This essay is an article review that I wrote in 2017 as a part of my Master's program, for a course titled "ENGL 7975: Developmental English in the Two-Year College", taught by Dr. Tracy Morse.
In the NCTE journal, Teaching English in the Two-Year College, PhD student Jeffrey Howard published a fascinating article titled “Students as Storytellers: Teaching Rhetorical Strategies through Folktales.” In the article, Howard explains how he was able to captivate students with an assignment that gave them the creative license to reinvent a popular fairytale, Little Red Riding Hood, all while asking students to explore and develop rhetorical strategies in their composition. The article shows the value of using literature in the composition classroom as well as how the practically universal texts of fairytales can reach students of almost all backgrounds in an accessible way. Because the article is a brief nine pages, it is a manageable read to inspire all current instructors and prospective teachers.
Due to its length, some readers, especially other graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), may have also hoped for additional examples of student writing to round out the final portion of the article. Others may have wanted examples of assignment sheets, handouts, or notes that Howard used in an appendix to help visualize the way this assignment materialized in the classroom. Yet, the article doesn’t fall short by any means and it is easy to see that Howard may simply need more opportunities to teach this lesson before he has enough material that he would consider using to expand this article further.
Howard’s begins the article by explaining that his desire for students “to read texts that invite their interest and draw on their past cultural experiences” was the catalyst for the fairytale writing project (170). He found that he also needed to find a way to use such a project to give
contextualized and significant rhetoric instruction, and not just have a creative writing activity or a reflective writing assignment. Howard cites several prominent folklorists, including Lynn McNeill, as well as other teacher-scholars who have discussed both the benefits and difficulties
with using literature in a composition classroom. With his research, he decides to ask students to implicitly add an “agenda” to their reinterpreted fairy tales. He gives students the agency to choose whichever version of the fairytale they are most familiar with, or to use one of the ones he provided.
Howard gives a lesson on “agenda” and explains to students that it doesn’t have to have the negative connotations that it has in politics today; it simply needs to be a moral lesson or argument that is underlying and not expressly stated in their story. The article provides examples of the some of the best student writing that came from this project with Howard’s explanations of how those students succeeded in both the rewriting of the fairy tale and in putting an implicit argument that was identifiable in their story’s subtext. Students who were not as successful either made their agendas too explicit (and therefore weren’t engaging in any nuanced rhetorical strategies like Howard had hoped) or ignored the agenda part of the assignment altogether and only wrote a creative reinterpretation of the fairy tale.
The inclusion of student examples in the article is incredibly useful and eye-opening, especially for other prospective GTAs who are not yet sure what to expect in the classroom. It is also clear that Howard has worked hard to make this project accessible and relevant for as many
students as possible. Howard achieves this accessibility by giving students completely open options for which version of the “Little Red Riding Hood” fairy tale to reinterpret. He mentions many culturally diverse versions that students can choose from, but also gives students several options if they aren’t sure what they want to choose, including film depictions which would reach students who work better with visual or audio texts and multimodality. These are just some of the strengths of the article and the assignment, based on what readers can garner from the article.
As a prospective GTA, I wish that Howard could have shown some examples of student work that fell short. Without necessarily showing a specific student’s work, the article would have benefited from having a clear example of writing that had too explicit of an argument or writing that was all creative with no argument at all. Giving the good samples was incredibly valuable, and it would have helped even further to demonstrate exactly which student writing didn’t meet expectations. These additional writing samples would have helped other teachers who want to know what they might expect if they recreated this assignment or something with similar parameters.
In his conclusion, Howard even acknowledges that “Some teachers may be intimidated by the task of explaining how to investigate or “read” folklore” (177), so it seems to follow that other teachers might instead be intimidated by the prospect of not knowing what lessons students will take away from the project. It would have also been useful to know more about the rhetorical strategies that students were picking up and what they felt about them, or if they could identify them. Did they actively know what strategies they were engaging in as they
rewrote, or was it more of a serendipitous discovery of strategies they implicitly knew but didn’t realize they were using until they got feedback?
With these small recommendations in mind, Howard’s article was still a joy to read and makes me eager to try a similar activity one day. I find that projects which give students both the freedom to be creative and the responsibility to make decisions about their writing and subject
are both enjoyable and challenging in a positive way. I am drawn to these types of assignments, like Howard’s fairy tale re-write and service learning projects, and the teachers who use them as well. The creative side of the assignment gives students a reason to have fun with learning and the rhetorical learning that happens with the projects helps show students the value in all types of writing and the important place that writing has in all of our lives.
This is the academic portfolio of Kelsey M Burroughs for her Master's degree in English with a Concentration in Multicultural and Transnational Literature, Film, and Folklore and her Doctoral degree in Rhetoric, Writing, and Professional Communication, both at East Carolina University.