Posts Tagged ‘analysis’

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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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Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Multimodal Mondays
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Grandmaster Flash and Autocomplete

posted: 3.3.15 by Traci Gardner

Last fall, the Tumblr account Love, Grampa and Grandmaster Flash made a splash with its humorous screen captures of autocomplete gone awry. If you use Facebook, you know that the site has an autocomplete feature for user’s names. As you type a status update, the feature pops up suggestions of user names that it thinks you are typing, with a built-in link to the person’s Facebook profile.

The feature simplifies the process of connecting users on the site. Unfortunately, it can also change Grandma into Grandmaster Flash, as the Facebook feature guesses that if you type Grandm, you might want to tag Grandmaster Flash in your status update. [read more]

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Categories: Activity Idea, Digital Writing, Teaching with Technology, Traci Gardner
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The Ice Bucket Challenge

posted: 9.18.14 by Jack Solomon

No, I’m not going to post a You-Tube video of myself getting doused in ice water, and, indeed, by the time this posts, the ice bucket challenge will have probably morphed into something else anyway—most likely a series of parodies.  Rather, I wish to submit this latest of virally-initiated fads to a semiotic analysis, seeking what it says about the culture that has so enthusiastically embraced it. [read more]

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Fitting the Assignment to the Class

posted: 7.8.14 by Traci Gardner

Last week, I talked about a classification assignment I plan to use in the technical writing class that I am teaching this summer. Students will research their field of study and identify the kinds of writing they will do in the workplace.

As I designed the assignment, I worried about how to engage students in a way that avoided turning into a classification essay. I have no problem with classification essays, but they aren’t the right format for a technical writing class. [read more]

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Assignment: Classify Writing in Your Discipline

posted: 7.1.14 by Traci Gardner

Writing in the disciplines was all the rage when I began teaching college writing, and at the time, many of us asked first-year writing students to investigate the kind of writing that was done in the fields they had chosen for their majors.

The one minor problem I had with this activity was that frequently students hadn’t decided on a field yet. [read more]

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Students Taking On Affordances and Constraints

posted: 3.4.14 by Traci Gardner

In my last post, I described a classroom activity to Teach about Affordances and Constraints in multimodal texts. While completing the activity, students analyzed a section of a handout that addressed undergraduate English majors and minors, identified its affordances and constraints, and then proposed a new text that communicated the same information more effectively using another genre. [read more]

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Teaching about Affordances and Constraints

posted: 2.25.14 by Traci Gardner

I’m prepping to talk with my Writing and Digital Media class about the affordances and constraints of the modes used in a text. Students have read the basic definitions and related case study in Writer/Designer by Kristin L. Arola, Cheryl E. Ball and Jennifer Sheppard, the textbook we are using, but we haven’t talked about or worked with the concepts in class. [read more]

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Demonstrating How a Tool Works

posted: 1.10.14 by Traci Gardner

A few weeks ago, a student came to my office to ask how to increase the details in her essay. Students were working on a fairly typical commercial analysis essay. Their task was to choose a popular, national commercial and analyze the ways that the advertisers used rhetorical appeals to persuade customers to buy the product, use the service, or support the cause. [read more]

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Cross-Dressing and Identity in Understanding Rhetoric

posted: 9.30.13 by Elizabeth Losh and Jonathan Alexander

Recently I was honored to be invited by media scholar Henry Jenkins to speak to his graduate class on Public Intellectuals: Theory and Practice about Understanding Rhetoric.

Jenkins wanted his students to hear both about making rhetorical theory more accessible to a broader public and also about using visual arguments—specifically comics—as a means for scholarly communication.  [read more]

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Behind the Textbook: The Goldilocks Principle

posted: 9.21.11 by Barclay Barrios

The classes I teach are more about critical thinking than writing, so I am always looking for readings with ideas that students can work with, synthesize, connect to other ideas, extend, complicate, or challenge. But finding those types of readings is easier said than done. When I start looking for readings, I operate with something of a “Goldilocks Principle” in mind:

  • Not too long, not too short.
    Readings that are too long can overwhelm students, but if readings are too short they don’t provide students with enough material for writing the kinds of papers we ask them to write in our courses.
  • Not too dense, not too easy.
    If the prose is so dense as to be impenetrable, students won’t be able to get to the ideas of the piece—and that’s the stuff I want them working with. But if the style of writing is too easy, the selection as a whole may not have enough weight—it might not fit in with the kind of academic writing we ask of our students.
  • Not too narrative, not too theoretical.
    Students love an engaging story, but if the piece is too narrative then it’s more difficult for students to find ideas to work with. At the same time, if a piece is too theoretical (too jammed with ideas), students can get lost.
  • Not too controversial, not too boring.
    Controversy is a great way to spark class discussion, but I find that with hot-button topics students quickly default to a black-or-white, pro-or-con position.  I’d much rather have them explore the gray. At the same time, if a selection is boring I won’t want to teach it, and if I can’t get excited about it then I can’t get students excited about it.

Of course, all of these factors are multiplied given that I am working on a textbook.  That means I can’t think about just my students; I have to think about your students too. And that’s not easy, to be sure.

What principles do you keep in mind when looking for materials to use in your class?

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Categories: Readers
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