Undergraduate Column: Can We Talk about Reading?


By Artie O’Leary

I have only experienced conversations about reading twice in my entire academic career. I don’t mean that we didn’t talk about the course readings themselves in my classes, we’ve talked quite a bit in many classes about the content of the pieces assigned. But these conversations often focused on content alone: What did the writer say? How is what the writer said different from what another writer said? How did what the writer say about the topic help me to understand important information related to the focus of the class? Continue reading

The Prevalence of Low Stakes Writing and Writing-to-Learn Activities in WI Courses

By Rachael Lussos

What is Low Stakes Writing, and Why is it important?

Low stakes writing and writing-to-learn activites (see table 1) include assignments such as in-class writing exercises, ungraded activities, and reflective writing opportunites. Table 1 poses the characteristics of low stakes and writing-to-learn activites in contrast to high stakes writing activites, which includes assignments like independent research and scientific papers, essay exams, and writing assignments that carry a high percentage of a final grade. Continue reading

Design Thinking in the Writing Classroom

Design Thinking

Image via trishaclarissa on pixabay.com

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 echambe5@masonlive.gmu.edu.

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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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.

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Mason’s WAC program profiled in piece on “High Impact Practices”

From the piece by Christopher J. Gearon in US News and World Reports:

“There is a clear connection between writing and students’ critical thinking skills,” says Michelle LaFrance, director of the Writing Across the Curriculum program at George Mason University in Virginia. Students who spend time perfecting the type of writing required by their disciplines “make better connections with one another and faculty, and they learn more deeply.”

Read the full article here:

How to Be a Better Writer – 6 Tips from Harvard’s Steven Pinker


Though writing is certainly one of the most complex acts humans engage in, sometimes it helps to boil the crafting of writing down to its most basic elements. When it comes to good writing, the essentials go beyond process and repetition and into the realm of psychology. Time’s Eric Barker interviewed Steven Pinker, of Harvard’s Department of Psychology, on what he considers to be the best tips for better writing. These helpful strategies are deceptively simple: things like “Don’t assume your reader knows what you already know.”

“…another bit of cognitive science that is highly relevant is a phenomenon called ‘the curse of knowledge.’ Namely, the inability that we all have in imagining what it’s like not to know something that we do know. And that has been studied in various guises in the psychological literature. People assume that the words that they know are common knowledge. That the facts that they know are universally known… the writer doesn’t stop to think what the reader doesn’t know.”

How to Be a Better Writer: 6 Tips from Harvard’s Steven Pinker

Feedback and Revision – A Module from Eli Review


Today we are highlighting a helpful module from Eli Review on how to understand, use, and teach informative feedback strategies and in-depth revision. Timely and explicit feedback from both teachers and peers leads not only to improved drafts, but to improved writing skills overall. Giving students the instruction they need to learn reflective skills for analyzing both their own writing and their peers’ is critical to fostering the confidence of emerging writers.

“Teaching and learning don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen within specific schools, classrooms, and cultural contexts. This is true for feedback as well.

Effective feedback requires a context in which learners have both the ability and opportunity to hear, understand, and act on that feedback. We might think about feedback rich classrooms as “safe and smart” learning contexts, or classroom communities in which students feel comfortable enough to risk engaging and learning with each other.”

Feedback and Revision: The Key Components of Powerful Writing Pedagogy