In this section, Professor Steven Strang shares his strategy for evaluating his text choices during each iteration of 21W.747 Rhetoric. He also notes that the assignments in the course tend to change from year to year depending on what events are unfolding in the world.
Evaluating Text Choices
I created 21W.747 Rhetoric in 1995 and have been teaching it every semester since then. The course changes every year and often from semester to semester. At the end of each semester, I ask students to rank the assigned readings to indicate which should I should include for the next semester’s class and which should I eliminate. I tell them that the criterion should not be “I had to suffer through this dense text and so should those who take the course next semester,” but rather, “I learned something valuable from this text; therefore, it should be selected again.”
I use students’ input to help me decide whether to keep or eliminate texts, but also to help me evaluate how I presented the texts and what we did with them in the class. In particular, if several students suggest eliminating a text, I scrutinize what we did with it in class, what I hoped they’d get out of the experience, and why it didn’t work for some of the students. I don’t remember any one text being condemned to oblivion by a majority of a class; often they suggest I keep all the texts. Although, on occasion, I will do just that, often I’ll substitute new texts to keep the content fresh for myself.
Developing New Assignments
I’ve been teaching the course through several presidential elections, several crises and debates about major policies (going to war, climate change, etc.). All are fodder for our discussions and for assignments. The assignments tend to change every year and sometimes every semester, depending, in part, on what is going on in the world.
Also, there is so much material and so many approaches to teaching rhetoric, such as discussing rhetorical theory, discussing debates within rhetoric, analyzing policy debates, and using different critical approaches to analyze texts. In addition to responding to what’s going on in the world, I develop new assignments when I discover an innovative approach to rhetorical analysis or a new debate in rhetoric. Sometimes my own reading in professional rhetoric journals also inspires assignments in the next semester.