Rethinking College Writing Instruction

Monthly archive for February 2017

“If you don’t let them write full essays for a while, and make them focus on the quality of sentences, they begin to get it.” — Kim Holcomb, Ohio U.

Hi John,

I’m happy to explain how we used your book in my four sections of freshman writing last year. Your idea that students need to learn how to write good sentences before they can write essays struck me as game-changing, and I immediately ordered The College Writing Guide. When I first got hold of The Guide last fall, my classes were already underway, but I took a several-week detour to focus on exercises from the book, which worked to change my students’ thinking about sentences. Many of them come into college not understanding that writing is a matter of putting sentences together. They can’t tell a good sentence from a bad one—in fact, I think it’s never crossed their minds that some sentences are good and some bad. They seem to think their job is to impress with big words and overly wordy, sometimes impenetrable, sentences.

Using The College Writing Guide as a workbook changed that.

As you know, I first used the book in the fall. I copied pages from it and we did various exercises for three weeks, putting their first essay aside. Students loved it and many said it was the best, most useful part of the course.

Since we’d had such good luck in the fall, I decided to jump in deeper and for spring semester 2016 I had them buy the book, and I incorporated it into the syllabus. We used it in both sections as a workbook for the first five weeks of the course.  We worked through the different exercises at the start of the book, starting with concrete nouns and then active verbs, flipping the passive active, avoiding there is/there are constructions, and so on. If you don’t let them write full essays for a while, and make them focus on the quality of sentences, they begin to get it. Their writing improved a lot this semester—it might be the best semester I’ve had. Their sentences got a lot better.

I sent you some of the student comments I got at evaluation time. These are anonymous comments I received about how the course went, and here’s some of what students said about how the “workbook” (which is what we called The College Writing Guide) improved their writing:

  • “I think the way that the course is set up has a nice flow to it. We first start off by going through the workbook and the text. This really refreshed my memory on effective ways to write. Then we wrote our papers and the intensity of the papers increased as the year went on. I think the way this class was taught was very effective to me.”
  • “I found that the workbook assignments were helpful as well as the essays we did throughout the semester. They challenged me intellectually and I ended up producing my best work because of it.”
  • “I found the college writing guide most helpful.”
  • “The workbook work we did was really helpful for me as a writer. It taught me a lot about things I had never even thought about that affect writing style and quality.”

John, I’m a real fan of this book; I tell everybody about it. I’m thankful for it because I don’t have the time to invent more materials for my classes, and this package really works. I’ve been teaching college writing for more than 20 years, and this is the best resource I’ve found. I assume you don’t mind if I put some flyers out mentioning it in the faculty lounges? I’m going to do it!

If you want better writing from students, order the low-cost CWG now.

Readable Writing  gets great results—much improved student writing—in record time. Plus–it engages students, gets them completely involved, wakes them up, and lights up their eyes.

Readable Writing hammers home a few key writing behaviors that make all the difference.  Its exercises build from the simple in Week 1 to quite complex in Week 12.  It’s a well-tested course that I’ve taught more than 70 times at Boston-area colleges and universities. The first eight weeks covers sentences and the last six weeks essay writing.

Students find this course fresh and engaging because it’s not the same-old same-old. A typical comment after the semester: “I never knew writing was this easy.” Another comment: “This is nothing like an English course, but at the end of it, I know how to write.”

Robert Garnet of Gettysburg College says:

I like your approach very much, with the strong emphasis on the concrete.  I also like the multitude of exercises, which hammer the ideas home and make for an active experience for the students (and a time-saver for the instructor).  If I were teaching composition this coming year I would definitely employ your text, and I will hang on to it and recommend it if anyone asks.

Please click around this web site. You’ll find several articles, sample pages from the book, and samples of student writing. You really need to look at the samples of student work to see what this course can do.

The best way to see how this approach works is to order a copy of the book and look for yourself. You will find an unusual textbook where the explanatory material is concise and interesting. Most important, you’ll find bushel-baskets of all kinds of exercises, which can be done in the classroom and for homework. There’s a complete answer key.

If your students work the exercises, their writing will change from vague and confusing to vivid and concrete. You’ll spend much less time reading and having to grade terrible papers.

Many instructors have bought the book. Kim Holcomb of Ohio University said this:

“Their writing improved a lot this semester—it might be the best semester I’ve had. Their sentences got a lot better…. I’m a real fan of this book; I tell everybody about it. I don’t have the time to invent more materials for my classes, and this package really works. I’ve been teaching college writing for more than 20 years, and this is the best resource I’ve found.”

Training students to be readable is a simple and logical idea, and when you do that, students write better, and much faster than you would believe.

Every conscientious writing instructor will want to check out this new approach that is good for your students and will save you a lot of work. Order it and see for yourself?  If you like what you see, there’s still time to get it to your college bookstore. And the book retails for less than $20!

John

John G. Maguire
307 Market Street, #306
Lowell MA 01852
maguirejohn@comcast.net
978-761-4515
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