Support structures and habits for extended graduate writing projects: A plan

Preamble

Everyone has a voice that should be heard. Everyone can clarify and develop their thoughts through writing. Everyone needs support to express their voice in writing. Finding voice, clarifying and developing thoughts, and expressing voice in writing are on-going, lifelong endeavors. Nevertheless, preparing a completed synthesis-for-now to meet a defined target date is worthwhile, even when the product is much smaller in scope than originally envisaged. That is what we work on together in [course xx] for five months. We do this through the following frameworks and creative habits (explained later in the post):
Frameworks

1. Taking yourself seriously/ Finding your Vocation

2. Phases of Research and Engagement for Pacing of research, writing, and revision

3. Developing as a Reflective Practitioner, including Taking initiative in and through relationships

Creative Habits

1. Daily writing

2. Weekly writing meetings for support and feedback in groups of 3 (buddy trios)

3. Weekly writing workshop with the whole class for reflection in relation to the frameworks above

4. Extended One-on-one conferences with an advisor (the instructor), at least once every three weeks.

In order to complete the capstone by the end of the semester, students are expected to get going on Daily writing and Weekly writing support meetings for at least six weeks before the semester starts. Short versions of Weekly writing workshops (by phone/skype conference call) and One-on-one conferences may also be arranged during that period.
In addition, each student should establish personal support systems, which include:

  • Making space in your lives and domestic arrangements so you undertake writing and buddy support starting before and continuing during the semester.
  • Establishing and maintaining a bibliographic database for ready retrieval and formatting of references.
  • Seeking out guides or advisors in your area of specialization.
  • Arranging an outside editor to help with revision and copy-editing.
        Given the teaching and advising load of faculty members, you should not rely on your advisor or reader(s) to do detailed copy-editing of your writing. Moreover, a copy-editing relationship between student and teacher usually gets in the way of dialogue around the content and overall organization of your writing product. Assistance from some outside party, skilled in manuscript editing, should be arranged by each student. This is well worth the expense.

Format of sessions and details

For each session the meetings consist of:

  • an hour-long Weekly writing workshop with the whole class for reflection in relation to the three frameworks
  • Weekly writing meetings for support and feedback in groups of 3 (buddy trios)
  • extended One-on-one conferences with the instructor at least once every three weeks.

At the same time, students are expected to do Daily writing 5-7 days per week.
In order to complete the writing project by the end of the semester, students are expected to get going on daily writing and weekly buddy trio writing meetings for at least 6 weeks before the semester starts. Short versions of the weekly writing workshop (by phone/skype conference call) and one-on-one conferences may also be arranged during that period.

Daily writing: a practice of writing 15-30 minutes 5-7 days/week, logging time spent and new words written, and writing down, at the end, possible topics for future Daily writing. The logging should be transcribed to [course wikipage] weekly. New words is important–editing, revising, and filling in citations can be done at another time in the day. (Indeed, daily writing should lead to a release of energy for other research and writing work entailed by your project.) Start daily writing at the very start of your project; the words you write need not ever end up in the final paper, so it does not matter if your project is unclear at the start or changes as you go on. (More background)

Weekly writing meetings for support and feedback in groups of 3 (buddy trios): Three people find a meeting time each week that you can protect from all other distractions. You commit to taking turns once every three weeks to receive feedback on the latest installment of their synthesis writing, which must be posted 48 hours before the meeting (on [course wikipage]) along with a note about the kind of feedback desired (see Elbow’s suggestions.) The trios should also work together on the activities listed for each session and may establish additional forms of support beyond feedback.

Weekly writing workshop with the whole class for checking in on progress and reflection in relation to the three frameworks: Phases of Research and Engagement, Developing as a Reflective Practitioner, and Taking yourself seriously/ Finding your Vocation. Each workshop last for an hour (at a time arranged so that all online students can participate) and has five stages:
1.Freewriting to: a. get present (clearing away distracting concerns form our busy lives); and b. begin to consider the topic of the session.
2. Check-in. What’s on top for you as you come into the workshop. It may be a concern or question about the topic of the session, or it may be something else going on for you.
3. Dialogue process, i.e., listening with structured turn taking, that builds on the check-in. Through inquiry more than advocacy (or rehearsal of previously formulated ideas), including inquiry of one’s own thinking, themes usually emerge. Instructor’s role is to participate and, if needed, remind participants to build on what has been said by previous speakers as against rehearsing a position established well before the session.
4. 7 minutes before the session ends each participant spends a few minutes writing to gather thoughts that have emerged as they are meaningful for them.
5. Closing sharing. Each participant shares something they plan to address/get done/think more about based on the session. Having this aired in the group-having it witnessed-makes it more likely to happen.

One-on-one conferences with the instructor at least once every three weeks. Students must post the latest installment of their synthesis writing 48 hours before the meeting (on [course wikipage] )

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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