From the category archives:

Developmental Writing

HOF: Keeping Standards

by Dr Davis on December 16, 2014

I will not see the light. I will not.

I expect a single PDF attached in the CMS before midnight and it better be. I shall have my single PDF.

I expect one inch margins, stapling on the lop left, and a 12 point serif font. I shall have my staples, margins, and fonts!

I expect debits on the left and credits on the right, no matter what your mother or therapist told you about free expression. Debits, left. Credits, right. Forever.

I expect a salutation in every email. I expect a student name in every email. I expect proper grammar and standard English. I even expect complete sentences, b!tch that I am.

I expect that deadlines are deadlines. Better to learn that from me than your soon-to-be former boss, the IRS, or the SEC. Or, even the county probate judge or your ex-wife’s alimony lawyer. Deadlines are deadlines.

You will take my standards from my cold dead hands and then they will choke you in return because you didn’t read the part of the instructions warning you about the boobytrapped hands.

I will not see the light because I have a dream.

I have a dream that young adults can learn not only to read and follow instructions but also to solve their own problems. We start with small problems to give them some warm fuzzy feelings, then we move on to progressively more difficult situations. It’s called education and personal growth.

I have a dream that young adults, despite a myriad of disadvantages and a modicum of easy breaks in life, will rise up and learn to meet and even exceed the standards we set for them and that such young people will eventually look for higher standards to achieve and exceed, far beyond our wildest dreams.
From octoprof


Introducing TED to FYC

by Dr Davis on October 28, 2014

Today we started the Exploratory Essay, which is a pre-research project assignment, where students choose a topic that they are interested in and want to learn more about. They are required to find at least 3 sources, to write about what the sources say, and to reflect on how the information in those sources impacted their understanding of the subject. Did they learn something that conflicted with what they knew? What did they do with that? How did they decide whether to accept it or to reject it? How did they incorporate the new knowledge into their understanding of the world?

It’s a potentially revolutionary assignment as the students are tasked with watching themselves learn. Unfortunately it can also be very rote. Even the routine, though, offers opportunities for exponential growth.

I read this and learned this; it didn’t effect me because I think that is stupid.
I read this and learned this; it changed how I think about x because now I understand why someone would think y about x when I’ve always thought z.
I read this and learned this; now I think this instead.

When I told the students that they could use different types of texts, they were at a loss to understand what I meant. What could they use? They have been taught to use books and journals (though most at our university are online now); they are personally and intimately experienced with diving into the shallows of the internet. When I asked, none of them, not a single one, knew what TED talks were.

TED, I told them, is all about innovators–ideas worth spreading. The speakers are all the top, the forerunners of their fields, be that field physics or music or psychology. They are not, necessarily, skilled speakers, but have created or learned something exceptional. The original TED, I explained, has people paying $10,000 per seat, to sit in the room and listen to what will become free on the internet. (I have since found that this price is not accurate for 2014, being $2500 too high. I wonder where I heard it.) BUT, I told my students, just paying the cost is not sufficient to get a seat at TED. In addition to being willing and able to pay the high price, people who want to go to TED must also fill out an application, writing essays. Those essays determine who gets seats at TED.

My students were astounded to discover that essays might be necessary after college. They also couldn’t believe people would voluntarily write essays (six of them it turns out) in addition to paying thousands of dollars to sit in a room and listen to someone.

Because they had never heard of TED, I decided to share my favorite TED talk with them. It’s not about writing. It’s about creativity and art and poverty and beauty. It’s “How I Became 100 Artists” by Shea Hembrey.

Because I enjoyed once more watching Shea Hembrey, who “draws sticks real good,” when I came home this evening, I looked up fashion on TED and found not fashion but Objects of Desire, 12 different TED talks on things related to art.

One of the points of connection is the use of story in the presentations. Some are overtly about the stories of art and some are stories of other things impacting art.

I introduced TED talks to my composition course today and re-introduced them to myself as well.


Writing in the Classroom, Not Lecturing

by Dr Davis on November 26, 2011

Dr. Lee Skallerup @CollegeReadyWriting discusses her approach to having the students work on their projects in class in Get Busy Doing.

As I said on the post, I’ve been doing this approach in writing for years, at least twenty-one.

In fact, I vividly remember the day twenty years ago when I was called into the dean’s office because a student (rather than coming to me or the chair) went to another professor in another department who went to the dean (rather than coming to me or the chair) to complain about my in-class work–after having first gotten the student transferred out of my “joke” of a class.

I explained the pedagogical ramifications to my dean, who let me go with commendations.

I called the professor and discussed his lack of professionalism. He said the student told him that the student had already talked to me. I told him that was between him and the lying student, but that he didn’t talk to me before he talked to the dean. I was not impressed with the professor and I let him know it. (As an aside that amazes me as confrontation is not my normal style.)

The problems associated with this style of teaching are not always as easily worked out as that experience would imply. For example:

Computer availability issues
Computer classrooms help facilitate research during class time. But what happens when only one of the three classrooms you are assigned has computers, as is true for me this semester?

Yes, many of my students have laptops (now that I am no longer at the CC and have moved to a SLAC), but not all of them do. I can’t require that they do work in class on computers if I don’t provide computers. And I can’t provide computers. If even two of my students in a given class do not have or do not bring their computers, I would have a situation that could not be worked around.

Since I am teaching three sections of the same writing-intensive course (fyc), I do not want to have one class working on their writing in class and the other two reading the book and working on discussions in groups.

Lest you think that this is a rare problem and I must teach in some backwoods shack, let me state for the record that my university was the first to have a college newspaper on the iPad and this was not an accident. We work with, and some would say for, Apple, AT&T, Google, and various other major players in the tech field. We have an entire library floor, the main floor, that is primarily devoted to computer stations, with computers. (This is usually fairly full, so I can’t just pop over and take over twenty seats with my class.)

Yet the English department has only three computer labs on campus. And there aren’t any other computer labs I can sign up for with an entire class.

At least I know that my students will have access to computers, even if it isn’t during my class.


Shout Out Asking for Help

by Dr Davis on August 5, 2011

Got an email from a colleague who is working with at-risk students at her college on reading and writing strategies. Does anyone have a book or article they have found particularly helpful to recommend to her?


Peer Coaching

by Dr Davis on May 5, 2011

You Can Teach Writing has an interesting post, Formal Assessment by Proxy, on peer coaching.

Along with a definition and description, Aragoni includes discussions of when peer coaching will work well and when it will fail.

One of the successful hints is that there should be minimal reading.

The questions are short, focused. Even students who read poorly can learn the drill by hearing the questions a few times.

I would not have thought of that one, even though I am used to reading the essays to my students to make sure that they “get” them.

One of the failing techniques I also would not have thought of.

Infrequent use. Like all writing strategies, peer coaching has to be done often enough that students memorize it so they don’t have to consult their notes.

I recommend the whole article, which was recommended by Dr. Lee Skallerup of College Reading Writing.


Notes on Sources from #fycchat

by Dr Davis on April 20, 2011

These are some tweets I found helpful from last week’s fycchat. Wednesdays at 9 pm EST.

I think this chat has evolved to how to make research more meaningful. It’s a good thing.

One thing I make an effort to show is how much time and effort go into the peer reviewed article: 3-5 years. They don’t believe me.

I’ve found once students understand how much time goes into writing a peer-review essay, they take it more seriously.

I have a lesson with multiple sources on the same topic-whoever gets the peer-rev can answer the most ?’s

“Study of First Year Students’ Research Papers Finds Little Evidence that they Understand Sources”

At my school fyc is 2 sems. Second sem ends w/ research paper. I like that method better.

Why the Research Paper Isn’t Working

I’m moving away from research papers to researched arguments on local topics that matter to students

When I have them find sources, they have to explain how/why they are going to use it in their essay.

Sources only matter to students if they understand how we build credibility by entering into convo w/source authors.

I actually take the time to talk about the difference btw peer-reviewed vs newspaper/mag vs It’s pretty effective.

I call our research paper a Scholarly Personal Narrative. You tell a personal story with scholarly research layered in

This also transitions nicely to multimedia projects. RT @mday666: moving away from research papers to researched arguments

Yes, I do that (talk about peer rvwed versus popular) too. Although perhaps not as clearly as you do. Maybe a game? “CBS” “JAMA” Most right wins.

Reminding my students that they “use research” all the time is important. In a conversation, if you wanted to make a point you often bring in outside voices of experts or examples you saw in other media.

We do a documentary film Lots of times students find things doing that and revise those into their research papers

Yes, exactly. This is what I do in my Writing with Video course–integrate writing and video

Embedding writing associates in discipline courses can address melding discipline, research, & writing

I notice students in our Rhetoric and PW major, though, won’t do research unless “research” is in the name of the assignment.

I think they mostly arent ready to be discipline writers. They are ready to read in discipline and write back to us.

Maybe I’m the odd-one out, but I don’t think we necessarily need “discipline writing.” A good writer figures out how to insert +her/his self into the rhetoric of any given field by knowing their role as a writer, their audience, and the form.

FYC is time to learn to read/write about arguments. Later, students can see what’s missing in their field & research it.

My theory: student probs w/ writing are often probs w/ analytical thinking. Memorization has not prepared them.

Agreed, and integrating sources is a massive test of critical thinking skills.

If you can read like a writer, you can write in any discipline where you’ve learned the content enough

I think it’s very hard for those who don’t regularly write to be writing teachers. It’s easy to forget

They’re in college. End of story. It’s not supposed to be easy.

My teacher in grad Rhet/Comp class told us to write down quotes that confused us and then dissect them in writing.

Students are so use to rules that they forget the social dimension of writing.

Remember: tweetchat. If I use tweetchat, then I don’t have to type #fycchat each time. VERY useful.


Developing a New Approach to Developmental

by Dr Davis on April 18, 2011

Perhaps we need to trash developmental and start over. (For the record, I teach and love teaching developmental. I was hired to do this job and I enjoy it. I have taught developmental since I began my teaching career 27 years ago.)

Community College Dean has been thinking about this and wrote a post that I think has significant thoughtful suggestions.

At the League for Innovation conference a few weeks ago, some folks from the Community College Research Center presented some pretty compelling research that suggested several things. First, it found zero predictive validity in the placement tests that sentence students to developmental classes. Students who simply disregarded the placement and went directly into college-level courses did just as well as students who did as they were told. We’ve found something similar on my own campus. Last year, in an attempt to see if our “cut scores” were right, I asked the IR office and a math professor to see if there was a natural cliff in the placement test scores that would suggest the right levels for placing students into the various levels of developmental math. I had assumed that higher scores on the test would correlate with higher pass rates, and that the gently-slanting line would turn vertical at some discrete point. We could put the cutoff at that point, and thereby maximize the effectiveness of our program.

It didn’t work. Not only was there no discrete dropoff; there was no correlation at all between test scores and course performance. None. Zero. The placement test offered precisely zero predictive power.

Second, the CCRC found that the single strongest predictor of student success that’s actually under the college’s control — so I’m ignoring gender and income of student, since we take all comers — is length of sequence. The shorter the sequence, the better they do. The worst thing you can do, from a student success perspective, is to address perceived student deficits by adding more layers of remediation. If anything, you need to prune levels. Each new level provides a new ‘exit point’ — the goal should be to minimize the exit points.

I’m excited about these findings, since they explain a few things and suggest an actual path for action.

I think this would be something my own college could do, track success rates, and see what it means to be developmental at our school. If we have some other way of organizing, perhaps we could help it work for our students better.

My alma mater has “dropped” the two developmental courses and has a single sequence by which previously labeled developmental classes take a year-long freshman comp first semester course. This gives the teacher and the students time to ramp up the writing and helps the students feel it is worthwhile by giving college level credit for it.

Yes, there are some students who would not survive with this approach and our students at the CC may be among them, but I think it is worth considering.


Tip 50: Take Time.

by Dr Davis on April 14, 2011

Dr. Lee Skallerup and I are often on the same page. Sometimes it seems we are going through things at the same time.

My students are working on a research paper, the overview of controversy essay. In this paper the students must look at both sides of a single issue and present those two sides in a fair and even-handed way. I tell them I don’t want to know which side they support when I read this paper.

One thing that is consistently an issue, of course, is the time the students spend working on the paper.

When we begin the writing process, I tell my students it is going to take us a lot of time to write a good paper. It is why I introduce it in pieces and we do part of the drafting far ahead of the due date for the paper. I tell them that part of the reason for that is it gives them time to think about their topic a lot before they actually have to write the paper to turn in.

I had a lot of failures for plagiarism on this round of drafts. Even though the student worked on the papers and we practiced paraphrasing, they still kept the author’s words, without the requisite quotation marks. When they came in for their one-on-one conferences with me (possible only because so many have dropped), most of us have spent the whole fifteen minutes revising a single plagiarism. I tell them it takes time and they have to prepare for that.

They know that, but they haven’t done it.

Dr. Skallerup found time to be an issue for both success and failure.

I also pointed out the one important factor in their success: time. They took the time to work on their essays. The time and effort paid off, but they needed to understand that if they wanted to continue being successful in their essay writing, they needed to give themselves the time.

Learn what is the most difficult part of the writing process and start early enough to get that part done without panicking or rushing. Look at your schedule for the semester, and rather than blocking out the weekend before the essay is due, block off the one two weeks before it is due. Even if you’re not actively writing, at least plan to start thinking/reading/free writing/outlining on the topic.

Perhaps if we discuss more, as Dr. Skallerup has in her classes, how much time our work takes, they might see that we too take time and, when we don’t, that our work suffers. Modeling, after all, is one of my preferred and most successful methods of educating.


Alumni as Audience

by Dr Davis on April 8, 2011

I really like the idea presented by Cary Moskovitz of Duke University in her Chronicle of Higher Education article “Reader Experts Help Students Bring the Write Stuff.”

Even when an instructor can successfully role-play, students who have rarely composed papers for anyone other than their teachers and professors often struggle to write with any other audience in mind.

…When professors include their courses in the [Thompson Writing Program] project, their students can get comments on drafts of papers from an alumnus or employee who has relevant experience in the field, like the Coast Guard commander or the wildlife expert.

Readers are provided with instructions and examples for giving feedback in which they comment on their reactions to the students’ draft as “consumers” of the text rather than as editors or evaluators.

Nearly 300 alumni and employees have volunteered as readers, and 350 students have participated in more than 40 courses. Several courses have become regulars in the program.

This would be SOOOOO cool! It would take a lot of work to get it off the ground, but I think it would be incredibly helpful to students. I think it would be especially helpful to students at the CC level, because then they could see that their writing will impact their future and their future jobs. But I can see why it would be easier with a strong alumni group like Duke University has.

I’m going to start talking this idea up. I think it could really make a difference, even to developmental writers. Or, perhaps, especially to developmental writers.



by Dr Davis on April 6, 2011

The Complexities of Responding to Student Writing seemed appropriate and related to tonight’s tweetchat for #fycchat.

No wonder that new ways to handle the paper load, advances in efficiency in the production of response, have a long history in the teaching of college composition. The use of lay readers (called “reading assistants” at Vassar before they were phased out in 1908) may be one of the earliest, but it was only a harbinger. Here is a short list of shortcuts, with date of earliest record I can find in the post-WWII literature.

Mark only the presence of problem, leaving it up to the student to locate and correct it (1940)

Use a projector to respond to student writing in class (1942)

Use a checklist, or rubberstamped scale of criteria (1950)

Hold one-on-one conferences to respond (1946)

Have fellow students read and respond to papers (1950)

Hold one-on-two or one-on-three conferences to respond (1956)

Record comments on audiotape (1958)

Respond only to praiseworthy accomplishments (1964)

Have students evaluate their own essays (1964)

Respond only to a limited number of criteria (1965)

Have students use computerized grammar, spelling, or style checkers (1981)

Add comments to the student’s digital text with word-processing footnotes or hypertext frames (1983)

What brought me there, though, was the cartoon.