Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Stealing some Reflection practices from Service Learning

Whether or not you are engaged in service learning as a college instructor, you probably are engaged in reflection. Many of us use Portfolios in our courses, and one of the great benefits of having students complete Portfolios is the metacognitive work that they do in gathering and comprehending the work they have done in our classes.

As we continue to move toward the use of Portfolios/ePortfolios at SNL it might be useful to borrow some reflection practices that are also put to use in the realm of service learning. Below, I borrow from a PowerPoint presentation designed by Jeffrey Howard, Assistant Director for Faculty Development at DePaul's Steans Center for Community-based Service Learning.

Reflection is a deep, intentional process of examining, analyzing, and interpreting experience so as to learn from it. However, "reflection" often holds pejorative implications for students and teachers. Students have sometimes been known to "shut down" when asked to "reflect" again. So, as instructors we must show them how to reflect. Sometimes, this means not using the r-word.

Jeffrey Howard has a wonderful word for what we attempt to learn through reflection, and that word is "wonderment." Good reflection leads to students who wonder. Reflection is a learning strategy that grows out of our learning objectives and learning assessment methods. Reflection is more than just "for reflection's sake."

To get to this state of "wonderment" Jeffrey Howard suggests these three components of reflection:
  1. Stimulus (e.g., journal question, photograph, quote, case study, poem, article, structured classroom activity, service learning activity, students' written work)
  2. Vehicle (journal, interview, paper, whole class or small group discussion, student presentations, portfolio)
  3. Feedback

While these may seem obvious to us, it can serve as a good reminder to be purposeful about reflection with students. The quality of the stimulus, vehicle, and feedback often lead directly to the amount of learning that a student gleans from the reflection process, and from the course.

In A Practitioner's Guide to Reflection in Service-Learning: Student Voices and Reflections, (1996) Janet Eyler, Dwight Giles, and Angela Schmiede suggest five Principles of Good Reflection Practice, which I have amended from Service Learning to general instruction.

  1. It must be continuous. So often we only build reflection into our courses at the end. However, as the SNL writing faculty discussed regarding Portfolios in our October meeting, the best kind is both formative and summative. The best reflection happens before, during, and after the activities of a course.
  2. It must be connected. How are your assignments (reflection or otherwise) connected to the competencies offered in your course?
  3. It must be challenging. Rather than a no-brainer, reflection should encourage critical thinking and analysis that produces new understanding/perspectives and raises new questions.
  4. It must be contextualized. Consider who is doing the reflecting. How much work have they already done in the course? What level are students at as writers?
  5. It must be coached. This happens through modeling, assignment design, and feedback.

If you are designing or revising a reflection essay for a Portfolio, consider whether your reflection practice in the course follows these five principles. If not, consider building intermittent reflection into your students' writing practice. See a great example of Katie Wozniak's 'Meta-note' on the SNL Writing Wiki under Workshops > October 17, 2009: Catching up; Discussion of Research; Meta-Notes; Having Students Self-Assess; Feedback > MetaNote_Wozniak.pdf.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Early New Year's Resolutions

Between now and the start of the winter quarter I plan to sit down and list three things that I can do in my next class to encourage and support students who need writing help. I want to encourage and support them to get that help from the pros in an SNL course, workshop or through the Writing Center.  I do this now, regularly. Yet there must be more I can do, or ways I can do it better.

Too often it seems students are flummoxed when they receive feedback about their writing (perhaps mine is the first they have received?) If I can identify three things and practice them consistently, then perhaps more students will take the step to become better communicators and thus better lifelong learners. After all, that's the goal...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Now Accepting Student Submissions for the SNL Writing Showcase

Please ask your students to consider submitting their best written work for the SNL Writing Showcase. The awards won't be given out until April 2011, but submissions are welcome all year. Students can see previous winners and download the 2010-2011 application here:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Anxiety and Stress Management Workshop for Students, Nov. 4, Loop Campus

Students looking for a better way to handle their stress and anxiety are welcome to attend the "Anxiety and Stress Management" workshop at DePaul. The Commerce Undergraduate Program Office (CUPO) and the Actively Choosing Education (ACE) workshop coordinators are offering this free workshop to students. Details are below:

Anxiety and Stress Management Workshop
(DePaul Center, Suite 8500)
Thurs, November 4 4:30-5:30 PM
We will learn practical ways to manage test anxiety before, during, and after an exam. This is a great workshop to learn how to manage your stress as we approach finals!

Offered throughout the year, other workshops have focused on time management, planning for writing assignments, and study skills. Please contact CUPO at ACEworkshops@depaul.edu or 312/362-5358 for more information.

Friday, October 22, 2010

MSU researcher studies student writing behaviors

A study of first-year college students at seven post-secondary institutions across the U.S. shows that these students most frequently write text messages and email. No surprise, right? However, many of the results of Jeff Grabill's 2010 study are surprising: how much students value certain types of writing, what they write for personal fulfillment, and whether digital genres are as popular with this population as most believe them to be. Grabill states in his online white paper, "These findings [...] shed light on the writing practices and values of contemporary college students. In particular, these findings point to the pervasiveness of writing in the lives of our participants and the importance of hand-held devices like mobile phones as a writing platform." Grabill and his study group also point out differences across institution types including Associate's Universities, Master's Universities, and Research Universities.

Grabill's study does not seem to include the writing behaviors of adult and non-traditional first-year students. More data is needed on adult and non-traditional students, especially with regard to writing genres, use of digital media, and variance across institutions and geographical locations. Would we find that adult students have similar behaviors as the traditional first-year students?

For more on Grabill's study, see http://wide.msu.edu/special/writinglives/.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

National Day on Writing is Wed., Oct. 20 - Check out SNL's Contribution at DePaul Student Center

In celebration of the National Day on Writing, the "Gallery of Writers" display will be in DePaul's Lincoln Park and Loop Student Centers from 11-5 on Wednesday, October 20. Several of SNL's faculty, staff, and students will be represented on a group poster, so please check it out!

The University Center for Writing-based Learning will also have a table set up for people to come make their own posters to add to this collection; anyone who contributes to this display will receive a free t-shirt that says, "I Write with Pride". All those who contributed to SNL's poster are welcome to stop by the tables or either Writing Center office to pick up their t-shirts, too.

Your support and participation are greatly appreciated. The UCWbL is excited to showcase the many writers in the SNL program!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why do SNL writers participate in the Suburban Campus Writing Groups?

The Suburban Campus Writing Groups continue on Saturday, Oct. 9 from 10-11:30 am and will meet at the Oak Forest, O'Hare, and Naperville campuses on all Saturdays until Nov. 13. Visit http://condor.depaul.edu/~writing/new_css/what/SCWG/scwg.html for more information.

Why should students come? Read on to find out why students are participating:

"The writing group held at the Oak Forest campus is very valuable for these reasons:

1. The distance is great!
2. The time on Saturday is great.
3. The group is small, giving me the attention needed.
4. I got to know a Writing Center consultant who I can submit my papers to during the week for Feedback by Email!
5. The Group Leader is relaxed, very helpful, and knowledgeable, making me feel comfortable with what I need to learn."

"The Suburban Campus Writing Groups have been a very positive learning experience. Not having any background with academic writing, I found myself second guessing my material and not knowing how to critique it. The staff was great with their assistance, but it was the interaction with other students that provided the best return on time invested. While I have used this workshop to review class materials, I have also used the resources for a sounding board for blog materials, ILPs and my resume. I would suggest that everyone take advantage of these sessions to make your writing better. You will see improvement and gain confidence very quickly after a few sessions."

"I actually have received more than I expected from the Suburban Campus Writing Groups. The SCWGs helped me opened my mind to think outside the perimeters of a box. The SCWGs gave me a chance to talk when no one may want to listen, expand outside the box, and converse through writing without boring someone. The Groups help me to dig deep into the recesses of my mind and actually 'VENT' or 'UNLOAD'."

“This was a perfectly timed and very positive experience for me. When I say that Morgan 'saved my life,' I am exaggerating only slightly. I had been carving away at the block marble and trying to find the 'angel' within it before he led me to the answer. Following that meeting, my instructor recognized the improvement between successive drafts, and my submitted final earned a good deal of praise from her.”

“Tom and Morgan were knowledgeable, polite, enthusiastic, and they appeared to really enjoy what they were doing. Their engagement with each of us created a comfort zone. I felt and saw in other participants a willingness to share ideas and to address specific writing challenges. I enjoyed the immediate and warm connection between all of us and felt that newcomers immediately became part of the group. I saw courtesy, respect, patience and encouragement. I saw (and felt no lack of my own) excitement when ‘something clicked.’ I just wanted to run right home and get to work, rather than avoid the assignment as happened when I lacked focus.“

Monday, October 4, 2010

Advanced Project Workshops will take place this weekend

The Writing Center will be offering Advanced Project workshops this Saturday, October 9th, on all Suburban Campuses. As part of the workshop, students will develop a plan to complete the Advanced Project, review proper citation style, and explore various research methodologies. Students will also have the opportunity to view and discuss previous Advanced Projects.

AP workshops will take place after the regularly scheduled Suburban Campus Writing Groups. Please contact Tom McNamara to RSVP.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Schedule Your Writing Center Presentation

A message from the Writing Center's SNL Coordinator. Please make note of the new ILP and AP workshops being offered this fall on the Suburban Campuses.

Dear SNL Faculty,

My name is Tom McNamara, and I am the coordinator of the Writing Center's Suburban Campus Writing Groups and SNL outreach. I'd like to let you know about some of our new initiatives and encourage you to request a presentation for your class so that students can find out more information about our services. During these presentations, an experienced Writing Center tutor can visit your class to discuss our services with your students. These 10 to 15 minute presentations are meant to provide information about Writing Center services and are not instructional workshops. Please contact me or visit our website (depaul.edu/writing) to schedule an appointment.

As usual, your students are welcome to participate in Writing Groups at the Suburban Campuses, which give SNL students who study in the suburbs an opportunity to consult with experienced writing tutors about their work. These groups also allow students to participate in conversation about the writing of others, giving them opportunities to give response to other students and thus improve their reading skills. Those who participate regularly in the Groups report that engagement in such conversation about writing has, in turn, helped them write more effectively. Of course, students are also encouraged to schedule Face-to-Face, webcam or instant message appointments, or submit essays for Feedback-by-Email. Information about all of our services can be found at depaul.edu/writing.

Additionally, the Writing Center will begin offering ILP and Advanced Project workshops during the Autumn term. These workshops will allow students working on these projects the opportunity to consider strategies that will help them successfully complete these tasks. During the Autumn Quarter, the ILP workshop will take place on Sept. 25 on the Suburban Campuses, and the Advanced Project will be held on Oct. 9, also at the Suburban Campuses.

You might also consider contacting Matthew Pearson, our Coordinator for Faculty Services, about the Writing Fellows program. Writing fellows assist students in your class by making thoughtful and extensive revision-oriented comments upon drafts of assigned papers. They then confer one-on-one for a substantial amount of time with each student in effort to help students make smart, significant revisions to their papers before they are turned in for a final grade. Matthew's email is mpearso4@depaul.edu.

Finally, you might consider inviting a writing tutor to your class to coordinate a Fishbowl Workshop. During a Fishbowl Workshop, one of our tutors will visit your class and facilitate a Peer Review Group in front of your whole class, sharing with them strategies for providing effective response to other writers. You may contact me to schedule a Fishbowl Workshop for your class.

Please let me know if you have any questions about the Writing Center during the term. I'll be most happy to talk with you about how we can serve your students.

All the best,


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Study shows students often need explicit writing instruction for ILPs

SNL’s Independent Learning Pursuits (ILPs) are our way of doing prior learning assessment (PLA). In "Composing Knowledge: Writing, Rhetoric, and Reflection in Prior Learning Assessment," Cathy Leaker and Heather Ostman use their experience working with students on PLA submissions at Empire State College to argue that students need direct writing instruction to craft successful submissions:

. . . many of our students have a good deal of ‘subject matter knowledge,’ but they needed explicit direction in the particular conventions used to articulate such knowledge within “academia” . . . Similarly, the students could talk broadly about their knowledge, but they had little practice with the specific rhetorical strategies that might make that knowledge visible within a particularly challenging context of academic assessment. And finally, many students floundered in their efforts to articulate their learning within a loose genre that seemingly had no distinct features or explicit requirements beyond the expectation that it should represent learning and not experience. However, these problems suggested less a skill deficit that must be remedied than a misdirected pedagogy that could be redirected. We discovered that through explicit attention to writing process . . . and through the meta-learning afforded by guided reflection, our students not only crafted their prior learning portfolios with greater confidence and success, but also began to think more deeply about the role of writing as a less than neutral tool for asserting knowledge claims. (696-697)

Leaker and Ostman developed a course for students at Empire State to help students write their PLA submissions. At SNL, students have the option of working on ILPs as part of the Academic Writing for Adults and Writing Workshop courses. In addition, the Writing Center is planning to offer workshops on ILPs for SNL students each quarter. These two-hour workshops will take place in conjunction with one of the regular Saturday Suburban Campus Writing Groups on the Oak Forest, Naperville, and O'Hare campuses this fall. Plans are also in the works for Loop and Online ILP workshops. A workshop schedule will be sent to instructors after the start of the quarter.

Work Cited

Leaker, Cathy, and Heather Ostman. "Composing Knowledge: Writing, Rhetoric, and Reflection in Prior Learning Assessment." College Composition and Communication 61.4 (2010): 691-717. Print.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Whom to ask

Please contact Katie, KWOZNIA1@depaul.edu, for all issues pertaining to

-- the Academic Writing for Adults (L4) course
-- writing issues related to placement and admissions
-- suburban campus writing support
-- the writing blogs, wikis and website

Please contact Steffanie, STRILLER@depaul,edu, for all issues pertaining to

-- the Writing Workshop course
-- the DePaul Writing Center
-- service/community-based learning in writing classes
-- the staffing and scheduling of academic writing classes

Monday, August 2, 2010

"Plagiarism lines blur"

Kevin Buckely shared this article on how students, including one at DePaul, often do not think they need to cite information they gather from online sources, particularly when these sources do not have obvious authors. See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/education/02cheat.html

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New Interview on the Writing Guide for SNL students

SNL graduate Joy Boggs talks about making the transition from writing in the business world to writing for school and now to writing as a graduate student in DePaul's Women's and Gender Studies Program. See Conversations with SNL Writers (http://snl.depaul.edu/writing/index.html).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Synopsis of Computers and Writing Conference 2010 By Katie Wozniak

In May, I attended the annual Computers and Writing Conference at Purdue University. Scholars in the rhetoric and composition field have become very cognizant of the role that technology plays in the writing classroom and the way that it shapes both student and faculty perceptions of writing situations. The Computers and Writing conference supports the development and continuation of study in these areas. Presentations at this year’s conference covered topics ranging from social networking to gaming, digital scholarship to multimedia composition, and new media to research methods. Major authors in the Computers and Writing field include Cheryl Ball, Kathleen Blake Yancey, Patricia Sullivan, David Blakesly, and Cynthia Selfe.

My conference presentation, titled “Hacking the Writing Classroom: A Floor Plan that Merges Virtual and Face-to-Face Learning Environments,” was a response to a presentation by Walls, Schopieray, and DeVoss at last year’s Computers and Writing Conference. In essence, I proposed a restructure of the physical and virtual writing classroom with special attention to the functions of collaboration, access, and a/synchronicity. Moving from the linear, industrial age setup of the classroom, I suggested a spider web structure as an heuristic for thinking about learning, technology, and writing. This spider web heuristic might be applied not only to the floor plan or layout of the classroom, but also to furniture, technology, and communication within the classroom.

In addition, I attended several presentations that focused on writing technologies and learning environments, as these are my research interests. Here are a few synopses of select presentations:
  • One presenter described her experience with Aspergers autism, the stereotypes surrounding autism, and the limits and enhancements she has experienced in the writing classroom (both face-to-face and online). She noted that autism has been regarded (incorrectly) as a completely debilitating disease, especially when it comes to communication; however, many students with Aspergers autism have found that they are able to communicate better with “normal” students through writing rather than speaking in class, especially when an ongoing discussion is available on an internet forum.
  • Several presentations focused solely on the latest (and greatest) writing technologies for brainstorming, annotating, and collaboration. These included applications such as Dabbleboard, diigo, box.net, WriteBoard, SubEthaEdit, Google Portfolios, and Google Docs.
  • Since more and more students are using multimedia both as resources and modes for writing, concern has grown with how to properly document and cite them. One presenter offered the following video, titled “How to Cite a Cereal Box in MLA Format”: http://www.wonderhowto.com/how-to-cite-cereal-box-mla-format-331096/ This video isn’t just about how to cite a cereal box, however. It presents an interesting way of looking at citation styles as “guides” rather than “rules,” helping students to critically analyze the reasons why we cite in the first place and how they can problem-solve when they can’t find the “right rule,” especially for multimedia sources.
  • I can’t rave enough about the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives, sponsored by over thirteen colleges and universities. It is a repository of wonderful stories about reading, writing, and learning from people across the world, documented forever on the web. You can contribute your own literacy narrative, too! http://daln.osu.edu/

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Have You Scheduled Your Writing Center Presentation?

Dear Faculty Member:

The Center for Writing-based Learning would like to remind you to schedule your informational presentations for Summer Quarter 2010 at the Loop and Suburban Campuses.  Presentations are a great way to get your students excited about utilizing the Writing Center’s services at your campus.

Presentations are about fifteen minutes in length and will include a demonstration of our online scheduling service as well as a quick tour of the resources available to students on our website.  A writing center consultant who works at your campus will deliver the presentation and take any questions from both the students and you.  Furthermore, the consultant can also lead a discussion about how the Writing Center can aid your students as they tackle work specifically for your course.

Finally, please note that Writing Groups begin this Saturday—June 26—at the Naperville, Oak Forest, and O’Hare campuses at 10 am, an invaluable resource for students who live in the suburbs.  Meeting on Saturdays throughout the term, these groups allow students to work on their writing in an atmosphere that promotes the sort of collaborative and active learning valued by SNL.  Most importantly, the groups allow students to practice reading and responding to the texts of others, allowing them to develop critical reading skills that they can utilize when assessing their own texts.  Also, our Lincoln Park and Loop Writing Centers are open, and students are welcome to schedule one-on-one and online appointments.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to email me (tmcnamar@depaul.edu) or consult the Writing Group page on the Writing Center website (depaul.edu/writing).  Please encourage your students to use our services!

Thank you for your continued support,
Tom McNamara

Lecturer, Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse
Writing Groups Coordinator, UCWbL
802 W. Belden
Chicago, IL 60614

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Writing Workshop is for all SNL students – from talented writers about to graduate to struggling writers just starting at SNL

Rita Leganski

Writing Workshop isn’t always about remediation. In my spring 2010 class, I had a student who was completing her degree with Creative Writing as a Focus area, and who wished to concentrate on her advanced project, a series of short stories. She was a talented writer, but had not taken any formal writing courses. She had completed two stories prior to the start of the quarter, which we used as her writing samples, and I centered my instruction on various literary techniques. Class instruction consisted of discussion of readings and exercises in the following texts:  The Elements of Style (Strunk & White); Sin and Syntax (Constance Hale); and, What If? (Bernays and Painter).

We workshopped those first two pieces in terms of point of view, connotation, abstract vs. concrete, structure, and style. She then made several revisions and applied what she’d learned in the writing of two new stories. Of particular note was her application of ethos and pathos as well as employment of a motif that joined all of the stories together.

This student’s workshopping efforts culminated in the production of four different short stories that showed how the lives of the various protagonists had been affected by the same event. Collectively, the stories comprised an opus titled "Olam Ha-Ba: A Story in Four Voices," for which she won an Award for Excellence and was selected to speak at Naperville’s Scholars’ Night.

I had another student who was at the beginning of her academic career. She had not decided on a Focus area yet, but felt it would be some facet of business. Prior to Writing Workshop, she had taken Critical Thinking and we used her final paper from that class to practice revising. It was clear that she was quite accomplished at critical thinking, transition, proving a thesis statement, organization, and correct grammar; however, it was also clear that she showed an inclination toward clutter, as seen in sentences that were sometimes 40+ words long and so heavy that they lacked meaning.

Classroom instruction included using the prompt: “What am I trying to say?” and discussing the Hacker online exercises, various handouts regarding clutter, and a careful examination of an example of one of E.B. White’s revision process. Concision became our goal. We concentrated on identifying redundancy and metadiscourse, and by the end of the course, she was producing clear, concise, coherent sentences. The following examples show how she revised the same paragraph from draft 1 to draft 3. Draft 1 includes a 43-word sentence.

Draft 1:
"This essay ties to our course segment on morality. It intends to send the reader into thought about recognizing these tragic events of human rights should they occur in the future under different cuircumstances, and have an understanding of the challenges that exist which may tempt us to turn a blind eye. We will never know if there could have been any intervention that would have been successful is [sic] saving the majority of the six-million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. And we don t know for sure if we can prevent a like event in the future. But we can commit to being more observant in general, and acknowledge some retrospective learnings, as well as potential missed opportunities of the past..."

Draft 2:
"This essay ties to our course segment on morality. Individually and within society as a whole, we should have learned enough to recognize and intervene if another Holocaust were to occur. By reviweing the past and noting the direction of our future, we can hopefully understand the challenges that may tempt us to turn a blind eye."

Draft 3:
"We should have learned enough not only to recognize but to inervene if another Holocaust were to occur. By reviewing the past and noting the direction of our future, we can identify the challenges that may tempt us to turn a blind eye."

It is of particular note that she applied the listing and freewriting techniques to refining her choice of a Focus area, and has gone from Communications to Telecommunications in the process. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

Information about Service Learning from Steffanie Triller

In May, writing instructor Steffanie Triller attended the Community College National Center for Community Engagement’s annual national conference: Formulas for Success in Service Learning and Civic Engagement. Steffanie attended the conference as a recipient of a Community-based learning grant from the School for New Learning. She emerged from the desert (the conference was held in Scottsdale, AZ) with some tips for developing service learning (SL) courses:

·         Making SL Reciprocal using the “Non-Zero Sum” principle. The main idea of this principle is that working for reciprocity in a SL experience results in a non-zero sum. When a sum is non-zero, everyone benefits from the experience. “Ideal” community-based service learning experiences benefit all stakeholders involved. Some tips for developing reciprocity in your SL courses include:
o      “Think like a second grader” (no boundaries!) in the planning process of a course; this allows you to explore more possibilities when you develop your course
o      Involve all stakeholders in all conversations; (stakeholders=anyone who will benefit from this work. Think big.) 
o      Request a needs-assessment from all stakeholders;
o      Record deliverables to institutionalize service learning; (Broward College puts podcasts on the web where students/community partners record reflections on successful experiences.)
o      Plan on partnering with a community-based organization for at least three years to maximize meaningful service;
o      Connect service learning experiences to the learning outcomes of your course;
o      Develop protocols for SL in your classroom.

·         Suggested Protocols for SL. In one session, participants brainstormed and the facilitator shared successful protocols for SL courses. I think they’re pretty good, so I’ll share a few:
o      Service should be meaningful.
o      Reflection time should be provided.
o      Curriculum and duration of project should be clearly established and disseminated to the students and the community partner.
o      All involved have the right to a voice.
o      Diversity and pluralism should be equally valued. (Diversity values difference; plurality retains it as we work together).
o      Partnerships must be reciprocal.
o      Education is really co-education, facilitated by the teacher and the community-based learning site.
o      Developing a SL class is an integrated process.

·         Creating a SL Writing Experience.
o      SL instructors should ask themselves three questions before developing a class:
§       Who do we want to help?
§       What is their goal?
§       What do they need to do?
o      Once we decide what we want to accomplish, we need to connect with coordinators in community organizations and schools who are prepared to run a sustainable service experience.
o      Start small with the right people.
o      Do not do grammar instruction. The goal is to give students a voice.
o      Have an outcome. In this case it was writing with intercultural growth and transformation.
o      This advice went into the award-winning “Chandler Writes” program in Chandler, AZ. College students entered high school and grade school classrooms for four sessions. In the first session they tutored students; in two subsequent sessions they wrote together as equals with students. In a final session, the college students presented the grade/high school students’ work.
o      This is a beautiful model of literacy for any writing instructor wanting to incorporate SL into the classroom.
o      This model is based on the methodology and work of Thomas Deans, who has written two excellent texts: Writing Partnerships and Because We Live Here.

Research by the American Association of Community Colleges has shown that SL participation is a predictor of increased student learning outcomes. The more students do, the more they can learn. If you are interested in developing a community-based service learning course, Steffanie is more than happy to talk with you. 312-362-7631 or striller@depaul.edu

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

SNL Writing Instructor Kathryn Wozniak to start PhD program

After being accepted at each of the three PhD programs to which she applied, Kathryn Wozniak has decided to pursue her doctorate at DePaul in Computer Science. 

Yes, you read correctly, a writing teacher getting a PhD in Computer Science. 

Kathryn plans to study Human-Computer Interaction and Instructional Technology. She says, "My goal is to research the types of technology that enhance face-to-face and virtual writing situations in pedagogical and non-pedagogical environments. I am interested in joining scholars and researchers in understanding and creating tools that effectively accomplish face-to-face writing tasks in virtual settings."

Monday, May 10, 2010

2009-2010 Writing Showcase

The SNL Writing Program congratulates the following authors on having their excellent work chosen for the 2009-2010 Writing Showcase:

Mark Fung, "Analyzation and Application of the Creative Writing Process"

David Graham, "Polly's Dilemma"

Monique Maher, "Birth"

Robert Martin, "Identifying and Addressing Deficiencies in United States Healthcare"

Leonard T. Musielak, "'Google-ing' China: An Ethical Analysis of Google's Censorship Activities in the People's Republic"

Edward Pinkowski, "Warsaw, Chicago, and Greek Tragedies"

Amy Tesch, "Creativity Can Lead to Better Health . . . Care Reform"

Joan Travers, "My Skydiving Mishaps: A Quick Lesson in Physics"

You can read many of these pieces of writing on the Writing Showcase webpage (http://snl.depaul.edu/writing/WritingShowcase.html).

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Information on Responding to Student Writing from Laura Baltuska

SNL Writing Instructor Laura Baltuska recently attended the Chicago Composition Symposium on new strategies for assessing and responding to student writing. Here she sums up what she learned from Nancy Sommers of Harvard University on responding to student writing.

Responding to Student Writing:  Workshop, Nancy Sommers

Sommers began the session by exploring questions she poses for her students at the beginning of each semester:
  • What was your best writing experience?
  • What was your worst writing experience?
  • How did instructor comments on drafts affect this?
  • What comments do you remember the most?
  • What is the purpose of instructor comments?

Key points about comments:

All comments on student drafts should be written to the student as opposed to the paper, and the best comments will push students to improve for next time (push for revision) (ex.  Maybe next time, take a risk…To open a paper, try to ask a question or focus on a detail to grab your reader…Ask a question you don’t have an answer to (This is important because college writing is all about asking questions you don’t have answers to.), etc.).

There are lots of things you want to teach, but it’s important to really think about whether the comments you’re leaving on student drafts really teach these skills.

For each comment you write on a draft, think of specific lessons you can teach a student (maybe 2).  Think about why and how these comments would teach these lessons.

The language you use in the comments you make should reflect what you’ve talked about in class.  The same goes for the language used in all of your assignment prompts.

Give time to let your comments set in and for the students to work on revision.  Use classroom time for revision, and have students come up with specific goals for revision that they’ve talked about with you so they are focused and know what to work on for improvement.

  • After revisions, Sommers also stresses that students come up with “Dear reader” letters (cover letters) for their audience (you, peers, etc.).  It’s good to ask students to put in the letter for their rough draft, “If you had two more days to work on this paper, what would you work on?”   Doing so lets you know if the student is able to assess his or her own writing skills and gives you a way to enter into the paper. 

Speak to your students about comments in general:
  • Here’s why I write comments….  Include this manifesto in your syllabus.
  • Here’s what I’d like you to do with my comments.
  • Ask students about your comments at midterm.  They should give you feedback on your feedback so you can improve.
  • Comments should be treated as a text in the class. You spend time writing them, so students should examine them as a text.
  • Ask students what they do with your comments, and clarify what they are supposed to do with your comments.  Comments establish a dialogue with students, and they are to engage with your comments to enter into this dialogue.
    • Clarify that your comments are just as important as their writing, and that your comments are an invitation for students to ask questions about them.  Comments are part of a dialogue, not a monologue.

Consider adapting a response pattern to student papers in the form of a comment sheet, written as a letter:  Last time I asked you to do this…Moving forward…. For the next time you write….  For the next assignment….  Make your comments personal to the student.

  • Comments of this sort are good as a rough draft approach.  Your comments may differ for a final draft.

You can also have students talk back to you about your comments answering the following:  What do you understand about these comments and what will you do with them?  They can write you back a letter, too, which should amount to a ½ page to 1 full page revision plan for the paper before it’s submitted the next time.

In terms of responding to grammar, focus on the big picture issues in first drafts (not surface errors) and perhaps grammar related to content issues in later drafts (ex.  Comma splice before quotes).

Most teachers tend to comment on grammar because it’s easier, but it’s best to choose perhaps 2 rhetorical lessons that are harder to come up with and make you think before you address grammar issues. 

What you want to do is avoid becoming the student’s copy editor, “fixing” the paper for him or her.

If you see any “trends” in grammar issues, take time to go over these in class and note, “After I teach it, you should do it right.”

At midterm, you should take the time to ask students what they want you to comment more on, and they should respond in their “Dear reader” letters.  If they respond that they want more grammar help, then do mini grammar boot camp sessions in class. 

When writing comments, focus first on claim/thesis, then maybe transitions, then incorporating source material, then grammar. 

Keep your comments brief.  
  • Reading a 6-10 page paper should take you about 10 minutes.

We have lots of things we need to teach, and individual instruction in comments and conferencing forces you to prioritize.  Use each student’s priorities to take out the most helpful things he or she should focus on, and then that student will always refer back to what you’ve talked about.

We have a short attention span and so do they, so keep comments brief and specific.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

DePaul's School for New Learning Helps Students Parlay Their Writing Talents into Careers by Deborah Snow Humiston

A writing-intensive curriculum is helping a growing number of graduates from DePaul University’s School for New Learning (SNL) strengthen their writing skills and even parlay them into careers as writers, playwrights and authors.

And while SNL has long been committed to writing across the curriculum, in recent years it has strengthened its focus by establishing a writing program and hiring full-time writing instructors to further help students and faculty members.

Tailored for adult learners, SNL incorporates writing in all its courses, not just writing-focused ones, a practice known as “writing across the curriculum,” said Michelle Navarre Cleary, SNL writing coordinator and an assistant professor.

“SNL is by its very nature extremely writing-intensive, and that helps students hone their writing skills,” Navarre Cleary said. “It really pushes them to experiment with different writing forms and processes.

SNL graduate Mark Wolverton (B.A. ’01) agreed. “SNL provided me with invaluable educational and professional opportunities that allowed me to build upon a rather unconventional and varied background and develop my talents and skills to forge a brand-new career path,” he said. Wolverton has written three books; scripts produced for radio, film and television; and had his plays presented in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere. His latest book is “A Life in Twilight: The Final Years of J. Robert Oppenheimer” (St. Martin’s Press, 2008). He also writes for national magazines, including Air & Space Smithsonian, American Heritage of Invention & Technology, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science and Sky & Telescope. “SNL is the perfect place to find yourself and realize your full potential both personally and professionally,” Wolverton said.

Other notable SNL graduates with writing careers include:

 Mark A. Bryan (B.A. ’86), an internationally recognized expert in creativity and innovation and author of five best-selling books. He is best known for his self-help books, including “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” which he co-authored with Julia Cameron. “It was my admission to Northwestern and eventually to Harvard that made me realize just how well SNL prepares its students,” Bryan said. “They managed to teach me enough to get into a first-tier graduate school despite my struggle when I started.”

 Penny Pollack (B.A. ’07), dining editor at Chicago Magazine, who co-authored with Jeff Ruby the book “Everybody Loves Pizza: The Deep Dish on America’s Favorite Food” (Emmis Books, 2005). “My mentors at SNL helped me hone my critical thinking skills. They gave me a new way to think about what I was learning and how to view things through different lenses,” Pollack said.

 Robert Knight (M.A. ’96), whose latest book, “Journalistic Writing: Building the Skills, Honing the Craft” (Marion Street Press), debuted April 27 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Knight was a professional writer before coming to SNL, but said, “SNL forever broadened the palette that I work from. It taught me to think more clearly and deeply than I ever have about philosophy, leadership and a world view.” He added, “I feel that I gained an extra layer of humanity – and humility. The more I get of one, the more I seem to need of the other.” Knight has worked as a writer and/or editor at United Press International and Chicago’s famed City News Bureau. He has written freelance articles for more than 40 publications and news services, including Christian Science Monitor, Reuters and The Washington Post. He is also author of “The Craft of Clarity” (Iowa State Press, 1998).

 Marion S. Orem (B.A. ’81), a digital storyteller and author of “Women Who RV and Their Kindred Spirits” (Authentic Voices Productions LLC, 2007). “Almost 30 years later, my DePaul degree still serves as the foundation for an ongoing Web-based portfolio of writing.” 

 Leslie Fox (M.A. ’93), who self-published a book on Bowens Family Theory, a theory of human behavior applied to leadership and change management, based on her SNL graduate work. “In DePaul’s writing-intensive program, I was encouraged to present my ideas to the wider business community by publishing articles and papers, which challenged me to sharpen my written communication skills,” said Fox, CEO of Care Communications Inc., a national health information management consulting firm. “Eventually, that experience led me to publish a book on leadership.” Fox is the author of numerous articles, papers and publications, including “The Art of Change Management to Lead Successful Projects.” Currently, she is co-author of the “Hands-On Help” column that appears monthly in ADVANCE for Health Information Professionals. 

Navarre Cleary came to SNL in 2005 with the task of significantly strengthening support for both students and faculty in the improvement of student writing. Under her leadership, SNL has created a writing program, hired two new full-time writing instructors in fall 2009, offers an individualized writing workshop, provides help with a website and offers additional writing support at DePaul’s Loop and suburban campuses.

“SNL is light-years ahead of other schools that have been working on writing across the curriculum and writing in the disciplines initiatives and trying to get students to do more writing in more classes besides just the writing classes,” she said. “It’s clear through research that students develop as really strong writers by writing in all kinds of different situations, learning how to move from one context to another and continuously working on their writing.

“Many of our students came to SNL because they know when they leave here they’ll be strong writers,” Navarre Cleary said. “They don’t necessarily come in as strong writers, but they know they need writing skills for whatever it is they want to do. They want to be immersed in an environment in which they’re going to be writing all the time. They want to be pushed.”

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Students for Spring Writing Groups Starting Saturday 4/10

Dear SNL Faculty:

As the spring term commences, I hope that you’ll aid the Writing Center in its outreach to SNL students.  Last winter, the Writing Center began offering Suburban Campus Writing Groups (SCWGs) at the Naperville, Oak Forest, and O’Hare campuses.  These groups allow students to, with the aid of Writing Center consultants, work on their writing in an atmosphere that promotes the sort of collaborative and active learning valued by SNL.  Participants have received the program enthusiastically, returning each semester and suggesting the groups to their friends.  Most importantly, the groups allow students to practice reading and responding to the texts of others, allowing them to develop critical reading skills that they can utilize when assessing their own texts—often making their own writing more effective.

Can you help the Writing Center ensure the success of the groups on the Oak Forest, Naperville, O’Hare, and Loop campuses?  If you know anyone who would benefit from participation, please send their names and, if possible, their emails to tmcnamar@depaul.edu.  Also, please encourage your current students to attend.  Writers of all levels are welcome, and, in fact, the program thrives on the diversity of its participants.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to email me (tmcnamar@depaul.edu) or consult the Writing Group page on the Writing Center website (depaul.edu/writing).

Thank you for your continued support!
Tom McNamara

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Reading some great papers?

April first is the deadline for 2009-2010 Writing Showcase submissions. As you do your final grading, do not forget to suggest that students submit their A papers to the Writing Showcase. Students can find submission information at http://snl.depaul.edu/writing/WritingShowcase.html 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

New Writing Center Outpost in Loop Adult Student Center

New Outpost Location!

The UCWbL is pleased to announce that the Writing Center will have a new Outpost location in the Loop campus beginning Tuesday, March 2. Like our Lincoln Park Outpost in Richardson Library, the Loop Outpost will serve writers on a walk-in basis only. The new Outpost is located in the Adult Student Center, room 11017 of the DePaul Center. It is open to all students and will operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 6 p.m.

Nominate students to be Writing Center Tutors by 4/9

Please nominate your strong writers to be Writing Center tutors. To nominate students, please see http://condor.depaul.edu/~writing/html/about/employment.html.

SNL student tutors are invaluable not only for their work with fellow SNL students, who are often more comfortable working with an adult tutor, but also for their ability to educate other tutors about SNL and adult students.

This is a particularly excellent opportunity for students interested in education or graduate work in English.

As part of their training, tutors take a tutor training course which has been pre-approved for the L6 and H2X competencies.

Nominations are due by noon on Friday, April 9, 2010.

"I love being a collaborative writing tutor at the DePaul Writing Centers. I am getting hands-on experience for a future career in teaching. It's educational and interesting to work with the students from cultures across the globe - truly, this is an experience in globalization on many levels. I am motivated to improve my writing skills in order to be a better tutor; and, the Writing Center is full of people who love nothing better than to chat about writing and tutoring - what better way to improve your own writing skills." --  SNL student and Writing Center Tutor

If you have questions, please contact Michelle (mnavarr9@depaul.edu).

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Writing Groups Coming to the Loop in Spring!

When I took my Loop Foundations class to the Writing Center last month, they learned about the tutor-led writing groups being held at the suburban campuses on Saturdays. I encouraged my students to use these writing groups not only to get useful feedback on their writing but also to work on ILPs and eventually their advanced projects. To the amusement of the tutors in the Writing Center, I compared the writing groups to Weight Watchers or exercise groups as a way for students to hold themselves accountable for getting something done on a regular schedule.

My students had one question -- "Why aren't their writing groups at the Loop campus?"

I'm happy to say that starting this spring they will be. Announcements with more details will be forthcoming on the Writing Guide for SNL students website (http://snl.depaul.edu/writing/index.html). Students can also contact the writing group coordinator, Tom McNamara at tmcnamar@depaul.ed

John Hattie and Helen Timperley’s “The Power of Feedback”

Last fall SNL hosted some folks from All Hallows College in Ireland who are putting together a program for adult learners at their school. One of our visitors recommended John Hattie and Helen Timperley’s article “The Power of Feedback.” In this review article, Hattie and Timperley show that "Feedback is among the most critical influences on student learning" (102), but they also show that not all feedback is equally valuable.  While most of the research on which they base their conclusions comes from studies with younger students, my research with adult students at SNL suggests that their conclusions often apply to our students. Therefore, I’d like to share some of their conclusions with you.

Hattie and Timperley argue that feedback should help answer three overlapping questions: Where am I going? (goals), How am I going? (performance as measured against goals), and What next? (future goals). Most usefully, Hattie and Timperley distinguish between four types of feedback: feedback on task (FT), feedback on process (FP), feedback on self regulation  (FR), and feedback on self (FS). The first three are for progressively more sophisticated learners. They are designed to help students move from the correct performance of a specific task to being self directed, internally motivated, critical learners with high self-efficacy. Feedback on self they see as almost entirely useless and sometimes counterproductive.

They claim that feedback is more effective when it tells students what they have done well and how they have improved than when it tells students what they did wrong (85).  However, they also assert that disconfirming feedback is very powerful: "Feedback has its greatest effect when a learner expects a response to be correct and it turns out to be wrong" (95).

They nuance the question of when to offer positive or negative feedback by looking at the types of feedback. For example, they argue that positive feedback on self works best when accompanied by feedback on task, but that negative FS is generally more useful than positive FS because it can challenge self perceptions (although they note that people have lots of ways to discount negative feedback about themselves) (98). Feedback on task is best given immediately, while feedback on process works better when there is a delay, giving students time to process what they have done (98).

For feedback on self-regulation, a student’s commitment to goals and self-efficacy effect determine whether positive or negative feedback is most useful. If a student has high goal commitment (something they want to do), then positive feedback is best. If a student as low goal commitment (something they have to do), then negative feedback is more effective (99). They argue that negative feedback can prompt students to respond to a challenge, be dissatisfied with their previous work and raise goals, but that positive feedback can increase persistence and engagement (99). For students with high self-efficacy, positive and negative FR both help (99). For student with low self-efficacy, positive FR can have positive (motivating) or negative (afraid to mess up) effects, while negative FR seems to be only negative (prompting avoidance) (99).

While people like feedback because it is "psychologically reassuring," that does not mean it is always useful (95). Feedback that is "off topic" -- that is not focused on helping students attain their goal -- is not useful. They use as an example of this feedback on writing: "Too often, the feedback given is unrelated to achieving success on critical dimensions of the goal. For example, students are given feedback on presentation, spelling, and quantity in writing when the criteria for success require, say 'creating mood in a story'" (89). Feedback on writing also tends to focus on the paper (the task). However, feedback on process (such as how to go about finding sources or proofreading) will frequently provide bigger gains. Feedback on task can be used to support feedback on process or self-regulation (90-91), such as "I noticed that you have many typos and small grammar errors in this paper. Here is a place to find strategies for proofreading: http://snl.depaul.edu/writing/editing.html  Try some of these and then return the paper to me." 

Hattie and Timperley confirmed that feedback is effective when it specific and focused. The cite several studies which show that lack of detail can be a major issue with FT when it leaves students unclear on how to use it (100). This is true whether the feedback itself is positive or negative. Vague, overly general positive feedback leaves students unsure about what worked and why so they cannot transfer their success. Unclear negative feedback leaves them in the dark about what to fix and why.

Written feedback is much more useful for students than grades or points. Studies indicate that comments rather than grades lead to significant improvement, while grades by themselves and even comments combined with grades did not improve performance (92).

This information on feedback also leads to conclusions about the construction and presentation of assignments and assessments. Well-defined assignments with specific criteria lead to more focused and so effective feedback, while overly general or nonspecific goals leave students and feedback unfocused.  Teachers can enhance student learning by "providing appropriate challenging and specific goals" which are then "more likely to include information about the criteria for success in attaining" the goals (87). While assignments should be focused, they also should be challenging (88).

Interestingly, the one point at which they distinguished between younger and older students was in the discussion of students’ perception of praise. While younger students tend to like praise, older students are much more wary: "older students perceived praise after success or neutral feedback after failure as an indication that the teacher perceived their ability to be low. When given criticism after failure and neutral feedback after success, they perceived that the teacher had estimated their ability to be high and their effort low " (97).

For more on giving feedback on writing, see http://snlwriting.pbworks.com/Responding-to-Student-Writing

Work Cited

Hattie, John, and Helen Timperley. "The Power of Feedback." Review of Educational Research 77.1 (2007): 81-112.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Suburban Campus Writing Groups Starting 1/16

Dear SNL Faculty:

As the winter term commences, I hope that you’ll aid the Writing Center in its outreach to Suburban Campus students.  Last winter, the Writing Center began offering Suburban Campus Writing Groups (SCWGs) at the Naperville, Oak Forest, and O’Hare campuses.  These groups allow students to, with the aid of Writing Center consultants, work on their writing in an atmosphere that promotes the sort of collaborative and active learning valued by SNL.  Participants have received the program enthusiastically, returning each semester and suggesting the groups to their friends.  Most importantly, the groups allow students to practice reading and responding to the texts of others, allowing them to develop critical reading skills that they can utilize when assessing their own texts—often making their own writing more effective.

Will you help the Writing Center ensure the success of the groups on the Suburban Campuses?  If you know anyone who would benefit from participation, please send their names and, if possible, their emails to tmcnamar@depaul.edu.  Also, please encourage your current students to attend.  Writers of all levels are welcome, and, in fact, the program thrives on the diversity of its participants.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to email me (tmcnamar@depaul.edu) or consult the Suburban Campus Writing Group page on the Writing Center website (depaul.edu/writing).

Thank you for your continued support!
Tom McNamara