Site icon Spark: A 4C4Equality Journal

beyond the ability tradition: conjuring community-first syllabi in apocalypse time

By sarah madoka currie
& the students of W2022 ENGL109-007


dear beloved community,

how are you, really?

I know you can’t actually answer me, but I hope you took a second to reflect, and I’ll take a second to reflect with you. If those feelings are hard and uncomfortable, you’re in good company. How do we convert this myopia and distress to meaningful advocacy? I think it starts with listening to you, even in formats where we might feel our words aren’t translating in any language or in any timeline.

Right now, in this format, I’ll say a few things to get us started thinking together—please use these margins to talk back until we meet—and I feel honoured that you’re reading this from wherever and whenever you are in the world. I wanted to share that with you, so you feel recognized-in-spatiality and you focus on the cozy space we’re creating together, because you are here with me now as I write this. I am hoping to have a fireside chat with you about community-first education strategy, not because I think I am especially helpful or innovative, but because I think some of the stories I carry with me—and what my incisively bright students had to say this term—changed how I facilitate writing courses, and I think there is a possibility they might reframe things for you as well.

I had the privilege of attending a forward-thinking high school, an audition-based Arts school with no tuition and a carefully manifested culture that seemed intentionally iconoclastic and provocative. Our school’s “biggest events” were not the homecoming game or a spring formal. They were Spirit Week (a must-have for any school with an unapologetic and indulgent sense of self-awareness) and the Big Festive Dinner. Let me tell you a little bit about the latter as a way into radical pedagogy.

The Big Festive Dinner is a whole-school initiative started by what became the more formalized Social Justice Club, though, in truth, the school’s ways and means of pedagogical translation created an ecosystem of social-justice-by-default. The Dinner was a multi-night community event wherein folks of all backgrounds bussed in from nursing homes, from homeless shelters, from high-precarity areas and institutions that normally don’t have access to a (Western) “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner. It’s hard to overstate the massive scale of this operation, which took up our entire cafeteria for two nights and featured 10’–12’ Christmas trees, 600+ table settings, 5’–6’ custom mural artworks, massive bins stuffed with hundreds of warm clothing items to give away to diners, and hundreds of Christmas gifts under the trees. I don’t remember anyone ever questioning the “why” of what we did, and I think that implicit obviousness is part of why it worked—this is simply what we do for our community, and it is not a trade negotiation. Please keep in mind at this point that the point of this story is not the “charity” aspect (and all the harm and unqualified assumptions buried deep within that construct). It’s the conjuring of certain ways of being and holding “community,” which in this case was crystallized by a charity event.

Interdisciplinarity was an important uniting element of this tradition: the culinary arts program required its students to learn the Big Festive Dinner meal and how to execute it well. The visual arts specialization expected students to contribute to the murals that lined the cafeteria. Other “traditional” subjects made streamers, table settings, gift wrap, or tree decorations. Music students worked shifts playing live big band music at the event. We leveraged strengths not as strictly “disciplinary” but as a talent you could use to help facilitate a mutually enjoyable evening.

While “writing in the disciplines” (WID) seeks to magnify and create legitimacy through validating difference, the Big Festive Dinner instead leverages difference as a core element of what you can offer your always-already differentiated community (itself a not-so-subtle play on Agamben’s The Coming Community). WID as a strategy enshrines difference in ways that subtly promote competition or “productive”-laden difference, rather than deep collaboration. We were a community naturally reliant upon myriad kaleidoscopic lenses of lifeways, knowledge, and being. Validating the not-sameness of students even within the same specializations creates powerful learning spaces and interactivity that disciplinary or specialized difference-focused siloed programming simply cannot achieve. I was a visual arts specialist, but I thrived as a server during the event. We were encouraged to sit down with our patrons and hear out their stories—not talk, but really listen. Most people with interesting and lengthy life pathways do not need didactic advice or reframing, particularly from artsy teenagers.

I see a direct correlation between myself at 15 earnestly listening to these life stories and myself at 30 reading compelling, insightful, incredible life stories from my student writers. My prompts and classroom activities aren’t designed for them to hang onto every word I say. They’re designed to give them a direction to conduct discovery and teach me what they learned using “three ways of knowing” (a bit of an oversimplification) in research creation: well-sourced information, counterstorying, and lived experience. The writing prompts aren’t crafted to force compliance, mimic learning objectives (LOs), or tenuously repeat back to me what the lecture said. They were meant to create that Big Festive Dinner magic of authentically listening and finding ways to honour what’s being said-in-space—kind of like the thoughtful, empathic listening you’re offering me right now.

How did my school create buy-in for this with such a wide community, from half a dozen specializations, dozens of backgrounds, and hundreds of kaleidoscopic lenses? Why did the question “what are you doing for the Big Festive Dinner” form a core component of my school’s temporality, culture, and ethos? Looking back, I think at least part of that answer is community-first learning as a direct challenge to the more atomistic methodologies we employ as well-meaning teachers that seek to “improve” every student’s ability level via “learning styles,” “think-pair-shares,” “tutoring/tutorials,” “portfolios,” etc. Even when the activity as designed requires the involvement of another, the “outcome” must always be singularly-measurable and demonstrate mastery in an easily-rubricked fashion. That’s my job I suppose, so what’s the matter with that praxis?

All of these methods assume (and strongly imply) productivity, hopefully increased productivity, and easily-recognizable (abled, classed, raced…) ability as their ostensible outcomes. The fact that students even had to deal with other people in the room—apart from sharing “Important and Productive Ideas They Learned,” or “Sharing A Perspective”—is basically irrelevant beyond the temporality of the task itself. I’ve read dozens of articles about the benefits of group work under the right “conditions,” when students are “co-operative” and “engaged,” about prodding students to tokenistically share their perspectives to a room full of strangers because of the “learning opportunity” that can be leveraged from offering up their private worlds, using our power in the classroom to compel disclosure, or using our power as evaluators to not-so-gently “encourage” cooperation by quietly weaponizing learning outcomes. Did we stop along that journey to ask ourselves if those stories were safe in that space? Were we treating lived experience narratives as the gift they are, or like more currency in productive culture—to mine and to spend?

What if it wasn’t their job to create and sustain supportive communities in the classroom, and it wasn’t their job to feel safe enough in space to gift other students (and their instructor) the privilege of hearing their lived-experience expertise, ways of knowing that cannot be mined from textbooks? What if that job was mine and yours?

In the first-year writing course I ran this winter 2022 (yet another pandemic term), I wanted to try to imagine what an authentically community-first online classroom might look like, one that can deal with frequent pandemic disturbances and facilitate mutual aid beyond an assignment expectation and toward caring for others’ well-being in a digital classroom community. I’ve written about the accessibility element and neurodivergence elsewhere (currie, 2021), but here I want to discuss experimenting with a fully online syllabus that was designed to intentionally not reward atomistic progress and ability level min-maxing. This writing credit was a standard first-year writing and rhetoric survey course that walked students through ‘traditional’ wayfaring of academic discourse, then tried to challenge those traditional pathways through ‘three ways of knowing” counter-structure: well-sourced research, lived experience, and counterstorying. Central to this course design were the ways they were frequently united via their teams or whole-class contexts: it was impossible to wade through this design without leaning on (and appropriately assisting) your teammates and writing community classmates. As such, their grade was primarily derived from how honestly, compassionately and thoughtfully they were able to engage with and sustain community through acts of brave writing, reading aloud, careful editing and mandatory cheerleading. If you want to engage further with the mechanics of this course outlay and tinker with it yourself, I made all my resources fully open-access for the pedagogy community and you can access them here and here (currie, “Designing Accessible Classroom Communities on Discord,” 2022).

Particularly in apocalypse time, community-first learning offered unique advantages unavailable to them in other classrooms: safe points of contact, off-hours care, recovery workspaces, and a controlled place to unmask and ask genuine questions of their environment and each other. As a result, despite being online I had 80%+ students at every lecture and my assignment completion rate—with a visible crip care “no late penalties” polic—was incredible.

Reminiscent of the obviousness to which we regarded contributing to the Big Festive Dinner initiative, large-scale community activities weren’t a “can I find availability to do this grade element?”, but rather “what are you doing for the read-around?” By leveraging so much of the grading scheme toward community investment, students were able to distill some of the magic I remembered from high school: their contributions were social justice-minded, teams were able to give care support in my off-hours, and the whole-class activities were exciting events based in cheerleading and confidence-building that students looked forward to sharing their work at. In this scenario, leveraging lived experience didn’t feel forced and tokenistic—it felt like an intentional gift being shared in a community that was trained to properly honour and respect the compassion and cognizance being brought into space.

Institutions in the 2020s are high-precarity areas: the exclusivity reaches ever-higher and with more boldness, the affordability laughable, the student (and faculty!) supports malingering and wholly insufficient. Apocalypse time accidentally endeavored to illuminate these accessibility cracks that were actually chasms. The Big Festive Dinner focused on those who had the least and created a massive gesture of validating community awareness and care, without ever asking who “deserved” it.

I envision writing classes where we judge them not on the content of their developing prose, but on the content of their developing character (to remix & borrow quite boldly from abolitionist activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from which much of the “beloved community” movement owes tremendous debt). I see ability measurement not as a binary or even a broad spectrum, but as a multidimensional constellation whose vectors I can play with, orienting them away from atomized success (and their associated LOs) and toward the north star of beloved community (and how to learn meaningfully). This is to say, we need to start looking at ability measurement and course design less so in isolation and much more so in community or environmental circumstances, and I feel that same ability constellation might also prove useful in designing activities and assessments that attempt to actualize this more realistic measurement that vectors the old individualist learning trajectory alongside crip dynamism: unique circumstances, community fostering, care work, “life happening,” capacity and other myriad modifiers. Rubrics, even when carefully designed to maximize the degree of performance effectiveness along an increasingly complicated numeric spectrum, remain hopelessly caught in the quagmire of being just that: a one-dimensional spectrum.

Reader, I can sense your wariness in adopting an approach that doesn’t frontload “actual content” or writing skills. While it’s true I back-ended it in terms of my grading scheme, I feel as though creating genuine investment created an actual desire to learn what makes for “good writing,” and more importantly, investigating if “good writing” is similarly non-spectral and oriented toward the multiaxial temporal vectoring that the visuality of constellations offers us. I would love to be given the temporal space to walk you through their exit Interview (a method executed well by Trevor Holmes, Jesse Stommel, Kaitlin Clinnin, and other contemporary educational developers and classroom practitioners), because I think the students themselves demonstrated proof-of-concept in much more melodic ways than I could confer to you as an observer.

In the spirit of always-already community building, they have generously agreed to share their thoughts with you, and I hope you pause here to briefly honour and give gratitude to that, as I’ve taught them to do as well, when dealing with gifts of lived experience (as understood by critical disability studies and mad studies, especially Travis Chi Wing Lau, Danielle Lorenz, Margaret Price, Rose Yesha, Ada Hubrig, Gpat Patterson and others) and counterstorying (a wonderful research methodology you can access via Aja Martinez,  “A Plea For Critical Race Theory Counterstory,” 2021).

I asked my students what they learned in this exit interview (as part of their learning portfolio) at the end of “Intro to Academic Writing,” and their responses don’t read like the standard insights of a first-year writing class.

1. How has your perception of rhetoricity changed across this semester?

“My concept of rhetoricity prior to this semester was that you always had to write a lot of words and go into extensive detail. After this semester, however, I noticed that it’s not about how much you write, it’s about getting the point you are trying to make across in a clear and concise manner, regardless of how many words you use.” (Jake)

“My perception of rhetoricity has changed drastically across the semester. It has evolved from a term that I knew little about and assumed was something archaic to a term that encapsulates so many ideas in writing. It was a term that I coined as old-time arguing, whenever I heard it, I always thought about Ancient Greece or the Middle Ages. My understanding of rhetoricity has adapted to the new ideas introduced. Some of these include literary devices, experiences, and lived experiences. Over the course of the past four months these ideas have improved my rhetoric skills and understanding of rhetoric itself.” (Matthew)

“ENGL109 has been an amazing learning experience that did not come at the expense of my mental health. I learned how to successfully create and improve many different forms of writing through the semester and if done right, can be fun. Specifically, my perception of rhetoricity has improved in the sense that I am able to refer to past experiences and/or evidence in the text and make clear connections to a particular topic. In previous writing activities, I would simply state my opinion and explain it strictly from my perspective which is not a compelling method of writing. This has since changed through the positive guidance and constructive feedback received from my peers and course instructor in ENGL109.” (Gabriel)

“Now, while I still include optics in how I currently perceive rhetoricity, I also understand that ways of knowing (i.e., sourced research, lived experience, and counterstorying) are a part of—and essential to—a rhetorically effective argument, rather than ‘rhetoricity’ simply being a term to describe how well one appeared to appeal to ethos, pathos, and logos when making their points, even if said appeals were fallacious.” (Jonathan)

“However, I realized not too far into the course that sacrificing the understandability of my writing to sound ‘like an academic’ was pretty backward. I think I still write in the ‘academic’ style in terms of tone, but now I’m open to the idea of altering the way I write rather than trying to adapt this style to every writing task I come across.” (Kevin)

“Across this semester, I came to see just how comprehensive rhetoricity is, and the depth it has. For example, the author/speaker’s own experiences with the subject influence their own rhetoricity. If a speaker does not have a personal experience with the matter they are discussing, then their credibility, and by association their rhetoricity, would be negatively impacted.” (Adrian)

2. What is “academic writing,” to you? Are there problems with the public perception of this concept?

“Initially to be completely frank the word academic writing to me was only associated with the peer reviewed articles that could be found on websites like nature.com, however I have come to see that it could be so much more. Academic writing has to me now become writings in any setting which conveys academic ideas in an easily digestible and understandable way.” (Andrew)

“Now my definition and regard for this umbrella of work is more inclusive. I am now more open-minded to the fact that academic writing can look like a variety of things, and it does not have to sound professional or be about serious academic topics for it to be considered a piece of ‘academic writing.’ I strongly believe that inclusion and full acceptance is key to avoid making anyone feel excluded or unworthy of producing good work. If there is a way to normalize from the ground up, I would be very welcoming to it. Opening this discussion in academic settings, incorporating into classroom culture is a great start.” (Vivian)

“My perception of academic writing has significantly changed this semester. At the beginning of the course, I was under the impression that academic writing only entailed long, useless, and exaggerated essays. When thinking about academic writing I used to think of the dread of having to bullshit a four-page paper about a topic I had no interest in. However, as this course progressed, my opinion on academic writing reformed, and writing suddenly became captivating. Through creative topics such as storytelling, op-eds and workshops, I was able to take pride in my work and academic writing became a productive outlet that allowed me to express and organize my countless thoughts.” (Gabriel)

“The public perception of academic writing seems to only include the more well-known forms of the concept, such as a study or other kinds of work published in a journal. The problem with this is that it discredits and delegitimizes writing that has the potential to be extremely valuable in an academic setting, leading to it being ignored by many areas of academia. This, in turn, creates a scenario where what is considered to be academic writing is so specific that academia as a whole loses a great deal of diversity and perspective (as so many good, valid ideas are filtered out before ever being read).” (Jonathan)

“One of the greatest reasons that I enjoyed ENGL109 this term was the freedom to write about whatever I wanted, namely Elder Scrolls lore. Before then, I can’t say that I was very enthusiastic at the prospect of writing assignments at any level of education, since I didn’t have motivation to write about the topics that were accepted in a school setting. It was only when I had the opportunity to share some of my favourite bits of Elder Scrolls lore did I, daresay, have fun writing for school. I’m probably not alone in this aspect either. If the public perception of “academic writing” didn’t seem so restricting, students and teachers might enjoy writing more than they presently do.” (Kevin)

3. The societal myth “grades are your future” has been repeatedly questioned in this course with “what if grades aren’t everything?” What are some other societal myths we tried to challenge as a collective with counterstorying, and what did you learn?

“I believe the most important myth that was discussed was the myth of hard work leading directly to success. Although I always had doubt of this concept, now after the discussions we have had in class it has turned into a full blown disgust, although there might be a strong relationship between hard work and success I have come to realize that it is truly all relative. For starters people that perpetuate this narrative never tell us what success is or if they do their definitions of success have more to do with money than happiness, friendship or a rich standard of living. Also, some people have some hurdles placed in the way of their success, which is not faced by others which makes hard work not even as possible. Through this class I have been given the skills to address these social myths and not only dispute them but also discuss how they might lead to a harmful thought process.” (Andrew)

“For example, with the myth that ‘anyone can succeed if they try hard enough,’ may seem like a reasonable statement. However, the class showed me that I cannot look at how the statement will work with only my life.” (Agnes)

“Societal myths that we tried to challenge as a collective with counterstorying was that a university degree signifies intelligence, and the myth of equality. Not only did we learn that they are societal myths, but I learned the importance of counterstorying. I learned that it is important to make a counterstory in order to fully analyze the current story that is under our suspicion, and we can shed light onto these societal myths with our counterstories. I can also see how counterstorying makes us better writers because of the facts that our statements and beliefs can be counter storied by others making us provide more facts and information along with the evidence to prove our statements. It is also important to know that every story has another side to it meaning that there is a counterstory to every story.” (Thomas)

“Finally, a myth disputed in this class is that there is an ‘ideal’ student for school. They can complete any assignment, available always, is not disabled, and is always participating in all opportunities. In this class we discussed how what is expected is not always reasonable and that not everyone should be expected to be that student but should try to their extent, and feel success through that.” (Matthew)

“Another societal myth we collectively challenged was that ‘the universities primary motive is the education of future generation,” which I recently learned to be untrue and completely disagree with. I believe many universities true motive is to maximize profits rather than to provide education as academic help is difficult to receive, tuition and textbooks are overpriced, and the old-fashioned method of closed book tests and exams is applied in most courses.” (Gabriel)

“Some other societal myths we countered were centered around ableism and how many voices are ignored to serve the majority and about bias, we cannot rid ourselves of bias, but we can address it and acknowledge who is getting left out or misrepresented. I learned how even though social myths are very common, many people have experiences where they can disprove them which, when applied to writing can be a very effective persuasion tactic through counterstorying.” (Jasmine)

“One societal myth that was challenged in week 10 was that the University is not for everyone even though they say it is. Many points were mentioned such as the exceptionally high entrance average, schedule balancing and exclusion of students from poorer backgrounds. Sacrificing homework while working part time was an especially prominent point for me as one of my friends has mentioned quite often how much she struggles with it. I struggled to submit assignments this semester without having to work and her points humbled me and made me thankful for what I have” (Tyler)

I don’t believe in translating student experiences for you, drawing from a mad tradition of refusing to translate or otherwise re-construe “mad” (see: neurodiverse, unique, mentally ill) voices as if they are incomprehensible to “normal” audiences. I think these students are clear in their views, and their ways of knowing and viewing things through their own kaleidoscopes can be easily understood despite minor misapplications of grammar or sentence construction. Prominent storytellers of a movement sometimes called translingualism speak brilliant truths to this intentional leaning away from punitive mechanics assessment (see Inoue, Young, Canagarajah, Samboo, and others).

In closing this instantiation of cozy space, I would like to finally draw your attention to their penultimate interview question, which attempted to elicit sincere answers as to whether they saw any benefit to the community-first learning experiment (and reinforcing in the instructions that this was a safe space to be candid and honest, as long as it was done so compassionately and with intent to teach rather than tear down). I want to end this piece with their voices rather than my own, and concomitantly I have tried to write this letter to you with a clear sense of spatial balance between my explanatory storyweaving and my students’ storytelling, the latter being naturally more important than anything I could tell you about community-first engagement, care work centered learning environments and their potential to alternatively teach writing practices.

Disrupting the classical academic publication expertise framework with these small actions that elicit greater trust in student voices—and their own merit, without translation—goes a long way toward a vision of an academy that sees academic writing accessibility and potentiality the way I see it, and how I’ve taught my writers to see it: as expansive, relentlessly inclusionary and ultimately hopeful. I hope their voices give you the energy and light needed to remix and redesign your syllabi with more radically collaborative visions in mind.

4. How did community change your approach to writing? If it did not, do you think there is inherent value to community writing practices?

“This experience has made me appreciate the importance of community to creating top tier writing. I do not know how it has always flown over my head that the best books and writings usually have several people reading through the texts and offering improvements and edits. Usually when books are being created the authors hand their drafts over to their editors and their friends to offer suggestions. This class has given me a glimpse into that world. The world of writing and having caring and compassionate people give feedback to your work.” (Andrew)

“Community also helped me to feel more confident in my writing. This is because, even if I was not top keen on participating, I was given the opportunity to read my work in front of a big community, and fortunately able to hear a lot of supportive and kind responses back. I was also given feedback on a lot of my work when it came to the workshops and learned how to improve my writing and look at it through a different perspective every time.” (Agnes)

“It changed my writing by providing reassurance I was on the right track, provided an inclusive welcoming community that encouraged me to work hard and get my writespaces done, and finally provided the space to share my work to receive the feedback in the first place. Next, and one of the most impactful and enjoyable parts was hearing others’ writespaces and providing feedback during the Read Arounds. It provided inspiration to other ways the assignment could have been tackled that I did not consider before. The Writer Workshops had similar impact as well because reading and editing other students’ work provided insight into different writing styles and perspectives, and ultimately added more to my writing either through inspiration or taking pieces or elements that I like and trying to add it into my own as well.” (Vivian)

“Having a sense of community throughout ENGL 109 really changed the way I wrote. I felt like having that community that was supportive and wanted everyone to improve took away a lot of the stress that came out of writing and editing your own work. It allowed me to make my best effort and write as best as I can while knowing I’ll be getting good constructive criticism on how to improve, which I really appreciated.” (Jake)

“Lastly, feeling connected to your peers proved the writing experience to be more wholesome, pleasant, approachable, and because it helps remove a lot of the mental barriers of writing (pressure of having it be good enough or not that prevents me from starting most times), I felt encouraged to start because I believed in participating and doing good for myself, but also as part of this community this class had to offer” (Vivian)

“Having a community that is all at the same general skill level really helps everyone in the community out because when we are writing to each other and editing each other there is no upsetting the community with poor writing because we will kindly give suggestions to improve. We are all in it together and we all stand the same challenges together which is why facing these writing challenges as a community is a great way to conduct this course.” (Thomas)

“Community changed my approach by making me take others’ ideas and opinions into account while writing. It is easy for a writer to put only their ideas into their work but when you consult others about your work you achieve new angles upon it that will likely make it a stronger piece. I think there is an inherent value to community writing practices. On our own we produce habits and practices that we repeat that may not be positive or helpful when others are trying to understand our writing. When someone else evaluates and provides feedback on your writing they will find things you did not even know were wrong. You may have assumed a certain idea or practice you are implementing is fine but is truly taking away from the strength of your writing.” (Matthew)

“The community gave me a new appreciation for peer review. Throughout high school and elementary school, I hated writing, so I would put little effort into it. When it came time to edit and share our work with a peer so that they could review it, I would always choose my friends. And of course, because they are my friends, their feedback was less critical, as was my feedback on their work. This mitigated my perception of feedback, but throughout this course and throughout the workshops, I experienced something different. Because of the anonymity of an online class environment, I did not know personally who was editing my work, and whose work I was editing. But this had a reverse effect of what I expected. It actually made me work harder on giving feedback to my classmates, and the feedback I received from my group, felt more meaningful. I have learned that it is very valuable to have a community to better my writing, because getting an opinion from someone else’s lens, can make me write in different ways than I originally would. I can sometimes be blinded by my own writing, and think I am writing in a specific way that makes sense to me when in reality my writing could be improved to make my message clearer and easier to read.” (Adam)

“I was under the impression that I did not need classmates or teachers to help me succeed, which was my understanding of academic integrity at the time. I could not have been more wrong, and as this semester went by, I was able to slowly appreciate the usefulness of having another brain and pair of eyes read my work and give me feedback. The read-arounds and workshops especially, helped me to understand that constructive criticism goes a long way and helped improve my craft more than I thought it ever could.” (Gabriel)

“I believe that the idea of community positively changed my mindset when it comes to writing. Due to the nature of school, specifically the fact that each student takes multiple courses at once, it often seems to be the case (lived experience) that students, admittedly including myself, will write with the intention of fulfilling some given minimum expectations, and only expect their work to be read by a single person, the instructor. Within a writing community, however, this is not the case. I now write with the knowledge that my work will be read by at least one person other than the course instructor (and I will sustain this mindset in the future, even if it’s not always the case). As such, I feel further incentivized to exceed assignment expectations and produce work that I am actually proud of, rather than a document I will never even look at again after its due date.” (Jonathan)

“It was pleasant to recognize how I was learning amongst others and because our strengths and weaknesses were different, we were able to help each other grow. I did not have much interaction with my group members outside of class time and through the workshops, however, the few times where one of us would text the group chat at a random time was enough to make me feel like I was not alone and struggling as I felt in my other online classes. I think especially as an unexpected online course, the community aspect was incredibly beneficial both for getting feedback, getting to know other people and just having the social engagement made editing each other’s works more enjoyable.” (Jasmine)

“Community writing practices create an environment of writing with the intention of it being read, not just marked. In addition, being able to read the work of other students allows for growth to happen outside of lectures and lessons and helps alleviate the anxiety of some students. An example of the former would be the workshops where students could comment on another student’s writespace which allows for both parties to benefit from either feedback or drawing inspiration from the work of peers. The latter refers to being able to read the work of peers and thereby gauge whether your own work is on the right track.” (Kevin)

“The community I have found this term to be essential to why my writing has exceeded my expectations. The exercises that have been conducted to incorporate community feedback and learning, I think, have complemented the teaching of rhetoric exceptionally well. This has been primarily due to the ability to have a 3rd perspective—another individual with different experiences that can relate to the subject material. Therefore, the feedback I received delved more profound than I could ever, with each persona seeing the potential for improvements in selected areas. This approach also changed my course in writing as it allowed me to visualize the impact my writing has on the audience; I found out this year that my ability to write non-fiction, op-ed, facts & informational-based content is far greater than that of writing fictional stories. In collaborating with the community, I encountered environmental issues that sustain economic gain and societal norms that have contributed to growth in the coronavirus pandemic. In collection with how I’ve analyzed other writer’s pieces, I have throughout the term concluded that passion for what you’re writing about is directly correlated to the effectiveness and strength of the writing piece. Moreover, community learning has enabled me to educate myself about others writing styles and performances, which have benefited them throughout the term. This term, understanding and acknowledging my weaknesses as a writer has been a product of community interaction. Additionally, how to tackle these issues by using my strengths is an experience I have never encountered before.” (Aiden)

“I think that community has had a positive impact on my approach to writing. I had always found it hard to share my work over the fear of getting harsh criticism by my teachers and classmates. I never really had a bad experience in high school thankfully, but it still would make me nervous having to speak in front of people. This semester we were put in groups, and we collaborated on many things over the semester. In these groups we edited each other’s work and gave positive feedback as well as having to speak in front of the class virtually. The positive feedback given made it easier to share my work other times throughout the semester. My approach to sharing my work has changed a lot throughout this term.” (Jacob)

“The community changed my approach to writing as I felt safe to write whatever was really on my mind without being judged by my peers. When it came to the writer’s workshop, it made me more comfortable to share my writing with peers as it is beneficial for me, by getting feedback and advice on how I can improve. I also believe doing the writers workshop was beneficial as other students’ writing can open your mind to new perspectives and ideas. The community also changed my approach to writing as I now think it’s a great idea to read your writing to the group so that your writing can be heard instead of just the professors or TAs reading it.” (Kamila)

“I have always genuinely been invested in creating a positive community with my classmates and hoping everyone has felt comfortable and confident in the space. That is why I have never been one to shy away from doing more feedback sheets, as it is always more helpful to have two people’s constructive criticism than one person.” (Agnes)

“This course really changed my mind on writing overall. Back in high school I never enjoyed writing essays on Shakespeare or book reports and etc. Coming into ENGL 109 and you giving us assignments, where we can use our imaginations and write fun stories and write essays about topics we are passionate about, it really made me enjoy writing and I believe I’ve done some of my best work this past semester.” (Jake)

“Previously I wrote the way teachers asked so that I would get the grade I desired, I strictly followed rubrics and writing guides to create writings that I believed that the teachers would like even if they were bland and did not represent my actual feelings. However, now I write what I feel I write to create, and to me, actual writings surpasses the need for a score. To that end, I tried to create a portfolio I would be proud of, one I could look back on and smile, one that would make me feel like I am now more of the writer I wished to become.” (Andrew)

From our micro-beloved community to yours, and ever-pandemically,

sarah madoka currie & the students of W2022 ENGL109-007
19 April 2022

Author Bio

sarah madoka currie (@kawaiilovesarah) is a doctoral candidate working between the lines of critical disability studies, mad studies, social work practice, and critical university studies. she has given over 40 workshops, invited talks and conference presentations on mad-positive pedagogy, UDL strategy, facilitation training, disability rhetoric, and applying EDI practice. she writes occasionally for open access venues like this one, and tries her best to keep her three cats off the keyboard.

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