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:

Email questions off-list to Christina at


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.