Category: Uncategorized

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.

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.).

“So what do we do now?” Lessons from the AAC&U 2017 Annual Meeting

At whose expense are service learning and diversity courses effective? Can U.S. education policy stop telling poor students what to do (and instead provide them with resources and opportunities)? How can we avoid reproducing oppressions in our social justice work in education?

These are just some of the difficult and important questions addressed at this year’s AAC&U Annual Meeting, “Building Trust in the Promise of Liberal Education.” Without a doubt, the most common refrain, resounding over and over again, was “so what do we do now?” Now that Trump is president and the intersecting axes of discrimination and oppression are multiplying, intensifying, and sanctioned by the U.S. president.

To back up a bit: the AAC&U is the Association of American Colleges & Universities. Two thousand college and university administrators, presidents, deans, faculty, graduate students, and (to my delight) undergraduates, from all over the world, attended this year’s conference in San Francisco. I was there receiving the 2017 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award and to find out what this AAC&U organization is all about. Without a doubt, the highlight of the conference was getting to know the other recipients – graduate students from different schools and disciplines who are transforming education in order to improve society. Their resumes are impressive, to say the very least, but in person they far exceed what a professional bio can capture. Their generosity, kindness, fierce intellect, humor, determination, care, and bravery are, as Lee Knefelkamp, quoting Maxine Greene, kept saying “a light in dark times.” I hope we will remain friends for years to come.

Read the full post on HASTAC.

On your mark…get set…email?

One of my pet peeves as an educator is when instructors complain about students’ lack of email etiquette (though I know I have also been guilty of this in the past). Instead, like many other educators, I have stopped complaining about student emails, which are merely a product of unfamiliarity with the genre’s conventions. Just as I teach students how to write according to the conventions of academic writing as a genre (even as we critique and problematize these conventions), I have embraced teaching students to write emails as an opportunity to discuss the conventions of different rhetorical situations and strengthen their persuasive writing techniques. In this blog, I describe how I used a persuasive email competition to reinforce the semester’s lessons on rhetoric and incentivize strong student writing.

Some background: Initially, I shied away from teaching students how to write emails, worrying that it would emphasize the professional, careerist aspects of writing at the expense of critical thinking about language as a source of power. My classes aim to familiarize students with the structural nature of racism, sexism, and injustice, and I worried that, somehow, teaching students to write effective emails would undermine these lessons. Gradually, I came to realize, first, that learning how to communicate effectively in different rhetorical situations is necessary, whether you are running a major corporation or organizing a resistance movement. Second, I realized that demystifying the conventions of email writing (and cover letters), as I try to demystify the conventions of essay-writing, could make a small contribution to helping my students–many of whom are immigrants, working class, students of color, and/or the first in their families to attend college–get into the graduate programs, internships, and professions they desire.

In general, my courses emphasize collaboration: I help students develop the skills to successfully break down large projects, equitably distribute work, and collectively create a final project that is better than what any one student could have created on their own. Ask my students and they will tell you that I constantly talk about how collaboration is not natural — how, in fact, most of our education trains us to compete with one another — and how we must put deliberate effort into unlearning this individualism. However, I have also seen small-stakes competitions take students’ writing to a new level. This past semester, in my writing course on “The Purpose of Education” at Queens College, after four months of collaboration including a collaboratively-authored final project, I gave students a reprieve and assigned a small email-writing competition for students who had missed assignments earlier in the semester and were in need of some extra credit.

Read the full post on HASTAC.

Five Principles for a Dynamite Teaching Statement

Just because you have never written a statement of your teaching philosophy does not mean you do not have a philosophy. If you engage a group of learners who are your responsibility, then your behavior in designing their learning environment must follow from your philosophical orientation…. What you need to do is discover what [your philosophy] is and then make it explicit. – Coppola 2000, 1

If you want to write an explosive teaching statement that leaves your hiring committee in awe, there are at least five things you will want to consider in relation to your teaching and learning: introspection, impact, content, methods, and assessment. These five categories consistently appear throughout the many resources available to those writing a statement of teaching philosophy.

This blog is an overview of the insights generated during the Futures Initiative fellows workshop on statements of teaching philosophy, held on Wednesday, April 6. Critical contributors to this conversation include Cathy N. Davidson, Katina Rogers, Patrik Svensson, Frances Tran, Lauren Melendez, Mike Rifino, Kalle Westerling, Allison Guess, Lisa Tagliaferri, Fiona Barnett, and Michael Dorsch.

Read the full post on HASTAC.