Friday, November 14, 2014

Laura Lanwermeyer, Assistant Director of the Teaching and Learning Center, on writing to communicate effectively with a range of readers

Laura Lanwermeyer is the friendly face of learning@bucknell.edu.

What writing project(s) are you working on right now?
Like many writing projects, those in my job involve clearly communicating a purpose and a rationale to a specific audience and require a lot of reflection. For instance, at Susquehanna University, I teach an education course for science majors who are planning to become certified teachers that they take before student teaching. For that class, I write curricula that need to function as a model for how I want my students to learn to write curricula. How can I clearly communicate to my students exactly what I expect? Can I anticipate problems and revise my materials to prevent them? How can I teach my students to do that in their own writing of assignments, labs, tests, etc.? One way is by showing them drafts of my course materials, and discussing and evaluating the changes that I’ve made over time. I also ask them to reflect with me after each assignment, “how could that have been written better to make it clearer to you what you needed to accomplish to be successful?” This interaction leads naturally to a workshop-type environment with their own work as well, where we read and write to clarify our purpose to our audiences, whether it’s a principal or a middle school science student.

I also run the Student Learning Support programs at Bucknell. In that role, my writing projects are focused around communicating with professors, my student staff, and the students who participate in my programs. Balancing a welcoming tone with serious content can be a challenge.

What do you love about it?
I love that while my materials probably won’t ever become “perfect,” they almost always get better as I continue to reflect and work on them.

What kind of feedback on your writing do you find most helpful?
I really appreciate both emotional and technical feedback on my writing. If I’ve made a grammatical or spelling error, I definitely want to know! But more useful in some ways, and harder to gauge, is the emotional impact. Was information presented in a clear and relevant way to increase interest? Were connections or themes, as well as details or examples, both obvious and significant?  Was the assignment’s purpose and structure clear enough to make you feel empowered to do what was asked of you? Was it encouraging and helpful? Did it make you want to continue working and/or communicating? Those are some of my most important goals.

What would you like students to know about you as a writer?
When I worked as a full time teacher, I considered myself only a writer of curricula, not a “real” writer. But in my job now, I sometimes write 10+ document pages of email content every day to students, staff, faculty, and administrators. I want that writing to be useful, clear, and positive. Everybody writes, and so everybody is a writer. It doesn’t have to be something destined for publication to be important, and it is all worthy of continued reflection. 

 For more information about Laura and the Teaching and Learning Center, see



Monday, September 22, 2014

Erica Delsandro on writing as revising and the never-ending work of critical thinking

Erica Delsandro, 
Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies

What writing project(s) are you working on right now?
I am working on what seems like a never-ending revision of an article.  It was a dissertation chapter so I needed to cut over twenty pages and focus my argument.  Precision is not my forte, so this has been a challenge.  I also just finished a session proposal for a conference I hope to attend next November.  That was a bit easier but also called for precision.

What do you love about it?
What I love about the chapter I am turning into an article is the close readings of the text I offer.  I believe they provide a new way to read the novel that in turn forces readers and critics alike to understand the novel -- and its place in literary history -- differently.  It has been fun to incorporate the author's satire and humor into my argument, unpacking the humor for my readers and poking fun at the author as well.

What about it (if anything) is driving you nuts?
What is driving me nuts is that it *still* is not finished!

How would you describe your writing process?
My writing process is slow.  I write a great deal, and I tend to verbosity.  So I write and write and write.  Then revise and revise and revise.  I suppose I would say my writing process is actually a revision process.  It is in the revision process, at least for me, that the *work* of critical thinking and critical writing really happens.

What kind of feedback on your writing do you find most helpful?
There are two types of feedback I find most helpful.  Early in the writing process, I benefit from talking about my project: reading my first draft out loud with someone and talking about the ideas, the claims, and the structure.  The global issues.  Later in process, when I've gotten my writing in a more manageable form, I like to read it out loud with a pencil, working closely at the sentence level, making sure my form facilitates my content, especially on the sentence level.
  
What would you like your students to know about you as a writer?
That writing for me *is* revising.  In other words, I never hand in my first draft!


Erica Delsandro received her doctoral degree in English Literature from Washington University in St. Louis in 2011 with a dissertation entitled “National History and the Novel in 1930s Britain.”  She also received an M.A. in English Literature from Bucknell University in 2005 and a B.A. with honors in English Literature and History from Bucknell in 2002.

Erica’s research interests coalesce around the interwar novel in Britain, gender and national identity, and the intersection of historiography and literature.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Abe Feuerstein on writing to reconcile educators’ experiences with theories about assessment and accountability

Associate Professor of Education Abe Feuerstein

What writing project(s) are you working on right now?

I’m currently in the middle of a project that is examining department chairs’ views of academic assessment in a local college.  Academic assessment has become an important focus in higher education as some educational leaders have begun to question whether students are really learning what we think they are. This was a subject that I worked on a lot over the last 4-5 years as an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, and now I’m trying to take a step back from that direct involvement and understand better the experience of those individuals who have the direct responsibility for implementing various systems for assessing student learning within their departments.

What do you love about it?

I have enjoyed talking with the chairs about their work. Through our conversations I have been able to get new insights in the challenges posed by assessment and the various ways that departments have sought to address those challenges.  I like the way the project is forcing me reconcile the experiences of the chairs with more overarching theories that seek to explain the growing emphasis on accountability in organizations ranging from schools to prisons.

What about it (if anything) is driving you nuts?

The analysis of the data itself can become fairly tedious.  Looking at the transcripts of my interviews for common themes takes a long time, and I sometimes find myself losing focus. So, while I like knowing what people think, having to characterize that thinking in a systematic and defensible way is a really tough job.

How would you describe your writing process?

Generally, I’m someone who likes to start with the general and work toward the specific.  In my writing this sometimes means spending a lot of time considering the general context of the issue that I am trying to write about before getting to the specific question that I want to explore. While this is really good for my thinking, it doesn’t always work for a typical chapter or journal article, so I end up cutting a lot of that material later in the process after I’ve clarified the focus of the piece.  

What kind of feedback on your writing do you find most helpful?

I’ve really benefited from reading my work out loud to someone (often Peg Cronin in the Writing Center) who is willing to listen and ask questions. The questions asked by a listener often show me where I have left my audience in the lurch and have more explaining to do.  This is particularly true with transitions, where I am prone to jump from one topic to another thinking that the relationship between the ideas is clear even when it’s not. Having a listener say that she doesn’t understand how I got from point A to point B is helpful because it makes me think more clearly about that relationship and how to explain it.   I also find that reading things out loud helps me to think more about the overall structure of the article and helps me to find grammatical errors and typos.

What would you like students to know about you as a writer?

I would like students to know that I work very hard at my writing because it does not come naturally to me. When I was in college, I received some really mean- spirited feedback about my writing from a professor, and I found it to be paralyzing.  Since then, I’ve learned how to parse mean-spirited feedback from feedback that is meant to help my writing and my thinking improve, and I focus on the latter. I think students would be well advised to take a similar approach -- try to focus on what is actionable in the comments provided by your professors.  Try to pay attention to what the reader thinks could be made better (even if it is hard to hear) and let the mean-spirited comments go.


Abe Feuerstein studies issues related to local educational politics, interest groups, and school reform. He started teaching at Bucknell University in the fall of 1996. After gaining tenure in 2002,he served for six years as chair of Bucknell’s Education Department. He then served as Associate Dean of Faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences between 2008 and 2013. He holds a Ph.D. and M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Virginia. Prior to teaching at Bucknell, he worked in both private and public schools as a chemistry teacher and school administrator.