New textbook showcases student work

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By April Wilson, Contributor

For the first time in UNO’s history, Composition I students are working from a textbook designed specifically for them. “From the Heartland: Critical Reading and Writing at UNO” was compiled and edited over the last two years by English faculty members Rachel Bash, Tammie Kennedy and Maggie Christensen. The $56.00 text represents the first-year writing program’s identity.

“It will represent our values…the readings that we love, the kinds of assignments that we like to give [and] what our hopes are for our students,” said Nora Bacon, the program’s administrator.

The text includes selections from noted authors Loren Eiseley, Barbara Kingsolver, Sherman Alexie and Michael Pollan, as well as UNO professors John Price and Lisa Knopp. It also includes 10 essays from 2010 – 2011 Composition I students. The student examples that were selected were not just A+ papers, according to editor Tammie Kennedy.

“They were really smart…you could see great thinking and also risk-taking… [The essays] give students an example of what they can do with [the topic].”

Stressing another important characteristic of the student work, Bacon added “the writer has a very distinctive voice; you feel like you are getting to know some human being when you read these essays.”

Sophomore Kassi Woods is responsible for two of the student essays in the text.

“I really enjoyed being used to test [the materials] and asked what would you want to do?” she said. Woods’ two essays include an analysis of Lady Gaga’s infamous MTV “meat dress” in the section on writing about food, and an essay about obesity and disability as it applies to the movie “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” in the section about disability issues.

“The first-year writing faculty has been part of this process…They have weighed in on what should go in…and piloted chapters to see what would work…They are invested in it,”  Kennedy said.

All 30 sections of Comp I this semester are using “From the Heartland.” According to Bacon, a faculty seminar was held in August to familiarize instructors with the text and allow them to determine how they would use the text in their own classes. It is up to each instructor to determine what chapters, readings, exercises and assignments to use and how, she said.

Both Kennedy and Bacon are eager to see how students react to the text once the semester ends. However, only four weeks into the semester students seem to be reacting positively.

“I like that the book is written especially for UNO students…the stories [from professional writers] are easy to relate to… [and] the assignments are good to look back and review to see how you got to [this] point,” freshman Samantha Reznicek said.

Bacon said it is likely that there will be more editions of the book.

“It is a way to keep things current, interesting, and student centered and also to use our best assets…our teachers,” Kennedy said.

“Our other asset [is the] students. Right now [they] are writing papers in response to these assignments and our instructors are keeping their eyes open for …excellent papers,” Bacon added.

If students wish to have an essay considered for the next edition, they can submit their work to any Composition I instructor or email it directly to Kennedy at tmkennedy@unomaha.edu.

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