Writing Across the Curriculum Spring Event Series at CSI

Wednesday March 5, 2014 – 12:00-3:30 pm
Faculty Resource Fair
Whether you’ve never heard of WAC or you’re a WAC veteran, join us for the faculty resource fair! Learn about what WAC can offer for your teaching, grab a helpful handout, learn about the new website, and check out the schedule for the month’s events.

Wednesday March 5, 2014 – 2:00-3:30 pm
Grant Writing as Model Curriculum
Writing Across the Curriculum at CSI has been engaged in a year-long project on helping students write research proposals for grants and scholarships. In this roundtable, the Writing Across the Curriculum team in collaboration with Cary Karacas, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Global Affairs, will provide a hands-on workshop for faculty members, administrators, and MA students, offering practical strategies that empower your students’ writing process.

Tuesday March 11, 2014 – 12:00-1:30 pm
Student Voices: A Roundtable Discussion on the WAC Study
The Writing across the Curriculum team conducted a study in 2012-2013 titled “Students’ Success in their College Writing at the College of Staten Island.” In this roundtable, we will be presenting our findings from the study, offering both analysis and recommendations based on the results, and discussing useful pedagogical strategies to encourage learning through writing.

Tuesday March 18, 2014 – 12:00-1:30 pm
From Images and Numbers to Words: WAC & Writing in the Disciplines
This workshop will focus on research-based strategies for incorporating writing in mathematics and art history classrooms as a way to talk about how to bring WAC pedagogy into any course in which students grapple with non-text based materials.

Tuesday March 25, 2014 – 12:00-1:30 pm
Academic Writing for English as a Second Language Students
Despite the large presence of the English as Second Language (ESL) students in CUNY, there is little research on the challenges ESL students have with academic writing and how faculty members should help them succeed in class. This workshop aims to give CSI faculty members a fuller understanding of ESL students’ major obstacles in academic writing and how to create more effective writing assignments.

Tuesday April 8, 2014 – 12:00-1:00 PM
Writing Practices and Obstacles: A Conversation on WAC and Contingent Labor
The CSI WAC program is conducting a study on the challenges, motivations, and experiences that contingent faculty at CUNY have in regards to writing-focused assignments in the courses they teach. This workshop will address a series of questions within or inspired by the study.

All events located at:
Faculty Center for Professional Development Building 1L Room 203

Writing Good Qualitative Research Questions


Some great ideas from the folks as masscommtheory.com!

Originally posted on Mass Communication Theory:

Got a great handout a while back that I stumbled over today, hopefully it’s as helpful to you as it was to me. Here are the steps for writing good (mass communication of course) qualitative research questions:

Specify the research problem: the practical issue that leads to a need for your study.

Complete these sentences:

  • “The topic for this study will be…”
  • “This study needs to be conducted because…”

How to write a good qualitative purpose statement: a statement that provides the major objective or intent or roadmap to the study. Fulfill the following criteria:

  • Single sentence
  • Include the purpose of the study
  • Include the central phenomenon
  • Use qualitative words e.g. explore, understand, discover
  • Note the participants (if any)
  • State the research site

A good place to start: The purpose of this ______________ (narrative, phenomenological, grounded theory, ethnographic, case, etc.) study is (was? will be?) will be to ____________ (understand, describe…

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Getting Students to Participate: WAC Style


We all know how difficult it can be to get students to engage, listen, and participate in discussion-based classrooms. While sometimes silence is a symptom of lack of preparation, disinterest, or boredom, silence can also be an important part of the learning process — students need time to process the “input” of a lesson or other student’s comment before formulating the “output” of their own response.

But there are ways to improve the process and increase participation among students in the classroom. Some great strategies are included in the resource Improving Student Participation.  These include:

(1) Use brief, informal writing assignments during and outside class to prepare students for discussion. Low-stakes assignments such as journal writing and in-class freewriting to discussion questions will allow students to formulate and articulate their thoughts in advance, emboldening any shy students to participate more. During these writing tasks, you may even ask students to pose their own questions and answer them.

(2) Create moments for productive silence. Invite students to respond in writing to various things in the course throughout the semester, including difficult course content or even grades they’ve received. Dialogue between students and teachers will ensure that your class silence is not a result of student resistance. Consider having students write anonymously at the end of class; this will encourage an egalitarian environment where everyone’s voice is significant.

(3) Remind students that participation is part of their grade. If students are reminded that class participation is part of the course comment, the likelihood that they will participate will be greater. Some of the quieter students may opt to meet their participation requirements by writing additional low-stakes assignments rather than speaking.

(4)  Try to change the silent classroom dynamic that may have formed early on in the semester. Ask students to change their seats so that those in front and the back have equal chances to contribute. Assign small-group discussions so that non-vocal students have more opportunity to speak. Pose an open-ended assignment and ask students to work together to solve it. Better discussions and learning-centered tasks like these will benefit both you and your students.


Grading Pains

It’s that time of year! As the end of the semester creeps in upon us, it’s a great time to consider ways of easing the pain (and time) of grading. Below we review some common complaints — and solutions — compiled from our Dec 2010 Newsletter.

grading papers

I’m spending time correcting grammar, spelling, and style, but these things don’t seem to improve from paper to paper. I’m not even sure how much I care about these things in comparison to the content of the papers, but I feel like they should not pass uncommented on.

Commenting Strategies:
1. Consider using minimal marking, which can range from copyediting just one paragraph of the paper completely to just putting x’s next to errors throughout the paper and having the students determine what their own errors are.
2. Give comments regarding a few error patterns on your rubric, but don’t mark them in the paper. The reason this hands off strategy is appropriate is because students can only correct one, maybe two errors each semester, so tons of markings won’t necessarily result in students learning about their errors and fixing all of them in the future.

In-class exercises:
1. Have students spend 10 minutes self-editing their own work before turning in their essays.
2. Before the final, have students bring the papers returned to them throughout the course of semester to class and have them self.edit the papers, then compile a checklist of their own error patterns so that they can avoid the same errors on the final exam or paper.

I’m putting significant effort into grading at the end of the semester, but the students rarely come back to pick up their papers.

It is perfectly reasonable to require students to commit to actually picking up their final papers and exams from your office or provide you with a self-addressed stamped envelope if they would like detailed comments on their final papers. Conversely, students can write on their final paper or exam that they would just like a grade.

More papers than I’d like are sloppy or don’t answer my prompt question.

Write detailed and specific assignment prompts.
2. Spend some time thinking about what you want students to turn in, then think about how your prompt will help students know how to produce that.
3. Show your prompts to colleagues and ask what they would write in response to your prompt.
4. Give students your grading rubric with the assignment prompt. Your rubric can range from an entirely qualitative list of questions or to a chart with numbers — it can be any evaluative tool that explains your criteria when evaluating papers.
5. Give assignments that you’re excited to read.
Show students models of what good academic writing in your field looks like.
7. Finding models can be difficult when you start teaching, but you can even use course readings as models to break down how experienced writers use structure, good grammar, and evidence to support their arguments.

I feel like some of my grading comments are directed at justifying the grade I give the paper, which makes grading feel like a conflict between me and my students. I feel like it is necessary to be almost mean in my comments in order to justify the grade the paper deserves.

Offer rewrites. Students often won’t take advantage of even a generous re-write policy, but this will help them recognize that their grade is a product of their own work and effort, not an arbitrary and final decision by you. What could be conflicts between you and students over grades can become discussions about what students can do to produce better papers.
2.  If you offer rewrites, you have the option to only comment on drafts, not on the final papers, since students already know what they need to work on. By having students highlight their revisions and include the commented.on draft with their final paper, you can simply read your comments, the student’s revisions, and assign the paper a grade.

Some students get basic facts wrong in their papers and seem to have no grasp of the course content.

Consider whether essays typed and written at home match your learning goals for your students. If you’re teaching a general education course, regular, short answer quizzes instead of formal essays or even midterms and finals may help your students keep up with the course reading and lectures, and learn the things that you think are most important to learn in introductory courses while dispersing your grading responsibilities over the semester in manageable portions. Writing is important, but writing can be done informally with in-class, ungraded writing or as a class during discussion time by writing just one great paragraph together on the board or in groups.

I know or suspect that my students are intentionally or unintentionally plagiarizing.

1. Talk about plagiarism throughout the course of the semester. Explain what plagiarism is in your own words, and why it matters so much. Research shows that students educated about plagiarism actually do it far, far less. Right from the start, calmly tell students what plagiarism is and why they shouldn’t do it, and keep talking about plagiarism as the semester continues.
2. For longer assignments like research papers, require a bibliography, outline, and draft at different points in the semester (and give credit only for those that you receive on the established due dates).

I can’t get any of my own work done during certain weeks of the semester because my grading load is so intense.

You should schedule time each day (at least 30 minutes) to do your own scholarship. Figure out when you’re sharpest and most engaged, and use that time for your work. For most people, this is at the start of the day, but it can vary. Consistently doing work during a scheduled time is proven to give you more good ideas than if you just wait until inspiration strikes.
2. You can assign the students papers that relate to your own research interests so that you can stay in touch with your scholarship while teaching.




Peer Review and Scaffolded Assignments: A Suggestion from John Bean

640_revision hell

As we all know, bringing home a stack of papers is a daunting prospect for any professor. The time, attention, and energy required to give each word its due is not easily found in a busy schedule. Indeed, this is a large factor in resistance to instituting WAC pedagogy: instructors have concerns with both the amount and kind of work required by implementing low-stakes, scaffolded assignments. “Grading one set of essays is difficult enough,” one colleague said, “I can’t imagine having time to grade three.”

One great way to manage the stress and time of scaffolded assignments is to divide the labor: set aside class time for students to do peer editing, peer review, or even self-editing/self-review. Taking classroom time for such projects actually improves students’ uptake of suggestions, as well as helping them better understand what exactly it is they are trying to express.

One great structure for this presented by John Bean in his book Engaging Ideas is a three-column response sheet. Have students break into pairs or small groups. Each student divides a sheet of note paper into three columns. In the first column are positives: things the student likes about the draft they are reading. In the second column are negatives: things the student sees as room for improvement in the current draft. The last column is for questions: what was unclear in the draft? What can be better articulated? Have students then exchange drafts and fill out a sheet for each draft that they read.

This classroom assignment not only takes some of the pressure off the instructor, but benefits the students as well: they get a feel for the process of editing and revision in the context of dialog with their interlocutors. They can see exactly what needs improvement without trying to divine a series of red marks on a paper. In short, this strategy helps both instructors and students deal with the stress of revision.

Writing Out the Blues: Writing-based Approaches to Post-midterm Crisis

Writing Out the Blues: Writing-based Approaches to Post-midterm Crisis by Albert Fayngold

Say ‘Midterms,’ and you needn’t add more: the word pretty much speaks for itself, loud and clear. It’s hardly an exaggeration to sug- gest that the mere mention of midterms typically triggers a familiar reaction of dread in most college students, whatever their age, year in college, or major. Say ‘midterms,’ and you’ve instantly conjured

it all: the stress, the fatigue, the fear, the daily cramming sessions that fade into coffee-and-energy-drink-packed ‘all-nighters;’ the last-minute skim- ming of study guides, textbooks, and notes, the desperate e-mails, schedule conflicts, and office appointments with instructors or advisors. Say ‘mid- terms,’in short, and you’ve summoned the student’s worst nightmare, one rivaled only by the menace of finals.

All of which is bad enough, but guess what: it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Continue reading

Anders on Working With Wikis


The WAC resource page on Teaching with Wikis addresses a hot issue in academia—that is, the benefits and pitfalls of sharing information on the internet. As flashpoints for controversy, collaboratively-edited databases such as Wikipedia have in recent history attracted scorn among academic circles for the open-source model they use to furnish, edit, and supervise content. At the same time, however, the participatory model of writing and thinking that sites such as Wikipedia leverages is in fact a model in practice of important new principles of pedagogy that Writing Across the Curriculum has encouraged, albeit in other formats up to now.

The resource page on Teaching With Wikis is therefore an exciting tool for bringing the benefits of collaborative writing and thinking—and engaged pedagogy—to the classroom, while bringing to the fore precisely those questions of open-source media, authorship, plagiarism, and the status and value of authoritative knowledge to the forefront of students’ consciousness. After all, these are issues that your students confront every day in their own media-saturated environments and online social networks. Incorporating this tool into your classroom may galvanize your students’ critical thinking about responsible use of media-based communication. In the process, it may open exciting critical possibilities for you and them, while giving you new insights into how your students learn, process, and productively engage with the materials you teach.

A wiki (which is a Hawaiian word for “quick”) is a website that allows people to add, modify, or delete content in collaboration with others. As a content management system, it differs from blogs because the content is not the sole domain of its creator. Wikis have little implicit structure, which allows a structure to emerge according to the needs of its users. Ward Cunningham, the developer of the first wiki software, described the technology as “the simplest online database that could possibly work”. It promotes meaningful cognitive associations among topics by allowing users to intuitively create links to related pages; also, the wiki interface involves visitors in an ongoing project of creation and sharing that constantly and democratically changes the landscape of the website.

This paper is a workshop in your pocket, providing an overview of wiki technology (for you shy ones!); practical and easy-to-do suggestions for planning, setting up, and implementing a wiki in your classroom; and examples from how a year-long wiki-project was implemented in a Cognitive Psychology class at CSI. Tools such as wikis “build crucial skills for student development, casting writing as a key skill in communication through collaborative writing, writing-to-learn, and ‘scaffolded’ assignments”, which are core aspects of Writing Across the Curriculum pedagogy. In this way, it is also a great way to get your feet wet with new and easy principles of WAC pedagogy, even if you have never engaged with your campus WAC office before!

Associate Professor of Psychology Irina Sekerina (pg. 9) reflected in glowing terms on the effects of teaching with wikis for the first time on her student outcomes: “The wiki helped students to get over a common misconception that students typically have about cognitive psychology: that is it abstract, difficult, boring…even those of them who initially resisted getting involved in cognitive topics couldn’t help but get ‘sucked in’! The project capitalized on students’ enchantment with technology, and harnessed the power of the internet, Google search engines, Wikipedia, and YouTube”. Moreover, said Professor Sekerina, “The students interacted and communicated with each other much more when they worked in groups over an extended period of time”.