From the category archives:

Developmental Writing

A = Analogies

by Dr Davis on April 4, 2017

Analogies are useful for learning because, once we disregard the surface similarities, the shared structures can be illuminating.

Providing two analogies rather than one improves learning (Schwartz, Tsang, and Blair 3). Basically it creates a Venn diagram of the shared ideas that can elucidate the idea/theory/practice we are attempting to focus on.

When I first heard of this, I thought it was a simple and fascinating concept. Just give students random things and they could try and figure out how those things “were like” the topic.

I have done that for a single random item (a bunch of small toys) in an FYC course during the introduction of students, asking them to explain how the toy was like their chosen major. It worked really well and was interesting.

However, for focused learning, I probably can’t throw random physical objects around the room for them to work with/on.

Random Practice Example:
Looking at the table in front of me, how is a bowl like writing? You fill it up with something significant. It is not particularly useful empty. It is designed to hold and transport things (or ideas).

Looking at the table in front of me, how is a cheese stick like writing? It needs to be wrapped up. It needs a particular level of wrapping to be useful. The cheese/writing can go bad if the wrapping/words are less than optimal. You consume it in small bites. You can put it up and eat/read it later.

Looking at those two objects, the ideas/food are what are wrapped/carried in the package or bowl and if the bowl or package is inappropriate (by type or size or whatever), the food/ideas go bad or do not get properly delivered.

That means that how we present our ideas really matters. Certain key concepts (like a thesis, topic sentence, and transitions) help create the correct carrying case for our ideas.

Can the students make that big of a connection? Or could they make better connections?

What if we had two or three students working together? Synergy and collaboration could lead to the sum being greater than its parts.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair


Amelia Bedelia for L2

by Dr Davis on December 13, 2015

True Confession Time:

I have always loved the Amelia Bedelia stories. That is not what I need to confess, though. Everyone who loves words should love those books.

What I have to confess is I didn’t know that words that mean the opposite of each other are called contronyms.

dust contronym Amelia Bedelia

Dust is a contronym.

So are

For when I am teaching linguistics or my ESL bridge class.


Peer Review

by Dr Davis on September 19, 2015

Peer review is very helpful in the writing classroom.

My first semester at my uni I had students doing a peer review. I had already told students that there was nothing we were doing in class that we did for less than 2 reasons, because I didn’t have time to teach everything I wanted them to learn. One raised his hand and asked what the point was and weren’t they wasting their time.

I told the whole class:
Peer review is useful for the person whose paper has responses. They see where others have identified the writing as being confusing and interesting. They can adjust for one while leaving the other.
Peer review is useful for the person who is writing the feedback, because it is easier to identify errors in other people’s work than in your own. However, identifying the errors in someone else’s work might tread you to recognize them in your own and/or to pay attention to them.
Peer review is useful for the person who has done the assignment well because they can see that they are ahead of the curve.
Peer review is useful for the person who has done the assignment poorly because they can see that they are behind the curve.
Peer review is useful for the person who is confused about the assignment as they can see other people’s approaches to it.
Peer review is also useful for the person who has done a good job but wants to improve as reading other people’s work can help you to think of your own in new ways.

Peer review is increasingly conducted in writing classes since the prevalence of communicative approach in recent years, and it has been proved as an effective approach to improve the writing skill (Corbin, 2012), to increase motivation to writing, and to learn how to treat writing as a collaborative social activity (Farrah, 2012).(24)

It was found that not only did students enjoy the process and product, but also a significant development and change was observed in their writing skill. The peer review process engaged the students in frequent reading and writing, fostered their critical reading and reflection, sharpened their writing knowledge and skills, helped them to manage their learning schedule, increased their motivation and joy of writing, and promoted their information literacy.(32)

Shokrpour, Nasrin, Nikta Keshavarz, and Seyed Mohammad Jafari. “The Effect of Peer Review on Writing Skill of EFL Students.” Khazar Journal of Humanities & Social Sciences 16.3 (2013): 24-35. Web. 17 September 2015.


Assessment for Writing Improvement

by Dr Davis on September 18, 2015

Frey, Nancy and Douglas Fisher. “A Formative Assessment System for Writing Improvement.” English Journal 103.1 (2013): 66-71. Web. 17 September 2015.

Frey and Fisher found that (as most of us have figured out) comments after the writing is over are not helpful nor are they read much. Instead, during the drafting stage, feedback, comments, and suggestions are most beneficial.

“Give us your top two priorities for the kind of feedback that would be most useful to you on this writing draft.” A surprising 92 percent chose “Edits to improve my writing” as the most important kind of feedback, followed by “Specific and detailed information about my performance” at 84 percent. (66)

we began providing students more detailed feedback about their progress. (67)

When a mistake is pointed out, the student knows what to do next; when errors are pointed out, the student does not know what to do next. (69)

We learned that in most cases, students don’t need another version of the same lesson that had been taught previously. Rather, they needed time to apply knowledge in the company of a skilled adult who coached them through confusions and partial understanding. This guided instruction uses three key scaffolds: ques- tions to check for understanding, prompts to apply specific cognitive and metacognitive resources, and cues when the learner needs his or her attention shifted in a more overt manner (Fisher and Frey). (70)

As Grant Wiggins noted, a formative assessment system requires purpose-driven instruction, systems for collecting and analyzing student work, and ways to organize responses to the errors that students make. (71)


Improvement in Accuracy and Fluency

by Dr Davis on September 17, 2015

Findings are that both direct correction and simple underlining of errors are significantly superior to describing the type of error, even with underlining, for reducing long-term error. Direct correction is best for producing accurate revisions, and students prefer it because it is the fastest and easiest way for them as well as the fastest way for teachers over several drafts. However, students feel that they learn more from self- correction, and simple underlining of errors takes less teacher time on the first draft.

Chandler, Jean. “The Efficacy of Various Kinds of Error Feedback for Improvement in the Accuracy and Fluency of L2 Student Writing.” Journal of Second Language Writing 12(2003):267-96.


DWme: The Writing Experience

by Dr Davis on January 19, 2015

While I have not in the past done these daily writing exercises with my students, this semester I plan to do that and share them with the students (and any readers of TCE). These will all be identified as DWme in the post title. However, mine will be written originally on computer and not by hand, because I will not keep it up if I have to write it by hand and transcribe it.

This first one I did not write down ahead of time and I am attempting to recreate the answers I gave in response to a student asking if I would share my own answers with the class. Therefore the answers will be incomplete and may have a focus I would not give to thoughtful, integrated writing. However, since part of the point of the Daily Writing exercises is to get the brain moving, they aren’t usually complete and thoughtful, so that means that these immediate responses are probably more like my students’ answers than the future DWme posts will be.

What kinds of writing have you done? What kind was most enjoyable?
For some reason, perhaps because I was thinking of their Daily Writing, I was thinking of this as more as assigned writing. I did not consciously do that, but there is no mention here of the complete novel and two partial novels I have written. I also didn’t mention letters, though for several years i wrote hundreds, perhaps even thousands of letters a year.
syllabi and assignments
I told them I have lots of publications.
blog posts
poems, including video poems

What habits of writing do you have? A trick? A place? A medium (pen or computer)? Background music? Time?
I usually write first with a pen, thinking through things and getting ideas. Then, once I’ve primed the pump so to speak, I pull out my computer and start writing.

If I really can’t think of anything, I will start on my computer and begin with “I can’t figure out what to write about xx. I know this and this…”

What scares you most about writing?
I am most afraid that I don’t do it well, that my writing won’t be good enough.

I turned in a chapter for a book that I really want to be published in, but I am nervous about the chapter. What if the editor hates it? These particular chapters are supposed to come back to the submitters with R&R instructions. What if mine is so bad, that she doesn’t even offer me the opportunity to rewrite it?

I was in bed the evening of the day the R&R instructions were supposed to arrive and I couldn’t go to sleep without getting back up to check my computer and see if something had come from the editor.

Even professional writers, and I am a professional writer because part of my job is to write and because I have been paid for some of my publications, feel inadequate and worry about their writing.

What (potential) benefits do you see to writing?
Obviously I am an English teacher and I think that good writing is essential to succeed in college and in the work world. In fact, if you are an accounting major and are thinking you won’t have to write, I was recently informed that one of the internships in accounting that a student here did requires writing. After the first assigned writing, if the intern does a good job, the responsibilities of the intern are increased and they are given “real” work, work that is more in line with what they are actually hoping to do in the future full-time. If the first assigned writing is not done well, the intern is relegated to grunt work for the internship (which used to be the best an intern could hope for anyway).

However, I also know of another benefit that you may not have considered. When I first met my future husband, we had a long conversation about some interesting things, but then we were interrupted, finals happened and we left school. I wrote him a letter telling him what other things I had intended to say about our conversation topics and then he wrote me back the longest writing he had ever done, giving me his responses to the topics we had conversed on that he hadn’t finished with.

Eventually we were married.

So sometimes writing gets you romance.

Skipped questions
I realized while typing these out that I did not answer all the questions. However students won’t tell me everything they know in a few minutes either and even a fast writer might not get it all done, so I am okay with that.


DW: The First Daily Writing

by Dr Davis on January 18, 2015

The second day of class I had students write about their own experiences with writing. For this particular daily writing, I took about ten minutes.

boy surrounded by question marksQuestions
What kinds of writing have you done? What kind was most enjoyable?

What habits of writing do you have? A trick? A place? A medium (pen or computer)? Background music? Time?

What scares you most about writing?

What (potential) benefits do you see to writing?

Verbal Interpolations
For the first question, I mention that most enjoyable could be interpreted as least unpleasant.

For the second question, I ask them if they use a particular motivator or gimmick to get started,for instance. Do they always write just before the paper is due? Do they begin with the “I don’t have anything to say” answer to writer’s block?

High School student at deskAfter Life
Though usually I simply take up the Daily Writing and go on, for this day, I tell the students to meet the folks around them–exchanging names and introducing themselves– and share their answers. (Two of the classes meet in a classroom that I set up into table groupings, so they have 3-5 people at a table.)

I gave the students in my Tuesday-Thursday classes 15 minutes to talk about their answers with each other.

Then, just before I took up the papers, I called for silence and asked the students to write the names of the other people at their table on the bottoms of their papers.

🙂 Having already told students that I know a big part of college is getting to know people and that their fyc colleagues have great networking potential, as most will not be rivals for the jobs they want to pursue in the future, this little “pop Quiz” helps them see that I am serious about having them get to know each others’ names.

(FYI I also give a naming quiz, after putting pictures into a video for the students to review first. This usually takes place during the third week of class.)


Beginning Class with Writing

by Dr Davis on January 17, 2015

One of the things I like to do in my writing classes is have the students start each day with writing. I usually assign a topic, but say they can write about other things if they wish. Then I set the timer on my phone and let them write for four minutes.

This exercise does several very helpful things. These are in no particular order.

1. For this generation, who are unused to handwriting, it helps them to build physical muscles for intense writing–which is required during the final exam.

2. It encourages students to arrive on time.

3. It gives them an opportunity, albeit in short bursts, to reflect on their lives at college.

4. It lets me continue to access their writing. (I don’t always attempt to do this, but it does let me know if students are able to consistently write.)

5. It gives a daily grade that encourages attendance.

6. It starts class out with the focus for the class.

7. Late students are far less disruptive, as they attempt to get enough writing done to qualify for the daily grade.

I keep these together in a folder and about once a week I go through them all putting them in alphabetical order and then recording the grades.

At the end of the semester, I hand all the papers back to the individual students. I encourage them to hold on to them, to give them to a parent or put them in the attic (or some equivalent), explaining that they are a small “slice of life” picture that will help remind them of their freshman year at college in some distant future, which is another benefit.


F14 Bridge to English Retrospective

by Dr Davis on January 11, 2015

This is the first time I have taught this class here and in the last five years. (If we had this course when I was here before, I don’t recall teaching it.)

Best thing about this class:
The students were committed to an education. If they were in this class, it was either because they were foreign students who were learning English or they were American students who had difficulties with writing–but who refused to let those difficulties keep them from college.

Students who are motivated are always a joy to teach.

Things I liked about the course going into it (with a shared syllabus):
I liked the idea of the playlist assignment, especially because it is a bridge from the personal/narrative to academic writing.

I thought that preparing students to take essay exams and showing them how to study was a good idea. This section of the course let me introduce them to key ideas about testing and studying in general.

The exploratory essay, as a step towards more college-level research, was an excellent idea.

Things I was less sanguine about:
The scholarship essay seemed to be either too big an assignment (if they had to find a scholarship they were qualified for) or unrealistic.

The essay exam was over what I perceived to be very difficult readings.

Turned Out Well
The playlist assignment:

The students enjoyed the playlist assignment. I may have misconstrued the parameters of this assignment, as in some places it is described as an annotated bibliography and I had the students write an essay.

Overall this assignment caught the students’ interest and they were willing to do the preliminary work to do it well.

It is also a good choice for introducing the style sheet to the students, since there is only one template they need to know.

All of the first-year and developmental English courses focus on the process of writing. We are giving the students the opportunity to experience how the quality of their writing goes up as they spend time on the process in pre-writing, writing, and revision, as well as in editing and getting their work reviewed.

The scholarship assignment:
Because I was leery of this assignment, I was surprised at how much the students engaged with it. By the time we finished, I realized that some of the students used it as a creative writing exercise. They wrote what would be reasonable for this faux scholarship, rather than trying to apply their actual experiences and background to fulfill the requirements.

The essay exam:
Overall this was successful. The students studied. They took notes. They participated in the class discussion in preparation for the exam.

No one blew off the actual exam.

The exploratory essay:
Students felt like this essay was more in line with the things they would be required to write during their academic career. I would agree with them, but the idea was to get them here.

Students worked hard on this and it was not a simple assignment. Some did very well; others were less successful. No one blew this off, though, which I had considered a possibility.

The final exam:
The fact that the final exam required them to write about things they had already written about was a good choice on the Director of Comp’s part. This significantly lessened the students’ extrinsic load. Unsurprisingly, it also meant that the writing was among the best they did all semester.

Tweaks for the Future
The scholarship assignment:
Next time I will remember to make the need for a factual account of their lives clearer. In fact, I am adding that to the assignment sheet.

The essay exam:
I think I would like to have the essay exam earlier next time I teach this class. Students had already taken exams before we got to the discussion of how to study.

Also, while everyone took the test seriously, the revision section was not always handled in the same way. Revision is required as a component for this course and I liked the idea of having them revise a question on the exam they did less well on. Not everyone did it, because it was not a major grade. I need to make sure that it is a major grade next time, even though I don’t want to make it 10%. I will have to think about how to do that.

9/3/15 I was sitting in on a grad class and one of the students told me her mother told her to tell me hello and thank you, as I taught her brother and he learned to write in my class. He did learn to write in my class; that is absolutely true. But he learned to write because he insisted on mastery. Yes, I helped him. I worked with him on all the extra drafts he did and talked to him about how to make good rhetorical choices. I made the options available and I worked, but he is the one who insisted on not leaving an assignment until he could write it well.

By the end of the course I was so impressed that I went to the Director of Comp to see if he could be skipped out of the stretch course sequence and into a regular FYC course because I thought his writing had improved that much.

Apparently his mother thought so, too.


HOF: Teaching Developmental Writing Rocks

by Dr Davis on December 31, 2014

I taught developmental level classes mostly. What I reminded myself (and my students) is that they had overcome a huge hurdle to figure out how to get into my class.
1. They had to finish high school, when many of them were single parents.
2. They had to decide to go to college.
3. They had to figure out where the college was. (For some of them, this was a big deal.)
4. They had to wander around until they found out how to enroll.
5. They had to enroll.
6. They had to get through financial aid.
7. They had to take a test.
8. They had to actually get registered.
9. They had to show up.

I tell them that what they have done so far is by far the bigger hurdle than my class. (That may not be true for you, but I felt like it was for mine.)

I taught writing, so we wrote. We wrote sentences. Then paragraphs. Then short essays. Then longer essays. And we re-wrote. They would write and I would mark and they would re-write. They would read each other’s work and comment on it and they would re-write. Then I would mark and they would re-write.

I only taught grammar as it applied to their papers. So if most students had a problem, we would work on it as a class. If only a few did, I would give them page numbers to review the rules and ask them to come by during office hours. Some did.

The biggest challenge for my students, and probably yours as well, is that they had so little knowledge of the world in general that they had trouble writing. If you don’t know that children are expected to be tucked into bed by their mothers, which many of my students don’t know, then how is Goodnight Moon going to make any sense? If you’ve never owned mittens, why would that connect with you? If you don’t know that a child can have its own room, which I am not sure any of my students did, then you might not understand what is going on in the book.


I think that you are doing a great job. It is a job that needs to be done and the fact that you care about it says that you are working at it and that makes you an amazing teacher.

You might want to look at your picture books and try to figure out what cultural assumptions are being made. (Harold and the Purple Crayon assumes that folks have time and energy to draw. That they have seen lots of things and can imagine doing things with them. That they can be lost and …) Then talk to your students about those assumptions BEFORE they read the book.

from compdoc