Faculty Workshops

Making Writing Visible

Writing Intensive Faculty Workshop

April 9, 2009

Sean Meehan

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”

Some initial ideas and strategies for making the process of writing more visible in our teaching. I would be happy to follow up on any of these with course examples as well as organize future workshops around strategies of interest. These are (of course) culled: I do variations at different points in a semester, not all at once or all the time.

  1. Reflection on Assignment, before and after it is due.
    1. Discuss the rhetorical expectations of the assignment—that is, don’t treat the writing as a transparent medium for ideas from the course, but as the primary way those ideas get conveyed: audience, purpose, style; a particular stylistic issue (from your style manual) that each assignment will focus on; discussion of how the writing relates to and reflects issues in the field that you are studying.
    2. After an assignment, even before you have returned them: take 10-15 minutes and follow-up on the writing: students can write a self-assessment; you can pick an issue that you are seeing in student writing and spend more time with it.
  2. Freud on the couch: Discussion of the writing style and rhetorical effects of one or more of the course readings/authors you have assigned.
    1. Make the course readings models for writing as well as methods for thinking in the field. Workshop Freud (or Frederick Jackson Turner or Darwin): evaluate the thesis—as a thesis; read deliberately as a writer.
    2. Whenever possible, the genre of what students are writing needs to connect with the genre of what they are reading.
  3. Cramp their Style: Develop your own style manual/rhetorical handbook, with a manageable 5-15 characteristics of what makes for strong writing in your field and in this course, things they would be wise to consider (and from grade perspective, foolish to neglect).
    1. Present this in the course (post to web, include with syllabus or writing assignments); use it when reflecting on assignments; integrate the language of this manual in your evaluations; can even create an evaluation rubric from this.
    2. Style includes issues in mechanics and usage, but not limited to those.
  1.                                                i.     Might provide a separate list of 10-20 common usage errors.
  1. Teacher as Writer: Share reflections from your own writing in the field, writing experiences you have had, targeted to the kinds of writing you want them to do.
    1. Conversation: things you have experimented with or encountered in your own writing/research process—perhaps as part of a workshop or assignment discussion.
    2. Sharing: share an excerpt or draft of an essay that relates to an issue you want to highlight.
    3. Blog: one of the benefits I have found with my use of a blog—students get to see me thinking and writing.
    4. Strong writers are able to reflect on their writing and learn from those reflections; your own self-reflection thus offers a model for students.
  2. Conferencing: provide opportunities for students to articulate (and learn to articulate) issues they are encountering and for you to model how to approach those issues as a writer.
    1. Group conferencing (strategy for dealing with large classes): have a conference with a group of 3-5 writers at a time, for as brief as 10-15 minutes. Not to discuss grades, but issues they are encountering; prepared with questions or places in the writing you and they are targeting. I have one or more conferencing days in place of a class.
    2. Writing Center: can provide additional conferencing, best if you target it or connect with WC in advance.
  3. Workshop: make revision an expectation by making it part of the class.
    1. Drafts assigned for in-class revision
    2. Target the revision: present briefly an issue (from your style manual, from readings) you want to focus on for revision.
    3. Writing Center support: consultant visits/assists workshops in class
  4. Publication: make visible the production you want students to work towards and achieve.
    1. Writers publish their work in some form, make it visible and public. Provide a publication forum for the writers in your class
    2. Portfolio: Students turn in a selection of their writing from the course, reflect upon their progress. Possibilities for alternative assessment and ways to manage the paper load.
    3. Presentations to the class.
    4. Give students an opportunity to read/respond to the work of their peers.
  5. Colloquium: learn from the ideas and strategies of colleagues across campus, and present a strategy you are working on
    1. Plans for Re:Writing Colloquium beginning Fall 2009, informal presentations of writing ideas, assignments, strategies from faculty from across the program (first-year through senior capstone).
    2. The Crossing: Writing Pedagogy Blog—for links to resources and postings from faculty—another medium for sharing and collaborating.

(Demystifying Academic Writing)

Workshops with renowned authors/educators

Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein-Graff

September 4, 2009

Washington College

The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing: Student Workshop and Discussion

10:30 – 11:30 A.M. Writing Center. Open to all students.

Sponsored by the Writing Center and the Dean of the College 

Students are invited to drop by the Writing Center for a workshop and discussion of the rules and moves of the game of academic argumentation and to learn ways to play it more effectively in their writing in all disciplines.



They Say/I Say: Faculty Workshop

12 – 1:30 P.M. O’Neill Literary House. Lunch provided.

Open to all faculty. Feel free to leave early/come late as your schedule permits. Sponsored by the Dean of the College


A workshop that presents the Graffs’ approach to teaching academic writing and critical thinking, as described in their book They Say/I Say, by using templates for the rhetorical moves that (they argue) are basic to all academic writing. Feel free to leave early/come late as your schedule permits.


What We Say When We Don’t Talk about Creative Writing: Discussion with Faculty and Students

1:30 – 2:30 P.M. O’Neill Literary House. Sponsored by the Rose O’Neill Literary House and the Dean of the College.

Drop by the Lit House to discuss differences and convergences between critical and creative writing and continue the conversation with the Graffs about their approach to demystifying academic writing.

Demystifying the Academic Game

Lecture by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein-Graff.

3:30 – 4:30 P.M. Litrenta Lecture Hall. Open to the Public.

Sponsored by the Sophie Kerr Committee. Reception following the lecture sponsored by the Phi Beta Kappa Society

Gerald Graff, prominent literary historian and educator, author of Professing Literature and Beyond the Culture Wars, and the president of the Modern Language Association in 2008, focuses in his recent work (Clueless in Academe) on ways that “schooling obscures the life of the mind” and argues that schools can develop better writers and thinkers among all students, not just the high-achieving few, when teachers share the basic rules and moves of the game of academic argumentation that they use themselves. Graff co-wrote in 2006 with his wife, Cathy Birkenstein-Graff, a textbook for teaching writing, “They Say/I Say”: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing.  The book has become widely used in schools and colleges and continues Graff’s longstanding efforts to revitalize American education. The Graffs teach at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Re:Writing Faculty Colloquium | Spring 2010


Why and How to Use a Blog

To Teach Writing

Presenters: Sean Meehan, Kitty Maynard, Nick Smerker

Beck Computer Lab (lower level of the library)

February 2, 2010: 4-5 pm


Thinking about experimenting with something different in the ways you approach student writing in your courses? Interested in creating a blog or web site for one of your courses but don’t know where to start? Join us Groundhog Day for the initial Re:Writing faculty colloquium of 2010—informal discussion and presentation of ideas and practices in teaching writing from our own classrooms.  We will fight off the shadows of winter and explore ways that a blog can make the teaching of writing more visible for students and more manageable for teachers.

In addition to looking at examples from the use of a blog in English 101, GRW, and writing intensive courses, all who are interested will be guided in setting up their own blog on the spot. We will begin at 4, though drop in and out as you are able.

Faculty Workshops on Teaching Writing

Monday, September 27, 2010

Washington College

Workshops led by Dr. Mark Long, Chair of English at Keene State College (New Hampshire).

Thinking about Research

and Sustained Writing Projects


11:45 – 1:15 (includes lunch) Rose O’Neill Literary House

What is the relationship between our writing as scholars and the writing of students in our undergraduate classrooms?  Dr. Long will lead a workshop on engaging students in meaningful undergraduate research through a sustained writing project. Workshop for current/future faculty in GRW. Please RSVP (for lunch count) to Michelle Volansky. Feel free to arrive late/leave early as your schedule permits. Anyone not in GRW is welcome to attend—please rsvp.

Thinking about the Values of Writing

4:15 – 5:30 p.m. Writing Center [105 Goldstein]

What do we value in effective writing? Dr. Long will lead a workshop for faculty interested in reflecting on the language of our writing assignments, and how our assignments might convey more clearly what we really want from our students. Faculty who teach a first-year seminar (English 101/ GRW) and/or writing intensive courses are encouraged to attend; all faculty are welcome.

To prepare for this second workshop, Dr. Long requests faculty come with a piece of their own writing and a brief description of: 1]how they came to write it; 2]the goal for the piece; 3]what this piece reflects about writing in their field; 4]what they value in writing.

For more information contact Sean Meehan, Director of Writing [smeehan2]

Passport for First-Year Writing: A Workshop for International Students in English 101 and GRW


When: Friday September 10, 2010; 3:30 pm in the Writing Center: 105 Goldstein

Focus: The workshop will introduce students to strategies and resources that will support their learning in the first-year writing program throughout the year.

During the workshop students will schedule sessions with the Writing Center for ongoing support with a writing tutor. We will also discuss strategies for the kinds of challenges students will experience in these courses while writing and reading in a second language. Students will leave with a passport of information, strategies, and a schedule for future workshops that will support the work they will be doing in first-year writing.

We strongly encourage attendance at this initial workshop to support a successful beginning of your first year. If you are not able to attend due to a conflict, please respond to Mr. Boyd, the Writing Center Director (jboyd2@washcoll.edu), so that you can schedule another time to meet in the Writing Center for an initial discussion.

Spring 2011

English 101/GRW 101 Faculty Conversation

January 31, 2011: 4.30-6.00 pm; Brown Cottage


  • 4.30 – 4.45: Introduction/context for the conversation: Andrew Oros, Sean Meehan
  • 4.45 – 5.20: Discussion Groups (questions below)
  • 5.20 – 6: Large Group Discussion
    • Summary from discussion groups; further discussions and questions


Questions for Discussion

  1. What is your approach to your course? Briefly describe the course you are currently teaching or have taught in either English 101 or GRW 101: specific texts you use, a topic you focus on, perhaps a particular assignment/series of assignments that helps characterize the course.
  2. What does “academic” or “college-level” writing/reading mean in your course? Both English 101 and GRW 101 introduce first-year students to our ways of academic or college-level thinking, reading, and writing—the conventions and methods of how we do our work. What does that mean in your course? What are some characteristics of academic writing, reading, and thinking that you emphasize with your students? Are there specific assignments or strategies you use to do this?
  3. What do you expect from your students? Your current students took an English 101 or GRW 101 course in the fall.  What do you expect students to bring with them from that first course? What do you want students to bring with them from that course?

Follow up for the large-group discussion to follow:

  1. Synthesize some of the essential definitions of academic writing/reading/thinking. What do we mean by “conventions”?
  2. What do we expect/want from the other course? What things should students be doing similarly in both courses, throughout the whole year? What things should students be doing differently (ie, differences between the courses)?
  3. Introduce the plan to have a student survey: share draft of the survey?

 Moving Arguments: Beyond the Thesis Statement

Faculty Workshop

August 23, 2011

10:30 – 11:30 AM/Goldstein 100

Sean Meehan, Director of Writing

Argument is crucial to our academic culture.  It is a basis for the critical thinking and writing we expect students to develop in first-year writing and begin to master as they move through Writing Intensive courses and into their majors. Students, however, have limited, prior experience in secondary schools with what we think of as argument. There are two problems related to this limited experience with real argument (as opposed to ‘school writing’) that I will address in the workshop: [1] Student writing will often lack a thesis, even though many students will be able to define a thesis as central to academic writing; [2] If there is a thesis, it remains static, not dynamic in a way that we value in academic argument. The rhetorician Kenneth Burke connected this dynamic nature of argument to what he viewed as the underlying dramatic (or what he termed “dramatistic”) nature of all writing and thinking. “An essay,” he put it, “is an attenuated play.”

The workshop will offer a focused conversation around this problem of the absent thesis in thesis-governed writing. I will also propose an approach I have taken in my English 101 and Writing Intensive courses, an extended analogy for thesis-based writing that I have found effective in emphasizing for students the dynamic and dramatic nature of argument. Without giving too much of the plot away: I borrow from screenwriting the three-act structure of traditional film narrative as a model for what I call a moving argument. For this workshop I will emphasize two elements that students need to grasp and that they find difficult because they are—as they must be—counter-intuitive: [1] An argument or thesis can’t be wholly original; [2] A good argument in some form explores its own demise, that is, entertains a counter-argument.

I invite you to join me in this conversation.


English 101/GRW spring semester workshop

February 1, 2012


The Problem with Grammar

Overview: we know the issues with grammar in student writing—an important element of our goals and outcomes for First-Year Writing: grasp of the conventions of standard written English. Some complicating problems I want to suggest, and then frame a way into some targeted discussion of this problem

–Student problems with grammar: are better and worse than they think—depending on how they define “grammar” (note the first survey: half said needed more, or others did; half said it was fine)

–Research: students may be better with grammar than we think


  • To focus our attention, and to give a good overview of the research as well as ideas for strategies and policies: John Bean, Engaging Ideas, chapter 5: “Dealing with Issues of Grammar and Correctness.” I value the approach he takes to integrating the focus on grammar within the overall vision of writing and critical thinking as problem-based, as the learner’s engagement with a problem.
  • Summary of Bean’s perspective
    • Research: conclusion of 1963 study (p. 68). The teaching of formal grammar (ie, traditional approach, apart from writing—think 8th grade) “has a negligible or, because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in composition, even a harmful effect on the improvement of writing.”
    • Different definitions of grammar
      • Key, difference between “knowing how” and “knowing about”
      • Hartwell’s 5 types of grammar: [1]internalized/innate; [2]scientific/linguistic description of that internal grammar;[3]grammar of linguistic etiquette; [4]traditional school grammar; [5]stylistic grammar (Strunk and White, etc)
      • As such: we are really talking about usage (language conventions) and errors in usage—and I follow Bean in this middle ground: errors do matter, but not because they reflect ignorance or incompetence with language or writing, but because they are rhetorically ineffective, and can/should be edited
        • Key principle: distinguish between revision and editing—and give more attention in your response to initial drafting to revision comments
    • Bean’s review of recent studies of error (pages 73-79)
      • Errors have always been an issue; students make fewer mistakes than teachers perceive; students have more linguistic competence than surface features of their prose indicates; errors increase with greater cognitive difficulty of assignment; errors disappear as students progress through multiple drafts; expect to see sentence-level errors in first drafts; traditional grading (marking errors) may exacerbate the problem
    • Strategies
      • Focus on the rhetorical ineffectiveness of un-edited errors
        • Very serious vs. serious errors
        • Give out a list of 20 most common errors
        • Have students monitor their own errors to-do list
      • Students Responsible for Finding and Fixing their own errors: the ‘minimal marking’ strategy.
        • Corey Olsen does a version of this.
        • Discussion? Related approaches?
      • My own strategies
        • I want to foreground errors as an important focal point for editing.
        • Shift responsibility to students: emphasize the web resource
        • I have specific class time in which I foreground editing for usage errors (but also then not overwhelming the primary focus on revision)
          • Editing workshop on day writing is due
          • Wednesdays: will target issues I find in student writing, following up my grading of an assignment
          • Allows me to say: this is not a “grammar” class, but also, becoming a better editor of your own writing is important and something the class will help you to do
        • I won’t edit student writing when I evaluate their writing
          • I identify consistent issues that I see (for example, run-on sentences), factor that in to my assessment category that includes grammar/presentation/sentence-level effectiveness (limited to ¼ of overall grade)
          • Direct students to add to their to-do list, follow up with me, Writing Center, Guide to Grammar and Writing




Faculty Workshop: Rewriting

August 23, 2012 | Washington College

Sean Meehan, Director of Writing

Andrew Oros, Director of GRW

8.45 – 9 am: Coffee, bagels [Goldstein 100]

9 – 10 am: Plenary Session: “Teaching the Moves of the Critical Essay,” Professor Joseph Harris, Duke University [Goldstein 100]

10 -10.15: coffee break

10.15 – 11: Break-out Session #1: Focus on Teaching Revision

  • Group 1 (John Boyd and Moriah Purdy, facilitators): Writing Center
  • Group 2 (Sean Meehan, facilitator): Goldstein 107
  • Come with materials (syllabus, writing assignment, lesson) and/or ideas for teaching revision in one of your courses

11.15-12: Break-out Session #2: First-Year Writing

  • English 101: Forwarding an Argument, discussion with Joseph Harris [Goldstein 107]
  • GRW: program meeting with Andrew Oros [Writing Center]

12.30 – 2: Lunch [Hynson lounge, Hodson]

Topic for discussion over lunch: First-Year Writing Program assessment

3 – 4.30: First-Year Writing Program Assessment

Joseph Harris will meet with the FYW Assessment committee to discuss program development and assessment[Writing Center]




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