The Department of Writing and Rhetoric offers two ways to showcase our outstanding student work: Stylus: A Journal of First-Year Writing and The Knights Write Showcase. Both provide new goals for teachers and students to work toward in our writing classes, and Adele Richardson is one teacher taking advantage of these opportunities with her students. I asked Adele about how she designs her course to help students take their writing beyond an A to something they feel proud to share with their peers across the University.
Adele’s ENC1102 course gives students a lot of freedom to find a topic that matters to them, so long as it is “something to do with writing in a broad way.” She argues that interest in the topic is critical to successful writing, so when one of her students, Garret Jones, had trouble finding a topic that mattered to him, even after weeks of invention activities, she refused to let him just stick with a boring, safe topic with no value to him. Instead she had her entire class help him brainstorm until they dug out his involvement with fan-fiction. Once he discovered that he was allowed to write about something that truly mattered to him, he was able to take off on a research path that eventually lead him to both publication in Stylus and a panel presentation on the Knights Write Showcase with his piece, “Fanfiction Rules Research Writing.”
Adele says that establishing a sense of community in her class early on allows for the type of invention work that allows students to know each other well enough to help them connect the class concepts to their interests. Using Stuart Greene’s “Argument as Conversation,” Adele asks the students what conversations they need to be a part of and then guides them on how to apply writing theories to find a research question within that conversation.
Having the class work together to find research questions helps students consider feasibility and constraints of research plans in a safe and comfortable way, Adele says, because the criticism is coming from classmates instead of always from the teacher. This strategy gives the students a greater sense of power and can even be fun. Responsibility and fun are both important components in Adele’s course.
What the student does with the topic is just as important as figuring out the topic, so Adele ensures they have plenty of resources as they move forward with primary and secondary research. She uses Stylus examples throughout the course, showing students what they are capable of producing and giving them strategies for producing the best work possible.
By the end of the project, Adele hopes that the students have done work that they can be proud of. “They leave feeling like they know things.” That’s a powerful feeling, and seeing their work published or being asked to present it to the university can cement their sense of accomplishment in ways that hopefully follow them throughout their studies. We should all take advantage of these department showcases as further opportunities to help students see that their writing matters.