Link Round-Up: WAC Staff Blog Picks

In preparation for a new school year, here are our staff blog picks from last year.  Read on for four easy-to-use teaching tips for the writing classroom.

Tom Polk, Assistant Director, recommends Mini and Mighty: How the One-Minute Paper can Transform Your Teaching.

In this article, Tom Sura recommends using a simple index card to assess students’ understanding. He uses them at the end of each class to review what students believe was most important and any questions they have.

Tom Polk writes: “what I love about Professor’s Sura strategy is its simplicity.  We often think and talk of teaching with writing as an arduous endeavor, but the one-minute paper doesn’t really require planning, time, or technology.  It, however, can provide critical insight into our students’ learning while also developing their practice of reflection if used regularly.  For professors who are looking for an easy way to start using writing as a pedagogical tool, the one-minute paper is a good place to start.”

Dr. Michelle LaFrance, Director, recommends Error in Student Writing: A Balanced, Developmental Approach:

Paul Corrigan encourages teachers to re-consider their marking of student errors in this piece.  By reconsidering their marking, teachers can better encourage and support students’ writing development.

“Paul’s piece reminds instructors that less is sometimes more in dealing with writers at all stages of development—a prospect that is both good pedagogy and time saving for me as an instructor,” comments Michelle.

Alisa Russel, Associate Editor of The Writing Campus, recommends Placing Writing Processes on the Wall:

Here, Donald Gallehr narrates a teaching experience in which he asked students to map out their writing process and THE writing process, thereby helping students re-consider the effectiveness of their process.

“What I love about this piece, whether you follow Dr. Gallehr’s exact activity (which he details nicely for you) or whether you modify it slightly, is that it encourages explicit discussion about writing processes,” explains Alisa.  “I think many of our students believe that more experienced or professional writers don’t engage a writing process – that words flow through them from on high. It’s all very mysterious. However, Dr. Gallehr’s activity forces students not only to recognize and name their own processes, but then evaluate them against other models.  This way we bring the “grunt-work” of writing out of the mysterious shadows and into the light for our students to better shape their processes – and hopefully produce better papers because of it.”

Emily Chambers, Graduate Research Assistant, recommends Infographics: A Fun, Multimodal Tool for Student Thinking and Writing:

Ben Causey describes how to use infographics and even employs some of his own in this article.  Ben outlines ways to use infographics in the writing classroom for pre-writing, revising, or as a stand-alone assignment.

Emily notes that “Ben describes multiple ways to use infographics in the classroom, such that they become accessible and feasible, even alongside a writing assignment or without technology. I’m excited about the ways that infographics can help students compose or revise, as well as helping them improve their technological and visual composition skills.”

Exploring the WAC Archives at Fenwick Library

This piece was first published in our WAC 2015-2016 newsletter.

By Emily Chambers

Emily 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  

Mason WAC has a rich history of supporting faculty who teach writing across the disciplines. During the 2014-2015 academic year, WAC worked with the GMU Libraries to archive over 30 years of the program’s historical documents. In the Fall of 2015, I searched through those archives for evidence of the history and work of WAC. What I found was documentation of the relationship-building work carried out across campus, by program and department faculty interested in supporting student writers at all levels. Documents reveal conversations with faculty in Nursing, Law, Psychology, Art, and more. Documents include meeting memos, reports, syllabi, student writing, and ongoing communications about course development. There are print and hand written notes from phone calls about writing contests, writing ambassadors, and other collaborations. Through these partnerships, a WAC Committee was formed in 1993 and began to define what writing across the curriculum meant. The Committee continues to do so, overseeing the approval and review of all WI courses on Mason’s campus.  Here are three examples of documents in the archives:

Adams and Thaiss Memos 1991In a memo to Christopher Thaiss, WAC Coordinator, William H. Adams, of the School of Law, wrote, “They need to understand the different writing techniques used in a variety of legal activities…to develop coherent legal arguments, students need both the ability to write clearly and a different kind of understanding of the legal process.” In response, Thaiss sent Adams materials on writing principles and characteristics that work across the disciplines.

On a handwritten note from a faculty meeting, titled “’mini-version’ of 499 papers,” the author jotted down these notes:April 29, 2003 Handwritten note

“Intro spells out how paper will engage in the debate;

“‘I’ is often okay but must be strategic;

“Makes an argument even if flawed.”

This note shows the ongoing collaboration between WAC and faculty in the departments, as they strive to define writing expectations in the disciplines.

In her New Century College Portfolio reflection piece, one student writes, “As a learner I am now better able to read and write, two things that seem more basic than they actually are…As a wriNew Century College Portfolio, Student Writing Sampleter I have learned how to organize and explain my thought[s] more appropriately. I feel I have gotten away from the page filling method of writing. I am better able to write the necessary material to make my point and thoughts clear. Though I at one time was under the
misconception that informative writing had to be plain and straight forward, I have learned to make my writing interesting to not only the reader but also me the writer.” This student’s rich metacognitive awareness is a model for writing students, and one that WAC aims to help students achieve through WAC’s support of writing teachers.

Mason’s WAC program continues to be grounded in this rich history of relationship-building and work across the curriculum, even as it seeks new ways to support and reach writing teachers across campus and to advance the conversation about writing course pedagogy.

Reviewing Your Pedagogy by Using Jessie Stommel’s #4wordpedagogy

When Jessie Stommel tweeted “Start by trusting students. #4wordpedagogy” and invited others to join in making four-word pedagogy statements, he began an unexpected worldwide conversation.  More than 4,500 tweets followed, with humorous, provoking, and critical comments on education today.  The Twitter conversation Jessie started shows Twitter at its best, as a tool to begin honest conversation and innovation among many.  

Many of the tweets are applicable to those who teach writing, though not so specific as to only apply to them.  Most of the tweets challenge teachers to rethink the way they approach students:

By seeing the humanity of students and the collaborative nature of teaching, teachers are prepared to work with students, not against them; to see students as fellow workers in meaning-making.  Still, teachers must acknowledge that they are for students by showing it in words or actions:

The move to acknowledge and show that students matters moves teachers to humility, and makes them able to learn alongside students.  In the writing classroom, this can look like writing alongside students, such that teachers can empathize with and build camaraderie with their fellow writers, who also happen to be students.  Many who responded to Jessie’s invitation acknowledged that this is just where teachers should be:  

Nevertheless, this working together can get messy, and others who responded pushed educators to allow students freedom in the messy process of learning:

Others proposed that these messy approaches should be student-centered and experimental:

There’s a beauty to Jessie’s challenge to write a four word pedagogy: it forces educators to zero-in on the core of their pedagogy.  As you reflect on the semester past, what are ways that your course adhered to your core pedagogy? What are ways that it got a little off course? Try writing your own #4wordpedagogy, as a way of focusing in on what matters most, then use it to re-evaluate how to move forward in your teaching.  We’d love to know what you come up with; comment below or tweet us @writingcampus.

To read Jesse’s full article, visit:

Playing, Learning, and the Teaching Problem by Barbara Fister

All learning and no play makes students dull, writes Barbara Fister.  Well, not exactly.  Instead, she reviews Allison Gopnik’s NYT piece on the learning processes of small children, with possible applications to the classroom.  Gopnik describes how young children, who are naturally curious and love exploring and imitating, can perform the same task by imitation as if they are taught that task explicitly, yet when taught explicitly, they lose the opportunity to discover on their own.  Fister and Gopnik argue that students are better off learning when they search and discover on their own, creating their own understanding of the world during that process.  These discovery processes are richer. Continue reading

Course Workload Estimator by Rice University Center for Teaching Excellence

How long does it take students work on coursework assignments?  In a recently released resource from the Rice University Center for Teaching Excellence, Elizabeth Barre and Justin Esarey created an online calculator of out of class hours students spend on coursework, based on their writing and reading rates.  

The online calculator uses various factors of reading and writing assignments to calculate an estimated number of out of class work hours.  Researchers Barre and Esarey used several research sources as a foundation and filled in its gaps with their own assumptions.  The calculator, nevertheless lets you manually adjust if you disagree with their assumptions.  Reading rates are determined by page density, text difficulty, and reading purpose.  Reading to survey a text that has no new concepts, students can read about 500 words per minute.  But when the purpose is more complex (reading for understanding or engaging with a text), the text difficulty is greater (some or many new concepts), and/or the page density increases, the student’s’ reading rate drops.  

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Design Thinking in the Writing Classroom

Design Thinking

Image via trishaclarissa on

By Emily Chambers

Emily Chambers is a former WAC GRA and is studying for her M.A. in Teaching Writing and Literature. Her main interests are faculty development and curriculum resources. Prior to coming to GMU, she taught sixth grade English in Culpeper County, VA; now she teaches composition at GMU. She can be reached at

Design Thinking is a way of using the principles of design to think about various problems and projects in contexts outside of design.  When clients give designers a brief, a document outlining the goals and results of the proposed project, the designers use design thinking to create prototypes and final products for the client.  Many educators, innovators, and businesses have sought to apply design thinking to the classroom.  For writing teachers, design thinking offers several principles that are helpful, because it addresses the complex challenges that writers face.  By teaching our students to face these challenges together, with minds open to new possibilities and a willingness to fail, we can teach students a means to successful writing.  Design thinking addresses complicated problems with empathy, collaboration, divergent thinking, and failing often.  

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“I Cannot Prepare Students to Write Their (History, Philosophy, Sociology, Poly Sci., etc…) Papers” by John Warner

First year composition courses are often expected to cure students of all their writing woes.  John Warner addresses this false assumption by examining why students’ writing often falters outside the first year composition classroom.  Not only are students often underprepared and still learning content material, but they do not grasp the requirements of different genres and rhetorical situations.  Even when armed with an understanding of rhetorical questions to consider when writing, students often struggle to apply these to a new field of study.   Continue reading

Resources and Reflections from the Northern Virginia Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute 2016, Part 2

Image via The New York Times Learning Network

Image via The New York Times Learning Network

Emily Chambers is a former WAC GRA and is studying for her M.A. in Teaching Writing and Literature. Her main interests are faculty development and curriculum resources. Prior to coming to GMU, she taught sixth grade English in Culpeper County, VA; now she teaches composition at GMU. She can be reached at

Each year, teachers who participate in the Northern Virginia Writing Project Invitational Study Institute (NVWP ISI) create an incredible number of resources, and this year was no different. At the ISI, each teacher consultant (as graduates of the ISI are called) presents a demonstration of a writing lesson they have successfully taught in their classroom. This year, teacher consultants presented on everything from found poetry, to improv, to visual literacy. Each lesson is focused on teaching a writing skill to all students; what follows is a sample of just a few of those lessons.

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The Importance of A Writing Community: Reflections from the Northern Virginia Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute 2016, Part 1

Image via Peter Anderson

Image via Peter Anderson

Emily Chambers is a former WAC GRA and is studying for her M.A. in Teaching Writing and Literature. Her main interests are faculty development and curriculum resources. Prior to coming to GMU, she taught sixth grade English in Culpeper County, VA; now she teaches composition at GMU. She can be reached at

For four weeks this summer, 18 teacher writers met in a crowded conference room, with a beautiful view of treetops, and natural sunlight filling the room through a wall-length window. Three tables were pushed together to form a “U” shape, and the tabletops were crowded with journals, laptops, pens, and coffee cups. Each day, the teacher writers discussed their teaching practice and wrote page after page. With chairs pushed close together, they shared insights, inspiration, and struggles with each other. In the morning, the room filled with the smell of breakfast and coffee brewing, the tea kettle just about to boil nearby. The teacher writers’ voices reverberated and resounded through the halls outside the room.

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“Professors Can Learn to Be More Effective Instructors” by Coleen Flaherty

Coleen Faherty reviews Faculty Development and Student Learning: Assessing the Connections (Indiana University Press), a book based on a multi-year study of faculty development at Washington State and Carleton University.  They found that faculty development improves faculty’s teaching and positively influences students’ development.  Developing outcomes the faculty believed in was important, the study found, and the improvement to faculty’s teaching persisted over many years, even spreading to others who did not attend the same development. Continue reading