No Compassion For My Poor Nerves Mrs Bennet GIF -  NoCompassionForMyPoorNerves MrsBennet PrideAndPrejudice - Discover & Share  GIFs
Credit: Tenor

… I bet you read that header and thought I was going to be trash-talking Pride and Prejudice. First of all, I would never and how dare you. No, the truth I am talking about is that words – and their meanings – never change.

In our readings this week, we learned that “the recognition that different statements representing knowledge circulate in different groups does not mean all representations are equal” (Bazerman 38-9). What does that mean? It means that, when you’re writing, you shouldn’t assume every reader – parent, friend, teacher, internet troll – will derive the same meaning from your text. This ties back to our previous discussions about audience. Are you writing for a universal audience, or for yourself?


Why Should We Care as Writers?

Jane Austen. Source: https://www.biography.com/writer/jane-austen

Going back to my earlier reference/joke about universal truths. There’s a reason (most of) you thought I was going to be talking about Pride and Prejudice. Aside from being one of the greatest books ever written (fight me on it), it also has one of the most recognizable opening lines. When people think of Regency England – or, quite frankly, England in general – Jane Austen is bound to come to mind in some capacity. But, Jane Austen is not the only writer in Regency England. Name another one, though? I dare you. Hell, Jane Austen might not have even been the best Regency writer. (I’m just kidding, she absolutely was. Please don’t smite me, Literary Gods). My point though, I promise I have one, is that Jane Austen’s works are still relevant and popular over two hundred years later because she writes for a universal audience that transcends time and space. The best writers can do this. Miss Austen probably wasn’t thinking about us lowly millennials, reading her books in our pajamas on our tablets, when she created Elizabeth Bennett, but it certainly feels like she did.

Last semester, I finally lost my thirty year challenge of not having to read Plato. But, his Phaedrus also gives us an example of this. In Phaedrus, Socrates tells the myth of an Egyptian God who believes that writing will “make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memory” (Bizzell 195). This claim is refuted by an Egyptian king who believes writing will only give a reader the appearance of wisdom, because they cannot share in the exact same thoughts and experiences as the writer (195). Our readings this week in Naming What We Know gives a similar claim: “The technical concept of rhetorical situation brings together recognition of the specifics of the situation, the exigency the situation creates, and our perception that by communication we can make the situation better for ourselves” (Bazerman 36). This two statements have a similar message of not taking the words on the page at face-value. I can write all day about my experience growing up as a gay man in the South, but I shouldn’t assume that because I said I was gay and grew up in the South that you all know what I’m talking about or even that other gay Southern men have had the same experience.


What About in the Classroom?

Tragically, most of our FYC students will not have read Pride and Prejudice. (Or they will pretend like they have because they saw Keira Knightley’s 2005 performance.) Therefore, they probably won’t be moved to tears if we choose to get up and talk about how we should all be thinking about widespread audiences because Jane Austen did. But, we can take that lesson and tweak it a bit to get students thinking about writing in the classroom. One way we can do this is to teach about writing for different genres. “Regularities of textual form most lay people experience as the structural characteristics of genres emerge from these repeated instances of action and are reinforced by institutional power structures” (Hart-Davidson 39-40). What this means for a classroom is that everything you write falls into a genre. Most people think of genre as “fiction” or “romance” or “sci-fi,” but everything has a genre. Even scholarly papers! And, just like how the romance genre has certain rules and expectations that must be met, so too do our school papers. You could even argue that each style is its own genre. For example, an MLA paper will have specific head requirements, alignment requirements, and citation requirements. The reader of this genre, much like the reader of an Austen novel, is going to be looking for these certain things, and as teachers, it’s up to us to explain what they are.


Using Multimodal Writing to Convey Points and Meanings

Credit: MichiganVirtual.org

Today, more than ever, it’s important to think about multimodal writing and how to teach it in the classroom. It’s especially important now when so many of our students are not actually in a classroom. In this digital, pandemic age, teachers need to be prepared to see different kinds of writing – writings that rely heavily on digital technology and imagery to convey meaning.

In our readings this week, we learned a lot about how to incorporate multimodal writing in the classroom. Multimodal learning can include “sound, texture, movement, and all other communicative acts that contribute to the making of meaning” (Ball and Charlton 42). While multimodal incorporation definitely helps keeps students and readers alike engaged, I think that this also ties into the concept of universal understanding. Think about how everyone will perceive your multimodal components. If you have a bar graph in the middle of your analysis, you shouldn’t just assume that everyone will look at it and get its purpose. Furthermore, some people might not even be able to see it! It is still up to you as the writer to ensure your audience takes away from the multimodal component whatever you intended them to.

You know what they say about people who assume…


Things to Think About…

Friends, one question I have for you to think about this week is: how can we teach our students to think about the universal audience and universal meanings while not enforcing standard English?


Works Cited

Bazerman, Charles. “Writing Represents the World, Events, Ideas, and Feelings.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. Edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle, 2016, pp.37-9.

Bazerman, Charles. “Writing Speaks to Situations Through Recognizable Forms.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. Edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle, 2016, pp.35-7.

Hart-Davidson, Bill. “Genres are Enacted by Writers and Readers.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. Edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle, 2016, pp.39-40.

Bizzell, Patricia, Bruce Herzberg and Robin Reames. The Rhetorical Tradition, MacMillian
    Learning, 2020.

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