Rhetorical Grammar: The FYC Classroom
In Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar, Laura R. Micciche introduces a very persuasive argument in support of teaching rhetorical grammar in composition classrooms. Micciche surmises, “The study of rhetorical grammar can demonstrate to students that language does purposeful, consequential work in the world — work that can be learned and applied” (716). Furthermore, Micciche elaborates, “We need a discourse about grammar that does not retreat from the realities we face in the classroom — a discourse that takes seriously the connection between writing and thinking, the interwoven relationship between what we say and how we say it” (718).
I must admit, I agree wholeheartedly with Micciche. By teaching students to edit and ‘polish’ their grammar in the final drafts of essays and written assignments, we are teaching them that grammar does not have a function in eliciting desired reactions (utilizing rhetorical appeals in persuasive arguments). Instead, we are teaching students that grammatical editing simply changes sentence structure and punctuation to conform to the prescriptive style of writing. As a tutor in the Kennesaw State University’s writing center, I can say from personal experience, this often translates to students being primarily concerned with comma usage and how to avoid the infamous comma splice. However, there is so much more to be discovered in the underlying premise of understanding and utilizing grammatical choices in writing.
Micciche references the book, Rhetorical Grammar, authored by Martha Kolln and Loretta Gray, as a resource. Last semester, one of the courses I took in the professional writing graduate program required Rhetorical Grammar as one of the textbooks. This book changed my life as a writer — literally. For some reason, I had to make it all the way to graduate school to identify a resource that not only provided a concise work about all things grammar-related, but it explains rhetorical choices through the usage of grammar as a way of achieving a writer’s desired results. Micciche further argues, “I am talking about rhetorical grammar as an integral component of critical writing, writing that at minimum seeks to produce new knowledge and critique stale thinking” (721).
Each professor must individually decide the role rhetorical grammar will play in their classroom. For me, concepts found in both Rhetorical Grammar, and a book written by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, They Say/I Say, which provides specific templates that employ rhetorical effects of written expression, will be integrated weekly into my course design. Specifically, each week I plan to set aside ten to fifteen minutes in class to discuss various topics found throughout these two textbooks. By providing my students with concrete examples of how the writing templates may be used or providing my students examples of how applying rhetorical grammar choices in the early composition phases of writing, will only enhance the readers’ experiences.
One specific example that I can offer from personal experience is what Rhetorical Grammar coins the ‘known-new contract’. A common concern I have witnessed from student feedback and inquiry is whether the essay or connecting paragraphs ‘flow’. The only guidance I ever received on this topic was to make sure the first sentence in a joining paragraph linked to the idea presented in the previous paragraph. Believe me, I agree with students, there is much more that needs to be explained when it comes to creating paragraphs and essays that take the reader through a seamless series of events — enter Rhetorical Grammar and the ‘known-new contract’. The concept teaches the first part of a sentence should be the ‘known’ information found in the preceding sentence. The latter part of the sentence should be the now ‘new’ information, and so it proceeds moving forward. This constant stream of known to new presentation gives the reader a sense of cohesiveness.
The lack of cohesiveness and effectiveness of rhetorical appeal found in composition writing can be directly impacted by the inclusion of grammatical “strategy” in the course. Yes, it takes up time in an already limited space. Yes, some students may approach it as ‘boring’. Yes, it is my duty as a professor of English composition to ‘teach’ my students ways that enhance their writing. An analogy I like to give is, “The more tools you have in your toolbox, the better.” My hope is that providing short excerpts of rhetorical grammar theory and implication into my English 1101 classroom will ultimately provide students with a new way of approaching the WRITING PROCESS. Again, my class will be process-oriented and not product-oriented. Yes, the product must manifest; however, I am more concerned with students learning to identify with writing as a process that works across the curriculum and across their professional careers outside of academia. Learning how to make rhetorical choices and not just ‘polish’ and ‘fix commas’ will lead to much greater success in the usage of rhetoric in writing.
Altmann, Gerd. Pixabay, 2020. pixabay.com/illustrations/business-idea-growth-business-idea-3189797/.
Falco. Pixabay, 2020. pixabay.com/photos/hildesheim-germany-lower-saxony-711009/.
Graff, Gerald, and Cathy Birkenstein. They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. Fourth edition., W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.
Hahilove. Pixabay, 2020. pixabay.com/illustrations/light-bulb-ideas-sketch-i-think-487859/.
Kolln, Martha, J., and Loretta S. Gray. Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects. Eighth edition, Pearson, 2016.
Micciche, Laura R. “Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 55, no. 4, 2004, p. 716. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2307/4140668.
Wokandapix. Pixabay, 2020. pixabay.com/photos/classroom-school-education-learning-2093743/.
FYC Goals: From Theory to Application
The pendulum is swinging, and with each tick of the clock, I find myself getting closer and closer to that first moment of comprehension — the one where I face twenty-six incoming freshman students that are as apprehensive of taking a writing course as I am teaching it for the first time. Did I design my curriculum to best meet the needs of my students? Are my learning outcomes in line with the course objectives? Are my assignment guidelines structured in a format that facilitates both clarity and cohesiveness? Is the sequencing and scaffolding design of the semester’s assignments logically chronological? As Teresa Redd references, “Talkin bout Fire Don’t Boil the Pot” (146). In other words, studying composition pedagogy may prepare me for understanding the needs of students, and may offer direction on how to best design the course, but all of this does not TEACH the students WRITING; hence, this is where the professor’s role comes into play.
After months of trying to absorb as much as I can researching different theoretical pedagogical perspectives, I now begin the process of mapping out assignments while considering the fundamental takeaways I feel are most critical to incorporate. Several takeaways stand out to me in the readings for this week and are highlighted below:
- Diversity in writing – “To develop students’ rhetorical knowledge and sense of authorship so that they can adapt writing to different purposes, audiences, and contexts” (Redd 147).
Coming from an occupational field outside of academia, I genuinely understand the need for students to be able to transfer writing skills from an academic to an applied setting. Learning how to write for audiences outside of the college classroom is something all students should be exposed to. Upon graduation, students may be tasked with various genres of writing: professional emails, corporate marketing, newspaper articles, social media postings, and for some, creative writing.
- We write to learn – “ . . . writing enables us to think in ways that are virtually impossible without writing because we can reflect upon our thoughts more easily when we can see and preserve them” (Redd 148).
I have seen this scenario play out daily while working in the KSU writing center. Sometimes, students will come into the writing center and feel overwhelmed by the task at hand. In this situation, after carefully reviewing the professor’s assignment guidelines, I will begin the freewriting and/or brainstorming process. Often times, students will start to develop a structure or pattern based solely upon what they have written in these brainstorming sessions. I associate this process directly with “we write to learn” — we don’t know what we know until we write it. Furthermore, students recognize the fact they DO know something about what they would like to write.
- Writing is a process – “We cannot truly teach writing without teaching the process of writing, for it is the development of flexible processes that will enable students to fulfill the wide range of writing tasks they will encounter in the university and beyond” (Redd 149).
As I have previously discussed in one of my recent blog posts, I believe teaching the processes of writing is very paramount in students’ success of not just freshman-level English composition, but I believe it is fundamental in helping students write BEYOND the current assignment. I met with a student just yesterday that has always enjoyed writing and has had great success in writing. For some reason, the current assignment was overwhelming them to the point they had writer’s block. I immediately began talking to the student to try and identify “processes” they had relied upon and typically used throughout the years that had seemed to work. Within a matter of a few moments, the student was writing again, which wasn’t due to anything I said other than encouraging them to draw upon their “processes.”
- Understanding different genres of writing – “Conventions make it easier for readers to comprehend a text, in large part because conventions fulfill readers’ expectations” (Redd 150).
Not only do students need exposure to writing across different genres for various types of audiences, but they also need to learn and understand the concept of genres and why they exist. For example, the characteristics of a personal email are quite different compared to the audiences’ expectations of a professional email. For one, professional emails typically require the writer to formally introduce themselves, persuade or inform their audience of a specific event/need, and request a call to action. Usually, none of those characteristics mentioned above would need to be included in a personal email. If students haven’t been introduced to various genres of writing, they won’t understand the needs and expectations of writing within those specific spaces.
- Multimodal writing – “To be truly literate, students need to choose appropriate technology for their role, purpose, and audience . . . At the same time, students need to incorporate technology to save time, paper, and energy” (Redd 151).
Multimodal writing is prevalent in today’s society, and I suspect it isn’t disappearing any time soon. If anything, it is here to stay. Understanding the prescriptive guidelines in multimodal writing and expression will help students identify and align with their intended audiences. For example, having students write a research essay on a topic of choice teaches and reinforces field research. Once the essay is completed, professors could have students compose a multimodal assignment (blog post, travel brochure, etc.) incorporating the same research as incorporated into the essay. This type of assignment would aid students in understanding how the same information can be presented in a multimodal and multidimensional environment.
Altmann, Gerd. Pixabay, 2020, pixabay.com/illustrations/tutor-coach-teacher-manager-407361/.
Altmann, Gerd. Pixabay, 2020, pixabay.com/illustrations/puzzle-planning-strategy-process-1686920/.
Altmann, Gerd. Pixabay, 2020, pixabay.com/illustrations/social-social-media-communication-3064515/.
Free-Photos. Pixabay, 2020, pixabay.com/photos/audience-crowd-people-persons-828584/.
Iqbal, Mudassar. Pixabay, 2020, pixabay.com/illustrations/webdesign-design-web-website-3411373/.
OpenClipart-Vectors. Pixabay, 2020, pixabay.com/vectors/hand-pencil-pen-edit-eraser-write-160538/.
Reed, Teresa. “Talkin bout Fire Don’t Boil the Pot: Putting Theory into Practice in a First-Year Writing Course at an HBCU.” First-Year Composition: From Theory to Practice, edited by Coxwell-Teague, Deborah and Ronald F. Lunsford, Parlor Press, 2014, pp. 146-166.
Principles of Teaching Writing
Writing is such a complex yet fundamental aspect of our lives. It begins in early childhood and evolves and matures throughout our adulthood. Each week we have discussed the threshold concepts presented in Naming What We Know, classroom edition (Adler-Kassner and Wardle), and examined writing from many different angles: writing as a social and rhetorical activity, writing and how it speaks to situations through recognizable forms, how writing enacts and creates identities and ideologies, how all writers have more to learn, how writing is (also always) a cognitive activity. Each threshold concept deciphered the mechanics of not only how writing is viewed, but how writing is learned and executed. As I prepare to enter the classroom as a first-year English composition instructor, I hold tightly to the beliefs that the progression of learning never ceases. In other words, we are never truly done with learning everything there is to know about writing. Do you know why? Let’s consider this paradigm.
One of the first steps in preparing for the classroom is to gain a better understanding of the needs and expectations of students in regards to writing. By studying position statements from the WPA (Council of Writing Program Administrators), the CCCC (Conference of College Composition and Communication), and NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English), I have been able to identify common goals, techniques, and assessment guidelines for teachers of composition. What I discovered, is that many of the threshold concepts that I have studied as part of my graduate school curriculum in preparation for teaching in the classroom are also common themes found in position statements of the professional programs mentioned above.
The CCCC lists twelve identified principles of sound writing instruction in their purpose statements. As I was glancing over the guidelines, the first three caught my attention. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, yet I found myself intrigued to see three principles of “good writing” instructions to be three specific topics I have studied quite extensively this semester. The first principle listed by the CCCC is, “Sound writing instruction emphasizes the rhetorical nature of writing” (“CCCC Position Statements”). This is also the first threshold concept I studied, “Writing as a social and rhetorical activity” (Adler-Kassner and Wardle). The CCCC’s position statement for this concept is, “To be rhetorically sensitive, good writers must be flexible. They should be able to pursue their purposes by consciously adapting their writing both to the contexts in which it will be read and to the expectations, knowledge, experiences, values, and beliefs of their readers.” To understand this principle, let us first watch this video produced by the University of Maryland, Baltimore Writing Lab titled, “The Rhetorical Situation”:
As we can see, being able to utilize persuasive rhetoric leads to sound writing practices in the classroom.
Another threshold concept that is utilized in the CCCC’s principles of sound writing is audience. Learning to write for an intended audience is a skill that uses the rhetorical devices logos, pathos, and ethos. In the postsecondary teaching of writing, creating opportunities for students to engage and practice this type of persuasive rhetoric will help develop first-year composition (FYC) writing abilities.
Writing is considered a social activity, and as we have discussed, this is one of the main threshold concepts studied this semester. The CCCC recognizes the importance of this theory, and teachers are encouraged to incorporate teaching methods in the classroom that allow for social activities such as collaborative peer review throughout the drafting, writing, and revision processes. In addition to peer review, many universities have writing centers where students can receive first-hand experience of having their writing read by a specific audience. As a teaching assistant in KSU’s writing center, I have participated in this process and can’t speak highly enough about the benefits of having someone else, even another student, read your writing. Usually, within minutes of having a student read their work aloud, they begin making unsolicited changes in their composition piece. Why? Well, because writing is a social activity. When students have the opportunity to hear their words, they relate the written word to the spoken word, and suddenly, writing becomes easier.
I am excited to witness the threshold concepts presented this semester actively in the first-year composition classroom. The theoretical framework of the Conference on College Composition and Communication’s position statements is something I have been studying all semester via multi-modal methods of classroom discussion, PowerPoint presentations, blog posts, and group workshops. I mention these various methods of learning because it is a process I intend to model in the classroom. Good writing begins with great instruction.
Adler-Kassner, Linda, and Elizabeth Wardle, editors. Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, Classroom Edition. Utah State University Press, 2016.
“Appealing to Your Audience.” The Word on College Reading and Writing, (n.d.), openoregon.pressbooks.pub/wrd/chapter/appealing-to-your-audience/.
“CCCC Position Statements.” Conference on College Composition, 22 October 2018, cccc.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions.
“How We Help Writers.” Kennesaw State University Writing Center, 2019, writingcenter.kennesaw.edu/writing_support/help-writers.php.
Sablan, Jurika. “Benefits of Peer Review in Academic Writing.” Youtube, uploaded 23 June 2017, youtu.be/iNsFkQAqQGs.
“The Rhetorical Situation.” YouTube, uploaded by University of Maryland, Baltimore Writing Center, 24 April 2014, youtu.be/A-eRycqjzbg.
Tumisu. Pixabay. 2019, pixabay.com/illustrations/back-to-school-classroom-school-913073/.