Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Strategies to Improve Student Writing: Revision Day

A Revision Worksheet can help guide students to ensure a smooth Revision Day.
Improve Student Papers with a Revision Day Assignment

Oftentimes, faculty members who teach in discipline areas other than English ask me, "What can we do to make our students' papers better?  How can we improve their writing?"  

More times than not, however, it isn't really students' ability to write that prevents quality papers.  More times than not, a writing problem stems from time management problems and a lack of revision: Because students wait until the last day before a paper is due to write it, they skip the revision process all together.

In order to help students recognize the value of revision (and the value in leaving time to revise), my advice to faculty is to have two submission dates for papers: The Revision Day, and The Final Draft.  Everyone can generally guess what The Final Draft submission is all about. Let me explain The Revision Day.

The Revision Day Assignment

The class day before a final draft of a paper is due, offer time for students to come together to revise their papers.  Establish rules and guidelines to help the process run smoothly, and be sure the students know whether you will be grading their work for the day and how they will be earning that grade.  A successful Revision Day helps students see the value in the process.

Every institution's various available resources for students will help faculty determine the best requirements. For example, I have established the following rules based on my students' free access to Grammarly and our institutional adherence to APA style for all papers.

1. Bring a typed outline and complete draft in APA format to class on Revision Day.  Along with the draft, please include a print report for both grammar and plagiarism from Grammarly.
2. Arrive on time and ready to begin when class starts.
3. Trade papers with a partner and complete a Revision Worksheet for each paper.  Work together on one paper at a time.
4. Once you've completed the Revision Worksheet, read the paper aloud to the writer. Stop and correct the paper when either of you hears errors or awkwardness.
5. You will be graded on your full participation in the workshop and the completeness of the outline, draft, and Revision Worksheet.
6. I will check in on you as you work to answer questions, review APA formatting, and check your outline for unity, coherence, and clarity.

Making Time to Revise

The time a professor allows for revision depends on the length of the papers and the level of writing skills the students already demonstrate.  For a three page paper, for example, in a freshman English class, I allow two hours, which is one hour per paper if students are working in pairs.  If students work in threes, which I request in larger classes, I allow three hours. Keep in mind, before panicking about not having enough time during the term to offer revision day, that while students are revising each other's papers the topics and ideas in those papers are being introduced or reinforced - concepts and ideas from your course materials.  Furthermore, your students learn to work as a team,  to communicate or support their original ideas more clearly, and to give and receive constructive criticism.

In Summary

If you are missing quality student papers in your courses, please keep in mind that more times than not, it's the students' writing habits that need remediation.  You have the power to make it better by helping them overcome bad habits and showing them the value of time management and revision.

Want to Read More about Pedagogy?  Try

Motivate the WIIFM Student with a Learning Audit Assignment
Using Anti-Plagiarism Software as an Assignment Requirement
Myths about Writing Essays
"New" Ways to Think about Paragraphs

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish or reproduce.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Before Writing Your Blog

A woman blogs: Image in the style of Pablo Picasso
Woman with Blog after Pablo Picasso
Image by Mike Nicht
Thinking of writing your own blog?  Want to grow the readership of your current blog?  There are a few key ideas to keep in mind that will help you attract and keep your readers.

You Talkin' to Me?  Well, I'm the Only One Here.

When writing a blog post, pick an intended audience and let your readers know right away who that might be.  Use your title, description, or opening lines to define your audience using succinct, specific language.  Readers are drawn to posts that promise, right away, to meet their needs and answer their questions.  Follow through by including information that applies to that chosen audience.  Take a look at this blog post, for example.  Can you tell that my intended audience is "people who are thinking about writing a blog or people who want to grow their current readership?"

Well Said!

When you write a blog post, you want your readers to exclaim, "Well said!"  The key word there is "said."  In order to be a better blogger, study public speaking, and write your blog posts as though you were delivering a speech.  While you'll still be writing well, you will not need to adhere to all of the rules of academic or more formal writing.  For example, it's okay to use contractions in a blog post, and it's okay to address the intended audience or readers using the second person pronoun, "you." Additionally, create headings and leave white space to help your readers see the look of your speech on the screen, and include images related to the topic to add visual interest.

Keep It Short and Sweet

Even though you're allowed to relax the rules for formal and academic writing a bit, your blog posts should still be well organized and concise.  Keep your audience interested by sticking closely to your main point and by providing relevant and informative content (and attribution for that content where necessary).  Write informatively about a narrowed topic instead of having a surface discussion about a broad topic.   Try to stick to 300 - 500 words by writing well-crafted, unified paragraphs that offer strong evidence.  Reduce wordiness by cutting away long transitional phrases, sentences that do not support the topic sentence of the paragraph, or the weakest evidence.

Keep your readers interested, in short, by not only being a good writer, but by being a writer who writes for a specific audience and follows through by delivering concise content with high informative value.

Want to Read More about Writing?  Try

An Overview of the Writing Process
Avoid Unintentional Plagiarism
Myths about Writing Essays

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to reproduce.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Shoe as Image in the Poetry of Amy Lowell and Charles Simic

A black and white photograph of a pair of old work books with the caption "The Shoe as Poetic Image."
What do your shoes say about you?
Shoes contain a rich and powerful significance, an historical set of meanings and imagery that lend themselves to making just as powerful works of poetry.

Although shoes are something people often dismiss as objects to be tossed into the closet after a long day at work, an evening of blistering dancing, or a day spent in the park, there are also seemingly endless possibilities for metaphor and the human condition associated with shoes. “If you want to leave your footprints in the sand of time,” the saying goes, “wear work boots.” "Put your best foot forward," coaches tell their teams before a game. "If the shoes fits . . .” we say in vague reference to owning up to foibles.

Poignant Imagery

Two poems that tap into the poignant imagery of the shoe are Charles Simic's poem "My Shoes," and Amy Lowell's "Red Slippers." "My Shoes" first appeared in Charles Simic: Selected Early Poems in 1999. "Red Slippers" appears in Amy Lowell's 1916 Men, Women and Ghosts.

Simic's "My Shoes"

In Charles Simic’s poem, “My Shoes” (n.d.), the poet uses an extended metaphor to help illustrate his feelings about his life. The extended metaphor works wonders here because of the rich history preceding the image of the shoe. He compares his “secret” (line 1) life to a pair of shoes, but not just any pair of shoes. He describes his shoes as “toothless” (line 2), “decomposed” (line 3), "humble" (line14), “maternal” (line 17), and “patient” (line19). His shoes, he states, have endured as he has endured, and all we need know about him “it is possible to read” (line 10) in his shoes. Simic taps into our universal relationship to the shoe, and with it he writes an exceptionally powerful poem about his own life. It's a poem wherein the poet tells the reader what it's like to “walk a mile in his shoes."

Lowell's "Red Slippers"

Amy Lowell speaks directly to the forgettable nature of the shoe in her poem "Red Slippers." Although she dramatically describes a pair of red shoes in a shop window as more colorful than anything else in the street scene, in the end, the shoes are ignored and passed by shoppers in the street. The red shoes and their "crimson reflections" (line 3) that drip, jam, scream, and plop throughout the first stanza, are "multiplied in the mirror side of the window" in the second stanza and "they swing up over curved heels like whirling tanagers sucked in a wind-pocket" in the third. They are active images, and the poet is curious enough about them to dedicate the majority of the poem to their description. However, in the end the shoes seemingly capture only the attention of the poet as "People hurry by, for these are only shoes" (line 16). The everyday shoe, no matter how colorful, is not as novel as its rival, "a cardboard lotus bud" (line 19). As humans, we understand and feel sad on behalf of the red slippers, all readers somehow understanding how it feels to be passed when needing a little attention.

Shoes contain a rich and powerful significance, an historical set of meanings and imagery that lend themselves to making just as powerful works of poetry. Without having to explain the nature of the shoe, both Simic and Lowell make use of the idea of "shoe" to make eloquent statements about the human condition.


Lowell, A. (n.d.). Red slippers. Retrieved from From the Academy of American Poets.
Simic, C. (n.d.). My shoes. Retrieved from From the Academy of American Poets.

Need More Help Writing about Literature?

 Here are three additional posts that can help you learn to write about literature.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.  First published Jul 5, 2011 by Amy Lynn Hess.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Motivate the WIIFM Student with a Learning Audit Assignment

A teacher's heart sinks when she hears, "Why do I need to know this stuff?" halfway through a course.
Anticipate Questions and Prepare for the WIIFM Student

The "What's-in-it-for-me?" student requires an answer to that question even before the first lecture begins. Faculty, be prepared.

As a faculty member, how many times have you heard, "Why do I have to know this stuff?" or "This is a waste of my time? I'm never going to use this, anyway." Each and every time you've heard that sentiment, you've heard the cry of the "What's-in-it-for-me?" (WIIFM) student. No matter how many times you emphasize the importance of the subject matter or learning objectives in class, in one-on-one meetings, or in the syllabus, these students are a tough sell. As you know, many leave your course – on a daily basis – unmotivated to learn and still questioning the course's relevance.

Shifting the Onus of the WIIFM Paradigm

We teach our students to ask good questions, and with the onslaught of media students have to wade through on a daily basis, they are ever-increasingly becoming more careful consumers of information. We cannot fault them for inquiry. So, instead of combating these WIIFM questions, faculty need to re-establish the student's role as a student. When a student asks "What's in it for me?" the only answer that might satisfy that student will be a personal answer. Instead of second-guessing the personal goals of each and every student, faculty can encourage students to think about their own goals, expectations, and learning, by assigning learning “audits” throughout a term or semester.

Definition of a Learning Audit

Defining the learning audit is tricky. At its best, it’s a term that inspires only an analogous-metaphorical understanding. At its worst, it’s a term that inspires only accountants and economists. Yet, an understanding is necessary if effective assignments are to be built around the concept, regardless of the name any given instructor might use for the assignment.

The learning audit, in pedagogical-speak, is an assessment tool the faculty can use to make courses more applicable to changing generations of students. It’s a way to collect indirect data about what the students know or can do in any given subject area.

The learning audit, in more practical terms, is a written assignment in which the students have an opportunity to tell the instructor what they already know, what they want to know, and how what they want to know can apply to their lives in the future. Instead of faculty supplying the answers or assuming the answers to these questions, the students take full responsibility for the course’s perceived value.

Requirements for a Learning Audit Assignment

Simply offering each student an opportunity to brag about what he or she already knows and allowing each student to set goals for the course might be enough to inspire motivation throughout a term. Usually, however, a more stringent set of requirements is, well . . . required.

When assigning the learning audit, please keep these tips in mind.

  • First, a learning audit must happen throughout a term in order to truly be effective. The first day, at midterm, and at the end of the course are suggested. Students’ answers will change as the course progresses.
  • Second, the students must be given carefully constructed, open-ended questions that allow for exploration without allowing for “throw-away” answers, such as “I haven’t learned anything and I will never use this information.”
  • Third, assignments must be returned to students with comments in a timely manner, so they know their goals are valid and have been recognized.
  • Most importantly, faculty must remember that these are valuable assessment measurements, but they are only valuable when used to continuously evaluate a course and make changes as necessary.

There are many ways to conduct a learning audit, many ways to use the information, and many ways to handle the WIIFM student. Hopefully, however, the idea of the audit you introduce in your class will remain with the students, so they will be able to continue to evaluate knowledge and skills on a personal level throughout their academic careers.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Originally published Oct 3, 2011 by Amy Lynn Hess.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Giving Speeches: The Ethical Use of Source Materials

Cite your sources to prove you are an ethical person who cares enough about your topic to have studied it thoroughly!Are you currently working on a speech that includes source content?  Don't forget to give credit where credit is due!  

If you are asked to include source content in a speech, do not panic!

Citing your sources adds credibility to your speech content.  By using and citing your sources, you are proving to your listeners that you have their best interests at heart: You have researched your speech content.  Furthermore, citing your sources shows you are an ethical person who has used resources you are proud to cite.

What's a Source?  What's Source Content?  What's a Citation?

First and foremost, let's make sure you understand the lingo of source citation.

Source: A source is the article, the essay, the research report, the blog, the video, the map, or the other electronic or print material from which your borrowed information comes.  A source always has a writer, publisher or creator, and a source usually has a title and publication date.

Source Content: The source content is the information you have borrowed.  You might borrow information in the form of a quotation, summary or paraphrase.  Always remember that "content" doesn't just mean words: Content also means ideas.

Cite:  To cite a source is to let your audience know where your borrowed information originated.  When citing a source, you will give credit to the writer, publisher, or creator for having come up with the idea or words you have borrowed.  You will provide a date to prove your information is current.

Citation: A citation is the name we give the moment when you tell the audience where your information came from.  In a speech, that happens when you say something like, "According to Ms. Hess, I have to cite all of my sources," or "As stated in the 2012 text, Public Speaking: Finding Your Voice, written by Osborn, Osborn and Osborn, 'Citing your source on your presentation aid verifies the information presented and reminds you to mention the source in your oral presentation.'"

How Do I Cite Information on Visual Aids?

This bar chart has a citation in APA format on the bottom of the PowerPoint slide.When your speech includes visual aids, any source content included on the visual aid must also be cited.  For example, if you show your audience a PowerPoint slide that includes source content, the author, date, and source should appear on the slide. The example includes a citation in APA format at the bottom of the slide. 

 Be sure to ask if you are unsure about the format you are supposed to use for your citations.

While speaking, you should both incorporate your oral citation into your speech and show the complete written citation on your visual aid.    For example, our example speaker is both showing the bar chart with the citation at the bottom of the slide and mentioning the author of the chart in his speech.

This speaker is remembering to cite his source aloud while showing the slide and the APA citation to the audience.
 Even digital images count!  If you use an image photographed by someone else, that person should get credit for the photograph.

In conclusion, remember that citing your sources is more than just an assignment requirement in your speech class.  Citing your sources proves to your listeners that you care enough about your topic to have researched it, you are an ethical person who gives credit where credit is due, and you've used great sources you are proud to cite!


Osborn, M., Osborn, S., & Osborn, R. (2012). Public speaking: Finding your voice. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.