Category Archives: Writing

A New CCC to Kickstart the New School Year

This post is written by member Jens Lloyd, editorial assistant for College Composition and Communication.

 College Composition and Communication publishes scholarship in rhetoric and composition studies that supports college teachers in reflecting on and improving their practices in teaching writing. Our September 2017 issue, available online and in print, launches volume 69 of the journal. We hope its contents provide you with inspiration for the new school year!

Heather Bastian opens the issue by sharing her research into how students respond to unconventional assignments. Bastian’s article, which is free online even to nonmembers, provides some clear-sighted strategies for accommodating students’ affective responses to assignments that, for one reason or another, don’t conform to their expectations for academic writing. Next, Laurie Grobman reflects on a racially charged controversy that she confronted while supervising a community writing partnership that involved undergraduates conducting archival research. In the face of enduring questions about systemic racism, Grobman’s thoughtful and complicated account of how she responded to the controversy will prove beneficial to teacher-scholars facing similar dilemmas in classrooms, community settings, and elsewhere in their professional lives.

Articles by David M. Grant and Steven Fraiberg probe the boundaries of what we (don’t) know about writing and rhetoric. Displaying tremendous dexterity in moving between indigenous rhetorics and contemporary scholarship on new materialisms, Grant challenges us to more fully and more fundamentally account for nonhumans in our day-to-day communicative interactions. Fraiberg’s article, based on a long-term case study of DaVe, an individual whom Fraiberg began interviewing in the late 2000s, pieces together a constellation of artifacts drawn largely from DaVe’s time in the Israeli military to offer a portrait of how complex transmedia and translingual literacy practices unfold across various modes and genres.

Jim Webber considers recent debates about educational reform, focusing specifically on how literacy professionals respond by invoking the philosophical tradition of pragmatism. Ultimately, in the hopes of expanding rather than shutting down public deliberation about these regimes of reform, Webber advances a version of pragmatism that he dubs, via Dewey, artful critique.

To conclude this issue, Karen Rowan reviews three books about rhetorical education in diverse settings, and 2016 CCCC Exemplar Award winner Sondra Perl reflects on her illustrious career.

We are thrilled that all September authors are featured in our podcast series. Check out these interviews for additional insights into the scholarship published in CCC. We welcome feedback and questions about the journal (and our podcasts series!) at

Jens Lloyd is a PhD candidate at UC Irvine.

More Than a Grade: Cultivating Intellectual Play in Students

This post is written by student member Danah Hashem.

Educators know the dreaded question well: Will this be graded? Subtext: As a student in your class, the impact this assignment has on my report card matters more to me than the potential learning experience it offers; how much should I care about my performance on this?

This simple but familiar and frequent question encapsulates a larger issue impacting classrooms around the globe. It is not a new phenomenon for students to give in to the temptation to trade mindsets of intellectual play, exploration, and growth for the reductionist, quantifiable goal of high grades. However, in the face of increased standardized testing and global competition, today’s students are chasing the grade more than ever before. And who are we to blame them? Increasingly, the systems in which they are asked to operate measure and assess them based on these numbers, awarding opportunities, status, and identities accordingly. More and more our students are viewing grades as the reason and the reward for their learning, and it’s not always difficult to understand why.

This leaves us as educators with some difficult questions of our own. What are we doing that is communicating to our students that grades are the final goal and ultimate achievement of learning? And how do we stop? What can we do to shift the culture, reframe the goals, and revive the elusive spirit of intellectual curiosity in our classrooms?

While the answers to those questions are complex, systemic, and extend well outside the walls of our own classrooms, I believe there are some concrete, achievable steps we can take to support, encourage, and mentor our students in their very real struggle to understand the importance of personal education in a grade-driven culture.

  1. Value process along with—and perhaps even over—product. A strong summative writing assignment requires work that is completed in stages, a few of which should include brainstorming, exploration, experimentation, drafting, and revision. We can communicate the importance of these stages to students by dedicating class time to them, giving detailed feedback on them, holding reflective conversations regarding them, and potentially weighting those stages more heavily than the finished product when grading. This tells students that you care more about the journey they went through to create and understand their final product than the final product itself.
  2. Allow revision. Particularly on larger assignments, I always allow my students to resubmit their work for a higher grade, deducting no penalty points for wanting another try. This shows students that my primary concern is their personal struggles as scholars wrestling with challenging tasks and concepts.
  3. Integrate single-point rubrics. As helpful as a well-crafted holistic or analytic rubric can be, the goal of these rubrics is essentially to standardize and quantify intellectual creation, which can encourage ranking, comparison, and fixation on teacher-direction in order to target a specific grade. The single-point rubric is a grading option that describes what proficiency should look like in each of the outlined categories, making no attempt to anticipate where and how students will succeed or fall short. Structuring rubrics in this way allows more subjectivity and invites educators to reflect on both strengths and weaknesses in each category. Grades can still be assigned with clear explanation; however, there are no predefined levels, limits, or categories for success. This rubric stresses descriptive, personalized feedback over the numerical grade.
  4. Encourage self-reflection. In order to actively demonstrate that the grade is not the capstone of intellectual pursuit, spend time reflecting on assignments before, during, and after the grading process. These reflections can be structured as journal entries, large-group discussions, or partner conversations. Guiding questions can encourage students to think deeply about what they gained from the process. Questions that encourage this kind of thinking include
  • What was the most difficult portion of this assignment for you?
  • How did you overcome those difficulties?
  • What do you think was the strongest aspect of your project and why?
  1. Highlight intellectual courage. Educators can encourage student identities that operate outside of the grading system by highlighting exemplary work that does not necessarily reinforce the culture of grade-based status. Taking class time to promote a student’s work as innovative, courageous, or explorative can subvert the grade-based status system while also gently fostering the confidence students need to engage in intellectual play.

Ultimately, if we must grade, our grades should support, complement, and encourage real learning. This makes the job of an educator more nuanced and admittedly more difficult; there are no effective ways to standardize and quantify the authentic intellectual pursuits of individuals. However, before we can ask our students to internalize this reality, we ourselves must be willing to take clear and definitive steps to make that reality evident in our classroom culture. It can be difficult in our grade-saturated culture, but change always begins with initial steps.

Danah Hashem teaches tenth-grade world literature at Lexington Christian Academy in Lexington, MA, where she pursues her passions for and scholarship in digital literacies, Middle Eastern literature, and student-centered learning. Follow her on Twitter at @DanahRHashem or via her blog,

Note: NCTE has a variety of resources to support teachers looking to approach grading intentionally and generatively in their classrooms. For additional information on assessments and grading, visit the following position statements: Resolution on Grading Student WritingFormative Assessment That Truly Informs InstructionWriting Assessment: A Position Statement

What a Day to Celebrate Student Voice and Choice!

This Sunday, September 17, is Constitution Day, the commemoration of the signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787.

What a day to celebrate the privileges of the First Amendment, including student voice and choice!

The #Bowtie Boys with Jason Augustowski give voice on on the importance of middle school in this Voices from the Middle article  (pp. 14-16; 5-7 .pdf pages).

Listen as the #BowtieBoys give voice to their understandings of Dead Poets Society.

Research says [about student choice]:

Engaged adolescents demonstrate internal motivation, self efficacy, and a desire for mastery. Providing student choice and responsive classroom environments with connections to “real life” experiences helps adolescents build confidence and stay engaged. (Guthrie, J. T. (2001). Contexts for engagement and motivation in reading. Reading Online. International Reading Association. Retrieved June 23, 2007, from index.html and Guthrie, J.T., & Humenick, N.M. (2004). Motivating students to read: Evidence for classroom practices that increase reading motivation and achievement. In P. McCardle and V. Chhabra (Eds.), The voice of evidence in reading research.Baltimore, MD: Brookes, 329-54.)…

• Self-selection and variety engage students by enabling ownership in literacy activities.
• In adolescence, book selection options increase dramatically, and successful readers need to learn to choose texts they enjoy. If they can’t identify pleasurable books, adolescents often lose interest in reading.
• Allowing student choice in writing tasks and genres can improve motivation. At the same time, writing choice must be balanced with a recognition that adolescents also need to learn the literacy practices that will support academic success.
• Choice should be meaningful. Reading materials should be appropriate and should speak to adolescents’ diverse interests and varying abilities.
• Student-chosen tasks must be supported with appropriate instructional support or scaffolding. (Biancarosa, G., & Snow, C. (2004). Reading next: A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy. Report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education. Retrieved June 25, 2007 from ReadingNext/ReadingNext.pdf and Guthrie, J. T. (2001). Oldfather, P. (1994). When students do not feel motivated for literacy learning: How a responsive classroom culture helps. College Park, MD: University of Maryland, National Reading Research Center. Retrieved June 25, 2007, from rspon_r8.html; NCREL (2005).)

Two NCTE members demonstrate what support and scaffolding look like and why choice and voice are so important.

Katie Dredger notes, “Students can succeed when we allow them to choose the courses they take, the texts they read, the processes of their growth, and the products of their achievements.”

Tom Romano deftly explains student voice in the context of writing, the vital importance context when considering words used in writing and reading.

Broadening Perspectives with Multicultural & Multivoiced Stories for Adolescents

This post is written by members Kelly Byrne Bull and Jacqueline Bach, guest editors of the September issue of English Journal. 

In this issue, we explore how multicultural and multivoiced young adult literature engages classroom communities in meaningful discourse and broadens adolescents’ perspectives. Our cover artwork, Iris-Between-Worlds by Colleen Helie, embodies the poignancy of adolescence and the fluidity of conversations that encourage growth. Contributors to our themed issue bring to light stories that connect students with the personal and the global. As a result of our Call for Manuscripts, we noted that three categories emerged: bias and empathy; power and equity; and gender and sexuality.

Alluding to Rudine Sims Bishop’s concept of mirrors and windows, several contributors carefully illustrate how empathy can break down biases. We appreciate Grice, Rebellino, and Stamper’s celebration of challenging the narrative status quo. In their article, they showcase lived experiences that have historically been overlooked but are explored through recent award-winning verse novels and graphic narratives. Building on this idea of diverse representation, Gilmore’s “Saying What We Don’t Mean” argues that teachers are responsible for offering students a variety of characters and situations so that students can grow and learn to recognize implicit bias. Similarly, Van Vaerenewyck’s “Aesthetic Readings of Diverse Literary Narratives for Social Justice” asserts that cultivating empathetic global citizens relies on all of us becoming better readers of diverse stories.

We noted how this call prompted contributors to explore issues of power and equity that are developed in YA texts. Malo-Juvera’s “A Postcolonial Primer with Multicultural YA Literature” illustrates how he introduces postcolonialism so that students can hone their abilities to interrogate normalized oppression and begin to read the world critically. Ginsberg, Glenn, and Moye also examine issues of power and equity in their article, “Opportunities for Advocacy.” The YA texts they feature center on identity denial and afford rich discussions about which identities are privileged or denied, affirmed or suppressed. Such exploration of power and equity is also central to Lillge and Dominguez’s thoughtful article, “Launching Lessons.” In it, they address incorporating divergent points of view in the English classroom and offer readers ideas for projects addressing social inequity and injustice.

Our contributors also challenge readers to include global and multivoiced expressions of gender and sexuality (if they are not already doing so) with contemporary texts. Hayne, Clemmons, and Olvey’s “Using Moon at Nine to Broaden Multicultural Perspectives” analyzes their experiences reading this love story between two young women in post-Shah Iran with their university students, while in “‘I Don’t Really Know What a Fair Portrayal Is and What a Stereotype Is’” Boyd and Bereiter remind readers of the importance of listening and learning from their students and trying new pedagogical approaches based on those relationships. Finally, Kedley and Spiering look at how voices and form convey multiple experiences of gender and sexuality in ELA classrooms.

Articles such as these are conversation-starters. We invite you to continue these conversations with your colleagues and students. Send us your ideas so that we may continue to broaden and deepen the conversation: Kelly Byrne Bull (, Jacqueline Bach (

Works Cited

Sims Bishop, R. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 1(3), ix–xi.

 Kelly Byrne Bull is an associate professor at Notre Dame of Maryland University, chair of NCTE’s Commission on the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature, and Maryland state representative for the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents.


Jacqueline Bach is the Elena and Albert LeBlanc Professor of English Education at Louisiana State University, a former editor of The ALAN Review (2009–2014), and a former high school English teacher.