Writer’s Journal #5 – Understanding Rhetorical Concepts

As far as I understand it, rhetoric is a mental state we enter when we find ourselves in a situation in which we have to persuade someone, and this state triggers a selection of words and forms in our brain that helps us complete the task. This moment is the rhetorical situation. This mechanism heightens your sense of logic, lexis and style so as to prepare you to engage your audience. In writing, it will allow you to think of pros and cons of the matter, as well as cause-effect relations.

Personally, it puts me in a sort of state of trance, in which I feel like I’m playing a part and I try to do it at my best. Being a rather kind-hearted and calm person at the core, I find arguing difficult, though when I lunge into one, I generally try to get out of it with minimal damage and, hopefully, more knowledge than when I started.

The last time I needed to write something rhetorically was a few days ago, for this course. I replied to a post by a peer about the learning process and I gave my experience on the subject of memorization. I think at this point I’m in the mechanical part of the rhetorical aspect: identifying the purpose, audience and how to appeal is almost instantaneous. In this case, my aim was to give my experience on the topic of studying in school and my view on the methods teachers use to assign study work; my audience was peer students with a variety of academic backgrounds, as well as nationalities; and the way I went about doing it was by being as clear and detailed as possible with my examples.

I think that this section on rhetoric has put in order what I felt and almost instinctively knew from experience about discussing, be it in writing or orally. I am used to doing it, though it rarely happens: to this day, I still argue with my mother (it’s not a prerogative of teenagers) and need to find all the rhetoric I can find to be able to persuade her of my point of view. It goes without saying, this will help me in all my future writing endeavours as well, now that I have had written confirmation from scholars that what I was doing was accurate.

I believe rhetorical knowledge is key and should be addressed first because it’s what you do before you start writing and the efficacy of the piece comes from it. I can’t expect this argumentative text to convince you that I have read all the rationales and done the other assignments if I don’t consider first all the elements we have seen this week, which I know you know, dear reader, because I have considered my audience for this post and it’s of peers who have completed the first week and the professors. And trying to use new techniques immediately is the best way to get them tattooed in your brain. It really works.


Writer’s Journal #4 – Reflecting on Collaboration

The notion of writing collaboratively isn’t new to me. Every book I have ever read often featured an Acknowledgements section in it, and the writers always had praise and gratitude towards friends, family and colleagues who I could tell had collaborated on the book, or at least chimed in with some feedback. This goes for both fiction and non-fiction.

Generally, I find collaborating both exciting and intimidating: the former because I think it’s the best way to improve, the latter because it’s not easy for me to take any kind of criticism, so it will be an effective way to try and overcome one of my biggest limits. I believe that collaboration can help me get an exterior view of my work and improve and clarify some sections which might be clear to me because of my background and previous knowledge, but may be rather obscure to people who don’t share the same experiences. I tend to get lost in myself at times, so that’s definitely something that can be resolved.

Finally, I believe the Outcomes focus on collaboration because it is one of those soft skills that are increasingly necessary for today’s and tomorrow’s professional sector. In addition to the fact that the world now is home to over 7 billion people and counting, collaborating is ever more crucial to the development of healthy relations between humans, which I believe is a pivotal point in life. This means that through collaborating in writing, we can learn to collaborate, period. And working together means having a common aim and striving to reach it. Let’s just hope we all use these powers for good, once we acquire them.


Writer’s Journal #3 – Reflecting on Writing Process

I must be honest: before this day, I had never even heard of reflective thinking applied to writing. I had, of course, heard of reflection and was familiar with the concept, though I very rarely apply it to my everyday life. I’m afraid this is bound to change.

I can see how reflecting on a piece can help set a clear direction for the article or essay, and revise it to make it coherent; when I write, I’m usually in a sort of frenzy and that, paired with the little patience I have, is a recipe for haphazardly structured writings. Reflecting can help me implement the rhetorical decisions necessary to make it flow.

I believe reflective writing takes the writer himself deeper into his own mind and his own intentions; it’s almost like having an out-of-body experience, in which they see themselves from the outside and analyze what mark in the world they will be leaving. It’s a deeper experience than any other type of writing.

During this course, I think I will apply reflective writing to the projects that are due, since I see them as the training I need to apply the same principle in life. The best way for me to do this is to draft using free writing to generate ideas, let them decanter for a bit as my subconscious keeps pondering them over and over, and then reflect on everything that has come up and let it fall into place like pieces of a puzzle. I think my subconscious already knows how to make things work, I just need to give it the necessary time to arrange everything accordingly and then inform my conscious. This may be self-suggestion, but so far it seems to work for me. If the shoe fits…

As per what relates to the WPA outcomes, I think reflective writing relates the most to critical reading and processes: when you are re-reading your writing, you need to analyze it from the perspective of the reader, put yourself in their shoes and be critical about the text. By doing so, you can edit it and intervene where necessary, sometimes revolutionizing the entire piece or making adjustments on the processes as you see fit.


Writer’s Journal #2 – The Learning Process

In my experience, learning to write is something you acquire in kindergarten and in the first years of elementary school, at least for what concerns the technical and physical aspects of it. The challenge, however, is to learn to write well, in terms of GPS (Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling, as I like to remind my students when revising) and content as well. A piece could be beautifully written in style, but if it’s a dissertation on the rise of the iron and steel industry in 15th century Europe, I will catch Z’s before the end of the first paragraph (a true story, by the way).

The learning process to writing includes, as far as I know, reading first of all: to make an analogy, you can’t paint a picture if, first, you don’t look at what you want to paint. Be it a landscape, a portrait of a beautiful lady or an abstract subject, you need to visualize it before translating it to the canvas. The same goes for writing, and the reading part is the “visualization” that comes before the production.

After that, one should try their hand at writing and start going for as long as they can, using metacognition to assess their work by comparing it to the readings one has done before, and then seeking feedback from people they respect the opinion of. I think this is key because, in the era of the internet and free speech, nothing stops people from being gratuitously mean and purposefully insulting just for the fun of it. This can be detrimental to writers who are just trying to better themselves and reach their goals.

My sense of the learning process comes from experience and from the studies I have done and the books I have read on the topic, as well as from some reflection I have made by confronting myself with other colleagues and students. It may and will differ from my peers’ definition because I believe most of them are not educators and trainers, so probably have never jumped the fence to the other side to change their perspective. Although, if you’re reading this, I warmly recommend you do: shifting your perspective to that of a person who is in charge or superior in hierarchy can really be eye-opening.


Writer’s Journal #1 – Outcomes Reflection

I always knew writing was tough work, but I honestly had no idea it involved considering so many steps and multifaceted aspects. Being that I attended high school in an Italian institution, the time and energy spent on teaching writing was rather different from what I am sensing this course will require. To be completely honest, I had four different teachers during the five-year span, which was not ideal for keeping continuity and developing skills. Each new teacher would briefly and superficially check the class’ level of preparation and move on. Plus, the way school is organized allows students to work on writing for a very short time because what counts the most is learning the literature, studying the authors that are so many and have written such a plethora of works that it takes up three whole years to barely cover half of them. Therefore, writing is part of the testing system, but at the same time is not really fostered and taught. This comes from my own direct experience, as well as from what my students tell me. To sum up, I am surprised by the amount of details one must consider when writing any kind of text.

However, I am sure that by condensing these outcomes and presenting them to my students in a more graphic and organized fashion might help them improve their writing in Italian too, as I believe said outcomes to be common to all languages and not just a prerogative of English.

Unfortunately, I know for a fact that most high schoolers today do not read much, if at all, and write even less (let’s not consider texting as actually writing). This is leading to an impoverishment of all the skills that the outcomes are aimed at improving, with a subsequent loss of interpersonal and self-reflection abilities.

This reflects negatively on their confidence, self-esteem and therefore performance in school, sports and life in general. It has been said that writing is an intimate activity that should be done in solitary confinement and secrecy, but it has also been said that by using it as a collaborative task it can help people interact and improve one another. I believe the latter to be true, though it really depends on the nature of the written product. Diaries are by definition more intimate and should be kept secret, while essays, reviews and articles should be shared with the world, as they can spark debates, enrich and educate, or entertain.

As per the second point, what confuses me a bit is how the collaboration aspect will work, namely peer correction: there are scores of people enrolled in the course, which should allow everyone to get some feedback some way or another, but from what I have noticed in the introduction section a lot of posts have gone unanswered. Granted the introduction thread does not really have much debating to offer, I do think it can offer a great opportunity to practice creativity (i.e. coming up with something to say) and openness.

Finally, I personally think that these outcomes depict academic writing as a very meticulous, complex process, something that takes time and effort, and it should be so. My direct experience with writing is, I must sadly admit, very limited because I hardly ever do it, though I will put keeping a journal on my to-do list from now on. I hope to be able to keep this up, as persistence has always been my Achille’s heel. However, I think that it might help me develop some of those habits of mind that can help mental agility as well: have you ever been in an argument, or discussion, and was unable to come back with a response in the moment, but thought about what you could have said one or two days later? That happens to me a bit too often. I am putting my eggs in the writing basket to try and partially tackle this problem. Hope it helps!


Childcare Project, Bray, 2017

This year I was asked to help out during a project called Childcare, organized by “Leopardi-Majorana” High. What they needed me to do was to prepare two groups of volunteers from the Human Sciences course to act out a little scene and then play some games with children from a Montessori school in Bray, Ireland. Along with their English teachers, we decided that one group would play out the short story The Rainbow Fish, a sweet novella for children that deals with integration and selflessness; the other group created a short nursery rhyme called A Rose with a Nose, which is aimed at teaching body parts and organs, but is delivered with a short comic mimed scene.

I was honored to be asked and felt a little nervous at first, since I had never done anything like this, but I’m usually up for a challenge, so I agreed with pleasure. Also, to be honest, the main reason that pushed me to accept was the fact that I was going to see some of the kids I had done the conversation lessons with the year before, and the group was awesome! I really had a lot of fun and was elated at how well they participated and how motivated they were. I know it’s easy to work with motivated kids and all that, but nobody likes to have to always do the hardest job ever, right?

In conclusion, I wanted to share this video, whish is a recap of the whole project, I hope you enjoy it.  And if you spot a rainbowfish and a rose with a nose, well, tell them I’m proud of them.