants to work together silently in small groups, using their bodies to create an image of a particular theme. -1_3Our group worked on the theme of Oppression. We needed to sculpt a single group image that would connect our experiences of the theme. However, we could not talk; we could communicate only through body language. The photograph of that image is included as part of this post.

The participants in the workshop were invited to interpret our image of oppression. We, the creators of the image, were instructed to remain silent. We listened as our coparticipants described reality as they saw it. To describe reality constitutes a significant step in claiming reality in order to change reality, an important factor in working toward an ideal of social justice. [read more]

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Categories: Teaching Advice, Teaching with Technology
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New Help in Finding Reading Materials

posted: 7.15.11 by archived

As a writing teacher who sometimes chooses not to use textbooks, I’m always on the lookout for potential reading material for my students. I regularly read through the New Yorker, Harper’s , the Atlantic Monthly, and the Sunday magazine sections of the New York Times and the Boston Globe, and from time to time I check at Arts and Letters Daily for online articles that might be suitable (their sidebar also lists many top-notch magazines that offer free access to much of their archives).

A site that launched last month,, offers great promise for teachers like me on the hunt for FYC reading material.

On the Atlantic Wire blog, Adam Clark Estes describes it like this:

Byliner works like a discovery engine for the best long form nonfiction writing. Fueled by the archives of publications like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Outside as well as an original content platform called Byliner Originals, the newly launched site indexes individual works and sorts them by author, by topic and by source. Users can follow their favorite authors, submit links to quality articles and share what they like with their social networks. Imagine an aggregator like Arts & Letters Daily meets Google News and has a beautifully designed baby.

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Categories: Holly Pappas, Teaching Advice
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How to Look like a Writer

posted: 6.28.11 by Traci Gardner

Earlier254235420_f116752ea0_m this month, Virginia Tech’s campus newspaper, the Collegiate Times, published a piece on how to “Blend in to avoid looking like the typical freshman.” The list includes advice like don’t wear your student ID in a lanyard around your neck and don’t ride your bike around the Drill Field the wrong way.

There are thousands of essays that use the same “what not to do” structure. In a quick Google search, I found an article on Things not to do (on a unicycle), What not to do in Japan (from CNN), and a What not to do on social media (from ClickZ,with a tie-in to Anthony Wiener’s online behavior). If you want a video example, you can always sample something from the Learning Channel’s What Not to Wear.

These “what not to do” texts are frequently humorous, poking fun at people who do the wrong things. The incoming Virginia Tech students are warned not to “travel in massive herds,” for instance, and the unicycle photos are introduced as “humorous photos of things that are not advisable to do on, with or near unicycles.”

The genre does not require humor, however. The CNN tips for travelers to Japan focus on straightforward advice, pairing things not to do with wiser alternatives. Likewise, the ClickZ article pairs dos and don’ts as it discusses how to avoid social media disasters and what to do when the inevitable happens.

So what does this have to do with looking like a writer? When I read the article on blending in as a freshman, I thought about how students work to look like writers in the writing classroom. Immediately I recalled the video Andrea Lunsford shared earlier this year of a student who was working to “‘invent the university’ for herself” by trying on the props and language of a writer. Students obviously know a few things about what to do and what not to do to look like a writer. The “what not to do” structure can be the basis for sharing that information. [read more]

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Categories: Teaching with Technology, Writing Process
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The Collaborative Writing Sprint: Product and Process

posted: 6.17.11 by archived

If you’re interested in having your students write for the Web, first look at the Writing Spaces Web Writing Style Guide, which came out earlier this month as part of the Writing Spaces open textbook project. The style guide covers writing with social media tools (blogs, wikis, Twitter), including rhetorical, ethical, and design considerations, and it’s aimed particularly at college writing students. Like all of the material in the Writing Spaces project, its Creative-Commons licensing allows it to be freely distributed (with attribution) for noncommercial purposes.

I first learned about the style guide when I read its CFP a few months ago, and it was the process that intrigued me as much as the potential usefulness of the final product in my classes. It was a collaborative process begun in Google Docs as an outline (open to changes midstream) to which anyone interested could contribute; this part of the process was termed the writing sprint, and the encouraging guidelines suggested that contributors write fast: “Write and edit what you want. Got a better metaphor from what is already written? Change it. Feel like you can adjust the style better to be more student-friendly? Want to significantly revise a section or add a new section? Want to reorganize the text?  Do it. Just write and rewrite.”

So I did. After reading through what had been written, I found a few places where I thought I could add some information: on building an audience for blogs, on the differences between blogs and wikis, and on blog conventions for crediting sources. I was interested to see that even with my experience as a blogger I did have initial anxiety to overcome, the sort of psychological barriers I often face as a writer but compounded by the public (though anonymous) nature of my potential contribution. I felt a wave of empathy for many of the bright students I’ve had who just couldn’t start writing. I’ve started to talk about that resistance more in my classes, but I still need to do more to understand it and help students overcome it. [read more]

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Categories: Community College issues, Holly Pappas
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Food Rules

posted: 6.6.11 by archived

Today I am going to blog about food. Maybe because I’m hungry? I’ve blogged about food before. Specifically, I suggested a few assignment ideas based around food: a “personal food history,” a “where does your food come from?” research paper, restaurant reviews, and “new food ideas” based on McSweeney’s magazine’s popular series of reviews.

Also, in the readings section for the textbook How To Write Anything, there are several essays that examine food: food as a site of family or cultural tradition, food science and economics, and even reviews of food. Personally, I like reading and talking about food, and I find students do too.

Today, I want to suggest another assignment or in-class activity that centers around food.  Michael Pollan is the bestselling author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and several other books investigating the environmental, ethical, and economic impact of food. Most recently, he published Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, containing a list of sixty-four “food rules.” Here are five of those rules, summarized:

  1. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
  2. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
  3. Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot.
  4. It is not just what you eat but how you eat. Always leave the table a little hungry.
  5. Families should eat together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Jay Dolmage
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