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Remembering Septembering: Looking back at September Sessions

PWR's Team!
PWR's 2023-2024 Team
Dr. Jennifer Johnson, Dr. Kevin Moore, and Dr. Mutallip Anwar

Quick, think back: what do you remember from this year’s September Sessions? By December, for me, it’s a blur of camaraderie and collegiality, and a hazy sense that colleagues shared brilliant activities that I had every intention of incorporating into my classes, but which may have been put aside in the plunge into the new school year. Now that autumn quarter is wrapping up and we have a chance to reset, renew, and recuperate, it seems like the right moment for a refresher on some of the ideas and activities that came out of this year’s September Sessions.

The Elephant this September

Professor Adam Banks

Kicking off his ninth year as PWR’s faculty director, Adam Banks welcomed us back with remarks that encouraged us to stay close to our core values as teachers, even in a world that seems to be in a state of constant change. Professor Banks devoted a substantial portion of his remarks to “the proverbial elephant in the Rhetoric and Composition room,” “the problem that no one in writing and speaking programs…asked for”: generative AI. Banks acknowledged “it would be mildly fraudulent… to be strictly oppositional to generative AI tools,” considering that the fear “that students will no longer ‘write’ like we want them to” has dogged writing instruction for at least 30 years. Banks reminded us that “our own field has done so much to advance the idea that deep collaboration is to be valued in all phases of the research and writing process, and…that remix is an important compositional and rhetorical strategy.”

Instead, Banks encouraged us to find “a place to stand that is nimble, yet rooted; one that is grounded in a necessary critical perspective that we might not find enough of here in Silicon Valley, and yet futuristic and open to experimentation. What we want in my view is an informed way forward that involves use, experimentation, play, critique and where appropriate, resistance.”

Banks’ remarks emphasized the value–both pedagogical and personal–in repetition. With this in mind, I hope you’ll bear with my repeating for you some September Session highlights, as you begin looking forward to fresh ideas for Winter quarter.

Going Back to the Schedule

I reached out to colleagues to find out what moments of September Sessions were still replaying in their minds, months later. The thing I heard most often was a lingering gratitude for the annual opportunity to be in community with the whole PWR program. Laura Joyce Davis, who joined PWR in 2022 as the Managing Editor of the Stanford Storytelling Project’s student-produced podcasts, emphasized how fortunate she feels to be part of a program where, after just a year on the job, she was excited to reconnect with so many people. Others shared that it was PWR directors Marvin Diogenes and Adam Banks’s opening and closing remarks that stood out.

PWR's lecturers discuss their craft

With a bit of prompting, though, PWR’s lecturers began to recall some specific sessions they had attended and were still thinking about.  Davis recalled how inspiring she found Dr. Tom Freeland’s “Make it Up as You Go: Warm-Ups and Improv” session (for more on Dr. Freeland’s Vocal Yoga, check out the article on it in this issue of the newsletter). Dr. Katherine Rothschild reflected on how in Dr. Gabrielle Moyer’s workshop, “Writing as Creativity,” she asked participants to remember that students often have different goals for the papers than instructors do, and that informs their openness to using generative AI tools instructors might prefer they didn’t. Dr. Mutallip Anwar lamented that leading one of the sessions on AI left him unable attend the others.

If these tidbits have you ready to dive back into your own notes and memories, the Septembrists have you covered–you can review the whole schedule here, and find readings and materials from many of September’s sessions on  Canvas

You’ll find slides and handouts from a number of sessions devoted to “Learning in a Chat AI World”: Dr. Harriett Jernigan’s “Writing as Expression,” Dr. Norah Fahim’s “Writing as Invention,” Dr. Lisa Swan’s “Reading as Meaning-Making,” and my “Research as Process.”

You’ll also find materials from Wednesday’s sessions on pedagogical practices and innovations: Dr. Hayden Kantor’s “Helping Students Set Goals for Their Writing,” Dr. Becky Richardson’s “Sharing Strategies for Building Class Community,” Dr. Erik Ellis’

“An Old-Fangled Genre for New-Fangled Times” and Dr. Eldon Pei’s “PWR Failures.”

If you’re looking to dive in further, you can also find your way to the shared and selected readings, and the materials from Dr. Tesla Schaeffer and Professor Zandra Jordan’s on “AI, Linguistic Diversity and Tutoring.”

The Way Way Back

The author's memories of her first year in college
The author's memories of her first year in college

While the beginning of the quarter may already feel hazy as the term draws to a close, Marvin Diogenes’s closing activity sent us much further into the past, as he led a series of free-writes on our own experiences and memories of our first year of college. He asked what we remembered of the personal and the political in that pivotal year–our friends, our music, our teachers. From this position of solidarity with our students, Diogenes led a session on providing feedback, which was continued during our first program meeting of the year, on “The Rhetoric of Commenting.” In a world where it feels like we’re consistently asked to respond to the next big thing and change is inevitable, September Sessions offered an opportunity to think about continuity and repetition alongside upheaval. I encourage you to take time to think back to the vital days we shared just a few short months ago. 

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