Stephanie J. West-Puckett

writing, teaching, studying digital writing and rhetorics

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Twitter vs. Zombies: Pondering Humanity

steph zombifiedYesterday was Friday the 13th– the official start of Twitter vs. Zombies Part III. My buddy from the Making Learning Connected #clmooc, Kevin Hodgson, baited me on G+, and I signed up for what turned out to be a pretty quick slaughter.

In the morning, I lurked. There were lots of zombies already prowling, and the humans brave enough to mingle were quick with their #dodges and protective of their clan with #swipes. Most of the players I knew were already zombies, so I invited other Tweeps to play. Most ignored my pleas for a posse, but Writing Project friends Lacy and Jesse jumped in with a promise to stand by me– unless I was bitten.

I was all set with a human zombie-fighting crew, so I decided to go out for the night. My favorite Piedmont Blues musician Lightning Wells was playing a show nearby, and I thought, with my human protection, my iPhone, and a nail-encrusted baseball bat, I was ready for walkers. So little did I know.

My friends were excited and all a-twitter, calling me out in their posts. Kevin took a cheap shot, and I defended, but before I knew it, they were on Lacy. I was watching her dodge– so quick and nimble. The zombies were hungry, and I was following along frantically on my phone while Lightnin’ Wells wailed away on Little Sadie.

It was an hour or so before I knew. I woke up hungry, but I had a taste for brains, not grains. Before I knew it, I had invited Lacy and Jessie to the breakfast club for a #bite. In my #25wordstory I wrote, “Last night, they talked– amygadalas marinating in fear. While they slept, they didn’t know, I was nibbling their ears.” Action without thought. I felt myself becoming a walker and was welcomed by imagined kin.

“The family that hunts together stays together.” Karen had taken me in. It felt good to be with the powerful and the hungry.

Then the #ds106 ethos intervened and Mariana’s story (like stories do) made me think. Do I have a choice? Can I choose to feed or not to feed? But wait! Another realization. I can still think? Then I must have a brain, right? So what does it mean to know with a body? What does it mean to know with a brain? I’m losing a toe, but the old loaf, it seems, is still intact.

For now…


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Writing Across the Curriculum on Digital Learning Day

Digital Learning Day

Elbow’s article doesn’t offer us much in terms of teaching writing with digital tools, but we can forgive him (just this once) since he wrote “Writing for Learning– Not Just for Demonstrating Learning”  in the mid 90’s, several years before the proliferation of Web 2.0 tools and participatory digital environments like blogs, microblogs, wikis, and social networks.  But since today has been deemed the Inaugural Day on Digital Learning, we’d like to fast-forward Elbow’s cassette tape and play with some newer technologies for writing and responding to student writing.

To quote Elbow (badly), the key to good writing is the breathing of experience into word.  Digital writing environments can help us breathe new experiences into words–and remix words with sounds and images to create multi-sensory texts–compositions that speak to our digitally mediated experiences.  In celebration of empowering students and teachers to use technology to make meaning in the world (and, of course, in the disciplines and across the curriculum) we invite you to  play with us in these spaces and think about how we we might include them as rich grounds to grow a writing-to-learn pedagogy in our classrooms.

Warning: Today’s reading discussion will include no full-group spoken discussion.  Awkward, right?  Not for many of your students.

Backchannelling with Today’s Meet:  Hyperlocal chatroom and digital conversation archive (10m)

WAC Backchannel

Daybook Flashwrite (5m)

In your daybook, describe the kinds of writing you assign in your classes.

Daybook Coding (5m)

According to Elbow (who is really good at this himself), we should teach students to have a conversation with themselves about their learning.  Having students re-read and work with their daybook writing can promote that kind of reflexivity.  So try this.  For the last prompt, use two different colored markers to distinguish between the kinds of writing you assign: Writing-to-Learn and Writing-to-Demonstrate.  What’s the ratio of Writing-to-Learn to Writing-to-Demonstrate?  Are some assignments blended or outside of those categories?  What are you trying to get students to do in those assignments?

Private Writing  (1m)

Elbow says we don’t need to read everything that we assign.  In fact, students might not want an audience for some of their messy thinking.  Fold the page you were working on in your daybook in half length-wise, a.k.a. hot dog fold.  Mark it “Private”.  Done.

Pair-Share Thank-You (5m)

Students need to become more comfortable sharing in-progress writing and messy ideas.  Early feedback is a crucial negotiation between writer and audience.  Trade daybooks with someone near you.  Read their flashwrite and coding notes.  When done, you may make a brief comment about what you liked or ask a clarifying question.  Most importantly, say thank you. Return your partner’s daybook.

Pair-Share Responses (5m) 

Now trade daybooks with someone else.  Read their flashwrite and coding notes.  Write a real-reader response under that flashwrite.  What surprised you, intrigued you or bothered you?  Why?  What should the writer think about?  When done, hand back your partner’s daybook.  If time allows, continue the written dialogue or use the written responses to initiate spoken conversation.

Electronic Sharing and Response with Voicethread (20 m)

Separate into two groups and gather around the Mac Airs.  One group will read Alethia’s flashwrite that has been uploaded to Voicethread and comment with typed text or recorded voice.  The other group will watch Stephanie’s video that has been uploaded to Voicethread and comment with typed text or recorded voice.  Again, what surprises you, intrigues you, or bothers you about Alethia or Stephanie’s response?  What do you resonate with or react against?

Stephanie’s Response

Alethia’s Response

Exit Slips (5m)

Teaching and Learning Resources

National Writing Project’s Digital Is

Troy Hick’s Digital Writing, Digital Teaching Blog

Digital Media and Learning: The Power of Participation

Today’s Meet


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Dragon’s Den: A Reality TV Simulation for Research Writing

Both my Advanced Composition and First-Year Writing students need to produce better proposals to guide their research over the course of the semester.  To that end, I designed a scaffolding activity using the television show Dragon’s Den as a framework for pitching research ideas and used live audience polling as a simple peer-review mechanism to decide which students moved to “The Library” to conduct their research.

If you aren’t familiar with the BBC show Dragon’s Den, it is a reality tv show in which “Budding entrepreneurs get three minutes to pitch their business ideas to five multi-millionaires willing to invest their own cash”.   Based on the success of their pitch, winners move to “The Boardroom” to negotiate business plans and investment terms. Since few students were familiar with the concept of an elevator pitch or the Dragon’s Den show, we watched a two-minute YouTube clip at the beginning of class that provides a synopsis of both the show and the elevator pitch genre, highlighting the importance of marketing your ideas precisely and concisely.


Prior to class, students had been given a guide basic guide for producing a research proposal according to project guidelines and asked to bring a draft of their proposal to class for peer review.  When they arrived the next day, about half of them had drafts.  Have you ever wondered how to facilitate a peer review when the students have no products for review? Have them create micro-products like the elevator pitch on the fly.

Using their proposals, students were given ten minutes to excerpt and create a convincing two minute proposal for their research project that they would deliver to the class and have “peer reviewed” through live audience polling, which I had previously set up on Poll Everywhere.   Students who had completed the pre-assignment were, of course, better equipped to compose their pitch, but all students in attendance were required to pitch their ideas, despite being ill-prepared.   While I’m not a fan of on-demand writing as a summative assessment tool, this high-pressure rhetorical situation kick-started the thinking and composition processes of those students who were waffling and forced them to move beyond the chaos of topic selection and make some decisions, even though I stress that those ideas will naturally change and evolve.

Students were reminded that thoughtful and engaged participation in this activity constituted a “good grade”, not quality of the pitch.  After 10 minutes, students were called up to the front of the class in groups of five and each given two minutes to pitch their ideas.  Some were nervous, some were confident, some had fleshed-out their ideas, others were floundering; however, all students in attendance pitched something and listened intently to their classmates as they shared ideas and attempted to persuade the audience that their research projects were worthy of a time investment.   Using their mobile phones or computers, students in the audience texted or clicked the corresponding link on the Poll Everywhere site to vote their choice of best research project idea while the results showed immediately in the form of a bar graph chart that I was showed on the classroom projection screen.

While I prefer collaborative as opposed to competitive academic situations and with resist the urge to “rank, evalute and like”  in my writing response practices (Elbow 1993), the students, who largely appreciate the combative nature of reality-tv, were engaged by the simulation and quite comfortable judging and being judged.  Using the Dragon’s Den criteria for what makes a successful proposal, the student selections were in complete agreement with my own, which I, for the sake of a true peer-review, did not disclose.

This student-centered evaluation both normed our research-learning community and provided many solid examples of acceptable research projects for students struggling with idea generation.  For me, this informal assessment in the first stages of the research process made plain which students I should to follow more closely and which were ready to begin work with sources.  For the students, this mulit-sensory activity incorporating new and new new media (Levinson) allows those students who struggle to express ideas clearly in writing to use spoken word to captivate an audience and get immediate feedback on the quality of their ideas, not the surface features of their texts.

In Talking, Sketching, Moving, Patricia Dunn, in her defense of why multimodal and multisensory work in the composition classroom is necessary, quotes Gerald Washington’s (1996) assertion that “composition teachers can use this alternative manner of communication as a starting point for the teaching of writing skills” (18).  Too few composition teachers, she argues, use multisensory approaches to teaching writing, and because students will preference some learning styles over other,  multimedia/multisensory approaches to writing have the potential to make the written product more accessible and attainable for more students.

At the end of the class episode, all students were assigned to revise their research proposals for clarity, concision, and voice to engage their audience and “sell” their ideas.  The next drafts of the proposals were, as a whole, more fiercely written and showed an evolution of both thinking about the research project and persuasive writing skills.  And instead of being escorted out of the academic building, they were all (eventually) given access to “The Library”.

Dunn, P. 2001. Talking Sketching Moving. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Elbow, P. 1993.”Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgement.” College English 55 (2) (February): 187-206.

Levinson, P. 2009. New New Media. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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From Alphie to Foursquare

Over this past Labor Day weekend, my 3880 students were asked to take the What 90’s Toy Are You? Quiz, a pre-writring activity to prompt thinking about their technological histories–a catalyst for constructing personal narratives that story experiences with old media, new, and new new media.

I took the quiz and got this result: Magic, The Gathering.  As a high school and college student during most of the 90’s, I wasn’t much into toys anymore, and I had never even heard of MTG.  So I wikipedia’ed it, thought it looked like the kind of role-playing fantasy crap I would never play and Googled a What 80’s Toy Are You? Quiz to get a more meaningful result.  And here it is.  Alphie–my first battery-operated smart friend.

To give you a little perspective, I am an only child and was the only grandchild in our family for nearly a decade.  My dad, aka Golden Arm, was a Local 45 welder & pipefitter who could, he quipped, close the crack of dawn or mend a broken heart. But seeing as North Carolina had (and has still) no love for the union, and he wasn’t about to scab locally on a non-union job, he was always working, as my mom would say, “up the road”.

My mom was a house-wife, and while my political correctness wants to assert itself in that designation, it just wouldn’t be right.  Her primary responsibility was, and still is, I think, to my dad.  No matter how much she read to me, which she did– a lot– or how much she helped me learn my letters, numbers, colors, it was never enough.  I never got tired of learning new things and in the age of “media by appointment”, before VCRs and DVR’s, I couldn’t get my fill of Sesame Street and The Electric Company.  Then and now, movies and television don’t hold my attention unless they require active cognitive participation, and unless I am learning or figuring something out, I’m really not entertained.

So my affection for dear Alphie is not all that surprising.  As long as mom had batteries on hand (which she did and still does keep a plastic bin full of them in the kitchen under the bar), I had a constant companion who could teach me to count, add, subtract, and match.  While practicing those math skills was fun, even then I preferred the language cards and never tired of using my little robot to help me recognize and shuffle letters, listen to letter sounds, and enjoy computer-generated rhymes.

Fast forward to 1984–dad bought a little Apple IIe for me up the road.  I remember typing in intricate command line prompts to make the turtle cursor draw simple geometric shapes.  It was a solitary activity, and I soon bored of the repetitiveness and detail-oriented importance of each individual character, as I do now when I play around with html code.  I remember lots of unfinished rectangles and intersecting lines that should have had a point.

Sometime later, my mother picked up a disk for my computer that would allow me to do more with this machine, and if there was any doubt of my future career, The Grammar Examiner erased it.  Suddenly I could play as editor of a major newspaper, checking copy for errors in punctuation, capitalization, subject/verb agreement, and adverb and adjective usage (among other indiscretionary uses of language, I’m sure).  I was in 2nd grade, but according to the Grammar Examiner’s assessment, I had a college-level command of standard usage and grammar.

Soon, when we could afford it, other software followed that allowed me to create in addition to edit.  I produced family and neighborhood newsletters when I was in the 3rd and 4th grades and even used my computer to create propaganda for my anti-smoking campaign that threatened to relegate my Uncle Bill and his cigarettes to the patio during my mother’s annual Christmas Eve party.

Sometime in middle and high school, my computer dinosaur was moved into special collections, as my boom box and a whole host of Madonna tapes became the focus of my attention.  As a pharmacy technician at Mast Drug and Drugco in Roanoke Rapids and later Rocky Mount, I transferred doctors’ scrawl on the paper script to a digital form and printed out legible and informative labels and patient information leaflets to help our customers more knowingly manage their medications and their health.  It was just a way to make a dollar.

As an undergrad, I used my Brother Word Processor to type essays, usually the night before they were due, but I had no particular interest in computers until my boyfriend got an AOL disk in the mail.  Then there was that awful sound, you know the one the one I’m referring to, that dial-up modem cacophony that built in anticipation until the dialogue box flashed “You’re Connected!” and we were surfing the World Wide Web, at 56 kilobytes per second.

This new media was exciting.    We could email our professors and our cousins, we could throw out the phone book and the huge set of Encyclopedia Britanicas that my dad had also gotten “up the road”, and we coul play the dot com game until the wee hours of the morning, trying to stump the Internet by finding a dirty domain name that hadn’t yet been reserved.  The web was ever-present in our lives as a way to research, learn and reach-out, but since I wasn’t a coder, I couldn’t own it.

Until I got a Myspace Page.  And there I was– me, little old me, on the Internet.  Finding my real friends, making new friends, posting pictures, updating my blog, microblogging about the minutia of everyday life and posting very deliberate content to speed up a divorce that was sure to happen eventually anyway.  I soon migrated to Facebook, back when users had to have a network affiliation to join, and have since remade myself as a writer and a teacher with social media.  My MacBook Pro and my Droid go everywhere I do.  And you can find out exactly where I am when you see my Foursquare check-ins dump into Facebook or my Twitter, which feeds into my blog.  You may, though, like my teacher-friend Bartels, ask the important question, “But really, who cares where you are?”

It’s starting to a little bit of sense to me now, though.  I have a long history of using computers, primarily for two reasons:  to learn and to fill the void of loneliness.  In the past few years, in a zen-like convergence, I have blended these two pursuits and sought out or sought to create digital networks of people who, like Alphie, I can learn from and keep me company.   After dinner is done, the babies are asleep, and the essays are responded to and class activities planned for the next day, these professional networks are there for me, and I’m pretty satisfied with my computer-mediated life, digitally rendered out of the desire to know and to connect.