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

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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.

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Blast From the Past – Revisiting WAC Concepts Twelve Years Later

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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

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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

Combating the “Kids Today” Trope in Student Writing

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Nick Carbone, Director of Teaching and Learning for Bedford/St. Martin’s, discusses the tendency of faculty to view their incoming students as progressively less skilled than in years past. He gives several reasons why, despite how it may appear, the written word is not necessarily in decline.

“There was no magical time when students arrived at college as literate and able as faculty imagined students used to be when the faculty were students themselves…Things are not getting worse. In many ways, since students are writing more in their everyday lives, things are getting better.”

“Faculty Who Diss Student Writing Under the ‘Kids Today’ Trope Forget That They Were Students” – Nick Carbone 

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

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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.  

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.

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