Supporting Faculty Writers: The Writing Retreat—Take Two

faculty writers

by Erica Jacobs

Erica Jacobs teaches writing at George Mason University. She has a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Columbia University and has published numerous articles in local newspapers, newsletters, and magazines. 

When I received an invitation to apply to the Faculty Writing Retreat to take place during the 2014-2015 winter break, I recognized I couldn’t let the opportunity pass. It was a similar retreat sponsored by the English Department in 1978 that permanently changed my writing and teaching. That was near the beginning of my career, and 37 years later—near the end—it was time to take the body of work I’d written over the years for local newspapers and see if it would be publishable as a collection.   Continue reading

Wikipedia: What Professors Tell Students and What Students Do

Wikipedia

by: Mikal Cardine

Mikal is a senior studying English at George Mason. She previously worked with WAC to create disciplinary writing guides for student use. To reach her, please contact wac@gmu.edu.

The average undergraduate will hear a variety of conflicting viewpoints from their university professors on the topic of Wikipedia. While some professors will openly express distrust of Wikipedia as a source for research, others are more open to the use of Wikipedia as a learning tool. While Middlebury College outright banned undergraduates from citing Wikipedia in any academic essay—stating that “students need to be taught to go for quality information, not just convenience” (Jaschik, 2)—professors such as Mark Kissling argue that faculty do a disservice to their students if they don’t help them to understand why instructors are concerned about the source. As Kissling writes, professors have a duty to teach “their students to learn to critically read Wikipedia…helping them understand how it is created, how it defines and positions knowledge, and what it makes possible and fails to do” (Kissling, 1).

As an undergraduate, I have to admit that Wikipedia is in. Originally branded as untrustworthy, the site is now our go-to research tool – but why? Has student scholarship fallen so far? Or has Wikipedia possibly become a useful research tool? Prompted to learn more, I decided to do a little research and created a simple survey to determine Wikipedia’s current value to both professors and students.

Continue reading

“The Rhetorical Situation” and Reading Strategies in Advanced Composition

Elements-of-Rhetoric

by: Caitlin Holmes

Caitlin Holmes is the Assistant Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at George Mason University.  She blogs regularly about teaching here at thewritingcampus.com.  You can reach her via email at wac@gmu.edu.  

During a pre-semester meeting to discuss the QEP assessment findings of Mason’s English 302 Students-as-Scholars Program, instructors of our Advanced Composition courses went over the primary student learning outcomes (SLO):

  • SLO-1, Discovery: Understand how they can engage in the practice of scholarship at GMU
  • SLO-2, Discovery: Understand research methods used in a discipline
  • SLO-3, Discovery: Understand how knowledge is transmitted within a discipline, across disciplines, and to the public
  • SLO-4, Inquiry: Articulate and refine a question
  • SLO-5, Inquiry: Follow ethical principles
  • SLO-6, Inquiry: Situate the scholarly inquiry [and inquiry process] within a broader context
  • SLO-7, Inquiry: Apply appropriate scholarly conventions during scholarly inquiry/reporting

What those discussions reinforced for my colleagues and me is that engagement in scholarship and knowledge transmission requires that students have advanced reading practices that often are not overtly discussed – or are sometimes presumed as proficiencies – as we work on writing competencies.   Continue reading

New Series: Supporting Faculty Writers – “The Weekend Retreat”

faculty writers

Erica Jacobs teaches English at Oakton High School and writing at George Mason University. She had a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Columbia University and has published numerous articles in local newspapers, newsletters, and magazines.  This article is a reprint from her 1997 publication, “The Weekend Retreat.”  Be on the look-out for her follow-up piece this February on her most recent participation in the WAC-sponsored Winter Faculty Writing Retreat that took place on January 7-8, 2015.

As a non-tenure track teacher at George Mason University, I was pleased to discover I was eligible to participate in a “Writing Retreat” sponsored by the English department and the Northern Virginia Writing Project in the fall of 1978. Don Gallehr had completed the first two summers of the Writing Institute with local high school teachers, and their success on the secondary level seemed to promise equal success on the University level.

Continue reading

Against “The Library Scavenger Hunt”: Better Library Research Assignments

Scavenger Hunt Picture

Jen Stevens is the Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian at George Mason University and a consultant for Mason’s Writing Across the Curriculum Faculty Senate Committee.  She has extensive experience assisting undergraduate and graduate student writers discover new resources and information in their research process.  For her information and current InfoGuides, click here!

In my work as a Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian at George Mason University, I work with faculty members and their students to help the students learn how to do better research, which in turn leads to better writing.

Last week, I found the strangest thing in the Fenwick Library Reference area. . .

Continue reading

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

man-scribble-yellow-lightbulb-head-600x600

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

Read-Around Groups: Low-Stakes and High-Impact Writing in First-Year Composition

 RAGS

By Caitlin Holmes

Since Dr. José Bowen visited Mason in September 2014, I have been working to implement more of his suggestions for teaching practice into my class. I wrote previously about utilizing one such suggestion: a combination of reading, writing in response, and discussion to understand the rhetorical nature of APA style. More recently, I have experimented with another approach to improving student writing in a low-stakes environment that requires students to show the higher-order thinking skills that Dr. Bowen emphasized: read-around groups. During his workshop at Mason, Bowen reminded us that students respond well to uncertainty, failure, and experimentation, and read-around groups (or RAGs, as they are also known) certainly allow for those conditions to emerge in a productive way.

Continue reading

Feedback and Revision – A Module from Eli Review

2756494307_a0380a96e0

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