Procedural Rhetoric in the Writing Classroom

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Sep 252010

With reference to the rhetoric and writing classroom, procedural rhetoric offers a vocabulary for analysis, and it also suggests possibilities for reflection, argumentation, and other modes of expression.  Bogost focuses on procedural rhetoric primarily as a means to discuss video games:  while video games might aim toward expression and persuasion through their stories, images, dialogue, music, etc., they also engage players through the rules, processes, and logics that they embody.  The procedures that video games embody make arguments about how the world works, about how it could, should, or doesn’t work.  I have outlined a specific lesson plan for practicing procedural analysis using video games here based on parts of Bogost’s book.  If you teach in a networked classroom, you can easily have students play and analyze short games in a single class period, both as a means of practicing rhetorical analysis but also as a way of engaging arguments about some aspect of the world.  The notion of procedural rhetoric can also help students reflect on the processes that structure various activities in their lives:  what procedures are most helpful/important/persuasive for writing a paper?  For being a good friend?  For getting the job you want after school?

Sun goes out on a limn

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Sep 162010
A four-letter word in a front-page headline Tuesday morning had some Baltimore Sun readers scrambling for their dictionaries. @

As this account (via CJR) explains, some readers thought use of the word “limn” was pretentious and arrogant. In discussing it, my students thought the issue was one of disagreement about the rhetorical situation – if the purpose of a headline is simply to inform a reader as quickly and clearly as possible what an article will be about, then using a word that will predictably send readers to their dictionaries seems at odds with that purpose. But if you see reading a headline – like other reading – as a chance to learn not only information but vocabularly, then there’s no conflict here. Not to mention the particular issue of reading online, where some news sites (the New York Times, for one) offer the option of double-clicking a word to get its definition.

High school writing

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Sep 162010

Once literature-based, English classes throughout the Sweetwater Union High School District — and elsewhere in California — have been revamped in an attempt to better prepare students for college and the real world.

That means reading lists once dominated by the classics now consist of newspaper editorials, historic documents, advertisements and some nonfiction. Assignments no longer dwell on the symbolism in a poem or focus on an entire novel. Instead, they emphasize expository, analytical and argumentative writing.

@ Sign On San Diego

As a college instructor who may benefit from these changes at the high school level, I’m excited. But also a bit trepidatious – it’s unclear from the article whether ALL reading is being replaced with rhetoric, which I think would be an overall loss for literature and culture, or whether there will be an effective balance between the two.

When Students Drop the F-Bomb

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May 202010

At Inside Higher Ed, there’s an article about how we as teachers can and should respond to students using inappropriate language. Strategies range from the casual (ie, ignoring it) to the ubiquitous, nostalgic hand-wringing:

Several societal trends appear to be related to an increase in student rudeness, Lewis said. Many students these days “have a sense of entitlement, backed at times by their parents,” many more have mental health issues, and many feel significant stress over the economy. Adding to these factors, he said, many professors say that they don’t feel they are even “allowed” to challenge rude behavior.

This comes up fairly often at Emerson, in my experience, both in student writing and in their classroom comments. Sometimes it’s the prurient, boundary-testing thrill a student feels upon realizing he or she can “get away with” using language that perhaps hasn’t been allowed in a classroom before. And sometimes it’s a student getting angry and struggling for — and perhaps even finding — the best words to say so. It’s not something that bothers me, for the most part. I think it’s both inevitable and important, actually: our classes, after all, are meant to teach students the importance of using the right words, the right genres, and the right voice in which to most effectively reach a particular audience in a particular situation. So when a student pushes the linguistic envelope, I call them on it not in a disciplinary mode (with one exception during my time here) but in a rhetorical one: Is that word, I ask, the one best suited to achieve your purpose here? How is your audience likely to respond, and is that the reaction you’re after? Taking their language seriously — perhaps when they least expect it be — not only diffuses the prurient thrill, but it also reinforces one of the key ideas in my classes: the choices that matter to academic writing don’t matter ONLY to academic writing, because we make choices about audience, genre, and self-presentation every time we open our mouths or put fingers to keyboard.

Writing or Composition?

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May 072010

An “interesting” column today in Inside Higher Ed that caused a slew of comments from teachers of writing–the author questions why a new department at her university was deemed the “Department of Writing and Rhetoric” instead of the “Department of Composition.”

It brings up a lot of issues that I’ve found to be standard political debates in academia–first, the idea that names, titles, and words themselves hold such power over people and that they mean completely different things to different disciplines. Then also the idea or question of whether or not there is a difference between teaching writing and teaching composition.

This is all particularly intriguing to me because of our unique spot in the Writing, Literature and Publishing Department. What do you think?

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