I teach small seminars, large lectures, and writing-intensive courses for undergraduate and graduate students. They all ask and answer a version of this question: What is writing and how does it work in the world?


Why is Writing Hard?

Writing is hard for nearly everyone—for college students working on research papers, for published authors, for UW professors. But why? This Comm-B course does not promise to make writing easier. But it will help us understand our own and others’ writing processes and challenges. By engaging with theories of how and why writing is hard, we will gain a more secure footing from which to grapple with the writing difficulties that inevitably arise, not only in college, but also in life. To fully grapple with the composition theories presented in this course, we will also frequently and prolifically write. We will meet regularly in peer review workshops and ultimately will compile and revise a portfolio of our thinking and learning. The final paper for the course will involve empirical research in writing.


Writing and Money

We often think of writing as a fundamentally artistic and expressive enterprise, separate from the workaday world of economic transactions. But writing also has a more mundane, more worldly, more financial side. In fact, writing, writers, and the systems that depend on them have long been implicated in commercial exchange. This course examines how.Specifically, we will tease out the relationship of writing and money as it has been experienced across diverse time periods and places, including ancient Mesopotamia, colonial Latin America, medieval England, contemporary China, 20th century Wisconsin, transitioning Slovakia, and a future dystopic New York City, among others. In doing so, we will see how the writing of accountants, priests, farmers, students, poker players, artists, and teachers has been implicated in global economic trends.Over the course of the semester, students will track their own writing’s relationship to money, incorporating their findings into an auto-ethnographic term paper.


Fast Writing in Fast Times

Research has shown that new college grads are having to use writing more—and more entrepreneurially—to get a return on their investment in their college educations. But how? This course answers this question. It first introduces students to crucial theories about writing. Then, it trains students to do what is needed to meet demands for their writing: summarize a wide range of research in understandable ways, speak persuasively to get to their point, put together written documents with others, and to write, well, fast. Unlike other Comm. B courses, this course will train students in the theories and practice of writing in the expressive and commercial realm, where, as recent research has shown, writing is on the rise, and where students will live out most of their writing lives.


Writing for Peace

Expressive writing has been shown to heal physical and emotional trauma, but might it also promote peace? If so, how? This course, for upper level undergraduates and graduate students in education, explores these questions. In this class, we will conceptualize peace not as conflict resolution, but instead as conflict transformation, a holistic, long-term project, whose goal is equality and trust (Lederach, 2003). This concept of peace, we will learn, includes developing both inner peace and outer peace to promote long-term social harmony for societies recovering from conflict. Writing has a crucial role to play in this process. In exploring theories of peace, critical literacy, and activist pedagogy, this course provides students with cutting edge conceptual frameworks for understanding not only how writing works in the world, but also how writing can make the world better.


Introduction to Composition and Rhetoric: Writing in the World

According to recent studies, writing is on the rise, while reading is on the decline. We spend hours of our work and personal lives texting, emailing, posting, and otherwise composing. What makes writing so economically valuable, so interpersonally engaging, and so darn difficult to do well? This class answers these questions, exposing students to several theories, based in the field of composition and rhetoric, about what it means to write: cognitive, socio-historic, rhetorical, technological, and pedagogical. We will test out these theories in our own writing and on our own writing lives, as students come to know themselves as writers and to more deeply understand the complexity of the pervasive contemporary phenomenon known as writing.


Composition for English Teachers

Who are you as a writer? What makes a writer a writer? And how might we nurture writers’ development in our classrooms? This course, for future teachers of English and for those interested in writing, will explore these questions. In particular, through extensive writing and reading of composition theory, we will develop a vocabulary to understand our own and others’ writing processes, challenges, and talents. Moreover, we will grapple with two of the most complex tasks in the teaching of writing: developing authentic writing assignments and responding authentically to writers’ work.


Intro to the Study of the English Language

For future teachers of English and those interested in language, this course asks you to do exactly what the title promises: study the English language. We will study English in two ways, roughly corresponding to two halves of the semester:

1. Learning about Englishes: First, we will read about the structure and status of English in schools, in the U.S., and in the world. We will start small, with spelling and standard English. Then, we will quickly progress to issues of language acquisition, language diversity, and the phenomenon known as the global spread of English. Through this reading, we will explore two central questions facing English educators today: How might we best write English in a multilingual world? And how might we best teach English in linguistically diverse schools? 

2. Researching Englishes at UIUC: Second, we will develop our own knowledge about English. Through our affiliation with the Ethnography of the University Initiative, we will embark on an original research project in our university community about the way English(es) are used in diverse university contexts. We will present and archive these projects, so that future scholars can build from our work.