Associate Professor of Mathematics and Director of Bucknell’s Writing Across the Curriculum Program, Lynn Breyfogle tells us about writing as a mathematics educator.
What writing project(s) are you working on right now?
I'm always working on several projects at a time, but the one closest to being finished is a research study about elementary teachers who participated in a summer workshop to improve their mathematics content knowledge and change their beliefs about mathematics and how to teach it. This is a collaboration with a current middle school mathematics teacher who earned her Master's degree from Bucknell.
What do you love about it?
There are two things that I love about the manuscript. The first is that it brings together research from a master's thesis about teachers' beliefs and my research on the shifting content knowledge of this same group of teachers. The second thing is that the study shows that the teachers did significantly change from participating in my summer workshop! I guess I also love that it is nearly done and ready to be sent off to a journal.
What about it (if anything) is driving you nuts?
It's frustrating to me when I know I want to work on the paper, but I just don't feel like I have the time. One thing I have found very helpful is to create a "writing accountability group"-- this group of colleagues gets together weekly to discuss our goals for our writing and help each other to stay accountable and work to our goals. It is so easy for me to prioritize other activities over my writing that I find this group of critical friends to be motivating and inspiring.
How would you describe your writing process?
Since I'm trained as a mathematician, I find myself very structured and organized, and I think a lot in graphics. What I mean by this is that when I first think about what I'm going to write, I begin with a diagram, something like a concept map. This helps me to brainstorm my ideas but also put them down in an organized fashion. Then I usually create an outline, which usually just has two or three words per line that identify the main idea for the parts of the paper, and the sub-bullets are the ideas of the paragraphs. Once I have an outline, I flesh out the text--sometimes working in order but other times working on the parts where I already know what to write. I read and revise as I work through it, often reorganizing paragraphs or sentences within sections. I probably spend most of my time in the revision stage. I ALWAYS send out my manuscripts to several of my mathematics teacher educator colleagues at other institutions for feedback and then revise and do final edits before sending the manuscripts to be considered for publication.
What kind of feedback on your writing do you find most helpful?
When I send out my manuscripts to my colleagues to provide feedback, I find it most helpful if they respond to prompts I've provided. I will send out my manuscripts at different phases. Sometimes I send it out early in my writing process and ask for my colleagues to consider my ideas and arguments. Other times I will ask them to look at the more global issues like organization and whether it makes sense or if they feel like something is missing or could be made stronger. If I believe the manuscript is nearly ready to be sent to a journal, then I will ask for editorial feedback that looks at more sentence level issues.
What would you like your students to know about you as a writer?
I continue to grow as a writer and improve. I find that the more I write, the easier it has become, but there's always room for improvement. As an undergraduate and graduate student, I didn't really use colleagues for feedback because I felt embarrassed to share my writing, but now I realize how silly that was because sharing my writing with peers is the best way to improve. I encourage you to use critical friends and writing center peer consultants!!