Rethinking College Writing Instruction


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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College Writing: two methods, compared

In the standard compare-and-contrast essay, the writer has to take two topics, items, or people and state how they are like and how unlike.  In these few paragraphs, I will take the same approach, contrasting the standard way of teaching first year writing and the Readable Writing way. Readable Writing, […]

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Slow reading aloud in the bathroom

Many students who commit truly ugly sentences are just not paying close attention to their own words.  They have skimmed the meaning of emails and text messages for years without needing to attend to every syllable. Then when they come into a comp course they don’t know how to pay […]

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The writing instructor says: “I once was blind…but now I see.”

      I used to believe… Now I know… There’s no way to stop students from writing a mixture of bad sentences and good sentences.   I can prevent students from writing bad sentences by training them to write good ones first. Careful notes in the margins of papers […]

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How writing is taught at one community college–comment on Tinberg and Nadeau

I’ve been reading Howard Tinberg’s monograph on the teaching of first semester writing at Bristol Community College, which came out a few years ago. Tinberg and his co-author Jean-Paul Nadeau studied both faculty and students for a semester; they did surveys and personal interviews. Sixteen students took part. The style […]

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A friendly dispute with comp teacher Todd Anderson about sentence length

Mr. Maguire, One of my more significant struggles (besides convincing students that to be good writers, they have to read good writing)–a struggle that is also contrary to one of your “Five Rules”–is cultivating in students the ability to compose beyond the simple and compound sentence structures. Compounding the difficulty […]

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John G. Maguire
307 Market Street, #306
Lowell MA 01852