Workshop on Assisting ESL Writers: THURSDAY 3/31!


At WAC, we often tell our faculty not to focus on lower-order concerns when grading first draft or low-stakes writing: small grammatical mistakes, using the wrong word, subject/verb agreement. Our philosophy, which is backed by a number of studies, dictates that if we help our students grasp the higher-order concerns (argument, organization, use of evidence, following a thesis) then the lower-order mistakes will start to correct themselves.

The question we often hear from faculty, though, is “what about my ESL students?”

The truth is, over two-thirds of CityTech’s undergraduates did not learn English as their first language. Consider that many of them didn’t even learn it as their second language.

Our workshop this Thursday  offers concrete tips and techniques for helping ESL students become better writers without leaving you feeling that you have to “teach English.” Come join us for lunch, coffee, and pedagogy!

Workshop Recap: Effective Grading and Minimal Marking (11/19)

Our semester rolls on as we held the third of four faculty professional development workshops dealing with Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) teaching and planning strategies. If you missed our workshop last Thursday on Effective Grading and Minimal Marking, read our recap below to learn about strategies that not only can save you time in the grading process, but will help to produce better student work. Follow along with the PowerPoint and Handout.

WAC fellows Pamela Thielman, Drew Fleming, and Emily Crandall led an informative and diverse workshop that covered many aspects of the grading process, from planning assignments and grading structures in advance to how to reduce the sometimes-daunting paper load once those assignments have been turned in.

Emily began by outlining that the most effective grading requires two steps: 1) planning before the assignment is given, and 2) practicing efficient marking techniques once the papers come in. We identified a variety of kinds of “higher-order” concerns (those dealing with content, organization, argument, evidence, and other “big picture” issues) and “lower-order” concerns (those dealing with spelling, grammar, citation style, sentence structure, word choice), and noted how students will respond to whatever we as instructors mark on their paper. So, if we mark twenty lower-order issues on a page but only one higher-order issue such as organization or argument, it’s likely that students will only focus on those grammatical issues in revision, rather than the oftentimes more important problem of organization.

Emily then discussed how laying a good foundation before the papers come in can be beneficial to the instructor after the papers come in and it’s time to grade. Scaffolding an assignment into its constituent parts and other good assignment design practices are crucial at this step, as is transparency in the grading criteria. By letting students know what we’re grading for (either by using a rubric or by having class discussions about expectations), we can expect better results.

Drew then built on Emily’s points by going into detail about how scaffolding an assignment into smaller parts can ensure that you are spreading out the grading workload over the course of the semester. You can also address student issues earlier in the process as you catch them, so that the final product has already gone through a number of revision steps and is therefore a more polished paper (and therefore easier to grade!).

Peer review is another useful tool to alleviate the grading load, because you are “outsourcing” some of the assessment process onto the students. We included a number of peer review templates in the handout for this workshop, which as Drew pointed out are crucial to a successful peer review, giving the students structure and specific criteria for which to grade.

Finally, to help remember what it’s like for our students to receive a paper filled with tons of red ink corrections, we watched a short video made by students at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, MA, that really hits home the effect that our grading can have on our students. Even though we are often trying to be helpful, we forget that students often take our markings as negative criticism, and that it discourages them from wanting to revise and do better. Faculty in attendance seemed to get a lot from this video that reminds us of the power we have when we grade.

In this respect, we’re reminded that our role as instructors when grading a paper is not just to evaluate the students, which is the traditional role of grading, but also to communicate with our students and to motivate them. We should think of ourselves more as a coach than a judge, since the goal of writing a paper should not only be for students to convey what they have learned, but to improve their writing and organizational skills over the course of the semester. As their writing improves, so too does their mastery of course material, and so we should remember to take an active role in helping that progression.

Finally, Pamela covered a variety of specific strategies for minimal marking, a process that seeks to reduce the overall amount of marking on students’ work while increasing the potency of specific comments and annotations. In other words, write more less often. She stressed that as instructors, we shouldn’t feel the need to necessarily have to do all of these minimal marking techniques, but to pick and choose as suits the assignment and your style.

For low-stakes assignments, Pamela recommended either no grade or check grading. As we’ve covered in previous workshops, simply getting students to write helps them in the learning process, and so we don’t need to grade everything we assign. She recommended also putting the pen down on your first read through a student’s paper. This way, rather than feeling the need to mark every misplaced comma or subject/verb disagreement, you can concentrate on bigger picture issues. Then, at the end, we can comment on global patterns of error in lower-order concerns.

We also discussed selective line edits, for those instructors who want to make sure that they are pointing out specific lower-order problems. Rather than covering an entire paper in markings and corrections, consider only doing one paragraph, or one page. This way, the student sees their mistakes but is not overwhelmed by them, and the onus of correcting falls on them. Frequently, when we mark a student’s paper up completely, the student will only make the corrections that we suggest! This encourages the student to take it upon themselves to identify their errors.

Finally, as Pamela noted in her blog post last week, use any color pen except red!

Above all, we stressed supportive responding that not only assesses the student’s work, but motivates them towards revision and communicates new ideas or questions to them. Asking questions in margins or end comments is a great way to both communicate and motivate students further without “giving them the answer.”

Join us for our last workshop of the semester, “The Creative Classroom” on December 10, 2015, in Namm 1005. WAC Fellows Emily Crandall and Julie Hollar will cover ways to incorporate non-traditional and technological assignments and activities into the classroom that combine with writing assignments to make class time dynamic, varied, and fun.

Recapping: Avoiding Plagiarism Workshop

Last Thursday’s workshop on “Avoiding Plagiarism” brought out a fantastic showing of professors, for one of our most attended workshops yet! Thank you to all those who were able to make it, for those of you who weren’t, here’s a little recap:

No professor wants to deal with plagiarism (the disappointment! The bureaucracy! The uncomfortable conversations with a student!), this workshop takes as its premise that it is possible for professors to take steps to prevent plagiarism before it occurs! In particular, here at WAC we believe that often plagiarism occurs because a student hasn’t fully understood what counts as plagiarism (and we saw during our workshop that there is a lot of gray area that even professors can disagree on!).

City Tech has a particularly notable policy on academic misconduct, that emphasizes the professor’s responsibility in informing students about plagiarism. It states:

“Students and all others who work with information, ideas, texts, images, music, inventions, and other intellectual property owe their audience and sources accuracy and honesty in using, crediting, and citing sources. As a community of intellectual and professional workers, the College recognizes its responsibility for providing instruction in information literacy and academic integrity, offering models of good practice, and responding vigilantly and appropriately to infractions of academic integrity.” – NYCCT statement on academic integrity (emphasis added)

With this responsibility in mind, the first part of the workshop included a number of activities and handouts that professors can use to assist them in raising awareness about plagiarism in their classrooms. Many of us have used these strategies in our own classes and have found them particularly helpful.

Crafting Assignments to Avoid Temptation to Plagarize

Student plagiarism can have many different causes. Another prominent one we’ve found- that can easily be targeted!- is a lack of confidence, or difficulty with time management. The pedagogical tool of scaffolding can be an invaluable resource for creating assignments that develop students’ confidence and encouraging time management skills. Scaffolding, as many of you know, emphasizes building towards larger projects, step by step. This graduated nature of scaffolded assignments helps students from feeling overwhelmed by a large term paper, and feeling tempted to go online and download a preexisting one.

In the workshop we examined how a scaffolded assignment schedule helps both develop students confidence and promotes working in increments rather than leaving everything for the night before.

In addition to scaffolded assignments, designing assignments with a unique or contemporary twist can help students develop an interest in the work, and also mitigates the temptation to hand in something they found online.


For example- one sociology professor has her students write an analysis of Marx’s notion of estranged labor, but asks students to argue whether or not Beyonce could be considered “alienated”. An English professor teaches The Crucible and has students create a podcast in the style of the extremely popular “Serial”.


Both Marx’s notion of “estranged labor” and The Crucible are certainly topics which students could find a wealth of prefabricated, rote essays to pilfer from on the internet, but these alternative assignments seek to engage students’ interests, and avoid the temptation to hand in a preexisting essay by shaking things up a bit. As an extra bonus for professors , these types of assignments can be more interesting to read and grade as students really can let their passions shine through!!


Professors in attendance were encouraged to think up some different and unique assignments they could design to get students thinking through the core concepts of their class. One electrical engineering professor designed an assignment where students would have to calculate the amount of electricity needed to power a Beyonce concert!

concert 2

Do you have any unique assignments that have been particularly successful? We’d love to hear see in the comments below!

Of course, not all assignments have to be unique and scaffolded, we encourage professors to try out a variety of different tactics that might work best for their needs.

Be sure not to miss our next workshop:

  • Effective Grading and Minimal Marking
    • Thursday, November 19, 2015
      • 1:00-2:15pm
    • Room: Namm 1005
    • Free lunch and coffee!


*If you would like to see the full workshop, slides are available for download here

Welcome Back! First workshop this week!!

Welcome back CityTech faculty for the 2015-16 year! We in the Writing Across the Curriculum program are excited for another year of working with you to incorporate stronger writing assignments into your classes and help to foster an environment where students learn about their subject through the process of writing. Whether you teach math, engineering, architectural technology, dental hygiene, hospitality, history, or English, the WAC program can help you foster a culture of writing in your classroom that will get students engaged and still deliver all the course content you need teach this semester.

We are once again running our Writing Intensive Certification program this fall. This program, started last year, is a way for faculty who are teaching WI courses or who would like to teach WI courses to get some professional development and hands-on training in writing pedagogy, and includes a course release if the program is completed (pending department approval). Our first workshop, on Designing Effective Assignments, is this week, Thursday September 24, from 1-2:15pm in Namm 521 (with FREE lunch). Open to all faculty, it is a requirement if you are participating in the WI certification program. Not sure if you’d like to participate? Come to our workshop and talk with our fellows and coordinators about the program.

We are also available for one-on-one help or to come in and give a workshop presentation to your classes. Browse our workshops page to get an idea of what we do, scroll through the Fellow’s Corner blog to be inspired by some innovative writing ideas, and learn more about who we are. As we update the site over the next few weeks, come back often to find a weekly blog post on writing pedagogy written by our fellows, and check for updates on our events!

Our Fall 2015 workshops are listed below, all are on Thursdays, 1:00-2:15pm, room TBA:

  • “Designing Effective Assignments” – September 24
  • “Avoiding Plagiarism” – October 22
  • “Effective Grading and Minimal Marking” – November 19
  • “The Creative Classroom” – December 10

We hope to see you there! And feel free to leave questions below in the comments or email us.

Missed our creative classroom workshop?

We had a great workshop today on active learning, technology, and innovative ideas to use in the classroom, thanks to all who attended. If you missed it, be sure to check our workshops page for the PowerPoint Presentation and Handout, full of excellent sources and ideas to implement in your classroom. Questions? Contact Pam or Jake, the workshop leaders, who can help you out.

Workshop Recap: Avoiding Plagiarism and Using Library Resources

On November 11, WAC Writing Fellows Claire Hoogendoorn and Jake Cohen, together with Bronwen Densmore of the Ursula C. Schwerin Library, led a faculty workshop on avoiding plagiarism and using library resources.  This was a lively workshop in which WAC Fellows and City Tech instructors shared their understanding of and experiences with plagiarism.

The presentation was organized around three main topics: understanding plagiarism, strategies for preventing plagiarism, and responding to plagiarism.  Some key points from the discussion are highlighted below.

Understanding Plagiarism

  • In order for students to avoid plagiarism, it is critical for them to know exactly what it means. The NYCCT statement on academic integrity is a necessary first step in this regard.
  • Not all plagiarism is equal: there are different kinds and levels of plagiarism.
  • Students commit plagiarism for a host of different reasons. Sometimes plagiarism involves an instance of pure cheating, however other times citation errors and/or bad paraphrasing are to blame.

Strategies for Preventing Plagiarism

  • Educating students about plagiarism – i.e. having an open and honest conversation about the topic – is the first step toward preventing plagiarism.
    • To this end, the WAC Writing Fellows will be organizing a student workshop on the topic next spring.
  • Part of the education process includes outlining the pedagogical purpose of research, providing examples of plagiarism, and modelling correct citation format.
    • There are also online quizzes (e.g. via the Baruch College Library) that can be used to reinforce the lessons.
  • Creating high quality assignments is a fundamental step in preventing plagiarism: Scaffolding assignments remains one of the most effective methods.
    • It is also helpful to use details in assignments and to empower students.
  • The City Tech Library has a number of resources to assist students in doing research and completing assignments.
  • Paraphrasing is difficult! This is true for both native and non-native English speakers.  Developing paraphrasing skills requires proper training and practice.

Responding to Plagiarism

  • Refer to the Academic Integrity Policy Manual for information about how to report cases of plagiarism.
  • We have to report every case of plagiarism.
  • There exist electronic resources for suspected plagiarism, e.g. SafeAssign

The slides and handout from the workshop are linked below…

PowerPoint Slides Handout


Welcome back! Fall 2014 WAC Workshops

We at WAC hope that you had a relaxing and productive summer! We’ve got a ton of great writing ideas and pedagogical tools and strategies to present to you in four workshops this fall semester. Workshops are open to all faculty and staff, are free, and include lunch (and cookies!). Location TBD, but please save the dates and times below for our WAC workshops

  • Tuesday, September 16, 1pm: Effective Assignment Design
  • Tuesday, October 14, 1pm: Effective Grading and Minimal Marking
  • Tuesday, November 11, 1pm: Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Tuesday, December 9, 1pm: The Creative Classroom

Check our workshops page to find details about the next workshop, and also to peruse last year’s workshops. All this year’s workshops will be updates of previous ones, so even if you attended last year, you’re bound to learn something new this year. And follow our Fellow’s Corner page to see weekly blog posts on writing strategies, assignment design, and other writing across the curriculum philosophies written by our talented Writing Fellows.

If you would like us to present a workshop to your department on one of these or a related topic, or if you would like to work one-on-one with a Writing Fellow on improving your students’ writing and your feedback, please contact our co-coordinators, Rebecca Devers or Marianna Bonanome.

Avoiding Plagiarism–Guiding Our Students

As instructors, helping our students learn to avoid plagiarism while using sources to guide their work is an important role for us to play. We all have negative gut reactions to a student’s paper that seems to include evidence of plagiarized material or have a lack of appropriate citations, but approaching this topic proactively may be much easier on our students, not to mention on our tempers after reading a towering stack of papers with inappropriate uses of others’ scholarly work.

This semester, I have begun to focus on providing students with thorough guidance of how to effectively use sources in their writing, thereby helping them to avoid or at least minimizing unintentional plagiarism in their writing assignments. Giving students the benefit of the doubt in the beginning of a semester and taking on the tone of understanding in terms of how difficult it can be to learn how to properly use sources, as opposed to being the “police” of plagiarism in the classroom can be an effective avenue to take.

This inherently involves allotting some class time to discuss the issue. Doing so, makes your students aware that you place importance on this topic and that you are willing to assist them in this learning process. Providing students with a plagiarism quiz that gives examples of scenarios in which they decide whether a given situation entails plagiarism and then having a class discussion about what constitutes plagiarism allows for students to be honest about the areas they deem confusing regarding paraphrasing, citing, etc. Recently, two of our writing fellows, Syelle Graves and Heather Zuber in collaboration with Bronwen Densmore and Anne Leonard from the library, gave a workshop to faculty about avoiding plagiarism and using library resources. Their slides and handouts, including the aforementioned plagiarism quiz can be found HERE.

Additional ways to minimize plagiarism in your students’ writing (from my own experience as well as the workshop mentioned above):

  • Provide high-quality models of writing with correct citations and paraphrasing
  • In class, show students how to find scholarly sources through City Tech’s library databases (step-by-step demonstration including giving them a list of the best databases for your field)
  • As the instructor, model correct citations throughout the semester (in your syllabus, handouts, slides)
  • Provide handouts to students with links to other sources regarding paraphrasing and correct citation format for your field (links are included in the handouts for the aforementioned past workshop)
  • Require students to create annotated bibliographies for which they cite their sources and summarize the main findings along with the importance of that source for a later larger research project or paper in your course
  • Give a typed assignment handout that states the citation format (e.g., APA, MLA) they need to use for that assignment and the number of sources they need