I encourage play. Composing with various forms of media and guided by rhetorical sensitivity, we work together to illuminate the promises and possibilities of effective rhetorics. I have seen that students are more able to relax, think, act, and perform effectively when they are honestly invited to play. This notion of honesty hopes to play out beginning on Day One of class, when I tell my students, “You already know everything I’m going to teach you about rhetoric.” While some students raise a brow, perhaps trying to recall a definition of “rhetoric,” it’s the “you already know” part that seems to deflate measurable units of tension from the room. I say, “We’re just gonna reanimate what you already know — amp up your shapeshifting skills.” Some students respond to the hint of game rhetoric in my invitation, and we talk about scenes of everyday life, scenes that reveal that we have spent our lives learning how to make great rhetorical choices. From what we choose to wear for the day or occasion, to when it may be wise to not hit “send,” to personal matters like tearing a page from a private journal because we’ve decided to attempt to reject a certain version of ourselves. These scenes from our routine lives contribute to our primary frame of reference, as the notion of “real people in real lives” guides us throughout the class.
Our play advances through improvisational invention. We write, read, watch (YouTube Fridays!), listen (Talking Heads audio accompanies many writing sessions), draw, take photos and video, remix, revise, critique, and generally endeavor to make clever arrangements, ultimately, rhetorical artifacts that matter. In our workshops, we use a variety of analog and digital tools toward the production of our rhetorical artifacts, be they essays, multimodal compositions, or other types of strategic attempt and performance. The student writing I promote often takes traditional print form, and we certainly learn to write according to genre conventions, including many of those that persist in print-based academic writing. However, the student writing that emerges from our classroom exchanges may also be found radiating beyond the conventional contours of academic writing, which has itself shifted in response to cinematic, digital, and visual turns.
From within these improvisational spaces of possibility, we find motivation and method. Student communication strengths and needs become clear through our workshop-intensive classes. Using detailed assignment prompts, theoretical frames in the form of published texts, webtexts, images, videos, and other essayistic forms, we begin to compose. We are guided by successful samples from former students (who have granted permission, often quite proud to have been asked). I attempt to create conditions sufficient for clearing space — space to try, to make, to reanimate our being together as writers, composers, makers, and beings.