Category Archives: Motivation

Celebrating Writing

Amy Sexton, MSEd, Writing Tutor

Fall means crisp, cooler weather, stunning autumn shows of crimson, rust, and golden leaves, bountiful garden harvests, and, on Friday, October 20, a celebration of writing!


October 20 is designated as the National Day on Writing. The National Day on Writing is sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). NCTE recognizes that writing is a central tenet of literacy and founded the National Day on Writing to draw more attention to and celebrate writing across the nation. This fall, the Writing Center invites students, faculty, and staff to join us in celebrating the National Day on Writing.

On October 20, from 9 am to 5 pm ET, students, faculty, and staff can connect with a writing tutor to talk about writing and its importance in our lives.  Click here to chat with a writing tutor about why writing is important to you.  We also invite you to share your comments here.  Why do you write?  What role does writing play in your life?  What does writing allow you to accomplish daily?  Please share your thoughts, and be sure to include the hashtag #WhyIWrite. You can also learn more about the National Day on Writing by visiting the official web site here.  Happy National Day on Writing!


Bookends: Looking Ahead to the IWCA Conference

By Chrissine Rios, Purdue University Global Writing Center


The 2001 CCCC Convention Program. Photo by Chrissine Rios.

This summer I wrote “Weighing the Books” while boxing up my household and home office in order to move it from North Carolina to Michigan.  Now my books are unpacked and back to being their inspirational selves on shelves.  In fact, I’m working on my presentation for the International Writing Centers Association conference, which is in Denver this month, and I’m seeing on my bookcase the program book from the last time I flew from Michigan to Denver for a big conference.

It was 2001, and I was in my last semester of English Composition and Communication at CMU, going to the Conference on College Composition and Communication (4Cs) to present my teacher research on engaging students at the beginning of the composition course by teaching creative nonfiction.  During the presentation, I shared my positive experience teaching a photo caption essay in place of the reflective essay, otherwise assigned at the beginning of the term.

My co-presenter and grad school colleague then shared how creative nonfiction can be incorporated into the research paper assignment later in the term, and our third co-presenter, who was our Comp and Rhetoric professor and my thesis chairperson, presented how creative nonfiction can be woven into the entire course.   Together we contended the personal writing traditionally assigned in composition could do more to engage and prepare students for success if it were taught less like an isolated, warm-up activity and more like an integrated and malleable path throughout the course that engages students in their personal learning processes via exploration and discovery and the making, or perhaps, crafting, of meaning.

We described creative nonfiction as being flexible—a form shaped by content and not the other way around.  And we described it as expansive—a genre that “centers in the essay but continually strains against the boundaries of the other genres, endeavoring to push them back and to expand its own space without altering its own identity” (Root & Steinberg, 1999, p. xxiii).  Now, fifteen years later, I’m hearing similar language being used to describe the way writing centers engage students, our adult online learners at Purdue Global in particular, by being flexible and expansive.

At the upcoming IWCA conference in Denver, KU Academic Support Center Manager, Dr. Melody Pickle, will be speaking about our uniquely located, online writing center.  If you’ll be at IWCA, come see her speak at our presentation titled, Leveraging Technology for Online Inclusivity.  She’ll address the negotiation of identity that comes with inhabiting an internal and external shared space and how the Writing Center maintains its identity while being a dynamic learning community.

KUWC Tutor, Amy Sexton, and I will also be on that panel.  Our presentation will explore the use of technology, specifically video, to push the boundaries of who we are and what we do in our effort to encourage and equip our diverse students for learning success.  Amy and I will also be presenting Video Feedback for Effective Online Writing Instruction, and Melody will additionally be presenting Online Motion: Using Forms for Dynamic Asynchronous Services, so the KUWC will be well represented at IWCA this year.

For me, this IWCA and the 2001 4Cs are bookends on my career to date with the path between them weaving in and out the texts on my bookshelves.  At 4Cs, I was just getting started.  In fact, it was there that I interviewed for my first faculty position, the one that would launch my professional career teaching and tutoring writing and my move away from Michigan.  Now I’m back home and approaching my 10th anniversary at Purdue Global with nine of those years being in the Writing Center, so at the conference, I’ll be sharing first hand experiences of where we began and how we got here.  I’m also counting on the presentations I attend to inspire new ideas about where we go from here.  You can access the full IWCA conference program online.  You can also be sure that I’ll be bringing a hard copy home as well.


Root, R. L., Jr. & Steinberg, M. (1999). The fourth genre: Contemporary writers of/on creative nonfiction. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Weighing the Books

By Chrissine Rios, MA, Purdue University Global Writing Center

My home office-by-day/studio-at-heart is one of my favorite places for many reasons, and about 200 of them are books.

My Bookcase Before

My Bookcase Before

Some have literally saved my life; others have just stuck to my bones.  Each shelf holds a genre, and each genre holds a part of my story.  On my shelf of children’s classics, for instance, I have The Little Prince.  It was my mom’s when she was a girl, and folded inside is the book report I wrote on it in 7th grade; I can still remember crumpling up the rough drafts of lined paper, and there was a dozen.  Back then good writing had a lot to do with good hand writing, I thought, and I wanted mine to be good.

The Little Prince Book Report

The Little Prince Book Report

Another special shelf holds my reference books including Simon and Schuster’s International Dictionary: English/Spanish, Spanish/English, a 1,597-page hardcover that weighs a ton and a half.  I majored in Spanish in college, studied for a semester at the Universidad Veritas in Costa Rica, and for a year at the University of Puerto Rico—I still have my Antología de Textos Literarios from UPR and a soulful collection of postcolonial literature by Caribbean authors.  I bought the big dictionary when I was waist deep in Spanish classes.  I needed it for survival.  And in the eight times I’ve moved since finishing college, I’ve had to decide if I would again pack it up and take it with me, even though the only times I’ve cracked it open have been almost exactly those same eight times I moved, just to weigh my need for it.

I also have a paperback English/Spanish dictionary, a thick book as well but with the same words and not big and heavy.  And when I opened that one to weigh its importance, my initial thought was I don’t need this one if I keep the big one, but then I saw my mom’s name printed inside the cover and remembered how she kept up with her Spanish all those years I was studying it.  So my decision was made: The mammoth dictionary would go to Goodwill, and my mom’s paperback would stick with me.

In a blogging course I took a few years ago, a woman in my breakout group said she gave all of her books away, all of them.  She could no longer look at the stack looming on her nightstand.  She said she reads e-books now—no clutter, no guilt.  And she loves books.  She was finishing her now published novel at the time, which I read, reviewed, and gifted to my mother.  I loved it.  My shelves may be full and my nightstand too, but I have a living library.  Books come and go.  I don’t keep all I read or even read all I keep.  But there’s no way I could let go of my copy of Running with Scissors that Augusten Burroughs signed for me after his talk at the Florida Suncoast Writers’ Conference in 05.  That book was powerful.

Running With Scissors, Signed Copy

Running With Scissors, Signed Copy

Yet I read e-books too, and when Burroughs’s memoir Lust and Wonder came out earlier this year, I decided I would download it from Amazon.  His books have been filling up my memoir shelf for years, and that’s my favorite shelf! When it came to weighing their worth to me, they were heavy with great love, but also, just heavy, and for about a day, or at least an hour as I pulled those and about 40 more from my shelves to lighten my load, I considered donating every single one of my books to Goodwill or the local library.  I don’t “need” them, after all.  I could get most (but not all) as e-books; I could take pictures of the inscriptions.  Books are heavy to move and expensive to transport across multiple states as I will be doing very soon.

Good Will Books

Goodwill Books

But here’s the thing: I do need them.  I need them in the way a musician needs music and a painter needs paintings and a lover needs love.  Books are my reason for writing and loving language; they are my reward, my inspiration, and they have shaped the life I live, and in my work as a writing tutor and a writer, I use them all the time.  I’ve reopened a box a day it seems looking for one and then another.  It’s terribly inconvenient having them in boxes, but I must pack to move.  And where I’m going, I’ll make a new studio-office, and I’ll shelve my books on a new bookcase (since mine was too heavy to keep), and I will be home again.

Books Worth the Weight

Books Worth the Weight


Meeting Academic Expectations: 3 Keys for Your Success Online

Chrissine Rios, MA, Purdue University Global and Academic Support Center 


Academic success comes from meeting and exceeding expectations at the same time that you are learning what these expectations are. From adopting the conventions of Standard American English and academic style to learning Microsoft Word and how to navigate your course website, when you attend college online, you are expected to perform, see, and think in ways that will feel new if not foreign to you. Learning a new vocabulary and style to communicate when you are well into your adulthood can test even the most accomplished person’s sense of self. Meanwhile, you have chapters to read, content to learn, and papers to write.

Scheduling more study time than you think you’ll need and setting short and long term goals will help, as will seeking the support and resources available to you in the library and Academic Support Center. But every step you take toward achieving your goals will also require more of you—more of your time, your attention, more initiative, commitment, intention, and persistence.

Academic success online is as much about building your character and integrity as it is about acquiring knowledge. Here are three keys to meeting and mastering all that is expected of you for a successful academic career—each one integral to the other. Hold them close:

Key 1: Trust yourself

Learning involves taking risks, which in turn takes having a strong character. In order to overcome the fear of failure or the anxiety of not knowing the answers or what you are even doing, you need to trust yourself, see your learning process more objectively, and take the feedback you receive less personally. Your grades are not a measure of your self worth, nor is your ability to format a header in Microsoft Word. Grades only measure your competency with new skills and knowledge. If you are unsatisfied with your performance, reassess your approach and attitude, and make the changes necessary to achieve the outcomes you want.

Trust in your learning process and the time it takes. If you are here to learn, you are in the right place. The decision to enroll was the right one, and the sacrifices you made or are making to be here are worth it. Trust you belong here. The online university is an inclusive community; you just have to show up, take part, and believe in yourself.

Key 2: Think positive

Your attitude matters. “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right,” said Henry Ford. Self doubt creates a mindset of failure, which leads to just that. When you think positive, you can persist when your best attempts fail. Believe you can succeed. Believe you can do this and only good will come of what you’re doing.

Positive thinking will help you stay on track when interruptions cause delays and when obstacles test your inner strength. When you have problems, don’t complain. Everyone has problems. They are a good reason for being here. The academic environment is a place for problem solving. Apply what you learn here to the other areas of your life.

When you become overwhelmed, take a 20-minute break. Get some air. Step away from the computer and get the mail or water the plants. . . Stretch. Shower. Refresh. Recharge. Then get in touch with a peer, your instructor, or a tutor. You are part of a learning community. Do not let negative thinking isolate you from those here with you.

Also, be positive in your communications. How you are with people, what you say, and how you listen and respond matter. When you attend college online, you write even to engage in casual conversation with peers. They cannot hear how you sound or see your body language just as you cannot hear or see theirs, so do not make assumptions or judgments too quickly. Identifying tone can be tricky in online communication, but listen for it, and pay attention to your own tone when writing.

You are expected to write more formally here to convey professionalism in your communications, so be polite, clear, and kind. Writing in complete sentences will help you to avoid sounding abrupt. And always capitalize the first letter of your name. Take the extra seconds to tend to the details, for that will show you care, which is important. Think before you write and edit before you send. Demonstrate your positive attitude in all you say and do.

Key 3: Tell the truth

You are here to learn, so do not hide your learning or skip what you do not understand or like. Short cuts will only short cut your learning and take you further from the path to your goals. If you do not understand, express this. If you cannot yet write with a college-level vocabulary or syntax, that’s okay. Write how you write and get feedback from your instructors, peers, and tutors, so you can learn and improve. Also, read more. Read like a writer. Consider what makes the text logical, clear, interesting or pleasant, and believable.

Whatever you do, do not plagiarize. If you feel you must convince others that you know or think what you don’t or that you’ve done the work that you haven’t, then go back to Keys 1 and 2: Trust yourself and think positive.  If you don’t have enough time to do your best work, adjust your schedule. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. If you need help, be honest with yourself and others about this, and then you will get the help you need.

Also, when you strive for honesty in all your communications, you will end up being clearer about what you mean. When it’s your turn to contribute to a discussion, write a paper, or answer a question in seminar, your intention to be honest will require that you listen to what you are saying and pay attention to what you are writing. You’ll recognize when you don’t know what you mean or you don’t believe what you are saying, and then you can reflect and revise, which are crucial parts of learning.

When you tell the truth, you can contribute to academic discourse. You are not only in college to learn about the body of knowledge in your discipline, but you are also here to build on it, to add to it. First you learn to comprehend the ideas that came before you, and then you analyze them, discuss them, and apply them to your own experience and knowledge to arrive at new ideas, your own ideas, which you are expected to add to the larger conversation that began before you were in college. This is also why it’s so important that you are here in college. You are needed to grow the body of knowledge in your field of study. You may not have thought about it like this before. But you truly matter here.

If you fear you have nothing to add, if you are intimidated by the process or all the expectations, go back to Keys 1 and 2. Trust yourself and think positive. You have much to say, and learning what that is along with learning how to say it using an academic style takes time, practice, the support of your learning community, and honesty. Reflect on what you are doing and be true to yourself. When you are, you’ll find it much easier to give yourself that well-deserved pat on the back and feel proud of yourself as you should.


The pace and expectations of your online education will increase as you advance in your studies, but they will also become more predictable and more do-able if you begin with these three essential keys. It takes having a strong character and always acting with integrity to succeed not only as a student but also as a professional, so trust yourself,  believe you can do it, and be honest, and you’ll do terrific. Good luck!

Mindful Reading and Living: A Book Review

Jan Chozen Bays’ How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness (229 pages)

Reviewed by Kathleen Bishop, Adjunct Faculty, Kaplan University Health Sciences Dept.

Who should read this book? Anyone who is interested in learning how to be fully present in life, at work, at home, driving in traffic, surfing the net, or cooking dinner. Most of us walk through life totally unconscious of the world around us. This book will help you live a more “conscious life.” Doing so will increase your happiness and your productivity. It will improve your relationships with the people in your life by letting them know you are really listening, really paying attention, and really focusing on them.

Wildelephant Summary: This book is written by Jan Chosen Bays, MD who is a pediatrician, a meditation teacher, wife, mother, grandmother, and yes, the abbess of Great Vow Zen Monastery in Oregon. If you are wondering how she does it all you can find some of her secrets shared in this book. The book is based around short practices that you can do in only a few minutes or even a few seconds that bring you into the present moment and help you stay there. She defines the concept of “mindfulness” and then shares 53 exercises with you each designed to help you gain the benefits of mindfulness: mental and physical health. And I will add improved relationships with self and others.

Why I picked this book? This book was recommended to me by a member of my Zen group and a former teacher. She knew I was looking for some simple exercises to use in my classes and workshops to help teach the principles of mindfulness, to help my students concentrate, and get settled before the class begins. She was right! It is a great resource. I have used it in my life, in my classes on line, and in my face-to-face trainings and it has made a big difference. I have received the most wonderful feedback from my students and participants on how these techniques and this principle of mindfulness has helped them relax, stay focused, and get more accomplished.

Favorite quote from the book: “Mindfulness is a potent tool for training the mind, allowing us to access and use the mind’s true potential for insight, kindness, and creativity.”


Five Steps to Writing with Mindfulness

Kathleen A. Bishop, MS, PhD, Kaplan University Health Sciences Faculty

© 2014

© 2014

Today is the day I’ve decided to write my first blog post for the KUWC, and like all writers I am a little nervous about the whole thing. Will it be good enough? Is the grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure correct? I wonder if the other faculty members will like my writing or if they will think it is boring, simplistic, or uninteresting. Wow! While all of these thoughts are running around in my head how can write? I can’t!

So what are my options? I can just choose not to write. I can chicken out and send an e-mail to the blog editor saying I am too busy and have to forgo the opportunity. Or I could just take a few minutes and do what I do each morning before I start my day—meditate and calm my mind and my body and find that quiet place within me.

Mindfulness is a wonderful practice that I have used in my classes for 20 years. Before we begin class or the assignment we take 60 seconds to get relaxed, centered, and simply breathe. Yes breathe! My students have learned how to focus their attention on the seminar, the class, or the assignment they are working on in just 60 seconds. You have 60 seconds don’t you?

The directions are below.

1. Get comfortable in your chair or wherever you are sitting.

2. Since we hold a lot of tension in our hands, let’s give them a good shake. Now place them in your lap, on your desk, or wherever they would be most comfortable.

3. You can do this exercise with your eyes open or closed. I like mine closed because I am a visual learner, and I get distracted by what I am seeing. So I close my eyes, but you can leave yours open with good results as well.

4. Next, begin by taking three deep breaths but not so deep that they make you cough. Count one on the in breath and two on the out breath. Do that slowly three times.

5. Finally, take a minute and think about how you feel. Is your mind calm? How does your body feel? Has the tension gone out of your muscles? Have your shoulders dropped away from your ears? Has your mind calmed down and cleared? If so, you are ready to being the writing process.

Okay take 60 seconds and try it out!

When the mind is filled with rambling thoughts, fears, and questions it cannot be creative, focused, or fruitful. So begin each writing period like this, and if you lose your focus in the middle of the writing process, stop and do the exercise again. It will only take 60 seconds out of your writing period, and it will give you many minutes of clarity and creativity to use toward a paper or even a blog post!

Note: In addition to reading Kathleen’s posts here, you can also find her on

Procrastination and Writing: Not a Good Pair

Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

At some point in their college careers, most students procrastinate. Procrastinating can lead to substandard work on assignments and failing grades in any course, and while it is undoubtedly detrimental for most all college assignments, it can be especially problematic for writing assignments.   First, procrastination robs writers of time they need to spend thinking about a topic and planning their writing.   Secondly, procrastinating may mean that student writers are unable to take full advantage of writing center support services.

Many college courses culminate with a substantial writing assignment that requires students to use and build upon concepts they have studied throughout the course.   Usually, these projects are previewed in the beginning of the course, so students can start them early. Fortunately, students do not need to be in front of a computer or at a desk to begin thinking about writing assignments.   If they read about and preview their writing assignments early enough, they can then ponder over their topics as they go about their daily activities and responsibilities.   They can mull over the topic, process it, and explore it. They can do this during idle time while waiting to see a doctor or to pick up their children after school or sports practices. They can contemplate their topic while standing in line at the grocery store, getting ready for the day, eating lunch, or driving to and from work. At these impromptu times, they can begin to craft solid plans for upcoming assignments. They can think through their thesis statements and how they plan to develop them within their body paragraphs. They can consider the type of research they may need to support each of their key points.   Putting writing assignments off until the last minute deprives students of this valuable time to think and plan and can lead to sloppy, plagiarized research, ineffective thesis statements, and lack of organization.

Procrastinating can also be especially problematic when it comes to writing assignments because waging a battle against time makes it difficult for students to fully utilize writing support services such as live tutoring and paper review.   The Kaplan University Writing Center receives lots of paper review requests asking tutors to review papers that are due within a few hours. Our turnaround time varies and can go up to 72 hours depending on the volume of paper submissions, so submitting very close to the time before the paper is due can mean that the student receives a review after the paper is due; students will not be able to make suggested changes or improvements before the submission deadline.  Even if the paper review is received before the due date, procrastinators will often still be rushed to find the time to apply the tutor’s suggestions completely.   Similarly, students who wait until the last minute to attend live tutoring for writing help may find that they do not have time to implement all of the tutor’s suggestions. For example, they may think they have written a final draft – while the tutor may see problems with organization and thesis development or logical support, issues that may take more time to fix than students have allotted.

As educators, we can help students realize that their best work is not done right before the deadline or easily accomplished in all-night homework sessions hurriedly researching and writing after a long day of work, classes, household chores, and child care.   We can talk about final projects early and often in our courses. We can remind students of the benefits of spending time with their topic and using down times to plan out writing projects. We can also encourage them to set up realistic time frames for seeking writing support and applying it to their work.   We can talk to them about practical ways to avoid procrastination and direct them to resources like the KUWC Effective Writing Podcast by Kurtis Clements, How Not to Procrastinate. How do you talk to students about procrastination and writing?

© 2014

© 2014

Using To Be or Not…To Be—That Was the Question!

Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

© 2014

© 2014

Situated not too far in the distant past, a young, hopeful senior in college decided to embark on a writing portfolio as part of his minor’s requirements for completion. Accompanying the daunting task of producing nearly two hundred pages of original work in the course of eighteen weeks included a rather strange trip, luckily only once, to the writing center. Baffled by the almost insulting suggestion, said student sulked, thought it a waste of time, but eventually trekked over to the dimly lit—and always under-heated—center all the way over in what felt like Siberia on this particularly cold—but typically Ohio—winter morning. After shedding the three-inch-thick layer of sloppy snow accumulated from the imagined dogsled that braved the arctic tundra, what the student found not only surprised him, but further improved his writing more than any class could.

Nothing about the session seemed out of the ordinary: the tutor pleasantly asked the tutee, me, what issue regarding writing brought me through the door; the session progressed rather smoothly, picking up more momentum as examples became easier to understand; and the tutor acted incredibly professional, offering support along the way and even helped to set up recurring appointments.

“Appointments”—and the word’s plurality continued to ring in my ears until reality quickly—and harshly—slapped me in the face. Looking down at my paper, I realized that my arrogance preceded my impossibly high usage of “to beverbs. How could this happen? How, after four years and dozens of writing courses, did my paper look like the Red Wedding scene from Game of Thrones? Her crimson ink weaved, circled, crossed out, underlined, and plastered the margins of the dissected text, and even went one step too far and took the form of a demonic-looking emoticon that still burns my soul to this day. How could she? Better yet, how could I? The whiplash of reality left me staring down at my paper while the continued question of “Mondays at 9:30?” rang out just in front of my bruised writer’s ego. Somehow, the dark forces of the universe won—I was now officially beginning my weekly sessions with Miss Red Pen and her hatred for all things Kyle’s writing.

Our next session went exactly how one would imagine: I said almost nothing and acted incredibly closed off. Little writing instruction actually occurred, but I did manage to ask for a bit of advice from a writing professional and her bluntness can hardly be matched. Without breaking a stride, she simply said: You must write better. A bit taken aback, I rebounded well and assumed this piece of writing needed drastic improvement, so I decided to write the piece over again for next week—that will show her! The week pressed on and the assignment came and went just as the last draft, but this time I felt I nailed it. Proudly walking to my third session turned quickly to dread within said session as the sequel to my own horror story played out once again in the form of a red pen and too many “weak verbs.” Finally exacerbated and fed up with pen-to-paper massacre, I decided to set my ego aside, forget that I knew everything there was to know about writing, and accepted the help that had been present all along in the form of an experienced writer.

When we first began to work on my draft, almost each and every sentence needed some form of intervention in order to escalate the skill of my writing. Slightly angered but even more humbled, I found that the sentences were not bad sentences by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, the tutor even highlighted the complexity and clarity of the sentences by stressing how much better they could be if we just eliminated the “to be.” And so the fun began! We bracketed off each sentence, starting from the very last one and working our way—some thirty pages in that session—backward toward the beginning. After we completed the last few pages of bracketing, Miss Red Pen, more happily known as Margie, explained via example how to escalate a simple sentence with the right choice of verb—and this excluded my favorite go-to list of all to-be verbs. For example, and straight from the document itself, I ushered this beautiful sentence to the grammatical guillotine:

“The importance here is rather obvious to observe and is further complicated by how impossible it is to be successful when at such a disadvantage.”

With a few quick scribbles and a witty comment or two, the tutor then showed me the marked sentence. I anticipated the to-be verbs due to the previous lashings, but she also highlighted language within the sentence that appeared to “slack”—in her words—due to their weak verb counterparts. She explained the importance of verb selection and how elevated verbs help to establish a firmer sense of understanding. After just under a minute of writing silently to herself, she slid the paper my way, and I glanced down to read a sentence that could not possibly have been my own:

“The importance of shared resources remains rather obvious, and this notion becomes increasingly more complicated by the sheer difficulty of monetary success.”

Sorcery; that was the only excuse for this that popped into my head, but how could a sentence improve so much with a few beefed up verbs? She then proceeded with the next sentence, and then the next, until Margie finally slid the paper back toward me, pointed to the door and said “Have all of these complete for next week; now go write better.” Dragging my jaw on the floor out of the center, I trudged home to what would be the most agonizing writing experience of my life. Each second of my free time, excluding sleep, though I swear that I dreamt of that red pen, was dedicated to reshaping my writing. I wrestled with verbs, screamed at a few, and I even made friends with some that I never expected to in the first place; but the most beneficial aspect of this activity came in the form of reconnecting a writer with his writing. I did not realize this at the time, and if you asked me I probably would have thrown a computer in your direction, but Margie’s words sunk in long after the portfolio had been accepted and my diploma reached its final resting place on my wall.

When Margie told me that I must write better, I immediately took offense to her “attack” on my prose instead of seeing the underlying message behind her critique—she wanted me to be a better writer and not just write a better assignment. Her practice required a great deal of reflection upon each individual sentence, which, with enough practice, progressively builds one’s vocabulary and, before I knew it, my writing simply improved and continues to do so today because of her ‘insults’ at the time. I use these techniques to this day, partially out of habit, but more out of spite to help keep myself in check. At that time, I felt as if the world could be put onto the page in whatever fashion I saw fit so long as it had a point; Margie agreed with this assertion, and still does so to this day, though she will always be that gym teacher that adds an additional knot onto the climbing rope each week knowing she helps students become writers.

Finding Time To Read

By Jay Busse, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

© 2014

© 2014

Reading to improve your writing is like brushing your teeth. It is far better to do a little daily than to wait and do a lot on the weekends. Reading frequently exposes you to new vocabulary, grammatical structures, and writing styles. What can be difficult for student writers is finding the time to read during a busy day.

First of all, don’t limit yourself to paper books. eBooks (Nooks and Kindles) and free book apps for your hand-held devices and even audio books in the car will contribute to the improvement of your writing. These alternatives can provide you with that extra flexibility that you need to make you a constant reader.

Keep a book with you at all times. At home have it with you on your bedside table, so you can reel off a few paragraphs when you wake up as well as before bed. In the kitchen, you can take a few moments to read while the pasta is boiling, the popcorn is popping, or the oven is preheating.

Focus on filling those down times during the day. If you have children, it is part of the job description that you will be waiting for them. Whether it is staying after school waiting for sport or band practice to end, the time you wait is prime time to read. Settle in and make some progress on that literature.

When you are out running errands, the inevitable line that you must wait in provides an opportunity to burn through a few paragraphs, if not pages. Speaking of running, most pieces of gym equipment are equipped with a bookrack. Take the hint, and kill two birds with one stone.

Always make sure you have a bookmark with you as well. You’ll be stopping and starting frequently, so you’ll need to be able to resume without delay. Additionally, for many readers, it feels so satisfying to see that bookmark progress from the beginning of the book, all the way through to the end.

You can even find a few spare moments when you are with family and friends. In any relationship, there are those inevitable down times where the people you are with want or need to check their email, Twitter, or Facebook accounts. At other times, a little channel or web surfing might be favored. When you reach for the book or ereader instead of the remote, know that you’ll be improving your writing as well as turning pages.

It is so important to remember that some is always better than none. Once you get going, you will gain momentum, and it will become a habit. Become a constant reader, and you will see a real development your writing skills.


Top Five Ways to Get Out of the Teaching Rut

By Misty Brannan, Criminal Justice Professor, Kaplan University

Scholar woman. © 2014

© 2014

As in any job, teachers can find themselves going through the motions of their career without a real love or energy for it. And without motivation for your subject matter, you cannot give 110%, which is what your students deserve. If you can relate to this, try breathing some life back into your career path with these top five ways to get out of the teaching rut:

  1. Attend a seminar or conference on your subject matter. Often people find themselves excited about their work after attending a conference or seminar because those putting the seminars on are usually motivational speakers. Even without a motivational speaker, a refresher on your subject matter with the ever changing best practices will increase your desire to try new things in your own classroom.
  2. Research your subject matter or teach a new course. Seminars or conferences are not always an option, but research is! Whether you work on new ideas for your current courses or for a new course, doing a little research can refresh your mind and motivate your interest. Spend some time reading a book or scholarly journal or browsing blogs for new ideas. Talk to your chair and teach something new!
  3. Hang out with colleagues. The human mind needs to express itself. Without someone to talk to, the rut may get deep enough you lose all interest. Talk to others who share your career path.   Sometimes just comparing notes will lighten the rut in your heart and perhaps even lead to a new collaborative project.
  4. Make time for you. Easier said than done, but it is a must. Many like to work out which is a fabulous way to increase energy and reset the mind. However, working out isn’t the only way; each person needs to find his or her own peace. Scrapbooking, reading, fishing, or playing cards with friends can work just as well as 30 minutes with Tony Horton.
  5. Take a break. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I need some time off.” Talk to your chair and skip a session of courses. This will give you time to relax and get done the “honey-do list” eating at the back of your mind. Coming back the next session will make you feel like a new professor again with excitement and nervousness to motivate and enliven your heart.

If you ever find yourself in a teaching rut, give one or all of these practices a try. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your students. And if you’ve experienced a teaching rut before or are in one now, please share in the comments. Remember tip number three: talk about it!