Rethinking College Writing Instruction


Professor Harold Hill would have a degree in rhetoric these days

Do you remember Professor Harold Hill?  He’s the fast-talking con-man who comes to River City, Iowa to sell the townspeople musical instruments and band uniforms in “The Music Man.” (The EditWife and I saw the show a few weeks ago–a really great piece of comic writing and fine music from […]

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Mastery requires performance goals

I was on the phone last week, trying to track down an Atlanta-based educator named  Robert F. Mager, who has what he calls a “common sense approach to training design.” He has designed training for companies and run courses inside companies and written a number of books on training. One […]

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If only they could diagram!

Talked with Prof. Sue Roberts from Boston College yesterday, and together we bemoaned the lack of diagramming experience in our students. When students don’t see the sentence as a structure they just feel it as a stream of sound, the way my 3-year-old grandson does. For him, a sentence is […]

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Cormac McCarthy on editing science

McCarthy is an amazing prose stylist and his ideas about editing scientific writing are spot on, as you would expect. He wants simplicity, economy, terseness, order. His ideas are in this article from Nature. Link Well worth reading, whether you are an editor or a teacher or learner. McCarthy wrote […]

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A soprano who assigns the College Writing Guide

Here’s an endorsement letter from Amy Horst, a veteran singing instructor assigned to teach a writing-intensive course. I have spent my career teaching singing and performing as a soprano singer. In the past five years, I have begun teaching writing in some of my classes as part of the University […]

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Writing is a behavior–like playing tennis

Teachers rarely question the idea that writing is thinking. You know the cliche: Writing is thinking on paper. But they should. Writing is thinking on paper, yes, but that’s not the best way to teach it. Far better is to teach good writing habits as behaviors that can be practiced […]

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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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John G. Maguire
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