• Spencer Bennington

Emails, Reviews, Cover Letters...and Literacy Narratives, oh my? Rap Rhetorics Project 1 Recap!

How Our Personal Literacies Affect Our Reading (and writing!) of Rhetorical Situations.


Welcome to college! Happy to have you here–also, there’s a term paper due Friday, K THANKS!


Maybe that situation is a bit extreme. I hope it is, laughably so, but I fear that it might be a bit more real for some than others. Let’s take the unreasonable deadline out of the mix though…can you believe that a teacher would give no further instructions than “write a paper about…” ? Again, I hope it’s not true these days, but it probably is.


How about these scenarios, do they seem more believable/common/relatable?

  1. The first major deadline is coming up in a class and you get the flu. You need a few extra days to complete your work, so you must email your professor to ask for an extension.

  2. Your friends are all sharing recommendations for restaurants and local shops. When they ask you to share, they listen eagerly but you’re not exactly sure what to tell them until they ask questions.

  3. You want to apply for an internship, a job, or maybe graduate school, and you have to write a letter about yourself. You don’t really know what to write because you haven’t had much professional experience yet and writing about yourself feels icky.

All of these are examples of clearly defined rhetorical situations. A rhetorical situation is any time a speaker/writer/composer Designs something according to a specific Audience’s needs/expectations as well as with a particular Purpose or intent.


I remind my students to “DAP me up” anytime I want them to quickly remember a handy definition of rhetoric–Design according to Audience and Purpose.


I try to be like if Captain Planet taught rhetoric...

Rhetorical situations occur in response to an exigency, or an urgent impetus, something that demands a timely communicative response. In addition, rhetorical situations can be thought of as fluid, they shift and change based on power dynamics between composers and their multiple audiences. Both groups carry with them shifting biases (conscious and unconscious) based in socio-political, historical, or cultural contexts.


In the first example above, we might say that the student catching the flu is the exigency for communicating with the professor. The student chooses to respond to this exigency, their inability to complete their assignment on time due to illness, with the genre of an email. A genre of writing is a type or category of communication–usually one with particular rules and defined expectations. For example, we expect that a well-designed email will have a clear subject line, a signature line, and some well-defined message or request.


Once ensuring that all the necessary Design features are present in the email, you might find yourself encountering a bit of writer’s block. Students in my Rap Rhetorics class, however, should be able to explain how to move forward.


They would–I hope–tell you to focus on your Purpose. An email should be considerate of someone’s time by being clear, concise, and easy to skim. If it demands some kind of action, even something as simple as a reply, that needs to be explicit.


STUDENT EMAIL EXAMPLE 1:


To: jvansenten@vt.edu

From: student@university.edu

Subject: Inquiring about Aquaculture

Hello Dr. Senten,

I hope you are well! My name is STUDENT NAME, an Agribusiness student at Virginia Tech.

Reading some of your research, I was quite intrigued in what you found in your commercial fish farm research. I was curious about the pathways you have seen students take to pursue jobs in the aquaculture field.

I was hoping to have a digital or in person meeting about this and pick your brain about the industry and what you have experienced.

I am free from 10:00 A.M.- 3:00 P.M. on Tuesdays and Thursday. Let me know if either of those times work for you or if another arrangement works.

Thank you so much for your time, I can’t wait to meet more formally.

Thank you again,

NAME/SIGNATURE.


Beyond that, I hope they would tell you at this point that Audience is also important for a few reasons. Depending on the professor, perhaps they need to provide documentation of illness to receive an excused absence or an extension. This is one type of research the student would need to do about their audience, likely by reading the syllabus policies, before writing a rhetorically effective email.


STUDENT EMAIL EXAMPLE #2:

To: obarry@vt.edu

From: student2@uni.edu


Subject: Inquiry on Research Opportunities


Dr. Barry,


I am a current general engineering student with an interest in Mechanical Engineering.

Your work with vibration as well as Damping Robots interested me as I have been pursuing a career in some sort of robotics or automotive.


Looking into the applications of some of your work, I had some questions that I would like to discuss with you. It would also be more comfortable for me to hear about your personal experiences in the field as I do not have much contact with other Mechanical engineers with similar ethnic backgrounds as myself.


Would it be possible for me to meet with you to further discuss your work and possible research opportunities? I am available Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays after 2:30 and before two o’clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays.


I hope to hear from you soon.


Best,


STUDENT NAME


Rhetorical situations can often feature elements of persuasion, but may also simply be purposefully evocative. Perhaps situation 1 is a persuasive one and the student actually needs to convince their instructor with evidence that they deserve an extension. But what about scenario 2?


In the second situation, your friends might simply just be looking for you to say the right things that appeal to their own needs and desires–you likely don’t need to actually persuade them to visit the restaurant you recommend. Wayne C. Booth reminds us that rhetoric is the “entire range of resources human beings use to produce an effect on one another.”


This definition matters when thinking about Non-Western rhetorical traditions quite a bit. But, it’s also important in our everyday social experiences and public writing for online forums. When I’m talking about food with some friends, they just want to be impressed by the size of the burrito…others need to know the age of the scotch…in both cases, the writer needs to understand their audience as well as their motivation for participating in the discourse.



STUDENT REVIEW EXAMPLE #1


Wans is a scam but I’m still willing to buy it!

Wans is a place where you can get tso chicken, pork fried rice and firecracker

chicken. The food is fairly decent, it's not the worst but its not the best either in

my opinion. The thing I’d want to complain tho is the serving sizes. For me to feel

full I need to get 2 servings of pork fried rice. I've included the picture below. This

is 20 bucks you have used just to be full and not including drinks. The only

reason why it makes sense for me to buy it is the rice and the convenience.

Overall I give the food a rating of 3.5/5 and price 1.5/5.

That’s how much you get for 10 dollars(plus tax, and service fee)


STUDENT REVIEW EXAMPLE #2:


Sunset Raw Juice Bar is a new healthy juice bar located in Fulton, Maryland. This juice bar is completely new to the neighborhood and is taking the area by storm. They have a wide variety of smoothies, protein snacks, and other fruit drinks available for their customers. The all-natural ingredients make their food great candidates for a healthy snack–like the acai bowl! The baristas’ positive attitude and willingness to help made my experience even better. The staff even checked up on us after we received everything we needed. This bar is especially good for others who enjoy high-quality, healthy products. The service was splendid, and I can't wait to go again!


And finally, it’s a pretty universal experience to feel uncomfortable writing about yourself. Statements of Purpose, Letters of Interest, Cover Letters, Teaching Philosophies…these can all be painfully hard to write and even more difficult to revise. Writing about yourself is tough, marketing yourself to others can feel cringey, and reading too many job ads can make anyone feel worthless after a while.


Still, the cover letter is a rhetorical document like any other, one that demands you research the job ad and company website to tailor your skills and experiences to their needs. That’s the main thing I was trying to teach all my students this semester when I asked them to complete Project 1: The Rhetorical Document Portfolio with Literacy Narrative.


Welcome back to Rhetorical Roundhouse! Last time I re-introduced the Rap Rhetorics course that I am piloting in earnest this semester and TODAY, I am excited to share some samples with you from the first major project this semester. Students were asked to create portfolios of documents similar to the ones I just described: 1. An email to a professor they had never met, 2. An online review of a local and/or minority-owned business, 3. A Hypothetical Cover Letter for a Real job ad.


In addition, I asked students to tie together their portfolio with a literacy narrative that described their writing and revision experience as well as their own personal literacies and/or prior experiences with writing.


STUDENT LITERACY NARRATIVE EXCERPT #1:

“As a high school student who graduated with honors, staying up late to write multiple page long papers is very familiar and common. I was honestly immune to the saying “You will have more rigorous English classes, in which you will write 10+ page papers in.” Even though college came very quickly, I was preparing myself to stay up even later to complete extremely dreading assignments. As I am almost halfway through my first semester and first writing class, I can truthfully say I am getting the recommended amount of sleep. This course focuses on rhetoric, communication, and public writing, all of which I’ve had minimal experience with prior to my college career. You would think my experience within this course would be overwhelming due to my absence of knowledge. However, the related elements of Hip Hop that are embedded within the syllabus spark immense curiosity, making rhetoric, communication, and public writing something I look forward to exploring each week.”


STUDENT LITERACY NARRATIVE EXCERPT #2:

“I have always been enchanted with literacy and writing. From being an avid reader as a child to competing in writing at a state level in high school. My favorite piece I have ever written was a personal narrative about navigating religion as a young black woman in the south. The writing in this class has engaged me because I am literate in the hip hop genre.


STUDENT LITERACY NARRATIVE EXCERPT #3:

“In this course I feel I have not only learned the importance of thinking rhetorically, identifying the needs of a particular audience in a specific context, but also applying my thinking through a means of design according to audience and purpose (DAP). The three projects that I am sharing with you illustrate my knowledge of DAP and how I applied it in real life scenarios.”


I’m pleased to say that most students reported positive reactions to the course in their literacy narrative sections. What makes me even more happy is that students who reportedly had bad experiences previously in English/Writing courses were describing how much they were actually learning in this project.


STUDENT LITERACY NARRATIVE EXCERPT #4:

“I have never been a huge fan of English nor have I really got into reading or writing.

Throughout my school career, my English experiences were not positive or constructive. I have taken basic English classes with hopes to improve my reading and writing skills in high school and what I learned in those classes was not what I needed to learn to become prepared for college classes. Freshman year, my teacher came to class late almost every day. He did not give instructions for the writing process nor did he teach his students how to read and analyze literature. He did not teach us how to properly cite so I had to learn that on my own. He did not give any feedback on literature or writing assignments. I was very disappointed in his lack of instruction.


The next year I had hopes of getting a teacher that would invest in my future…Yet again, I wasn’t given any guidance on how to write research papers properly. As a junior, I expected my English class would be more difficult since we were preparing for a writing and reading Standards of Learning (SOL) test at the end of that semester…Once again, I was very frustrated and disappointed with the lack of instruction that I received…During my senior year, my English teacher was also the theater teacher…I felt like she was trying to get us interested in reading but at that point in high school, it was too late…


All of these classes did not help prepare me for college level reading and writing. I look back now and am really frustrated with the lack of instruction that I was given in high school. I don’t feel like any of my teachers helped foster an interest or desire to read. They did not give me the knowledge of literature or writing that I expected to have once finishing high school.


Since being in this class, I have learned more about writing and analyzing literature than

I ever did during the last four years of classes in high school. It has taught me what rhetoric is and how rhetorical situations apply within our lives. Using the DAP concept I had to write three different genres: an email, an online review, and a cover letter. These are all different

compositions but are closely related because they all are written to a certain audience trying to convey a specific message.”


At times, some of the documents I asked students to produce, especially the cover letter first drafts, weren’t the most rhetorically effective.


STUDENT COVER LETTER EXAMPLE #1


Dear _____,


I came across your job ad posted on your website and it interested me. The job ad that I am applying for is Software Engineer. Growing up I have always been a curious soul whether it was critical thinking and problem solving or finding out the deeper meaning behind useless things. This curiosity carried with me throughout life whether it was questioning math theories and now questioning and finding myself solving problems in coding. I believe that this trait of mine would be useful on your team, on your job application you stated that there are challenges in advances technology; that itself reeled me in and called my name. I also saw on the application that there will be a team, I believe that I would be a great fit for this for a team. I have had several leadership and team roles growing up; from multiple Varsity captains, to being a Coach multiple summers and starting clubs. More attributes, that I believe will serve good to this position, that I have would be:


• Willing to learn

• Team oriented

• Passionate


I would love to further inquire more details and advance further and possibly end up working here. Attached is my resume, feel free to contact me at 571-299-3433 if you have any further questions.


Sincerely,


Student Name


This student draft example is flawed in many ways. First and most importantly, this letter is written from the perspective of a student. The instructions for Project 1 ask students to write as one of the writers on our syllabus, not as themself.


I chalk this up to my own chaotic planning–this iteration of the course still has too much going on…too many texts for students to read and listen to, too many assignments that are too long each week, etc. Because of this, I fear students maybe sometimes got distracted by the different types of work I asked them to juggle.


I provided a revised copy of this example as feedback to the class:


“In the revised example, look at the parts I highlight–these indicate places where a writer with more work experience would be able to provide more specific examples. Part of the reason I want you to write as someone else in this assignment is to help everyone have access to a larger bank of specific work experiences to write about, no matter their personal work history.”


I tried to annotate the model by pointing out places where more specific examples would be useful, where the writer needs to more specifically research the job ad, and where the student can use who/what/where/when/why questions to further develop their own ideas.


STUDENT COVER LETTER EXAMPLE #2

Dear Hiring Manager,

I am reaching out because I am very interested in your veterinary technician job opening. I can see that you are hiring multiple candidates, but you will only need one—me. Although I have years of experience as a professional singer, dancer, and entertainer, I have always been interested in the vet world. I would like to try out being a veterinary technician before applying and working to retain my vet tech license. I think this job would be the perfect opportunity to do so, since I will be in Radford, Virginia for the next six months.

Below I have included some of the awards I have received in my time as an entertainer, and how they will translate into skills necessary in the veterinary world.


● BET Award for Video of the Year

WAP changed me. WAP changed the way we listened to songs. WAP changed the nation– and I created it in such a short amount of time that my producers were shocked. I was put under pressure and not only came out on the other side, but I excelled at my job while doing so. This will be shown repeatedly throughout my job as a vet technician since I will have to TPR and write case studies during emergency operations– two things that apply a serious amount of pressure due to time constraints.


I’m including the example above because it makes me chuckle, but also because I thought the student had something pretty insightful to say after revising this document:


“As I have mentioned before and will mention again, the cover letter was extremely difficult for me to grasp. Before Dr. B and I had our conference, I thought my cover letter was fine. It was not until I received feedback that I realized I needed to make some major changes to my cover letter. Once I was finally able to understand the point of the cover letter, I did some hard digging on Cardi B’s awards and used my own knowledge of vet tech skills to connect the two.


I have always felt comfortable in my writing skills, but this course has seriously challenged my creativity. I am used to reading books, analyzing them, and possibly writing an essay on my interpretation of them; however, I have never done so with songs before this class. I really enjoyed working on all three aspects of this project because it allowed me to incorporate what I’ve learned about rhetorical analysis and DAP into my creative writing.”


I have learned a lot from teaching Rap Rhetorics this first semester. In the revised version of the course I’ve drafted, I cut about 15-18 assignments from these first 6-7 weeks of the course, hopefully allowing space to refocus on the documents students need to produce, sample literacy narratives, and practice writing about rhetorical situations. Though many students were successful at all of these things, some still found these concepts difficult to write about effectively. More commonly however, the workload simply had us all behind schedule. So, fingers crossed, simplifying and streamlining the assignments might just save the day…


I’ll write a final course reflection blog this winter where I describe the major revisions I’ll be doing to the assignments and project packets as a sort of “before and after” comparison. For now, I’m happy to share some of the successful student examples produced in the Fall of 2022:


Student Portfolio #1

fullupload sample 1
.pdf
Download PDF • 143KB

Student Portfolio #2

fullupload sample 2
.pdf
Download PDF • 1.77MB

Student Portfolio #3

fullupload sample 3
.pdf
Download PDF • 359KB

As always, thank you for taking the time to stop by and read! I'm delighted that so many of these portfolios turned out well and I'm excited to share my ideas for revising this project sequence--but that will have to wait until next time!


Kamsahamnida!

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