Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Register Now for Teaching with Writing in Any Course!

Calling all faculty: the deadline is quickly approaching to register for Teaching with Writing in Any Course: An SNL Professional Development Course. This four-week online course will run from January 17 to February 6 and is designed to help teachers in any discipline make "the most of writing as a tool for teaching and learning in undergraduate and graduate courses."

One previous participant said, "Reading and grading has become a remarkably less stressful process for me because of the techniques I learned in [Teaching with Writing]."

It is recommended that new faculty take Teaching with Writing within their first 18 months at DePaul. A $150 stipend will be provided to all participants who complete the course. 

Click on the image below to view the course description, and register for Teaching with Writing today! Space is limited, so if making your grading life less stressful appeals to you, email by January 3 with the following information:
  • First and Last Name
  • DePaul ID number
  • Email address
  • DePaul affiliation (i.e. full-time faculty, visiting faculty, grad student, non-DPU)
You may also request a copy of the course syllabus by emailing

As another participant said, "If you are debating about taking the course, seriously consider changing your schedule so you can. It will make teaching easier and more rewarding."

The Benefits of Attending a Peer Review Workshop at the UCWbL

by Steffanie Triller Fry

‘Twas World Series Game Seven
When all through DePaul
Not a creature was stirring
They were watching the Cubbies “PLAY BALL!”

That is, except for the unfortunate members of my Fall 2016 Writing for Competence class. It just so happened that the night I had scheduled my class to attend a Peer Review Workshop at the University Center for Writing-basedLearning coincided with the inimitable Game Seven of the 2016 World Series. Nevertheless, we pressed on, and nine of my students and I cocooned ourselves in the 16th floor of the Lewis Building with our workshop coordinator and writing center tutor, Katie.

Katie began by sharing with us a few brief slides about what peer feedback is and why it is helpful. She also handed out a half-sheet of paper to each student that offered guidelines for peer review. Interestingly, the suggestions for student deportment in a peer review session strongly mirrored what one would expect from an adult employee providing feedback to another employee in an annual review. This resonated with my students, all full-time employees at one of the city’s financial institutions.

They took the half-sheets and dispersed around the room in groups of three. One student in each group began reading aloud while the other two students listened or jotted down comments on a copy of their classmate’s paper. Katie and I hovered as my students held their peers (and us) captive with their words. At one point, Katie and I found ourselves hovering over the same group as a female student read her appeal to an Illinois Congressman to introduce legislation that would provide feminine products gratis to homeless women. When the student writer noticed us hovering, Katie smiled. “I’m so interested in your topic,” she said. The student beamed.

Around the rooms of the Writing Center, other students were similarly captivating their audiences with words. Conversation ensued as the students served as one another’s audience. Katie kept a time clock and reminded groups when it was time to switch readers.

Research has found that peer review sessions benefit students as both givers and receivers of feedback on their written work. When students use a drafting process and receive feedback from peers and an instructor, they are more likely to revise their work for meaning, rather than mere surface-level errors (Paulus). Moreover, giving peer feedback on written writing assignments can actually be more helpful to a student’s own writing than receiving feedback from a peer (Lundstrom and Baker). For these reasons, writing instructors often build peer review sessions into their courses. But, as scholars who share work with their peers know well, peer review sessions can benefit writers in all disciplines (Beason). And, luckily, the UCWbL is glad to host a peer review workshop in the course of any instructor who requests one on their website.

Later, when we reconvened together as a group, the student who had moved us most with her words about blood and cold and homelessness raised her hand. She shared with the group that before this peer review session she did not understand what her essay needed, but now she knew. Another student and said that even though he had done peer review in class before, this session had been incredibly helpful.

The students dashed out of the Writing Center to catch the final game of an incomparable series that would linger past midnight. But, before the curse of the Billy Goat would be broken by the Lovable Losers, these writers broke their own kind of curse on the 16th floor of the Lewis Building on a rainy Chicago night. They no longer feared sharing their written work.  

Happy peer review to all, and to all, a good night!

The DePaul Writing Center schedules workshops on Peer Review, Citation, Digication, and other customized topics. To schedule a workshop, visit the UCWbL website.

Works Cited

Beason, Larry. “Feedback and Revision in Writing across the Curriculum Classes.” Research in the Teaching of English, vol. 27, no. 4, 1993, pp. 395–422.

Lundstrom, Kristi, and Wendy Baker. "To give is better than to receive: The benefits of peer review to the reviewer's own writing." Journal of second language writing 18.1 (2009): 30-43.

Paulus, Trena M. "The effect of peer and teacher feedback on student writing." Journal of second language writing 8.3 (1999): 265-289.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Trust – Connecting in the Classroom

by Kamilah Cummings
Trust is a word that weaves its way into countless conversations. However, it is not often uttered when faculty discuss strategies for supporting students in the classroom. At least, I had not thought about it until a colleague recently warned me that a group of students would never trust me. She followed with an assurance that despite their impenetrable distrust these students would, indeed, respect me and do the required work for the course, but she bookended her admonition with a final reminder that they would never trust me. Because I view trust as an essential element of any healthy relationship, this led me to reflect on the role of trust in teacher-student relationships.

Given the current state of higher education where high tuition and low student enrollment walk hand-in-hand at some institutions, fostering trust in students is of increasing importance. Research shows that lack of trust can negatively impact retention and recruitment based on its correlation to quality perceptions and tuition sensitivity (Ghosh, Whipple and Bryan 333). Drawing from earlier research on trust in higher education, Ghosh, Whipple and Bryan found that sincerity, expertise, and congeniality were the most popular antecedents for influencing student trust in higher education institutions (332-335). It is not an enormous leap to assume that these are also antecedents of trust in the classroom as well.

The relationship between teacher and student is a powerful one that can resonate for a moment or a lifetime. Brookfield argues that not trusting teachers results in students who are “unwilling to submit themselves to the perilous uncertainties of new learning” (163). Further, Chopra offers that an ideal relationship is one where trust, peace, and the ability to heal after a disconnect are present (Chopra and Winfrey). These realities prompted me to think more specifically about the shape trust takes with regard to student writing in my classroom where I expect students to lay bare their emotions and beliefs alongside their writing abilities for the scrutiny of not only me as their teacher but their classmates as well.

For many, academic writing is a compulsory seat at a table of discomfort and vulnerability. Nontraditional learners bring disparate prior academic experiences to the classroom. Unfortunately, some of those experiences have resulted in the perception of the teacher-student relationship as adversarial. Yet, “the element of trust” underlies “all significant learning” (Brookfield 163). Therefore, faculty are tasked with dismantling barriers of distrust that have cemented over time - often decades.

I know that one place for a potential disconnect or break in trust in my courses is when I provide feedback on student writing. Here, I see the need for sincerity and expertise to work together to support student success. McFarlane argues that providing feedback that is either harsh or lenient can erode trust between teachers and students (230). I can list numerous times where students and even friends have recounted with vivid detail previous experiences with teacher feedback that was awash in ridicule, condescension, apathy, and suspicion. Those experiences have left them permanently scarred. The alternative scenario is the student who holds somewhat inflated beliefs about their academic writing based on prior professional or creative writing success. Whatever the source, many students have to navigate long-held perceptions and misconceptions about their writing. For students to mine the emotions that receiving writing feedback elicits, they have to trust that the purpose of my feedback is to assist in their growth and development as writers. By providing timely feedback that is clear, substantive, and focused on improving essential elements of their work, I help to build trust.

Authenticity is another requirement for trust-building in the classroom (Brookfield 164). Brookfield suggests that to build authenticity faculty should forge connections in the classroom by sharing interests beyond the roles of teacher and student. I find this especially beneficial in writing-intensive courses. One would be hard pressed to find a student who has taken a class with me who doesn’t know that I love Prince, travel, music, and dogs. Likewise, I could compile a never-ending list of the things that I have learned about my students from integrating activities that afford me the opportunity to peer into their non-academic lives.  I also engage in pre-class and break-time discussions that traverse myriad subjects with students. I keep notes so that I can refer to this information when they are bereft of ideas for topics. I also use their interests to illustrate course concepts during lectures and discussions. I find that it improves student engagement and confidence, which also builds trust. 

Tapping into the wealth of diverse interests and experiences that adult students bring to the classroom in this manner allows them to demonstrate expertise and share a bit of themselves with their classmates and me. An added benefit to this is that it builds trust between students as they get to learn more about the people with whom they are sharing a transformative learning experience. I find this to be another important trust-building component because when students are required to do peer reviews or work collaboratively, they are no longer being asked to trust the input of a stranger.

Ghosh, Whipple and Bryan caution that, if faculty “accomplishments are not geared toward meeting students' needs, their actual expertise may not be perceived as such by students” (334). At this level, students rightfully assume, and can easily verify, that faculty are accomplished in their disciplines. However, they do not assume that faculty, regardless of expertise, often struggle as they do at various stages of the writing process. To further establish trust I share my writing fallibility. Rather than undermining my credibility as some might assume, sharing my own writing struggles along with the strategies I use to overcome them helps students to remove unrealistic perceptions of writing and me. I have had multiple students tell me that learning that a professional writer and editor doesn’t just snap her fingers and produce high quality content was an “a-ha” moment for them. This reinforces trust by underscoring the fact that I am here to help them as writers because I understand their struggles.

In pondering my colleague’s warning, I realize that without obvious awareness I have been fostering trust in the classroom.  As human beings we are first in relationship t with ourselves and second with the larger human community. I view my classroom as a learning community. For a community to thrive, trust must be present. Although building trust can take time and work, it is worth it. Trust is born of humility and compassion, and I cannot think of a better place than the classroom to model these attributes of humanity (and retention).

Works Cited
Brookfield, Steven D. "Building Trust with Students." Brookfield, Steven D. The Skillful Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990. 163-176. Book Chapter.
Chopra, Deepak and Oprah Winfrey. Oprah & Deepak’s 21-Day Meditation Experience, Creating Peace from the Inside Out: The Power of Connection. November 2016. Audio.
Ghosh, Amit K., Thomas W. Whipple and Glenn A. Bryan. "Student Trust and Its Antecedents in Higher Education." The Journal of Higher Education (2001): 322-340. Article.
Macfarlane, Bruce. "A Leap of Faith: The Role of Trust in Higher Education Teaching ." (2009): 221-236. Article.
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. Building Trust in the Classroom. 2015. PDF. 28 November 2016.