Thanks for attending the DTAR “Writing” Workshop, 8 March 2013

Small Group Discussion_What is Writing

Small Group Discussion_What is Writing 2

We All Teach Writing” – so begins the DTAR instructional module on writing. The idea is that no matter our discipline, no matter the level of our students, we are brought together by the need to teach writing in our classrooms. So how do we teach it, even if we’re not English majors?

DTAR hoped to help answer that question with the 8 March TA workshop, a workshop focused on teaching writing. To work along with the “Teaching Writing in Your Classroom” instructional model, the workshop moderators focused on two overarching ideas: 1) learning to write and 2) writing to learn.

To begin the conversation about writing, small groups of TAs were asked to discuss what writing looks like in their specific disciplines, noting what forms it takes, how it’s taught, and how we talk about it. The small group discussions yielded two perspectives of the topics – with TAs discussing writing as both the teacher (in requiring writing assignments from students) and the student (in being required to write as graduate students).

As Sarah Fish, DTAR’s Graduate Assistant, wrote ideas on the board, the participants noted overlap between themselves and their students. We all stress about our writing assignments – though our stresses comes from different places; several audience members cited the pressure to create “publishable” writing, though our students may feel pressure to create writing that meets certain research formats. Members of the audience also commented that they are more likely to give their students clear guidelines for structure and content, but as graduate students, we often get instructions more along the lines of “write this assignment.”

To transition from what writing looks like in our disciplines to how we might better teach writing to our students, a panel of English PhD candidates – Allison Laubach Wright, Claire Anderson, and Sarah Fish – offered advice for incorporating the writing process (and thus learning to write) and writing as a thinking process (and thus writing to learn) into the classroom.

Wright began with what she referred to as a “textbook definition of process.” In this model, shown in the shape of a triangle, students often see the process as linear and explained through the ideas of Invention, Drafting, and Revision. Invention signals pre-writing work (i.e. brainstorming and outlining), drafting means writing out content, and revisions suggests that written material should be reviewed for content, style, and mechanics. She closed with noting that seeing the process as linear is problematic for students because writers tend to work more recursively, which is where Anderson stepped in.

Anderson began her presentation noting that the linear process – going from Invention to Drafting to Revision – doesn’t work for her, nor does it work for her students. “Despair is a big part of my process,” she told the audience, “and self loathing.” The textbook definition of process was a good starting point, but there are several ways we can disrupt that and help our students. To do this, Anderson offered three examples of “Re-Invention”:

  • Return to Diagrams – If we use diagrams to help students organize thoughts, then they should come back to those diagrams at a later time in the writing process to see if their ideas have changed.
  • Write Responses to Questions outside the Bounds of the Assignment – As brief activities related to the writing assignment, we can have students free-write to 1) “suggest evidence that would strengthen an author’s thesis,” 2) “write from an opposing point of view,” or 3) “consider how [the students] might perceive a piece of writing if it appeared in a different context.”
  • Reverse Outline – If students have already completed a draft, they can create a reverse outline in order to see what ideas actually make up their draft. This activity is a way to check for content and development of an idea.

Final presenter, Sarah Fish, emphasized the idea that writing can also help students with thinking through course material – whether it be a lecture, a textbook reading, or the requirements for a writing assignment. She acknowledged that any additional in-class writing could potentially take away from instructional time, so she offered five activities that she had modified or developed to get students writing while also thinking about course material:

  • 60 Second Mad Dash – Students have to write for a non-stop 60 seconds about upcoming lecture content.
  • Summary Haiki – Students write summaries of course content in haiku form.
  • De-Motivational Poster – Students create a summary of a topic with an image, and this activity works best if students are reading/discussing a topic that might need an infusion of humor.
  • Exit Slip – Students write a brief note about course content before leaving the class session.
  • Summary Tweet – Students summarize a lecture, reading, or idea for an assignment that is 160 characters or less.

To close the workshop, participants returned to their small groups to discuss what the panelists had mentioned and what could happen in the classroom. The audience was encouraged to consider how the material might have to be modified in order to fit the needs of the specific disciplines, and even more, how participants might need additional information to develop writing in their classrooms. Sarah Fish offered her email address to attendants, and Allison Laubach Wright encouraged everyone to make graduate writing appointments with her in Writing Center.


L. Morgan suggested Socrative as a free service to gather informal feedback from students.
C. Anderson provided her handout on disrupting a linear writing process.
S. Fish presented her information in Prezi form.

Participation in DTAR workshops is one requirement for the CTE Certificate of University Training for graduate teachers. For more information on the certificate, contact The last DTAR workshop for the semester, focusing on “Managing Conflict,” will be held on Thursday 11 April 2013 at 12:30 p.m. in 306 M.D. Anderson Library.


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