One of the main themes I see reflected in my ENG 103 curriculum is the value of rhetoric. As an instructor, I see my job as an opportunity to show students that writing is everywhere and that good writing doesn’t just happen. There are reasons they shared that meme on Facebook or Twitter. There are reasons students have that quote on their profile. There are reasons that they love that song. First-year composition (FYC) students need to be aware that the language or messages they heard (or saw) are carefully crafted by authors.
Writing is everywhere, and to be active participants in this communication-heavy world, students need to know how to use writing. They need to be aware that every assignment in every class is simultaneously different and the same. By focusing on the elements of the rhetorical situation (author, audience, topic, and purpose), I show students that they are authors who make rhetorical choices about their work. One way I accomplish this is by having students write their assignments using their peers as an audience. I want to make students aware of the rhetorical situation, tools, and appeals so they can apply these writing skills in their other classes, whether it’s a business course or a chemistry course.
Furthermore, everyone has a right to learn, and I believe that everyone wants to learn and grow whether they realize it or not. As Candace Mitchell states in Writing Power: A Critical Introduction to Composition Studies (2004), writing instructors should support students’ growth by “allowing the writing process to reveal to [students] that which they know and will come to know.” My goal is to allow students to see that each one of them has a talent for communication. No one is without writing skills, but some may be without writing practice. Students need to be prepared to enter a world that requires that individuals never stop learning. My goal is to instill in students a deep-seeded need to be proactive about their education, thus getting students excited about writing and the growth that occurs through writing. For instance, in my Rhetoric and Writing course, the first project I assign is a personal narrative, in which students reveal something that contributes to their identity via a Google Map. Often students detail a sports season or their senior year, but in all cases, students begin to see themselves less as a student writer, and grow to see themselves as an author with an experience to share with their audience.
Yet, I also know that the writing classroom is not about solitary authors, and I strive to develop a learning community in my classroom. I want to foster an environment (in the classroom and online) that empowers students to actively participate in a learning community (our class) and encourage them to pick the modes of inquiry for their projects. My two sections of Rhetoric and Writing share a single course blog, which allows students to expand their audience beyond their immediate classmates to other first-year composition students. I use communities of practice that Ball State already implements to help facilitate the community of practice in my classroom. For example, the majority of my ENG 103 students are a part of the Freshman Connections program, in which students who live in the same dorms are put into the same classes to help them transition, and I use this to my benefit in my classroom. Because the Freshmen Connections program organizes core classes into groups of students with similar majors, as well as those who live together, I am able to pull in specific interests of the group. One of my sections this semester is all business majors, and therefore, I decided to have them write an argument in the form of a complaint letter. This allows us to use the business databases to research and to discuss the argument in a context that is interesting and applicable to the class.
For students to succeed in their courses (and beyond), they need a fundamental understanding of rhetoric. This is key to getting students to understand how writing works and how they can use writing in their lives. Not all students will see themselves as writers or even have an interest in seeing themselves as writers, but it’s my job to show them that they are, in fact, writers. Instructors should inspire their students, and show them how their writing can affect others and create interaction and action in the world. The truth remains that whether first-year composition students see themselves as writers or not, they are prolific writers via social networks and digital technologies. Harnessing and valuing the writing work that students already do is one way to encourage them to keep writing and changing the world.