Andrea Feldman

Program for Writing and Rhetoric

Course Context:  WRTG 3020, Multicultural Rhetorics; I taught two sections of the course, composed of 20 students each. The course satisfies the upper-division core writing requirement for Arts and Sciences. This is an interdisciplinary course with majors from across the curriculum. Students are native and non-native speakers of English with an interest in multicultural issues.


Target Threshold for improvement/evidence:  The aim of the redesign was to connect rhetorical knowledge and theory to students’ writing, and to understand preconceptions about writing and rhetoric students bring to the course and monitor their progress.


One of the principal goals of the multicultural rhetorics course is to have students write from their own experience in appropriate contexts to an authentic audience; in order to facilitate this process students need to rethink the ways in which they have previously written and adopt new practices. In order to monitor their progress, I aimed to slow down an assignment into step-by-step stages, include reflections, and self-assessment at the end of the assignment.


• Research Design
1. At the beginning of the semester, I asked the students to write a three-word reflection on what they know about writing and rhetoric. I composed a tag cloud of these results, which showed a very scattered and traditional approach to writing. I addressed these pre-conceptions about writing throughout the course, and at the end of the course asked the students for a three-word reflection on how rhetoric had improved their writing by the end of the course. The results showed a tremendous difference and improvement; not only did they achieve a consensus about the role of rhetoric in their writing, but they also focused on analysis and voice, rather than surface issues like grammar and structure.
2. In the middle of the course, for the students’ second paper, I broke down the steps for a visual rhetoric assignment (see Appendix 1). Weekly assignments asked students to write one section at a time and reflect on each section. They also blogged to each other with comments each week in small groups. Partners assessed drafts of each paper and turned in their written assessments for a grade. At the end of the paper, using the same rubric as their peer review assessment (see Appendix 2), the students completed a self-assessment and graded their own papers. I took their self-assessments into consideration for the final grade on that paper, and wrote comments to them on the assessments where I agreed or disagreed with their evaluations.
3. At the end of the semester, we compared the initial word cloud with the final one, and students were able to see their progress throughout the semester. Interestingly, one of the key results came from the middle paper where the students observed their own steps (writing description, analysis, and argument separately).


Overall Findings
The word cloud findings showed a smattering of preconceived ideas about writing and rhetoric at the beginning of the course. The main finding at the end of the course showed a consensus around best practices in writing and rhetoric. However, the consensus was built around the step-by-step approach to their second paper where students developed a stronger metacognition about the writing process. Not only were they able to focus on these steps, but the partner critiques and reflections on each stage tuned them in to nuances and details about crafting voice, choosing audience, interpreting and analyzing data, finding evidence and addressing counter-claims. In addition, the self-assessment piece created a transparency and validity, which created a more inclusive community in the classroom. In Appendix 3, I have attached an example of a student self-assessment.


Next Steps
I’d like to improve the word cloud task at the beginning of the semester so that I incorporate more nuanced misperceptions at the beginning of the course. That is, rather than asking students to generate three words that come to mind when they consider the course topic, I will create two separate word clouds, as suggested by Randy Bass (FTEP Assessment Institute, 2011). These sets of questions will ask students on the opening day of class to distinguish between in-school (academic) writing and web-based writing. For each category students will produce a word to describe what they consider a core concept, an important characteristic, and a worthwhile endeavor (Wiggins and McTighe, Understanding by Design). This will hopefully better reveal the disconnect between the course design and goals and the preconceived notions students bring to the classroom. I will repeat the exercise at the end of the course, and I’d like to involve the students in the analytical exercise of explaining what happened from beginning to end of the course.
I would also like to break down other assignments (two other major assignments consisting of a personal essay on multicultural issues and a gender and language assignment) and incorporate a self-assessment into the final paper. I will also have the students blog their comments to each other during the entire process.
Damian Doyle and I will offer to present our techniques at a faculty meeting, particularly the self-assessment techniques.

Appendix 1

Visual Rhetoric Assignment

Dr. Andrea Feldman

Write an argument for or against the views expressed in a cartoon or other piece of visual media. You may choose a photograph, painting, advertisement, or other form of visual expression (non-print media). A good source for these media is the textbook Everything is an Argument, or you may find your own media in local newspapers, libraries, or galleries. Some good online sources for cartoons are : http://www.nytimes.com or http://cagle.com
Set up the paper as follows:

• Your first paragraph(s) should simply describe the medium, as you might to a friend over the phone. (Think about why this audience is appropriate for a paper of this sort. What are the constraints and consequences of this type of audience? What are the rhetorical strategies you might use?) Set up your description in a coherent, organized fashion. Be aware of what you decide to put in and what you will leave out. (You needn’t describe every last detail of the medium, only its salient features.)
• The second part of your paper (one or more paragraphs) should analyze the visual medium. You need to make clear what the main point of the artwork is. What is the artist asserting? That assertion will be the thesis of this analytical section of your paper. You then need to establish what in the artwork allows readers to recognize the author’s point. I would suggest analyzing at least two aspects of the artwork; they should be deconstructed and interpreted to show that they support the thesis. These will serve as the “proofs” that the author provides to help the audience infer her meaning.
• The third and final section of your paper (one or more paragraphs) should evaluate the message behind the artwork (argue for or against, or take another argumentative stance on the issue). Do you agree or disagree with the artist (the point you discussed in section two of your paper)? Why is the artist justified in making that point, or why is the artist mistaken? In what way might the artwork misrepresent matters? Be sure to include at least one counter-argument and rebuttal in your argument section, along with several reasons for your position. Use real-world information (not the artwork) as evidence to support your thesis.

Appendix 2


Commentary Assignment


Dr. Andrea Feldman


You are being assigned partners to facilitate your discussion of your papers. You are responsible for leading the discussion on your partner’s paper and for turning in two copies of your critiques: one for me, and one for your partner. DUE DATE: March 29, 2011 to the gmail account for the class.

In your commentary, be sure to identify the thesis (both of the cartoonist and the student),
and projected organization (reasons). Answer such questions as:

1. Description: Is it accurate, factual and relevant? Is it interesting and current? Does it lead
naturally to the analysis? Does it address a clear audience?

2. Analysis: Is the thesis of the cartoon descriptive, analytical, or argumentative? Why do you
think so?
Is it specific enough, or is it too general? Is it provable? Debatable? Or is it too obvious?
Projected organization (P.O.): Do the P.O. points support the thesis? Why or why not?

3. Argument: Is there a clear, argumentative thesis? (State what the thesis is and give suggestions,
if needed, for improvement). What supporting evidence is given; what additional evidence
would be helpful? Does the author include (and refute) the counter-arguments? Are there
any additional counter-arguments that you can suggest she include?

4. All paragraphs: Do they have clear topic and summary sentences? Are the
examples/quotes/statistics/facts analyzed ? Is the writer original and creative?

5. Conclusion: Does the conclusion answer the “so what?” question without raising any new
issues or questions? Does the conclusion readdress the audience and questions or issues raised in the occasion?

6. Title: Does the title interest the reader and direct the reader to read further?

7. Sources: Are all sources documented?
Partners:

Julia Emily
Cathy Jennifer
Alex Danny
Emma Ali
Kaila Kerry
Brittany Liz
Ray Justine
Amy Lauren
Bridget Stephani
Mercedes Megan

Self Commentary
Description
My description was one of the hardest parts of my paper to write. My picture was very complex and it took a lot of time to find the best way to describe the picture in a coherent way. I feel that my description is accurate and interesting, and it leads into the analysis. I’d give myself an A for this portion of the paper.

Analysis
This picture is very complex and many conclusions can be drawn from it. I present a possible thesis of the artist and I believe it to be relatively specific and it does not contain any argumentative aspects. I’d give this an A- because I did struggle with how to word it all.

Argument
I believe my thesis, which is “However, business students can change the world by entering into non-profit organizations, and that is a better use of their time than work in the corporate world,” is well formulate and debatable. I believe my evidence supports this argument, and I do provide a counter argument. I did struggle with this portion of the paper though, and I’m not sure that I worded this very coherently, though I couldn’t find out how to do it better. I’d give myself a B in this section.

All paragraphs
My paragraphs tie back into my overall argument and contain topic and summary sentences. I’ve provided quotes to bolster my arguments. I tried my best to be original and creative. I’d give this an A.

Conclusion
My conclusion answers the “so what” question and it ties up all ends of the paper and argument. I readdress the audience and the questions brought up in the paper. I’d give this an A-.

Title
My title is decent, though perhaps not spectacular. I’d give it a B.

Sources
All my sources are documented in MLA format. This is also an A.

OVERALL: A- or B+

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