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.).