Claire A. Miller, Librarian and Adjunct Instructor of Developmental Writing
While developmental writing courses often concentrate solely on the mechanics of composition, the adoption of a new OER textbook allowed me to integrate the rhetorical triangle into the curriculum. Anxious to introduce the use of sources as supporting evidence early on, I used local history and some of the materials from the NEH grant “A Sense of Home” seminars as a springboard to focus students’ topics and approaches for a short paper. This pedagogical experiment revealed the continuing relevance of the classic rhetorical triangle for all levels of writers and the rewards in connecting local topics to students’ lived experiences.
As a librarian and instructor of developmental writing, I was deeply inspired to find ways to incorporate local history into my instructional classes. But my primary class was Developmental Writing II, a remedial class for students who were not yet ready for college English. Nevertheless, I felt that incorporating authentic research could be done in this setting. Dr. Milanich's seminar on Florida before and during Spanish settlement offered significant inspiration: the issues of FORUM magazine were written for a lay audience, included a wide range of topics, and provided a great deal of historical context.
I decided that the new textbook I had adopted was the perfect opportunity to teach the Rhetorical Triangle and incorporate an authentic experience of determining purpose, audience, voice, and context. While I would restrict students to a broad topic, they would be able to determine their own focus. As a concept, the Rhetorical Triangle helps break students out of the idea that they are writing for the instructor and grounds the assignment in a critical process of determining WHY the are writing, WHERE the writing will go, WHO they are writing for, and WHAT they bring to the table.
The assignment, creatively titled Essay 1, built on a pedagogy of increasing my students' independence and writing skills; this assignment would be the first one where they would use actual sources and base their arguments on research. Since this course was taught as a compressed class, I did not teach the research process: instead, I provided the FORUM Magazines on two topics: Florida before the Spanish "The View from the Shore" and the history and threat to the Florida orange "Can Florida Save the Orange?". A copy of the assignment description and other materials is located below.
"The View from the Shore" largely failed as a paper topic. Students lacked the background historical knowledge to examine cultural differences and integrate the information offered into a coherent history. Indeed, in future terms, I removed this as a possible topic. However, "Can Florida Save the Orange?" was a success! The local connection allowed students to synthesize their lived experiences around the citrus industry in rural Florida with the research and history offered in the FORUM issue.
The Rhetorical Triangle formed the backbone of the assignment. Students could clearly articulate and demonstrate how their writing would change based on their audience. They were mostly able to relate their own experiences and voices to the assignment, and many of them successfully created a context for their essay. These ranged from articles for local civic groups and newspaper articles to presentations for grade school classes. Finally, students (mostly) could clearly articulate a purpose and developed innovative ways to link lived experiences with research sources.
Some examples included
Since the Spring term of 2017, I've successfully used the "Florida Citrus" paper in my classes. Students find it challenging but rewarding, and the local connection to the topic help students connect lived experience to historical and factual sources. Introducing research based writing in a developmental writing class has given students a much greater level of comfort with citation, formal academic writing, and the process of integrating research into their academic work. While I no longer use the material from Dr. Milanich's seminar, I would not have attempted this type of assignment with the inspiration and framework he provided.