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The Meaning-Making of Reflection

Kathleen Blake Yancey | Florida State University

[R]eflection is rhetorical […] only through
bringing the human and the world together to theorize
can a reflective knowledge and meaning be made.
(Yancey, A Rhetoric of Reflection)
The book cover of A Rhetoric of Reflection, edited by Kathleen Blake Yancey, featuring a black and white picture of a person examining their reflection in a puddle on the ground.
Figure 1. A Rhetoric of Reflection, edited by Kathleen Blake Yancey

The word reflection points in a myriad of directions; it means so differently—see, for example, the ways several writing teacher/scholars approach it in A Rhetoric of Reflection—that it can be difficult to define fully. But I’ll try to provide a point of reflective departure 😉, at least in terms of my own sense of reflection.

In advance, though, I think I should observe that this blog post wanders a bit. I hope it does so reflectively. I hope it prompts you to think about how you define reflection, how you include reflection in your life, how you include it in your teaching and learning.

So, a definition: reflection, which is both a theory and a practice, is a means of making meaning. Drawing from experience and more—others’ views, information, intuition, materials, objects in the surround—we engage in a practice requiring attention, multiple perspectives, and time so as to understand anew. Sometimes, that understanding is deeper as a consequence of reflection; other times, that understanding changes, sometimes radically. Our reflections benefit from being situated in community, from response, from support. Reflection doesn’t so much provide answers as point to and open other ways of seeing and being; it puts into dialogue the familiar with the unfamiliar, the small in the large, the large in the tiny. 

In writing studies, we’ve long thought about reflection as a means of helping students develop as writers. Some of us ask students to describe their writing processes—in what’s conventionally referred to as a process memo. Some of us invite students to account for their development as writers—though the drafts and through the quarter or semester and through the years. Some of us require students to assess their texts according to outcomes—some of which may derive from a writing program, others of which students may create. All of these forms of reflection, which serve very different purposes, can be quite valuable. 

Still, I wonder: are these the best questions to prompt reflection about writing? Put in terms of the definition above, are these questions that will prompt authentic meaning-making?

**

We reflect in our personal lives, too. Consider the idea and the practice of family. How would you define family? How does one create a good family? Is a good family a happy family? An extended family? A family by choice? Does one ever leave one’s family, and if so, when? 

Or consider retirement. What is the purpose of retirement? Is it to sit back and rest after a lifetime of work? Travel around the world? Is it to care for our families in new ways? Is it to take up a new career or hobby? Is it to serve the public, perhaps by delivering meals on wheels or volunteering for a political candidate? What is the purpose of a good retirement?  

What’s interesting about these sets of reflective questions is a point that is obvious: no one can reflect for another; each of us, often in community, reflects.

**

As teachers, we know about reflection and about the role reflection plays in helping us improve—but again, largely through practice, largely through response to an undeniable exigence. When students don’t respond as we’d liked or hoped, we have an opportunity to reflect, to consider their concerns in the context of our aims, and to understand what’s going on differently, especially from the perspectives of others who also inhabit our curricular and pedagogical space. Such an exigence provides an opportunity for growth. Organizers, too, it seems, as AOC commented during 2020: “I come from the lens of an organizer, and if someone doesn’t do what you want, you don’t blame them — you ask why. And you don’t demand that answer of that person — you reflect. And that reflection is where you can grow.”

The course on a page is a hand drawn calendar for the fall semester with tasks such as "share" and due dates laid out for the whole course.

Figure 2. An example of Yancey’s “course on a page.” Photo credit: Kathleen Blake Yancey

All the (many) good teachers I’ve known have grown over time. For my part, one way I’ve grown—in response to student concerns—is in sharing with them ways I’ve organized a class. Because I design the courses I teach, it’s always been obvious to me how each unfolds, how the readings are arranged to motivate writing, how the class discussions and workshops will link to both. But students, they didn’t always see it this way: to them, my courses sometimes felt disorganized, they said. Was I disappointed? Yes. But I wasn’t angry. As AOC observes, there’s no blame here. I saw the logic of their response, and I also liked my intent, to include the potential for invention that a bit of ambiguity, per Kenneth Burke, seemed to provide. Through reflection, I effected a compromise: syllabi that were more detailed but that didn’t foreclose the chance of serendipity. In addition, I created a corresponding “course on a page” helping visually orient students to the way elements were linked and the times when assignments were due. Happily, I found that the course on a page also helped me; in drafting it, I could see where my rhythm of assignments needed an adjustment and assure that deadlines were relativized and reasonable. Reflection, in other words, includes more than taking stock or looking backward, although it includes both: as a meaning-making activity, reflection is also oriented to new understandings and future change.

**

About two years ago, faculty developers Tracy Penny-Light, Laura Colket, and Adam Carswell invited a group of international teachers, including me, to contribute to their edited collection Becoming: Transformative Storytelling for Education’s Future. The key word in the title, Becoming, signaled the editors’ interest in teachers becoming teachers in response to critical incidents, or episodes of difficulty, surprise, or struggle. More specifically, the editors were interested in how these teachers had experienced critical incidents, in how those incidents had contributed to their teaching practices, and in what the incidents might also suggest about how teaching practices, or the educational system itself, should be changed. 

To learn about this, the editors gave us the same reflective assignment:
1. Please write an educational autobiography in which you reflect on critical incidents in your experience as a student in relation to literature and theory about teaching and learning. In doing so, please consider the following questions:

How did those defining moments shape you as a learner? Are you able to identify an arc or any themes in your experience? What roles have your various social identities played in shaping your educational experience? What role did the contexts in which you were learning shape your experience? How did your broader social/cultural/political sphere shape your educational experiences? What main struggles did you face as a student? Did you have any resources, supports, people or strategies to help you overcome those struggles? What are you most proud of when you look back on your time as a student? What are you most surprised or concerned about? If you were to go back to talk to your teachers now, what would you tell them about how to better support you as a learner?

2. Please write your teaching or leadership philosophy. In doing so, please reflect on the following questions:

What are your key beliefs about teaching/leadership? What literature and/or theory supports your beliefs? What specific strategies do you draw on that align with your key beliefs? What critical incidents have shaped your beliefs and practices?

3. Please write a critical reflection about your experience thinking through these aspects of your teaching and learning experiences. What connections, themes, contradictions or new understandings emerged for you through this writing process? What implications might this have for your practice?

The cover of Becoming: Transformative Storytelling for Education's Future by Laura Colket, Tracy Penny Light, and M. Adam Carswell has a vibrant yellow-orange background with a spiral paisley swirl.

Figure 3. Becoming: Transformative Storytelling for Education’s Future by Laura Colket, Tracy Penny Light, and M. Adam Carswell.

I identified three such critical incidents, two in college: (1) when I saw integral connections between two seemingly disparate junior-level classes, Victorian literature and geology; and (2) when I enrolled in a rhetoric class in communication studies whose orientation toward texts differed considerably from that in the English department where I was a doctoral student. As important, I also identified an earlier critical incident occurring outside school, when as a child living in 1958 West Germany, I understood the situatedness of certain holidays—Thanksgiving was the first—as uniquely American and also—if somewhat vaguely (I was, after all, just 8 at the time)—as a more general phenomenon wherein cultural practices are often historically motivated. For me, I said in the chapter, living in Germany “was Copernican: the US, with its unique Thanksgiving, was no longer the centerpiece body among planets and stars, but rather one planet among many.” 

In the past, I’d often told this story about my surprise at learning about how un-German Thanksgiving was, sort of as a joke on myself: I was very surprised that my German friends were not celebrating the holiday, and my child-like naivete is pretty funny. But as I reflected on this experience in writing this chapter, I understood it another way, more as one source for my appreciation of history, my appreciation of difference, and my commitment to weaving both into my teaching, especially in terms of the way I begin classes: 

history is important to me as a person and as a teacher. I began college as a history major and was certified to teach history to students grades 6- 12; along with rhetorical situation, the historical context—perhaps in part because of my living, as an impressionable child, in such an intense historical context in post-war Germany—functions as something of a standard intellectual framework for me. It’s probably not surprising, then, that I begin every course I teach with history, more specifically with students’ histories. I often open the first class period with an icebreaker focused on course content that taps student’s prior experiences; my first homework assignment performs the same task more discursively. This term, I am teaching a special topics course, Writing across the Curriculum and the Question of Writing Transfer, and the first assignment is what I’ve called The Snapshot Project:

In 1-2 pages (single spaced), identify three moments when your writing changed. For each moment, 

a. describe it
b. analyze how your writing changed and why
c. consider whether this change was helpful or not
d. theorize about what this tells you about how writers
may develop

Tracing our own histories, as my students did this week and I have done here, allows us to distance ourselves from them, see them from other angles, and begin to make meaning of them.

**

I think one of the questions reflective teachers often have centers on the how of classroom reflection: what reflective questions should we ask students, and when should we ask them so that they are meaningful to students? That italicized part? That’s the kicker: it’s very difficult to decide in advance what will be meaningful to others. But in a writing class, or a rhetoric class, we are situated in an intellectual community where some questions, when reflected upon, have that potential. The list of potential questions, below, is hardly exhaustive, but it might provide a place to begin, for our students and for us, and it might also be that we return to these questions more than once.  

What is the purpose of rhetoric? What is the purpose of your rhetoric? 

What does it mean to write in the world?

What’s the most important text you’ve written? Why was it important? What did it teach you about writing? 

What does it mean to write? Is it only words, or mostly words, or words plus—words and visuals and document design and sound? Are writing and composing synonyms? Are you a writer, a composer, or both? Why?

Why do we write? Why do you write? 

What will you write and why?

At the end of the day, what difference will your writing—a given text, your writing generally, your efforts—make?  Continue reading

A snowy Mt. Ranier rises in the background with a group of climbers starting up across the high meadows.

Pedagogy: Considering Local Conditions

Sharon Mitchler | Centralia College

My student was anxious. I could see that even though Zoom limited my ability to read their body language. The tone of voice, the worried, stuttery phrasing. And most concerning was the story the student shared, which brought me right up in my chair. My student was dual enrolled in the local high school and at my community college, both remotely. Working nights to help the family income during the pandemic made connecting with me difficult, and the student was concerned about falling behind. Oh, and the book for the course had not yet arrived at their house. We were able to find work arounds that this student was comfortable implementing, despite the challenges. As with many of my students, this student wanted to be successful. To paraphrase, “the spirit was willing,” but the context was complex.

An important idea in my work with community college students is “contextual pedagogy” –– in brief, that local context, including the specifics of a particular institution and the time a course is offered (e.g., during a pandemic) should drive a series of pedagogical choices to best support students. 

Contextual pedagogy, for me, is a reminder that as all writing is contextual, so is all writing instruction. The physical, financial, emotional, and cultural realities for students in a given location at a particular time drives a series of pedagogical choices for instructors who want to meet those students where they are. Aside from issues of placement and college readiness, the lived materialities of the spaces in which students write should help shape our choices for writing instruction. 

Each writing instructor needs to respond to the inequities that exist for the students they will be teaching. While I will use my context to share examples of the choices I am currently making in this blog, others have their own local contexts –– varied community histories, and geographies, as well as other material realities to which they need to attend and make adjustments to best support their students. 

CONTEXT

An aerial image of Centralia College's main campus. Several buildings are clustered around a bright green lawn with a clock tower and trees whose orange and red leaves mark the early autumn season.

Figure 1. Main Campus of Centralia College. Photo by Centralia College.

Centralia College is an open-enrollment, rural community college, located halfway between Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. We serve 1900 full time students. Established in 1925, the college has a long history in the community and is the only institution of higher education along this stretch of the I-5 corridor. This was already a factor in determining how to best support students who would be driving long distances to attend. However, there are at least five other major contextual impacts that I need to account for in this moment. 

  1. The Pandemic brought to light significant technological inequities.There are more than a few students with no wifi, high speed internet, hardware, or available tech help and with limited software. Additionally, students’ experiences working remotely in some degree of isolation is minimal or at least the vast majority have only attended classes remotely since March 16, 2020.  
  1. Time, especially in the sense of scheduling, means balancing complex lives with higher education. Typically students are juggling:
    • Caring for siblings, parents, and/or children –– in the 2019-2020 academic year, 40% of enrolled students had children (Centralia College Foundation)
    • Attending more than one institution –– dual enrolled in high school/community college/four-year college or university 
    • Working –– 47% work while taking classes (Centralia College Foundation)
  1. Finances are pretty tight. Just because community college costs less, it doesn’t mean that paying for classes and books is a walk in the park. Tuition and fees for associate degree seeking students is $1550 per quarter for 15 credits, and bachelor’s degree seeking students pay $2,400 per quarter for 15 credits (Central College Foundation). This is an exorbitant cost for foster kids; people on their own; and, those whose families do not have the means or the inclination for financial support.  Due to the age range of our students, typically from 16-55, students are frequently a major contributor to the income in their household. 49% of Centralia College students receive need-based financial aid (Centralia College Foundation).

  2. Centralia College students are likely to come from minoritized or historically underserved populations, which brings the additional confluence of systemic barriers due to race / class / gender. In a county where 82% of the population identifies as “white” according to the census, and on a campus where 68% of students identify themselves as “white,” to be a person of color means to be immediately visible here. Additionally, in my rural community, there are higher percentages of students who meet poverty or “working poor” definitions. 

  3. Institutional status can matter. There is a built-in “less than” that students carry because they are at a community college, instead of a four-year college or an Research 1 with strict entrance requirements and the “we are sorry to inform you” letters. My students all know people who go to those institutions, and the local high school’s tendency to elevate those who have been admitted to them inadvertently minimizes the achievements of those who attend community college. Even our first generation college students have an awareness of attending “just” the local community college.

PEDAGOGICAL CHOICES 
My teaching philosophy must account for the context in which my students learn. Students thrive with clear communication about how to be successful and when the structure of a class supports flexible paths to achieving that success. To accomplish this, I draw on the work of scholars who connect theory with practice: Asao Inoue’s work with antiracist assessment and labor-based grading; Kathleen Blake Yancey, Liane Robertson, and Kara Taczak’s Teaching for Transfer; and Aja Martinez’s work on writing and Critical Race Theory.  

The use of “ungrading” or “labor based grading,” which I first began to learn from Asao Inoue’s work, is a pedagogical choice based on my students’ context. Students have varying degrees of time to commit to a course, as well as goals for how they will use a writing class. They may choose the number of assignments they wish to complete based on their situation. Some students choose to complete all of the available activities, intent on the greatest personal growth, a desire to become more prepared for future writing tasks, and/or a higher grade for transfer or admission to a competitive program, like nursing. Other students choose to pass the class with a “C” grade. Ungrading makes student choices transparent and welcomed. For all students, how they spend their limited time and energy is then, somewhat, under their control.

The title of the image is Transfer, located in the bottom left corner with #teachingfortransfer below it. Three interlocking gears are centered. The top gear is purple and labeled "Theory of Writing," the middle gear is green and labeled "Key Terms," and the bottom-right gear, which is largest, is red and labeled "Reflection."

Figure 2. Teaching for Transfer. Image by Kara Taczak.

I use Teaching for Transfer (TFT) in my writing classes because that structure amplifies what students bring and the multiple genres and forms they will be using as they move on to other writing in their lives (Yancey, Robertson, and Taczak). TFT has a growth focus, meeting students where they are and providing a pathway for agency in their current and future approaches to writing in multiple situations and genres. My students are not generally English or composition majors. However, they are all writers. They choose to be in this class space. What seems to be disinterest may be, and often is, unrelated to my specific class. Talking with students in those moments before and after class––either by being in the room early if face-to-face, or opening a zoom space early and staying later for students to chat––is important.

In my context, it becomes important to build a pedagogical approach that not only acknowledges inequities are barriers for students, but allows them to maneuver without asking for special accommodations. This does no harm to students who are not managing all the inequities. It also makes space for the inevitable changes in roommates, childcare, work hours, work place, health issues, and unexpected situations that arise during the term. 

I assume students are doing the best with the choices and resources they both have and are aware they can access. For example, they may not know how to request CARES money or vouchers for childcare or bus passes or understand that office hours are for when you just want to have one-on-one time with your professor, and you don’t have to stay the whole hour. I am explicit about using this information in class discussion.   

I draw on what they bring –– this is not a deficit space, and deficit thinking wastes time. These students bring multiple experiences, Englishes appropriate for a variety of genres, and a desire to learn. Aja Martinez’s heuristic for crafting pedagogy and curricula with Critical Race Theory is an important guideline for “acknowledging the importance of context, [and] centralizing the experiences and perspectives of the minoritized” throughout the writing courses I teach (112-13). Student experiences are central to course content, so home languages and varieties of Englishes are given weight equal to Standardized Edited American English (Inoue 301). 

Currently, my commitment to valuing student’s experiences, labor, and responsibilities beyond my classroom leads me to the following pedagogical choices:  

  • I use “best by” dates, rather than “due dates.” Over the last three quarters, a steady 30% of students use this flexibility regularly to not only remain in the class, but to compete it successfully, as this New York Times profile of my practice explains (scroll down!). In spring 2020, students used “best by” to turn in work “late” without penalty: 88% of emergency remote (pandemic) students completed the entire course with a passing grade.
  • I default to a flipped classroom. When students meet together, there must be doing / working with, rather than lecture. Group work has to happen during class time because students’ lives often dictate that they are able to meet only during face-to-face or virtual synchronous class.
     
  • I assume students are working on phones. So I need to consider a list of questions: Does the campus LMS look different on a phone than on a laptop or desktop? What buttons disappear or are not visible in that format? How do you communicate with students who only check the “todo” list?  Can they see the videos? Do they have enough bandwidth to stream / keep cameras on in a video chat program?

  • I don’t ask students to turn their camera on. Who else may be in their space? They share their personal space, and to see that is to see more than any instructor has a right to demand.

  • I use open access texts, copies on reserve, and pdfs of shareable materials whenever possible. Yes, this collection has to be built and adjusted over time because the course load at a community college means there is just as much time crunch for professors as for students. I rely on my librarians and my professional network heavily for suggestions and texts. 

Supporting student success requires a pedagogy that reflects current context. Our field is premised on the importance of context, audience, and purpose, commitments that extend to our teaching as well as our scholarship. While the choices I have made would not necessarily work well in other contexts, I am confident that my professional peers are also attentively building supportive structures that work in their students’ contexts.  

Editors’ note: Do you have a pedagogical move that works well in your context? Please feel free to share in the comments and/or on social media! 

Works Cited
Centralia College Foundation. “2019-2020 Report to the Community.” https://www.centralia.edu/foundation/projects/publications.aspx.

Inoue, Asao B. Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future. Parlor Press, 2015.

Martinez, Aja Y. Counterstory: The Rhetoric and Writing of Critical Race Theory. National Council of Teachers of English, 2020. 

Yancey, Kathleen, Liane Robertson, and Kara Taczak. Writing Across Contexts: Transfer, Composition and Sites of Writing. University Press of Colorado, 2014.

CFP for FEN Blog Special Issue on Actionable Change, Summer/Fall 2021

FEN Blog is excited to invite submissions for a special series of posts to run during late summer and fall 2021! 

In their recent book, Technical Communication after the Social Justice Turn, Rebecca Walton, Kristen R. Moore, and Natasha Jones point to the ways “our sites of work . . . remain sites of injustice”  and urge readers to investigate ways of redressing inequity through coalitional work (1). A similar movement has built in composition studies: Recent publications, acknowledging the narrowness of the field in multiple areas of theory and pedagogy, have sought to (re)shape the spaces belonging to composition in more expansive, ethical ways. Black Perspectives in Writing Program Administration (see Composition Studiesreview here) maps out the obstacles faced by Black WPAs and outlines alternative, equitable approaches to composition and to administration that foster inclusivity in our work with students and relationships with colleagues. Other scholars, as for instance Fiscus-Cannaday and Sophia Watson, have stressed the role of multimodal composing in rewriting our pedagogy to foster activism and enable students, collectively and individually, to craft projects that respond to the  dominant culture in savvy, rhetorically creative ways. Even methodological work pushes the boundaries of our disciplinary habitus, as Aja Martinez’s recent book Counterstory, along with her initial article on the same theme, calls for more expansive methodologies that challenge existing, frequently oppressive commonplaces and make room for diverse voices and ways of being. And Adam Hubrig’s work on this blog has invited compositionists to consider how their educational and disciplinary spaces are or are not accessible to the vast array of people who move through them. These examples are just a few of many, as this work is ongoing and requires long-term commitments to responsiveness. 

Questions of how we can (re)make our field, writing programs, and courses into hospitable, humane spaces  are particularly kairotic right now (Cordova 2012). In addition to the work discussed above, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and made visible persistent inequities in our field. Students from lower income brackets and disabled students, already disadvantaged within our institutions, faced additional challenges over the last year. Discriminatory practices against women, non-binary people, trans people, and BIPOC people are still widely prevalent as well.The pandemic has opened space for us to tackle these questions, particularly as many institutions seem poised to return to “normal” (Eyler). It’s both timely and important to consider the responsibilities that we bear in our local contexts and, in our shared connections across contexts, to identify harm and work together towards change.

In this light, FEN Blog invites submissions of short pieces on actionable changes that enable graduate students, adjunct instructors, non-tenured lecturers, tenure track faculty, and/or administration to work together to cultivate more humane environments in the contexts that we share. The pieces will be run as a special series of posts on FEN Blog, over the course of several months during late Summer and Fall 2021.  

For this series, you may want to consider how we can (re)make our spaces as wider, more hospitable places through active changes in: 

  • Pedagogy and classroom engagement
  • Research practices and methodologies
  • Service and community work, both inside and outside the university
  • Labor and access concerns
  • Policy changes at the programmatic, departmental, or university level
  • Funding and financial issues in composition studies
  • Mission statement and identity for the institution
  • Accessibility and disclosure procedures  
  • Antiracist commitments and equity work
  • Theory and research on composition studies, including history of the field
  • Well-being practices, policies, or support structures for students, teachers, and staff 
  • Or any other changes that you want to address that you don’t see here! 

Submissions should be between 1000-2000 words in length, adopt a more conversational style rather than a formal academic one, utilize multimodal blog affordances such as hyperlinks and images, and cite inclusively. (If you’re not sure about citing inclusively, we suggest that you start with Dr. Cana Itchuaqiyaq’s list of multiply-marginalized scholars.) We welcome diverse ways of approaching academic writing, particularly those outside standardized Western norms. Submissions should also be geared for an online platform, relying on hyperlinks, images, and/or other multimodal content. In keeping with FEN Blog’s vision, we particularly welcome pieces from graduate students, non-tenure track faculty, and scholars from nondominant communities. Submissions are currently open and will be read and responded to on a rolling basis until 15 July 2021. Posts will go live as they come in and/or starting in August 2021. 

If you’re uncertain about whether your idea will fit, feel free to reach out at fenblog.compstudies@gmail.com. We’re open to a wide range of takes on this question and look forward to receiving your work!  For the nuts and bolts, please see our Submission Guidelines.  

Works Cited
Eyler, Josh. “On Grief and Loss: Building a Post-Pandemic Future for Higher Ed without Losing Sight of Our Students and Ourselves,” Plymouth State University, 30 April 2021, Plymouth, NH. Virtual Keynote Address. 

Fiscus-Cannaday, Jaclyn and Sophia Watson. “English 382: Special Topics in Multimodal Composition,” Composition Studies, vol. 46, no. 2, 2018. https://compositionstudiesjournal.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/engl382_47.2.pdf

Hubrig, Adam. “Access from/as the Start: On Writing Studies and “Accessibility.” FEN Blog, 19 April 2021, Composition Studies Journal, https://compstudiesjournal.com/blog/

Martinez, Aja Y. Counterstory:The Rhetoric and Writing of Critical Race Theory. National Council of Teachers of English, 2020.

—. “A Plea for Critical Race Theory Counterstory: Stock Story versus Counterstory Dialogues Concerning Alejandra’s “Fit” in the Academy,” Composition Studies, vol. 42, no. 2, 2014, https://compositionstudiesjournal.files.wordpress.com/2020/05/compositionstudies_42n2.pdf

Perryman-Clark, Staci M., and Collin Lamont Craig. Black Perspectives in Writing Program Administration: From Margins to the Center. NCTE, 2019.

Pouncil, Floyd. Review of Black Perspectives in Writing Program Administration: From the Margins to the Center, edited by Staci M. Perryman-Clark and Colin Lamont Craig. Composition Studies Journal, vol. 48, no. 1, 2020. https://compositionstudiesjournal.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/br_pouncil.pdf 

Universal sign for access of person in wheelchair created in blue neon in a window.

Access from/as the Start: On Writing Studies and “Accessibility”

Adam Hubrig | Sam Houston State University

One simple truth: when you build disabled accessibility in to your events as a non-negotiable, from the start, bottom line, you get it done.”
The Radical Access Mapping Project
“in order for us to ethically engage the question of “accessibility” we must be conscious of the bodies whose movements have, throughout the history of rhetoric and composition, been rendered immobile under the weight of discourse and inaccessible spaces.”
—Cody Jackson, “How Does it Mean to Move

Can I share a secret with you? I loathe having to ask about access needs—I doubly loathe having to inquire when it’s my own access needs. I hate it so much, and I feel like a terrible disabled advocate because of it. I get anxious making those calls or sending those emails to the point of being sick to my stomach. 

Yet, for the third time in as many months, I call the same event coordinator. They seem irritated that I’m calling—again—to ask about access. And then comes their accusation: “All you want to do is complain about access.”

Hard nope. I’d rather be doing almost anything else. As Annika Konrad has recently argued, “People with disabilities are often encouraged to advocate for their own access without con-sideration for the mental and emotional labor required to do so.”

Because—too often—how we think about access is reductive. It’s exhausting to have to keep insisting that disabled and otherwise marginalized people should be included. But still, at many American colleges and universities, composition instructors might be tempted to think of our courses as “accessible” because we’ve put an institutionally mandated Accessibility statement in our syllabus—often waaaaay at the back—to prevent the institution that signs our checks from getting sued for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (2). 

Disabled people notice these things. And disabled students at your institution definitely talk with each other about what professors roll their eyes at us when we inquire about access needs or ask us if we “really need” whatever accommodations we’re requesting—I have been one of them.

I want to talk about access as disability justice advocate and scholar Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha describes it, not just as “the same article that many sick, disabled, Deaf, and mad/neurodivergent folks before me have written to the abled—asking the abled to get it the fuck together and stop ‘forgetting’ about access and disbaled demands” which Piepzna-Samarsina also identifies as necessary work. Rather, I want to take part in conversations and projects that recognize that access is only the first step (Piepzna-Samarasinha 129) in an ongoing process of challenging institutional oppression.

And, mirroring work in disability studies (see Erevelles, Minich, Hamraie), discussions of access in writing studies are moving away from what some of my nondisabled colleagues seem to interpret—usually some version of accessibility as an abled prof doing some disabled student a huge favor by meeting the low-bar legal requirements (See Wood et al. and Brewer et al.). Instead, the evolving conversation on accessibility have us resituating that moment, considering how disabled students are doing us a favor in pointing out how our pedagogy, our curriculum, our institutions are ableist and how we can do better—for disabled students and all students—by dismantling the capitalistic, colonial, white-supremacist, and patriarchal ideologies that prop these systems up.

Importantly, as Sins Invalid reminds us through disability justice frameworks, disability never exists apart from other identities—such as race, gender, sexuality, class, nationality, and many other positionalities. Following the work of disabled activists, disability studies (see Bell, Dunham et al., Erevelles, Schalk) and composition (Cedillo; Del Hiero et al.; Ho et al.; Hubrig and Osorio; Jackson and Cedillo; Manivannan) are also expanding how they understand disability and accessibility to center intersecting identities, as well as multiple forms of disability including mobility impairments, blindness/visual impairments, Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing folks (3), chronic illnesses, madness, mental disability, pain conditions, neurodiversity, sensitivities to fragrance, and many other disabilities. 

And as a multiply disabled scholar, I have at times been approached by well-meaning nondisabled colleagues with requests for an accessibility checklist or other labor relating to disability access. While I will point to some more immediately pragmatic accessibility advice in this post, I echo Wood et al. in insisting that checklists are often reductive, “locat[ing] disability over there” (147), rather than engaging disability with nuance and complexity, asking how disability might inform writing studies, writing pedagogy, and our composition processes. 

Writing alongside disability scholars in writing studies, rather than providing a checklist—which would inevitably be reductive and leave people outside—it’s my intention for this post to point to ongoing conversations and invite those conversations to guide accessibility efforts in your classroom and pedagogy and in your/our institutions and scholarship. To make this post more navigable, I have arranged them by rough categories—expanding access, access for students and access for colleagues, but the conversations about access in each space certainly overlap. 

Access for Writing Students
Many of my nondisabled colleagues first become interested in accessibility when trying to make their classrooms more accessible for disabled students. If that’s what brought you here, welcome and thank you for taking this first step. A number of resources and scholarship exist to help address accessibility in our classroom spaces. Anne-Marie Womack pushes teachers to challenge how we think of accommodation, and has created Accessible Syllabus, with important information on crafting more accessible syllabi and advice on making images, text, rhetoric, and policies in our syllabi more inclusive. 

And, as Womack’s Accessible Syllabus details, how we frame our policies—as listed on our syllabus and in practice—is an important site of accessibility. Other composition scholars have taken up these issues as well: Melissa Nicholas describes how our policies reflect our orientation to disability, and how class considerations like attendance can make our classroom inaccessible.  Considering other temporal policies like due dates, Tara Wood describes how nondisabled conceptions of time create barriers in the composition process, offering suggestions on how instructors can crip their conception of time in the composition classroom.

Conversations around access are becoming more inclusive of neurodiversity as well: Remi Yergeau’s Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness takes up Rhetoric and Composition’s dismissal of autistic ways of being. Cody Jackson presents several strategies for making our classroom spaces more accessible to neurodivergent learners and argues the most important step in that process “is [to] ask, listen, and reciprocate the intimacy of disclosure.” Similarly, Amy Gaeta argues for access by challenging ableist ideologies connected to composing and how we can better respect neurodivergent composing methods.  Ellen Cecil-Lemkin explores how neurodiversity shapes collaborative writing experiences, challenging assumptions about collaboration in composition.

Taken together, these scholars establish that accessibility is more than minor tweaks to a powerpoint slide, but that accessibility must challenge our pedagogical assumptions and institutional orientations. In “What Does it Mean to Move?: Race, Disability, and Critical Embodiment Pedagogy,” Christina Cedillo writes:

If we continue to base our composition practices on normate assumptions rather than the embodied experiences of people most in need of access to voice and space, our praxes can and do become part of a racist, ableist apparatus that promotes other -isms, tools of ‘social hygiene.’

Cedillo’s work is accessibility writ large, arguing for pedagogies based in critical embodiment rather than retrofitting to accommodate disability—or adding a single BIPOC author to the reading list as “diversity,” for that matter. Cedillo instead suggests thinking through how a multiplicity of embodied experiences challenge and improve our pedagogy and writing, while making our classrooms and our field more inclusive. 

Access for Writing Teachers and Scholars
Like conversations on access for students in writing studies, conversations about accessibility for teachers and scholars in the field—not limited to Tenure Track Faculty™, but NTT, contingent, and graduate student teachers as well—are not only about naming and identifying ableism (though that work is necessary, too). These scholars move the conversation to how disability challenges the systemic inequalities of academic work. For example, in “Faculty Members, Accommodation, and Access in Higher Education,” Kerschbaum et al. describe their own experiences as faculty with disabilities, exploring issues of access, accommodation, and the material realities of their embodied experiences. 

Interwoven with issues of faculty accessibility and accommodation, there is important work by writing studies scholars happening around disclosure— so much that disclosure deserves its own keyword blog post, particularly at the intersections of disability and other marginalized identities—but here I point quickly to Stephanie Kerschbaum’s article “On Rhetorical Agency and Disclosing Disability in Academic Writing,” which thoughtfully explores faculty disclosure. The way conversations about disclosure are moving to include not only students but faculty is an important development: Price et al. also explore disclosure, specifically disclosure of mental disability by faculty, finding few faculty with mental disabilities were familiar with possible accommodations, suggesting institutions haven’t made accommodations clear. They suggest discussions between faculty and administration about accommodations must become “clearer and less risky” as well as the need to destigmatize mental disabilities. 

Reflecting the move from accessibility as gift to accessibility improving the field as a whole, Ho et al. establish how, for disabled teachers and scholars, “neutrality is a form of oppression” (129) that ignores how academic institutions are designed for nondisabled people, and how tending to disability can foster deeper discussions on equity in the field. Other scholars have taken up issues of inaccessibility. Rottier, for example, points to how the existence and persistence of autistic academics in the face of ableist policies is an act of resistance, and challenges nondisabled people to push for more accessible institutional policies and spaces. 

But academic institutions frequently push disabled people out: consider accessibility in conference spaces. Importantly, Price—who also has examined the language and policies of conference documents—chairs Composing Access: An Invitation to Creating Accessible Events, which has many contributors. Composing Access includes helpful information on accessibility for conference organizers as well as for preparing conference presentations. A recent College Composition and Communication Symposium explored issues of access in our conference spaces, including: addressing institutional critique and responsibility (Simpkins); the misuse of quiet rooms (Anglesey and Cecil-Lemkin); exploring access needs—specifically for Deaf scholars—as transformative rather than transactional (Fink et al.); how alcohol makes our conferences spaces inaccessible and dangerous (anonymous); as well as accountability in disability research and accessibility efforts (Jackson and Cedillo). If you are hosting an event, I also point you to Sins Invalid’s event accessibility suggestions.

But considering accessibility is also about methodology: tending to disability can and should transform our scholarship and ways of knowing and center the work of those most impacted (Cedillo, Jackson). This is the work that Price and Kerschbaum take up in “Stories of Methodology: Interviewing Sideways, Crooked, and Crip,” exploring how disability should inform methods and research.

And this iteration of accessibility—accessibility that not only pushes for disabled inclusion but aims to restructure the institutional biases that make them inaccessible in the first place—is taken up in areas that connect to and overlap with writing studies, like Writing Program Administration (Nicholas, Vidali 2015), writing centers (Hitt, Rowan), open access scholarship (Dolmage 2018, Rice Evans), graduate education (Obermark), Rhetoric (Cedillo, Dolmage 2014, Maier et al., and Yergeau) Technical Communication (Browning and Cagle, Colton and Walton, Jones, Meloncon, Palmeri, Zdenek), gender and sexuality (Smilges, Yergeau), community literacy studies (Hubrig), basic writing (Vidali 2008), and I am excited to announce I’m guest editing a special issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College centered on disability and accessibility in the Two-Year College, coming 2022. 

Moving Toward a Conclusion, though Access is a Process with No End
At the College Conference on Composition and Communication in 2019, a large sign proudly proclaimed CCCCs is Accessible!

The original CCCC sign, a red sign with white letters, that reads: “The CCCC Convention is accessible! The CCCC Convention has accessibility guides for the Convention; Quiet, lactation, and family rooms at convention sites; Childcare grants; Gender-neutral bathrooms; Interpreters" has dozens of sticky notes with messages written on them.
Figure 1. The original CCCC sign proclaiming accessibility is covered with sticky notes from conference participants pointing out ways the conference failed to provide access. Photo Credit: Ruth Osorio

In response, many conference attendees posted—literally, with sticky notes—their/our own responses to the sign, highlighting multiple ways in which the conference was quite inaccessible—to disabled people, to parents and others with caregiving responsibilities, to many LGBTQA+ Folks, and people excluded or marginalized because of whiteness.

What I hope writing studies understands from the sticky note moment is that access isn’t a project that can be completed: it’s not a checklist or a bulleted list, but ongoing conversations and actions that address the systematic inequalities and institutional barriers that exclude disabled and other marginalized bodies. I ask you to take part in these conversations by engaging with this scholarship and connecting with other disabled scholars. To join these conversations, I recommend the resources I’ve outlined here, as well as the Anti-Ableist Composition Collective (created by Cody Jackson), the College Composition and Communication Disability Studies Standing Group, as well as learning from the work of disability activism like Sins Invalid and the Disability Visibility Project.

Notes

  1. I (Adam) would like to thank Ellen Cecil-Lemkin, Ruth Osorio, and Katie Bramlet, as well as FEN Blog Co-Editors Megan Von Bergen and Lauren Fusilier for their thoughtful reading and feedback on earlier drafts of this post.
  2.  ADA laws are typically only enforced through lawsuits, meaning many disabled people without financial resources to take legal action often have little to no recourse. I echo Wood et al. in suggesting it is important for educators to be familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including the 2008 amendments as well as Section 504 of the rehabilitation act. But meeting the legal requirements is a first step, not an end goal of accessibility.
  3. Many Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Humans do not consider themselves as disabled, but rather recognize the importance of Deaf culture. By including Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing folks in this discussion of accessibility, I do not mean to undermine how they identify in relation to the disability community (for more information, see Monts-Treviska in Skin, Tooth, and Bone)
  4. A list of works consulted is linked in a Google doc here. I welcome suggested additions to better represent the range of accessibility work being done in composition and rhetoric and related fields.

 *Featured Image on this post created by Henry Faber.

Rhetoric(s): A Broader Definition

Sheila Carter-Tod|Virginia Tech

I come from a long line of storytellers.  So much of what I have learned about my family history and culture has come from indirect teaching, through stories. It is with this tradition in mind that I begin with my own story. Mine is a story that explores rhetorics taught, enjoyed, cast aside, and ultimately re-embraced.

 As a child, I spent a good deal of time listening. I am from the old school belief that children are to be seen not heard, and even the seen part was to be limited, when around adults.  I also come from a big family with nine children, strongly dominated by women and all older than I am. All of that to say, that I spent a lot of time listening to and learning from stories. When I or my sisters asked about something that was “somewhat tricky” we were told stories. When something in the community happened that was tragic or unsettling, the women in my family would get together (generally with other women from church) to indirectly discuss the situation and lessons that should be learned. So many of the stories that the women in my world told happened in the kitchens, often on Saturday nights, and often while hot-combing someone’s hair for church. Even in these more intimate settings, storytelling was a combination of voices and memories brought together in ways that called on the old but created something new.  

My early socialization, linguistic understanding, and education and worldview was shaped by the church. While a bit more performative than the storytelling in kitchens, these linguistic experiences also involved a combination of voices and memories brought together in ways that called on the old (often reaching back to Biblical stories) while communally creating something new. Each Sunday, I heard sermons that enacted communication as an interactive experience that was rhythmic, sonorous, artfully, and emotively delivered and concluded with celebration or hope. 

Characterizing the rhetoric of African American preaching as composed of signification, hermeneutics, and community, as well as the use of language, Cleophus LaRue describes the rhetoric that I was internalizing as an interaction between the speaker and the worshipping community based on a participatory bond. In his book, The Heart of Black Preaching LaRue describes this interactive rhetorical exchange as follows: 

The highly charged nature of the black worship experience is most commonly associated with the antiphonal call-and-response ritual that the preacher and congregation engage in during the sermon. Many black preachers, contemplating the audible participation of those in the pew, intentionally slow their cadences, time their pauses, and change or semichant their phrases in a most adept and deliberate manner (11).

What I came to know as rhetorically situated speech practices (and from there many of my speech and writing patterns) consisted of an awareness of language as rhythmic, sonorous, with persuasion being woven in narrative, and at times indirect, but with all linguistic interactions as participatory and shared, as illustrated by Martin Luther King Sr.’s sermon “ The Inescapable Christ.”

These rhetorical patterns were reinforced by the music that I experienced both in and outside of the church. From old-time gospel to the soul of such artists as Gladys Knight & The Pips, the rhetoric of my youth was rhythmic, woven in narrative, and participatory. April Leigh Kinkead calls refers to this “Black Rhetoric” as “‘synthesis,’ which reconciles the individual alongside the community as Being-in-the-world-alongside-others through care and concern for human dignity as encouraging reciprocity and balance through the act of speaking a common language.” 

 I brought this understanding of rhetoric (although I did not know what it was called at the time) with me when I was bused to school. This bussing meant that I went to school with students who did not look like me, talk like me, or understand the world as I did. The range of gaps between me and the students with whom I was sent to school existed both racially and socioeconomically thus beginning my educational journey into the socialization, and linguistic speech, and writing practices of the American majority. During my public school, university, and graduate school years, I encountered limited, if any, acknowledgement or discussions of writing or speaking that resonated with what I had internalized in my youth. When I tried to capture rhythm in my writing –– with sentence structures and repetition –– I was told that my sentences were too long and that I needed to simplify my writing for better clarity. This process, once described by Carter Godwin Woodson as the process of “educating the Negro” and “stimulates the oppressor with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worthwhile, depresses and crushes at the same time the spark of genius in the Negro by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other peoples” (5).

Elaine B. Richardson, in her book African American Literacies, describes the problem with this miseducation by pointing out that African Americans’ language and literacy traditions are actually representative of our ways of being in the world. To separate my educational processes from my cultural and intellectual rhetorical traditions disrupted my understanding of myself and my “way of being in the world.” In “Sustainable Becoming: Women’s Career Trajectories in Writing Program Administration” (WPA: Writing Program Administration, vol. 43, no. 1, 2019, pp. 12–32), I describe my career journey that eventually allowed me to reconcile years of mis-education and subsequent professional assimilation with my past personal, cultural, educational (and I would add rhetorical) traditions. In the article, I describe this stage of womanist identity integration as the “stage [in which] an individual identifies with her own identity, as well as understands infusion of the identity of the dominant culture and seeks to create a more integrated holistic identity. Moving from acknowledging and conforming to existing social expectations to creating and defining her own strong, healthy inclusive ones” (17).

While my story is my own, it is further complicated by the practices associated with the professional organizations with whom I am affiliated. I have constantly struggled to find a way to figure out ways to merge my professional administrative practices with what I know is a more inclusive approach to writing instruction and writing program curricular development. The CWPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition has been for many years the basis for curricular choices for writing instruction in post-secondary education. Although there is an effort to revise this statement to be more linguistically and rhetorically inclusive, in the current report as well as in reports by the National Writing Project, and College Board’s Advanced Placement Language Curriculum, rhetorical knowledge is foregrounded as a key component of writing instruction. While I was a writing program administrator, I, too, used these guidelines as a foundation for our writing program.  

I did and still do agree that foregrounding rhetorical knowledge is indeed an effective approach to writing instruction. What I now do not agree with is a monolithic or single definition of or for  “rhetorical knowledge.” In fact, in the absence of any designation of an understanding of the range of rhetoric(s) on which a course, a curriculum, or a program could focus, we must question: to whose rhetoric are we referring? A survey of curricula, textbooks, and digital instructional tools on rhetorical analysis generally focuses on an Aristotelian rhetorical model. That is: rhetoric is singular, and it is generally Aristotelean. Instead, an approach that includes plural rhetorics sees culture as intertwined and fully infused in all aspects of textual creation and analysis. 

Until we come to a broader, more inclusive definition of rhetorics (which Microsoft Word marks as spelled incorrectly—a point that is extremely telling), we are reducing a word that could have a rich and culturally diverse background to a seemingly limited monolithic scope. By not expanding our definition and analysis of rhetoric to rhetorics, we are excluding the nuanced breadth of textual consideration and by extension our students’ ability to recognize and contextualize rhetorical strategies beyond those often cited in research and instructional materials. Statements and practices that encourage students’ rights to their own language and even more recent efforts to enact anti-racist assessment practices will only somewhat address the curricular inequities that are created when we do not consider programmatic changes that include a broader definition of rhetoric(s).  

The early to mid 2000s brought with them a challenge to this somewhat singular default concept of traditional rhetorical knowledge, with the rise of a more encompassing perspective of rhetoric that foregrounded culture –– Cultural rhetoric(s). In their 2018 “Interfacing Cultural Rhetorics: A History and a Call,” the authors stated that “The study of cultural rhetorics is often formulated as an interrogation of both culture and rhetoric; thus, this inquiry understands constructions of culture and rhetoric as interdependent rather than stable categories,” as “mutually-informing, and overlapping ways in which rhetoric and culture interface.” Cultural studies researchers in writing studies explored African American rhetorics, Native American rhetorics, Chicana/Chicano rhetorics, Asian American rhetorics, queer rhetorics just to name a few. Yet first-year writing courses still focused on the singular “traditional” notion of rhetorical knowledge that I previously referred to.  

By examining the rhetorical tradition on which I was raised, I can return to my story. In defining and discussing African American rhetoric(s), I am not advocating the replacement of one singular definition for a different one; but instead, I am providing a practical, applicable example of what expanding the definition of a single rhetorical approach to an approach that includes multiple rhetorics might include.

In their 2018 book On African-American Rhetoric, Keith Gilyard and Adam J. Banks define African American rhetorics as “the arc of strategic language use by African Americans from rhetorical forms such as slave narratives and the spirituals to Black digital expression and contemporary activism.” In her syllabus for an Intro to African American Rhetoric course and on her website Carmen Kynard builds on this definition by stating, “African American rhetoric is more than just speeches, marches, and public presentations by Black people, though it includes all of that. African American rhetoric is about freedom, imaginations, and the ways that all forms of language and communication work towards those freedoms with all the complications fully on deck.” And, in their book African American Rhetoric(s): Interdisciplinary Perspectives, editors Elaine B. Richardson and Ronald L. Jackson II define African American rhetorics as “the study of culturally and discursively developed knowledge-forms, communicative practices and persuasive strategies rooted in freedom struggles by people of African ancestry in America . . . .  This critical approach allows not only for analyses of discourse but also considerations of how we can better accommodate the development of empowering rhetoric” (xiii). 

In each of these definitions, I have highlighted key components of the focuses of African American rhetorics that not only meets but exceeds the rhetorical knowledge that is described as an outcome for students in a composition class.  

African American Rhetoric (with an Afrocentric focus) expands the rhetorical triangle to a star.
Figure 1. Image by Collin LaJoie, high school English teacher in Kansas City, Kansas.

When explored in terms of a writing classroom, Vershawn Ashanti Young and Michelle Bachelor Robinson, in The Routledge Reader of African American Rhetoric: the Longue Durée of Black Voices (2018), illustrate how a composition course that has an Afrocentric focus or focuses on African American rhetoric would expand the traditional rhetorical triangle to a star that includes language, style discourse, perspective, community and suasion. 

The Nommo circle features the term Nommo in the center, surrounded by soundin', stylin', improvisation, storytelling, lyrical code, image making, call and response, and rhythm forming a circle. Small arrows below each term indicate a clockwise motion.
Figure 2. Image from Keith Gilyard’s Introduction to African American Rhetoric(s): Interdisciplinary Perspectives, edited by Elaine B. Richardson and Ronald L. Jackson II.

Another model is found in Ronald Jackson’s 1995 Toward an Afrocentric Methodology for the Critical Assessment of Rhetoric. He centers rhetorical analysis on Nommo—the power of the word. Jackson states that “All activities of men, and all movements on nature, rest on the word, on the productive power of the word, which is water and heat and seed and Nommo, that is, life force itself . . . ” (50).

What I am proposing is that we no longer consider writing courses about rhetorical knowledge, but instead about helping students understand, analyze, and produce based on a broader concept of knowledge of rhetoric(s). What I am proposing is that composition studies continuously, broadly define rhetoric(s) to include all of those in our field, all of the students in our classrooms reclaiming the power in the word rhetoric.   

Works Cited

Baker-Bell, April.  Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy. New York, Routledge, 2020.

Browne, Simone. Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness. Durham, Duke UP, 2015. 

Cobos, Casie C. et al. “Interfacing Cultural Rhetorics: A History and a Call,” Rhetoric Review, vol. 27, no. 2, 2018, pp. 139 –154. 

Gilyard, Keith. Race, Rhetoric, and Composition. Portsmouth, NH: Heineman Boynton/Cook, 1999. 

Gilyard, Keith. and Richardson, Elaine. “Students’ Right to Possibility: Basic Writing and  African American Rhetoric. Insurrections: Approaches to Resistance in Composition            Studies, edited by Andrea Greenbaum, Albany, NY, SUNY Press,  2001. 37–51. 

Gilyard, Keith and Adam Banks. On African American Rhetoric. New York, Routledge,        2020.  

Kinkead, April Leigh. Black Rhetoric: The Art of Thinking Being, 2013, UT Arlington, PhD      dissertation. 

LaRue, Cleophus James. The Heart of Black Preaching. Louisville, KY: Westminster John      Knox Press, 1999. 

Lipsitz, George. “The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: Racialized Social Democracy and the “White” Problem in American Studies. American Quarterly, vol. 47, no. 3, 1995, 369387.

Jackson, Ronald L and Elaine Richardson, editors. Understanding African American              Rhetoric: Classical Origins to Contemporary Innovations. New York, Routledge, 2003.

Shelton, Cecelia. (2020). “Shifting Out of Neutral: Centering Difference, Bias, and Social Justice in a Business Writing Course,” Technical Communication Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 1, 2019, 1832.

Smitherman, Geneva. Talkin’ and Testifyin’: The Language of Black America. Detroit, MI:      Wayne State UP, 1977. 

Young, Vershawn Ashanti and Michelle Bachelor Robinson, editors. The Routledge              Reader of African American Rhetoric: the Longue Durée of Black Voices. New York,                  Routledge, 2018.

Notes

For pedagogical perspectives on cultural rhetorics, see “Listening to Stories: Practicing Cultural Rhetorics Pedagogy”.  For more sources on cultural rhetorics, see Constellations’ Cultural Rhetorics Consortium. 

For more ideas on cultural rhetorics-based assessment frameworks, see Gavin Johnson’s blog on Considering the “Possibilities of a Cultural Rhetorics Assessment Framework”

In this bibliography, I have included both composition sources and those that are applicable to professional and technical writing. This was a list that Jennifer Sano-Francini and I developed as part of a Black Matters teach-in.

Welcome to FEN Blog!

Composition Studies got its start in 1972 as the Freshman English Newsletter. Early issues were defined by brevity and practicality: many entries were a column or two on a single page, offering helpful advice in casual language about the everyday problems facing teachers. For example, one piece from the second issue advises teachers on pedagogical practices for minority students, while another describes curricular innovation at Forest Park Community College in St. Louis. Today, the chatty tone of these newsletters has given way to a commitment to robust peer-reviewed scholarship. Composition Studies won an award in 2017 recognizing its inclusive editorial practices, and we’re proud of the work the journal continues to produce. We also see an ongoing need for the informal, practical conversations hosted in the original newsletter. To meet this need, we are proud to introduce FEN Blog, so titled in honor of the Freshman English Newsletter.

We envision that the blog will invite brief, experiential accounts of what is happening in our classrooms, administrative work, and research. Coming alongside the peer reviewed research in our host journal, the blog promises to expand what stories are told in the field and who tells them. 

The need for a blog has been on the Composition Studies journal editors’ minds for a long time. Yet the twin exigencies of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement accelerated this vision, since they made clear the importance of a space which allows us to address issues in a timely fashion. Equally important, a blog also provides a platform for people minoritized within higher education and peer-reviewed publishing — including Black scholars, scholars of color, contingent faculty, and graduate students — to address the ongoing questions raised by our diverse, varied experiences. 

Working outside the constraints of peer reviewed scholarship permits FEN Blog several advantages, among them a more conversational tone and wider range of affordances. We hope that contributors will write in their own language, producing short(er) pieces that center their expertise in the classroom. Especially for contingent faculty or graduate students, FEN Blog provides a much-needed space to address the field. 

Among the affordances a blog platform offers is the opportunity to include multimodal composing –– images embedded into the piece to illustrate, hyperlinks to expand discussion, or audio/visual elements to amplify. Each post will include a featured image, either provided by the writer or selected by the editorial team, and readers/contributors are encouraged to design an image if they want. The comments field, as well as sharing options on social media, will spark responsive, ongoing conversations among readers from a variety of positions.

We’re not the first journal to create a blog. Teacher-Scholar-Activist, Cultural Rhetorics Pedagogy Blog, and the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative are strong players in the field, and their voices are valued. Unlike these more focused blogs, however, FEN Blog, much like Composition Studies, looks to take pieces that “don’t fit neatly in other spaces,” making room for a wide range of contributions that help us think about composition scholarship and education broadly. 

Over the next few months, FEN Blog will feature posts by scholars whose work speaks to the field as it stands right now. Each scholar will choose an important keyword –– such as rhetorics or accessibility –– and share with us what it means for ongoing work in writing and teaching. 

Later this spring, we plan to put out a CFP for blog posts sharing stories grounded in authors’ own expertise and research interests. Whether from the classroom, the writing or multiliteracy center, or professional life experience, we hope to nurture a welcoming space uniquely situated to open dialogue, offer wisdom, and posit questions from all walks of the composition field; in this vein, we particularly encourage graduate students and contingent faculty to submit. Submissions are scheduled to go live this summer. 

We encourage you to consider submitting to FEN Blog! Our guidelines for submissions and pitches are already live, and we are eager to start sharing material from the general public as early as late summer or early autumn. Submissions will be posted every three weeks to start, then will move to every other week, giving us the ability to address current events, whether public (protests or elections) or academic (start-of-term activities, campus life issues, etc.) as they are happening. 

Continuing the work of the Freshman English Newsletter, FEN Blog will be able to further the reach of Composition Studies among wider audiences. At the heart of our work is a commitment to inclusivity, centering marginalized voices in the field, as well as emphasizing currency in a welcoming, relaxed atmosphere. We are thrilled to welcome you to FEN Blog, and we hope you will read, subscribe, and consider submitting!