ENGL079 Week 1 Lecture

Writing Anxiety

At some time in a person’s life, nearly everyone experiences writing anxiety. It can start due to a bad grade on a prior assignment. Unfamiliarity with a new instructor or new institution. Lack of interest and/or understanding of the writing task assigned. As the research of Keith Hjortshoj shows in his book, Understanding Writing Blocks, though, such anxiety is often situational. People are not born anxious about writing; instead, this perspective developed due to negative or difficult experiences with writing.

There is hope, though. There are strategies that can help us overcome our writing anxiety. Hjortshoj describes how isolation can harm writers, particularly students who are working on long projects not connected with coursework (134-135). He suggests that in addition to connecting with supportive individuals, such students can benefit from forming or joining a writing group, which functions in much the same way as a writing buddy. Throughout the semester in your Online class here at Bryant & Stratton College, we will use discussion boards to promote the sort of connectivity that Hjortshoj champions. Additionally, we will work hard to help you identify your strengths through regular personal reflections and discussion boards. The best way to promote this positive and reflective thinking is to choose at least one strength as your starting point. Instead of saying “I can’t write,” say “I am a writer who can …”

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The available research in the field of Composition Studies shows that writing is complex. Most people tend to think of writing as linear process, where there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. Once complete, the writing task comes to a conclusion. In reality, this is not the case. Writing is a recursive enterprise, one filled with starts, stops, interruptions, new thoughts, and changes to vocabulary. Typically, a writer at the revision or editing phase will often come across errors, even when it seems like the writing task is at an end. Basically, we never finish writing something. Instead, we tend to run out of time.

A large part of our first few weeks will be spent adding tools to your toolbox when you get stuck. These will include new ideation strategies to develop ideas, new revision strategies to examine the content of your essay, and enhancements to the editing process based both on new approaches as well as deeper understanding of how good writing functions at the sentence level. Even so, here are some good general strategies that can help:

  • Divide to Conquer: Break the assignment up into smaller, more manageable pieces that can be completed over a number of days or weeks, depending on the size of the assignment and the amount of time you have before it is due.


  • Create a Calendar: Identify smaller due dates for things like completion of research for the assignment, development of ideas through one or more ideation strategies, completion of the introduction, completion of a section of the body, completion of the conclusion, revision of the essay, editing of the essay, etc.


  • Control Your Revision and Editing Tendencies: Writing is a tough endeavor, since it involves using words to express abstract ideas that exist in our minds. Writers often slow down their discovery draft by trying to edit and revise as they write. While this approach may seem more efficient, it harms our effectiveness at getting our thoughts and ideas down on paper.

Writing anxiety is a common affliction that all writers will at some point experience. In Week 2, we will start to study ideation strategies that will help you discover creative, imaginative ideas that will help you write phenomenal essays.

Reading and Verbal Comprehension

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Sven Birkerts once argued that to become a better writer, one needs to become a better reader. Research shows that we often pick up new language and patterns of expression from others. This most often occurs on a subconscious and an unconscious level when we read. For this to occur, though, we need to possess effective reading comprehension and verbal comprehension skills. In this lecture, we will study techniques that will make us better at understanding what we read as well as our verbal comprehension skills.


A commonly taught reading comprehension strategy is called SQ3R. Its name comes from the five steps that comprise it, where the reader (1) surveys; (2) questions; (3) reads; (4) recites; and (5) reviews. Below is a quick outline of each step.

Survey

When we survey, we gather information through a quick glance at the text. We look a the title of the text, study the introduction and/or summary if one is present, pay attention to the writer’s use of boldface headings and subheadings if they exist, look over any graphics and/or pictures that may be present, as well as other textual markings like italics, chapter objectives, etc.

Question

This next step is critical. Rather than try to absorb the text passively, the reader engages with the text by asking questions such as, “Why did the author choose this name for the chapter?” “Why did this chapter come before that chapter?” “Why did the writer boldface or italicize these words?” The reader also will begin to ask content-related questions, such as, “What does the term survey mean again?” “Why is it important to question?” In creating these questions, the reader works to construct meaning, which helps to internalize the ideas that are presented.

Read

It may sound weird, but the actual act of reading occurs midway through SQ3R. In reading, though, the reader does so through a paced, deliberate approach. Rather than attempt to consume the text in one sitting, the reader will divide the text into segments, often remaining cognizant of his/her own attention span. Research shows that the average person can remain focused on something for about twenty minutes. Therefore, a good reading strategy is to stop occasionally and ask questions about what was read, jot down ideas or responses in the margins of the text, and take occasional breaks.

Recite

Just before or just after each break, the reader stops and attempts to recall what was read through memory. Provided questions in text, reading guides, or questions provided by the instructor are great resources. In instances where the reader cannot recall everything, he/she would then go back to the earlier portions in the text. Few people can remember everything that they read. The same recursive strategy followed by writers is often followed by good critical readers as well.

Review

The last step of SQ3R involves a larger review of what was read, often at the end of the reading activity. The reader reviews the major ideas covered, their responses to those ideas, and the new learning that occurred from the text. By making personal meaning from the text, the reader begins to internalize these ideas and moves them from short-term memory to long-term memory.

One other useful strategy was created by Russell Stauffer in 1969. His strategy called, DR-TA has many similarities to SQ3R. The major differences, though, is that the reader is asked to interject his/her prior learning into the task. Students may read the title of the text and then brainstorm a list of ideas that come to mind about the topic. Students are also asked to make predictions about what they will read about through available cues gleamed from the survey technique in SQ3R. As the student reads, he/she considers prior experiences as well as the predictions offered to see how the text confirms, refutes, or enhances these ideas generated before actually reading the text. Stauffer then advises that students should ask questions that promote the Review strategy from SQ3R. Such questions include:

  1. What is the main point the author is making in this story/article? What supports your answer?
  2. Do you agree with the author’s ideas or the character’s actions? Explain why or why not.
  3. What is the mood of this piece and how does the author develop it?
  4. What would you tell some one about this article/story if the person did not have time to read it?
  5. Is this like something else you have read? Explain.

Between the SQ3R method and Stauffer’s DR-TA approach, you will become a more competent reader, better able to recall information when needed.

Our last portion of this week’s lecture involves effective note-taking strategies. For this, we will review the Cornell Notetaking System at this address:

References

Hjortshoj, Keith. 2001. Understanding Writing Blocks. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stauffer, R. G. (1969). Directing reading maturity as a cognitive process. New York: Harper & Row.