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 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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“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 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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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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