“When More is Less” by Colleen Flaherty

Colleen Flaherty reviews a new study, a collaboration between the National Survey of Student Engagement and the Council of Writing Program Administrators, which finds assigning more writing assignments does not necessarily mean better student writing.  Instead, the study’s authors suggest that better, not more, assignments (ones that are interactive and deeper) improve students’ writing and learning.  “Meaning making” writing assignments, or those assignments that require students to construct their own knowledge by interpreting texts or learning experiences, are especially helpful for students’ growth, the authors report.

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The High School/College Writing Classroom Disconnect by John Warner

John Warner’s assessment of the disconnect between high school and college writing classrooms is surprisingly more critical of college professors.  In fact, Warner argues that professors are responsible for connecting college writing assignments to the outside world.  In addressing primary and secondary teachers, he acknowledges that they have good goals in teaching their students restricting writing rules, but he would instead have them, along with all writing teachers, help their students focus on the rhetorical audience and purpose.

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Mason’s WAC Program Ranked among Top in the Nation

For the 15th consecutive year, Mason’s Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program has been ranked among the best writing in the disciplines programs in the US by US News and World Reports. Mason’s WAC program supports the efforts of faculty across the curriculum to make student writing a priority in course work for the major. “We’re very honored to be among the programs ranked nationally once more,” director of the WAC program, Michelle LaFrance, said. The rankings were generated through nominations from 1,500 schools taken during Spring 2016.

Mason’s WAC program, established in 1993, was designed to develop students’ understanding of the writing in their disciplines, as well as their ability to communicate as professionals within their respective fields. The program fosters a number of ideals about writing, including that:

  • writing is an important tool for learning and discovery,
  • students gain proficiency as writers when they are given frequent opportunities to write for various audiences and purposes,
  • faculty across the curriculum share responsibility for helping students learn the conventions and writing practices of their disciplines,
  • students benefit from revising their writing based on meaningful feedback from their instructors,
  • and writing instruction must be continuous throughout a student’s education.

Frequent opportunities to write in diverse contexts and for diverse audiences, to receive feedback, and to engage in revision strategies help students to think more creatively and critically, engage more deeply in their learning, and transfer their learning from context to context.

The list of educational institutions ranked by US News and World Reports includes Brown, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and several others. George Mason University was among six other public universities to make the list. Other public universities listed were: Colorado State, North Carolina State–Raleigh, University of California–Davis, University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, University of Missouri, and Washington State University.

Congratulations to Mason WAC!

To see the listings, go to:


“Small Changes in Teaching: The Minutes Before Class” by James M. Lang

James M. Lang begins an excellent series on small changes in instruction with an article on making the most of the minutes before class.  In this short time, Lang urges teachers to take advantage of the time with students, instead of using it as a time for administration or organization.  Drawing from three books or studies, Lang suggests building relationships, displaying an agenda, and wondering with students.   Continue reading

Elisabeth Pain “How to (Seriously) Read a Scientific Paper”

As scholars in our various disciplines, we know that reading papers in our field is the first step in being able to write papers in our field. Many of us integrate these readings into our courses as a way of introducing our students to scholarship in our field – what kinds of claims we make, the evidence needed to make those claims, how we organize information, what kinds of citations and formatting are required –  however, it’s easy to forget that students need instruction on how to read in a new field just as much as they need instruction for how to write in a new field.

In her piece, “How to (Seriously) Read a Scientific Paper,” Elisabeth Pain compiles a number of scholars’ and practitioners’ voices on reading scientific writing: how they approach a paper, what they do when they don’t understand something, if they ever feel overwhelmed, and other tips. The collection provides different perspectives and strategies for reading scientific papers.

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“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