30 Day Challenge: Write the first draft of your novel

Source: Jess Wilson, The Guardian

Source: Jess Wilson, The Guardian

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) doesn’t have to come only once every year. November isn’t the magic month where creativity peaks and words flow from your fingertips like liquid gold. Most of the time, depending on how you work, the writing process is complete and utter chaos. Plots start at the height of the action and then never come to a resolution, spend too much time on the setting and not enough time on character development, or the characters become too complex that you can’t see past them to the plot. These are common writing practices, and sometimes they work, but sometimes you can get lost in your own work. Creating a rigorous outline of your story will help you train yourself to become a productive writer.

There are six stages to this 30-day challenge. In the first week, you create your tentative outline including character, plot, and setting sketches as well as research strategies, the summary outline and any extra notes you may have. The second week consists of in-depth research. Delving into your characters backgrounds, the necessary details of the plot, and the facts needed for the proper setting. Once you have sufficient amount of information, the third week is spent introducing the formatted outline you created in the first week. In the final days of the challenge, you’ll be evaluating the strength of you formatted outline and finally revising your first draft. It’s important to have structure when writing, especially a schedule that pushes you to stay on target. It’s not impossible to write a novel in a month, but it’s definitely not easy. Challenge yourself. Check out The Guardian’s “How to write a book in 30 days” series.

6 Types of Irony

Source: The Oatmeal

Source: The Oatmeal

Irony (n): the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.

This is a blanket definition of irony when in fact; there are many different forms of irony. Too many people use irony as a catchall term to refer to anything out of the ordinary, amusing, or dramatic. The ignorance stops here. By understanding the various forms it comes in, you will (hopefully) use irony correctly.

If one of your friends or classmates comes to you and says, “I wish my professor would call on me more, I love the feeling of absolute terror you get when everyone in the class is staring at you.” Unless they’re some kind of masochist, they obviously don’t enjoy being spontaneously called on and suffering the scrutiny of their classmates. This is known as verbal irony though it is usually referred to as sarcasm.

The most common irony is situational irony, which refers the actions of someone based on an expectation that lead directly to the outcome they wish to avoid. For example, in the movie Shrek, it was expected that “love’s true form” for Fiona would be human when in reality it was an ogre because Shrek loved her ogre form.

In the works of drama or fiction, dramatic irony is when the reader or audience is let in on a fact that is unknown to most of the characters. The most famous example is in Romeo & Juliet when the audience knows that Juliet has taken a potion to merely appear dead, while Romeo only sees her dead body and proceeds to kill himself.

Cosmic irony would only be used for dramatic effect in real life, but it basically blames the gods or fate for having a hand in our struggles. For a fictional example, in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort’s motivation throughout all the books is to kill Harry and in the end, that’s what destroys him.

The juxtaposition between a historical event and what has happened since to contradict it is historical irony. Leading up to its departure in 1912, the Titanic was declared unsinkable – and then it sunk on its maiden voyage.

Based on the Socratic teaching method, Socratic irony is feigning ignorance in order to get a certain reaction or answer out of someone. So when your professor asks you to read the material and then you come in the next day and they say “I don’t know the answer” as they sit back and ask you question after question and you end up teaching yourself – you’ve just become the victim of Socratic irony.

Check out more examples of irony at Huffington Post.

First Year Writing Spotlight: Cultural Collaborations

Michigan State University offers many opportunities for cultural exploration and growth, but students sometimes overlook or miss these opportunities. Luckily, WRAC professor Cheryl Caesar and her teaching partner, professor Janice Stryz worked to change that. Together they led a collaborative course that paired students from WRA 1004 and WRA 150, and as Caesar explains, their goal was “to bring students of different national backgrounds together as ‘culture partners’, [giving them the opportunity] to interview each other about their cultures of origin.”

This is easier said than done at times, and there were distinct challenges along the way. One of the biggest challenges was putting together the groups. “A student who tends to participate minimally, or to arrive late, must be counterbalanced with a more outgoing and punctual student, or you end up with two partners from the other class cooling their heels and wasting their time,” said Caesar.

Despite the challenges, Caesar still recommends the experience overall. “Anyone who’s thinking of a collaborative venture should give it a try. It does involve some additional planning and setup, but the new energy and ideas it brings to your classroom are worth it.”

For more information on this project, check out the PCW workshop by Caesar and Stryz in 107 Linton on February 28, 2014 at 3 PM.

WRAC Hosts 1st First-Year Writing Conference

The WRAC department had the pleasure of putting on the first conference for First-Year Writing (FYW). It was held from 1 PM to 5 PM at the MSU Business Complex this past Saturday, April 21st.

Dr. Julie Lindquist, Director of First-Year Writing, gave the keynote speech, in which she presented an overview of the program (the number of FYW students, course options, assignment sequences, and shared learning outcomes). Lindquist also discussed how the FYW courses at Michigan State highlight both inquiry (asking questions as a key move toward learning and discovery) and rhetoric (understanding how writing, reading and research are connected to specific situations, audiences, and purposes).

The 2012 FYW conference showcased students’ presentations from the classes of Stephanie Amada, Kate Fedewa, and Steve Lessner. It also offered opportunities for presenters and attendees to participate in roundtable conversations to discuss teaching and writing.

First-Year Writing Students Analyze and Create Masks

A selection of masks by Cherl Caesar's fall 2011 FYW students

When professor Cheryl Caesar asked her last semester’s WRA 140 (Women in America) and WRA1004 (Preparation for College Writing) students to create a project about masks, she wasn’t asking these first-year writing students simply to exercise their creativity: “It got students thinking about what masks really do–hide or reveal? Can they bring out something not always shown?” This exercise in critical-thinking is a highlight of one valuable skill taught from a first-year writing teacher’s toolset.

As part of this exploration into the designs and purposes of masks, Caesar and her students visited the MSU Museum exhibit titled “Mask: Secrets and Revelations,” and were treated to curator Dr. Julie Avery as a speaker. Students then analyzed masks as cultural artifacts and created works that exemplified how artifacts reveal information about the cultural context in which they are produced. Some students went on to create their own masks, seen above, which examined subjects such as femininity, patriotism, nature, beauty, and the continents. Other students created webpages and videos; one student, Jennifer Carr, took a different approach and created a children’s book titled “Mia’s Mask.” In many cases, the projects explored comparisons such as beautiful versus ugly, global unity versus nationalism, or the inside view versus the outside view.

Jian Ren, now a Marketing major sophomore, says that the experience of taking Caesar’s FYW class last year has prepared her for her classes this semester and improved her language skills. She described creating the mask in first-year writing as a process of “capturing a main idea” using various writing techniques and then expressing that idea through this mask. First-year writing classes are designed to scaffold projects in such a way that writing skills and language skills build upon each other, creating a background that prepared for writing in subsequent college courses and beyond.

The works of Caesar’s students will be showcased sometime later semester on MSU’s Museum website. The “Mask: Secrets and Revelations” exhibit is currently available online here.

First-Year Writing Workshops in Spring 2012: More Sessions, More Lessons

First-year writing (FYW) classes at MSU have thousands of students passing through each year, and a strong writing program can have wide-reaching positive effects. Last semester, in an effort to facilitate robust communication among FYW instructors, a series of workshops was set up by Assistant Director of FYW, Joyce Meier and in consultation with both Julie Lindquist, director, and Matt Novak, Lindquist’s graduate research assistant. These workshops offer FYW teachers an opportunity to share curriculum, learning outcomes, pedagogical methods, and tools.

The workshops were organized as a response to the survey Meier conducted among FYW faculty last fall, to ascertain subjects and areas of interest. Five fall workshops on various aspects of teaching writing were subsequently arranged, featuring the expertise of tenure track faculty in the department. This spring, there are now twice as many workshops, and some include fixed-term faculty and graduate instructors as facilitators. Meier links the growth to increased faculty involvement. “There are 60-70 first-year writing teachers. This is an opportunity for them to talk about what they do and where they diverge and bring in their own creative input,” she said. With topics ranging from Teaching with E-Tools (with James Davis and Terri Barry) to Sharing a Course Theme (with Marilee Brooks & Daisy Levy), there is no shortage of useful information for instructors.

Participation in these workshops is mutually beneficial for all FYW faculty. Instructors who sign up to present at a workshop receive feedback from fellow instructors on their presentations, who in turn gain insight and experience into specialized teaching materials and methods. All FYW faculty then walk away from these meetings with new ideas and fresh practices. And thousands of first-year writing students reap the benefits.

To learn more about these workshops, see the WRAC calendar for upcoming FYW workshops.

First-Year Writing Welcomes New Director

Photo by Julie Lindquist

This semester the First-Year Writing program (FYW) welcomed a new director, Dr. Julie Lindquist, who has a promising and unique vision for the program’s future.

At the center of Lindquist’s vision is the idea that good instruction in writing is enabled by teachers who continue to learn about what it means to teach, and who work in a dynamic professional community. Lindquist strives to create a viable community of teachers that offers support and nourishes conversation about teaching. “People who teach writing are doing important work, and we should make sure they have the resources they need to do this work,” she says. “These resources should include other teachers.”

Lindquist’s first priority is to create a dynamic pedagogical culture within WRAC, but she ultimately envisions a writing program that is nationally known for its approach to professional development.

Lindquist is assisted in program development and operations by Matt Novak, a third-year PHD student in Rhetoric and Writing. Novak, who has been appointed as Lindquist’s research assistant, is currently working on exploring possibilities for an online resource repository for teachers in WRAC. As part of this effort, Novak is researching models for such a repository by speaking to teachers and administrators across the country as well as to MSU faculty associated with the Writing in Digital Environments Center (WIDE). “For now, we’re looking at how we can make ANGEL–the course management system we’re currently working with– better serve the needs of teachers in WRAC.” says Lindquist. “But we hope to develop something more flexible, something with a capacity for discussion and networking as well as document storage.”

Lindquist is also working alongside Dr. Joyce Meier, who has recently been named assistant director of First-Year Writing. “Joyce brings a good deal of experience and vision to the position,” Lindquist said. “I’m very lucky to have her working with me.” This year, Meier has been busy organizing a series of workshops and conversation groups for writing faculty and meeting regularly with her colleagues to learn about the concerns of faculty charged with teaching first-year writing, and to advise teachers new to MSU on matters of curriculum and course delivery.

Lindquist, Novak, and Meier meet weekly to brainstorm ideas for program development, to identify areas for improvement, and to assess progress. The three of them also meet regularly with Jeff Grabill and Leonora Smith, faculty currently serving as mentors for graduate students teaching first-year writing, for the purposes of coordinating the mentoring experience for TAs.

More than anything, Lindquist thinks of her administrative position as pedagogical, and discovering what first-year writing faculty and students need is at the top of her priority list. “I want there to be a real investment in first-year writing by everyone involved in the program, and for there to be wide participation in decision-making,” Lindquist said.

While Lindquist says she has had to exchange her regular teaching load for administrative work, she still feels she is teaching–just in a different role. She continues, for example, to mentor teaching assistants. She also helps faculty and students teaching writing to solve problems related to teaching and learning writing, and to educate others at MSU and elsewhere about the mission and goals of the writing program.

For more information regarding the FYW program, visit the program’s website.

Faculty Profiles: New Fixed-Term Hires

Photo by Lauren Tuski

Dr. John Raucci

To put it simply, WRAC assistant professor Dr. John Raucci is incredibly excited to be here and to be teaching first year writing. Raucci began his education as a communication arts major at Allegheny College and went on to receive an MA in English at Clarion University, and finally on to his PHD in rhetoric and composition from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. What has driven him through it all is his desire to teach others and show them how fascinating the discipline of rhetoric can be. Raucci glows with praise for the students he’s involved with and for WRAC faculty: “The department is great and this is a very positive environment, where students and faculty alike can creatively engage with the community.” When not teaching, Raucci continues to revise his dissertation and work on an essay about autobiography and writing pedagogy for publication. Raucci brims with enthusiasm as he assures us he will be taking advantage of every opportunity MSU has to offer, including season football tickets.

Photo by Sara McKinnon

Professor Sara McKinnon

Professor Sara McKinnon comes to WRAC from Shawnee State University where she taught composition. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from The Ohio State University and an MA in English from Ohio University. Of her experience at WRAC, she says, “I love what [FYW] is doing with their curriculum. Everyone is doing interesting work, and I love being surrounded by that energy and excitement.” McKinnon is busy teaching WRA 140 Women in America and WRA 150 Evolution of American Thought and enjoys helping students “find their voice and feel more confident in their writing.” In her spare time, she is compiling her selected prose poems and lyric essays into a collection exploring suburban ennui.

Photo by Lauren Tuski

Dr. James Davis

Dr. James Davis joins the WRAC faculty as an assistant professor who thinks, “It’s nice to now be able to teach rhetoric in the fullest sense since I’ve always been housed in [other] departments.” Davis received a bachelors in English and education from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, a MA in American literature from the University of South Carolina, and a PHD from Georgia State University in American literature, and composition and rhetoric. He says that one of the most rewarding things about finally being able to teach at the college level is teaching students in his WRA 110 Science and Technology class to think more effectively, efficiently, and innovatively, saying, “I like seeing the lights on and not dimmed.” When not teaching, Davis is trying to decide where his dissertation on teaching students ongoing invention strategies needs to go as a publication. This fall he has also already submitted two literature articles for publication and is in the process of writing a popular culture article on the movie Transformers and an article about how rubrics impact student assessment.