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

Multilingual Writing Across Disciplines – an Interview with Anna Habib and Karyn Mallett – Part 2

In this series of interview questions from Mason WAC, Anna Habib, Assistant Director of Multilingual Composition, and Karyn Mallett, Associate Director of International Pathway and English Language Programs, offer some insights into their teaching practices and observations concerning multilingual composition.

Successful Approaches to Teaching Multilingual Writers:

The Challenges of Teaching Multilingual Writers:

Multilingual Writing Across Disciplines – an Interview with Anna Habib and Karyn Mallett – Part 1

In this series of interview questions from Mason WAC, Anna Habib, Assistant Director of Multilingual Composition, and Karyn Mallett, Associate Director of International Pathway and English Language Programs, offer some insights into their teaching practices and observations concerning multilingual composition.


Multilingual Writers at Mason:

Principles for Teaching Multilingual Writers:

Responding to Student Writing/Writers

Teaching and Learning in Higher Ed. highlights some of the best practices from Nancy Sommers’ new book, Responding to Student Writers. One of the most helpful insights is the ability to recognize that our comments to students may be contradictory, misleading, or vague, and that the real purpose of offering feedback to students is to “teach one lesson at a time.”

“We should ‘ask ourselves: What single lesson do I want to convey to students through comments? And how will I teach this lesson?'”

Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed.

Responding to Student Writers, Nancy Sommers

In 1982, Nancy Sommers published the landmark, award-winning essay “Responding to Student Writing.” That essay has helped many teachers think more intentionally and act more skillfully when they respond to what students write. Sommers shows how teachers too often write comments that come off as “arbitrary,” “idiosyncratic,” “contradictory,” and even “mean,” even though they put a lot of time and attention into commenting (p. 149-50). While the essay gives a needed call to pay more attention to how and why we comment, it comes off a bit hard on teachers, perhaps unjustifiably so in some cases, as Howard Tinberg has noted (p. 263). Now, thirty years later, Sommers takes up the same questions in a more positive, more practical, and more fully developed way, in her new book, Responding to Student Writers.

In the introduction, Sommers establishes the value of assigning and responding to student writing. She describes a large study…

View original post 905 more words

Blast From the Past – Revisiting WAC Concepts Twelve Years Later


As the conversations about Writing Across the Curriculum continue to evolve and march forward, it is always helpful to look back and see how far the program has come, both nationally and close to home. Today, we are linking back to a Mason WAC Newsletter from Fall of 2002 that highlights the strengths and challenges of digital writing. Lesley Smith and James Young offer insights into the benefits of digital writing in e-portfolios, and Ruth Fischer shares the credentials she and her colleagues created for the necessary IT skills of first-year composition students. The methods for implementing digital writing in the classroom have certainly progressed in the last twelve years, but the core pedagogical concepts remain the same.

“In an electronic space,” Smith and Young write, “those who perhaps struggle with words but excel with images might combine the two, and access a richness of perception previously denied both to them as writers and to their faculty members as assessors.”

WAC Newsletter – Fall 2002 

Students as Teachers – Professor/Student Collaboration Improves a History Course


In a recent post from Bryn Mawr’s Teaching and Learning Together in Higher Education, Professor Alejandro Quintana, Assistant Professor in the History Department at St. John’s University, and his student Writing Fellow, Morgan Zajkowski, have written an excellent blog post detailing their work together. Over the course of a semester, Quintana and Zajkowski collaborated on ways to improve student writing, retention, and participation in Quintana’s history course, guided by the principles of WAC. They offer helpful insights into fostering student engagement and making the classroom a dynamic place for collaborative discussion, while using low-risk writing assignments to build student confidence.

“I expected at some point to be forced to say no to any major suggestion to change my teaching practices. To my great surprise this never happened; our collaboration was progressive and smooth. Before I realized it, we were making significant changes to my teaching methodology. I learned so much from Morgan and my teaching practices were reshaped for the better. Today, a year after our collaboration, I have incorporated into all my current courses all the activities and assignments she helped me develop during the spring semester of 2013.”

“Students as Teachers Transforming a History Course”  – Alejandro Quintana and Morgan Zajkowski

Write Nerdy to Me: Utilizing Fanfiction in WAC/WID Courses

Fan Fiction 1
By Caitlin Dungan

Caitlin Dungan is a PhD student in Mason’s Writing and Rhetoric PhD Program. Caitlin is a Graduate Research Assistant for Mason’s Writing Across the Curriculum Program, and her current research interests include fanfiction, digital media and rhetoric, online feedback practices, and participatory culture.

It’s interesting, perplexing, and – I think – exciting that geek culture has emerged as mainstream. Realms previously reserved for a few indoctrinated fans are now open for participation to the many. One of the side effects of this growth in fandoms is the increasing number of emergent writers embracing fanfiction as a creative outlet. As young fans pursue this unique composition practice and post their works on online forums like or Archive of Our Own, how much of this self-sponsored writing is informing their writing practice in the classroom?

Continue reading

An Attempt at “Teaching Naked”: Implementing José Bowen in ENGH 302


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  You can reach her via email at  

Dr. José Bowen, President of Goucher College and author of Teaching Naked, came to George Mason’s Innovations in Teaching and Learning Conference sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence on September 18-19. During his visit, he led a 4-hour long workshop and then delivered a keynote presentation. During his presentations, Dr. Bowen spoke passionately about the importance of integrating technology more effectively into and out of the classroom as a way to encourage student accountability for learning and – most importantly – to transform the classroom into a site of thinking, not just knowledge acquisition.

Continue reading