“Required Composition Sequence” at Salt Lake Community College

No writing instruction can prepare students for every writing situation, contrary to what is often assumed of college composition courses.  The WAC program at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) admits their required composition course sequence won’t prepare students for every writing assignment in and out of the classroom.  Instead, the SLCC composition instructors contend that writing instruction should prepare students to ask questions and adapt their writing to meet different rhetorical situations.  The SLCC WAC program created and shared this excellent graphic (below) with the questions their students are expected to ask, answer, and act on as they write. By teaching ways of thinking about writing instead of specific genres, students can  ask questions specific to the writing task, and not just consider more general genre characteristics.   Continue reading

Mikal Lamdin Published in Exchanges!

We are pleased to report that former undergraduate research assistant, Mikal Lamdin, has had an article published in the undergraduate and graduate research journal, xchanges.

Mikal’s essay, “A Different Kind of War Film : The Ethos of the Individual Soldier in the Hurt Locker,” rhetorically analyzes elements of the recent film, The Hurt Locker. 

xchanges is an interdisciplinary journal that publishes twice yearly. 

We hope you will share out excitement and congratulate Mikal for her terrific publication.

Read Mikal’s essay here: “A Different Kind of War”


Authentic Writing

photo-1414919823178-e9d9d0afd0acEmily Chambers is an English M.A. student in the Teaching Writing and Literature program and a Graduate Research Assistant for Mason WAC.  She taught sixth grade English for five years in Culpeper, VA before beginning her studies at GMU.  Emily’s main interests are in teacher development and curriculum resources.  She can be reached at echambe5@masonlive.gmu.edu.  

Educators often note that much of the writing students do in school settings (from k-12 to their first few years of college) is written for the “teacher as audience.” Many have suggested that “authentic writing” opportunities are more helpful to students, teaching them to consider audience and motivating them to write. Defined in simple terms, “authentic writing” is a phrase that describes writing for “real life” audiences and purposes. Examples might include asking students to write web text for a non-profit, proposals to granting agencies, letters to the editor, or pieces that will be submitted for publication.

In my five years of teaching middle school classes, the most successful and rewarding authentic writing experience was when I asked my students to submit to the America Library of Poetry Contest.  My sixth-grade students used the writing process to compose poems, and after peer- and teacher-conferences, they submitted these poems to be read by national judges.  We spent time through this lesson reading poems and talking about the strengths of good poems in our class sessions. This summer, I happened to read a short autobiography by a former student, written for a fundraiser.  As one of her interests, Lindsay listed “writing poetry,” and mentioned that she was a winner in a national poetry contest.  She had won! I was overjoyed to see that a classroom writing assignment had become a proud moment in my student’s life, and that she had taken on a role as a writer.   Continue reading

“Naming What We Know About Writing” by Barbara Fister

Barbara Fister reviews Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle, in light of new threshold concepts that reframe the way we think about what we know.  Fister also writes to warn against the undue haste she believes some librarians have with this new Framework.  Instead of checklists and learning skills, she would have librarians and faculty think about sharing these Framework ideas in full, fleshed out form.  Foster recommends this collection of essays to librarians and those across the disciplines.

Most interesting for WI course faculty is the focus of the book Fister reviews.   Continue reading

Stacey Cochran “My WID Assignment Sequence and Conferencing Experience; or How I Became an Expert at Being a Non-Expert”

Conferencing is an excellent way to not only build rapport with students, but to support and grow student writers.  In a conference, a writing professor can address the individual needs of each writer: checking in on their writing progress, asking questions that help the student develop as a writer, and even proofreading assignments.  Unlike marks on a student’s paper, conferencing allows for personal, timely feedback in the context of a dialogue about the student’s writing.  Moreover, conferencing puts the responsibility on the student, and makes the professor a support to ask questions that guide the student writer. Continue reading

Helpful links: Appalachian State University’s Glossary of WAC terms

We’d like to share Appalachian State University’s wonderful resource, a glossary of WAC and WID terms.  This glossary (below) may be helpful to faculty in all disciplines who teach writing and work with student writers, as it provides a flexible and easy to adapt vocabulary. Terms included describe the the writing process, the various conventions of written texts, and other aspects of academic writing. Continue reading

“How to Read a Book”: Paul Edward’s guidebook to reading techniques for students

From a piece by Paul Edwards of the School of Information at University of Michigan.

So unless you’re stuck in prison with nothing else to do, NEVER read a non-fiction book or article from beginning to end.

Instead, when you’re reading for information, you should ALWAYS jump ahead, skip around, and use every available strategy to discover, then to understand, and finally to remember what the writer has to say. This is how you’ll get the most out of a book in the smallest amount of time…

Table 1. Summary of reading strategies and techniques (formatting is slightly altered due to posting in WordPress. For original, click below.)

Strategies and techniques  Rationale 
Read the whole thing  Major arguments and evidence matter more than details. Grasping the structure of the whole is more important than reading every word.
Decide how much time you will spend  Real-world time is limited. If you know exactly how long you can actually spend on reading, you can plan how much time to devote to each item.
Have a purpose and a strategy  You’ll enjoy reading more, and remember it better, if you know exactly why you’re reading.
Read actively  Never rely on the author’s structures alone. Move around in the text, following your own goals.
Read it three times  First time for overview and discovery. Second time for detail and understanding. Third time for note-taking in your own words.
Focus on parts with high information content  Tables of contents, pictures, charts, headings, and other elements contain more information than body text.
Use PTML (personal text markup language)  Mark up your reading with your own notes. This helps you learn and also helps you find important passages later.
Know the author(s) and organizations  Authors are people with backgrounds and biases. They work in organizations that give them context and depth.
Know the intellectual context  Most academic writing is part of an ongoing intellectual conversation, with debates, key figures, and paradigmatic concepts.
Use your unconscious mind  Leave time between reading sessions for your mind to process the material.
Rehearse, and use multiple modes   Talking, visualizing, or writing about what you’ve read helps you remember it. 

Read the full article here: http://pne.people.si.umich.edu/PDF/howtoread.pdf

Infographics: A Fun, Multimodal Tool for Student Thinking and Writing


Main pic

By: Ben Causey

Ben Causey is a MA in English (Teaching of Writing & Literature concentration) student at George Mason University. He is also an active-duty Marine and currently teaches instructional methods at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. You can contact Ben at benjamin.causey@usmcu.edu.

Students are often encouraged to formally prewrite, outline, or somehow plan their written course work. Often, they are reluctant to conceptualize their thoughts outside the pages of their written assignments. Over forty years ago, Janet Emig (1983) realized that “able student writers voluntarily do little or no formal written pre-figuring, such as a formal outline, for pieces of school-sponsored writing of five hundred or fewer words” (p. 92). Since then, we have recognized the need for students “to draw upon a wider range of communicative resources than courses have typically allowed” (Shipka, 2005, p. 299), Students have also gained access to a host of software and media tools that allow them to compose in creative new ways. Infographics can fulfill the need for students to plan and re-conceptualize their written work, as well as provide a fresh alternative to the typical written assignment. When students are too preoccupied with language, grammar, and form to participate meaningfully in the disciplinary discourse, infographics can free students from some of those restraints so they might think more clearly.

Continue reading

Data of the Heart

Photo by Laurence Simon via Flickr

Photo by Laurence Simon via Flickr

By: Helen C. Sitler

This post is a thought piece on how important aspects of the student learning process are sometimes obscured by the assessment expectations placed on professors.

Helen Collins Sitler teaches in the English Department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where her favorite class to teach is Basic Writing. She is a composition specialist and also works with the English Education resource pool, teaching some methods courses and supervising student teachers.  You can reach her at hcs@iup.edu.

The lightbulb moment. The moment when we see understanding flood a student’s face makes the hard work of teaching writing worthwhile.

In my basic writing course some years ago, Jeremy struggled to find his voice. His papers were forced and predictable. Near the end of the semester, our class took a day to wander the campus in small groups and write about what we saw. There was no pressure to write a thesis statement, to use perfect mechanics, to develop ideas. The task was simply to write. When we returned to the classroom to share our experiences, Jeremy regaled us with his vivid, humorous account of a few minutes he had spent in the library. It was a startling shift from his usual stiff formality, and the first time his voice appeared in his written words. The whole class loved it. A few hours later, Jeremy presented me with a typed copy of what he had written, reporting that when he got back to his room with the hand-written original, he had written more. He said, “I couldn’t stop writing.” Continue reading