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Teaching Public Writing in the Graduate Seminar

In Fall 2018, I attended an event at my college organized by my colleague Cori McKenzie on “Innovations in English Language Arts Teaching and Learning.” In this event, McKenzie’s graduate students presented their research projects in progress, on topics ranging from the importance of multimodal composition to teaching diverse books in the K-12 classroom. I was so inspired and impressed by what I saw that night that I took to Facebook to share some photos and highlights. It wasn’t long until the comments section became filled with versions of the question, “how can I learn more about their work?”

While I didn’t have a solid answer at the time, I decided that I would organize my Spring 2019 graduate seminar on Feminist Worldmaking in a way that would help us answer that very question. For this course, instead of writing a traditional final paper that would be read solely by the instructor, I decided that the final project would ask students to share some aspect of their learning or research with a public audience.

As an educator, I have observed how writing for a public audience dramatically improves the quality of students’ writing. I’m also interested in how public writing assignments can leverage the affordances of digital platforms to both help students increase their digital literacy and teach them that their voices and perspectives on contemporary social issues matter. While I have previously written about teaching public writing at the undergraduate level, in this blog, I explain how I incorporated, framed, and scaffolded this public writing assignment for a graduate seminar.

Read the full post on HASTAC.

Teaching with an Index Card: The Benefits of Free, Open-Source Tools

Every semester, thousands of faculty members create course websites on a learning-management system such as Blackboard or Canvas. Colleges purchase these platforms, which allow professors to post readings, send messages, and facilitate discussions among students. And yet these expensive, proprietary systems are rarely used outside of classrooms. Alternatively, teaching with free, open-source software, including the software upon which many of the world’s websites are actually built, creates a tremendous opportunity for students to develop transferable skills, actively shape their learning, and improve their digital literacy.

Read the full post in Chronicle of Higher Ed special issue on “Innovation.”

Collaborative Close Reading

Close reading – observing the stylistic details of a text in order to analyze an author’s use of language – is a skill taught in almost all college literature classes. Often, I describe this to students as collecting the data that we will eventually use as the evidence to support an interpretation of the text. This is slow and messy work that involves reading a poem or passage many, many times. It involves continually checking in with ourselves to ask what feelings these phrases are producing. It involves frequent pauses to look up the etymology of a word, ponder a punctuation mark, or get lost in the depths of a metaphor. And precisely because literary language is so complex and unwieldy, I have found that the more eyes and ears that tune into a passage, the more far-ranging, nuanced, and unpredictable are the observations we collectively generate.

In this blog, I describe one of my favorite in-class activities for teaching literature: collaborative close reading. Collaborative close reading involves breaking the class into small groups and passing short excerpts from a text around the room. Each group annotates the passage, making their marks and weaving a colorful web of observations atop the author’s words. While social annotation platforms like are all the rage, this activity kicks it old school, requiring no more technological savoir faire than managing a photocopy machine (which, admittedly, can be quite temperamental).

Read the full post on HASTAC.

Why I Teach with HASTAC: Platforms as Critical Pedagogy

This post is part of a two-part series that considers digital learning platforms as an issue of critical pedagogy.

HASTAC as Critical Pedagogy

I teach students to write and research with because I’m committed to critical, engaged, student-centered education that prepares students for the world beyond the classroom. For me, this involves both preparing students for a rewarding career and helping them better understand how language is a source of power that can reproduce and challenge conditions of inequality. As I’ve said elsewhere, having students write not just for the professor, but for an audience beyond the classroom teaches them the power of their voices and stories. It helps them understand that they are critical participants in longer, ongoing conversations, and that learning offers an opportunity to contribute to the public and social good. But we also have to be careful in encouraging students to join these conversations: careful because they are capable, but still learning, because public writing always entails the risk of exposure, because students live complicated lives that may require the cover of confidentiality, and because the digital leaves traces everywhere.

This is the work of critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy encourages students to participate in the construction of a shared learning environment, involving those who will be affected by decisions about readings, assignments, and classroom policies in the decision-making process. At its best, students then use this critical approach to think about how they can use their decision-making power in the world beyond the classroom to address social issues.

I am writing these remarks at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where debate and disagreement abound, but all participants seem to agree that software is not neutral, and that teaching students to think critically about digital technologies is a central component of engaged pedagogy. Here, I discuss how can function as an open learning platform that protects student data while helping their writing reach an audience of readers beyond the classroom. As such, HASTAC plays a key role in facilitating student-centered learning.

Read the full post on HASTAC.

The Feminist Art of Writing About Teaching

Danica Savonick, SUNY Cortland
Thursday, August 2
1:00 – 2:15
Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute

Today I was honored to share some of my favorite writings about teaching with a group of passionate educators at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I was so grateful to our participants, and for everything they refused to leave at the door and instead throw on our messy table. As I told them from the get-go: this was an experiment. Together we tested the modest hypothesis that poetry can help us think differently about learning. I had never tried this before, and it was thrilling to see how these activities I’d been imagining (fantasizing about, really) for weeks were experienced by participants. Together, around that oblong table on the secluded fourth floor, we braved an impending tornado to try and unlearn, or at least briefly bracket, the ways we’ve been trained to think about learning through narrative.

In the wake of the workshop, I have come to think of these intrepid participants as the DPL Poets. I hope they won’t mind the moniker. #dplpoem


What would happen if we wrote about the classroom not through narrative, but as a collaboratively-authored poem? How can space—on the page, on the screen—convey the complexities of learning? Is the classroom, in Adrienne Rich’s words, a “prison cell,” a “commune,” or something else entirely, and what do metaphors make possible? These are just some questions participants will be invited to consider in this hour-long workshop, in which we think with and alongside four feminist teacher-poets—Toni Cade Bambara, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, and Adrienne Rich—about the art of teaching. While these authors are most often studied for their literature, they were no less bold in their pedagogical creativity; in fact, their literary sensibilities shaped student-centered classrooms organized around social justice across multiple registers and scales. In addition to discussing the aesthetic, literary, and rhetorical strategies these authors use in their essays and poems on teaching, participants will experiment with the techniques we encounter and author short reflections inspired by their writings.

Read the full post on HASTAC.

Dear Fellow Graduate Student

Dear Fellow Graduate Student,

As you well know, this is a rough time to be pursuing an advanced degree. We are underfunded, overworked, exploited, and devalued by a society that (to take just one recent example) attempted to tax our tuition waivers as income, which would have made graduate education untenable for most of us and available only to the wealthiest students. There are gross disparities in funding for M.A and Ph.D. programs. Many of us face a job market that looks nothing like the landscapes our advisors experienced. And yet, the world needs M.A. and Ph.D. recipients now more than ever.

This system is deeply flawed and I earnestly hope that our generation will be the ones to overhaul it. As part of that project, I want to pass on some insights that helped me navigate my institution towards a successful dissertation defense and a job.

One reason I write this is because I was lucky to have wonderful peers, colleagues, and professors who supported me throughout this journey, though I’m continually meeting grad students who haven’t been so fortunate. As Annemarie Pérez’s recent post (“A Radical Idea About Adjuncting”) showed me, being explicit about the ways we’ve been lucky is part of a larger project of building universities that don’t rely so heavily on luck, but rather, are structured for the flourishing of diverse students and faculty, and engaged, urgent knowledge projects that serve the public good.

I also write this somewhat selfishly. I want to live in a world in which everyone has, in Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s words, “everything that they need and 93% of what they want–not by virtue of the fact that you work today, but by virtue of the fact that you are here.” I believe that the hours you spend reading, thinking, writing, teaching, organizing, working to change your classrooms and institutions, learning so that you may improve the lives of others, and taking to the streets to demand change will help bring that world to fruition.

Don’t be afraid to change your mind. This was the single best piece of advice I received going into graduate school. Don’t be afraid to learn new things, to become obsessed, to fall in love with different subjects. You don’t have to leave graduate school pursuing the project that you identified in your application materials. Take courses with the faculty members who students can’t stop talking about, even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the subject area. Kyla Wazana Tompkins put it best: “we aren’t here to learn what we already know.” We are here to do research: to be unfaithful to the known.

Read the full post on HASTAC.

Teaching Through Publishing: Scholarly Journal Article as Collaborative Final Project (a How To Guide)

On August 30, 2017, three students from my Queens College composition course published an article in the scholarly, peer-reviewed journal Hybrid Pedagogy. Their article, “The Ultimate Life Experience: Preparing Students for the World Beyond the Classroom” argues that colleges ought to prepare students for a great future, and offers concrete suggestions for how teachers, administrators, and students can work together to make this happen.

This blog is the practical, step-by-step, how-to guide that describes how I structured our course around a final assignment that challenged students to co-author submissions to the journal. For more about the pedagogical decisions that went into this, see my article “Write Out Loud: Teaching Writing Through Digital Publishing” in Hybrid Pedagogy (forthcoming). You should feel free to reuse, remix, or borrow from anything you read in this post.


One of the most important and challenging lessons to teach in college writing courses is that language is a source of power that makes things happen in the world. Once students recognize the profound implications of our work with language, many of the skills instructors value — argumentation, organization, revision, editing, proofreading – become much easier to teach. In addition, given that many of us work with students for merely one semester, when we want or need at least two, I am much more confident that students will leave my class and continue to work on their writing if I know that they have a deep understanding of how and why language matters in the world.

In fall 2016, I taught a basic writing course at Queens College on “The Purpose of Education.” Instead of writing a traditional final paper that would be read solely by students’ peers and their instructor, this project challenged students to use what they had learned over the course of a semester to collaboratively author submissions to a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal. After spending a semester immersed in debates about active learning, critical pedagogy, the role of technology in education, standardized testing, education funding, and segregated schooling, I guided students in their attempts to enter an ongoing scholarly conversation occurring among the Hybrid Pedagogy community. With this assignment, students further developed their reading, writing, and revising skills; practiced writing for a specific audience; and learned the power of their own voices and stories. Writing with the explicit intent of publication was an effort to help students understand how their words matter in the world beyond the classroom.

Read the full post on HASTAC.

Community Guidelines: Fostering Inclusive Discussions of Difference

In this blog, I describe how my class co-authored a set of community guidelines in order to create a supportive environment for discussing issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality.

This past semester, I had the deep pleasure of teaching an English course on “The Arts of Dissent” at Queens College, where I shared some of my absolute favorite works of literature — Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, Chris Abani’s GraceLand, and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen — with twenty-eight incredibly bright students.

Since I began teaching at Queens, I have thought a lot about what it means to be a white teacher who teaches texts primarily by black authors to a diverse class of students. I want to create a classroom environment in which every student feels encouraged to share their reactions to our readings. I also hope to increase students’ awareness of their-subject positioning within intersecting axes of power, just as I am continually seeking to better understand my own positioning in this matrix. There are many times and places where “calling out” is not only appropriate, but necessary; however, as an educator, my primary means of involving students in critical reflections on sexism, racism, homophobia, and class privilege is always through calling in. I have been fortunate to have many students who are already deeply involved in these conversations and struggles for social justice and I do my best to help them understand the historical and institutional nature of these issues. For the rest, I call students into these conversations by assigning powerful readings that convey the urgency of addressing structural inequality.

This past semester, as we completed our discussions of A Raisin in the Sun and were poised to begin Citizen, it felt urgent to deliberately address with my students the ways gender, race, class, and sexuality shape classroom conversations, often in unacknowledged ways. For those who haven’t read it, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, is a gorgeous multimodal assemblage — at once seething and breathtaking — that tracks the pernicious effects of microaggressions across multiple scales. Ranging in breadth from Turner’s painting The Slave Ship (1840) to the Black Lives Matter movement, Citizen should be required reading not only for every student, but for everyone.

As our discussions of the text approached, I was thinking about the ways class conversations can exclude certain voices and elicit a kind of tokenism, in which the perspective of one student, especially from a minority background, is wrongfully understood to represent the perspective of an entire social group. I was worried that our class conversations, especially in terms of who gets to speak the most, would reproduce the very hierarchies that Rankine’s text works to subvert. I was thinking of students whose fears of saying the wrong thing might lead them to disengage from these important conversations entirely (and thinking about the ways disengagement is often a stance only available to the relatively privileged).

Read the full post on HASTAC.

Original artwork by Julie Abbot, a student in “The Arts of Dissent.”

Timekeeping as feminist pedagogy

This blog was published by Inside Higher Ed on June 27, 2017.

Whether you have known me as one of my students or a colleague, you may have noticed that I am obsessive about timekeeping in meetings, events, and the courses I teach. If you haven’t known me in either capacity, nice to digitally meet you. My name is Danica and I am obsessed with timekeeping. This is because, as I recently had the opportunity to explain to an audience, for me, timekeeping is a feminist issue.


I first learned this from personal experience in a graduate seminar that was, in many ways, fantastic, but with one major flaw. When the end of the semester rolled around, the final few classes were dedicated to people sharing the progress they had made on their final research essays and getting feedback from our brilliant classmates and professor. As someone who is constantly begging for people to engage with my work, I could not have been more eager to present my ideas thus far and see what suggestions my classmates would provide. All semester, our discussions had been so interesting, and I knew that their engagement with my ideas would push my research to the next level. They brought with them knowledge from many different disciplines and were always recommending additional readings that brought the class material to life in unexpected ways. In each of our final classes, during the last hour, three students would present their work, which meant we each prepared for a twenty-minute conversation comprised of brief remarks followed by a discussion. Given this limited amount of time, I painstakingly decided which sections of my project I wanted to share and framed questions that I thought my classmates would be able to help with. However, the day I was scheduled to present my work, I was assigned to go last (by now, I’m sure you know where this is going). I remember sitting in my seat and watching the hands of the clock tick by as the students before me shared their work and engaged our seminar in a lively dialogue. But apparently I was the only one watching the clock, because before I knew it there were only ten minutes left in the class and it still was not my turn. And then there were only five.


I will never forget the feeling of sitting in that chair, fidgeting with sweaty palms and unable to contribute to the conversation because I was so anxious that my turn would never come. And that’s basically what happened.

I share this anecdote not to blame anyone, but as a reminder that timekeeping is not something that comes naturally to any of us. Following this experience, I began to recognize the ways that I was guilty of neglecting time, and therefore not equitably distributing it, in my classrooms as well. I became determined not to ever leave my students or colleagues feeling like I felt that day.


It turns out that research supports my sense that time is not equitably distributed in classroom settings. This survey of research on gender bias in classroom participation describes how male students are called on more frequently than female students, receive more attention from instructors, and speak for longer than female students (further confirmed by research here, here, here, and here). Students of color experience microaggressions in the classroom, reporting that their class contributions are ignored or minimized and that they are made to feel inferior because of the ways they speak (read more here and here). Overall, classrooms reproduce social hierarchies, so that those same voices who are privileged in mainstream media, culture, and politics are also those who get the most speaking time in classrooms.

Read the full post on HASTAC.

Final Projects from Students in “The Arts of Dissent” at Queens College

This semester students in my ENG 241 course at Queens College took what they learned and co-created their own “arts of dissent”: original websites, videos, timelines, lesson plans, poetry, photography, and drawings. (I’ve included the rationale for this assignment at the bottom of this post.)

Want to know what Queens College students think about 2017? They think stereotypes about immigrants are inaccurate & dangerous, that Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric should be “required reading” for everyone, and that microaggressions and all forms of violence against women and people of color have no place on campus or anywhere.

Some highlights include

  • Citizen: An Urban Collegiate Lyric (make sure to check out the original lyrics in the “Writing Center”)
  • Palette of the People
  • The timeline of historical injustices in Citizen: An American Lyric (a fantastic resource for teachers and students engaging with Claudia Rankine’s text)
  • The collection of original found poems based on our readings (the artwork is also original)
  • The lesson plan for teaching Hughes’ “Let America be America Again” alongside a field trip to Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn

I leave this semester wondering where in the world are these lazy millennials I’ve read so much about. Because the students I’ve met at Queens College over the past four years have been some of the most hardworking, thoughtful, and passionate people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. It has been an honor and a deep pleasure getting to work with and learn from them.

Rationale for assignments

At the end of every semester, I provide students with an explanation for everything we did in the course. Their final assignment is to write a reflection on what worked, what didn’t, and how the course could be improved.

Group work

In a 1964 study on medical education, M.L.J. Abercrombie found that teams of medical students were able to arrive at more accurate diagnoses of test patients when they evaluated symptoms as a group, rather than individually. Since then, collaborative learning has been studied at great length by scholars such as Kenneth M. Bruffee, Rebecca Moore Howard, and Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede (among many others). Learning to work with other people is one of the most valuable skills that a college education can provide to prepare you for the world beyond the classroom, and yet, for most of us, our educations have taught us to compete, rather than collaborate, with the students sitting next to us. Whether we are trying to arrive at an accurate medical diagnosis, organize a resistance movement, or complete a business report, we are constantly called upon to work with other people in order to achieve our goals and meet set deadlines. While group projects are common at expensive liberal arts colleges, the experience of collaboration is often withheld from students at public colleges like Queens, where many students work full time and commute to campus. This semester we practiced collaboration in order to create final projects that were better than what any student could have produced individually.


Final projects

This semester, you were challenged to design a project inspired by something you learned this semester and create something that could be shared publicly with an audience beyond the classroom. This assignment was designed to help you see your classroom learning in relation to the world and to better understand yourselves as critical and creative writers with the power to speak to, and influence, real audiences. In addition, you developed time and project management skills by having to meet set deadlines and collaborate with others.

Rather than the instructor assigning the form (such as a traditional essay) you had the more difficult task of selecting a medium (a video, lesson plan, website, timeline, etc.) that would allow you to tell the story of what you learned this semester. You had to identify a purpose for your project and figure out how to communicate effectively within that medium. Communicating effectively involves writing with an awareness of audience and the conventions of different media. My hope is that you will take what you learned from this project and apply it to the work you will be required to do in the future in many different rhetorical situations (emails, cover letters, business reports, videos, protest chants, websites, tweets, editorials, etc.).