COVID-19 Safety Information

Teaching Writing

The Writing Center supports both students and faculty. For students, the Writing Center provides both individual tutoring and workshops for SUNY Cortland’s student writers. The Writing Center has a special relationship with the Composition Program, and many of these workshops are focused on the needs of first-year student writers. For faculty, the Writing Center’s consultants are available to visit classes and help faculty run peer review and revision workshops. The consultants include faculty from the Composition Program as well as graduate assistants.

The English Department brings established and emerging writers and speakers to campus with the Distinguished Voices in Literature series. Please keep the series in mind both to recommend to students and as a possible affiliation with your class, if appropriate.

Those faculty interested in supporting writing might also consider joining the College Writing Committee. The College Writing Committee includes faculty across the disciplines as well as librarians and administrators. The committee reviews and approves Writing Intensive course proposals, runs the annual Outstanding Writing Awards contest for student writers, sponsors workshops for faculty interested in teaching writing in their courses, and collaborates with the GE committee to assess student writing in Writing Intensive courses.

Tips for Teaching Online Writing Intensive Courses

During the COVID-19 quarantine, Laura J. Davies (Associate Professor and Director of Writing Programs) has been sharing weekly tips for teaching online Writing Intensive courses.

Mar. 30, 2020: Simplify your assignments

  • Ask yourself, “What is essential here?” There are two student learning outcomes for the writing portion of all WI courses: students need to revise their writing, and students need to learn discipline-specific writing strategies and techniques. How can you simplify your writing assignments and still get this work done?
  • For some, simplifying could mean scaling back, such as moving from two writing assignments to just one. If you do that, you might gain the time to add in another round of drafts and revisions. For others, it could be revising an assignment so that it asks students to write a more focused and manageable genre that’s in your discipline (i.e. a proposal.)
  • Remember that drafts and other forms of informal writing count towards the 15-page minimum requirement for Writing Intensive courses.

And here’s a resource for teaching writing online: The Global Society of Online Literacy Educators’ “Just in Time” website:

Apr. 6, 2020: Focus your feedback

  • It can be tempting to mark every error or fill the margins of your students’ papers with comments. However, this is time-consuming for you and often overwhelming for students.
  • Instead, focus your comments, limiting yourself to 1-3 revision suggestions. Ask yourself, “What are the most important things this student needs to do in order to write a better draft?”  
  • Your revision suggestions will depend on the assignment and how far along the student is in their writing process. For example, you might suggest narrowing the scope of the thesis, and then model how to do this. Or, you could ask the student to reorganize their paper so that it follows a disciplinary format, and point them towards a handbook.
  • Try writing your feedback on students’ drafts as an end comment. Some faculty compose a short note to the student, and others might write a list of their top three revision suggestions. Summarizing your feedback like this can help your student prioritize their revisions.

Apr. 20, 2020: Try different ways of giving students feedback on their writing

  • Not all feedback on your students’ writing has to be written. Sometimes, a short video or conversation can highlight the most important revisions your students need to make.
  • Some faculty find that audio or video feedback takes less time than writing comments on students’ drafts. It can also break up the monotony of reading pages of text on screens. Students often appreciate hearing their instructor or talking with them on a video chat.
  • Here are a few alternate ways you can give your students feedback on their writing:
    • Pick up the phone and call your students to have a quick 5- or 10-minute conference about their draft. Explain the “big picture” revisions they need to do, and help them brainstorm ways to do this work.
    • Audio record your revision suggestions and send the recording to your students in an email. If you have an iOS device, you can do this in Voice Memo. Audacity is another (free!) platform you can use.
    • Use a video conference platform like WebEx to hold a short individual conference with your students. You can request a WebEx account through Cortland’s Tech Help.
    • Try out screencasting, which is often used for instructional videos. Record your computer screen as you scroll through your student’s paper, and explain your revision suggestions as you read through the paper. Screencast-o-matic is a free program for doing this.
  • Finally, consider everyone’s attention span: keep your video or audio recording short. Aim for 5 minutes, max.

And here is a helpful article that includes other ways to give your students written, audio, and video feedback on their writing:

Apr. 27, 2020: Let students know what they’re doing well

  • When we give students feedback, we’re often quick to identify what students need to change or where their draft falls short.
  • However, our students also need feedback that points out what they’re doing well as writers. Writers can’t always identify these successes on their own, especially when they are learning to write in new genres.
  • Once a student knows what they are doing well in a draft, they can more easily build from and continue these moves in subsequent drafts.
  • As you read your students’ writing, look for one or two successful moments to highlight in your comments.
    • Think about what you’ve emphasized in the course – did the student write a concise and precise abstract? Integrate a quote smoothly? Use an effective transition?
    • Point to where the student is writing well in their draft, and briefly explain what’s working here.
    • These moments can serve as models for the rest of their draft: you can write suggestions such as, “Keep doing this for all your examples,” or “Define this term, just like you defined X in the previous paragraph.”

May 4,2020: Ask students to reflect on their writing process

  • Students become better writers through practice, guidance, feedback, and reflection.
    • Reflection helps students be more aware of the choices they made as they planned, composed, and revised their writing.
  • Writers can often articulate what they need to do before they learn how to skillfully integrate those moves in their own writing.
    • What this means is that a final draft might not be the best indicator of everything a student has learned about writing. Through reflection, the student can name – for themselves and for their instructor – what decisions they have made during the drafting and revising process.
  • Try inviting students to reflect on their writing process. You can include a short, low-stakes reflection at the end of a major writing assignment. Here are some prompts that you can use and adapt:
    • What was the most significant revision you made in this draft? How did this revision change your essay?
    • What did you find most surprising about the process of writing and revising this paper? Why?
    • What was the most challenging part of writing this essay? Why?
    • How did you use your instructor’s (and your peers’) feedback in your revision process? What suggestions did you take, and why?
    • If you had more time to write this essay, what would you add or revise? Why?

May 11, 2020: Encourage students to transfer their writing knowledge to future courses and situations

  • Last week, I suggested having students reflect on the writing process they used in your course (i.e. how they used instructor feedback, what revisions they made.) Students also benefit from reflecting towards the future: how can they take what they learned in your Writing Intensive class and apply it to future classes or situations?
  • This concept is called writing transfer.
    • Skilled writers can move across contexts and genres because they know how to transfer their writing knowledge and strategies for different situations.
    • Writing transfer is developed through reflection.
    • Through reflection, students can articulate for themselves what they have learned about writing and plan how they might draw upon and adapt this knowledge in the future.
  • Invite students to imagine how they might transfer the writing knowledge and strategies they learned in your course. Here are some prompts you can use and adapt:
    • What’s one writing strategy you learned in this course that you have already used in another course? Explain what that strategy is and how you used it. How did this strategy affect your writing, thinking, and learning?
    • In this course, we learned about what writing does in the field of X. How might you use what you have learned in this course in your future major courses?
    • What’s one new strategy or move you learned in this course that you’ll keep doing in your writing? Why?
    • Picture yourself five years from now. What are you doing? Think about one process, strategy, or concept about writing you learned in this WI course. How are you using this writing knowledge five years from now? 

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