Writer's WebInterview Transcript, Improving Over the First Year
Content by Astoria Aviles and Gabrielle Pound, Site by Megan Venable

Interview: Dr. Joyce MacAllister
Interviewed by: Gabrielle Pound

Question Three:
How do your expectations change over the course of the semester for your students? How
do they typically improve? How do the students adjust themselves over the course of the
semester to be more successful writers?


From my standpoint, you know, with each subsequent paper, if the student hasn’t
responded to comments on the previous graded papers then I’m going to be harder on
them. I want them to implement these things, as I’m sure all of us who teach do, I don’t
like being ignored. So I try to make it cumulative in terms of my assignments.
The first paper may be about a single book, the second may involve comparing two texts,
and the third will integrate more research, so we start with baby steps and add to them.
Over the course of the semester I find that they do respond well to this. I expect them to
be evermore sophisticated in the way, for example, they give credit in documenting
sources, the ways they use direct quotations or fragments of them. Most become more
I think the first paper, in a sequence of three, is almost a throw away. It’s hard for me to
tell if they, in the first paper, are still relying on the formulas in high school and are
simply afraid to learn something new, try something different. By the second paper most
of them shape up, I find that a lot of times they just don’t know how to revise properly,
they don’t know what counts and they are very nervous.

But the same basic rhetorical principles still hold. Always, I tell them, people who write
for a living are always getting your thesis straight and saying ‘what is my point’. That
takes a great deal of exploration. But I do think that students learn by the end of the
semester to be willing to stick their necks out a little bit and, if they start early enough as
far as their writing habits go, they are better about giving themselves direction and
playing with their ideas.

But still, you know, I would say, you get anywhere from 8-10% of students who don’t
listen or are so terrified of the writing process itself and wait until the day before and are
then surprised. I hate to see that happen though I can understand why: we all
procrastinate to a certain extent. But I try to tell them writing is tough. There is nothing
wrong with you. People just don’t talk about the struggles they have so that’s a myth:
writing is never easy.
“There’s nothing to writing, all you have to do is stare at a blank page until beads of
blood break out on your forehead” I think that pretty much sums it up.
. . .
I think most of us understand why students have problems in writing. It’s frightening, as
somebody once said it’s taking your clothes off in public, you know, you are exposing
your thinking process and what you can do.

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