Preserving Emotion in Student Writing

Innovation in Composition Pedagogy

by Craig Wynne (Volume editor)
©2021 Textbook VIII, 258 Pages
Series: Writing in the 21st Century, Volume 2


The student-instructor dynamic has become more complex in recent years. Writing instructors, in particular, see the vulnerabilities expressed by students in their writing. This book provides a wide variety of theories and techniques for writing teachers on the integration of emotion into writing instruction. Current writing instructors, as well as students of the craft, can benefit from the ideas and strategies offered by a variety of practitioners in the field. This book includes offerings, such as theories in development, empirical studies, and lesson plans designed to benefit writing instructors and their students.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Learning to Feel: Engaging Emotions, Narratives, Values, and Commitments in Composition
  • 2. Leveraging Student Emotional Motivations in Effective Classroom Writing: A Model-Based Approach
  • 3. “Dull Feelings of Just Getting By”: Advanced Assistant Professor Experiences of Impasse and Mentorship
  • 4. Emotion in Teaching and Administering Writing: An Ethics of Care for Writing Teachers
  • 5. Knowing Emotion: College Initiation and Self-Confrontation in the “Meta” Writing Classroom
  • 6. Integrative Learning as a Process for Linking Writing and Emotion
  • 7. Peaceful Pedagogy: Teaching Writing from a Place of Peace
  • 8. Affective Writing toward Feasible Futures: Helping Students Envision Triumph, Trauma, and Everything in Between
  • 9. Authoring Well-being: Emotional Literacy as a Commonplace for First-Year Writing Pedagogy
  • 10. Inverting Aristotle’s Relationship between Invention and Pathos: 17 Students Write to the Freedom Writers
  • 11. Stirring Things Up: Rhetorical Dissonance in Writers’ Revisions and Emotional Responses
  • 12. First-Year Composition Students: Creating Their Own Stories
  • 13. We Awaken to Ourselves: Emotion, Reflective Writing, and the Study Abroad Experience
  • 14. Honoring Contemplative Practices in the Writing Classroom: A Personal and Pedagogical Exploration
  • 15. Dear Professor: Forging Student-Teacher Relationships through Course Letters
  • 16. Pet Pictures, Pop Culture, and GIF Game: (Re)Viewing Twitter as Multimodal Emotional Writing in First-Year Composition
  • 17. Performing Silence, Exhaustion, and Recovery: Articulating Faculty and Administrator Identity by Cultivating Mental Wellness
  • Contributors
  • Series index

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I am grateful for the hard work of all of the contributors to this collection, whose hard work made this collection possible. I wish to thank Staci Shultz, whom I consider a passionate scholar, dedicated teacher, and most importantly, a true friend. She proposed that I submit this collection, and through many conversations, we were able to shape the concept. I extend my deepest gratitude to Patricia Mulrane Clayton and Peter Lang Publishing, who patiently guided me through the process. I am grateful for Claire Giraudo's assistance with proofreading. Most of all, I am truly appreciative of the hundreds of students I’ve taught, tutored, guided, and counseled over the years; our interactions were the catalyst for this collection. I look forward to receiving inspiration from you in the years to come.

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1. Learning to Feel: Engaging Emotions, Narratives, Values, and Commitments in Composition

University of Arizona

Twenty years ago, when my dad passed away from cancer, my mom gave me the best advice I’ve heard to date: “It’s okay to cry.” For both of us, this was just one small part of the grieving process, a process that has been recursive and epistemological. By epistemological, I mean that grief often serves as a means for trying to make sense of the experience of losing my dad and what it has meant to go on in our lives without him. Joan Didion writes about grief in The Year of Magical Thinking as something that “has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life” (27). When I say grief is recursive, I mean something similar to that. It comes and goes, it ebbs and returns, requiring the griever to start over in some ways. Like writing, grief makes you return to your preconceived notions and interrogate them again and again before you can move forward.

I’ve spent much of my memorable life thinking about grief in some way, and most of my adult life thinking about writing. As a writer and writing teacher, I value the reflective practice that writing requires. In both of those roles and as a person more generally, I depend on this reflective practice in order to make sense of my experience, especially emotional experiences. When I first started teaching, I was struck by how unwilling my students were to engage with emotion in any way related to their writing. Their understanding of rhetoric is limited to logos, ethos, and pathos, with the latter being an appeal to be “used carefully in academic writing” or avoided altogether (Jensen 6). Contrary to my mom’s wisdom, my students demonstrate Western culture’s rejection of emotion. As one student stated in a conversation about ←5 | 6→determining credibility in research, we just “don’t really trust sources that come from personal experience or appeal to emotions.”

Because emotional awareness and interpreting my experiences by reflecting on my emotions have both played such a central role in my life, I’m especially put off when my students assert that we live in this bimodal world of facts and emotions. If that were the case, where do we sort values? Are values a fact, then, or simply an emotion? In this chapter, I center emotion as a key concept in a larger epistemological system about how we make up our minds about things and make sense of the world. In tracing the movements of this system, I highlight strategies for getting our students to think about themselves as fully human, as people who think with both emotion and facts as inextricable parts of our cognition. This all boils down to an analysis of how emotions shape our value judgments, expectations, motivations, and reflections.

This chapter traces the movements of this system by:

1. Considering how cultural proscriptions for emotion end up in composition classrooms and how even our own textbooks in First-Year Composition (FYC) fail us when it comes to emotion;

2. Considering how emotions shape the epistemic dimensions of our experiences, including our values, expectations, and value judgments;

3. Examining how these values and expectations influence and help us form our interests, investments, commitments, and motivations;

4. Engaging with these concepts through reflection on personal experience, which occurs in narrative. Ultimately, these strategies and behaviors are what help us make meaning.

Emotion Changes Our Behaviors and Perceptions

I define emotion as a specific, felt-response to a person or situation that makes us change something about our behavior or ways of understanding. I draw from Dale Jacobs and Laura Micciche’s understanding of emotion from its root word movere: “a way to move.” In simpler terms, it’s a visceral feeling that leads us to do something differently. I consider emotion as an epistemic tool because it shapes our knowing and changes the way we interpret our experiences to construct new knowledge.

Considering specific emotions helps us achieve two things in our composition classrooms: (1) students learn to reflect on how their emotions shape the value judgments that they form opinions with and rely on in arguments; ←6 | 7→and (2) students learn to recognize that their everyday emotional experiences are an integral part of how they think and not a distraction from how they are supposed to think.

Rhetorical studies has long recognized the value of emotional appeals, but this recognition has been overshadowed by our prevailing concern for helping students just be reasonable. Even our teaching resources in FYC reflect this concern. Most of our textbooks either do not productively discuss emotion as a rhetorical appeal, or they avoid the topic altogether. Gretchen Moon (2003) and Tim Jensen (2016) demonstrate how emotion has been mishandled in FYC in two reviews of popular FYC textbooks. Moon reviews 25 FYC textbooks published after 1998 and finds that textbook writers have “uncritically followed western culture’s binary habits, which run deep and largely unchallenged” when it comes to emotion (39). Jensen’s review of 25 textbooks published after 2010 points to specific gaps between rhetorical theory and what we actually teach first-year students: we know that emotion is valuable for composing practices but we treat emotion (oversimplified from pathos) as something to be avoided or “used carefully in academic writing” (6).

Jensen’s notable exception is Mark G. Longaker and Jeffrey Walker’s textbook Rhetorical Analysis: A Brief Guide for Writers, which includes a chapter on “Affect (Pathos Revisited)” that highlights the continuities between classical rhetoric and recent scholarship on emotion. Longaker and Walker consider emotion as a heuristic for making sense of experience, which plays in the following order: pathemata, affect, interpretation, emotion, and a change in behavior:

1. With pathemata1, something happens to incite an emotional response (consider it an emotional exigence), which leads to an affect, a “bodily disposition” or response (210).

2. Our cognition kicks in to form an interpretation of what we’re feeling, which becomes an emotion. For example, we might witness a near miss on campus during a heavy traffic time (pathemata). We gasp, feel our hearts race, our pupils dilate. These are non-cognitive, involuntary responses (affect) that precede cognitive responses.

3. We then interpret the situation: “That was a really close call,” and feel an emotion: relief. In the final “stage,” some part of our behavior changes. Maybe we pay closer attention to cars at intersections for a while, or put our phones away (or take them out to text a friend about what just happened).

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This model for considering emotion is especially helpful for students because it allows for discussion on how our interpretations of various pathemata differ and it lets us consider what underlying values or expectations influence these interpretations. The key is, to get started we have to ask students to explicitly consider what they value most and then keep those values in mind as we navigate analyzing texts and creating arguments all semester.

For example, I once had a student tell the class about his uncle’s pet deer. The deer had been injured, so the student’s uncle took him in. When this student shared this story and a picture of the deer, most of the class reacted to how cute the story was—they smiled, said “Awww,” and so on. But a few students, mostly male, smirked and shook their heads.

“Oh,” I said to this handful of students, “You must hunt, then.”

They nodded. They all experienced the same pathemata, but their affects were different because they had differing values for the story, which influenced their interpretations. It’s a small thing, but these moments provide some concrete examples of how our emotions and values shape the way we interpret our experiences and make meaning. Specific examples like this one open up opportunities for discussing values, expectations, value judgments, and needs.

Emotion Shapes Values, Expectations, Value Judgments, and Needs

Jim W. Corder’s work in “Argument as Emergence, Rhetoric as Love” creates further opportunities for bringing classical rhetoric and recent scholarship together with narratives. Corder considers the act of interpretation and meaning making as a narrative act. He writes, “Sometimes we can’t find all that’s needed to make the narrative we want of ourselves, though we still make our narrative. Sometimes we don’t see enough … Sometimes we judge dogmatically, even ignorantly, holding only to standards that we have already accepted or established” (16). In other words, it’s through the act of collecting our observations and experiences and forming narratives about them that we can make sense of things. Didion, too, draws on this line of reasoning when she writes, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live” (White Album). Corder’s “standards that we have already accepted” are our values, expectations, value judgments, and needs. His point is that we’re all narratives, and when we meet a “contending narrative” in another person, it’s tough. It’s especially tough when we care about that person, or when we’re made to ←8 | 9→work closely with them. We have to listen to other perspectives and understand the values and emotions that undergird those perspectives if we want to get along.

In my spring FYC course, I ask my students to research the emotions and values that drive and influence discourse around public issues. Instead of choosing an aspect of an issue and arguing a “side,” my students have to consider at least four viewpoints on their issue and investigate how certain values result in judgments about that topic. This semester, I had two students in one class give researched presentations on the border wall issue in Arizona. One student, who was from Nogales, which is half in Arizona and half in Mexico, went into the project blatantly opposing the wall. The other, who intended to enlist in the military after graduation, sat on the other end of the spectrum and supported the wall. The students presented on the same day, and I dreaded going to class that morning. I expected a fight. I was surprised to find, however, that the students were not only respectful of each other’s research but that they were able to find common ground in their contending narratives. The student who initially supported the wall acknowledged the severity of mistreatment of immigrants and the negative environmental impacts a wall would create. The student from Nogales recognized the complexity of security along the border and, while he did not agree that a wall was a good solution, he came to understand where the other student was coming from. They recognized the difference in each others’ values and where their narratives diverged.

Each of us thinks our own perspectives and opinions on various issues are reasonable; we believe that we make decisions that are rational, logical, and sensical, and most of us would never consider our opinions as something we form through emotion. By taking an inventory of their own values and then investigating how those values play out in public issues, students were able to at least understand how an opinion so opposite of their own could be formed.


VIII, 258
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. VIII, 258 pp., 24 b/w ill., 7 tables.

Biographical notes

Craig Wynne (Volume editor)

Craig Wynne is currently Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of the District of Columbia. He has published in a variety of journals, such as Teaching English in the Two-Year College, Journal of American Culture, and Spark: A 4C4 Equality Journal.


Title: Preserving Emotion in Student Writing