Synopsis – December 2009/January 2010: Director’s Annotations > Susan Coller Carlson

Welcome to the final issue of our WAC newsletter for 2009! In the spirit of the holiday (which translates to “everyone’s busy preparing for visitors or travel, Christmas shopping and all the other details that go into this special time of year”) we have decided to combine our last issue of 2009 with the first issue of 2010. It’s been a great year at KU, and next year promises to be even better. Since we have moved online a little over a month ago, our newsletter has been read in over a dozen different countries including South Africa, Pakistan, Turkey and the Philippines, and almost all of the United States. (Do we have anyone in Montana at KU?)

Our first article this month begins with Kate Stephenson’s Revising Revision: Teaching Students to Rewrite Essays Effectively. Kate discusses a common impression our students have when it comes to the true meaning of “revision.” Many erroneously believe that “revision” is the same as editing, so it is essential that we not only illustrate the difference, but help students realize why revision is such a crucial step in the writing process. Like most of us, Kate feels that “WAC provides us with a golden opportunity to reinforce” revision skills and help our students become stronger writers and more engaged learners. What are your thoughts about the difference between revising and editing? Is this something you address with your students in the projects they submit in your courses?

In Challenges Faced By Our Students, JoAnn Funk inspires us to become more attuned to our students and work harder to foster an environment that clearly supports their emotional, social, and academic needs. With a more attentive approach, students are happier and retention rates can improve. Chrissine Rios, in her engaging article, Beyond the Text, supports JoAnn’s ideas by showing how a tutor’s relationship with students must be based on “communication beyond the text,” that is, tutors must make an effort to more fully engage students on a variety of levels. Chrissine makes a strong case for communicating beyond the text and points out how the assumptions we make can affect our perceptions—negatively as well as positively.

In The Case for Teaching The Bluebook: A Uniform System, Ally Howell argues that our legal and paralegal students at KU must learn to use Bluebook. Whether one should learn MLA, APA or any other style of documentation always seems to spark controversy, so I can’t help but reflect back to Christie Zgourides article in our September issue, Getting Real About APA: What a Documentation System Can Teach About Every Career—it’s worth a second look. I know many of us struggle with APA (myself included) but it (like all styles of documentation) is simply a formula, a nomenclature. The impetus behind teaching students APA should first focus on ethics: we do not steal another person’s work and so always give credit to the original writer, researcher or creator of a work. Students need to understand why this is essential, and it is our responsibility to instill this culture of integrity prior to digging into the particulars of APA, Bluebook or any other form of documentation.

In our next article, Low-Stakes Writing with a High-Tech Twist, Kella Hammond inspires us with her take on “writing as a form of unevaluated exploration.” Kella refers to Peter Elbow who believes low-stakes writing is not only “livelier, clearer and more interesting,” but oftentimes more understandable than high-stakes writing. Kella challenges us to consider incorporating more “low-stakes” writing assignments into our courses using technologies such as Twitter, Thinkmap’s Visual Thesaurus, and chat room “stop and jots.” If you are using low-stakes writing assignments in your courses—especially if you are teaching a non-composition course—we would love to hear how you do it and what kinds of results you have noticed. Please share your ideas with your colleagues by posting a comment after the article.

On the heels of Kella’s thought-provoking article is Stretching Bodies and Minds: A Disciplined Writing –Yoga Connection by Joni Boone. Joni makes a strong connection between the discipline needed for yoga and writing, but hints that discipline does not have to carry negative connotations. It is the consistent practice of writing, whether formal or informal, serious or playful, that truly strengthens one’s skills, and I think we can all glean some inspiration from Joni (and her adorable daughter, Harper).

Mike Jensen reveals what he hopes Santa will bring him this year in his amusing article, On the Lighter Side: All I Want for Christmas Is To Be A Math Teacher. And wrapping things up for this issue, Diane Martinez explores how we can show students that writing does matter beyond the halls of the university and beyond the scope on one’s career goals in Going Beyond a Utilitarian Approach to Teaching Writing. Self-discovery and insight into the world in which we are a part of can be enhanced by writing no matter which discipline one belongs to, but the catch is that we need to find meaningful ways to incorporate the writing process into our courses so that students have time to hone these skills. Has anyone noticed an overriding theme this issue?

So as I sit at my kitchen table in the wee hours of morning and wait for the first major snowstorm of the season, I leave you with this thought. We know that helping our students become strong writers (better yet, strong communicators) has to be one of our highest priorities for 2010 and beyond. We have formally incorporated the WAC General Education Literacy (GEL) into our courses, and so now it is time to “make good” on this GEL and actively support its functionality and foster its effectiveness. If you are not a writing teacher per se and don’t know where to begin, we understand. Please know that you have a team of people ready to support you. Contact the Writing Center staff, attend our faculty workshops, read our newsletter, and become involved in the KU community of writers—we are here for you just as we are here for our students.

A colossal thank you goes out to all our contributors (and especially our editor, Diane Martinez) and all our readers for making this newsletter a success. I sincerely wish everyone a safe and happy holiday and a wonderful New Year! Two inches of snow per hour? Did I just hear the weatherman correctly?


Revising Revision: Teaching Students to Rewrite Essays Effectively >Kate Stephenson

Bernard Malamud (1988) called revision "one of the exquisite pleasures of writing." Most of my students offer a virtual chuckle (lol) when they read this quotation at the beginning of our Unit 7 seminar on revision. They’re probably wondering why anyone would take pleasure in fixing comma splices and correcting spelling, because for most Kaplan students in beginning writing courses, this is their idea of revision. They expect to do little more than edit their essays. As I continue my tradition of beginning each seminar with inspirational quotations from famous writers (a technique they tend to enjoy), the students are further amused to read Ezra Pound’s words about his famous poem, "In a Station of the Metro," which most of them remember from American Lit in high school: "I wrote a thirty line poem, and destroyed it…Six months later I made a poem half that length; a year later I made the following... ‘The apparition of these faces in the crowd:/Petals, on a wet, black bough.’" (Pound, 1916).

"Seriously?" they type in unison. "Pound thought about two lines for a year?"

"Good thing this class is only ten weeks," I reply.

Students enter our classes assuming that "good writers" don’t revise much, if at all. They quickly realize that great writers spend hours, weeks, even years revising their work, a fact that gives them confidence and comfort. After all, they are now in good company! Revising is not a part of bad writing; it’s a part of good writing. They also quickly realize that while revision includes editing, it involves a lot more than changing "affect" to "effect" or joining two complete sentences with a semi-colon rather than a comma. Revision means grappling with content, organization, audience, research integration, and transitions. It means deleting information that is off topic, streamlining the thesis statement, and adding analysis to that three sentence paragraph in the middle of the paper. Revision means re-seeing their paper as an objective reader might.

To revise effectively and efficiently, students must change their habits. Rather than starting with the easy grammatical corrections, they learn to use a "top-down" method, which saves time because it teaches students to fix global issues, or the higher level problems, first. If they don’t do this, they may spend twenty minutes rewording a section that they later realize does not belong in the paper. Global issues include problems with content or argument. For example, the student may need to add analysis, acknowledge the nuances of an opposing argument, or insert more evidence. As we offer feedback to students, it’s important to engage with their ideas, to push them to think harder about their subject, and to stress that writing is an act of discovery.

For most students, the global issues will revolve around organization. Teaching students how a paper fits together demystifies the writing process and shows them that writing well is not something most of us are born with; it’s something we learn. Approaching writing structurally often calms even the most anxious students and helps them understand that good papers are built upon a solid framework. When students revise their essays, they use a variety of methods to check this structure. Does the thesis serve as a map that previews the main points of the essay? Does each paragraph have topic sentence? We think of the thesis and topic sentences as the skeleton of the paper, the support for the flesh—reasons, evidence, and analysis—of the paper. Without the bones, the body has no shape. To revise the structure, students use a post-draft outline, which is an outline created after the draft is written by pulling out the thesis and main ideas of each paragraph. This exercise allows students to see if a paragraph needs to be moved, the thesis revised, or a topic sentence rewritten. Looking at the skeleton of the paper enables students to see their argument with fresh eyes.

Students move further down the revision ladder by considering individual paragraphs. Are the ideas well-organized within the paragraph? I encourage students to do an exercise that I’ve often used successfully in the face-to-face classroom environment. I tell them to cut up a paragraph into individual sentences and have a friend or family member put it back together. Did the partner replicate the original structure? This method also allows students to rearrange their sentences, an exercise that often highlights problem spots. Students also focus on adding evidence, analyzing the outside sources, and creating transitions between ideas.

Only when students have worked hard on these global issues should they move to the local level revision, which consists of correcting grammatical errors, ensuring a consistent point of view, rewording confusing passages, and fixing spelling errors. Finally, the students arrive where they expected to start! We discuss the most common grammatical errors, such as comma splices, fragments, and noun/pronoun agreement, but most importantly, students see examples from student papers and fix them. Actually, correcting grammatical mistakes together helps them to master the concepts and feel more confident correcting their own errors. Students learn practical techniques for editing their papers, such as reading their writing aloud, having someone else read the paper to them, searching the essay for one problem at a time, and using checklists to guide their revision.

Learning to revise is perhaps one of the most essential parts of the writing process, if only because few of us produce polished writing on the first try. The revision skills students learn will help them in other Kaplan classes and beyond, but students will revert to old habits quickly. WAC provides us with a golden opportunity to reinforce these vital lessons in courses across the university, whether it’s in psychology, biology, business, or criminal justice. As we teach students to revise, we must also help them to continue to see with "fresh eyes." We must continue to inspire and encourage them. To that end, I infuse our discussions with anecdotes about other writers, like James Joyce, who spent seven years writing Ulysses—a 732 page novel that chronicles the events of one day ("Classic Text," 2002, para. 1). Good thing this class only lasts ten weeks…

Reference Page:
James Joyce/Ulysses: the classic text: traditions and interpretations. (2002). Retrieved on October 23, 2009, from University of Wisconsin-Milwaulkee website:
Malamud, Bernard. (Sunday, March 20, 1988). Reflections of a writer: long work, short life. [electronic version]. The New York Times. Retrieved October 24, 2009, from
Pound, E. (1916). On in a station of the metro. Gaudier-Brzeska. Retrieved October 24, 2009 from the University of Illinois website: hppt://

Did you know...
Kate plays competitive league tennis and has won seven trophies in the last five years? She's also a rabid fan of Duke basketball, Virginia Tech football, Philadelphia Phillies, and her son’s flag football team.

Kate is part-time faculty in the composition department in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Challenges Faced By Our Students >JoAnn Funk

As an adjunct at Kaplan for five years now, I am still constantly amazed at the challenges faced by our learners. If anyone had to flee domestic violence, give a legal deposition about your grandchild having been burned in your house fire, or endure the death of a younger police officer you had mentored, could we write a good essay? These adult online learners have all made the decision to come to Kaplan and pursue a degree, but how long has it been since they last wrote a paper for any teacher? Just knowing that many of our students are at-risk is not adequate; we must move beyond the traditional roles of student/teacher and motivate them to be good writers. Knowing what the needs of our students are and establishing a relationship of trust are key components of retention of those learners and creation of emergent writers.

The needs of adult online learners are often hidden at the other end of the Internet connection. In communications courses, professors teach how to assess the needs of one’s clients. In composition courses, professors spend time discussing the needs of one’s audience, but do we professors think about the needs of our learners? In an ACT college retention report, Lotkowski, Robbins, and Noeth (2004) asserted that retention programs need to create "a socially inclusive and supportive academic environment that addresses the social, emotional, and academic needs of students" (p. viii). Obviously, any retention program should profile the needs of the learners and seek feedback from the faculty that interacts with them on a daily basis. The normal routine of a professor is interacting with students in live seminars, on discussion boards, and by evaluating student projects. The most personal reaching out might be the How is everybody doing? question asked at the start of a Kaplan live seminar. How much time does the average professor have to reach out to a student that may not be participating? In the few weeks of a quarter it is difficult to build a relationship of trust with students in the isolation that is inherent with online higher education. But trust can be fostered.

Most new students are naturally apprehensive and fear can block the feeling of trust that one’s professor is an advocate of theirs to help them seek new skills and knowledge. Students need to see, accept, and appreciate their strengths in order to increase their motivation, confidence, and efficacy, and thereby increase their achievement" (Schreiner & Anderson, 2004, p. 10). Professors need to mentor the over-extended at-risk learners and encourage them when they doubt themselves. If an at-risk learner can believe in a promising future with real opportunities, then society and our economy will benefit. The hope is that they will learn how to learn, develop a yearning for learning, and continually reach out and take advantage of new opportunities to learn new skills. If all institutions, faculty and learners increase awareness, communication, and mentoring, then the chances of successful completion of online higher education programs should also improve.

Lotkowski, V. A., Robbins, S. B., & Noeth, R. J. (2004). The role of academic and non-academic factors in improving college retention. ACT Policy Report. Retrieved January 1, 2006, from
Schreiner, L. A., PhD., & Anderson, E., PhD. (2004). Strengths-based advising. The Gallup Organization. Retrieved November 4, 2006, from

Did you know...
JoAnn has a hot air balloon pilot's license?

JoAnn is part-time faculty in the composition department in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Beyond the Text >Chrissine Rios

As a writing tutor, sans grade book and the wedded authority, I am seated even closer to students than I was as an instructor. In a brick and mortar writing center, this closeness is easy to see as tutors and students sit elbow to elbow. Small talk begins and ends the sessions. Nods, smiles, and other nonverbal nuances further the face-to-face conversation. Online, the goal to connect with students as individuals remains the same, but remote communication must also go beyond the text if it is to evoke the human spirit that is so fundamental in all teaching and learning.

Communicating beyond the text first means reading without making assumptions about the writer based on the text. At the
AACE e-Learn World Conference
, Peterson, VanDam, and Wheeler stated that “the sense of anonymity that comes with online teaching can lull one into a false sense of safety against prejudice and bias” (2009, p. 5). This feeling of safety or belonging has its plusses as Peterson, VanDam, and Wheeler explained: one will participate more when “one is being evaluated on the content of one’s contribution, not anything else” (2009, p. 1). However, online, content can be telling, and any deviation from Standard American English can lead a reader to make assumptions about the writer’s educational level, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, even gender and race.

These assumptions about identity are not always harmful. According to Leiki (2009), “we tend to see the members of our own group as individuals” (ix). When we perceive others as having similar cultural backgrounds, we can accept them as having unique perspectives. Communicating as individuals allows us to shift our viewpoints to accommodate difference and meet in the middle where we can learn from and teach one another. This is essential especially to a writing tutor whose objective has always been to “change the writer, not the paper” (Carter, 2009, p. 8). Conversation logically follows as the cornerstone of Writing Center tutoring, and with the new Writing Coach Pilot, interactive workshops, Live Tutoring, and the Fundamentals and ESL programs’ one-on-one tutoring, the KUWC offers students and tutors more opportunities than ever to consult with students and communicate beyond the text.

Of interest however is the flipside of Leiki’s findings that we “see those who are not of our group as all alike” (2009, ix). Leiki’s concern and mine too as the ESL specialist in the Writing Center is for the multilingual students who write with an accent, who may not appropriately use articles (the, a, and an) because of different perceptions of count nouns, who seem to use prepositions loosely, interchanging “with” and “to” when in Bulgarian, for example, one would say “in relation with” not “in relation to” (D. Geteva, personal communication, November 19, 2009), or the students who use infinitives where gerunds (ing forms) ought to be and vice versa because they don’t hear the difference that a native English speaker does innately. These errors are no mistakes; they are choices informed by culture, one’s native culture as well as the student’s assumptions about the target language, in this case, English.

Communicating beyond the text therefore also requires learning to not always read differences as deficiencies for doing so risks stereotyping all those who write with an accent as being remedial learners. This assumption is not uncommon. The Conference on College Composition and Communication has thus resolved “to educate teachers about the length of the L2 [second language] writing acquisition process, and how, according to Virginia Collier, it takes at least seven years to acquire an academic vocabulary” (Severino, 2009, p.57). Although the KU WAC initiative involves assessing all students on their command of Standard American English, the standard does live along a continuum depending on the paper’s purpose, the subject, the writer, and the readers. I see this continuum most easily when I remember the American part of Standard American English. What is a standard American anyway?

In my effort to communicate with ESL students beyond the text, I hold weekly, one-on-one conferences in an Adobe Connect Pro meeting room. We are not elbow-to elbow, but we have audio and the option of video. We post text to the white board and talk about it. During these conferences, I function more as a cultural informant than a grammarian. I have also created a
welcome video so that my ESL outreach is more personal. I honestly feel self conscious every time I view it, but as Peterson, VanDam, and Wheeler stressed, if “we hope to connect with our students in a significant way, we must shed some of that alleged anonymity”(5) that comes with teaching online. My belief is that if the students see me as a real person, an individual, then they might know that I will see them that way too.

Carter, S. (2009, September). The writing center paradox: Talk about legitimacy and the
problem of institutional change. College Composition and Communication, 16(1), 133-152.
Leiki, I. (2009). Before the conversation: A sketch of some possible backgrounds, experiences, and attitudes among ESL students visiting a writing center. In S. Bruce & B. Rafoth (Eds.), ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Peterson, T., VanDam, K., & Wheeler, L. (2009, October). Who do we think we are? Dismantling educators’ assumptions in the online classroom. Paper presented at the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education E-Learn 2009 World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare & Higher Education, Vancouver, Canada. Severino, C. (2009). Avoiding appropriation. In S. Bruce & B. Rafoth (Eds.), ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

Did you know...
Chrissine backpacked from Minnesota to Guatemala and back by foot, bus, train, thumb, and burro? And this was before there were cell phones and internet cafes!

Chrissine is an ESL specialist in the Writing Center.