Practice Makes Perfect: A Student Perspective on Mason’s Culture of Writing

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by: Mikal Lambdin

Mikal is a senior studying English at George Mason.  She previously worked with WAC to create disciplinary writing guides for student use. Mikal is graduating in May 2015! To reach her, please contact wac@gmu.edu.

When first asked to write a blog post about my experience with Mason’s “culture of writing,” I will admit that my first question was “What is a culture of writing?” In response, Dr. Michelle LaFrance, Director of Mason’s Writing Across the Curriculum program, showed me the WAC program website. It reads:

At Mason, the WAC program upholds a campus-wide commitment to student writers, writing-rich coursework, and writing in the disciplines. . . Central to our program’s mission is the belief that when students are given frequent opportunities for writing across the university curriculum, they think more critically and creatively, engage more deeply in their learning, and are better able to transfer what they have learned from course to course, context to context.      

Looking back at my own undergraduate experiences, I can clearly see that Mason’s culture of writing had an impact on both my overall education and my development as a writer in many ways. Continue reading

Supporting Faculty Writers: Book Proposal Workshop

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by Caitlin Holmes and Caitlin Dungan

On Friday, April 24th, Mason’s Writing Across the Curriculum invited three experts on academic publishing to present on crucial information for writing and submitting book proposals.  Our panelists, Dr. John Farina, Dr. Peter Stearns, and John Warren (click here for full biographies), provided thoughtful and supportive advice to attendees before workshopping proposals. Here, we will summarize a few key points that our presenters discussed, our tweets of the event (see the full Twitter feed here), and one presenter’s handout at the end of this piece.  Continue reading

Professor Expectations of Writing Assignments: A Student Perspective

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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.

In the subjective world of writing, there doesn’t seem to be any rules – just lots of different guidelines as we students move from class to class. However, effective communication is what writing is all about, and professors can best teach their students this skill by practicing it themselves, especially regarding their expectations of writing assignments. Before assuming that we know what is expected of us, professors need to consider our circumstances and differences: Some of us have not been in a focused writing class in years. Some of us have not taken 302 before taking the WI course. Some of us placed out of first year writing, or have transferred to Mason and are still adjusting to new professors and new expectations. And of course, most of us have probably received terrible writing instruction at some point.            Continue reading

Graduate Writing Consultations and WAC

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by Jenae Cohn

Jenae Cohn is a PhD candidate pursuing a Designated Emphasis in Writing, Rhetoric, and Composition in the English department at the University of California, Davis. She is a graduate writing fellow through the University Writing Program’s Writing Across the Curriculum program and her research interests include digital rhetoric, materiality, and the history of the book. She can be contacted via e-mailTwitter, and her personal website.

Never before had I seen an article filled with more numbers than words on one page. I was in the second-year of my PhD program in English and was working as a graduate writing consultant (“tutor”) through my university’s Writing Across the Curriculum program.

As someone who had trained as a tutor in an undergraduate writing center in college, I knew the techniques for skimming a long paper, seeking out the main points, and identifying the areas of higher-order concerns. In college, I had dealt with a variety of papers from disciplines across the curriculum, operating under the assumption that, as Pemberton (1995) puts it, “many aspects of text production… are ‘generic’ in nature and, for the most part, extend across disciplinary boundaries” (p. 367). Yet for the first time, I was confronted with the fact that there were disciplinary differences – and big ones – that I had never encountered before. I didn’t know what to do. After all, I was new to WAC as a pedagogy to use in tutoring and I didn’t thinking that my writing center knowledge alone was enough to equip me for the new challenges of reading and commenting upon the conventions of academic disciplinary prose at the graduate level.  Continue reading

Supporting Faculty Writers: Mason Faculty Writing Retreats – A Comprehensive Review

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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.

With the support of Mason’s Provost Office and Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence, the Writing Across the Curriculum Program hosted two Faculty Writing Retreats in the past 12 months: one in May 2014 and the other in January 2015. Such retreats had occurred in the past under the supervision of the Northern Virginia Writing Project, but not for quite some time. This blog post will review the different structures of the May 2014 and January 2015 retreats, give summaries of evaluation results for both retreats, and provide a few concluding thoughts about what we may try in the future at Mason.  Continue reading

Wikipedia: What Professors Tell Students and What Students Do

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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

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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”

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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.

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

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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

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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