rhetoric

"Don't Feel So Down": When Your Students Don't Understand Your References

I recently had a teaching experience I could only compare to being on a sinking ship—like the band on the Titanic, I played my song dutifully as I sunk into the murky waters. With every word I spoke, attempting to explain the material I prepared, I could sense the students’ disinterest, disengagement, and utter confusion. This wasn’t the first time I experienced this sinking feeling of a total misfire while teaching, nor do I expect it to be the last time. And do you know whose fault it was? Julian Casablancas. 

Discussing Stereotypes in the Classroom

One of my primary aims in a rhetoric classroom is to equip students with the skills to thoughtfully respond to the world around them. What that means, as fellow instructors know well, is that sometimes it is appropriate to discuss rhetorical arguments that make the audience uncomfortable—a discomfort that could potentially halt or hinder discussion in the classroom.

Open… Like a Book?: Writing New Media and the Materialities of Textual Production

New ideas give way to new methods. And since new media changes the way we link ideas to ideas and ideas to readers, perhaps our experiences with new media should prompt us to reconsider what we “know.” Specifically, educators might be well-served to consider the ways in which new media writing differs from traditional, humanist prose, as this deliberate differentiation could open up (rather than foreclose) epistemological and pedagogical possibilities for the digital humanities.

Surveying Perspectives

Sample graph

As the semester winds down, I have been thinking about my students’ responses to my course topic. Death and dying are universal facts, but our various responses to them are far from universal. This week I asked them to complete a short, anonymous survey that summarized their individual responses to the different topics we covered and conversations we had.

Using Basic Media Theory to Teach Rhetoric

This is an image of the Superdome and survivors of Hurricane Katrina living inside of it

“Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.”

― John Dewey, Democracy and Education

The Modified Jigsaw Classroom

jigsaw classroom

Last spring I participated in a seminar through the Center for Teaching and Learning, and one of the biweekly sessions was on effective classroom organization. I resolved to try the Jigsaw Classroom model for my Fall 2013 class.

Confessions of a Teacher with Bias

This photograph zooms in on a white and orange Whataburger sign that reads, "For the safety...of our customers and our team members. Please remove...your Halloween mask at this time. Thank You!"

I spent a great deal of my first year teaching Rhetoric—last year—discussing bias with my students. Time after time, I reminded them: everything you’ll read has some kind of bias, but that’s okay, because bias isn’t inherently a bad thing. Though it is, I pointed out, a thing you’ll need to take into account.

Field Trips in the College Classroom

Large family memorial in rear with individual gravestone in front.

I can remember taking only one field trip after I left the K-12 system. Between three universities in my undergraduate and graduate career, only one lone little undergrad geology course featured an off-site learning experience as a standard part of the curriculum. Therefore, when I realized that I had the chance to take my own RHE 309K students on a field trip, I jumped at the opportunity.

Thank You, Mr. Putin

Andy Warhol-style grid of four Putins

When I talk to fellow teachers about students in Rhetoric 306, the complaint is curiously uniform:  students struggle with limiting their engagement with a source to the level of rhetoric. Though the distinction between a particular argument and the subject of that argument can seem perfectly clear to teachers in the field, it’s a divide that continues to puzzle students, sometimes deep into a semester.

Embodying a Controversy

Art E. Rial's The Thinker

This summer, my parents asked me to review an article they were writing for a handbook on systemic counselling. The topic was using the body as a resource as well as an agent in problem-solving strategies and decision-making. Mom and Dad wrote the interaction between cognition and embodiment (and their fundamental inseparability), the bi-directionality of psycho-somatic processes, etc. All of which I felt was very interesting, but at the time seemed slightly too obvious to really excite me.

Oral Presentation by Peers

Podium outside the Capitol

I’m teaching an upper-division rhetorical theory course about legal rhetoric that requires students to write a 2,500-4,000 word research paper in which they rhetorically analyze two or more opposing arguments regarding an evidentiary controversy in a forensic dispute (typically this will be a trial or similar proceeding), and critique or extend a particular theory of forensic rhetoric as it applies to the rhetorical analysis they provide. This is a staged writing assignment that begins about a thirdd of the way through the semester and is concluded at the end of the semester.

Over the Hedge with Nate Silver and Jacques Derrida

Photo of a labyrinthine hedge dividing a grass yard from a gravel path

In October 2012, statistician and New York Times blogger Nate Silver was predicting up a storm. He was aggregating, calculating, and tabulating poll results in order to determine the probable outcomes of the upcoming presidential election. By the end of the month, he had President Obama’s reelection chances at 79%. MSNBC pundit Joe Scarborough was not amused:

The Shock Factor: Using Heavy Content in Class

Photograph of three small statues

This semester I’m teaching The Rhetoric of Documentary Films, and I have a very engaged group of students who have various levels of familiarity with the course topic.  In fact, one of my challenges in this course is devising class activities that are enlightening for both the person who has seen only one documentary (usually one of Michael Moore’s films) and the person who has seen dozens.  One of the ways I have approached this challenge is by showing clips from a wide variety of films: I figure that I will be opening some minds to the diversity of the documentary gen

Teaching Argumentation Through Trial Transcripts

Photograph of the Courtroom During Nuremberg Trials

My teaching primarily focuses on forensic rhetoric and the role of narrative, memory, and proof in disputes about past events. This classically includes legal disputes, although it extends far beyond them. In the course I’m teaching now, entitled Rhetoric and the Law, I challenge students to consider the importance of rhetoric to interpretations of evidence in legal disputes, the use of analogical argument in appeals to precedent, and the significance of the adversary system of justice as a dispute resolution model.

Truthiness and Consequences: Balancing the Content-Driven Rhetoric Classroom

Photo of Stephen Colbert waving a flag above a crowd with the words Listless Students? Relax, Bro. I Got This.

When I decided to make my rhetoric and writing course about “truthiness” as Stephen Colbert defines it—something that “feels true,” without needing to rely on pesky facts—I thought I knew what I wanted to do with it. I wanted to be in a networked computer classroom, to break down the barriers between the classroom and the homework. I wanted a course blog so students could practice writing in a variety of modes, and have the chance to see what their classmates were doing and thinking, and to establish more connections between classroom and individual learning.

Ethos, Summary, and 9/11 Truth

Ari Fleischer Tweet, begins Digusting op-ed in NYT by a truther

Marking 9/11

This year, in 2012, my first-year rhetoric students were mostly third graders, seven- and eight-year-olds, on 9/11/2001. Their memories of 9/11 were cloudy, mostly of a fearfulness they didn't fully understand. Some of them remember leaving school with their parents; others remember staying in classes with TVs on, watching the news report on what was happening. That's what I did as a high school student on 9/11.

Identifying Visual Conversations

Damaged school bus sits among wreckage in Post-Hurricane Katrina Mississippi

In my RHE 309K, Rhetoric of Tragedy, I often ask students to analyze or otherwise engage with images. It seems appropriate to the content, since images often play a large part in how violent or disastrous events are defined, and it creates less reading, which my students seem to like. With my Using Images for Invention lesson plan, I hoped that an engagement with images related to their tragedies would expose some of the students’ own assumptions and feelings in relation to the event, as well as make them aware of affected parties that they might not have otherwise considered.

Good Writers Borrow, Great Writers ...

Joel Perlman sculpture Square Tilt framed by city skyline

In a recent blog post, Alex Reid makes the not uncommon argument that if the Humanities are to “survive” this era of fiscal belt tightening, scholars must realize that “the traditional arguments” for their relevance “are not timeless,” and must adapt to changing “historical and material conditions.”

The End-of-Semester Talk

Sign reading Obama Isn't Working hangs in front of American flag in empty factory

Towards the end of the semester, I always like asking students to reflect upon what they have learned and to assess the value of it. This is probably a fairly standard practice – I remember teachers doing it to myself since second grade – but it seems more necessary in these days of budget cuts and attitudes fostered by entitled entertainment. Big pictures are good, especially when you’re teaching rhetoric to a room full of science and business majors.

Community and the Rhetoric Classroom

Photo of Jeff and Britta from the sitcom Community

Jeff Winger is Socrates’ worst nightmare. As an former lawyer disbarred for having a phony bachelor’s degree, and whose central skill on the NBC sitcom Community is manipulating others’ emotions with his words, Jeff bears out almost all of the concerns Socrates expresses in the Phaedrus and Gorgias about what can happen when training and skill in rhetoric is divorced from a strong moral code.

Why We Just Can't Seem to Teach Logos

Computer drawing of a sculpture of Aristotle

When it comes to argumentation, what's the hardest subject to teach: pathos, ethos, or logos? Based on my experiences teaching RHE306 and RHE309K and from asking my colleagues this question over the past two years, I believe the answer is indisputably LOGOS.

What's so hard about teaching logos? I think the big reason is that, when you're talking about persuasion and then you introduce the word “logos,” students' brains immediately recall the word “logic.” Instructors hesitate to allow this understanding. Many, including myself, dispute it outright.

Analogical Reasoning, Otherwise Known as Legal, Casuistic, Exemplary, or "Rhetorical" Reasoning

Robber figurine pointing gun at a bank teller figurine

I’m teaching an upper-division rhetorical theory course about legal rhetoric in which I specifically focus students on the forensic rhetoric of adjudicating particular cases in dispute. Accordingly, among other subjects of the course, one of the units focuses students on the casuistic or “case method” of reasoning from precedents in judicial rhetoric, a mode of reasoning often simply called “rhetorical reasoning” in recognition of its inherently rhetorical quality.

Trust Me, I'm a Teacher: Some Reflections on Teacher-Student Power Relations

Stick figure comic from XKCD

Let me immediately note that I’m not intending to demonstrate universal truths with the following anecdotes. My intent is just to share a couple of particular rhetorical situations and the reflections to which they’ve led.

Better than Rhetoric

Screenshot of McDonald's Videogame

My thinking about rhetoric and realism has been greatly elucidated this year by my class, Rhetoric of Video Games.

Reflections on Blogging

Photo of aluminum computer keyboard

Like many of the instructors here in the DWRL, I ask my students to write blog posts throughout the semester, which means in the last year and a half, I’ve read about 180 thoughtful, carefully constructed responses to my own work.

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