Tuesday, April 23, 2013

See What Shakespeare Has to Say About Your Writing

And not only Shakespeare: you could have Dickens, Poe, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Dickinson weigh in as well. This nifty little tool from Google Docs gives writers the chance to experience, for better or worse, what it would be like to collaborate with the greats. As you type, Google uses its search algorithms to insert edits based on words, phrases, and passages regularly associated with these authors, thus allowing each to leave his or her stamp on your work. Here's one author's test run, in which Poe and Dickens express some strong opinions about an apple seed.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bridging the Gap Between Teacher and Student: How my teaching has changed since I've returned to school

By Steffanie Triller Fry

This January, I returned to school full-time to earn an MFA in Creative Writing. This is a degree that I had coveted for more than a decade, and that I finally decided I was ready to earn. My program is a low-residency distance-learning program, so I attend seminars on campus for ten days in January and June, and submit the rest of my work via email to my faculty mentors and instructors.
            On the fifth day of our first residency, my new mentor, a published writer whose work I knew, led a workshop on my own fiction submission. She began by asking each person in the workshop what my story was about. She then told me what she thought my story was about, and went through it page by page, pointing out the character details, descriptions, and turns of phrase that didn’t work. “I think you can keep about 30% of this story,” she told me.
            By the time the critique was over, I knew what I needed to work on, but I did not know how to do it well, or if I had ever done it well. Yesterday, I prepared my third submission for this same mentor. My work was due at midnight, and I turned it in at midnight. Stymied by anxiety, I kept making revisions to my fiction moments before it was due. Plagued with procrastination, I had only begun the story days before, even though I had a month to work on it.
            As an adult student, I bear much resemblance to our own SNL students. Though I regularly tell students to begin writing early, to explore various techniques for revision until they find what works, and to consider my feedback when they revise, I find it challenging to follow this same guidance from my own instructors.
            With a different instructor, I’m taking an interdisciplinary studies course in travel writing. Our main assignment is to “write a travel story.” That’s it. That’s the assignment: “Write a travel story.” There is no word count, page limit, or suggested content. In the course we are learning the elements of a good travel story. We are reading multiple examples of published travel stories. We submit drafts and receive feedback. Some of my feedback includes comments like: “delete,” “change to,” “avoid dangling modifier,” “comma,” “this sentence is awkward and long.” Comments like “delete” and “dangling modifier” remind me of tendencies I am already aware of: to be unnecessarily wordy and to misplace my modifiers. But comments like “change to,” of which there are many, confuse me. These are edits; I will make them gladly, easily, but I will struggle to learn from them. Moreover, I struggle to see how these in-line edits connect to the instructor’s narrative feedback: that I need more personal information and a theme in my story. This feedback is painfully familiar: I offer it on nearly every student draft! But, I’m not sure which is more important or more humbling: my need to find a central theme in my piece or my need to be less lazy about my grammar.
            I’m no neurologist, but I suspect that we use a vastly different part of our brain when we wear our teaching hats from the part we use when we wear our student hats. As I co-exist in the roles of both teacher and student, I’ve realized that I need to bridge the gap between teaching and learning for my adult students; moreover, I need to heed my own advice and be my own best instructor. After all, at SNL we operate on a definition of learning that requires the student to take what they already know and apply it to future situations. The more we can teach students how we teach, and how they can teach themselves, the better they will learn.
            To better help students to teach themselves, here are three specific ways my teaching has changed since I have also returned to being a student:
  • I do more meta-teaching.
I have theories behind why I do what I do, and I share them with students. On first drafts, for example, I offer little feedback, most of it narrative. I prepare students for this, and teach them beforehand how to read and use this feedback.
  • When I offer both narrative and in-text feedback, I coordinate the two rather than duplicating my efforts.
So that a student, like me in my travel writing class, does not get a different message from the narrative feedback and the comments, I consider how I can offer comments that enable the student to enact the revisions suggested in the narrative feedback. I reserve highlighting for grammar errors, so that students can better separate the local revisions from the global revisions.
  • I write clear assignments; or, if I want to leave part of the assignment up to the students’ discretion, I explain why.
As an adult student, I find myself in a tender relationship with my instructors. While they may not have more knowledge than me about writing, they have had more experience and more success with their skill. Leaving an assignment “open” respects that knowledge that students already have, if they are told why the assignment is being left open in the first place. This is different from failing to give clear guidelines and then marking a student down afterwards because they failed to meet invisible requirements.

Monday, April 8, 2013

An SNL Graduate's Story

The following email arrived at SNL this morning: 

I am a graduate of DePaul SNL 2009,  and I wanted to send a note of thanks and let you know how my DePaul L-7 Collaborative Learning Class has served me.

My mother passed away 3 years ago and afterwards my 4 sisters and I began really talking about our memories of growning up, etc.   We decided to write a book.   I am the youngest so I would begin each chapter and then email it to my other sisters.  They would then write their parts and send back to me.  I would then compile everything together.

We wrote the whole book this way so I was the only one to see it all till it was finished.  After it was done we submitted it and had it published.  We officially released the book on December 18, 2012 and so far have seen great sales and have really connected with people.

I do not think I would have had the confidence and ability to do this project has it not been for my DePaul Education.

Anita Lewis
Proud SNL grad.
Co-Author of 
Fluffy, Funny, and Fabulous: A Tale of Five Sisters

To learn more about Anita's story, see www.thefivesisters.net