Wednesday, October 05, 2016


Writer's Help at MCPHS

After the first visit to discuss teaching with the handbook, I compiled a list of resources that came up during the conversation. Those are collected here to have in one place.

Teaching with Hacker Handbooks:
  This will have ideas for sequencing the handbook use into writing assignments and/or activities to address writing issues. 

Syllabus 5: Writer’s Help, in Critical Reading and Writing, fall semester   
  This syllabus is from Stephen Bernhardt, who with Nancy Sommers co-authored Writer's Help. His cool idea: he underlines key terms in his syllabus and then has students look those up using the search tool in Writer's Help.

Stuff I've Written Up
How to use Word to turn essay into list of sentences  

With inspiration from Klonoski, Edward, “Using the Eyes of the PC to Teach Revision.,” Computers and Composition, v11 n1 p71-78. 1994.

Since handbooks and exercises use single sentence examples to illustrate incorrect and then corrected sentences, a proofing stage activity, students use the steps in this handout to transfer what they read and exercise to their own writing.  They do this by turning their essay into a list of sentences to match the kind of approach the handbook/exercises use.   See also, for a related activity inspired by Ed’s piece, “One Way to Use Grammar and Spellcheckers Carefully” at

See also, "Schooling Grammar Checkers" for 8 things teachers can do to address the strengths and weaknesses of that tool:

James Lang's stuff from the CHE:
Small Changes in Teaching --

On Transfer
Why Don't They Apply What They Learned, Part 1

Why Don't They Apply What They Learned, Part 2

Why Don't They Apply What They Learned, Part 3


Three core ideas

1. Be explicit with students about the role of Writer's Help in their MCPHS writing career. It's not just a course text, it's a text for all the writing they do. Strategies include letting them know their other professors will know they have the book (and those professors might have access). Stressing for each time you teach them how to use the book on their own that you are teaching them this so that can and will use it on their own in other courses, other writing situations. This kind of explicit teaching of goals and purpose will help students see that what is taught in a writing course -- strategies for drafting, researching, citing, reviewing, revising, proofing, and consulting Writer's Help in all those activities, is what they should bring to writing across the curriculum.

2. Move from Writer's Help to student writing; from student writing to Writer's Help. Teach students how to go from the advice in Writer's Help to their own writing and classmates' writings; and to know how to look at writing and then go to Writer's Help for advice. So space the use of Writer's Help throughout the semester (see Lang on spacing and interleaving), structured so that they move as quickly as possible from Writer's Help to writing. For example, if you're going to ask them to focus on thesis statements for a workshop, they might be told to look up thesis statements in Writer's Help, maybe do some LearningCurve questions, or standard quiz activities, to reinforce what they read. Then in class the next day, have them bring copies of their own writing and work in groups on finding and improving their owns and classmates' thesis statements. The key is make it the next day, so they can apply what they read and exercised to actual writing. Because you are just focusing on thesis statements, they can be in groups of four, and each writer can get three reviews.  Ask them to do this:  Describe to the writer what the thesis statement is (or could be if the reviewer thinks one is not there), and based on Writer's Help -- by citing or quoting from it -- talk about the statement's quality.  If it helps, use this prompt or template for them to complete:
According to Writer's Help, a good thesis statement ____________________________. 
Your thesis statement is __________________________________________________.

And then use either:

Your thesis statement is good because ______________________________________.
Your thesis statement is on the way to good, and will get there if you _________________________________.

3. Never work  harder than your students. 

First, do as much to grow student to student feedback as you can. Micro reviews such as the thesis statement can work wonders, both to help writers learn to see how to improve things on their own and to give them the time, focus, and practice at working those improvements.  No writing instructor should ever take on the burden of being the only person who gives writers feedback they will use. Teach them to give and receive feedback from one another; they will learn more and more deeply.

Second, on sentence level issues,  address only one or two a week, using steps something like above -- students read Writer's Help, do exercises, do the best they can applying to their own writing; in workshops set aside to teach just proofreading and copyediting,  they look at writing and go back to Writer's Help for explaining their feedback. When you address sentence level issue in your written feedback, do two things: one, only address an issue you've taught; and two, don't circle the error in the sentence nor label it. Use minimal marking -- put a check at the end of the sentence. The writer needs to look at the sentence, decide what the error is, and figure a good revision. He or she can ask a classmate for help.  

For example, if you've addressed fragments and subject-verb agreement only, put check marks in margins at lines where one of those two errors occurs. Don't say which it is or where it is. The following week the check mark might also include run-ons if that was taught next. Each week the mark can potentially include a wider array of errors, but only errors that have been taught and workshopped. Let your students use the marks as hints for going back to Writer's Help for advice on figuring out what the error is and how to fix it. You're working hard to mark margins; they're working harder to learn more deeply and permanently what the marks hint at and how to fix those things.