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 echambe5@masonlive.gmu.edu.

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 echambe5@masonlive.gmu.edu.

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

“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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“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

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