Nicholas Mennona Marino, M.A.
I emphasize three goals in my pedagogy: teaching rhetoric from a classical orientation, teaching rhetoric from a multimodal perspective, and emphasizing student agency through unassigned writing topics.
First, I encourage students to use rhetoric as a toolbox for analysis, interpretation, and creation of texts. I open my first-year composition course with readings from the classical rhetorical tradition starting with the ancient Greeks. Discussing classical rhetoric allows students to see that by taking FYC, or at least by taking a rhetorical approach to writing, they are continuing an ancient tradition. I alternate lessons on Aristotle, Gorgias of Leontini, Isocrates, Cicero, and Quintilian, with practical definitions of rhetorical terms that can be applied to any persuasive situation. I teach my students that the rhetorical appeals, canons, and situation, and enthymeme, syllogism, and kairos, are not concepts only useful to those in the humanities. No matter why students attend college, they need to learn how to persuade others to accept their alteration to the status quo. Studying rhetoric gives students a way to look at the world by breaking down how and why people get what they want from other people, without resorting to violence, but by using words.
Second, I expand the idea of composition beyond the traditional understanding of the word in the humanities: the creation of written texts. Just as literacy has moved beyond the boundaries of reading and writing words, so too must composition pedagogy keep up with the dynamic definitions of what it means to be prepared to participate in coursework and in industry. By having students analyze visual texts of their own choice like social media art and television commercials, I urge them to pay attention to the power images have over our consciences and better judgment. It is incomplete and inadequate to limit rhetoric to just words because words are themselves visual. The New London Group's 1996 predictions from A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures have proved correct; the labor market post Web 2.0 requires familiarity with standards of interpretation and creation of both words and images, often within the same composition. This goal is more challenging for me than situating FYC in its place as the inheritor of an ancient rhetorical tradition. Actually preparing students for work post college requires that they know how to persuade in words and visually. The first step is an assignment like my visual rhetorical analysis, in which students apply rhetorical terms in an interpretation of a visual argument in static (an image) and dynamic (a television commercial) forms. My students choose their own texts to analyze so that they have a stake in analyzing persuasion that hopefully extends beyond the temporality of FYC. But critique is just the first step towards visual literacy and a thorough understanding of visual rhetoric. My students build on their skills in interpreting multimodal arguments and move from critique to creation in my multimodal project assignment, inspired by the multimodal pedagogy research of Jody Shipka. I allow students the freedom to choose the medium and modes of their multimodal projects, to borrow Gunther Kress's terms, as well as the topic and subject matter. But such freedom is always hindered by the practical and temporal limitations of the classroom. In my pedagogy, I conceptualize rhetoric and composition as a marriage between image and text, and even other forms of meaning. I am careful to not neglect written reflection in the multimodal project, as I draw from Jody Shipka in requiring my students to justify their design choices in a graded, written reflection.
Third, I emphasize student agency by limiting the amount of outside reading as well as by allowing students the freedom to write about what they want. I view composition as a project-based class in which students apply rhetoric to their own exigencies that stem from their personal and professional lives. But assigning too many reading topics encroaches on this freedom. In my experience as a teacher, it is more effective to not tell students what to care about or work toward. Rather, my job is to give them the foundation to use rhetoric to address the issues that plague their professional and social lives. This means that most of the reading and discussion in my classroom is devoted to the essay and project drafts of each student. While I believe that my students benefit from choosing their writing projects, the benefit extends to me as well. When I grade a student essay I always learn not just about the student and his or her writing process, but also about the topic matter of the essay. The eclectic nature of grading reminds me that the teacher learns just as much from the students as the students learn from the teacher.