Rethinking College Writing Instruction


Michael Laser: “Even within a standard curriculum, you can teach students to write better sentences.”

Here’s an interesting guest post from friend Mike Laser on how he teaches sentences in mini-lessons–even within a constrained syllabus that he can’t alter. BY MICHAEL LASER Instructor, Montclair State University Every freshman composition instructor knows how hard it is to elicit graceful sentences from awkward writers. I’ve been searching […]

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Thinking about “hegemony” in college writing circles

It’s a classic bad move to begin an essay with a definition, but I am getting obsessed with this weird word hegemony. It’s always seemed a slanted word to me. In the 60s when I was in college, leftie student activists slathered it like mustard on their favorite hotdog word, […]

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Reasoning from first principles

I ran across two worthwhile essays in the last week. The first was about reasoning from first principles, and it linked to the second, about Elon Musk. Both were written by Tim Urban. I’ll put the links at the bottom of this post. I’m writing now (1) to sketch how […]

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Most of our incoming freshmen will not learn how to write

That American students and college graduates write lousy prose is not disputable. The Chronicle of Higher Education runs op-eds about it all the time.  The Washington Post published at least three big blog posts on the subject in 2017.  The New York Times ran a well-reported 2,000-word story by Dana […]

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How to confuse writing students

Suppose your skating coach told you to try skating with your laces tied, would you do it? You’d know enough not to attempt it. In freshman comp, instructors often set up a situation that quietly sabotages learning the way tied laces would, but the students don’t realize they’re being set […]

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At the Writing Program Administrators meeting, Sacramento

The WPA kindly let me have a low-cost display table in Sacramento in late July. Kelly Kinney of the University of Wyoming put out the books and the signage, and everything went well. Conference attendees picked up 33 of the 35 books, and the other two went to interested graduate […]

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Here’s how I do a “reverse outline” to redeem a confused working draft

Half of writing well is editing your own work, and it’s not always easy even for an experienced writer. I’ve been writing for 40+ years but sometimes still get lost in my drafts and stand there as confused as anybody. It happened just this week. I was writing a 1200-word […]

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Are you new to teaching first-year college writing?

You are entering a fascinating space. You will, if successful, do more to educate your students than any other teacher in your college. You will enjoy contact with their minds and feel the satisfaction they feel when they learn how to get things said they want to say. You will […]

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Poor college writers compared to non-swimmers

Some kids are well oriented at the start of the course—confident and skilled. But it’s the silent Lower third, the unconfident, who challenge us. They are always tempted to withdraw or disengage, because they have memories of failing before, memories of not learning what they were supposed to learn about […]

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Why writing teachers should not tell students to “have good ideas.”

This phrase jumped out at me this morning:  “wrong classifiers.”  I saw it in a blog about politics–but it relates to writing instruction. Here’s the original: “My guess is the global world order proved so fragile because it was organized around the wrong classifiers. Moreover, these classifiers were ideologically static […]

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John G. Maguire
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Lowell MA 01852