Archive for the ‘Writing Process’ Category

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Keep It Simple, Stupid

posted: 2.25.11 by archived

That was the message from my class when I tried to implement my grand scheme of turning the “simple” personal essay assignment into a collaborative Anthology project. We had already visited a computer lab where students set up individual blogs in order to post rough drafts and journal-type reflections, and we had figured out (haltingly) how to get students access to a Google docs space for sharing anthology ideas, but when I tried to introduce MS Word’s commenting feature as a way for them to share drafts to help each other proofread, their eyes started to roll back in their heads. One brave soul voiced her objections, and others soon chimed in. It took me about thirty seconds to acknowledge that they were right.

I believe there are several potential causative factors for this technology revolt:  my attempts this semester to introduce more collaboration to my composition classes; my teaching schedule, which includes both f2f and online classes; and my own excitement about exploring different technology tools (an interest not necessarily shared by my students).

This whole experience has once again raised a host of questions about how I can best use technology with my particular community college students. (For now, I won’t try to define how “community college” impacts the technology issue except to say that the very diversity of the CC student population is the most significant complicating factor.) Here are some of my questions:

How much? Several of my students expressed nostalgia for the system they were accustomed to from their high school English classes: papers passed back and forth between student and teacher in a private way, teachers marking mistakes, students correcting them. I’m not going to do that in my classes. Just as I insist that my students turn in word-processed essays, I require blogs as a way to make student writing public. Is that my electronic line in the sand? Is it a reasonable one? Can I ask that much? Should I require more? [read more]

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Categories: Community College issues, Holly Pappas, Writing Process
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How Do I Write a Passing College Essay? A Template Story

posted: 2.14.11 by Susan Naomi Bernstein

“How do I write a passing college essay?” asks a worried-looking student in Developmental Writing. It is midterm. She anticipates the final assessment that will determine her status as “developmental” or “college level” for the next term. Her financial aid and her timely graduation depend on writing this elusive passing essay. She tells you that nothing in class has helped: not models, not mini-lessons, not free writing, not peer review, not conferencing, not feedback on drafts from you and from the writing center—nothing.

You see her progress, and you try to explain her improvement with specific evidence from her writing. But that explanation, the student says, does not help her. She needs to understand how to write an essay. She asks for tips, hints, and suggestions that will work for her each time—like the formulas she consults for algebra, the bone charts she memorizes for anatomy.

From the student’s point of view, her request certainly seems reasonable. She wants to know how. You realize that your class has been focusing on why. Why do we write? Why are reading and critical thinking important for writing? Why do audience and purpose matter? You have learned over the years that why questions provide students with opportunities to gain agency and motivation as writers. You have seen such transformations over and over again.

You remember that Aristotle stresses observation and persuasion. Aristotle conceived of rhetoric as “a method to discover all means of persuasion on any topic whatsoever.”    Perhaps you can rethink the student’s question as a request for a “method to discover” all available means for writing an essay. [read more]

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Categories: Writing Process
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Asking Students to Set Writing Goals

posted: 1.11.11 by Traci Gardner

4930697767_84f544e0bb_mAs I think about the beginning of a new term, I wonder how students can have more ownership in setting the goals for a course.

For over a year now my personal goal has been to focus on Baby Steps and Flexibility in Goal Setting, and I want to apply that idea to the goals for a course.

Normally the goals for a class come from the course description and the department guidelines. They’re typically broad objectives for what the course should accomplish—for example, a certain number of papers or words, the specific genres of writing, a certain level of expertise with style and correctness.

Students don’t relate well to such goals, but they rarely have better alternatives. If I ask students to tell me what they want to learn in a course, they usually default to answers like “I want to learn to be a better writer” or “I want a good grade.”

What if I ask them to choose one very concrete goal for the course and give them the time and support to reach it? I propose an assignment like this:

This course has several overarching goals listed on the syllabus. These objectives will take up the majority of our time, but I also want the class to address your personal goals as a writer.

I want you brainstorm a list of mistakes you’ve made in your writing—things that teachers have told you to work on or things that you’ve always wondered about.

Choose one very specific item from your list and make it your personal writing goal for the course (such as, “I want to learn how to use the semicolon” or “I wish I knew how to write a strong thesis statement”).

Write a message to the class that explains what you want to know and why you are interested in learning it. This message will set your personal goal for the class. You’ll be able to revise and adjust your goal later in the term if you need to. [read more]

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Categories: Writing Process
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The Great Challenge

posted: 12.22.10 by Barclay Barrios

The assignment sequences in our program follow a general pattern: the first paper works with one author, the second paper with two, the third paper with three, and the fourth paper with two. That third paper is always a challenge for students—they just start to figure out how to work with two texts and suddenly we’re asking them to work with three. But I think it’s an important challenge. In asking students to work with three authors we give them a first glimpse of how knowledge is produced throughout the academy. As they move into their majors and disciplines they will often be asked to work with multiple sources; this third paper assignment gives them early practice with those skills.

We also try to broaden the scope of this assignment to move beyond the texts of the classroom and back into the world in which we live. What does such an assignment look like? Well, here’s the one we came up with this past fall:

HIV/AIDS continues to be a global epidemic. In “AIDS, Inc.” Helen Epstein examines HIV/AIDS prevention programs in Africa, finding that not only are conversations about the disease important but that certain kinds of conversations are particularly essential. To what extent can her insights be used to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases here in the United States? Using all three essays we’ve read so far, write a paper in which you propose strategies for halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in the United States and across the globe. [read more]

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Categories: Working with Sources, Writing Process
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Remixing Argumentative Essays as Proposals

posted: 12.13.10 by archived

I’m teaching a first-year writing class this semester. And the semester is almost over—I’ll collect final portfolios from my students in less than a week.

The sequence of assignments for my class this semester likely looks pretty standard (at least according to research on assignment sequences that I presented in this blog before). I assigned a personal narrative, an evaluation, an argument, then a proposal. But this semester, I set up the proposal as a remix of the argument essay—same topic, but students must find a way to get people to act on their arguments.  The assignment asks them to do the following:

Choose a specific audience—some person or organization who can actually act on your suggestions—then choose a genre that will allow you to reach that audience (perhaps a formal letter, a pamphlet, or an advertisement). And then in the proposal itself, outline some clear steps for your audience to take to create change.

The results have been really interesting. In fact, a few assumptions I had about the assignment have since exploded:

  1. The proposals will look a lot like the argument essays, and though the changes will be important, they will be relatively minor. Nope.  In fact, lots of students changed their argument altogether. When they were forced to suggest tangible actions, they tempered, amplified, or altered their positions on the topic in meaningful ways. [read more]

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Categories: Jay Dolmage, Writing Process
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Selling the Value of Revision

posted: 12.3.10 by archived

I have used many technologies to comment on student drafts—green or purple (never red!) pen on paper essays, the comment feature in MS Word, Google docs—but my primary goal is always to open students’ eyes to possibilities for revision. I want them to experience the perseverance of trying to say, clearly and vividly, what you mean to say; the joy of deliberating over words like colors from a paint box, or moving sections of an essay the way you would play with building blocks; the sense of comfort that writing is not finished until you declare it final. But how do I go about teaching this? Surely not by grabbing the pen out of a student’s hand to “fix” his or her writing? I tell my students that words should drip off their pens like sand, that writers don’t work in concrete. But it’s a hard sell.

When I hear my students say, “I’m done. It’s finished. I said what I want to say,” I wonder about the sources of their intractability. Part of it is boredom, no doubt, with topics they don’t care about (maybe because they didn’t spend time enough at the invention stage, or because assignments boxed them in too tightly). For some, the demands of busy lives or old-fashioned laziness may be factors. But there’s also the sense, for many, that they only need concern themselves with “fixing errors,” that correct spelling and mechanics are the chief goal in writing. [read more]

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Categories: Holly Pappas, Proofreading/Editing, Revising
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Why Choosing the Right Style Matters

posted: 11.30.10 by Traci Gardner

3637551314_a432bcd8f2_mAs teachers, we know that the way a person writes is important, but it’s often hard to convince students why choosing the right style matters.

I’ve tried making a comparison to how people choose their clothes. You wouldn’t wear jeans and a t-shirt to a job interview. You have to dress your language in the same way. You shouldn’t use casual, informal language in a résumé or application letter, for example. By extension, you have to choose the right style for everything you write.

This comparison hasn’t been as effective as I’d like, though. My hunch is that to them it just seems like another rule. There’s too much emphasis on providing students with a rule instead of showing them why the rule matters. So, here’s a new strategy that does a better job of showing students why choosing the right style matters.

Have students read Alison Kramer’s Should What You Wear Reflect Who You Are In Business? as well as the comments on the post. In the blog entry, Kramer wonders about how she is judged as a business owner because of the clothes she chooses to wear. She’d prefer “Grateful Dead t-shirts, ripped jeans, and no make-up,” but fears that she should wear a dress and the uncomfortable shoes that give her blisters. [read more]

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Categories: Teaching Advice, Teaching with Technology, Writing Process
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“Tell Me Again Why We’re Doing This?”

posted: 10.28.10 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Downs pic for BitsDoug

In my writing program, the initial energy of the semester has worn down and we’re all settled into the weekly grind. We’re reading, writing about the readings, and working on large, multi-week projects—like descriptions of discourse communities, and exploring what different communities say makes good writing—that put our readings into motion.

With a couple of major assignments done and another on the way, students, and more than a few teachers, are wondering, “Why, again, are we doing this?” How are these readings and writing-about-writing helping us? It’s a lot of work—what’s the payoff? So this is a good point in the semester to return to the outcomes on our syllabi, what we actually want students to get out of the course.

Here are the outcomes from my Comp I syllabus:

  • Understand the nature of writing and your own experiences with writing differently than when you began.
  • Increase your ability to read rhetorical situations, and be aware of the rhetorical choices you make in your writing.
  • Know what questions to ask when entering new rhetorical situations in order to adjust your approach to writing to meet that situation.
  • Be a more reflective writer.
  • Build your ability to collaborate in communities of writers and readers.
  • Gain comfort with taking risks in new writing situations.
  • Increase your control of situation‑appropriate conventions of writing.
  • Expand your research literacy. [read more]

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Categories: Writing about Writing, Writing Process
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Revision and Remix

posted: 10.22.10 by archived

When I began teaching with Ways of Reading, I had a hard time coming up with assignments that fit with my pedagogical interest in multimodal composition.  However, I discovered that composing audio and/or visual remixes is a useful way for students to put authors Bartholomae and Petrosky’s concept of revision into practice.  For those of you who are interested in finding ways to integrate technology into your composition courses, the remix is a compositional genre worth exploring.

“The Remix Project” was the final assignment in my seminar on composition, a course designed around the concept of revision as a “re-vision, or re-seeing” as Bartholomae and Petrosky write. Throughout the semester, we practiced revision as an act of transformation that alters the meaning of the original text.  By the end of the term, students had already radically revised (or remixed) several of their textual essays.

The remix project, then, gave them an opportunity to experiment with revision techniques through multiple modes of composition. [read more]

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Categories: Pitt Instructors, Revising
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Use Oral Discussion as Prewriting

posted: 10.19.10 by Traci Gardner

nctebuttonTomorrow is the second National Day on Writing. As part of the celebration, for the next year Bedford/St. Martin’s is sponsoring a National Partner Gallery, where teachers and students can submit a piece of writing that describes the memories and stories related to a meaningful photograph.

The Bedford/St. Martin’s Gallery includes this basic prompt:

Choose a photograph that is important to you. Write a brief essay that describes the moment the photograph captures and why it is meaningful, for you and/or others.

The challenge is that simple phrase: “Write a brief essay.” The solution is to use oral discussion as prewriting. [read more]

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Categories: Writing Process
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