Toward the Composition Hole

Composition Made Whole: Assignment for FYC 1101

Pedagogy: Process, little bit of Critical; Workshop Model with Peer Review (like we do it)

Tie to Shipka:

This assignment embraces composition as a holistic process that is informed by a larger context than the discrete rhetorical situation of a specific assignment. As such, the author is asked to take into consideration the ways in which what he/she writes is a function of who they are, the needs of the assignment, the needs of the audience, and the relevance/significance/use of the assignment once it becomes a finished product.

The assignments address the following perspectives:

  • The writer’s unique perspective
  • The role of the writer relative to the academic/academic discourse
  • The role of the writer and his/her product within a larger community.

The assignments also employ multimodality to facilitate the realization of the three rhetorical positions described above:

  • Traditional, written discourse
  • Video/visual rhetoric
  • Digital discourse (via a website)
  • Civic action

Exigency and Goals:

This curriculum comes out of a general frustration with the loss of literature—all genres, as well as most other discourse—from the composition classroom.

I also have been thinking about Pratt’s contact zones and Freire’s critical pedagogy. I also admit that this syllabus is intimately tied to an empathetic response to Bartholomae’s “Inventing the University.”

In ruminating on the above ideas, I have been thinking that it would be really awesome to use the students’ histories as the class narratives—that is, using the students’ unique histories and experience with the academy as a “living anthology” upon which to base a composition course.

Doing this would empower students to appreciate the validity of their voices as writers, bring differing viewpoints into the classroom for open discussion of difficult/challenging ideas, and work toward facilitating students’ work to find a place for themselves in the world after childhood—both in the academy and in the larger community. This is my first poke at such a big project, but it is a work in progress in which I’m sincerely invested.

The Assignment:

The assignment on which I’m focusing for our class would be the second of three units.

It would come out of the first unit during which students produce a personal essay in which they describe how where they came from has informed their first impressions of college.

The creation of the essay would follow the process/workshop model with peer review, so by the time we start the second module the students a) have a polished work they can be proud of and about which they feel confident; and b) know each other via the workshop and peer review work. This work in the first unit serves to create bond within the classroom and the workshop group as a community of writers who are invested in each other’s success. This bonding should obviate much of the anxiety they might feel about exchanging personal work with other students.

Also, during that first unit, while creating the personal narrative, I will emphasize place—specifically how place reflects culture. The goal I will develop in the first unit is to present how each student’s unique sense of the place from which they came colored (read: problematized) their experience with college. In teacher talk, I’m encouraging them to address the confluence of their heterogenic cultures/identities with the homogenous/hegemonic academy of higher education. I really want to challenge them here—no pulling punches, no PC pie out.

So, after they have produced this essay, I will inform them that they will trade essays with another workshop group member—randomly, not in pairs.

Then, each student will make a movie of the narrative—with voice over. The voice over can be in the movie maker’s voice or the writer’s voice. It’s their choice. In fact, all the decisions will be theirs. This is the part of the course where I would be the least directive and the most encouraging of creative experimentation and interpretive discourse.

The goal here is to make the empathetic leap to understand the writer’s goals. However, part of the curriculum will be to discuss how adaptation (one view seen throw another) inevitably leads to interpretation. The students will be encouraged to take artistic license with their scripts as they see fit; however, they will be highly sensitized and empathetic with their audience.

In class I will bring various examples of other adaptive work to discuss as ways to address the rhetorical situation with which they are faced, and these examples will range broadly from literal representation to abstractions. Discussions also will address audience awareness and the goal of representing the writer’s viewpoint. There’s just a crap-ton of adaptations out there right now, from Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to Harry Potter to the Marvel comics movies.

Rather than simplifying the rhetorical situation or merely modeling, the assignment will be complexified. The complex dynamic of the rhetorical situation will be discussed by not reduced by any set of instructions or parameters.

Once the movie is made, each workshop group will post their movies on the class website, which I will set up. Each group makes a page. Based on each group’s impressions of the various identities of the group, they will name their group and produce a short manifesto (just a few sentences) that explains the logic behind the name.

All groups will present their work—as a group—before the class.

After the groups have presented, we will create a class manifesto that identifies what makes the class a unique voice within the university and how the class fits in to the university. This manifesto will take the form of a letter to the university (Hello, Breakfast Club) To do this I’m thinking we can use a Google doc or discussion board to which each student posts a statement of two sentences: Who the student is (where they came from), and what they want from the university. To these individual statements I will add a short intro and conclusion which we can workshop as a group in class to ensure that it suits the class’ needs. As a bonus, by encouraging students to workshop me, I underscore that we all are writers servicing the needs of our audience and further level the power dynamic in the classroom.

The class manifesto letter and individual group web pages will be positioned as a public discourse. This public manifesto will be used to segue to the third unit during which, based on the goals and unique personality of the class, we enact a socially oriented initiative designed to impact the community. Since the specific nature of this social act would be informed by the class’ unique personality, I’d make this up once I get an impression of how things are going.

Concerns and Potential Problems:

I anticipate that this second unit may need to take longer than four weeks to complete. While students generally are remarkably tech savvy, I don’t want to end up with students who simply aren’t equipped to make a movie.

Right now, I’m thinking two weeks to make the move, one to produce the web page and group manifesto, one lecture day to present the groups, one workshop day that would be the workshop of the entire class manifesto. That would be four weeks.

However, if I needed to extend that, I could. I’d just need to scale back the scope of the community action unit that follows. This could be done by limiting the action to social media (digital discourse) and/or placed other parameters on the assignment that narrowed its scope.