R.A.F.T. (Role, Audience, Form, Topic)

Source: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/SSWAC_225020_7.pdf

R. A. F. T. is a strategy that can be especially helpful for students in History classes, as well as Literature classes. It invites students to put themselves in the shoes of another person (such as an historical actor or literary character) and write through that person’s eyes.

1.  To begin, teachers either assign or give students choice in selecting:Canada_College-seeklogo_com

a)  a ROLE they will take on,

b)  the AUDIENCE to whom they will write,

c)  the FORM they will use, and

d)  the TOPIC on which they will write.

2.  Students are given time to write their response and may even present their work in class.

For example, a student might take on the ROLE of  Dolores Huerta speaking to an AUDIENCE of migrant field workers. The FORM might be an informational speech (FORM) about the UFW and their rights as workers (TOPIC).

Or a student could take on the ROLE of Juliet Capulet’s mother from Romeo & Juliet eulogizing (FORM) her daughter (TOPIC) at Juliet’s funeral in front of her extended family (AUDIENCE).

Being asked to speak as another person can stretch students to understand in a deeper way the person for whom they are speaking.

Instructors can extend the exercise by asking students to be prepared to identify historical facts or textual evidence to support the choices they have made in this activity.

The Michigan Department of Education has created a handout focused on writing activities for Social Science instructors. It’s worth perusing for new writing activity ideas! You can find it at: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/SSWAC_225020_7.pdf


Welcome to Fall!

After a summer hiatus, the Cañada College WAC blog is back!

We’ll begin with a focus on subject-specific strategies and tools instructors can use to increase writing in their courses. Most posts, however, should share activities that are general enough for other subject area instructors to adapt to their own classes.

These resources were drawn from the Michigan Department of Education website. While I’ll select one or two strategies to highlight, I’ll also provide a link to the materials the Michigan Department of Education has made available (and it is EXTENSIVE).

Hopefully, you’ll find some useful tools for your class this semester!

Good luck!

WAC Tip # 10: Strategies when working with a writer with A LEARNING DISABILITY

Source: Ryan, Leigh, and Lisa Zimmerelli. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010. Print.

There is a wide variety of learning disabilities and it is hard to generalize. Still, here are a few quick tips to consider if you are working with a students with a learning disability.CanadaCollegeLogo

  1. Instructors and tutors are likely not sufficiently informed to “diagnose” a Learning Disabled writer. If a student voluntarily shares with you that they have a Learning Disability or receive support services from the Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS) office, ask for information about coping strategies.
  2. Find a quiet place to work in order to limit distractions.
  3. Ask what you can best do in terms of approach and in terms of tasks.
  4. Be patient, explain things clearly, and repeat or rephrase as necessary.
  5. Make lists or notes that can later serve as a guide for the writer.
  6. Encourage LD writers with positive comments.
  7. If the student continually makes the same error, even after discussing it with you, be aware that this is not necessarily a sign of laziness or lack of attention; it may reflect their LD.

WAC Tip # 9: Strategies when helping ANXIOUS WRITERS

Source: Ryan, Leigh, and Lisa Zimmerelli. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010. Print.

Just as we have students who describe themselves as “terrible” at math, we also have students who are “anxious” writers. When you encounter anxious writers in your class, you might share some of your own writing frustrations to dispel the fixed mindset (1) belief that there are “good” writers and “bad” writers. Acknowledge that writing is hard work for everyone. Telling students that experienced writers often find it difficult to sit down and write can be reassuring. Sharing the messiness of your own rough drafts might help them feel more at ease writing and discussing their own drafts. But it’s important to point out the satisfaction one can feel from producing a well-written paper.  CanadaCollegeLogo

Some strategies for working with the anxious writer:

  1. Briefly explain the writing process. Point out that starting early will help make the process easier.
  2. Go through the specifics of the assignment and ensure that the writer understands what is expected of him/her. You might take the opportunity help students practice reading and understanding writing prompts.
  3. Help writers break down the assignment into specific, manageable tasks. For example, rather than planning to write an entire draft in one sitting, help the writer separate the tasks, such as the introduction or one body paragraph. Help writers set up a reasonable schedule of deadlines, noting times when they might visit a tutor for support.
  4. Suggest that writers set firm writing appointments with themselves and build in rewards for accomplishments along the way.
  5. Remind writers that rough drafts do not have to be perfect, especially in the early stages. Encourage them to focus on ideas rather than finding the right word or finishing the perfect sentence before moving forward in their writing.
  6. Let them know about the writing resources they have, especially through tutoring at the Learning Center!

(1) See Carol Dweck; http://news.stanford.edu/news/2007/february7/dweck-020707.html

Tip # 8b: What are common writing patterns of students for whom English is a second language?

Common ESL Errors: The Top Ten List (Part 2 – Errors #6-10)   CanadaCollegeLogo

From : http://www.dartmouth.edu/~writing/materials/tutor/problems/esl.shtml#topten

Continued from previous post…

Number Six: Verb Tense and Forms

ESL writers will have problems with choosing the proper tenses; they will also be confused (as are our native speakers) by irregular verbs, such as lie and lay.

Number Seven: Active and Passive Voices

Most writers understand that they ought to avoid the passive voice. But ESL writers often hide behind the passive voice as a way of not taking responsibility for ideas and sentences that they aren’t sure about.

Number Eight: Sentence Structure/Sentence Boundaries

ESL writers (even more so than native speakers) often have trouble learning the boundaries of the English sentence and so are prone to fragments, run-ons, and convoluted prose. Going back to the basics will help these writers: explain to them the simple sentence, the means of coordination and subordination, and, perhaps most importantly, the limits of the English sentence. Often the idea that is expressed beautifully in Spanish, German, or Russian will break the back of the English sentence. Encourage the writers to be kind to their sentences. Help them to judge what an English sentence will bear.

Number Nine: Punctuation

Everyone has this problem, but ESL writers are plagued by it. Often, a writer will punctuate a sentence according to the rules of his language: a Russian will always place a comma before the word “that,” for example, simply because it’s done that way where he comes from. If you notice persistent punctuation errors, talk with the writer about her native language. You may find the root of the problem there, and solving it will be that much easier.

Number Ten: The Touchy Matter of Style, or “We Just Don’t Say It That Way Here”

For advanced ESL writers, the most persistent problem is one of style. It is difficult to catch a language’s music and subtle rhythms. Again, avoid the temptation of simply saying, “We don’t say it like that!” Engage the writer in a discussion about language (when time allows). You may, in this discussion, teach her something about the beauty and delicacy of your own language (and, incidentally, you may learn something about the beauty and delicacy of hers).

It is the goal of most faculty and students for students to excel in Academic English. And there is value in acknowledging and better understanding the additional effort students for whom English is a second language must put forth. Situating the writing errors your students may make into a larger context will help you be a more knowledgeable instructor, and may inform your response and feedback to students.

Tip # 8: What are common writing patterns of students for whom English is a second language?

Common ESL Errors: The Top Ten List (Part 1 – Errors #1-5)   CanadaCollegeLogo

From : http://www.dartmouth.edu/~writing/materials/tutor/problems/esl.shtml#topten

Whether we teach formal ESL courses or not, nearly all our faculty will have students for whom English is a second language.  You will find some of the errors listed here in the writing of native speakers of English, but some (such as articles and preposition problems) are particular to writers for whom English is a second (or third, or fourth) language.

 Number One: Articles

Articles are perhaps the most persistent problems for non-native speakers of English, especially for Asian or Russian writers, whose languages don’t use articles. Occasionally, European speakers will exhibit some difficulty with articles as well: in many languages, every noun requires an article, and it is unclear to some speakers when articles should be omitted. A Native English speaker (even a young one) will never have trouble with articles: we know at some fundamental level when to use or to omit “the,” “a,” or “an.”

The basic rules for articles are not hard to explain: countable nouns require articles; uncountable nouns generally do not. Reference to a concrete noun generally requires a definite article; reference to an abstract noun usually requires an indefinite article. What complicates the matter is that article use depends often on context, both grammatical and in terms of a sentence’s meaning. For example, “Society disapproves of smoking,” is one context, while “The society of non-smokers lobbies hard to take away smokers’ rights,” is another.

What makes this problem even more difficult to explain is that some article use is idiomatic, or requires a lot of grammatical analysis in order to be understood. For example, why say “I have a cold,” but then say “I have pneumonia”? Why not say “I have a pneumonia?” And why do we invite someone out to dinner, not out to the dinner, or a dinner? (Though we will always invite them out for a meal, not simply meal.)

You will do a lot of intellectual sweating attempting to help writers with articles, and you will be tempted to pass off most of what is hard to explain as idiomatic. Resist this temptation! Perhaps the usage is idiomatic, but an attempt to explain and to understand the finer points of grammar can be useful for students.

Number Two: Prepositions

This is a second area of error that is almost exclusive to ESL writers. While some New Yorkers will wait on line (instead of in line, like the rest of us), for international writers the problem of prepositions is much more serious. Beginning writers will have trouble understanding why it is that sitting by the table is different from sitting at the table; more advanced writers will have trouble wrestling with the difference between being concerned with something, as opposed to being concerned by something.

Typically those prepositions used to express abstract thoughts will be particularly meddlesome: an ESL writer may be able to visualize the difference between being on the water and in the water, but less able to see the difference between dwelling in and dwelling on a particular idea and emotion. Unfortunately, most preposition usage is simply that: a matter of usage. The best you can do is to explain differences to the writer, and to hope that s/he will take your explanation with him/her into the next paper or next conversation with a native speaker.

Number Three: Infinitives

Another category of error common to ESL writers is incorrect use of infinitives. You will find that ESL writers will pattern their English sentences after sentences in their native languages, where often many rules (including the rules for infinitives) differ from the rules we use in English. Therefore, you will have writers composing sentences like, “I wouldn’t mind to have a BMW.” There are categories of verbs that call for the infinitive, and other categories that do not.

Number Four: Using the Wrong Parts of Speech

ESL writers will sometimes confuse parts of speech, using an adjective where they want to use a noun, or a verb where they want to use a gerund, or an adverb where they want to use an adjective. This is common when one is learning a foreign language (those of you learning German, French, Italian, etc. surely make the same kinds of mistakes). Be patient: usually pointing to the word in question is enough to make the writer hit himself in the head, utter some word that you don’t understand, and provide the proper word for him-/herself.

Number Five: Agreement

Subjects and verbs must agree, tenses must agree, and so on. While this category of error is not exclusive to ESL writers, agreement errors are especially likely to plague ESL papers.

To be Continued with Errors #6-10…

WAC Tip # 7: What adaptations can I make to students’ learning styles?

Quoted/Adapted from Ryan, Leigh, and Lisa Zimmerelli. The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2010. Print.

The most basic “categories” of learning styles include visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Many college students are self-aware enough to know which category they fall in. Others can easily answer the question of if they learn best by seeing, hearing, or doing. If you don’t know what the student’s preferred learning style is, you can try some of these methods and adjust if you find there to be a block in their understanding.

Here are some strategies to use when interacting with a student in a one-on-one basis or even in a classroom setting:

Visual Learners

  1. Work from written material, pointing to, circling, highlighting, or otherwise indicating information as you discuss it.
  2. Make writing things down a part of the conference by taking notes, jotting down examples, or drawing diagrams. Writers will be able to take these notes with them as visual reminders of what you discussed.
  3. Use color when possible – various colored pens when working with paper or various colored highlighting or fonts when working on the computer.

Auditory Learners

  1. Read instructions, notes, or other materials aloud or have the writers do this reading.
  2. Repeat or rephrase direction and explanation, especially ones that may be more complicated.
  3. Verbally reinforce points made in notes, diagrams, or other visual aids.
  4. Throughout the session, ask the writer to paraphrase what you have discussed; at the end of the session, ask the writer to summarize what was accomplished and outline his/her plan for the paper.
  5. If working online asynchronously, consider using software to embed an audio file to supplement your written advice.

Kinesthetic Learners

  1. As you read through papers or discuss ideas, ask students to do the writing, underlining, highlighting, or diagramming.
  2. Have students point to material as you talk about it.
  3. Write sentences or sections of a paper on self-stick removable notes, separate pieces of paper, or file cards. Ask students to rearrange the passages in order to find the most effective organization.
  4. Have self-stick removable notes on hand, and use them to identify parts of the paper, like the thesis, topic sentences, and evidence. Have the student write the concept on the self-stick note and then match it to the appropriate part of the paper.

Happy Holidays & Happy New Year!

With the close of the fall quarter here at Cañada College, we’d like to wish happy holidays and a happy new year to all. See you in 2013!

Upcoming Events:

* Cañada College Word Jam (http://canadacollege.edu/wordjam/)

1/7/13 through 1/11/13, 9-12noon

In the Cañada College Library

* Start of Fall 2013 Semester: Monday, 1/14/13

Tip # 6: How do I help students avoid plagiarism?

It is important to take pre-emptive measures to help students avoid plagiarism.  https://canadacollegewac.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/canada_college-seeklogo_com5.gif

Consider the following questions in forming your policy about written work:

  • (How) Will you distinguish penalties for misuse of sources v. plagiarism? (How) Will you distinguish between drafts v. final versions?
  • (How) Will you distinguish between the misuse of sources and plagiarism in your grading?
  • How will you respond if it is on a group project or if it is a student who is a repeat offender?
  • Be clear about your expectations:  Include a definition of plagiarism and a statement of your policy on plagiarism in your syllabus.
    • Have students sign an agreement concerning academic misconduct. Though not legal documents, agreements signal to students your seriousness about the subject and deflate students’ charge that your policies were not made clear to them.
    • Give students the opportunity to practice paraphrasing, incorporating quotations, and citing properly. Distinguish between plagiarism and misuse of sources. Share examples with students.
    • Reward proper citations and complying with all parts of the assignment in the rubric.
  • Make your assignments specific:  Design assignments to be very specific to course content, to synthesize ideas, to apply knowledge, and to require drafts. Require students to connect their ideas to some aspect of the class, such as a point from a lecture or class reading. Limit the range of topics to which students can respond. For example, here are some sample prompt questions that are specific and application-based:
    • In what ways does this particular Impressionist painting reveal the influences of earlier movements?
    • A cat jumps off the end of a table onto the floor. Describe how its vascular, muscular, skeletal and nervous systems contribute to this action.
    • How does Douglass’s notion of audience change between the Narrative and his Life and Times, and how do these two texts differ as a result?
  • Change assignments (even if just slightly) from semester to semester. This can discourage students from using previous students’ work.
  • Review students’ sources. Require that students use local sources—pamphlets, local newspapers and journals, flyers, interviews, etc. Review the bibliography in advance and require that students turn in part or all of print sources with the final draft
  • Use (short) in-class writing assignments:  These give instructors with opportunities to:
    • become familiar with and assess students’ abilities and styles early on so that sudden changes in their writing are more noticeable
    • give students a chance to write extemporaneously, when they cannot become tempted by or mired in others’ words
    • practice using sources: consider asking students to summarize, paraphrase, and/or respond to a source and how each source fits with the student’s paper topic.
  • Use technology to help you. Have students submit all their papers to an on-line plagiarism detection site such as Turnitit.com. Inform students you will randomly submit assignment samples.


Responding to suspected cases of plagiarism.

 Attributes of highly suspicious essays:

  • papers that are barely “on topic”
  • papers that far exceed the page requirement and/or scope of the assignment
  • uneven or unusual quality of prose, style, or correctness—either poorer or better than the writer’s previous work generally or oscillating from poor to good within the paper
  • unattributed quotes or bibliographies that do not match sources cited in the paper
  • a student’s failure to hand in a draft (taking the consequences) but then producing, for partial credit, a final draft that has many if not all of the characteristics cited above.

Responding to individual cases.  If you suspect that a student has plagiarized, you can:

  • Use search engines to match text strings, such as Google or detection software/Turnitin.com
  • Use online detection service to match text.
  • Meet with department chair, course coordinator, or Dean to express your concerns before meeting with students.
  • Follow and enforce your required policy and procedures on academic misconduct.


Tip #5: What are some useful tips on commenting on a student’s paper?

Do’s and Don’ts for Writing Commentary[1]by Adria Bader

Commentary DO’s:

  • Read a draft all the way through BEFORE you begin to comment on it
  • Spend at least 20 to 40 minutes commenting on a single draft
  • Use a number/comment system instead of LONG marginal comments
  • Raise questions from a reader’s point of view; note points that may not have occurred to the writer
  • Focus on the overall problems of content before looking at surface level errors (i.e. grammar, spelling)
  • Phrase comments clearly and carefully (The average Joe should be able to read the commentary and understand what needs to be changed.)
  • Make comments text-specific, referring specifically to that writer’s draft (NO “rubber stamps” such as “awkward” or “unclear” or “vague”
  • Direct comments to breaks in logic, disruptions in meaning, and/or missing information
  • Structure comments to help writers to clarify their purposes and reasons in writing that specific draft
  • Offer SUGGESTIONS, not commands, when possible
  • Comment through the use of questions (“This sentence confuses me a little; can you reword it to make it more clear? OR “Could you make a stronger transition between these two points?”)
  • Look for unexplained “Code Words” in the draft and ask the writer about them (“What exactly does `Different aspects’ mean here?”)
  • End comments should include the main STRENGTHS in a writer’s draft as well as 2 or 3 of the most important things that need improvement
  • If something appears too complicated to write in the commentary, just mention that you have something that you would like to talk to the writer about when you have your conference.
  • If the writer is not sure that they have understood the assignment, and you aren’t sure either, don’t be afraid to tell the writer to talk with his or her professor


Commentary DON’Ts:

  • Don’t write commentary in red ink
  • Don’t turn the writer’s paper into YOUR paper
  • Don’t contradict yourself (“Condense this sentence,” followed by, “You need to be more specific and develop this paragraph.”)
  • Don’t overwhelm a writer with too much commentary
  • Don’t take forever in your commenting on a draft: remember, the writer needs ample time to revise.


For another perspective, here’s a link to a related (brief) article entitled “The Rhetoric of Paper-Marking, Or A Wheelbarrow for Sisyphus” by Ray Smith, Director, Campus Writing Program at Indiana University, Bloomington: http://citl.indiana.edu/services/writing/wheelbarrow.php

It appeared in the Teaching Resources Center Newsletter; Vol. 9, No. 1, Fall 1997