Saturday, January 31, 2015

Rhetoric in the Media

The Rhetoric of Project Based Assessment 
I love teaching rhetoric....said every English teacher ever.
For the past five years I have taught a rhetoric unit to my 11th graders: Animal Farm, "Modest Proposal", articles, irony, parody, rhetorical triangle, logos, ethos, pathos, and logical fallacy. The final assessments were student created modest proposals and a campaign for an Animal Farm character.  I love the unit but have been meet with spotty success. The idea of rhetoric always seems foreign and abstract to the students so their ability to evaluate it or use it purposefully seemed shallow. And so much has change in the last five years with the growth of digital rhetoric - something my students are bombarded with. We can't really talk about or teach rhetoric now without discussing how it's used in digital spaces.

as a warm-up I have the students
explain this meme to each other 
So. this year I had to make a change. Inspired by this amazing blog and his lessons on teaching rhetoric with Animal Farm, I decided to change it up and I am so happy I did.

Using his lesson outline, I gave students notes as I normally would on rhetoric and then we used his analysis chart to complete an analysis of a Chevy commercial that makes me want to die every time I see it (they play it about once every 5 minutes here). I then had students work in groups to complete the analysis outline sheet described on the blog. From there we completed an analysis of Old Major's speech.

I kept going. I developed a final performance assessment where I took 15 modern campaigns that focused on politics, products, and hot topics (everything from #blacklivesmatter to Obama '08 to Dove: True Beauty) . I put the students in groups and had them complete an analysis of the campaign. They had to research the history, complete a written analysis of multiple campaign samples and present their findings to the class in regards to the rhetorical effectiveness of the campaign.  You can find my instructions here and rubric here.

The presentations took three days and the group's final products where varied. Some of the best ones where organized, rehearsed, and accurate. The members all knew the background of the campaign and could CLEARLY describe logos, ethos, pathos, and logical fallacies. Even thought this was group work, it was painfully clear which students didn't do their part or really understand the concepts. Here are a few of the better prezis ( Nike: Find Your Greatness and #aerieREAL ).

One of the worst presentations ended not with
 the group stating their thesis, but with them playing
a Nicki Minaj video. Ughhhhhhhh...
Reflecting on the project, I realize that I need to have all the students research and write something on the background of their campaigns before getting into groups. What I noticed was how some groups were lost because they didn't understand the context of the rhetoric. For example, if you don't understand the state of the country after two terms of G.W. Bush, you won't understand what Obama's 2008 campaign was trying to achieve.

Next year, I want to expand this assignment into a formal marking period long project based assessment where the groups will have to create their own social media campaign based on causes they support and analyze their own use of effective rhetoric.

In the end, I always have to ask myself: is it rigorous and is it relevant ?
I think the changes I made in my rhetoric unit are both; )

How do you teach rhetoric? I would love some new ideas and mentor texts.

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