ITW Faculty Dinner: April 8 2010

In Attendance: Tracy Botting, John Hitchner, Steve Kessler, Kate Tirabassi (English); Ellen Moynihan (English and Communications); Mark Long, (English and American Studies); Anne-Marie Mallon (English and Women’s Studies); Len Fleisher (Education)


President’s Writing Award: Each academic year the President’s Writing award recognizes the work of a student in Thinking and Writing with a $250 cash award and recognition. (This year, we designated a winner and a runner-up, but both students had transferred.) If you had a student write a great paper in one of your ITW sections, in either the fall or spring semester, please urge her or him to send it to me at as an e-mail attachment. I will only accept papers that have your endorsement (you do not need to write a letter of recommendation, but a quick “I recommended that the student send you the paper” will suffice.) It is helpful to have a copy of the assignment as well. We are looking for papers that demonstrate complex thought and are well-written and researched. Let’s celebrate our successful students’ work!

ISP Assessment: All final essays from ITW courses will be once again submitted as part of ongoing ISP assessment. The ISP-Submission-practice-sp10 blackboard site is now available to show students how to prepare and submit their artifacts. In addition to written directions, there is also a video clip. The ISP submission blackboard sites will be open from 8:00am, April 21, 2010 until 5:00pm, May 7, 2010. Students may submit their artifacts anytime during that period. If there are any questions about ISP assessment, please feel free to contact Yi Gong at If students have questions, please direct them to Yi.

Mark needs three volunteers for ITW assessment. Last year, Phyllis, Lorianne, and Judy Hildebrandt reviewed the essays and wrote a report. Please let me know if you are interested. Len voiced his interest in the results of the writing assessments we have been doing the past few years. Mark promised to share the documents and write a brief summary of what we have learned.

Upcoming Campus Events of Interest: Please note two campus visits on research relevant to the teaching of writing. On April 15 and 16 Dr. Nathan Grawe’s will address the use of quantitative reasoning in student writing. Grawe is the Director of the QuIRK (Quantitative Inquiry, Reasoning & Knowledge) Initiative at Carleton College, Dean of the College and Associate Professor of Economics. On April 29, Dr. Ronald T. Kellogg, Professor of Psychology at Saint Louis University, will address what recent neuroimaging of the human brain might tell us about the cognitive processes involved in the production of writing. More information about these two events is on the ITW web site:

Notes from the Center for Writing: Phyllis Benay will be on sabbatical for the 2010-11 academic year. Kirsti Sandy will be the Director of the Center and Jahleh Ghanbari will continue as Assistant Director.

Call for Tutors: Phyllis Benay is looking for students to work in the Center for Writing. Candidates should be not only good writers, but “warm, outgoing, flexible, articulate, personable, and have a commitment to writing.” Please forward names to Phyllis.

1.Feedback for Phyllis and Kirsti for Think, Write Learn. What are you using? What works”? What needs revision? What might you add?

Think, Write Learn continues to be a common text that is serving students and faculty well. Members of the group appreciate

  • the exercises and they use them regularly;
  • the sample essay and a couple of participants in the dinner meeting asked for more examples. Mark suggested that more examples would most likely translate into a higher cost/student for the text; and so we talked about the possibility of putting up an archive of examples on the Thinking and Writing web site that people could download and use in their classes;
  • the use of the exercises that build out of The Craft of Research.  The vocabulary we are using for the course, they pointed out, is becoming more consistent; however, two or three of the participants would like to see the vocabulary of Graff and Birkenstein—“they say, I say”—in the exercises; we also discussed the strengths and weaknesses of templates but in general people find the general formula to be useful for their students’ thinking;
  • the folder, but not the fact that the folder does not accommodate loose papers; though what we did not realize (I did not have my TWL in hand) is that the folder is designed to hold the exercises that are pulled out of the text.

We also discussed the ongoing challenge of teaching students to negotiate the real and perceived differences between “professional” and “personal” writing in the ITW course. Would there be a way to incorporate more on helping with students learning to write authentically while meeting the expectations for what people were calling “academic” writing? We noted the continued interest in talking about conventions of what we are calling “academic” writing and promised to return to this subject some time next year.

2.Feedback for Mark on the ITW Web Site.

Mark reported on the uses of the ITW web site. Faculty are finding the site useful for more fully understanding the course they are teaching and the complimentary ways that we are teaching from the principles and learning outcomes for the course. The site is also working extremely well as a context for prospective instructors. Before prospective instructors submit proposals, they are now able to see the distinctive nature of the course and its place in the Integrative Studies Program. The site has also generated attention from external constituencies, and Mark has received a few notes of interest and questions from other program administrators. Mark is using the site as a way for us to stay in touch about campus events and other useful information (such as assessment, research on student writers, etc.) and requested that we continue to think about content for the site.

Mark put out a call for sample essays that will be archived on the site. Kate promised to send along a permission slip that students will need to sign if we are to make the writing public. These sample essays can be downloaded and used in the classroom.

3. Open Discussion about ITW. Where are we? Where might we want to go from here? What support do you need? What can the ITW coordinator and the ISP do to improve the course?

Everyone present affirmed the importance of our dinner meetings. Gathering twice each semester serves to focus our attention around common issues we are facing in the day-to-day work of teaching this course. More significantly, comments seemed to suggest, the dinner meetings make visible our common work and the open and honest exchange is a continuing source of inspiration and an affirmation of community. The meetings are welcoming and offer new instructors the chance to find their way into a community of practitioners and to find mentors with whom to work during the first semesters teaching the course.

One important thread in our discussion was the work of making visible to our colleagues what we are doing and how what we are doing shapes what students go on to do in their other courses. How can we connect our conversations about Thinking and Writing to the other pedagogical conversations in the Integrative Studies program and the academic programs? How can we open new exchanges between faculty teaching ITW and faculty teaching other courses? How can we talk with our colleagues about the work we are doing with our first-year students? Please send along any thoughts about these questions to Mark and Kate.

Our work with first-year students is potentially transformative and we discussed the purpose of the course and the kinds of experiences we are offering to our first year students. Len talked about the rewards of teaching this course and the deep sense of satisfaction that comes when thinking and writing serves as a path to a more powerful emergence. Our conversation echoed the findings of Sommers and others who note that the important changes that result from the first-year course are often not seen in the writing but rather in the transformation of the writer. Our commitment to establishing a challenging and supportive environment in which to find one’s way into the academic domain is, finally, news we need to share with our colleagues. While a Writing Task Force Newsletter offers some preliminary findings, we need to continue to share the news of what is happening in this course and to seek out new ways to integrate this work into the subsequent years of work our students complete at Keene State College.

Good news! Since we met, I talked with the Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs, Ann Rancourt, who affirmed an ongoing commitment to these dinner meetings through the 2010-11 academic year. Please send along (to Mark and to Kate) your thoughts about discussion topics for our meetings next year.

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