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Multimodal Mondays: Analyzing Rhetorical Power and Rhetorical Performance in “Amazing Grace”

posted: 7.6.15 by Andrea Lunsford

The other week I wrote about the murders in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, and about the urgent need for writing teachers everywhere to engage students in both the active pursuit of understanding, peace, and justice—of making something good happen in the world through their own writing and speaking—and in rhetorical analysis of the context and discourses surrounding such events.

Then came the funeral of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney and President Barack Obama’s eulogy, at the conclusion of which he sang “Amazing Grace.”

If you have not watched the funeral and the eulogy, I urge you to do so now. I expect that teachers and students will be watching this eulogy for a long time to come: it is arguably one of Obama’s most powerful orations ever.

And then came many commentaries on and responses to the President’s eulogy, including that of writer, journalist, and correspondent forThe Atlantic James Fallows, with an analysis entitled “Obama’s Grace” (June 27, 2015).

Fallows’s analysis, along with President Obama’s eulogy, makes the beginnings of a terrific lesson in rhetorical power and rhetorical performance. As Fallows says, students need to watch and hear Obama’s oration rather than read it: here, the spoken word is crucial, allowing us to follow the oral rhythms, the pacing, the pauses, the crescendos, the depths and pinnacles of tone the President achieves. As they did in ancient Greece, the performative aspects of the eulogy—which are very strong and very instructive—link perfectly with the President’s message; in fact, they deliver that message as much as the words themselves, and perhaps even more.

As Fallows points out, Obama chooses grace as the unifying motif and theme of the eulogy, a “stroke of genius” on his part. In his analysis, Fallows traces the use of that word and allusions to the hymn “Amazing Grace,” showing how Obama carefully frames his remarks, even on policy, in light of that concept (rather than “justice” or “equity”). “We don’t earn grace,” said the President; “We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it. But God gives it to us anyway.”  Thus Obama gestures toward the act of forgiveness the survivors offered, rather than rate or hatred. “God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.” (Indeed, Obama uses what comes after those words in the hymn—“but now I [or we] see”—as a drum beat throughout the eulogy.

Fallows also attends to the cadences of the President’s speech and especially to the way he switches registers, or code-switches between African American and white ways of speaking. As Fallows puts it, “Sometimes he spoke almost as if he were an A.M.E. preacher, . . . [and sometimes as a] neutrally professional-class-white-American,” shifts that “illustrated his own bridging potential” for bringing people together.

What I’d like to do is work with students to listen and respond to Obama’s eulogy; then to read and respond to Fallows’s essay; and then to go back to the speech, listen to it again, and carry out their own rhetorical analysis. They can begin by looking closely at the elements Fallows discusses: the theme of grace, the shifts in register, and the use of religion, which Fallows says may open even those who hate him the most to the “grace of such a presentation.” But as teachers of writing and rhetoric know, there is so much more to be noted in this speech: the use of anaphora and other figures of speech; the bringing together of emotional, logical, and ethical appeals in connecting not only to the congregation in the church but to people around the world; the power of orality/aurality throughout, and especially in the conclusion, as he pauses long—and then begins to sing, slowly, “Amazing Grace.”

So, out of the horror and tragedy inflicted on the Emanuel AME Church, the Black community of Charleston, and throughout the country, this eulogy offers students of writing and speaking an opportunity to see how an attempt to change the national discourse actually works, and to examine their own discourses as well. That is one of the ultimate gifts of rhetoric: the ability not only to analyze the words and acts of others but to turn that same analytical power on ourselves and use what we learn to become better writers, better speakers, better people.

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Summer Reading—and Writing!

posted: 7.2.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Now that my grandnieces Audrey (11) and Lila (7) are out of school for the summer, they are engaged in all manner of activities: Camp (the sleepover kind!), hip hop and tap, volleyball, and, of course, reading. Their school has a voluntary summer reading program, and for the last few years, Audrey has been one of the top readers, gaining mysterious points for every book read. This year, Lila will be joining her, and she’s reading up a storm too. As near as I can tell, their public school offers suggestions, but pretty much lets them read whatever they want. They both love the Dork Diaries books, and Audrey is deeply into The Babysitter volumes while Lila any books about animals.

Such programs are going on all over the country in elementary schools. But there are also dozens (if not hundreds) of beyond-school programs to get kids reading. It seems like everyone—from public libraries, to Barnes & Noble and Half Price Books, to Chuck E. Cheese, Pizza Hut, and Pottery Barn—is offering some kind of activity (online or in-person) for kids who want to read—or who can be cajoled to read. My little girlies are at camp right now but have promised to send me their summer reading lists when they get home. In the meantime, I’m wondering how much writing they are going to be doing along with their reading—and I wonder too if writing is involved in the programs listed above. I hope a lot. I have found some programs that focus on writing as well as reading, such as Scholastic, on whose site teachers offer writing activities, including the use of Kidblog, daily writing prompts, and writing journals. The Summer Reading at New York Public Libraries offers “Reading and Writing Fun,” where kids are invited to become storytellers, reporters, and more; and Start with a Book balances the focus on reading with writing activities like Create a Poetree, Review It, Explain It, and Write to Your Favorite Author.

Perhaps schools across the country are inviting and encouraging young students to write as well as to read over the summer. If so, I’m very glad, since we all know that writing muscles atrophy just like any others if they’re not used. If Audrey and Lila don’t seem to be writing a lot, I plan to cook up some fun writing activities and games for them. So if you have any to recommend, or any information about outstanding summer reading AND writing programs, please let me know.

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Multimodal Mondays: What Counts as Multimodal? Creating Dialogic Learning Opportunities in Online Discussion Forums

posted: 6.29.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law-Bohannon.

Every week, I read Andrea’s Multimodal Mondays blog.  I am as much a consumer of the amazing material posted by colleagues as I am a producer of my own content.  Now that summer is upon us, I would like to use my space on the blog to explore expanding examples of multimodal composition, to ask “what counts,” as lessons, assignments, and writing opportunities for students. I also want to investigate how students themselves perceive their learning from multimodal compositions.

This week, I examine weekly discussion forums in my summer online graduate course.  At my university, we have a unique graduate program that offers an M.S. in Information Design and a certificate in technical communication completely in an online environment.  There is no formal cohort, but some students take courses in a loose order of offering each semester, taking courses in sequence but at their own pace.  Others pass in and out at varying intervals.  We are a large, comprehensive state institution, but many of my online students reside outside of Georgia, some as far away as Utah.  So, the importance of creating a community of scholars in a completely online environment is an important hurdle to overcome for both my students and me each semester. One of the foundational tools I use to create community is the Discussion Forum widget inside of my course management system.  At Kennesaw State most of us use Desire 2 Learn, but there are many other options out there, including open access programs like Canvas  and Edmodo.

My summer Digital Rhetoric course is part of Kennesaw State University’s online graduate program in Information Design and technical communication. Throughout the course, students practice applying theory from texts to content creation praxis.  They demonstrate deep understandings of presented material by responding both their professor and each other in dialogic discussion forums.

Dialogic, multi-thread discussions in an online forum that encourages content understanding and evaluation, applicable for both graduate and undergraduate students.

Goals and Measurable Learning Objectives

  • Create rhetorical responses to a text
  • Synthesize content-meaning through critical responses to a text and to colleagues
  • Respond using dialogic methods to “keep the conversation going.”

Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in democratic, digital writing assignments. Below, I have listed a few foundational texts. You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.

Before Class: Student and Instructor Preparation
Creating an academic dialogic requires some front-loaded preparation and design by instructors.  What I do is peruse our weekly reading and pick out my top ten keywords.  I then pair those keywords with Bloom’s verbs, which help me frame and measure what I want students to learn from the discussion and help students understand what they should “do” to achieve the learning objectives. Students often report how much they like these explicit instructions, because the instructions are transparent.  Each week, we typically begin at the foundation, with comprehension and then build to analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  A good digital resource for Bloom’s verbs and Web 2.0 tools is available from Indiana State’s Samantha Penney.

 In Class and/or Out
My online graduate classes run in modular form, from Mondays to Sundays.  Each week is a learning module with measurable outcomes, with readings divided into weekly chunks as well. I don’t place release dates on the readings or discussions themselves, so students can move fluidly between modules. I do, however, set end dates for the discussions, based on our weekly times.  I have found that graduate students require less structure, in terms of release dates and restrictions on responding in discussion forums, but I think part of that phenom comes from participating in a democratic learning environment, where instructors approach students as colleagues and not as novice learners.


Each week, I present keywords, framed with Bloom’s verbs, and ask students to respond doing the same.  I then create the first discussion thread, giving my interpretations of the keywords and explaining difficult terms and theory, often using visuals.

Students respond to the initial keyword/Bloom’s query by mid-week, then to each other by week’s end using our course discussion model, 500 words in an initial thread, then at least 250 words in two separate responses to colleagues.  I include myself as a colleague in each discussion. By using keywords and Bloom’s, we keep the conversation going during the week.

Students’ Reflections on the Activity
Here are some excerpts from students regarding their experiences with discussions:

“Each discussion was perfectly planned and helped prepare us for the next one; each forum was relevant and timely, and none of the work felt like busy work. I enjoyed participating because I got to flex my creative muscles while learning something relevant to my field.” 

“My classmates and I were mutually supportive and complimentary. Our e-discussions were great to generate conversations, but I miss the camaraderie that traditional classrooms afford. These types of dialogic discussions come really close, though.”

“I have taken other classes, with video lectures, but I like it better when the professor participates in the discussions with us. It makes me feel like I can actually say something.”

My Reflection
Discussion forums like the one I describe here “count” for me, in terms of multimodal composition, because they combine best practices like measurable learning outcomes with authentic student voices using digital tools.  Dialogic communication is tough to engender in online learning environments, but I think it’s important to keep trying, using new tech like VoiceThread to add voices and even faces to the convo.

Guest blogger Jeanne Law Bohannon is an Assistant Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) department at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth though authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies, critical pedagogies, and New Media theory; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne and


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What Rhetoric May Illuminate About the Charleston Shootings

posted: 6.25.15 by Andrea Lunsford

In the days that have passed since the murder of nine worshippers at Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, I have been able to think of little else. Nine lives offered up to white supremacist hatred. I will not write or say the name of the murderer. He doesn’t deserve the distinction.

Rather, these are the people I remember, honor, and take inspiration from:

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

Cynthia Hurd

Susie Jackson

Ethel Lee Lance

Rev. Dapayne Middleton-Doctor

Rev. Clementa Pinckney

Rev. Daniel L. Simmons

Tywanza Sanders

Myra Thompson

Like millions of Americans, I have wondered at the terrible ironies attending their deaths: the Confederate flag flying high in the South Carolina State house, the killer posturing with the flag, the NRA’s ongoing and unconscionable control of a Congress too weak to legislate common-sense gun control laws. And these nine Black lives—and countless others—Black Lives that Matter, paying the price of such cowardice and delusions.

Also like millions of Americans, I have been heartened by the words of love, hope, and resilience coming from the Emanuel AME Church, by the strength of its congregation, and by the expressions of forgiveness, given with a clear-eyed vision of what the sacrifice has been and continues to be.

But events like this, so often portrayed as the acts of a single deranged individual, do not come out of nowhere. They are deeply embedded in the culture of their communities, a product of their time and place.

And so as these awful events unfolded, I’ve been thinking about—no, fairly haunted by—an essay I read just two weeks before these shootings. “Memories of Freedom and White Resilience: Place, Tourism, and Urban Slavery,” by Kristan Poirot and Shevaun E. Watson, appeared in the most recent issue of the Rhetoric Society Quarterly, and I read it with great interest. In the essay, the authors report on field research they carried out in Charleston, along with reading in local historical archives, about what they describe as “the successful construction of the locale [Charleston] into a premier U.S. heritage tourism destination” (92). To write the essay, they spent quite a lot of time in Charleston, especially participating in numerous tours of historic sites, including plantations, and taking a very close look at Charleston’s “tourism imaginary—a manufactured version of the city that emerges from fragments of promotional materials, place narratives, and built environments” (93).

They begin by considering an event on February 15, 2014, when a monument to Denmark Vesey was unveiled after a long campaign and great controversy, eventually showing how the varying constructions of Vesey and his life (was he a freedom fighter and civil rights leader, or would-be mass murderer of innocents?) reflect the radical divide in Charleston, a divide that is covered over neatly in most of the city’s promotions of itself as a major tourist destination. As Poirot and Watson note,

As if to exemplify the uneasy balance between the historical truths of slavery and the entertainment demands of tourism, for example, one tour guide opened his Civil War-focused tour by stating plaintively that it could proceed ‘with or without slavery,’ invoking the participants’ preferences. Not surprisingly, most ‘voted’ for the tour to proceed ‘without slavery. . . .’ (103)

Through painstaking rhetorical analysis, Poirot and Watson capture the undercurrents (and often “overcurrents”) of denial and whitewashing that have created such a successful and pleasing portrait of a city, one that nurtured at least one murderer bent on eliminating the Black population of Charleston.

That characterization is mine, not the authors’, who were writing well before the events of June 17. Indeed, as ethical rhetoricians, they are judicious in their conclusions:

Like other critics, we believe that the pleasing and profitable construction of Charleston’s history offered through its tourism industry fails to provide a clear-eyed version of the city’s past. We also find, however, that the question of the rhetoricity of Charleston heritage tourism cannot be understood only in terms of historical accuracy, nor ought the issue be reduced to concerns of tourism as a profit-driven industry. Of course, both of these perspectives are valid; however, a deeper examination of place, memory, and tourism—of Charleston’s elaborate practice of publicly remembering urban slavery—highlights something beyond instrumentalism or deception as it demonstrates the profound rhetorical productivity of tourism imaginaries. These imaginaries shape and revivify historical narratives; they constitute the very historical memories on which they rely. Thus, critics ought to continue to develop ways to read these animations—these diffuse architectures of memory constructed through tourism—in order to broaden our understanding of those features of public culture that constrain and amplify the power to secure a variety of ideological commitments and economic interests. (112)

I focus on this essay at such length because it points up the role rhetorical analysis can play in learning—and perhaps in opening minds. If teachers of writing and their students take up such projects of rhetorical analysis, tracking the construction of local memories and putting them in context—it can offer one means not just of understanding how such memories get constructed but also of changing them. And that would be one way of honoring the nine members of the Emanuel AME Church—as well as the church itself and its ongoing work to secure liberty and freedom for all.

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Multimodal Mondays: Digital Collaboration: Infographics as Process Reflections

posted: 6.22.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn.

We value collaboration in our classes and with digital tools we can involve students in meaningful communication and community building activities.  With the support of digital tools and spaces, teachers can draw upon collaborative theories and practices to design engaging assignments and involve students in participatory learning.  Google Drive and other online spaces allow students to communicate, manage teamwork and collaboratively revise documents and presentations.  However, like all multimodal platforms, it is not enough to have the tools, we must teach students how to use them effectively and articulate their group processes for future successful collaboration. 

Many of us already assign reflective narratives in which we ask students to evaluate and describe their models and processes of collaboration.  It is through these kinds of reflective assignments that students come to understand their roles, conflict management strategies, interpersonal dynamics, and the paths of their projects.  Reflective narratives give students the opportunity to step back and articulate the ways the processes of collaboration are as significant as the goals and results.

I have used reflective assignments of all kinds for years in all my classes. I usually include regular in-class and online collaborative activities and at least one collaborative project in all of the courses I teach.   In this multimodal extension of a collaborative project (any one will do), students create infographics that represent their collaboration models and processes.  Like many multimodal assignments, I require them to use both text and image to communicate meaning.

You will find infographics used to communicate information in all aspects of life.  Some consider cave drawings an early form of the infographic but they also have worked their way into personal, educational, and professional settings.   Digital representations are particularly present on the internet and across other multimodal genres. – an excellent educational tool that has over 75,000 tech definitions and references, defines infographics as

A representation of information in a graphic format designed to make the data easily understandable at a glance. People use infographics to quickly communicate a message, to simplify the presentation of large amounts of data, to see data patterns and relationships, and to monitor changes in variables over time.

Infographics (also often referred to as data visualization) include charts, graphs and diagrams that visually represent ideas, information, concepts and relationships.   They can be used on their own or to support or summarize ideas from larger documents or presentations.  Although often used to represent data, students can also use them to interpret texts, communicate complex information and give us insight into our communication, processes, obstacles and achievements.    Basically, infographics bring together text and image to communicate meaning.


  • To introduce students to online tools for collaboration and revision
  • To encourage students to reflect on their collaborative processes
  • To represent their collaborative processes both textually and visually

Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of textual and visual design using multimodal elements are on-going learning opportunities for instructors.  Below, I have listed a few foundational texts and helpful links.  I encourage teachers to add to and enrich the list.

The Assignment
The purpose of this assignment is to have students reflect on their processes of collaboration, including a description and analysis of their online collaborative space.

  • I start by introducing definitions and examples of infographics and data visualization and then send students to the Web to look for examples and ideas.  Sites such as Daily Infographic website offer great categorized clearinghouses of infographics for all kinds of purposes, audiences, and contexts.  Students can work together to discuss ideas, observations, and rhetorical criteria that make up this genre.
  • I have each team compose a collaborative process reflection as part of their project.  Once again I turn them to their Google Drive space to collaboratively compose and revise this document as a team. The real time revision tools  allow students to discuss, draft, revise, and edit their documents. I ask them to explore, in writing, their processes of collaboration, negotiation, and composition for a public audience to explain their group experiences to outsiders.  They should reflect upon the group dynamics, processes of collaboration, and project results.  Students also compose a similar, individual reflection – this time with a teacher audience in mind to submit in their evaluation folders.  In these individual reflections, they also evaluate their team-members group performance and assign each person a letter grade along with a justification of their teammates’ roles and contributions (I average these together and include them as a substantial part of their grade on their projects – along with other components and criteria. See Group Processes and Evaluation Assignment and percentage breakdown.).
  • Once the draft is completed teams compose a multimodal infographic that represents their processes.  The visual/infographics should describe and illustrate their collaborative processes and the organization of their online team space as they represent the different ways they communicated as a team.  The challenge is to visually represent their processes of collaboration, including invention drafting, revising, and editing along with the processes, goals, and interpersonal dynamics of their group.  They should also include a written explanation for their infographics.

The infographic should cover their processes of collaboration, including

  • Group Roles and structure
  • Connection to collaborative theories and models.
  • Collaborative Writing and Revision Processes
  • The story of their collaboration

Reflections on the Activity
I have included excerpts from each team’s reflective process statements.  They provide insight into what students were trying to communicate through their infographics. I also have visual examples of each team’s projects on the Digital Collaboration page of my website.

Team 1 used Adobe Photoshop to create their infographic.  They explain the structure of their project,

 “Our infographic can be divided into three parts: introduction, collaboration process and the data diagram. “About the action project” is the general introduction about our action group. We convey our project time, location, goals and perspectives. The very right vertical column shows each group member’s Gmail pictures and names.”

This team also indicates that the infographic is divided into two parts – the upper that explains the flow of the process and the lower that designates the roles of the members.  They include a “data diagram” in which they reveal communication statistics about their project such as social media postings, emails and other forms of communication.

Team 2* attempted to show organization and structure.  And, since everything did not go on “without a hitch” they wanted to represent some of their team’s conflicts and resolutions.  They reflect on the connection between communication and integration.

“Without communicating we would’ve never branched out, or solved any of our problems. In fact this project would not have been done if we did not work together.  It would have been too much for one individual to handle alone, and do well. We needed each other to each build each block to make this work and make the project a success. We want those who look at this infographic to know if you truly work together to solve issues, and communicate they can accomplish anything.”

Team 3 believed that infographics should present complex information quickly and clearly to the viewer. They refer to Edward Tufte from his book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information; one of the main objectives of an infographic is to “induce the viewer to think about the substance rather than about methodology, graphic design, the technology of graphic production.”  Their infographic reflects this philosophy.

*Note: Both Team 2 and 3 used Piktochart, an online infographic generator.

Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things.  She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity.  You can reach Kim at or visit her website Acts of Composition.  

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Who Are the Navajo Kentuckians, and Why Should We Care?

posted: 6.18.15 by Andrea Lunsford

I first met Brent Peters, English teacher from Fern Creek Traditional High School in Kentucky, when he was pursuing a Master’s degree at The Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont, and I knew at first glance that I was talking to someone very special. As I got to know him better, I learned about the food literacy initiative Brent and colleague Joe Franzen were undertaking at their school. As Brent put it in an essay for the Bread Loaf Teacher Network Journal:

Last year [which would have been 2012], we approached our principal, Dr. Houston Barber, and our forward-thinking administration at Fern Creek High School in Louisville, Kentucky. . . . They granted us one Food Lit class for one trimester to see if students, many of whom were already struggling in their English classes, could identify with a food theme and show academic growth. Fortunately for us, students who stayed after school to work in the garden, cook, share, enjoy a meal, laugh, talk, think, and debate food-related issues in Mr. Franzen’s Cooking and Environmental Clubs were already making the case.

We knew that students were interested in food. We did not foresee the immense potential the class would have to bring down walls: walls between school and home, school and community, between academic disciplines, and between students and their social classes. When our class went to the school garden, we naturally started talking about botany and agriculture. Seamlessly, the conversation moved to include chemistry, history, mathematics, global issues, social justice, language, geography, and nutrition. We also noticed that students who were not talking in class became very vocal outside the classroom, and students who may not have talked to each other in class were laughing together as they were planting rye as a cover crop or picking cabbage worms off winter cabbages.

The Fern Creek Food Literacy program has grown exponentially. Most compelling to me is the partnership formed between the Fern Creek group and Rex Lee Jim, former Vice President of the Navajo Nation, Evelyn Begody, and other members of the Window Rock School District. Out of this partnership grew the Navajo Kentuckians, who have exchanged views, vistas, and visits, who came together at a 2013 Food Literacy Conference held at Middlebury College in Vermont, and who together presented their program and its results at the 2014 NCTE conference. In their work together and in their individual schools, these students are learning about nutrition and sustainability, about planting and harvesting, about “good” and “bad” foods, about managing crops and money. They are making a difference in their own choices of food and they are influencing their family and friends, often to change habits of a lifetime. And they are reading and writing in their own notebooks and journals about all they are learning in their “food lit” classes and in their gardens and markets.

What the students say about their experiences is insightful and inspiring. Last spring, the Navajo Kentuckians traveled to Montana for the International Indian Health Service Conference, where they presented their work and listened and learned from others. Here’s what Courtney Jones, a student at Window Rock High School, wrote to participants after the conference:

As always, good things have to come to an end. Now, I don’t feel sad–The Navajo Kentuckians left Billings with a change of heart and new ideas. We left with new knowledge to teach our communities about positive change relating to health. I’ve had a lot of time to think about this trip, and this is why I’m writing this to you all now. I’ve come to a conclusion or final thought that no matter the age, ethnicity, gender, who you know or who you don’t know is NOT AN EXCUSE or reason to stop you from wanting or helping your community, your people, and even yourself as a person. . . .

You can see photos and listen to students at this conference and at other events on the Navajo Kentuckians’ website. And check them out on YouTube. I think you will be as inspired as I have been.

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The LOPRA Awards!

posted: 6.11.15 by Andrea Lunsford

For the last couple of years I’ve posted during late May or early June about “why I love spring term.” And now even though I am officially retired, I still love spring term, because it’s the time of so many celebrations of student accomplishments. A couple of weeks ago, Stanford had four celebrations for student writing—one for outstanding writing in the first-year course, one in the second-year course, one in the Writing in the Major course, and one for writing of students in the fairly new Science Writing notation program. In my view, we can never give too many awards, can never celebrate too much for the work our terrific students are doing.

But now in the interests of full disclosure: my absolute favorite award is the one for students in our second-year course: The Lunsford Oral Presentation of Research Award. I was completely surprised—and honored and humbled—seven years ago when this award was announced, and I am honored and humbled right now as I think back over those years and remember all the students who received the award.

This second course is the one in which students focus on multimodal composition and especially on “translating” a text meant to be read into one to be heard and seen. Though this is a required course, students consistently rate it as one of their best Stanford experiences, and they do magnificent work in it. So every term, instructors are invited to nominate a student for the award, which yields three winners and (usually) three honorable mentions a year. But all nominated students are invited to the celebration ceremony, held in late spring, and the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) lays out a buffet of goodies for students to enjoy while we all mingle and talk. I love it!

This year, the witty and wonderful Marvin Diogenes, Acting Director of PWR, was emcee, announcing the winners and calling on their instructors to say a little about what made the students’ work so outstanding and then to present the winning student with a check, a certificate, and a book (or two!) specially chosen by the instructor for the student. This year, the winners also received another gift—a flash drive with the winning presentations on it, in the shape of a golden key. Marvin had everyone laughing as he engaged in a bit of rhetorical hyperbole, saying he was certain the students would keep this key forever, bringing it out to show when they graduated from Stanford, when they finished grad school, got their first jobs, went into retirement, etc., etc., etc. Here are a couple of photos of this event:

Students arriving for the LOPRA celebration

“Award winner Jinhie Skarda presenting “The Star of Interstellar: How Art Informs Science””

And that’s (part of) why I love spring term!

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Snapchat in the Classroom?

posted: 6.4.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times about Snapchat, the video messaging app that has barnstormed its way toward valuations in the billions of dollars. The article’s title, “Snapchat: A New Mobile Challenge for Storytelling,” caught my attention and got me looking around the Snapchat site and watching some of their “stories.” The ones I watched were mostly reportorial, with someone giving information accompanied by images. But they got me wondering about other kinds of stories and how they might be told and circulated via Snapchat.

One aspect of the app—its claim that snaps are deleted after 24 hours and can’t be retrieved—has been challenged by some who say that nothing on the Web is completely irretrievable, and by others who object to the cursory nature of snaps. Privacy issues aside, I like the idea of the ephemeral nature of Snapchat postings since it seems to open a special space for experimentation and creativity. I’m much more interested in this aspect of Snapchat than in the ability to “follow” people (aka celebrities), as detailed in a Time article on viral Snapchat stars.

I also like the way this app demands multimodality—telling stories with words and images. And I’d particularly like to hear whether Snapchat is being used in classrooms. So, if you have any information on this topic, please let me know!

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Have You Read "Vernacular Eloquence"?

posted: 5.28.15 by Andrea Lunsford

I don’t know how or why it took me so long to find this book, but once I did, I read it straight through (even though it’s nearly 450 pages long). It’s Peter Elbow’s latest work, and surely some of the best work he has done in his long and brilliant career. Check it out!

As you no doubt know, Elbow published Writing without Teachers way back in 1973, making a case for allowing students to write freely as a way to find their voice. He is an ardent and eloquent proponent of freewriting (a term coined by the late Ken Macrorie), and this latest book (published, like Writing without Teachers, by Oxford UP) carries on this tradition, but now with a decided twist. The subtitle of the book is “What Speech Can Bring to Writing,” and his answer is summed up in two words: “a LOT.” From the introductory part, in which he distinguishes between speech and writing before demonstrating the very large areas of overlap, to his closing meditation on the future, when he believes (and I agree wholeheartedly) that vernacular eloquence will be fully recognized and that writing in vernaculars will be accepted and valued in schools and out, he held my attention. This text is pure Peter Elbow: while reading it, I felt as though I were in a spoken conversation with him. He writes clearly and lucidly, examining his subject from one angle, then another, patiently surveying all perspectives and acknowledging counterarguments while still sticking to his guns.

I am perhaps most impressed with the breadth of the scholarship that underpins this book. Now I’ve been studying the history of writing and literacy for decades, and for about 15 years I taught a course on this subject. I always began the course (which I titled “The Language Wars”) with the struggle for the vernacular in Europe, tracing how ever so slowly the “high” languages eventually made way for the low vernacular, as in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or in Dante’s masterful Divine Comedy. Along the way we looked at other struggles—over the English Only movement in the U.S., over African American vernacular, for example (the great Ebonics brouhaha in Oakland included), and eventually over what constitutes “good” writing in the academy today. We read Lee Tonouchi writing in pidgin Hawaiian, Geneva Smitherman switching from formal academic discourse to African American vernacular to create powerful connections with audiences, Warren Liew explaining the struggle over “Singlish” in Singapore—and a whole lot more.

While reading Vernacular Eloquence, I found that Elbow had apparently read everything I ever read on the subject of literacy and vernaculars, that he had gone back to Janet Emig’s early work differentiating speech and writing and carefully analyzed and responded to it and other work  it inspired, that he had read deeply in anthropological literature (starting with Goody and Watt’s influential text and apparently everything Shirley Heath has written), that he was thoroughly versed in the debate over orality and literacy carried out in the works and careers of Walter Ong, Eric Havelock, and others, that he was in conversation with Suresh Canagarajah, Vershawn Young, and others who write about “code meshing” and “code switching,” and that he was ready to talk about all this work in the most straightforward, clear way possible.

Note that I said “talk,” rather than “write.” For Elbow’s book talks the talk and walks the walk: it is itself a demonstration of his subtitle—what speech can bring to writing. As I wrote to Peter after reading his book, I agree with him about the deep relationship between speaking and writing, especially in this digital age, and about the power that speaking strategies can bring to writing (one immediately recognizable strategy is the use of repetition for special emphasis, but there are lots of others).

Some years ago, two of my former students and I did a directed reading course on the question “How is writing performative?” We spent ten weeks reading, talking, and arguing, and in the end we came up with a list of ways in which writing can be a performance, from the obvious performing for the teacher to syntax and word choice. In fact, one student used the list of features we came up with to create a software program he called the “performativity rater.” It looked for things like repetition, images and figurative language, action verbs, rhythmic patterns, and four or five other elements, all of which create a sense of movement, of action, and of performance. I think Peter would love the performativity rater!

So Bravo to Peter Elbow for this learned, provocative, and forward-looking book. Just say “yes” to vernacular eloquence!

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Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Drafting, Professional Development & Service
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What I Learned in (High) School

posted: 5.21.15 by Andrea Lunsford

In March, I attended the 55th reunion of my class at Ketterlinus High School in St. Augustine, Florida. There were perhaps 25 of us there, out of a class of around 100, which seemed pretty darned good to me. Being with people I hadn’t seen—some for 55 years—was, well, bracing. To my surprise and delight, I recognized my BFFs and had a great time catching up with them and trading stories about our classes and teachers (including our elderly Southern belle English teacher, who praised us to the skies but never put anything but a grade on our papers, and our tough-as-nails chemistry teacher, who could raise welts on the arms of those who didn’t do their homework). We looked at old photos of our young selves and reminisced about our grand class trip on a bus all the way to New York City, where we got to see a real Broadway play, my first: Auntie Mame starring Rosalind Russell.

On my way home, I thought of our school, with its small and poorly stocked library, its single football (for boys only; no girls’ sports then), its austere classrooms, and its lack of language or any other labs. Yet we read and wrote and learned—and many of us somehow made it in to college. I went on to teach high school (11th grade was my fave) before I returned to graduate school, and during my college teaching career I’ve spent as much time in high schools as possible. And, oh my, how things have changed—and not changed. I still visit schools with very limited facilities, with small and out-of-date libraries, and with very poor funding. But even as legislatures have fiddled away fortunes, teachers and strong administrators have been working for students—and sometimes even bringing legislators along with them. When I had a chance to spend a day at T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, I found a very diverse and vibrant community proud of its public high school, and proud of its history of having integrated just a few years after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling. Here’s the plaque I saw just outside the main office celebrating this history:

Plaque at T. C. Williams High School

I walked the halls lined with photos of students who have won awards and scholarships, of graduates who have gone on to colleges, graduate schools, and careers. “Titan Pride,” they say. I saw the spacious cafeteria with its many choices, the expansive gymnasium, the big, bright library, computer labs, and—be still my heart—the Writing Center, where Laurel Taylor holds “write ins” for teachers to bring their classes in to write on the spot, and where some graduates serve as consultants. And I visited the room of English teacher Sarah Kiyak, filled with posters, photos of authors, and student artwork and writing. The school day was over, but students kept drifting in to Ms. Kiyak’s room, talking with her, asking questions, giving her news, and getting hugs. When the teachers arrived for our seminar, the students were still talking and were reluctant to leave. I chatted with five or six students, who were full of dreams of college. Later, Sarah told me that this school (3,500 strong) had been labeled “poorly performing” for years. But somehow the powers that be in Virginia were persuaded to provide some additional funding—enough to hire more teachers, lower class sizes, and update some equipment. And lo and behold, graduation rates and scores steadily improved. Titan pride.

Titan Pride!

 I left feeling uplifted, as I always do when I’ve been with teachers and students. So BRAVA/BRAVO T. C. Williams, where they are living out the motto of the National Association of Colored Women: “Lifting as we climb.” I saw plenty of climbing at T. C. Williams, and plenty of lifting, too.


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Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Teaching Advice, Uncategorized, Writing Center
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