Faculty Publications, Presentations, and Awards

Founded by artists in 1984, the Vermont Studio Center is the largest international artists' and writers' Residency Program in the United States, hosting 50 visual artists and writers each month from across the country and around the world.

Founded by artists in 1984, the Vermont Studio Center is the largest international artists’ and writers’ Residency Program in the United States, hosting 50 visual artists and writers each month from across the country and around the world.

Diane Josefowicz spent August 2014 working at the Vermont Studio Center, where she won a grant to support a month-long residency.

Ted Kehoe recently had a short story accepted by Ploughshares. He has also reviewed some books for Arts Fuse.

In September, at the invitation of poet April Bernard, Tony Wallace visited Skidmore College to read from The Old Priest and talk with creative writing students. His short story “Museum” is currently featured in the Fall / Winter edition of Alaska Quarterly Review. Tony’s short story “Do Not Use Quotation Marks to Indicate Irony” has received a Special Mention in the 2015 Pushcart Prize anthology.

In June, Holly Schaaf presented a paper about human-animal interactions in the work of Irish poets Moya Cannon and Mary Montague at the Ireland and Ecocriticism conference in Cork and in September gave an interdisciplinary invited talk about animal behavior and cognition at Marlboro College in Vermont. Both presentations grew out of her WRX course Imagining Animal Minds, which she taught in spring 2014 and will teach again in spring 2015.

Carrie Bennett recently published her poem “[Into the Long Night]” in Anchor Issue 2 and “Expedition Notes 1-4″ were published in Small Po[r]tions Issue 3. Expedition Notes 1-2 can be found in their Online Journal. They’re all part of a longer poetry project she’s been working on titled Expedition Notes: All four are part of the print journal and are being made into a poetry ephemera piece. And four more poems from Expedition Notes are forthcoming in Horse Less Press #18.

Graduate Writing Fellow Sarah Parrish contributed five catalogue entries to Art for Rollins: The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at Rollins College, Volume II (ed. Abigail Ross Goodman, Rollins College, forthcoming 2015). She also wrote 750-word analyses of all 34 artists in the exhibition catalogue Fiber: Sculpture 1960-Present (ed. Jenelle Porter, DelMonico Books/Prestel, September 2014). The accompanying exhibition is on view through January 4, 2015, at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston. Sarah took her WR100 “Crafting Culture” class to review the show for their second paper assignment and she hopes you’ll have a chance to check it out, too!

Esther Hu published an essay on Dr. Yeh Hsia-Ti, a former president of the National Taipei University of Education, in Yeh Hsia Ti Xiao Zhang Ji Nian Ji (President Yeh Hsia-Ti’s Memorial Collection) in Summer 2014 (Taipei: Hwa Kang Publishing, Chinese Culture University). “Reflections on Grandmother Yeh Hsia-Ti’s Life of Faith” includes English translation by Esther Hu of a dozen previously published Chinese sources.

In February 2014, Maria Zlateva presented a paper on pedagogical grammar in writing at the Writing Research Across Borders conference in Paris, France. In November 2014, she presented a paper on professionalization of writing faculty and also chaired a session on peer-editing and feedback in writing at the SSLW (Second Language Writing) conference at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.

Somy Kim‘s book chapter “Comedic Mediations: War and Genre in The Outcasts” was published this month in Humor in Middle Eastern Cinema with Wayne State University Press. She chaired the panel “Aesthetic Politics in Elite and Mass Culture” at the annual Middle Eastern Studies Association conference in Washington D.C. where she also participated in a roundtable discussion on using technology in the classroom.

Joelle Renstrom has published:

• “Why I Lied About My Age While Traveling,” Wherever Magazine (Fall 2014)

“Science Fiction and the Loss of Technology,” Screen/Read (Nov 2014)

“Almost Humane: What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war,” Slate (Oct 2014)

“How We Colonize Mars Is More Important Than When,” Slippage (Summer 2014)

“Sometimes the Magic Works: Challenging the One-Genre Myth,” Manifest Station (July 2014)

“Nothing To Worry About: On Living With Phobias,” The Toast (July 2014)

New Faculty 2014-15: Christopher McVey


It’s great to have you in the BU WP, Chris. How are you finding the move back east?

Although I grew up in the Boston area, I haven’t lived here since 2002, so it does feel very much like a homecoming. It’s been quite fun to visit places I remember from my past, such as the Brattle Book shop by the Boston Common, and I can’t wait to go ice skating on the Frog Pond again, or to watch the Boston Marathon in the spring.

What courses are you teaching?

This semester I’m teaching two versions of WR100. The first section, “Fictions of Control,” explores a range of dystopian fiction and film, including some classics such as 1984, and more contemporary texts like Dave Eggers’ The Circle and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. The second course, “Artistic Claims,” asks students to consider the complex relationship between art and politics, and we have gone on field trips to the MFA and Institute of Contemporary Art. Next semester I’m teaching a WR150 course on my primary area of research, twentieth-century modernism and the avant-garde.

As a first-year instructor what has been most helpful to know?

In all honesty, accidentally meeting new people in the copy room has been incredibly helpful. Holding them hostage while they wait for my copies to finish, I’ve learned a lot about how others approach both WR100 and WR150, as well as WR98. Not only is the diversity and talent of this program inspiring, but many have offered to send me their syllabi or portfolio assignments — models which have been quite useful to me as I start to get my feet wet.


Chris McVey received his PhD in English literature from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His dissertation, which he defended this spring, is titled “Syncretic Cosmopolitanism: Historiography, Nation, and Global Citizenship in Twentieth Century Literature.” 

New Faculty 2014-15: Soomin Jwa


Welcome to the BU WP, Soomin! How are you finding the move from Arizona to the east?

It’s been a great experience living in a big city like Boston. European styles of buildings, convenient transportation systems (what’s called the “T”), and the fresh, high quality seafood are some of the things that I’ve enjoyed the most. Just recently, I started to worry about the cold weather, so I’ve stocked up on new types of clothes at home such as knee socks, earmuffs, and water-proof weather boots, which I’d never thought I would ever need when I lived in Tucson, Arizona.

Can you share an interesting story from one of your classes or engagements with our colleagues?

As an ESL writing teacher, I try to keep in mind that lack of language proficiency may often belie the student’s creativity, intelligence, and even his/her inner voice. One of my Chinese students emailed me at the beginning of the semester, asking me to be patient while she tries to step outside her comfort zone. She was shy and silent in class, but her voice still existed in her writing, and later I could see her confidently speak out, participate in class discussion, and try to overcome her fear of public speech. It’s just amazing to see ESL students’ growth over the semester, and I feel honored as their teacher that I have been with them during their growth.


Soomin Jwa is receiving her PhD in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching from the University of Arizona. Her dissertation, which she defended this spring, is titled “Genre Knowledge Development: Tracing Trajectories of L2 Writers’ Transitions to Different Disciplinary Expectations in College Writing.”

What Can Your Terrier Card Do For You?

Do you know your BU ID number?  How often do you pull your ID out of your wallet?  For many faculty the answer is ‘not often.’ Other than collecting T-passes and checking out library books, the BU ID may seem like just another piece of plastic. But I am here to tell you about the hidden power of your BU ID, otherwise known as your Terrier Card.

All full-time employees have the option of activating the Terrier Convenience Plan, which is a super convenient way of paying for purchases on campus with your Terrier Card everywhere from vending machines to the Marciano Commons Dining Hall just downstairs from your own office.  Not only is the Terrier Card convenient, but it can also save you money. For instance, buying lunch at Marciano Commons would cost $11 in cash, but only costs $8.80 in points, and these charges are deducted from your paycheck prior to taxes, making it a greater savings. Faculty are also eligible for a 10% discount at City Convenience stores and, since you have to show your card to get the discount, you might as well pay for your purchase with the card too.


According to the BU Dining services website

The Terrier Convenience Plan is a payroll deduction program for purchases made on campus with your Terrier Card. The Terrier Card is accepted at all on-campus Dining Services locations, City Convenience stores, most vending machines, many retail dining locations (including Starbucks), and Barnes & Noble at Boston University.  You simply use your Terrier Card instead of cash or a credit card for meals, snacks, books, and vending purchases in select machines. These purchases will be deducted from your pay on a monthly or weekly schedule.

Benefits of the Terrier Convenience Plan include the following:  convenience (of course), no need to carry cash or credit cards on campus, no cash up front, no hidden fees, no interest charges, and the ability to keep track of your purchases online via the Employee Link.

You can enroll in the Terrier Convenience Plan through BUWorks Central (go to the Employee Self-Service (ESS) section and select Campus Services) or in person at the Terrier Card Office, George Sherman Union, Lower Level, 775 Commonwealth Avenue, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The Terrier Convenience Plan is a payroll deduction plan for purchases made on campus with your Terrier Card. It is easy to use and you don’t have to keeping running to the ATM in order to buy a quick cup of coffee, a sandwich, or the latest paperback at the bookstore. 

Charges are reflected as a single line deduction on your paystub. If you sign up for the Terrier Convenience Plan and don’t use your Terrier Card for purchases during a payroll period, there will be no deductions from your paycheck.  When you enroll, you set up a purchase/spending limit. If you are paid once a month, you can purchase up to $400 a month; if you are paid once a week, you can purchase up to $100 a week. You can change your spending limit via BU Works Central.


While I am on the subject, I would like to put in a plug for eating at Marciano Commons. This dining facility is set up as a series of food stations including vegan, gluten free, international, pizza, pasta, burgers, sandwiches and a salad bar. The food is always good, interesting, and varied. I like being able to ask for small portions of many different types of food – I don’t know when else I would have tried sweet and sour tempeh. The location of the dining hall could not be more convenient, and at $8.80 for all you care to eat of a wide variety of foods, eating lunch on campus has become much tastier and easier. 

Performing the X


On Friday, December 5th, Carrie Bennett and Jessica Bozek‘s WRX students performed poems and 10-minute plays written for their respective seminars: “Writing the Play” and “Poetry Now.” Carrie and Jessica’s WRX seminars combine creative writing to help augment their students’ critical writing and facilitate collaborative engagement with assigned readings.


Databases to Inspire


As many of us gear up for WR150 or, perhaps, start thinking about teaching a new theme next fall, Ken Liss has shared a few BU databases that might help you next semester or inspire you in designing a new class…

American Film Scripts Online

This database not only has over 1,000 scripts, but also includes facsimile images of original screenplays with handwritten notes and annotations from films like Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Charlie Chaplin’s Gold Rush.

AP Images

The database from the Associated Press includes a treasure trove of images as well as audio sound bites, graphics, and text.

The Berg Fashion Library

Interested in textiles, art history, theatre, or anthropology? This database includes not only images, articles, but also searchable ebooks on anything fashion-related.

The Database of the Vanderbilt Television News Archive

The focus on this archive is on “creating, preserving and providing access from the U.S. national television networks” and so this database as been recording news broadcasts since August 5, 1968. The collection has newscasts from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox News, but it is also worth taking note that this collection includes all of the commercials that appeared with the original broadcasts.

Ethnic NewsWatch

A social science database that includes journals, magazines, and newspapers from ethnic and minority presses. Ethnicities include: African American/Caribbean/African; Arab/Middle Eastern; Asian/Pacific Islander; European/Eastern European; Hispanic; Jewish; Native People. And along with the current collection of “Ethnice NewsWatch” (1990-present) – there is also an archive called “Ethnic NewsWatch: A History” which spans from 1959 to 1989.

rock’s backpages

This database calls itself the “online library of pop writing,” but the archive actually covers all genres of popular music (from “rockabilly to hip hop”). It has over 25,000 pieces of music journalism that span the last 50 years.

Roper Center: Public Opinion Archives

Specializing in data from surveys of public opinion since the 1930s, this database primarily focuses on the United States, but over 50 other countries are represented. For a sense of just how deep these archives are – there are more than 20,500 questions on education since 1936 and over 12,300 questions on Terrorism since 1966.

Tandem Teaching Demo: The Introduction


Tom Underwood


Marisa Milanese

Building upon the peer-to-peer observations that we’ve been doing over the past couple of years, we’re introducing a new opportunity to see teaching in action: tandem teaching demonstrations. In each brief demonstration (around 30 minutes), two instructors will demonstrate how they teach different components of argument in a real classroom setting (but with an interactive audience of colleagues in lieu of students). We are doing this not to compare one instructor to the other—or even to try to model excellent teaching— but to demonstrate different approaches to the same content. As with the peer-to-peer observations, the basic goal is relatively simple: seeing how others teach can inform the choices you make in your classroom. We’ll also be recording some of the demos and posting the videos on WPNet with the corresponding handouts.

On November 19th Marisa Milanese and Tom Underwood kicked off the series with a presention on the introduction. Upcoming demos include: teaching acknowledgment/response; annotating and analyzing text; and research skills. We’re looking for more volunteers, so if you’re interested in doing a teaching demo, please email Marisa (milanese@bu.edu).

Chris Walsh’s Cowardice: A Brief History


From the Publisher’s Page (Princeton University Press):

Coward. It’s a grave insult, likely to provoke anger, shame, even violence. But what exactly is cowardice? When terrorists are called cowards, does it mean the same as when the term is applied to soldiers? And what, if anything, does cowardice have to do with the rest of us? Bringing together sources from court-martial cases to literary and film classics such as Dante’s Inferno, The Red Badge of Courage, and The Thin Red Line, Cowardice recounts the great harm that both cowards and the fear of seeming cowardly have done, and traces the idea of cowardice’s power to its evolutionary roots. But Chris Walsh also shows that this power has faded, most dramatically on the battlefield. Misconduct that earlier might have been punished as cowardice has more recently often been treated medically, as an adverse reaction to trauma, and Walsh explores a parallel therapeutic shift that reaches beyond war, into the realms of politics, crime, philosophy, religion, and love.

Yet, as Walsh indicates, the therapeutic has not altogether triumphed—contempt for cowardice endures, and he argues that such contempt can be a good thing. Courage attracts much more of our attention, but rigorously understanding cowardice may be more morally useful, for it requires us to think critically about our duties and our fears, and it helps us to act ethically when fear and duty conflict.

Richly illustrated and filled with fascinating stories and insights, Cowardice is the first sustained analysis of a neglected but profound and pervasive feature of human experience.


“Walsh’s well-written and wide-ranging study of cowardice offers some valuable insights into one of the military’s–and society’s–last taboos.”Australian

“In Cowardice, Chris Walsh, associate director of the College of Arts and Sciences Writing Program at Boston University, provides a fresh and fascinating examination of the use of the term on–and off–the primal theater of cowardice, the battlefield. Drawing on research in evolutionary biology as well as an informed interpretation of American history and literature, Walsh analyzes the relationship between courage and cowardice, the tendency to characterize men and not women as cowards, and the distinction between physical and moral cowardice. Most important, Walsh argues, provocatively and persuasively, that over the past century the idea of cowardice has faded in significance, especially in military settings, and reappeared with somewhat different connotations.”–Glenn Altschuler, Psychology Today

“Given the pervasiveness of this feeling in our culture, it’s somewhat astonishing that Walsh’s book appears to be the only full-length study of cowardice in existence. Fortunately, he’s packed a tremendous amount into 190 pages. The book offers a brisk survey of how the word has infiltrated our cultural notions of valor, and draws on authors ranging from Aristophanes to Dante to Stephen Crane, and philosophers from Confucius to Kierkegaard.”–Steve Almond, Salon

“[A] lively commentary on the concept of cowardice. . . . Chris Walsh deftly unpicks the competing moral codes underpinning notions of cowardice and its opposite, courage.”–Joanna Bourke, Literary Review

More reviews

Table of Contents:

Introduction 1
Chapter 1 Profiles in Cowardice: A Shadow History of the Home of the Brave 23
Chapter 2 Of Arms and Men 45
Chapter 3 The Ways of Excessive Fear 77
Chapter 4 Duty-Bound 100
Chapter 5 The Rise of the Therapeutic 131
Chapter 6 So Long a File: Cowardice Away from War 165
Acknowledgments 195
Notes 199
Bibliography 249
Illustration Credits 277
Index 281

Faculty Collaborations


Sam Myers and Seth Blumenthal

Faculty coffee hour has been a great opportunity to meet with colleagues, share stories, and break bread with those who know what it’s like to do your work. We are a large program so meeting one another in smaller settings like this one can lead to some fruitful exchanges. We invite you to come and have some coffee with us. So, keep an eye on future dates through the listserv!


Sarah Hanselman, Kim Shukra-Gomez, and Tony Wallace walking on Bay State Rd.


Sarah Hanselman

The Fall 2014 WRX faculty met at the BU Pub this past month to discuss their courses. Along with sharing the latest of their WRX experiences, they ate, drank, and talked about the various stages in their experiments. Tony tells us that Theater Now faculty and students recently attended the project’s 36th live performance, a CFA production of two one-acts staged in the BU Theatre. As the most recent effect of the WRX initiatives, Gwen and Carrie told the group about the new Alternative Genre category in the WR journal. The WR journal will now be including an alternative genre category that will accept forms of writing that do not conform to the conventions of the traditional academic essay. Mostly, however, the faculty connected in an informal way, catching up and sharing their experiences.

CAS Award for Distinction in First-Year Undergraduate Education


This past May the College awarded our very own Maria Gapotchenko and David Shawn a College of Arts & Sciences Award for Distinction in First-Year Undergraduate Education. 

In addition to teaching in the program, Maria and David have co-coordinated the Writing Center since the fall of 2006. Under their leadership, the Writing Center has emerged as an integral component of our program. Through their work, they have enhanced all of our classes and have helped thousands of students.

We thank Maria and David for their exceptional service and dedication to the Writing Program, BU, and the student body.

Newsworthy Notes


We have been a productive bunch this past year with publications, babies, and awards springing from the creativity of our department members. We also say goodbye to some colleagues and students and wish them well in their future endeavors.

The Writing Program welcomed three new babies this year:

Eva Patricia Kehoe born to Ted and Mandi Kehoe  on December 3

Walt Dyer Barents born to Kevin and Brandy Barents on March 15

Theodore Nelson Prentice born to Jason and Jennifer Prentice on April 11

Your summer reading should include these books and articles recently published by our colleagues:

Poems from Jason Tandon‘s latest collection, Quality of Life (Black Lawrence Press 2013), have recently appeared in Esquire, Spoon River Poetry Review, Natural Bridge, Passages North, Poet Lore, and The Southampton Review. His reviews of contemporary American poetry have also appeared in AGNI online, Harvard Review online, and Pleiades.

In September, Elizabeth Stevens published her book Make Art Make Money – Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career, and had an article, “Millenials Don’t Get It: How the Muppets Created Generation X,” featured in Salon in April.

Joelle Renstrom became a staff writer for Giant Freakin Robot and has had numerous pieces published, including  “Here’s How to Convince the Public That We Need to Invest in Space Exploration,” in Slate (Jan 2014).

Diane Greco-Josefowicz published “The Last of the Nuba”  in the Spring 2014 edition of the Saint Ann’s Review.

In April, Chris Walsh published two essays:  “The Execution of Private Slovik, 40 Years Later” in the LA Review of Books and “Boston Marathon Bombing, One Year Later: Were the Tsarnaevs Really Cowards?” in Salon.

Joe Bizup edited and revised the 11th edition of Joseph Williams’s Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (2013) and the 5th edition of Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace (2014).

Jessica Bozek published her second book of poetry The Tales (Les Figues Press 2013).

We are all proud of the awards and achievements of our colleagues this past year:

At the annual November conference on Jack the Ripper organized by the Whitechapel Society and the Belfast Titanic Museum Martin Fido was given the first Achievement Award for work on the history of the Whitechapel Murders.

In December, Michelle Hoover won an NEA Creative Writing Fellowship in Prose.

Tony Wallace won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize in September, 2013 and on April 6th Tony  was honored as one of three 2014 finalists for the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction for his short story collection The Old Priest.

On May 7th, Maria Gapotchenko and David Shawn will receive a College of Arts & Sciences Award for Distinction in First-Year Undergraduate Education.

Bill Skocpol, Professor of Physics (and WR150 K2 “The Evolution of Computers”) is looking forward to his promotion to Emeritus, effective June 1st.

Best Wishes to our Outgoing Members:

Emily Goldstein left in December to pursue a new job at Harvard University.

Michelle Hoover will leave BU for the Fannie Hurst Writer-in-Residence program at Brandeis University beginning in the fall.

Full-time lecturer and former graduate writing fellow Seth Blumenthal graduated last May (2013) with his PhD in History.

Part-time lecturer and former graduate writing fellow Ingrid Anderson graduated this past January with her PhD in Religious Studies.

Full-time lecturer and former graduate writing fellow Holly Schaaf graduated this past January with her PhD in English.

Part-time lecturer and former graduate writing fellow Ulrike Praeger will graduate this May with her PhD in Musicology.

Part-time lecturer and former graduate writing fellow Brian Sirman will graduate this May with his PhD in American and New England Studies.

Senior Undergraduate writing fellows who are graduating include:

Kristina King
Gill Ober
Miriam Bachman
Jesse Crane
Christopher Fitzgibbon
Stephen Krawec (graduated in December)


WP Faculty in the Press


Thomas Oller’s jazz class uses music as a universally accessible subject. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

Tom Oller’s innovative Jazz Now! course was featured in the February 27th issue of BU Today.

David Shawn was featured in The Daily Free Press about the needs of ESL students and their use of Writing Centers. The article considers a variety of viewpoints about the ESL students’ use of Writing Centers.

Tony Wallace was recognized in BU Today for being a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award for Best Debut Fiction.




Welcoming Adam

By Sarah Campbell

Everyone knows Adam. He’s our official greeter, helper, and Senior Staff Assistant at the CAS Writing Program’s headquarters. Adam joined us just three months ago in late January. He already has us figured out (names, dates, classes, and so on), but we may not know all about him. First of all, his whole name is Adam Znideric—Slovenian version of the German Schneider—so the Z is an S is English.


Adam Znideric

The Facebook facts are that Adam is a dog person, especially malamutes or collies, and he likes reading, photography, military history (the War of the Roses, for example), walking (or rambling), and traveling.

Adam, as you can tell from his accent and funny ways of saying things (chalk ‘n cheese or bits and bobs and sweets for candy) that he’s not a native Bostonian; he’s from the UK, more precisely, a small town called Mossley in Lancashire just outside of Manchester.

Adam knows his way around the world of university administration having worked at Manchester Metropolitan University where he dealt with cases of plagiarism among others duties. Now he’s settling into our microcosm of the university administration world here with Dan, Alyssa, and so on.


Mossley, Lancashire

He came to Boston to marry Sharon, his online best friend, and is slowly getting used to our American ways. He likes the fact that both Mossley and Boston have varied architecture,neo classical and modern, “jammed together.” But he does sorely miss aspects of British life: Lancashire cheese, Yorkshire Puddings, the English countryside, free health care, British TV and full English breakfasts.

So welcome Adam! We’re very glad you’re here.

Presenting at the CCCC 2014



Interview with Melanie Smith

1. Could you tell us about the theme of the CCCC this year?

The national Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) is an opportunity for writing teachers at all levels to meet and share knowledge, practice and research. This year’s conference was held in Indianapolis from March 18 – 22 and the theme was Open Source(s), Access and Futures.

2. What was the topic of your panel and paper?

I was one of four instructors on the panel, “Fail Better, Write Better: Making Use of Failure in the Composition Classroom.” Steve Himmer, a professor at Emerson College and member of BRAWN (Boston Rhetoric and Writers Network), asked me to participate after I shared the “Inner Critic” paper that I assign WR 100 students at midterm. Steve was looking for exercises or practices that help students frame failure as an opportunity to become better writers.

The Inner Critic exercise invites students to express the critical voice that distorts their shortcomings as writers and typically gets loudest the night before a paper is due. Students invite the critic to sound off, then respond, using reasons and evidence to make the case for their own progress. Students love the creative aspect of this assignment, and I like not having to read another academic paper!

In the panel I talked not only about the assignment, but also about themes that consistently emerge in student essays. The “Inner Critic” seems at first pass to be disparaging, but on closer look one finds it is often protective. He or she worries about losing scholarship money, not getting into graduate school, and disappointing parents. ESL worries include limited vocabulary and fear of sounding “stupid.”  These kinds of concerns dampen creativity, encourage students to “play it safe,” and often generate disabling writer’s block.

Something about “talking back” to the Inner Critic helps students correct distorted thinking and put grades in their proper perspective. This isn’t to say that grades are unimportant, but rather to underscore the message that grades are about what you do, not who you are. And you can always improve what you do.

The perfectionists are able to ease up because they see that they can deploy the critic in service of their goals; the anxious students can laugh at their dragons; the ESL students gain an ally in the teacher. And all students are – after the exercise – better positioned to tackle the last and most challenging essay.

The other presenters on my panel talked about deliberately inducing failure to reframe the revision process as an integral part of writing; writing about the topic of failure; and being willing, as instructors, to model a healthy response to failure by talking openly with students about something we planned that didn’t go quite right.

3. What were some interesting panels you attended while at the CCCC?

I attended two panels of note, one on BEAM by our own Joe Bizup and another on “plagiarism in an increasingly open-source world.” Joe’s panel talked about creative ways to use the BEAM (background-exhibit-argument-model) taxonomy not only in straightforward writing classes, but writing in the disciplines (e.g., in chemistry papers, business memos, etc.).

The plagiarism panel framed poor attribution as a problem associated not with a student’s willingness to cheat, but rather a lack of knowledge about how to appropriately use sources. I like attending an event that gives me stuff I can take when I leave – I was scribbling away at a list of ideas about how to use what I had learned. And of course I had the chance to meet a lot of interesting teachers, who gave me an even greater appreciation of our own WP.

4. What was the highlight of your experience?

The highlight of my experience was the five-minute spot immediately following my panel when I was able to pause, mentally, and let it sink in that I had just given my first conference presentation and to reflect on what it means to work in Boston University’s Writing Program, with its excellent faculty and generous leadership. I realized that a good mentor is someone who knows when to prod a mentee, to get them to take a step to the next level – to undertake work that the mentee might not do otherwise. The Writing Program offers many opportunities and role models for this kind of development, including the handful of faculty who listened to a dry run of my presentation and suggested ways to make it better, and Joe Bizup, who sat in on my panel and asked me some great probing questions.

5. What will you do with the feedback?
The Inner Critic exercise will likely be the focus of an action research project in the WP.  A faculty group has been meeting informally to discuss better meeting the needs of ESL students. We are thinking about asking students to describe the way they learn in their first writing assignment of the semester, a self-assessment that gets at their perceived strengths and weaknesses as writers. We are thinking about how to use the self-assessment, together with the Inner Critic exercise at mid-semester, to gauge not only what students are learning, but how they are learning. This project may offer a new way into understanding ESL student needs, stepping back from sentence-level mechanics, which are the dominant focus, to a broader view of students as unique learners. The goal is, of course, to become more effective teachers.


ESL Full-Day Faculty Seminar: May 13th


By Christina Michaud

Though we miss the able leadership of Maria Z., the ESL part of the Writing Program marches on! This year we’ve been having discussion groups and workshops on various topics 4-6 times a semester. We feel strongly that everyone in the Writing Program–not just those of us with formal training and/or ESL-specific experience–is called to teach the intelligent, world-traveling, multilingual writers in our classrooms, and we would like to do whatever we can to help you in that task.

With the growing numbers of international students at BU, we are all becoming de facto ESL teachers as students move from WR 097 and 098 into WR 100 and 150. We therefore invite you to join us for a special one-day faculty seminar in May, after portfolios are finished and grades are filed, but before everyone scatters for the summer. Following the innovative and successful Arts Now model, and applying it to current research on multilingual writers, we present:

ESL Now: A Faculty Seminar — Tuesday, May 13, 9:00-3:00.

Readings will be drawn from the most recent three issues of the Journal of Second Language Writing (yes, there is one!) and will highlight the following topics, among others: corpus-based linguistics, collaborative writing, metacognition, linguistic accuracy, and cluster analysis. Generally, these articles are very accessible: no previous knowledge of or experience with ESL or linguistics is assumed. We’ll discuss what, exactly, it means to be teaching “second language writing” here, in our particular WR 100 and 150 classes, and how we can take pieces of this scholarship and return with it to our classes in September.

We’re going to try a different format for this faculty seminar: instead of meeting four times, each for an hour and a half, we will meet for six hours in one day (with a few breaks; Joe promised the Writing Program might be able to spring for lunch) for a sort of ESL “bootcamp” experience. (Also, if you haven’t yet attended a Faculty Seminar this year, this is your last chance to earn the generous $200 book stipend!) This should be a friendly, intellectual, bootcamp, though, if that makes sense, and we hope the scheduling allows for a diverse group of faculty to join us. Whether you have made it some or all of our “ESL Transfer of Knowledge” sessions last fall, or have attended the ESL Discussion Group this spring, or haven’t been able to get to any of those meetings, given the constraints of teaching and grading and life and time, we hope you’ll join us now.

Use Doodle to sign up here: http://doodle.com/hizb5nkikwaw6vur

Email questions off-list to Christina at cmichaud@bu.edu.

The “X” factor

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 11.57.16 AM

By Sarah Madsen Hardy and Gwen Kordonowy

This month, as the end of the spring semester approached, faculty teaching experimental “WRX” sections attended one of two coffee hours to share ideas and experiences. Enthusiasm ran high. As one attendee commented as she headed out the door, “I think that is the happiest bunch of writing teachers I have ever seen.”

Since teaching WRX sections gives instructors leeway to break away from the typical assignment sequence and pilot some of their own ideas, you might think that there would be little overlap in experiments and experiences. And it’s true: the diversity of innovations—from asking students to write from the perspective of a species that they’ve researched (Holly Schaaf’s “Imagining Animal Minds”) to having them develop a single independent research project over the course of a term (Sam Meyers’ “Burning Questions”)—is striking. Yet, time and again, instructors were excited to see connections between their experiences and the larger goals of their curricular experiments.

One similarity across nearly all of the WRX150 sections is the integration of an assignment that asks students to translate their research into another genre. Just some of the alternative genres being explored by students in WRX classes this semester include websites (Prentice/Gomez), online tours of local architectural sites (Robbins), literature reviews (Bennett-Zendzian/Goss), public intellectual essays (Madsen Hardy/Kordonowy), reports and posters (Breen). In conversations during these coffee hours, faculty emphasized the ways in which their students seem to be developing a better sense of audience and occasion as they tackle these assignments.

Another common thread in these discussions had to do with the place and parameters of research in the assignment sequence. In many WRX classes, breaking away from the three-paper rhythm is allowing for a greater emphasis on student-driven inquiries. This greater freedom has led to some moments of panic for students and instructors alike. But as Dora Goss put it, “Panic is good!”⎯when it is brought on by allowing students to pursue ideas with passion. Instructors ranged from merely excited to positively ecstatic about the level of work their students are producing.

What is making our WRX instructors so happy? Since, as everyone knows, so many instructors in our program take innovative approaches in their standard courses, and since students learn in inspiring and transferable ways across the Writing Program’s classes, maybe the most unique thing that the WRX initiative is offering its instructors is a way to collaborate, to share their innovations, and to learn from each other.

Original Research

Cover of report

By Sarah Madsen-Hardy

As part of Deb Breen’s WRX 150 class on Mobilities this term, students did research at the library—but not the kind one might expect. Her students made Mugar the object of study by designing a collaborative research project around how, when, and why people use the space. Students devised their own methodology – including observations, interviews, and surveys (using BU’s new survey platform, Qualtrics) – and then wrote their findings in several genres.

On March 23, the class presented its research to a captive audience of Mugar librarians. The main act was an impeccably paced PowerPoint featuring charts, graphs, and an embedded video that students created. The class also presented a bound report on its findings to Tom Casserly, Head of Reference and Instructional Services, and unveiled a poster that will be displayed on the first floor of the library. In her introduction to the presentation, Deb said she was “very proud of what the students achieved,” and praised them for their initiative and willingness to work together to complete the project.

Next year, Karen Bourrier will work with Deb and adapt this kind of experiential research assignment to her own WRX 150 topic. She is planning to ask her students to devise a study of accessibility on campus as part of a class on Disability.


The WR150 students presented their original research to the Mugar librarians.

Teaching Steampunk


Interview with Jade Luiz

1. Your course is called “A Past That Never Was: Steampunk and the Reimagining of the Victorian Future.” What does it mean?

When looking through Steampunk media or talking to members of the Steampunk community, you often hear an offhand definition of Steampunk as “the past that never was.” Another easy definition for people is that Steampunk is “Victorian Science Fiction” which, as my students will tell you, is not entirely correct. I wanted some of the big questions that we grapple with in class to relate to what Steampunk is, what it is doing, why it has grown in popularity in the last ten years, and what relationship it has (if any) to Victorian culture. A way that we are looking at this is by thinking about what Victorian Science Fiction (particularly projections of the future, such as H.G. Wells The Time Machine) actually look like, and how Steampunk is the same or different.

2. Could you describe an exercise that’s gone over particularly well in this class?

The exercise that I consistently find works well is a reverse outline of an advanced paper draft (usually draft two). I use this in draft workshops at the end of “conveyor belt” editing when papers are as far from their writers as possible and the person doing the reverse outline is anonymous. I find that students sometimes have problems reverse outlining their own papers because they unconsciously fill in the gaps in their arguments. Seeing the outline someone else has made of their paper, however, is very eye-opening for most students.

3. What have you found most challenging in teaching this course?

Definitely the most challenging thing I’ve encountered is finding a balance between discussing background information and doing writing exercises. This is especially hard at the beginning when we are starting from square one and at the end when we are discussing really contentious and fascinating issues like colonialism, multiculturalism, and gender and identity. The debate gets heated and interesting and it is really hard to stop them and switch focus to writing issues.

4. Are there any innovations/methods/technologies you would like to recommend to your colleagues?

I have found that venturing into blogs, message boards, and other non-academic writing helps provides real-world context for the elements of Steampunk culture that we discuss in class. I also interviewed a number of active Steampunks at a convention using a combination of my own questions and questions provided by my students which my classes have found very useful. The candid, varied perspectives demonstrate that, despite the rising academic interest in Steampunk culture, there are many underrepresented approaches, and that the research questions that they ask are valid. Methodologically, I would recommend exploring non-traditional venues of academic argumentation. While many of my students have been intimidated by academic literature (especially when it comes to background information), they develop confidence in their authority interacting with less formalized sources. It really allows an in depth discussion of why academic sources are important in formal research as well, since biases and lack of citation are blatantly obvious in items like blog posts.

5. What has been one of your proudest moments in teaching this course?

My most proud moments are when I find a way to get writing concepts through to struggling students. I made a breakthrough with one student who was having issues with linking arguments, and who was allowing competing, extraneous information to derail his arguments, by equating paper structure to sitting down to build something with a tub of mixed up Lego pieces (there are parts in it to build a plane, but you aren’t building a plane, you’re building a house, so you have to pull those out). The analogy worked for him on different levels, but the expression on his face when he finally (visually) understood what the comments I had been making on his drafts meant will forever warm the cockles of my heart – and as a further perk, his final paper was a solid, academic essay.