Writing Faculty

by Jessie L. Moore

May 31, 2012
by Jessie L. Moore
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Motivating Student Writers

After reading a reminder about great teachers behind great students, I started thinking about the great teachers who inspired my learning.

At one point in my own early education, I was so bored and disenchanted with education (despite some cheerful and well-meaning teachers) that I actively avoided school; if I stayed home “sick,” I could challenge my creativity with books and my own storytelling in ways that I wasn’t experiencing in the classroom.

Life changed when a great teacher changed the rules bounding my education. If I met the intended learning outcomes (not that I knew to call them that at the time), I didn’t have to wait for my classmates to reach the same goal (or grade their assignments as they finished); instead, I was allowed to start working towards achieving the next learning outcome or to independently explore a negotiated topic and later present on it. Learning moved from stop and go to an ongoing journey.

Later teachers helped me retain my newfound appreciation for learning by: challenging me to research and write a play on women’s suffrage in my home state (Wyoming), facilitating self-paced learning in math (allowing me to move quickly through concepts I understood and to take more time with topics that challenged me), encouraging me to combine science and writing interests in Science Olympiad events, and talking with me about reaching my long-term goals, among other things.

As I reflect now on my best learning experiences from my current perspective of a teacher, I recognize that the teachers who engaged me in life-long learning habits:

  • Implemented individualized learning plans for students
  • Learned and built on students’ interests
  • Set goals with regular check-ins in place of scripted schedules
  • Invited creativity and created opportunities for it
  • Integrated writing throughout every activity, from planning phases through final products
  • Celebrated successes

So as I plan my fall courses (yes, I’m getting an early start…), I’m trying to keep these strategies in mind. While it’s not realistic to ditch the one-size-fits-all project for every assignment in every class, I will look for ways students can customize projects, whether that means selecting their own topics or addressing audiences of their choosing. Hand-in-hand with varied audiences, my fall assignments will require students to pick the genres that are the best fit for their audiences and purposes.

Ashley Holmes (@the_ashleyjh) got me hooked on multi-modal projects for first-year writing courses a couple of years ago, and in my fall Writing Technologies course, I’ll be crossing a multi-modal project with an e-portfolio as students develop a series of documents for an organization of their choice. They’ll have to project a consistent message across documents, but they can tailor their genre selections to their audience(s) and purpose(s) for each document. I hope that the opportunity to write for organizations that are important to them and to respond creatively to those organizations’ real needs will help students engage with the course materials as they build on their interests.

Regardless of how much students can customize projects to their interests, my assignments will continue to integrate writing throughout every activity. From in-class brainstorming to audience analysis memos to research memos for projects-in-progress to end-of-project reflections, students will regularly communicate their progress towards meeting their writing goals, while practicing writing process activities.

Finally, I know customized student projects might sound daunting… Do you have to adjust the grading criteria for each student? No! Part of the challenge for my students and me is to negotiate projects that work towards common learning outcomes; therefore the assessment will be focused on how well students have demonstrated they’ve met the shared, desired learning outcomes. (For full disclosure, I sometimes let students negotiate adjustments to one rubric criteria to better reflect the goals of their individual projects, but all the criteria still have to reflect the intended learning outcomes for the assignment.)

With these strategies in mind as I design my fall courses, I hope to celebrate lots of student success throughout the semester. What did your great teachers do to engage you as a learner?

May 29, 2012
by Jessie L. Moore
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Jump-Starting Summer Writing with a Writing Residency

This week, Peter Felten, Michael Strickland, and I are facilitating the annual Faculty Writing Residency for Elon faculty working on scholarship related to teaching and learning. Once a year, we invite faculty to apply for the four-day writing residency, and we typically accept 9 to 15 participants (depending on their writing projects). Then, about a week after commencement, we convene off-campus at a conservation site with a “tree house” and trails to write in the company of writers for four, uninterrupted days.

We group participants so that each facilitator is working with 3 to 4 faculty writers, and we meet daily in our small groups to exchange feedback on drafts in progress. We also set goals for the next day. As a result, everyone who participates is accountable to a facilitator and two or three other colleagues to meet daily writing goals.

The model generates a fantastic sense of community. In addition, it introduces faculty to strategies they can try in their own writing or with students in their classes. When someone mentions she’s having trouble keeping a section focused, colleagues will share the strategies they use (e.g., “use temporary headings so you remember what the section is about”). And if someone simply needs to talk through an idea before they can write any more, he has access to three facilitators and his group members, and they can find a sunny spot or walk the trails to talk through the sticky point in the project.

Most participants leave having made significant progress on their writing projects. Equally important, they have plans for finishing and submitting their work – often by the end of the summer. This jump-start has supported several faculty publications, but we’re also excited about the faculty writing culture the residencies sustain.

Even if your institution doesn’t offer a similar program, you can implement many of the strategies we use. Put out a call to colleagues in your department or to other colleagues with whom you like working and form a writing group. Commit to meeting regularly (every other week? once a month?) and to exchanging drafts in advance of each meeting. Then after you’ve offered each other feedback on the current draft, take turns sharing the writing goals you’ll work towards for your next meeting. Accountability, feedback, and goal-setting can move writing projects forward even during the hustle and bustle of the academic year.

How do you jump-start your summer writing?

 

We’ve written about the residency if you want to learn more about this model for supporting faculty writers:

Felten, Peter, Jessie Moore, and Michael Strickland. “Faculty Writing Residencies: Supporting Scholarly Writing and Teaching.” Journal on Centers for Teaching and Learning 1:1 (2009), 39-56.

May 26, 2012
by Jessie L. Moore
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Summer Writing Goals

After a stressful academic year (yes, even with a sabbatical this spring), I’m looking forward to a rejuvenating summer. I need to recharge so that I can successfully tackle some new opportunities and energize myself for what promises to be a very busy fall. Yet I also want to make progress on some scholarship projects before that busy fall semester starts. To achieve both goals, it’s time to inventory my summer goals, prioritize them, map them on a calendar, and cut what doesn’t fit.

My Goal Inventory

During the academic year, I go through a lot of sticky notes to plan my writing goals for the week and to make daily to-do lists that forefront those goals. Planning for the summer requires a bigger sticky note, but it’s still helpful to use a limited physical space to add some perspective to how many goals I reasonably can accomplish. For that reason, I usually start my summer goals brainstorming on an 8.5″ x 5.5″ notepad. (My university recycles outdated letterhead as notepads; if you don’t mind a banner logo or contact information on a small portion of the paper, the notepads are great for brainstorming activities.) I list every research project, writing project, service project, and course prep activity I’d like to accomplish during the summer if I had an unlimited amount of time. I don’t always list sub-steps for these goals, but if I know the goal has multiple parts that each will require significant time, I list those pieces.

The initial list usually isn’t very realistic… Especially since it doesn’t reflect any “down time” – hiking, fishing, gardening, and all the other things I do to de-stress!

initial-to-do-list

Prioritizing Goals

In take two, I use a smaller pad (~4″ x 6″) that’s lined, and I limit myself to one item per line:

second-to-do

With this second version, I begin to prioritize. If I’ve already committed to other people to complete a project, it goes on the list. If a task has strong connections to priorities in my five-year career plan, it goes on the list. If it’s an unrelated might-be-interesting-to-do item that I can’t directly connect to my longer-term goals, it gets cut.

Finally, at this stage, I also look for relationships. If a presentation can serve as an invention or drafting activity for an article, I pair them on my list as a reminder to keep the presentation focused in ways that scaffold the writing project. In this summer’s example, I also took a line for the unexpected tasks that I anticipate will come up with a new project that’s still a bit undefined; until I know more about the timeline and parameters, I need to reserve some extra time for it.

Realistically, this list is still too long for a balanced summer, though, so I’ll make one more pass and number the items to indicate my top priorities – and my lower priorities. At this point, I start to make judgement calls: One item might not connect as strongly to my current career goals, but if it wraps up a previous project and will only take a few hours, it will be high priority since I like bringing closure to projects when they’ve run their course. If I’m receiving any type of summer stipend or other compensation for a project, it will be a high priority. And if a project has the potential to be career-defining if well executed, it will be a high priority.

But the prioritized list of goals still doesn’t account for time to recharge…

Mapping Goals

The next step, then, is to map my prioritized goals on a calendar. Tanya Golash-Boza wrote today about “How to Have  a Productive Summer by Working Four Hours a Day,” and I like the spirit of her post. If I were working only on scholarship and fall course prep during the summer, I likely would implement a similar plan. This summer, though, I’m responsible for organizing a research seminar and launching a new project, and both tasks require significant time commitment. As a result, I plan to work full days…

But I’m committed to confining my summer work projects to working hours so that my evenings are free for other things: exercise, gardening, play time with my dog, etc. I’m also blocking weekends so that – with the exception of the seminar week and a conference – work doesn’t seep into that time. Finally, I also scheduled a week-long trip to visit family.

After I define those boundaries, I start plugging in my prioritized goals:

calendar

At this point, I begin to estimate how much time I’ll need for specific tasks related to my summer goals, and I try to group goals in ways that will increase my chances for successfully reaching them. For instance, in the June calendar above, I’ve paired data analysis and writing for related projects in the same week so that I don’t have to shift gears multiple times; I’ve also scheduled the tasks to correspond to due dates to which my collaborators and I committed. For a later week, I’ve visually mapped two projects in a way that signals to me that one will be a morning project for the week, while the other will be an afternoon project – after I’ve taken a lunch break that involves leaving my work space.

Once I run out of space on the calendar, it’s time to make some tough cuts. Prioritizing the goals first, though, helps me more quickly decide which goals I’ll have to save for a future semester and summer. While it’s hard to let things go, it’s better to recognize at the start of the summer that I can’t accomplish everything than to be disappointed at the end of the summer.

One other critical step in this mapping project is that at the end of each week, I list my primary goal(s) for the week in the margin. These goals will transfer to my writing goals sticky-note for the week and will help me stay focused as other odds and ends come up.

Final Tips

I hope that my extended description of my own summer goal setting demonstrates that planning for 2.5 to 3 months requires time and reflection to be effective. When you are ready to set your own summer goals:

  • Set aside time to brainstorm and refine your goals; you’ll need more time than you allocate for weekly goal setting. You essentially are establishing a semester work plan for the summer, so give yourself at least 30 minutes (if not a full hour) to map your plan.
  • Brainstorm your goals. Now that the academic year is wrapped up, you probably have a stock-pile of would-like-to-dos and when-I-have-more-times. Include them in your initial brainstorming so that you have time to reflect on where they fit within your current career priorities.
  • Refine and prioritize your goals. Your criteria might be different than mine depending on your career stage and other factors. But take time to articulate why some goals are more important at this point.
  • Map the tasks associated with your high priority goals on your summer calendar. I start with a blank, printed calendar, but electronic calendars work well too (and in some programs you can use calendar layers to associate tasks with specific goals). Don’t forget to map your “recharge” time before you fill your calendar with work goals.
  • Use your calendar to guide your weekly goals and daily to-do lists, but also allow some flexibility. I actually build in a catch-up week to allow for the unexpected – whether it’s work-related or home-related.

Finally, leave time at the end of the summer to reflect on what you accomplished!

What strategies do you use when you’re setting summer goals?