When students enter my writing classes on the first day, we begin building our community. I ask students to share their personal attributes for surviving a fictional zombie apocalypse in an icebreaker on the first day. Students respond with a range of attributes drawing from their own skills and literacies such as “I can cook and read fast, so I can help sustain us and read helpful information for us fast.” While not a literal representation of my classroom, the potential resolutions for this fictional apocalypse parallel some of the key bonding practices for my classroom: I stress accountability—that we should strive to help one another thrive over the semester. I also draw attention to the value in our intersectional identities and our diverse array of strengths and skills. I envision my classroom becoming a close-knit community in which my students and I actively participate, guided by the rhetorical concepts of audience, purpose, and context. I try to teach and mentor my students to consider these notions as we approach writing across genres and media. I seek to inspire students to ask questions and consider a variety of topics through ice-breaker prompts like these that lead into our discussions of writing concepts. Whether I’m teaching at a research institution, an after-school secondary education program, or a community center, I always begin the same way: by building community.
After establishing this community groundwork, I have students consider their literacy practices in local, national, and international contexts. Do all of the spaces and audiences share the same understandings? Values? Ideas? How can we translate and transform our writing to address different audiences? I encourage students to learn that academic writing is not defined as one model for a single purpose; instead, writing can take many forms shaped for and by a variety of audiences, conversations, and rhetorical purposes in the same way communities are shaped by people. For example, in 300-level Scientific and Technical Writing classes, I ask students to analyze and conduct rhetorical analyses of research articles in their discipline and then remediate these for an alternative audience and publication. In one class, a veterinary science student took the results of a scholarly article about faecal salmonella shedding among dogs, redesigned, and represented it in the style of a wellness article in Bark magazine, a popular magazine targeting those invested in dog culture. This multi-genre engagement with and presentation of scholarship emphasizes how document design, jargon, and context impact dissemination and audience reception.
Because I value community, my pedagogy prizes the social situations in which students spend their time. As such, I employ multiple modes in my teaching materials such as videos, social media, and presentations. For instance, I tweet regularly about course materials and ideas using a course-related hashtag I share with students encouraging them to engage with it across social media. Further, I call students’ attention to multimodality across multiple genres in every unit. For example, in first-year writing courses, I ask students to engage with movie-making software to write, design, produce, and edit a 60-second video surrounding a concept within a community or culture. In the past, students have engaged an array of topics including smoking in Louisville, Black Lives Matter, and gender representation in Hollywood and the workplace. This project asks students to utilize multiple modes of writing and composing practices. Meanwhile, in 300-level Business Writing, students create infographics summarizing the communication practices of professionals in their disciplines to represent these practices in a short form genre. Projects like these exemplify my commitment to multimodal and digital literacies.
I find that a focus on popular culture both excites students and motivates them to inquire into diverse issues. By drawing from popular culture, I pique student engagement in conversations that serve as invention activities for their research projects. Additionally, I ask students to write research papers focused on issues of their choice incorporating an analysis of representations of the issue in popular culture.
I recognize the writing process differs for every student; thus, by both teaching with and having students practice writing across media, I offer students multiple ways to learn. Ultimately, I hope students will continue to consider the skills, knowledges, and ideas they bring into the classroom, like those that might help them survive in a zombie apocalypse, as assets of their continually growing and evolving writerly identities.