“Teaching in Thin Air” – by Susan Schorn

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Susan Schorn, writing as a guest on author John Warner’s blog Just Visiting, has written a compelling post on one of the many issues facing writing instruction in the age of the constant budget crisis. In “Teaching in Thin Air,” Susan illustrates the direct link between higher class caps in writing classes and student drop-out rates, negative evaluations, and teacher burnout. To diffuse a teacher’s attention in a writing classroom, she points out, is to guarantee minimal writing instruction for each student.

“Though I’ve never climbed Everest, I’ve spent considerable time in academia’s version of the death zone: the super-sized writing classroom. I’ve taught writing-intensive courses in “overflow” sections with 26 students or more; I’ve worked with instructors who regularly taught sections of 32, 40, or even 60 students. Of course, “teach” is probably the wrong verb—any instructor who has helmed one of these mega-classes knows it’s virtually impossible to teach the students much about writing. There simply isn’t enough instructional oxygen to sustain learning.”

“Teaching in Thin Air” –  by Susan Schorn 

Multilingual Writing Across Disciplines – an Interview with Anna Habib and Karyn Mallett – Part 2

In this series of interview questions from Mason WAC, Anna Habib, Assistant Director of Multilingual Composition, and Karyn Mallett, Associate Director of International Pathway and English Language Programs, offer some insights into their teaching practices and observations concerning multilingual composition.

Successful Approaches to Teaching Multilingual Writers:

The Challenges of Teaching Multilingual Writers:

Generic or specific: writing in and across the disciplines

In this post by The UWC Writing Centre, the focus is on the open-mindedness necessary to teach writing across disciplines. When faculty-requested workshops on impossibly broad topics like “Can you come and tell my students how to write at university?” are not the solution to student writing issues, what is? The preliminary answer: a dialogue on the nature of the writing assignment, faculty expectations and qualifications for excellence within the assignment. This opens the door to conversations about how to best serve student writers in their discipline: by operating somewhere between the generic and the specific.

Writing in the Academy

We get a lot of requests at our writing centre, as I am sure is true of many writing centres, for generic writing skills workshops. Requests like: ‘Can you come and tell my students how to write at university?’ or ‘Can you come and run a skills workshop on essay writing?’ I have serious reservations about any kind of workshop that tries to give students a list of ‘skills’ they need to master in order to be a better writer, or a workshop that approaches improving your writing as knowing what writing at university is broadly and matching what you do to that set of characteristics or features. There’s a lot of research in the field of academic writing and literacies that shows that generic, one-method-of-essay-writing-serves-all-disciplines approaches to teaching writing don’t really work for the majority of students. The ones who succeed following these workshops were probably already fairly confident…

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Multilingual Writing Across Disciplines – an Interview with Anna Habib and Karyn Mallett – Part 1

In this series of interview questions from Mason WAC, Anna Habib, Assistant Director of Multilingual Composition, and Karyn Mallett, Associate Director of International Pathway and English Language Programs, offer some insights into their teaching practices and observations concerning multilingual composition.

Introduction:

Multilingual Writers at Mason:

Principles for Teaching Multilingual Writers:

Responding to Student Writing/Writers

Teaching and Learning in Higher Ed. highlights some of the best practices from Nancy Sommers’ new book, Responding to Student Writers. One of the most helpful insights is the ability to recognize that our comments to students may be contradictory, misleading, or vague, and that the real purpose of offering feedback to students is to “teach one lesson at a time.”

“We should ‘ask ourselves: What single lesson do I want to convey to students through comments? And how will I teach this lesson?'”

Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed.

Responding to Student Writers, Nancy Sommers

In 1982, Nancy Sommers published the landmark, award-winning essay “Responding to Student Writing.” That essay has helped many teachers think more intentionally and act more skillfully when they respond to what students write. Sommers shows how teachers too often write comments that come off as “arbitrary,” “idiosyncratic,” “contradictory,” and even “mean,” even though they put a lot of time and attention into commenting (p. 149-50). While the essay gives a needed call to pay more attention to how and why we comment, it comes off a bit hard on teachers, perhaps unjustifiably so in some cases, as Howard Tinberg has noted (p. 263). Now, thirty years later, Sommers takes up the same questions in a more positive, more practical, and more fully developed way, in her new book, Responding to Student Writers.

In the introduction, Sommers establishes the value of assigning and responding to student writing. She describes a large study…

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Blast From the Past – Revisiting WAC Concepts Twelve Years Later

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As the conversations about Writing Across the Curriculum continue to evolve and march forward, it is always helpful to look back and see how far the program has come, both nationally and close to home. Today, we are linking back to a Mason WAC Newsletter from Fall of 2002 that highlights the strengths and challenges of digital writing. Lesley Smith and James Young offer insights into the benefits of digital writing in e-portfolios, and Ruth Fischer shares the credentials she and her colleagues created for the necessary IT skills of first-year composition students. The methods for implementing digital writing in the classroom have certainly progressed in the last twelve years, but the core pedagogical concepts remain the same.

“In an electronic space,” Smith and Young write, “those who perhaps struggle with words but excel with images might combine the two, and access a richness of perception previously denied both to them as writers and to their faculty members as assessors.”

WAC Newsletter – Fall 2002 

Students as Teachers – Professor/Student Collaboration Improves a History Course

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In a recent post from Bryn Mawr’s Teaching and Learning Together in Higher Education, Professor Alejandro Quintana, Assistant Professor in the History Department at St. John’s University, and his student Writing Fellow, Morgan Zajkowski, have written an excellent blog post detailing their work together. Over the course of a semester, Quintana and Zajkowski collaborated on ways to improve student writing, retention, and participation in Quintana’s history course, guided by the principles of WAC. They offer helpful insights into fostering student engagement and making the classroom a dynamic place for collaborative discussion, while using low-risk writing assignments to build student confidence.

“I expected at some point to be forced to say no to any major suggestion to change my teaching practices. To my great surprise this never happened; our collaboration was progressive and smooth. Before I realized it, we were making significant changes to my teaching methodology. I learned so much from Morgan and my teaching practices were reshaped for the better. Today, a year after our collaboration, I have incorporated into all my current courses all the activities and assignments she helped me develop during the spring semester of 2013.”

“Students as Teachers Transforming a History Course”  – Alejandro Quintana and Morgan Zajkowski

Combating the “Kids Today” Trope in Student Writing

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Nick Carbone, Director of Teaching and Learning for Bedford/St. Martin’s, discusses the tendency of faculty to view their incoming students as progressively less skilled than in years past. He gives several reasons why, despite how it may appear, the written word is not necessarily in decline.

“There was no magical time when students arrived at college as literate and able as faculty imagined students used to be when the faculty were students themselves…Things are not getting worse. In many ways, since students are writing more in their everyday lives, things are getting better.”

“Faculty Who Diss Student Writing Under the ‘Kids Today’ Trope Forget That They Were Students” – Nick Carbone