Rhetorical Evolution in Crisis Times: A Writing Teacher's Self-Investigation

Rhetorical Evolution in Crisis Times: A Writing Teacher's Self-Investigation

Sarah E. DeCapua (University of Connecticut, Storrs, USA)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6732-6.ch011
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In this self-investigation, a first-year writing teacher explored her rhetoric before and after the shift to remote learning, which occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, during the Spring 2020 semester. Based on scholarship in situational rhetoric and feminist ethic of care, the author investigated her written communications to the second language writers in her classes. Specifically, she scrutinized the course policies and procedures outlined in the course syllabus and in her written announcements posted in the course's learning management system (LMS). Grounding her discussion in extant literature, the author explored the implications of her rhetorical evolution on her future teaching and speculated on how the evolution would guide her instructional responses to future educational crises.
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Literature Review

Bitzer (1968) argued that rhetoric is situational and challenged the assumption that discourse gives existence to a situation; “on the contrary, it is the situation that calls the discourse into existence” (p. 2). Bitzer theorized:

[R]hetoric is pragmatic; it comes into existence for the sake of something beyond itself; it functions ultimately to produce actions or change in the world; it performs some task. In short, rhetoric is a mode of altering reality, not by the direct application of energy to objects, but by the creation of discourse which changes reality through the mediation of thought and action. . . . To say that rhetorical discourse comes into being in order to effect change is altogether general. We need to understand that a particular discourse comes into existence because of some specific condition or situation which invites utterance. (pp. 3-4)

Bitzer maintained that a situation dictates the observations rhetors make, as well as the rhetor’s spoken and physical responses; [the situation] “constrains the words which are uttered [so] verbal responses to demands imposed by a situation are clearly as functional and necessary as physical responses” (p. 5).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Ethic of Care: Feminist philosophical perspective that uses a relational and context-bound approach toward decision making.

Learning Management System (LMS): A software application for the administration of educational courses, including communicating with students, collecting assignments, and distributing course-related materials.

Rhetorical Situation: The issue, problem, or occurrence that causes or prompts a person to write or speak.

Strategic Contemplation: Intentional decision-making; the time and space for reflection and contemplation, which allows the administrator, instructor, or researcher to gain perspective from both close and distant considerations of a particular rhetorical situation.

Remote Learning: Educational activities that have a variety of formats and methods, most of which take place online.

First-Year Writing (FYW): A program of study that helps incoming students build on their skills and abilities to develop fundamental writing skills necessary in their university studies and in the wider world.

Second Language Writing: A program of study for students who write in a second or non-dominant language for academic, personal, or professional purposes.

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