Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Year in Review...

As the end of the year draws nigh, reflect on some of the year’s best articles on writing with “The 19 Most Popular Articles on Writing of 2012" from Writer's Digest The articles will address your most burning questions on writing, including “Snuck vs. Sneaked” and “50 Questions to Consider When Writing a Novel.” Happy holidays and happy writing!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

For the love of peer review

By Katie Wozniak

Peer review in the classroom has its benefits and challenges. On the one hand, peer review can serve as a reciprocal teaching tool, giving students the opportunity to recognize, understand, and improve elements and issues in their own writing and in their peers’ while developing audience awareness and strategies for self-directed learning. On the other hand, peer review can go awry if students only edit for grammar and mechanics, when they do not know enough about a particular writing strategy or rule to provide their peers with a constructive review, or when the instructor does not provide sufficient guidance and support in the process. Additionally, in my experience, students don’t seem to embrace or recognize the potential of peer review; in many cases, I’ve seen students willing to sacrifice all or part of their participation grade to avoid peer review or ignore their peers’ feedback and go straight to mine when revising.

When piloting our first hybrid version of Academic Writing for Adults last quarter, I struggled with these issues, and I also struggled with whether to have students conduct peer review online or face-to-face. Students met face-to-face alternating weeks (except the first two sessions, which were both face-to-face), wrote drafts and received my feedback every week, and were varied in their proficiency with higher- and lower-order writing concerns. So, like with any teaching experience, I had to consider timing, pace, and each student’s prior experience, technological capability, and independent learning skills. I also wanted to consider what the literature said about “what works” in online versus on-ground learning environments. Ellis (2011) conducted a comprehensive study of paper vs. digital peer review in writing courses and found that students who conducted peer review face-to-face on paper tended to look mostly at surface-level issues, while students who conducted peer review online (via an online blog) tended to look at higher-order concerns and provide higher quality comments.

When working through this dilemma, I also reflected on the peer review practice in our current online-only and face-to-face-only offerings of this course. By default in our online-only version of Academic Writing for Adults, we have students conduct peer review in the discussion board by posting their drafts and answering guiding questions about their peers’ papers in paragraph form in discussion threads. When I teach the face-to-face version, I have students switch papers with two of their peers and give them about 30-45 minutes to read and discuss their thoughts using guiding questions. I have not noticed a huge difference in peer review quality, student interest, or students' use of their peers’ comments when revising between online and on-ground courses. Generally speaking, though, it has seemed that students in the online course spend more time carefully reading and writing their comments in response to their peers’ papers than students in the face-to-face course. This is most likely due to the fact that face-to-face peer review can feel somewhat rushed and spontaneous, especially since students are limited to the amount of time available during the course session to both read the essays and come up with a constructive review. They also are limited by pen and paper, often scribbling in the margins in short phrases and abbreviations.

Based on the literature and from my experience with what works and doesn’t work in the online and face-to-face versions of the same course, I structured the hybrid course peer review so that students conducted comprehensive peer review as homework using our online discussion board along with a set of guiding questions to help them focus on specific elements of writing in each other’s drafts. I also asked students to first do a full read-through of their peers’ papers without commenting at all, and then go back and do a second read-through using Microsoft Word’s Insert Comments feature (as I do when I provide feedback on their writing) to point to specific places in their peers’ papers to answer the guided peer review questions. While they worked on their peer reviews, I also provided my feedback on their drafts so they would have all the feedback for a draft by the next time we met in class. Then, when we met as a class face-to-face, we discussed our encounters during peer review. I made sure to stress that the students “owned” their papers and were the final decision-makers when using the feedback from both me and their peers to revise.

When I asked students to debrief me on their experiences at the end of the course, students stated that the peer review was one of their favorite parts of the course. In fact, students often completed their peer review four or five days before the deadline. This has rarely happened in my seven years of teaching. And I don’t think I have ever heard students use the words “love” and “peer review” in the same sentence.

I’ve mulled over this for a month or so, trying to come up with reasons why this particular class had such a strong “love of peer review”. Here’s what I have so far:

First, the process of providing feedback with the Insert Comment tool and using the guiding questions was one that I modeled in my own feedback to students. Perhaps students had more confidence in applying the process independently after being exposed to how I responded to their papers as an audience member using the same questions and tool. In some cases, I began to notice students using phrases and patterns in their peer reviews that I used in my feedback to them (even my favorite punctuation, the em dash), such as “What would you think about X here?” or “I’m not sure I follow this—can you explain more?”. Our feedback to students is sometimes the only writing they see from the “expert”, so perhaps after enough exposure to my feedback, they instinctively (or intentionally) began to use it as a model.

Second, learning how to use the Insert Comment tool is easy. Only one of my students had used it before; the rest picked it up after I did a 60-second demonstration in class (and seemed very amazed that it was right there in front of their faces all these years of writing papers in Word). This tool also makes the feedback process much more efficient, effective, and “friendly” for the purposes of peer review. It not only takes away the time-consuming task of handwriting comments in the margins or between lines, it also supports the in-situ conversational response process we naturally experience in our minds when reading down the page. Additionally, the “comment bubble” is a symbol of thought and communication, not correction (that’s saved for Track Changes). Peer review gone wrong, as when a student crosses out an entire paragraph on her peer’s paper, can lead to feelings of intrusion and defensiveness on the receiver’s part. Something about the thought bubble seems to reduce the chances of this happening when reviewing in a digital environment.

Finally, our class was small (four students, all women), and a strong sense of trust, accountability, and intimacy immediately developed in the first two weeks of the course. I feel these factors are key for peer review--it takes a lot of courage to overcome the feelings of vulnerability that sharing one’s writing entails. I always work hard at establishing a sense of community in the classroom, and this course was no exception. I chose to make the first two sessions face-to-face, and I started the first session with an interview-your-neighbor-and-report-to-the-class activity to which I purposely devoted at least 60 minutes of class time. Additionally, all writing assignments in the course asked students to tie in their personal experience in some way, so peers got to know a lot about each other, find commonalities, and learn new things about themselves and others. However, I can’t say with 100% confidence that these factors are why these students seemed to develop trust and community and loved peer review—it also could have been that the peer review itself brought them together and gave them a peek into each other’s worlds.

There are probably a dozen confounding factors that would make this case impossible to repeat and would contradict my speculations for why peer review was so strong in this pilot. Nevertheless, I do encourage other educators using peer review in their classroom to tinker with modeling, tools, and community-building in their classrooms—and perhaps the love will grow there, too.


Ellis, J.M. (2011). Peer feedback on writing: Is on-line actually better than on-paper? Journal of Academic Language & Learning, Vol. 5, No. 1.

Seeking: Excellent Writers

Did you receive any impressive student papers this year? If so, please encourage your student(s) to submit their paper(s) to the annual SNL Writing Showcase. Each spring, SNL Writing recognizes excellent submissions at the Spring awards luncheon. To view last year's winning entries and to download this year's application, please direct interested students to:

Monday, December 3, 2012

SNL Welcomes New Writing Instructor, Kamilah Cummings

I am honored to join DePaul and SNL. I cannot believe that had a former colleague not forwarded me an email announcing the position for a writing instructor at SNL, I probably would have never heard of the school. Yet, I cannot think of a better place for me to be at this stage of my career.

I have always been intrigued by the power of communication regardless of the medium, and I believe that writing is one of the most powerful ways to communicate. After graduating from Columbia College with a bachelor’s degree in Arts, Entertainment and Media Management, I began entertainment writing for a variety of publications and clients. I continued to work as an editor and writer for a number of years moving from entertainment writing to investigative writing and everything between. Because of this, I decided to return to school where I received a master’s degree in journalism from Roosevelt University.
While earning my degree, I taught for the Chicago Public Schools, primarily at Morgan Park High School. I fell in love with the possibilities for learning and communicating that teaching offered, but felt constrained by the rigor of CPS teaching. Therefore, after earning my degree from Roosevelt, I began teaching college writing.  I have taught college writing I and II, critical thinking, and developmental writing courses at a variety of schools in non-profit and for-profit settings including East-West University, Saint Xavier University, Morton College, and University of Phoenix Online. Through my experiences at these diverse institutions, I have come to enjoy teaching nontraditional students. I find that these students inspire me and constantly reignite my passion for teaching.
Prior to joining SNL, I was as a full-time English instructor at Westwood College for four and half years. One of the things that most excites me about SNL following my experience at Westwood is the focus on student learning and faculty development. The goals of the school appear to be focused on providing students with a quality, transformational educational experience that will benefit them beyond the classroom. My teaching philosophy is guided by that principle, so I could not be happier to join a group of faculty and administrators who share this belief.
When Dean Alicea quoted bell hooks during my interview and stated that she believed in “an ethic of care” in teaching, I knew that SNL was where I belonged. Having come from what felt like a quantity-over-quality, sweatshop approach to education, it is refreshing to return to the type of educational philosophy that I benefitted from throughout my years of education. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

JustWriting: A Technique for Increased Student Creativity and Decreased Student Anxiety

During the second five weeks of fall quarter, the School for New Learning hosted its 1st Annual Month of Writing Challenge. The idea grew out of a conversation among SNL’s writing program: Michelle Navarre Cleary, Kathryn Wozniak, Kaitlin Fitzsimons, and I developed the idea during a yearly wrap-up meeting, and as a creative writer pursuing my MFA, I offered to lead the charge. We based much of what we did on the annual National Novel Writing Month held each November (see As part of the month, I taught a class called “WriteNow” that focused on a technique that I called “JustWriting.” During at least two hours of each three hour and fifteen minute class period, students just wrote. The atmosphere in this computer room had an energy that pulsed and flexed with the clicking of fingers on keys. When I would stop to look around the room, I saw mothers, grandmothers, women, men, students, and professionals all becoming writers. Their focus was incredible. Periodically I would invite them to get up and stretch, and many found it a challenge to tear themselves away from their work. On their weekly logs, many indicated that this was their most productive writing time of the week. And in these five short weeks and five short classes, by writing together and occasionally sharing experiences and products, these students grew together, grew closer to their goal of 25,000 words each, and moved from novice to experienced writers.
            Why does JustWriting work? Many argue that it doesn’t, and in the beginning of the quarter some of these voices were those of my students. However, in their longitudinal study of student writers at Harvard, Nancy Sommers and Laura Saltz argue that faculty often ask students to “experiment” in the writing that they assign, and I claim one way to become comfortable with experimenting is JustWriting. Sommers and Saltz argue that instructors that often expect college writers to come in as “master builders while they are still apprentices” (132).
            How does the apprentice become the master builder? Experience: “Students who see writing as something more than an assignment, who write about something that matters to them, are best able to sustain an interest in academic writing throughout their undergraduate careers” (Sommers and Saltz 127). They also found that writing experiences in college mean more to weaker (or novice) writers than they do to experienced writers: “Weaker writers often speak with even greater passion about the role of writing in helping them make the transition to college, in giving them the confidence ‘to speak back to the world’” (129).
In another analysis of the revision strategies of novice and expert writers, Sommers found that novice writers think that their first draft is also their final draft. They consider revising as “rewording,” or replacing one word for another, sometimes out of a thesaurus. Experienced writers, by contrast, see a first draft as a “scattered attempt to define their territory” and work on this draft until they have figured out what they want to say. (384). I have worked with many students in courses where they are assigned one, two, three or five page papers, and inevitably a student says that he does not know what he wants to say. Another student, meanwhile, pens an excellent thesis statement in the conclusion of the paper. Though they did not know it, they were using writing to figure out what they wanted to say. By contrast, in WriteNow students were asked to write a minimum of 25,000 words, but were not asked to “say” anything. At the end of our five weeks, almost every student said that he or she ended up somewhere different from where he or she began. In this way, the course forced them to experience some of the techniques used by experienced writers. Because they did not have to create a final draft, students were free to stay in the exploratory, “experimental” stage of writing until they figured out what they wanted to say. Now that they have overcome this hurdle, this fear of writing, the hope is that they might spend more time in a first or rough draft, and see revision as an opportunity to reveal the structure and subarguments of their essays for all of their classes.
One of the reasons that this early drafting process does not happen for novice writers is because writing anxiety is especially prevalent among adult students. This is echoed by many of the students in my class, who said that they chose to accept this challenge because they wanted to become more comfortable with writing. And in fact, Martinez, Kock, and Cass found that higher levels of leisure writing were associated with higher levels of writing self-efficacy, and also that higher levels of writing anxiety were associated with lower levels of writing self-efficacy: “Although quantity of writing does not predict quality of writing, students who engage in more free writing or leisure writing are able to express themselves creatively through writing without feeling constrained by the rules of grammar or structure of formal writing assignments” (357).  In their final presentations, students demonstrated the creativity that this process had afforded to them. Many had plans for what they would now do with the writing they had produced in the course. Some would produce one or multiple ILPs; others would continue a novel or a memoir; still others would finish the work they had begun on their Advanced Project. All had taken a step toward becoming experienced writers.
            So, as teachers of writing across the SNL curriculum, what does this mean for us? It means that students will further explore issues of a given topic in writing when given the time and a word count benchmark rather than a rubric and a grading scale. It means that encouraging students to journal and freewrite well before a final paper is due will result in more refined and structured final papers. Finally, it means making room for experimentation through writing in courses where students are dealing with new material and new terminology which might make them anxious. Giving our students, and ourselves, time to JustWrite will lead to increased levels of creativity, novice writers more likely to write with the authority that we ask of them, and decreased levels of anxiety among our adult students.

Works Cited

Martinez, Christy Teranishi, Ned Kock, and Jeffrey Cass. “Pain and Pleasure in Short
Essay Writing: Factors Predicting University Students’ Writing Anxiety and Writing Self-Efficacy.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 54.5 (Feb. 2011): 351-360. Print.

Sommers, Nancy. “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult
Writers.” College Composition and Communication 31.4 (Dec. 1980): 378-388. Print.

Sommers, Nancy, and Laura Saltz. “The Novice as Expert: Writing the Freshman
Year.” College Composition and Communication 56.1 (Sep. 2004): 124-149. Print.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Reflections from the 2012 SNL Month of Writing

In the thirty days from October 10 to November 8, fifty SNL students, faculty, and staff participated in the 2012 SNL Month of Writing Challenge. Each participant used the challenge differently; some used the challenge to begin new projects, some used it to focus on their school papers, and others used the challenge to help channel their creative writing juices.  Two writers agreed to share from their experience over the month.  

SNL Faculty member, Jane Wagoner, used the month to begin a blogging project. She says, “While I had never written a blog, I thought this month was the perfect time to begin my blogging career. The writing is different from what I have done before and a lot of fun. I find myself thinking of different topics to write about and reflecting on various literary works. So this month has helped me find my "blogging voice" and I am grateful for the extra motivation that the word count goal provided.”
SNL student, Nikki Knighten, took the 5-week SNL course that accompanied the Month of Writing titled, “WriteNow: National Novel Writing Month.”  Nikki distilled some of her writings from the month into a poem, “Save Me from Myself”: 
The cares of this world arouse me from sleep
I lay thinking, “will I make it through this day?”
I need you Lord to come to save me from myself.
I’ve grown stronger because of my trials. They are companions resting in the recesses of my mind. Always on the ready to move forward and profess the powers that are present. To testify of the muscles that have grown and developed because they had to; because they were strained by burdens and invisible foes.  The fears of the past are done away with. Some making way for new ones; weaker, less threatening new fears which pale in comparison to the old fears "made of good stock." those old fears that shook my existence and made me question my sanity and alliances. Those fears of yesteryear were the "real thing baby"! They played for keeps and didn't easily die. These fears required Herculean tenacity that morphed into crazy faith and fearlessness. There are those who dare to say that my future may be gloomy and despair ridden and there are those who have the gumption to question my fate. Theirs is but one voice in the crowd and but one view on the horizon but the report which I choose to believe is the Lord's. His report is rich with His hope and saturated by His plans for me. I am convinced that they are "of good and not of evil, to an expected end." Whereas many have come and seemingly even more have gone but Your word lingers and abides. It exalts and admonishes, it encourages and it chastens. It punishes the slothfulness and it rewards the diligence.
How will you use the SNL Month of Writing next year? Since we are increasing our departmental goal to 1.5 million words for the 2013 challenge, we’ll need you on board next fall!

Celebrate writing on December 5th with the NWA

Neighborhood Writing Alliance
Publishers of the Journal of Ordinary Thought
Body Wisdom
A celebration of dynamic movement, creative community, and personal stories throughout Chicago
                                               When:     Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
                                               Time:       6:00 - 8:00pm
                                               Where:    Harold Washington Library Center
                                                                Pritzker Auditorium
                                                                400 S. State Street
Free and open to the public!

Monday, November 12, 2012

1,131,981 Words

The 2012 SNL Month of Writing has drawn to a close. From October 10 until November 7, SNL Faculty, Staff, and Students accepted the challenge to each write 50,000 words in a month. Our department goal was 1 million words – and we did it! Collectively, SNL produced 1,131,981 words in just 30 days. In recognition of this accomplishment, an anonymous donor will be giving $1,000 to SNL Scholarships!

Special congratulations to these participants that surpassed the personal goal of writing 50,000 words each:
Heather Burlingame, SNL Student
Cynthia Flores, SNL Staff and Student
Cynthia Meehan, SNL Student
Michelle Navarre Cleary, SNL Faculty
Cindy Stevens, SNL Faculty
Shannon Stone, SNL Staff and Student
Steffanie Triller Fry, SNL instructor
Kathryn Wozniak, SNL instructor
This is will be annual challenge and we hope you will join us next year!

Monday, October 29, 2012

2 spots available for 3-week online professional development course

Course: Because You are Not a Writing Teacher: A Professional Development Course for SNL Faculty

Instructor: Michelle Navarre Cleary, SNL Writing Coordinator

Time: 11/26 to 12/16, all online

This six-module course will give you practical ideas and coaching on how to make the most of writing as a tool for teaching and learning in SNL’s writing-intensive program.

You will learn about short in-class writing assignments that allow you to set up discussions and to get quick feedback on what students are learning. You will learn how to develop assignments and provide feedback on student writing that enhances student learning and decreases your frustration and time spent on student writing. You will have the opportunity to share ideas with each other, get feedback on your current writing assignments and ways of giving feedback and create new assignments. Finally, you will learn about additional resources at DePaul to help you continue to develop your teaching.

Please note that we will complete six-modules of work in three weeks, including 13 discussions and 3 assignments, so you can expect to be in the course most days during this three-week period.

Participants who successfully complete the course will earn a certification of completion and a $500 stipend.

Enrollment is limited to 15. If you would like to reserve a place in the course or be placed on a waiting list for future classes, please send an email to

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tell your students not to format citations . . .

Really. Tell them to have Microsoft or any number of other programs format those citations for them. 

Although you may not guess it, interviews with SNL students indicate that they spend an inordinate amount of time and energy worrying about how to format their citations, time and energy that would be much better spent on developing and organizing their ideas; researching, evaluating, and synthesizing sources; and drawing conclusions.

Similarly, teachers spend an inordinate amount of time teaching, correcting, and being frustrated about students' formatting of citations. Time that would be better spent giving students feedback that challenges them to develop, support and organize their ideas.

As the videos below indicate, students can use Microsoft Word to format their citations and bibliography. The nice thing about this tool is that when students enter the information for a source once, they do not have to enter it again when they are working on a new paper. Similarly, Zotero is a free web-based tool. To learn more about it, see

To share this information with your students, send them to

The Craft of Composing Panel Discussion

On October 24th, SNL Writing hosted a panel discussion with 5 writers from different genres about their writing process titled, "The Craft of Composing".

The panelists included:

Michelle Navarre Cleary, SNL Writing Coordinator and Professor (academic writing)
Penny Pollack, SNL Alumnus and dining editor of Chicago Magazine (journalism)
Rita Leganski, SNL Alumnus and Novelist (novel writing)
Ann Stanford, SNL Professor and Author (scholarly articles, poetry)
Rochelle George Wooding, Neighborhood Writing Alliance member (personal narrative)

Three items that each panelist touched upon were

1) The importance of community
Writing is meant to be shared and written for a specific audience.

2) Revision
Write first, edit later. Even if you need to make significant cuts later on, you may be able to use that writing elsewhere.

3) Presence of panic
Deadlines can be stressful, and so can negative critiques of your work. Remember that practice makes perfect; you will find your voice the more you write.

To listen to the full discussion, please visit:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Upcoming Chicagoland Writing Events

October 20th is the National Day on Writing!  To celebrate, consider attending one of these upcoming local writing events…

On October 16th at 6:00pm, the DePaul President's Signature Series is hosting a talk with author Hector Tobar, "Latino Identity, American Identity, Artistic Voice: A Writer's Journey, A Community's Journey." It will be held at the DePaul University Student Center, 2250 N. Sheffield Ave. Room No. 314 A & B. RSVP to
The University Center for Writing-based Learning will be hosting an event titled, “Aloud! A public Reading of Non-fiction, Fiction, Essays, and Poetry” on Thursday, October 18th from 4 - 5:30pm, 2nd floor of Lincoln Park Student Center.
Haymarket Pub and Brewery is hosting The Drinking & Writing Festival 2012 on October 20th. Theme is “The Beats.” Visit:
Chicago Writing Association’s affiliate, In Print, hosts its 2nd Annual Book fair at Barnes & Noble Cherry Valley Mall on October 20th. Visit:
The SNL Month of Writing presents “The Craft of Composing: A Panel of Writers Discuss the Writing Process” on October 24th from 6- 7:30pm at 14 E. Jackson Blvd, Chicago, Il 60604 – Room 1328. For more information, email:
The Chicago Humanities Festival has many talks with authors and a competitive reading series. Dates are Oct.  21st and Nov. 1-11th. Visit:

Join a Neighborhood Writing Alliance Group. Visit:

Friday, October 12, 2012

SNL Month of Writing Challenge is Underway!

Today, October 12th, is the final day to sign up for the SNL Month of Writing Challenge (email: You can set your personal goal to be either higher or lower than 50,000 words -  just make sure you spend time each week to improve your writing practice. The sentiment of the challenge is quantity over quality; first produce words and go back to edit them later. Author Simon Rich phrases the challenge's sentiment well in the New York Times Magazine piece, "Great Moments in Inspiration":

 Simon Rich Author/Comedy Writer, “Last Girlfriend on Earth: And Other Love Stories”
“I’ve always been an obsessive New York Knicks fan, and John Starks is the closest thing to a messianic figure that I’ve ever known. It’s hard to overstate it, how much I loved watching him play. Starks set the Knicks record for most career 3-pointers and most career 3-point attempts, and the lesson I took from him is that if you shoot enough 3’s, some will eventually somehow go in. I’ve always been a quantity-over-quality kind of guy. I’ve thrown out a few terrible novels, I’ve thrown out two whole collections of short stories, I have hundreds of comedy pieces that are terrible that will never see the light of day. My feeling is I can’t really control how talented I am, but I can control how many hours I work and how many things I write.”
For helpful information about the writing challenge, please visit:
Happy Writing!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Tips for the SNL Month of Writing Challenge!

The SNL Month of Writing Challenge is right around the corner! Sign up today by emailing


Writing 50,000 words in a one month period can seem daunting. Make it easier on yourself by trying out these simple steps.

1)      Have a weekly word count goal. Your schedule may not allow for you to write every day, or something unexpected might cut into your dedicated writing time on a given day.  By having a weekly word count goal, you can still successfully manage your progress, and play catch up on the weekends if need be!


2)      Find a writing buddy! If working out with a partner helps keep you on target for weight loss goals, it should follow that writing with a partner keeps you on target to meet word count goals…right? You could choose to meet in person for writing sessions, or keep each other updated and motivated through email or social media sites.


3)       Get inspired. Keep a dream journal. Try the daily writing exercise available at Read advice from published authors to National Novel Writing Month participants at Do any activity from gardening to tennis to museum visits – and write about it!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dominant discourse and the teaching of writing

As a writing instructor, I am often looked to as an "authority" on writing--one who knows and perpetuates the rules and conventions of writing in academia. Students ask, what do you mean by “literate”? Why do we need to make “claims” and use “authoritative sources” to be considered “good” writers at school? Who assigns these meanings and what do they represent? Academic writing lies within a dominant discourse. Discourse is not only the language we use or the way we write; it is the ever-changing ideologies, values, and beliefs we demonstrate and perpetuate in society, both verbally and non-verbally, consciously and subconsciously. As a result of this demonstration and perpetuation, certain ways of writing, talking, thinking, acting, expressing, or living become “good” and those that do not fit the mold are often made inferior, disempowered, or labeled as “alternative” by those in power. Dominant discourse empowers those within it, segregates those who aren’t, and perplexes those who recognize its complexity. This inherent power struggle in dominant discourse is difficult to avoid when talking about writing with students (and shouldn’t be avoided, as I will assert).

I feel as though it is part of my job as an academic writing instructor to uphold the dominant discourse and share its conventions and rules with students, especially since I know that students will encounter many instructors, bosses, and co-workers who will expect them to know and follow all the rules of dominant discourse. As Sue McIntosh explains, writers in academia will be “rewarded for [their] ability to express clearly, in a sanctioned generic structure (e.g. essay, report), the knowledge of others. Some believe that they have no choice but to accept these 'generic structures' as good and right and worthy.” Yet, I struggle with the boundaries of dominant discourse that often reject personal experience, emotion, non-academic audiences, non-academic language and non-linear arrangement. With regard to writing as a reflection of dominant discourse, Donald Stewart states:
 We cannot expect people to perceive the world through the eyes of persons whose languages, and, hence, perceptions of the world differ radically from their own. However, I think it is time for us to acknowledge this much: the teaching of arrangement in our composition classes over the past one hundred years has been largely a promoting of atrophied and inflexible structures which seriously inhibit perceptions which are not culture bound.
Even if they are supported in one venue, attempts made to write outside dominant discourse expectations are often assimilated and dominated to "fit the form" in the end. 

The meanings dominant culture assigns as “correct” affect the way people communicate, what and how students learn, and what and how teachers teach. I try to be cognizant of the dominant discourse in which I participate when teaching, but since I help to make up the dominant discourse, I often feel that I cannot effectively look at or talk about the discourse as an outsider. So I am left with a dilemma concerning academic writing—do I teach students the rules of writing and being a “scholar” as they have been established? Can I take responsibility as an instructor to help students and other instructors recognize the dominant discourse and its effects? Or do I sit back and try to let others figure it out for themselves, since being able to talk about dominant discourse means I am inherently a part of it?

Scholars in hybridity, critical negotiation, critical pedagogy, critical multiculturalism, and politics of difference/recognition raise potential solutions (all while staying cognizant of their own place in dominant discourse). According to Bronwyn Williams, educators must know the ideological bases on which their pedagogies and theories are built and make this transparent to others. Academics should reconsider how the dominant discourse affects those who have been marginalized, othered, or made invisible. Linda Flower offers “an intercultural (versus simply cross-cultural) dialogue ask[ing] people to put aside privileged and/or familiar ways of talking to one another in order to enter a far less predictable rhetoric of inquiry.”  Keith Gilyard poses “alternative” discourse, proposing space for individuals to negotiate their positions and identities through various means of communication. At the same time, Thomas West offers “hybridity” and a “praxis of shelter” as means of interrogating discourse. 

Yet, creating an “alternative” or hybrid discourse may only further marginalize those who may fit its definition. By adapting spaces of hybridity, we must recognize a possibility that, as Bhabha notes, “a ‘third space’ has been employed to describe a benign and ultimately progressive and positivist multicultural synthesis that creates a new culture of pluralistic tolerance.” Thus, simply saying we are “tolerant” is not the ultimate goal. Neither is ignorance. So what is the goal? I do not have a solution to this problem, but I do argue that we (writing instructors or “instructors” of anything) should make continuous attempts to critically negotiate our places and influences in dominant discourse and welcome manifestations and arguments that break down the power structures inherent within it.

Works Cited

Alt Dis. Ed. Keith Gilyard. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook Publ., 2002.

Bhabha, Homi K. “Culture’s Inbetween.” Questions of Cultural Identity. Eds. Stuart Hall and Paul duGay. London: Sage, 1996.

Flower, Linda. “Talking Across Difference: Intercultural Rhetoric and the Search for Situated Knowledge.” College Composition and Communication. Urbana: Sep 2003. Vol.55, 1. 38.

McIntosh, Sue. “A Critical Writing Pedagogy: Who Benefits?” QJER. Queensland:  2001. Vol. 17, 2.

Multiculturalism. Ed. Charles Taylor. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Stewart, Donald C. “Some Thoughts on Arrangement.” JAC. 7, 1987.

West, Thomas. Signs of Struggle. Albany: State U. of New York, 2002.

Williams, Bronwyn T. “Speak for Yourself? Power and Hybridity in the Cross-cultural Classroom." College Composition and Communication. Urbana: June 2003. Vol. 54, 4. 586

UCWbL Services

The UCWbL assists students, faculty, staff, and alumni through Face-to-Face appointments, Online appointments, Written Feedback by Email, and Quick Questions.  In addition to these services, they also offer the following, which may be of interest to adult and commuter students:

  • Suburban Campus Writing Groups: These workshops meet each Saturday at the O’Hare campuses at 10:00 am-11:30 am (Room 307) and Tuesdays 4;30 to 6pm at Naperville (Room 220) and are facilitated by Peer Writing Tutors. Participants discuss their own writing and the work of others, honing critical reading, thinking, and analytical skills. 
  • Writing Groups by Request: Students, faculty, staff, and alumni are invited to create their own “mobile” Peer Writing Groups and meet weekly at a time and a place on or off campus that is convenient for them.  The UCWbL will provide a Tutor to meet with the group and will help foster the discussion between writers.      
  • AP/ILP Forums: These forums allow SNL Writers to discuss their AP and ILP projects with other students, Writing Tutors, SNL faculty, and a research librarian.  Because writers at all stages of their projects are welcome, these forums are great opportunities to share tips and get advice about these critical components of the SNL program. The dates of the forums are:
O'Hare: AP October 6th, 12:00 – 1:30 pm Room 307
Loop: ILP November 6th, 4:30 – 6:00 pm, Lewis 1600
Naperville: AP October 27th, 12:00 – 1:30 pm, Room 220
Oak Forest: ILP October 13th, 12:00 – 1:30 pm, Room 5440

Students may RSVP the event at AP Forum and ILP Forum or at

  • Creative Writing Groups: These groups operate like the Suburban Campus Writing Groups or the Writing Groups by Request, but with a focus on creative writing. Writers can give and receive feedback on fiction, poetry, or any other creative writing pursuit. As always, a tutor will be present to facilitate discussion. Creative Writing Groups can also be requested. A standing group meets on the Lincoln Park campus; please see the UCWbL website for days and times.
  • Faculty Writing Groups: Faculty Writing Groups assist professors at DePaul who want writing advice. Faculty might utilize these groups to get feedback on theses, manuscripts, dissertations, or other writing projects with peers. These groups will operate like Writing Groups by Request.

Friday, September 21, 2012

What to Write?

For those of you partaking in the SNL Month of Writing Challenge, you might already know the content of the project(s) you'll be working on -- but others might still be brainstorming topics!

For those in the brainstorming phase, here are a few ideas to get you started. Sometimes just getting 'pen to paper' can be the biggest challenge.

What are the first three things that come to mind when thinking of your project?

What is the book you always wanted to write?

Pick any object in the room you currently reside, and describe it in detail. Alternatively, start writing a piece from the object's point of view.

The Writer's Digest releases a weekly writing prompt. You can also search for prompts by topic.

Don't miss the kickoff parties! Light refreshments will be served!

Tues, October 9th from 5:30 - 6:15pm at Naperville Campus, Room  140
Wed, October 10th from 5:00 - 5:45pm at Loop Campus, 14 E. Jackson Blvd., Room 1451
Wed, October 10th from 5:30 - 6:15pm at O'Hare Campus, Room 202
Thurs, October 11th from 5:30 - 6:15pm at Oak Forest Campus, Computer Lab

Interested in joining the SNL Month of Writing? Email today, or come to a kickoff party to sign up!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Join us for the SNL Month of Writing!

I'm on my way to

From October 10 until November 7, SNL students, faculty, staff, and alumni will be accepting the challenge of each writing 50,000 words in a month. Join us in the effort to create 1 million words total - if we reach our goal, an anonymous donor will donate $1,000 to SNL Scholarships!
Email to register.

Kickoff parties week of 10/10! Stay posted for details by visiting here,

Monday, August 27, 2012

Fall Quarter 2012 Writing Courses

Please see below for a comprehensive list of writing courses offered at the loop, suburban campuses, and online this Fall Quarter 2012.  
Loop Campus Offerings

LL 140
Writing Workshop
Hayes, Nicholas
H3J (Tuesday)

LL 150
Academic Writing for Adults
Meyers, Alan
L4 (Tuesday)

LL 150
Academic Writing for Adults
McGury, Carol
L4  (Monday)

LL 153
Writing Together – Writing Well:  A Community Approach to Academic Writing and Personal Narrative
Triller, Steffanie &
Hurtig, Janise
A3A 14443
H1X 14444
H2X 14445
L4 14442
*L4 competence required (4 cr. hrs); May register for one additional competence
(2 cr. hr.) LATE START. Begins 9/13 (Thursday)

AI 196
WriteNow: National Novel Writing Month
Triller, Steffanie
A5 16535
A2X 16536
FX 16537
Meets 10/10, 10/17, 10/24, 10/31, 11/7.
Can only be taken for one competence. (Wednesday)

Naperville Campus Offerings

LL 150
Academic Writing for Adults
Muller, William
L4 13077 (Wednesday)

LL 140
Writing Workshop
Navarre Cleary,
H3J 13125 (Wednesday)

Oak Forest Campus Offerings

LL 150
Academic Writing for Adults
Wozniak, Kathryn
HYBRID. Meets on ground 9/6, 9/13, 9/27,10/11, 10/25, 11/8 (Thursday)

FA 247
Thinking and Writing about Work
Muller, William
A1E 14786
A2X 14787
A5 14788
FX 14789 (Tuesdays)

O’Hare Campus Offerings

LL 140
Writing Workshop
Weidner, Diane
H3J  (Wednesday)

LL 150
Academic Writing for Adults
Morris, David
L4 (Wednesdays)

SNL Online Offerings

LL 150
Academic Writing for Adults
L4 13330
Schmidt, Kathleen

LL 150
Academic Writing forAdults
L4 13332
Gilbert-Levin, Renee

LL 150
Academic Writing for Adults
L4 13334
Triller, Steffanie

LL 150
Academic Writing for Adults
L4 13336
Kutty, Nina

AI 176
Creative Writing
A1C 11698
A2A 11699
A5 11700
Dumbleton, Molia

FA 133
Editing Yourself and Others
L7 16094
H3D 16095
FX 16096
Greenberg, Michelle

FA 339
Professional Business Writing
FX 12007
H2X 12005
H3X 12006
Schmidt, Kathleen

LL 140
Writing Workshop
H3J 14204
Fitzpatrick, Kristin

LL 140
Writing Workshop
H3J 14206
Hemmerling, Joseph

Writing and Editing a Newsletter
FX 16093
Murphy, Douglas