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67 Posts authored by: Miriam Moore Expert

Over the past two or three weeks, most of us have made the shift to online learning as part of our nation-wide response to the corona virus pandemic. A number of helpful resources have been posted, from the most basic steps to these excellent ideas from Tina Shanahan specifically related to the corequisite course online.


As I have been shaping my courses for the move to an online environment, I have tried to follow the same principles I would use to design a face-to-face composition and corequisite paired course: structure, redundancy, transparency, connection, and opportunities for “high-quality” talk. 


Structure: My online course is organized into weekly folders containing all readings, handouts, and assignments, so that students can access material easily. An overview to each week’s folder reminds students of the goals and due dates for the week.


Redundancy: Key information is available in multiple places and in multiple formats.  For example, in addition to the overviews in the weekly folders, I post reminders in the course calendar, in the announcements (seen on the log-in screen), and in regular emails. I have colleagues who build in redundancy via texts, tweets, or apps such as Remind.  


Transparency: I try to outline the purpose of assignments so that students can propose reasonable alternatives if circumstances or technology make completion difficult. If students are having trouble completing a reading journal in a Google Doc, they might propose a photo of a handwritten journal sent via email or text. If a student’s proposal fulfills the assignment goals, then I’ll take the alternative, no problem.


Connection: In a typical semester, I try to connect with online students at least once in a F2F or virtual one-on-one session, and that connection is all the more important in this mid-semester shift. That connection could occur via Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, or any other online interface—or by phone. I think it’s important to frame these check-ins with a personal connection, before turning to academics. Is the student well?  How about his work? How’s her family doing? What is the biggest challenge at the moment? Are there resources (food pantries, campus medical clinics, community support) that might be helpful to the student? 


“High-quality classroom talk”: This phrase comes from Myhill and Newman (2016), who suggest that students learn to think metalinguistically and apply that thinking in their writing through “high-quality classroom talk.” I think my greatest concern in the shift to a fully online environment was the loss of in-the-moment classroom talk about writing. But there are ways to foster such talk online, even if you have been discouraged from synchronous class sessions (which may not be feasible for all students). Of course, individual check-ins and online peer review (via Google Docs or other collaborative platforms) can support metalinguistic talk and reflection. Another option is the discussion board. If you choose to use a discussion in your online corequisite, consider the following ideas:


  • Make sure students are comfortable with the format. You can record a short video (via Kaltura or another screen capture tool) to show students how to write, post, read, and reply in the discussion board (these will vary depending on your LMS). You might also offer to walk through the process with students during an individual check in.
  • Clarify the purpose of the activity and make discussion prompts specific. If students are going to discuss a reading, ask 3-4 guiding questions, with a focus not only on paraphrasing content but also on analyzing, extending, and applying. Focus on questions where a range of answers are possible for exploration.
  • Provide guidance as to the number, length, and formatting expectations for posts. If you expect complete sentences, make sure students know this up front—as well as the guidelines you will use to assess and evaluate their contributions.
  • If possible, use multiple deadlines across an extended period of time. For example, instead of asking all students to post a reply and 3 responses by the deadline, set three deadlines: Post an initial response by Wednesday, respond to a classmate by Sunday, and respond again by Tuesday. You might want to negotiate deadlines in your weekly check-ins with students.
  • If you are using multiple deadlines, join the discussion yourself, providing additional clarity, probing answers, modelling discussion strategies, and suggesting ways of connecting and developing ideas further.
  • If your class is large, consider dividing into smaller groups for more efficient online discussions.
  • Use the discussion as a platform for continued learning:
    • Ask students to summarize or paraphrase the most important conclusions from a discussion.
    • Ask students to review a discussion as part of a reading or reflection journal.
    • Revisit discussions. If you’ve added a new reading, for example, you might ask students to pick three comments from a prior discussion and consider how the new reading confirms, contradicts, or complicates their previous conclusions.
    • Quote student discussions in your announcements, comments, handouts, videos, or other materials. Show the students that you are reading and thinking about their ideas.
    • Allow students to use a class discussion as a source for an essay assignment, citing their classmates as authors.


Online discussions actually provide a natural opportunity for integrated reading and writing instruction, but students do not always find their footing quickly or easily in an online forum. Your online presence—along with clear directions and multiple opportunities for participation—can ease students into the process.


Ultimately, the shift to online instruction can be anxiety-inducing for instructors and students alike. Find support among colleagues and technical staff—and know that rough spots are normal. In fact, my last suggestion is perhaps the most important: grant your students—and yourself—a hefty measure of flexibility and grace.

Do you remember your first experience with peer review—in high school, college, graduate school, or somewhere else? How do you construct peer review sessions in your classes? How has peer review evolved in your pedagogy? If you’ve recently shifted to a corequisite plus FYC model, how does peer review fit within that model?


My first encounter with peer review occurred in an advanced expository writing course my junior year in college; I don’t recall much about the actual in-class sessions, other than the fact that we were working with hard copies (this was the late 1980s) read aloud to a small group. Mostly I remember anxiety: I dreaded the vulnerability I faced while listening to group members critique my writing and argue about whether or not I had overused semicolons. (I actually remember writing a sentence in an observation paper about a child with “tousled” hair. I loved the word and knew exactly why I wanted to use it—having encountered it in my own reading—but I had no clue how to pronounce it. The fear of making a basic pronunciation mistake sent my already entrenched anxiety skyrocketing).


A few years later, as a graduate student with very little training in composition pedagogy, I was teaching a sheltered section of first-year composition for international students, and I assigned peer reviews (as I was told to do) regularly. But the students, lacking confidence in their own skills in English and receiving no clear guidance from me, did not find the exercise helpful. I might have abandoned peer review altogether in my second year of teaching, but shortly before the term started, I was asked to join a small group exploring writing pedagogy, led by Dr. Nancy Thompson and Dr. Rhonda Grego. We read Marie Wilson Nelson’s At the Point of Need, kept teaching journals, and conducted personal research into our teaching. Critically, we used Elbow and Belanoff’s A Community of Writers as our class text, and the small companion booklet that came with it, Sharing and Responding, as a guide for peer review. With a tangible set of instructions for peer review, students began to respond much more positively—and I found sufficient reason to try peer review in my classes again (and fell in love with teaching multilingual and so-called “basic” writers at the same time).


Although I continually adjust and refine the way I conduct peer review, I generally come back to the principles and techniques in Sharing and Responding every semester, particularly in helping students understand the value of descriptive and “sayback” responding. This sort of non-judgmental listening and describing does much to alleviate the anxiety and panic that some students may feel. (I was reminded of this anxiety at the recent Georgia Association for Developmental Education conference, where I attended a “Writing Marathon” session requiring participants to compose and then read writing aloud to colleagues we did not even know.  I was asked to read first in my group, and I know my blood pressure was climbing when three other sets of eyes were trained on me and my yellow notebook. But the only response group members were allowed to give after each reading was this: “Thank you for sharing.” We did three iterations, and it was much easier the third time).


When it’s time for more directed feedback in class, we do preliminary work first: we discuss the benefits of peer review beyond improving the draft at hand, and we practice offering feedback on drafts that class members did not write. I generally have students do peer review in the first-year composition class, not during the corequisite, although we may use corequisite class time to discuss ways of using and responding to peer feedback.

This semester, our first peer review was conducted in a virtual space, and after some training and practice exercises, students responded to the drafts of others in their small group using the comments features on Google Docs. I asked students to focus on content and organization-- saying back what they heard, responding to content, clarifying points of confusion, and asking questions. Since these drafts were still relatively early, I asked them not to focus on grammar or punctuation.


Seventeen students participated in the first peer review, and they made a total of 155 comments, most of which focused on personal connections to content, praise for strong wording or support, and suggestions for expansion (requesting definitions or more information). Each draft (which was 2-3 pages in length) received an average of 9 peer comments (in contrast, the papers received on average 13 targeted comments from me).  


I saw much to be pleased about as I reviewed the comments: for the most part, students took the exercise seriously and made perceptive comments that relied heavily on modality and suggestion (might, could, would, can, consider, etc.), as well as questions. 


But neither the numbers nor a linguistic analysis provides an adequate measure of the success of the review, although both suggest students met the goal of engaging in substantive talk—and metatalk—about writing. Now I want to understand how students value the peer review process and what they will do with the comments they were given; in the past, some students have told me that the only comments worth considering are the ones from me, since I am doing the grading. This week, students will be reflecting on the peer review exercise and their next steps (in a journal exercise). I am eager to see their responses.


How do you set up peer review for students in FYC/corequisite courses? How do you assess the effectiveness of those sessions? I would love to hear your strategies.

We are heading into the fourth week of spring term, rounding out the first quarter of our FYC and corequisite courses. We’ve just finished early draft conferences on the first significant project – a literacy narrative. One of my research interests for this year concerns the nature of metatalk in my classroom and how to foster richer metatalk via conferencing, group work, and feedback. To that end, I’ve structured the FYC course so that each of the three major writing projects receives multiple rounds of feedback in different forms: an initial conference with oral feedback, a peer review that might include both written and oral feedback, and then written feedback from me via Google Docs. My written feedback is meant to spark further discussion as well, given that the commenting apparatus in Google Docs allows for replies (I’m alerted via email when a student responds to a comment). I’m looking to spark richer discussion that will in turn lead to thoughtful and strategic revisions, building up to the final portfolio. (And students in the corequisite will have additional conferences with our upper-division writing fellows, who are partnering with the corequisite students for the entire semester).


I’ve recently been reading research related to the Sydney School, an approach to teaching multilingual writers (generally at elementary and secondary levels) within a systemic functional linguistics (SFL) theoretical framework. SFL-based language and writing pedagogies have yielded some fascinating research in Australia, England, and (to a lesser extent) the United States. These SFL-based pedagogies draw extensively from the work of Lev Vygotsky in terms of the psychology of learning.


Oversimplifying a bit, one of the claims Vygotsky put forward is that social/interactive uses of language between parents and children (“intermental experience”) prompt a child’s cognitive language development (“intramental experience”). Within the Sydney school and related models, language acquisition/writing pedagogy attempts to mirror this intermental to intramental sequence, such that co-construction of texts precedes individual production. 


Thinking about SFL, Vygotsky, and applications of both to pedagogy provided me with a different lens for thinking about my early draft conferences this past week. Typically, when I conference with student writers, our conversations are screen/text focused. In other words, we are both looking at a screen with the student’s draft – either both of us are looking at my oversized desk-top monitor, or we have the paper pulled up on separate laptops. Either way, our gaze moves between screen and each other. The developing text is usually central, quite literally mediating our talk. In Vygotsky’s terms, I have asked the students to do intramental work and get that thinking on paper before the conference. Then I respond to that work, inviting them to think critically about the text with me (a variation of intermental thinking). Note that progression: intramental to intermental, the opposite of the proposed pedagogy I’ve been reading about for children and multilingual learners.


Several of my students came to this initial conference last week with underdeveloped drafts – some had just a page or a paragraph. Most were apologetic and self-condemning about the texts they had shared. In response, I tried a slightly different approach: I targeted one idea, word, sentence, or phrase from the texts they shared, and I began to ask questions. But rather than looking at the screen, I turned to face the student, and I began to ask questions about that word, idea, character, or whatever, leaving the screen to the side. Critically, I did not turn back to look at the screen again for most of our session: I kept eye contact with the student as we talked. Without exception, within a couple of minutes, detailed stories began to arise. When they paused, I continued to ask questions, or I tried to clarify: “So you’re saying he just shut down every single idea? Are you saying you might have loved reading if it hadn’t been for those comments?” Sometimes, the students nodded and elaborated – I had understood. Sometimes, however, I jumped to conclusions too quickly, and they gave more information, setting me straight. I also attempted to identify the sorts of thinking we were doing along the way: “You just gave me some very important context; make sure you provide that for your reader, too, when you work on revising this…  Hmm…. Do you see how the description you just gave might lead a reader to think that the teacher was the villain in your story?”


What we were doing, in short, was the work we typically call prewriting or invention—but we were doing it “intermentally,” or collaboratively. Granted, there is nothing earth-shaking about this recognition: I suspect writing teachers have been doing this sort of collaborative brainstorming for quite some time. In a sense, we were modelling together the sort of thinking that experienced writers may be able to do on their own (intramentally) – thinking through descriptions and details that will spark a reader’s interest, providing context the reader needs to make sense of the story, and making sure that our narratives recognize potential assumptions and conclusions that may lead readers astray—so that we can address such questions and potential misunderstandings in advance. 

All too often I think of feedback and talk about writing (the metatalk) as happening after initial drafts are done, when a visible text controls and mediates that feedback process. But now I wonder if some students could use more opportunities for “intermental” talk prior to drafting; I wonder if the draft itself becomes a barrier to productive thinking (whether intermental or intramental) about the developing text. (Imagine a student in a text-focused conference who marks the original draft with 5 places to “add detail.” Five such additions might make that text better, but would they capture the same richness and energy that unfolds when we think together about the story – without limiting ourselves to the text on the screen?)


I am looking forward to seeing how students (both those who had well-developed drafts and those who did not) build on our conferences for the next iterations of their papers, which they will bring for peer review next week. I am looking now at how I prepare students for peer review—many have already told me about negative experiences with peer review in the past. I’ll let you know what happens in my next post.


In the meantime, I would love to hear about your approach to conferences and peer review in FYC and corequisite classes.

I am frequently asked how to incorporate reading instruction in corequisite classes, especially when institutional logistics make it difficult to add anything to an already packed syllabus. I have found that in many of my first-year courses, students don’t read assigned material unless there is some measure of accountability for those readings.  Most of them tell me that in prior classrooms, there was no reason to read. In a 2018 post, I queried whether or not we still expect students to learn via reading, and I touched on some of the techniques used by a colleague teaching history to promote student reading.


Two years later, at a new institution, I am still looking for ways to engage students in reading before class. In the process, I’ve asked myself WHY I am asking students to read – is it for content? An understanding of disciplinary conventions and methods? As examples of argumentation or analysis? To have experience with critical texts? To practice critical reading? All of the above?


In my first-year courses, both the traditional and the corequisite versions, I assign readings related to writing, rhetoric, language, and linguistics. My aims for readings vary, encompassing all the factors above: encountering different types of writing, gaining conceptual knowledge or vocabulary, practicing critical analysis, finding models, seeing connections, and building a framework for future reading and writing. 


This past summer and fall, I experimented with variations on a reading journal to address these goals. I created a template for the journal in a shared Google doc.  Housing the journals in Google docs made keeping track of entries and responding easier for me and for students.


I hoped the journal platform would encourage both individual and collaborative reading, as well as re-reading. (In this, I have been influenced extensively by the work of Cheryl Hogue Smith, whose “Interrogating Texts” should be required reading for all IRW instructors). For each assigned text, I asked students to complete an initial reading response before class discussion:


Reader responses. Provide an initial response of 100-250 words (due by __________). This response can include any of the following:

a.     Your understanding of the main idea.

b.     What surprised you, confused you, or irritated you.

c.      How the text confirmed, contradicted, or complicated your previous experiences.  

d.     What you’d like to say to the author.

e.     Your questions for the author.

f.       Connections between this text and yourself or other texts we’ve read.


Then, students added a post-discussion reflection or addendum—comments, insights, or new questions, based on our paired, group, or class discussions. 


To encourage continued reading and thinking, within two weeks after an initial reading, students were asked to complete either a formal summary (which could then be adjusted for use in other class writing) or a “Focus on Language” (FOL) entry for assigned texts.  The FOL entries required students to revisit the text and consider the way the author used language. My goal in asking students to complete FOL reflections was for them to engage with the text not only in terms of content or organization, but in terms of language:

 Focus on language questions.  Write 150-250 words reflecting your observations about two or more of the following concepts.

a.     Stance (How does the author insert himself or herself into the piece? What’s the writer’s tone? Provide a cited example, and discuss.  Focus on style, language, and writing strategies, NOT content.  It’s not WHAT the writing is saying, but HOW it is said.)

b.     Engagement (How does the author connect with readers? What is an example of a strategy the writer has used to recognize the readers of the text? Again, provide quotes and discuss them, with a focus on style and language).

c.      Zooming In (Focus on a single paragraph.  How does the writer use language to support her point?  What do you notice about the writer’s punctuation or sentence structure?  What questions do you have? Focus on HOW the writer is writing, the language, the arrangement of words, and the effects of the word or structure choices. Do not focus on content here.)

d.     Power sentences (What is one sentence that seems particularly powerful to you?  Why? Quote the sentence and cite it correctly.   Can you describe it?  What strategies are in this sentence that you can use in your own writing?  How does this sentence create a specific effect for readers? Do not focus on the content of the sentence, but the structure, language, and style). 



The reading journal entries accounted for 325 points of a possible 1000 in the course.  Points (full, half, or no credit) were awarded on a completion basis.


As part of an IRB-approved study, I collected the FOL responses (along with writer’s memos composed for the final portfolio) submitted by students in the fall. I am in the process of analyzing those comments now. While the analysis is on-going, there are a few trends I can point to:


  1. Despite the offer of completion credit, only about half of the students in the cohort earned full credit or nearly full credit for the assigned readings. Many simply ignored the assignment, even though some class time was allotted for completion and reminders were given electronically and verbally each week.
  2. The early and late FOL journal entries for those who did complete the journal demonstrated growing awareness of language, rhetorical purpose/structure, and the interactions between audience and author.
  3. Many students who completed the journal commented on the value of the entries—and their growing reading confidence—in their final reflection pieces for the course.


For those that participated, this journal appears to have fostered the kinds of thinking, writing, and reflecting that I wanted to see.  The problem, of course, is that a significant part of the class did not complete the journal, even with the incentive of a participation grade. I would be interested in hearing how you have used reading journals—or other tools—to promote reading engagement in your writing classrooms.

It’s January, and my social media feeds are filled with suggestions for keeping resolutions, especially those related to wellness, healthy eating, and exercise. But I am also finding some pleas for encouragement from colleagues and friends who have set (or are setting) writing goals. One colleague facing a self-imposed dissertation progress deadline sought inspiration to combat writer’s block; the comment thread following her post illustrated the power of a writing community—a blend of support, encouragement, commiseration, and offers to read or brainstorm—as well as reminders of past challenges overcome and promises of future success. That online writing community, like other writing groups (structured or informal) provides a Janus outlook, a backwards glance for perspective and an impetus forward.


In the ideal classroom I envision for first-year writing students, the same sort of community forms and offers new college writers a platform to find their footing (all of my 2019 resolutions were designed to foster this kind of community). One of the challenges I face in corequisite first-year writing courses, however, is absenteeism. It’s hard to build the writing community in a face-to-face course (even with a solid online component) if the students don’t attend. Attending is so much more than presence, of course, although being present in the room is a logical starting point. But in that learning space I envision, students, tutors, and faculty alike attend; they stretch (Latin tendere) minds and words and sentences, or, as the OED puts it, they “direct the mind or observant faculties, to listen, apply” themselves.


And that brings me to the challenge of the moment: devising an attendance policy that promotes community, not punishment. We have considerable flexibility when it comes to attendance policies; the central requirement is to have such a policy and state it clearly on the syllabus. Many faculty I know stipulate a certain number of allowable unexcused absences; additional absences will lead to grade penalties or potential administrative withdrawal. Having a stated maximum (or mid-term maximum) allows instructors to initiate withdrawals—a process that can help a student with an already sagging GPA avoid an F. Others choose to reward presence with a participation grade of some sort. My emphasis on process—up to 40% of the students’ grades—supports attendance indirectly by awarding points for good faith investment in the process: participating in discussions, collaborative exercises, peer reviews, conferences, etc. 


Still, I’ve seen students who struggle to connect in class or who must miss multiple classes for unavoidable reasons. Some students who abide by the absence policy still fail to attend, insofar as attendance entails engaging and finding a sense of community. They do not seek collaboration on writing challenges. Other students cannot keep within the allowable absences as stated by the policy, but they manage to find small group communities by leveraging resources like online discussions, out-of-class meetings with writing tutors or fellows, or instructor office hours.


The perfect attendance policy probably does not exist – certainly not one that covers all situations and contexts. But I know I want a policy that reflects community (not punishment), recognizes student realities, invites participation via alternate pathways when needed, ensures accountability, and fosters strategic self-advocacy. 

Here’s what I’ve got at this point for my spring syllabus. I am open to any and all feedback! What attendance policy are you implementing in your first-year and corequisite writing courses this spring?


Attending class is crucial to your success in this course. The University expects students to attend all regularly-scheduled classes for instruction and examination, but more importantly, the writing portfolio you construct this term will be strengthened by in-class collaboration with your colleagues. When you are in class, you benefit from the insights and contributions of others, just as they benefit from your suggestions and ideas.

But I recognize that you cannot always be in class; sometimes, you may not want or be able to tell me why. When you need to miss a class, make sure you let me know. Check the syllabus on D2L to see what we are doing in class that day, and you can choose from the “attendance options” below to earn attendance credit and make up any points you miss. Generally, the points/attendance should be made up within a week of the day you miss class; if you need more time (or if you need to miss more than one class), email me so that we can discuss a timetable for participation.


Finally, if you do have documentation for an excused absence (see the following section), email that to me as soon as possible. I will keep these on record in case there is an administrative issue about withdrawals or grades later in the term.


Attendance Options

  • Come to class and participate (the default, and always the best option!)
  • Attend a small group conference with our SI or one of the writing fellows (especially if you miss a class and we are working on an early version of a draft)
  • Visit the writing center (especially if you miss a peer review or other late-stage draft review)
  • Check in with your group to get notes/information and provide comments/contributions to collaborative assignments via Google Docs or the Discussion Board


I may initiate an administrative withdrawal for students who stop attending class altogether (via one of the options above) and do not stay in contact with me.

  • A grade of W may be assigned to students who miss 25% of class meetings (5 classes) prior to the midpoint of the term.
  • A grade of WF will be assigned when students stop attending after the midpoint, or when the total number of absences reaches more than 25% of the class meetings (10).

We are wrapping up our semester, and as I have done for the past several semesters, I am asking students to reflect on their beliefs about writing, reading, and grammar—and how our writing and revising during the term has shaped those beliefs. Students submit this reflection just a few short days after the final portfolio.


In the first few reflections I have read this week, several themes have arisen: a growing awareness of the power of genre, a realization that a single high-school pattern would not suffice for all academic writing situations, and an increased willingness to seek and use feedback to revise writing. These broad reflections suggest that students are thinking carefully about their writing experiences. At the same time, however, these reflections still show a lack of development based on specific examples from written work produced during the course. The reflections are insightful, but without detail.


I’ve written about ways of promoting reflection many times: “The Fabric of Reflection,” “A Time to Reflect,”All’s Well That Ends Well,” and others. These posts discuss instructions for reflections written after specific assignments are complete, as well as the final reflection assignment. But they don’t address strategies for helping students organize their own writing as data to support their final reflections.


In my first-year composition courses, students practice organizing information as part of the writing process, particularly in the development of a researched synthesis essay. We talk about collecting, sorting, connecting, and framing information as a paper takes shape, and students explore various technologies for accomplishing these often messy but creative tasks. They may use paper, sticky notes, and colored pencils; they might make digital charts and embed links. But in the end, they have a framework for writing.


What they are doing in this process, in fact, is illustrating a lovely Greek word that often shows up during Advent readings. That word comes from Luke 2:19: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (NIV). The word translated “ponder” is συμβάλλω, a verb that combines the preposition σύν (“together with”) and βάλλω (“throw”); basically, “pondering” is the process of throwing information together for consideration.


While my pre-portfolio assignments assist students with this “συμβάλλω” process, the students don’t have similar support for the final reflection. The technology I use in the class, in fact, may work against the process. Early student drafts are not separate documents; students do all drafting on Google Docs, so to access early drafts requires reviewing the document history online—a process that may be difficult to navigate, particularly when there have been multiple revisions over several weeks. In addition, students frequently resolve comments as they work through feedback. The comments can be accessed again, but doing so again requires finding and searching through the entire stored comments thread. How can I help them find and manage data from their own writing in support of their final reflections?


In writing this post, I used a tag filter on the Bedford Bits site to find my content related to reflection. Searching by tag made the task of finding posts written over a period of nearly three years easy and straightforward. 


For next term, I’d like my students to have a searchable revision log or journal to help them work through the “συμβάλλω” process in preparation for the final reflection. The log might include a simple entry format, like the one that follows, for use after each draft (initial, post-peer review, post-conference, and post-written feedback):



Process Stage or Source of Feedback

Focus Areas of Revision

Aha moments, Questions, and Notes











Students will manage their journals in an online document that we update regularly in class, using a student-generated list of tags (audience, evidence, capitalization, comma splices, topic sentences, stance, engagement, etc.). Students can then use these logs at the end of the term to craft writer’s memos for the individual pieces in their portfolios, as well as organize their thinking—and their evidence—for the broader reflection piece.   In doing so, they may find it easier to identify salient aspects of their own writing development, and by searching the document tags, identify specific drafts or comments as support for their insights and conclusions. 


How do you encourage your students to reflect broadly over an entire semester? Have you used logs or journals? If so, I’d love to hear what has worked for you.

A late Thanksgiving this year has created a difficult end-of-semester calendar: a week off for Thanksgiving, one week of class, and then finals. Moving from mid-term into early November, I watched the students in my first-year composition courses slump—literally and figuratively. Before the Thanksgiving break, students needed to complete a draft of their research synthesis projects and stay on top of revisions to portfolio pieces, which are due just before finals begin. By the end of the first week of November, my students (particularly those in the corequisite section) seemed a little lost and uncertain.  


Based on what I was seeing, I did some shifting in the syllabus. 


First, we spent a day mapping writing tasks into a schedule over which they would have control. I gave the students a small chart with a list of the writing tasks and due dates for our composition course, along with space to add other responsibilities. Students identified their priorities, and targeted when they wanted to address each task and how much time they could spend. I touched base with each student individually, and we discussed whether they had allotted sufficient time for the tasks at hand, particularly research tasks. We also negotiated some revised due dates, based on their schedules.  Once priorities were set, I gave students class time to work through their plans. A simple half-sheet of paper with blanks was a surprisingly effective tool; students were still checking that plan sheet two weeks later.  


Next, for the second week in November, I slotted almost two hours of “Shut Up and Write” time, modelling the class sessions on a program designed to help faculty focus and finish writing projects. Students selected the writing task from their priority planning sheet, and they spread out across our classroom to write. While I suspect a couple of students spent the time on social media, most students commented that the time was valuable—and productive. During this week and the following, students also met in small groups with our writing fellows to discuss their drafts and revisions. 


Finally, I scheduled writing conferences for the week before Thanksgiving. There was no class, and I met with each student individually for 20 minutes, looking through their drafts and talking about what they were learning through the research process. I asked the typical questions: Do you know what you want to do with this piece next? Do you have what you need? One student’s comment was telling: “Dr. Moore, I really like ‘Shut Up and Write’ and then conferences. I think that’s the best way for me to learn.” Conference week was long for me, but students had only their 20-minute conference with me (and for some, an additional 30-minute conference with a writing fellow).


To celebrate the beginning of Thanksgiving break and the holiday season, my family and I went to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a film about how an interview—and subsequent relationship—with Fred Rogers changed a cynical reporter’s life.  


The film moves slowly, offering extended moments of deliberate silence, just as the children’s television show did—both for me as a child and for my children. The movie affirmed what I had seen in my classroom in the previous three weeks: as cognitive and emotional creatures, we need to move slowly sometimes, and we need times of silence so that we can process our thoughts and feelings. We need unhurried space for the work of making initial choices and revisions. Unfortunately, a hectic final week of class often obscures or eliminates such spaces.


Taking my cue from Mr. Rogers, I’m setting aside the final week of class this semester to give students at least two full hours of “Shut Up and Write” time, with mini-conferences with me as needed. I will let you know how it works out.


What are your strategies for ending the term? How do you help corequisite and ALP students manage end-of-semester stress?

In my last blog, I wrote about the frustrations of dealing with difficult student questions (“So what are we doing?”) and the possibilities for instruction embedded in those questions. Similarly, I’ve addressed the challenge of responding to student comments comparing current instructor practice with their experiences in previous courses.


An unfiltered response in both these scenarios might be snarky or rude at worst, and unhelpful at best. As I wrote before, these difficult comments and questions can be teachable moments—both for the student and for myself—if I can filter the initial knee-jerk reaction and think through what I could say to engage the student for deeper thinking. Can I open what Jesson et al. (following Wegerif) have called a “dialogic space,” where “the teacher’s and students’ contributions serve to drive thinking forward” (157)? If my response shuts down the conversation, that space contracts—or disappears altogether. Moreover, those unfiltered comments do not invite the kind of on-going development of talk about writing and language—meta-talk—that I want to foster, explore, and evaluate in my classes.


Recently, I encountered another of these difficult interactions. A student (who had already conferenced with me and received feedback concerning a developing text that did not address the parameters of the assignment) submitted an intermediate draft without any substantive revisions to content. When I asked the student about notes from our conference (since the work submitted for review did not reflect thoughtful response to the comments I had made), the student replied that one of the upper-level writing fellows working with our class “said it was good,” so the student assumed no revisions were needed.


I have heard such comments before: someone else—a writing center tutor, a friend who is an English major, a high school teacher, a parent, or even another instructor—read the paper and said “it was good.” 


What would your knee-jerk response be? “That other person didn’t write the instructions.” “That other person isn’t going to be grading this paper.” “That other person doesn’t have my degree.” “That other person may not have been honest with you.” “I don’t care what that other person said…” 


I suppose our response would depend on the context—first, intermediate, or final draft, for example, and what we thought the student was hoping to achieve by reporting on someone else’s assessment of the piece, generally a more positive assessment.


In considering my own response to the student (which was to ask for a conference during office hours), I began to wonder what a thoughtfully-filtered response that opens dialogic space might look like. I considered the talk-encouraging questions I might ask:


  1. What specifically did the writing fellow tell you was good about the paper? Did you take notes? If not, would it be worth asking her to discuss it with you again?
  3. What did you ask the writing fellow to look at when you went for your conference?
  5. Did you discuss my comments with the writing fellow?
  7. Did the writing fellow make any specific comments or recommendations we could talk about?
  9. Why do you think different people sometimes give different feedback? How can you handle the differences, as a writer?
  11. How would you define good when it comes to writing? How does context affect our understanding of what good is? Could our comments about the piece actually both be reasonable evaluations of it?
  13. What do you like about the piece as it stands now? Are there parts of the paper that you can build on for revision?
  15. What did you hear when I gave you feedback during conference?
  17. Knowing that the paper does not currently meet the requirements of the assignment, what information from me would be most helpful to you?
  19. What sorts of things could you tell the writing fellows to help them target their feedback on the next draft?


I recognize in myself a tendency to allow frustration to stop conversations. And yes, some of the frustrations arise from student apathy, laziness, or forgetfulness. They have told me as much: they didn’t take notes, they forgot what we discussed, they wanted not to have to write again. And at times, especially for some of the students who find themselves in my corequisite sections, the problem stems from the overall culture shock of college. But perhaps those students need me to filter my responses the most—and they need an opportunity to talk about the writing a little bit more. 


What comments and questions from students cause you the most frustration in your corequisite writing courses? What strategies have worked for you in responding?

If I surveyed composition or IRW instructors about the student questions we find most frustrating, I am sure there would be considerable overlap in our responses. I would love to say that I am so calm, so focused on student support and student learning, that I am never flustered by student questions, and I am never tempted to give a snarky reply. But of course, this is not the case. Certain questions trigger my irritation, and more than I’d like to admit it, some rather unhelpful responses.


I got one of those questions last week. My students are writing rhetorical analyses of arguments about writing (choosing chapters from Bad Ideas about Writing as the focus of analysis), certainly not the easiest of tasks for beginning writers. To prepare for the assignment, I lead students through activities sequenced to scaffold instruction: first we practice summary, then recognition of argument components, then identification of various stylistic devices related to tone, stance, and engagement. In each case, we move from a large group discussion to a group or paired practice, and then individual practice.  The week before students begin working on their own drafts, they collaborate with others to practice parts of the assignment: summarizing the article, noting key elements of the argument, and crafting a thesis statement. We review these collaborative pieces as a whole class, discussing what works and what doesn’t. 


After the weeks of preparation and three preparatory “check-points” (summarizing the article they had selected for analysis, making a bulleted list of key rhetorical strategies, and drafting a thesis), I set aside a class period for drafting. About ten minutes into that class session devoted to drafting, a student came to me and asked me that question:  “So, what are we doing?” This student had been present for all the previous classes. This student had access to the handouts, the instructions, the samples, and the collaborative exercises—and the student had selected and summarized an article. But the student was completely lost when it came to drafting his analysis. “So what are we doing? Am I just supposed to write what I think about this topic?”


Snark filled my mind: what did the student think we were doing? Talk about a failure to transfer – how much nearer could writing situations be? And yet there was a failure to connect the previous three weeks, the collaborative practice and the checkpoints, to the current task. And in the moment, I am pretty sure I widened my eyes (but refrained from rolling them). The student must have noted my reaction.


I remembered my own teaching goal: build writing-talk so as to support metacognition, reflection, and transfer. I encouraged the student to get the assignment instructions, and we talked through what we had already done in preparation. The student nodded and went back to the computer. Still, it took some time before the draft began to take shape.


This week, the students in that class met with me in groups of four for review conferences. The questioning student came with a draft that did not address rhetorical analysis in any way, despite the review we went through on drafting day. During the conferences, we projected drafts one by one onto a screen for group discussion. And during this student-led discussion, the student had a breakthrough: “So that’s what we’re doing. I need to go back and re-think my thesis.” Other students made suggestions and gave encouragement, and the student left with a focus for revision.


“So what are we doing?” I need to remember the grammar embedded in this question.  “So” is a discourse connector; the question doesn’t appear in a vacuum. Part of instruction in meta-talk is helping students make connections to our previous discourse, to see the cohesiveness of the instruction up to that point. And it’s “we” – not just “I.” I have told the students we are a community, and answers often arise in collaborative work, just as they did for this student in our group conference. Finally, the question is in present progressive: a work in process. The process includes what we have done (present perfect) and what we will do (future), and each part is tied together. From the present moment, especially from the student’s point of view, the process as a whole can be terribly difficult to see. 


“So what are we doing, Dr. Moore?” This terribly annoying question can be a powerful teaching moment, if I will let it.


What questions annoy you in the writing classroom? How are you handling them?

When I think back to my high school writing instruction, I remember red ink, error codes, rules written by hand (it was the early 1980s) ten times in an effort to earn back half the points deducted for rule violations on initial drafts. By my senior year, I had great confidence in my ability to deploy semicolons correctly, avoid phrasal verbs, and resist the urge to write a fragment for effect. I could generate error-free writing with very little trauma. But I was terrified to say anything creative or unexpected, because the secondary lesson of my instruction was that writing presents a million ways to make mistakes, and mistakes should be avoided above all.


It’s difficult to explore ideas and meaning—doubting and then believing yourself in turn (Peter Elbow had not yet made an impact on secondary writing instruction at that point) when you edit each line as it appears before you, even before a proposition has reached its final punctuation, to ensure that subjects and verbs agree.


I had not yet understood (or could not verbalize) that writing concerns meaning—and identities, relationships, and social expectations, among other things. Implicitly I must have known something of these concerns, for I recognized that writing “correctly” would open academic doors for me, as it eventually did – doors that bypassed first-year composition courses. But “correctness” for me entailed writing without a number of language resources that could have been helpful in clarifying meaning for different audiences and purposes: passive voice, phrasal verbs, first and second person pronouns, some sentence-initial conjunctive adverbials, and there is/are constructions.


My current composition classes are working on revisions to literacy narratives, and I am working to create classroom spaces for metatalk about writing and grammar, encouraging students to consider their language and writing resources, the choices they have made in this particular paper, and how they are assessing the effectiveness of those choices.  Similar to my own concerns in high-school, much of their talk revolves around rules and errors—and the fact that I have told them they can violate “rules” they learned in previous courses, as long as their decision to do so fits the purpose and evolving meaning of the paper (which requires them to think about purposes and meanings and how language might either align with or work against them). I am trying not to restrict their writing or language resources in any way.


But an upper-level student challenged me on this “no linguistic restrictions” policy during a discussion in my advanced grammar class recently. We were looking at the functions that be plays in English, particularly in the progressive aspect and the passive voice, as well as in there is/are constructions. Students were exploring the rhetorical and discourse purposes of these constructions—backgrounding/foregrounding, creating cohesion, denying or reducing agency, introducing topic shifts, etc. I casually mentioned that I hated to hear that be verbs were restricted in some composition classes, given what be-based constructions can accomplish within a text. Why would we ever want to restrict students from using legitimate linguistic resources, especially when avoiding those resources might lead to less than optimal prose?


One of my students suggested that he had found a restriction on using be verbs helpful to his development as a writer. When not allowed to use be in a paper, he became aware of the extent to which he did use be verbs. And in the course of our conversation, it became evident that not using be might help a student develop skill at using other structures—just as an athlete or musician might restrict the use of a dominant hand in order to strengthen a weaker or less-practiced hand. When assignments are framed strategically, as exercises designed to target a particular linguistic “muscle,” then such restrictions might make sense.


Indeed. I have done such exercises—framing them as ways of playing with language, especially at the paragraph level. To the extent that these exercises highlight and illustrate language-meaning relationships and the ways in which language choices can affect a reader’s experiences, they also support my goal to expand and explore metatalk in developmental and first-year writing courses. 


The student’s comments challenged me to consider yet again the way I frame instructions for assignments—both major papers and smaller classroom exercises; the nature of the framing language can either make my purpose clear or leave students bewildered, sensing that they’ve just encountered another idiosyncratic and arbitrary rule. The advanced student’s comments—and the lively metalinguistic and pedagogic discussion that followed—also reminded me of the value of opening spaces for first-year writers to talk about their writing with each other, not just with me.


What language restrictions do you give student writers? Are these restrictions part of a specific assignment? What is your purpose in restricting linguistic choices in that assignment? Do you explain that purpose explicitly to students? How?

Metalanguage, metacognition, metadiscourse, metapragmatics, metagrammar – I am seeing references to all things meta in professional journals and conference presentation titles. In his overview of scholarship on metadiscourse, for example, applied linguist Ken Hyland notes that metalanguage “concerns people’s knowledge about language and representations of language” (17); metalanguage engages language’s ability to reflect on itself, to be employed for the purpose of language analysis.


And we, as writing teachers, are aware of the value of reflection, particularly in teaching for transfer. 


But over the past couple of semesters, I’ve watched students in corequisite sections of freshman composition wrestle with the task of articulating reflections, particularly reflections on their rhetorical and grammatical choices. I am wondering what makes this reflective task so challenging. Is it a lack of experience in this sort of thinking and writing? A sense that reflection is one more thing that they need to get right for me, the instructor (and thus another opportunity to fail)? Have I not illustrated to them the value of the process? Is there a lack of vocabulary—words to capture the concepts that shape their revising and editing processes? Or perhaps those concepts are still quite fluid and thus resist articulation?


These questions are shaping my reading, thinking, and pedagogical experimentation this semester, not only in my corequisite section of FYC, but also in my sections of the grammar courses that English majors at my institution are required to take. As one of my graduate instructors used to say, I’m taking time this term to muck around in the data and explore the context; I’m focusing on creating opportunities for metatalk in my classes, and listening—or reading—as attentively as I can to what my students have to say. 


I’m also fortunate to collaborate with some advanced students who are making space for metatalk about writing and language for my students outside of the classroom. My corequisite students, for example, are working weekly with two of our “Writing Fellows,” who are workshopping papers with them in a small group setting. In my sections of grammar classes, I have student supplemental instructors who offer sessions during the week for class members to talk through and apply concepts we are covering in class. In these relaxed sessions, they are asking composition students and sophomore grammar students important questions: what’s going on in this paragraph? In this sentence? Why do you feel uncomfortable with it? What could we differently here, and how would it change our response?


In all sections, both composition and grammar, I’m asking for more drafts with annotations, questions, and—of course—reflections.


As I meet with the writing fellows, supplemental instructors, and students in my class, I want to hear what obstacles they encounter engaging in metalinguistic discussions, and then consider how my pedagogy might address those obstacles in future semesters—or how students can investigate metalinguistic awareness with me. As this semester progresses, I will be blogging both about my observations and about some of the strategies we are experimenting with in class. 


What are you investigating in your teaching this fall? What has energized you about your return to the classroom for this academic year? I would love to hear from you.


What are your scholarship and professional development plans for the summer? Like many colleagues, I relish the opportunity to focus on research projects, reading, and course development during the summer “downtime,” when I am teaching only one course. Such summer work informs our pedagogy for the academic year to come, whether we are full-time, part-time, tenured/tenure-track, or contingent—and whether or not our institutions and the legislatures and governing boards that fund them recognize the value of this particular academic labor.


Perhaps our summer efforts do not always appear as work to those outside academia because these activities can be so varied. Just consider the possibilities. I’ve got colleagues who have done or will do the following: 


  1. Plan and conduct research
  2. Travel as part of research work
  3. Finish writing an article or book chapter
  4. Attend a conference (perhaps a regional CCCC event?)
  5. Read a book (Paul Hanstedt’s Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World was recommended to me recently, for example.)
  6. Create a virtual or F2F reading group (I’m in a group reading John Warner’s Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.)
  7. Participate in a syllabus or assignment swap
  8. Catch up on reading journal articles
  9. Actually write one or more of the essays they typically assign students (Have you brushed up your own literacy narrative lately?)
  10. Participate in a webinar
  11. Revamp an online course or participate in a course review
  12. Take a course in a field outside their own discipline
  13. Participate in departmental assessment or course redesign efforts
  14. Review textbooks for publishers or the department
  15. Revise or develop a new edition of a textbook (which is on my agenda this summer)
  16. Serve as an abstract reader for conferences or peer reviewer for a journal
  17. Join a writing group
  18. Take training in technology, course accessibility/design, etc.
  19. Learn how to create video content (or another use any other technology that is new to them)
  20. Get involved in a cross-disciplinary SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) group
  21. Plan an undergraduate research experience for students
  22. Become a mentor
  23. Apply for a grant
  24. Host a summit or roundtable session to support adjunct faculty
  25. Join or create a composition teaching circle with faculty from high schools, two-year schools, or four-year schools (or participate in a National Writing Project event)


What are your summer plans? Is there a book you would like to recommend, a conference that you’re planning to attend, or a virtual group that others could join?  Share your recommendations with us.

In my last post, I looked at writing rules issued by instructors across the curriculum and the resulting confusion for student writers attempting to understand what good writing actually means—and how much of their previous instruction applies in a new context.  The comments on the post highlight how often we must address “conflicting rules” in our classrooms: Aprill Hastings, for example, pointed out that a discussion of rules can be a platform for teaching, leading students to appreciate how “delightfully messy” writing can actually be. Similarly, Jack Solomon noted that looking at rules from other courses can lead to fruitful discussions of conventions and genres, but also (critically) that students must be able to adjust to the expectations of different teachers, each of whom will give a grade. After all, Solomon continued, we “wouldn't want any student to be penalized in a different class for whatever writing guidance” we have given. Finally, Peter Adams admitted (with more than a touch of humor) that it’s possible for the same instructor to give different rules in different semesters or classes. 


Yes! I would agree wholeheartedly with all of these comments: I want to help my students develop not just specific writing “rules,” but a flexible approach that will allow them to tackle future writing strategically, transferring, expanding, and adjusting as necessary (applying what DePalma and Ringer have termed “adaptive transfer”).  


What I want to do better is facilitate such adaptive transfer, especially with basic and multilingual writers in corequisite courses. My students often want clear directives, models, and templates—and these can be quite helpful. But at the same time, I want to support our students’ engagement in what John Warner calls “the skill that is the writing equivalent of balance when it comes to riding a bicycle” – making choices.


To that end, this summer, I am revisiting my FYC/corequisite assignments, instructions, and related readings. Specifically, I am looking at rules that could be considered “choice-restricting,” and revisiting how I introduce and teach these directives.


Specifically, I am asking myself some questions:


  1. What is the underlying writing concept or principle this rule addresses? Is it creating a stance/voice, engaging with a reader, grounding discourse in an on-going conversation, adhering to conventions, acknowledging other voices, arranging evidence in support of a claim, or something else? Do I present the directive so that the connection to the underlying concept is clear?
  2. What questions would I ask when encountering this rule? How can I prompt students to reflect on the rule and ask questions of their own?
  3. Have I provided linguistic resources—vocabulary or syntactic strategies—that allow students to make choices in relation to this rule?
  4. Have I encouraged students to reflect on why this particular choice is important for a writer?


As an example, consider my FYC summary assignment, which includes a directive not to use first person pronouns. Students produce an objective summary of a source, showing an understanding of structure and content, without making personal comments. In addition, students include references to the author and “rhetorical strategy verbs” in each sentence of the summary: the author argues, he explains, they suggest, etc.


I can see how my students would view my “summary guidelines” as an example of one instructor’s idiosyncrasies, even while I see them as critical practice in developing stance and managing other voices effectively and accurately. So in my “assignment redesign,” I am framing these differently on my handout, referring explicitly to stance and including other voices as key writing concepts—concepts that they will encounter multiple times in my class. 


I am also trying to foster critical thinking about these concepts early in our discussion.  So, for example, I might ask students to consider a time when a person needs to do a job without drawing attention to himself or herself in the process. (When I asked that question this past semester, one student quickly responded “being an assassin.”) After brainstorming a list of several such occasions, we turn to writing: are there times in writing when you don’t really want to draw attention to yourself? In other words, are there times when you want to sound more neutral or distant from the content? Why?


Having connected the “no first person” rule to a concept and a purpose, I want to provide linguistic resources. In this case, “signal phrases” or “author tags” (as I mentioned earlier) are one option. In addition, I could show students how to convert “rhetorical” verbs to nouns: “Krashen suggests” could become “Krashen’s suggestion…” I could also teach cleft/inversion structures: “Krashen wants readers to” becomes “what Krashen wants readers to do is…”


Finally, I am adding some reflection questions to the students’ journals and the cover letters accompanying final drafts: 


  • Where else do you think you might need to take a more objective or neutral stance in writing? What makes that hard to do?
  • Where have you seen other writers take a more objective or neutral stance? What can you learn from those writers?
  • What concepts or connections might help you understand why a teacher tells you not to write in first person?

Over the past two weeks, my FYC students have been drafting, revising, and editing a researched essay. I conference individually with students and devote class time to workshops, feedback, and student questions. This semester, as usual, many of their questions concerned writing rules encountered in previous courses or in other content courses they are currently taking. The typical exchange goes something like this:


Student: So, can we use contractions in this paper?

Me: Well, sure – if they make sense for your purpose and your reader, and for the tone or voice you are constructing for yourself in the paper.

Student: Seriously?

Me:  Yes.

Student: But in my other class, the teacher said academic writers never use contractions. She took points off if we did. 

Me: Well, in some contexts it could be better to avoid them—think about what class it was and the purpose of that particular paper. How was that purpose different than your purpose here?


Students rarely see an overarching concept—such as writing for a specific purpose and reader—tied to the rules given by an instructor. Rather, they see each assignment as its own, isolated entity, and their task as doing whatever a particular instructor wants for a particular assignment. 


Why should that be? Perhaps our efforts across the curriculum to give clear and unequivocal statements regarding our expectations can work against our goal to help students connect assignments and transfer what they already know. I am not suggesting that our assignments should be fuzzy or vague, but I do think we need to look at the array of directives in those assignments through the eyes of students. 


So, for example, consider a list of writing rules I’ve begun to collect from students, colleagues, handouts, and presentations about writing. These come from assignments across disciplines, from two-year and four-year instructors, from first-year to upper-level courses:


  1. Avoid quotes. Paraphrase and put key information in your own voice.
  2. Avoid saying your paper “attempts” to do anything. Avoid “impact” as a verb, along with “seeks to.” Avoid “aims to.” Avoid saying “in the past.”
  3. Avoid vague references: “as we all know,” “people say.”  
  4. Begin broadly and then narrow your topic to the thesis.
  5. Do not announce what you are going to do in the paper.
  6. Do not begin too broadly (“throughout history,” “in all of literature,” etc.)
  7. Do not begin sentences or clauses with any of the following: “There are/is…”, “This is…”, “It is…,” etc.
  8. Do not end a sentence with a preposition.
  9. Do not give a dictionary definition as an introduction.
  10. Do not hedge with words like “maybe,” “seem,” “perhaps,” “might,” or “possibly.”
  11. Do not overgeneralize or make unqualified assertions.
  12. Do not provide a long list of references after facts established by previous research.
  13. Do not put these words at the beginning of a sentence: “however,” “furthermore,” “moreover,” “indeed,” etc.
  14. Do not say, “I/we argue.”  
  15. Do not say, “Everyone has their own opinion.” That is obvious, and it shuts down critical thinking.
  16. Do not start a sentence with “and.”
  17. Do not use the passive voice.  
  18. Do not use first person pronouns.
  19. Do not use contractions.
  20. Do not use “say” to introduce source material. Choose a more interesting verb.
  21. Do not use scare quotes or put quotation marks around words used in unexpected ways.
  22. Do not use second person pronouns.
  23. Do not use the word “very.”
  24. Do not write paragraphs with only 1-2 sentences.
  25. Make sure the significant results are stated in the beginning.
  26. Put a clear and obvious thesis sentence at the end of your first paragraph.  
  27. Remove the verb “be” in all forms from your writing.
  28. Use “rhetorical verbs” such as “say,” “assert,” “explain,” or “introduce” when you introduce sources; do not use “cognition” or “emotion” verbs: “think,” “believe,” “understand,” or “love.”
  29. Use short Anglo-Saxon words.  
  30. Write in the present tense.
  31. Write in the past tense.


What do students see when confronted with rules such as these from different instructors? They may see idiosyncrasies, contradictions, and frustrations. When we talk about “good writing,” it’s no wonder a common response is that it means “whatever the teacher wants.”

Comparing rules and our rationales for them (which may not be clear to students) might be a helpful point for a cross-disciplinary discussion and a focus for WAC-oriented professional development.

In future posts, I want to look at some promising strategies for helping students think differently about writing rules and assignments that seem to be framed by those rules.

How do you respond when students mention rules they have encountered in other courses?

Miriam Moore

Finishing Well

Posted by Miriam Moore Expert Apr 17, 2019

Many years ago, during the panic-riddled days prior to my dissertation defense, an experienced friend encouraged me to see the defense procedures as a celebration of scholarship, something to be savored, not a hurdle to be feared or dreaded. While I was not able to embrace that perspective fully (especially the night before), I sensed a shift from “grilling” to intellectual debate after just a few minutes into the defense, and that shift came with a growing sense of confidence: I was ready. I had done the work, and I had something worthwhile to say. Those who attended listened, questioned, and affirmed.


My first-year writing students have reached the final two weeks of the semester. As they are finishing projects and final reflections, I can see distress rising – many of them are taking three, four, or (in some cases) five other classes, and they have families, work, or even high school rites of passage that compete for their attention. As I conferenced with students this week, I listened to their stories, fears, and questions. I realized they need a context in which to finish well; I need to make the final two weeks a reminder of what they have accomplished and to celebrate the progress they have made. 


What specific steps create that context for finishing well? I look back and remember what contributed to a positive ending on my dissertation: time to do the work and reminders of how that dissertation fit into the larger picture of my education and training. For my students, time means our class meetings will be devoted to the projects they are working on: workshops, small group and one-on-one conferences, and peer review. And the big picture includes feedback, reminders of how concepts we’ve circled around all semester are relevant to these final projects. When a student asks me, for example, if I think her opening move makes sense, I first affirm the value of her question as evidence of her growth as a writer. When a student asks me how to cite an interview he conducted with another professor, I remind him that his view of source material has changed since we began, and then we think about resources for MLA citation rules. Another student tells me her thesis for the final project “just doesn’t feel right yet,” and I commiserate with her—while applauding her choice to listen to that intuition. Our workshops will provide a platform for her to talk through why her thesis draft is not working for her. Our talk about writing over these two weeks, while centered on their specific drafts and needs, will touch on the threshold concepts that have framed the entire course.


In one of my classes, students will write a final reflection letter during the final exam slot, and in the other, students will present their final projects in a poster session. While they have not finished their educations, they have completed a significant first step.   Our final sessions will be a celebration of finishing well. 


What do you do to help your students end well?