We had a fun and productive “Day of Plausible Dada” at our spring conference March 31st. Participants had a chance to be the students in a Studio activity, started brainstorming their own Studio activities, and got a jumpstart on designing their course inquiries for Fall 2022.
The Studio Experience session asked participants to create an infographic (link), an activity which encompassed four of the five components that a good studio session should have:
Introducing or working with a specific technology or tool
Workshopping with the technology/tool toward some end
We were blown away by the infographics that were shared, some of which you can see scattered throughout this blog post. Not everyone completed an infographic, however; some just used the time to explore Canva (or other platforms such as Adobe Spark and Google Draw) as a tool for multimodal composition. Some groups did double duty, using the time to wrap their heads around the major components of ENGL 1007 by creating infographics about them. We wanted teachers to experience the infographic not as a readymade form to perfect but, rather, as a sometimes unwieldy or arbitrary constraint that, if embraced, makes visible the negotiations and compromises inherent in any act of writing. Studio work can foster reflection and awareness of forms and audience that might go unnoticed in more routinized seminar work (e.g., discussion and essay writing).
In Session II: Designing Studio Activities, participants took some time to reflect on their Studio experience in groups and came up with some ideas for Studio activities which might be completed in one or two sessions by their students. Among some of the great ideas were:
Infographics or memes to supplement student essays
Mini-soundscapes or interviews
Elements of a portfolio project
Rhetorical Tik Toks and analyses of self-presentations on a social media platform
Infographics of the main expectations of the course syllabus (get them to read those syllabi!) or how to cite MLA
A variation of the New York Times Close Read series (see a NYT example here)
In Session III: Designing a Course Inquiry, participants were given a template and a chunk of time to begin building their course inquiries for fall.
We also received a lot of helpful feedback from instructors about implementing ENGL1007 and we’re looking forward to hosting some Q&A sessions soon that will address questions that people may still have.
If you missed the conference or would like to take another look at the slideshows, here are the links:
One of the aspects of the ENGL 1007 changeover that many instructors are curious about is the course inquiry. The course inquiry is more than just the “theme” of the FYW course — it’s a description of what you and your students are going to explore in this particular class and concretizes the work students might do as writers. In simple terms, the course inquiry sets up the field of inquiry, including texts and contexts, that enables the local and specific work students will do as writers and composers.
Creating a course inquiry may seem like a tall order, but it can be a great way to invigorate your class because it encourages you to step back and see the throughlines that connect the various phases and projects of the course. What is this course setting out to do and how will it accomplish this task through readings and assignments?
We’re working on a short video that describes the course inquiry in greater detail and can be a companion to this post. While we’re putting that together, we wanted to get you started on your brainstorming process for course inquiry.
The essential questions that many ECE/FYW instructors often use to structure their courses can be helpful in forming a course inquiry; they just need to be tweaked a little. Flexible, general questions need to be balanced with focused, larger questions that connect to the tangible. We’re inviting students into the challenge of scholarly contribution, where one’s work must both speak to larger questions but also define a fresh and specific locating of these questions.
A Practical Example
For instance, I’m interested in teaching an FYW course that interrogates feminism and women writers. I have some feminist texts and literature by women in mind, but I don’t want my students to feel like I’m simply saying “Sexism is bad” or, worse, risk having them leave the course thinking that we’ve solved sexism. I’m also interested in exploring different aspects of gender and power dynamics beyond those of a “female” perspective (and what is “female,” I wonder?). Essentially, I want to know how gender and power work together to hinder our society and how we can start to rectify some wrongs. In terms of our writing course, then, I want students to find a way to locate and extend these vast, complex questions.
These are some of the essential questions that syllabi on feminism and women writers tend to use:
What does it mean to be feminine/masculine?
What does it mean to be male/female?
What historical events have impacted the rights of women?
How have women fought against oppression?
These are a good start, but they can lend themselves to simplistic and/or erroneous answers and encourage a myth of progression. Revising these, we can develop a list of questions which challenge students to think deeply about gender and which speak to our present moment:
What forces shape our perception of “masculinity” and “femininity”?
Why do we find it so difficult, even in the 21st century, to avoid falling into the trap of essentialisms?
How does the LGBTQ movement and intersectionality complicate power dynamics?
What can gender and sexuality protests or events tell us about how we categorize people and distribute power? Is there anything we can learn from these and apply (perhaps with revision) to our current moment?
How might gender fluidity /gender nonconformity help us reimagine traditional “male” and “female” roles?
How does writing, language, composing with images, etc. contribute to, or foster awareness of, gendered subject positions and/or the insufficiency of gender as a binary construct?
My feminism/women in literature syllabus has become a larger project about gender and power dynamics. This means that students can’t get away with simply saying “sexism is bad,” or arguing over the idea of the glass ceiling. Rather, they are encouraged to interrogate what gender is and why (and when and even if) it matters. Though feminist concerns are societal concerns, many students have a hard time making that connection. With this inquiry, I give them a head start by beginning with the assumption that many communities are connected. This provides focus (gender/power) but also room to explore inquiries which might seem too “risky” to write about in a traditional class on women’s literature. And, because the approach includes documentary and exploratory work—not just arguments or theories—student composers can contribute while still allowing themselves to be shaped or influenced by what they are learning.
My revised questions help refine my inquiry and the readings I should assign. I’m no longer only looking at texts by women and about women, but texts about how gender and power shape our society. This means that I can’t just rely on favorite texts like “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Jane Eyre, (though I still manage to squeeze in a fair amount of classic literary texts) because they suggest that these issues are in the past and that the categories of “man” and “woman” are solidified. To engage with this inquiry responsibly, I need to bring in more modern texts which reflect our current understandings of gender and power dynamics in the 21st century and whose modalities reflect the ways in which we are having these conversations (through TedTalks, podcasts, TV shows, as well as social media).
From all of this — the questions I would like us to interrogate, the texts which help with this, and some burgeoning assignment ideas – a course inquiry starts to develop:
How can we balance power and navigate gender oppression in the 21st century? How does sexism manifest in our world now and why do we (men, women, gender non-conforming individuals, gender-fluid individuals) find it so difficult to avoid falling into this trap? In this class, we will grapple with some of these questions through classic literary pieces such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, as well as more modern texts such as Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and the documentary film, Anita. With the help of theoretical lenses from Angela Davis’s Women, Race and Class (1981), Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl (2007), and Chimamanda Adiche’s “We Should All Be Feminists” (2014), we will attempt to theorize ways in which we might navigate the evolving understanding of sex and gender to create a more equitable society.
It’s probably clear by now that my syllabus design is not necessarily a chronological process. The course inquiry is naturally tied to assignments — which, in turn, are tied to writing (or course) moves, and Information Digital Media Literacy (IDML). While working on this course inquiry, I frequently bounced around: I developed some questions, then found some texts that would help investigate these questions, then thought about some assignments that might help students develop inquiries, then went back and added more questions, more texts. What I’m saying is that if you feel stuck — either on course inquiry, readings, or assignment design — try jumping to one of the other two and working on that for a bit for inspiration.
To work through this, I started with a mindmap, then moved to Google Slides because it helped me jump around easier. You can see my Google brainstorming here.
Additionally, I’ve created a course inquiry template which you can use to help develop your course inquiry. I hope you find these helpful!
A number of questions came up regarding multimodal work and studio pedagogy at our Fall Conference, “Teaching for Joy and Justice.” In particular, we’ve discovered that many instructors are struggling to wrap their heads around studio pedagogy. We’ve gathered some of the questions from the surveys here and attempt to address your concerns. You’ll notice that some of the answers we provide are provisional. While ENGL1007 has been implemented at Storrs, the ECE course will look somewhat different; we won’t know exactly how this will translate to a high school classroom until we launch the changeover in Fall 2022 and some of this is sure to evolve. We will tackle some of the more difficult questions of implementation in our Working Groups in the coming months. In the meantime, we hope that these answers will help everyone to begin to get a better handle on the changes.
Q:The technology question: How can we conduct studio when students don’t have equal access to technology and/or we don’t have fancy smart rooms?
A: Of course much of the studio work does require access to technology that we cannot assume all students have. This gap can be mitigated through collaboration on projects, which can pool resources, and through use of computer classrooms, when and if those are available. But studio doesn’t need to be tech-heavy. There are options for students to compose in different modalities without using computer technology:
Peer review — Peer review, when practiced as an open conversation designed to address the modification of an existing project (through revision), can function as studio work, as a collaborative technology for getting work done. (circulating)
Old-school collages—we’re all familiar with this one. It’s easy, and with a good prompt, can be challenging as well. (collecting and curating)
Mindmaps and diagrams (on the board, on butcher paper, on notebook paper)—As part of engaging with and contextualizing a topic, you might ask students to create a diagram of different types of research available, or different perspectives that need to be taken into consideration with a hot-button issue. (engaging, contextualizing, theorizing)
Storyboarding/Wireframing—Storyboarding is essential in planning a video or podcast assignment and a step that many students tend to skip in the interest of getting to the technology part quicker. Storyboarding forces them to focus not just on the technological aspects of a project, but the message they’re trying to get across. For a website, you could ask the students to wireframe it first: that is, determine the organizational layout on paper before beginning a design. (engaging, contextualizing, theorizing)
Q:Should we be specific about which medium we want a project to be in, such as everyone does a podcast, or should we provide students a list of possible options and let them choose the medium?
A: It’s usually best to build ECE/FYW courses around course inquiries that yield a specific type of project—the interview, the critical essay, the audio project, etc. And, often, the course inquiry can lead into multiple, sequenced projects (e.g., a critical essay can be developed into an audio project). Connecting the texts and ideas driving the work to a more exact mode or genre fosters awareness of the relatedness of methods and goals. That said, there are times when the discussion about possible modes and outcomes advances awareness about affordances and constraints. It seems useful to have some moments where choice or discovery are foregrounded.
Q:How important is it that we are an expert in these different modalities? How do we learn how to use the technology?
A: This is a great question. Many instructors are nervous that they won’t be able to effectively guide their students in studio sessions if they aren’t experts in using the various pieces of software. But studio pedagogy is designed to dismantle the top-down approach to the learning: you’re not supposed to be an expert. You’re not teaching a studio session as much as offering a structured activity. Your students should be encouraged to tackle any tech problems on their own using tech websites, Google, YouTube, etc. Just as important, they should be encouraged to reach out to each other for help on different topics: one student may know how to use Audacity, while another might be familiar with Lightworks; still another might know of a great website to get fair use sound effects. This fosters problem solving and collaboration. In other words, it’s perfectly fine for you to say, “I don’t know.” You can always help that student research their problem (though be careful that you aren’t doing all of the research for them) or address the class and see if anyone already has a solution.
Q: How do I decide which pieces to let students do a traditional style of essay vs. a multimodal style?
A: First, there should be no “versus.” Even the process of writing a “traditional” essay involves the practice of multiple modes. No text is just a single mode. Second, what “traditional style” are you currently reading? Quite a bit of published academic writing in the 2020s makes use of more than just written texts (diagrams, pull-out quotes, graphics, photos, links, layout variations, color, embedded media, and so on). Almost no one publishes lengthy prose that doesn’t at least make use of headers and other formatting or layout devices. And, yes, attending to document design is a move into multimodal work. So we want to emphasize that there shouldn’t be a dichotomy here between “traditional” and “multimodal” essays, as every text includes elements of multimodal work.
There is a commonality in all of FYW work—its critical inquiry and documentation of encounters with texts, objects, ideas, and the world. It’s true that multimodal composition ushers in some welcome development of the course’s aesthetic dimensions, its attention to more than just logical argument. But, in the main, the move to studio pedagogy supports the “traditional” emphasis on carefully constructing a communicative object (a composition) that can make an impact on readers, auditors, viewers. In this way, it is a buttressing of the rhetorical dimension of writing, which often gets left behind when assignments assume a standard or universal mode of communicating.
Q: With studio work, how important is creating a polished product? What if they’re not done in the allotted studio time?
A: Studio time isn’t about creating a finished product. It’s more often about the process of learning how to compose through different forms. You should allot them enough time to be able to tackle a problem—maybe a particularly challenging video project extends over two sessions—but don’t expect them to complete a polished project. It’s important, too, to set aside time for them to do a “gallery walk,” in which they get to see what other students have accomplished (or not accomplished!) by the end of the session. (circulating!)
Q:Is it necessary to have dedicated studio time, or can we integrate the studio approach and mindset into classes on a daily basis?
A: To an extent, we’ve already been doing studio work in ECE/FYW courses. Whenever we put student work at the center of our class sessions and work collaboratively toward a goal, we are in a sense practicing “studio mode.” But the shift to 1007 means that we are now defining the course as having a studio component. At Storrs, the 1007 seminars are attached to a separate one-credit studio section. Everywhere else (including ECE), we have to clearly demarcate that at least one-credit of the 1007’s four credits is dedicated to studio pedagogy. Currently, then, we are requiring that instructors make this one-credit studio component clear on syllabi and course schedules. In time, we may decide that a more organic and fluid relationship between seminar and studio is more appropriate. For now, however, we ask that you include studio days as specific dedicated sessions. (These dates can be flexible, but be sure to include information about studio days, including how many such dates you will have.)
The English 1007 course can seem like a departure from familiar habits and methods of FYW/ECE English, but it’s more of an evolution or refresh, which we hope will become more clear in the next several months. We’re not giving up essay writing or academic modes in the changeover; we’re merely giving proper weight to the role that multimodal work plays in 21st-century composition.
Getting at the Heart of Antiracist Work in Chavez’s The Antiracist Writing Workshop
Chavez, Felicia Rose. The Antiracist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom. Haymarket Books, 2021.
There are a lot of texts out there about antiracist pedagogies and not a lot of time for the average instructor to read them and distill their contents. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, but luckily we’re here to help! In this post, we spotlight a new publication which focuses on implementing antiracist strategies in the classroom, Felicia Rose Chavez’s The Antiracist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom.
Don’t let the title fool you — even if you don’t teach creative writing workshops, many of her suggestions can be tailored for first-year writing and literature courses. Part memoir, part rebellion against the white supremacist model of the creative writing workshop, Chavez’s slim volume offers suggestions for restructuring our teaching that dive deeply into not just how we respond to student work, but how we respond to students as people.
We’re particularly interested in how The Antiracist Writing Workshop can help guide us in choosing texts for our courses. A large part of Chavez’s book focuses on what she refers to as “Completing the Canon.” Though Chavez is specifically speaking to creative writing workshops here — pushing back on the imperative that students “read the masters” — many of her insights are applicable to the first-year writing classroom as well. Chavez encourages instructors to make choices that “promote justice, dignity, and self-love” when designing their reading lists. She suggests that:
Workshop leaders supplement participants’ own writing with a living archive of scanned print material, sourced pdfs, and multimedia art by young people, people of color, women, queer, differently abled, and gender-nonconforming artists. Accessible online, this living archive exposes participants to POC-friendly publishing platforms, multimedia art, and experimental genres. Most crucially, it allows for conversations with the authors themselves, contextualizing the texts within specific lived experiences. The ultimate goal is to invest in our collective integrity by renouncing white universality. Together, we can complete the canon and create a new normal (97).
Additionally, Chavez provides the following questions for instructors who are assessing their courses (45-46):
For whom do you design your curriculum? In other words, who is your ideal, imagined student? What assumptions do you make about their background?
What norms and values inform your curriculum choices?
Do you articulate your own positionality when lecturing? Why or why not?
Does your curriculum reflect its geographic location, including the subjugated histories, cultures, and languages?
How does your teaching legitimate the experiences and cultures of students of color?
How does your teaching affirm the agency of students of color?
How does your curriculum require white students to acquire the intellectual and cultural resources to function effectively in a plural society?
How do you build a community in your classroom where students learn actively from each other and draw on their own knowledge sources?
What can you do to make your assessment criteria show what all students are capable of, drawing on their strengths and promoting their agency and creativity?
Now ask yourself, am I read to prepare my headspace for change?
Answering these questions can feel humbling, but in a healthy way. They force us to reckon with the conscious and unconscious choices we make when we construct our syllabi and run our classroom, asking us who we are unintentionally excluding through our practice. Chavez’s work is illuminating, inspiring, and concise. At 180 pages (minus the appendices and notes), it’s something that instructors can read relatively quickly, dog-ear, and return to again. We suggest you take a look!
See Scott Campbell’s Part Two of this conversation here.