Unit 2:  Learning to Write for a Public Situation




1)      Build on writing skills from Unit 1 (focus, thesis/claim, development, audience analysis and critical reading) but in a new, public context that complicates the rhetorical situation

2)      Challenge students to be more active in writing by providing them with an audience and analysis skills but having them generate the exigence for writing their analysis of a cultural text

3)      Highlight key questions of context, purpose and audience but start to frame them in terms of critical literacy skills (“reading culture,” being active in culture) and how other non-print texts construct and respond to a rhetorical situation

4)      Introduce students to audiences and contexts outside the academy (community of viewers or potential viewers of a TV show, critics of a TV show) for them to practice developing a public voice


Unit 2 uses the concept of the rhetorical situation to help explain the various types of texts we’re offered and given opportunity to respond to in academic and cultural contexts.   By recognizing these different texts and their relationships to culture and viewers, students begin to see another environment and purpose for writing—to share cultural insights about a particular text with a public audience.  But the rhetorical situation is more complicated here in that students must now generate and decide on the exigence and purpose for their writing—why they are writing their cultural analysis of a particular show and what they want readers to gain from that analysis.  In this way we are asking students to learn, enter and write with a self-generated purpose to a new community that extends beyond the academic context.


To help students accomplish the purpose that they create for the assignment context, we provide theoretical and analytical background/tools that inform their writing.  By centering on one particular “site”—media, specifically, television and advertising—these media become an environment in which we can see different types of media/cultural texts situated.  The context for the Essay 3 assignment is more complicated, then, because students face a less well-known situation and a wider landscape as well. (Instead of the composition class community or the first-year seminar community, it’s a more public, media-based community.)  The students’ task in this unit and paper is to gain more cultural insight into the relationship a particular show has to culture and viewers and to explain the implications of that relationship to readers.  Students are asked to focus on particular “cultural messages”—messages about social identity, conventions, attitudes, ways of thinking, and behavior—that shows offer viewers.  We ask students to focus on TV especially where there are competing or conflicting messages on a particular topic, such as gender roles, and the ways those messages may reproduce or challenge viewers’ expectations or values (and even the values of mainstream culture). 


This approach serves our larger goal of having students become more active in “reading culture,” but here they’re also going to write to readers to share their insights and therefore begin to gain a public voice.  Again, though, students generate the exigence for their writing:  they must decide who might be interested in the insights their analysis has revealed, how what the show is doing with these messages might influence viewers (and perhaps larger culture), and what the implications are, in order to meet the context for this unit and assignment.  In this way, we hope that students will begin seeing writing as addressing cultural and civic purposes as well as academic ones.


Role of Writing/Writing Skills:  The academic writing skills from Unit 1—summary, focus, thesis, audience awareness and development—will be re-emphasized in this paper.  However, this unit “frames” these in a different way by complicating the rhetorical situation; the audience is more distant and unknown to the writer, making audience analysis even more important.  The exigence that students decide is the reason for their analysis is crucial as it determines their purpose, focus and the kinds of textual evidence they’ll use.  Another difference and challenge in responding to this assignment context is that the development of students’ claims in this paper is more complex and has more levels.  For instance, students must not only make an overall claim about what a particular show is doing with cultural messages, but also explain the implications of their claim, given their purpose and audience.  (If a student claims that a certain show simultaneously reaffirms and subverts a particular message about gender identity, for example, she will need to address how and why this phenomenon is significant.)  Similarly, the types of evidence are more textual and less based on personal experience, as students must locate and integrate specific examples from the TV show being analyzed.  Therefore, the new writing skills in this paper primarily involve a new purpose for analysis and types of evidence.  However, the changes in writing context affect all the other skills that are being re-emphasized as students need to make decisions about focus, thesis, and coherence appropriate to their defined purpose and analysis of the audience’s needs.


Role of Reading:  The main reading goal of Unit 2 is a cultural rather than academic one (i.e., a critical reading of a cultural text) that aims to highlight the importance of media literacy for educated citizens.  As a result, the print readings in this unit will be approached differently than in Unit 1.  The readings assigned in this unit are meant primarily to generate ideas, introduce students to ways of thinking about media culture, and offer sample analytical approaches.  It is important to note that these readings are not models for the type of paper students will write for Essay 3.  Rather, many of the designated readings are intended to give students a sense of how other writers have, through cultural analysis on these new types of “texts,” produced different meanings from them—how they can be “read” in different ways and the implications of those readings.  The goal in discussions and activities is not to ensure every aspect of the reading is covered or even, in some cases, understood.  Instead, the reading goals stay on a more abstract level of discussions of analysis techniques, relationships writers see between culture, media texts and viewers, and effects of those texts on audiences, as well as rhetorical analyses of focus, purpose, audience and development in this kind of writing.  These reading goals also serve a thematic purpose in this unit as students begin to recognize how in a cumulative sense media becomes a system of “education” through which we learn cultural values and beliefs, which connects to our larger course goal of recognizing writing as a critical element in culture.


Tips from Experience:


·        Some students will most likely claim that they do not watch or like television.  Be prepared to offer these students other options such as a specific TV ad or perhaps a film.  Decide how “open” you are willing to be.  Decide such changes on a case-by-case basis, however, since opening up a choice of genre to all students will make teaching this unit much more difficult.


·        Students will have difficulty thinking of television as more than entertainment, especially their favorite shows.  Many of the classes work against that assumption, but a conference is required here so that you can deal with such issues one on one.  Be prepared for some students to come to conference with only the most surface-level analyses.


·        Some of the readings in this unit take a very “liberal” perspective, conducting analyses that will seem to some of your students to “bash” many aspects of American culture.  Remind your students continually that their own analyses can be more positive—they need not see reinforcement of a shared cultural belief, for example, as negative.


·        Students also tend to have some trouble narrowing their focus on this essay, so keep that in mind as well.  Often they think that once they’ve narrowed to a single TV show they can write on several aspects of the show.  They might try to write about beliefs concerning gender, class and race all in one essay.  Yet given that developing their paper will require supporting a number of related sub-claims about what the show is doing with a particular shared cultural belief and the implications of those messages, students should focus on one central belief as a specific context for their analysis.  It might, though, have a few parts.  For example, students might focus on a cultural belief about gender in terms of what a “normal” woman should be—thin, beautiful, domestic, subservient to men, etc.  Just make sure students don’t try to take on too much.