Teaching Writing

Data of the Heart

Photo by Laurence Simon via Flickr
Photo by Laurence Simon via Flickr

By: Helen C. Sitler

This post is a thought piece on how important aspects of the student learning process are sometimes obscured by the assessment expectations placed on professors.

Helen Collins Sitler teaches in the English Department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where her favorite class to teach is Basic Writing. She is a composition specialist and also works with the English Education resource pool, teaching some methods courses and supervising student teachers.  You can reach her at

The lightbulb moment. The moment when we see understanding flood a student’s face makes the hard work of teaching writing worthwhile.

In my basic writing course some years ago, Jeremy struggled to find his voice. His papers were forced and predictable. Near the end of the semester, our class took a day to wander the campus in small groups and write about what we saw. There was no pressure to write a thesis statement, to use perfect mechanics, to develop ideas. The task was simply to write. When we returned to the classroom to share our experiences, Jeremy regaled us with his vivid, humorous account of a few minutes he had spent in the library. It was a startling shift from his usual stiff formality, and the first time his voice appeared in his written words. The whole class loved it. A few hours later, Jeremy presented me with a typed copy of what he had written, reporting that when he got back to his room with the hand-written original, he had written more. He said, “I couldn’t stop writing.”

Faculty Writing

Welcoming our new Assistant Director, Tom Polk

Tom Polk will be the Assistant Director for the Writing Across the Curriculum Program at George Mason University, beginning Spring semester 2016.  

Polk Photo

Tom’s Bio:
Before coming to George Mason University, Tom coordinated the writing center at Bowie State University in Maryland where his work focused on developing the campus’ writing culture.  He previously had taught Composition at Howard Community College in Maryland and Cape Fear Community College in North Carolina. His favorite part of being an educator is working with his students and tutors and helping them to grow personally and professionally.  Tom earned an M.A. from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington and an M.S. from Johns Hopkins University.  His scholarly interests include writing centers, assessment, and noncognitive aspects of writing.  He has also conducted research on the relationships between music and composition.


Faculty Writing

George Mason’s OSCAR program wins national award

Congratulations to George Mason’s Office of Student Research, Creative Activities, and Scholarship program, OSCAR, on its recognition by the Council on Undergraduate Research as a national model for high-quality student research programs. OSCAR provides mentors, grants, and travel funding to students. Many departments at GMU have incorporated research into their curriculum to support “sophisticated and independent” undergraduate research projects and activities. In fact, the campus-wide support for research set GMU’s program apart, according to the Council. Writing Across the Curriculum is proud to partner with OSCAR in support of faculty who teach writing and offers congratulations for this national recognition.

Read the full article here.

Evaluating Writing Teaching Writing

National Census of Writing report released

Carl Straumsheim’s Inside Higher Ed article summarizes and highlights the newly released National Census of Writing, a comprehensive data-based survey of writing at national two-and four-year public and not-for-profit institutions.  The researchers offer open access to the data, which includes contributions from the 2014-2015 George Mason WAC program team.  Data was collected from 900 colleges, and the survey is the most comprehensive survey of its kind.   We are eager to learn from this new report, which makes writing instruction trends clear on a national level.

Read the full article here: