From the category archives:

Developmental Writing

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.


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


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.