Podcast on Directing Composition, Required Writing Courses, and the Vertical Writing Model at App State

Welcome to the June 6, 2022 edition of the Torg Stories podcast. On this episode I talk with Dr. Bethany Mannon. Bethany directs the Rhetoric and Composition program at App State University. I am a lecturer in that program, and I teach a second year required course called Writing Across the Curriculum / RC 2001. 

This conversation is a part of a larger project I am working on that examines the progression from the required first year writing course at Appalachian State to the Writing Across the Curriculum class I most often teach, and then on to the Writing in the Discipline courses that are taught within each major. 

Audio only version of the podcast also available in the podcast app of an iPhone.

I’m always hoping the podcasts can work as conversation starters among writers, students, and those who teach writing. It would be great to hear about your experiences taking and teaching writing courses.

Writing with Nothing to Say: Journal July 2, 2018

Today is the first day I’ve sat down to write without knowing what I would say. Obviously, I could have just not written, but if I ask students to write regularly, they are going to be in this same spot, and I want to try and do what I will ask them to do: write when they don’t feel like they have something to say.

Is it my job–as the writing teacher–to help students make words come? Last school year, I noticed that many of the students in the classes I taught had trouble making words come. According to something Greenwood High School called the Senior Capstone Project, the students had to write twelve 200-word reflective journal entries. Lots of students could only come up with a sentence or two. I worked with many of these during free time at lunch or after school. I found myself asking questions like this:

  • Before the year started, what did you think about the project? Did you have any idea what your topic would be? Did you know anyone who had worked on the project? What did they say about it?

Students would write something like this: I went to see my mentor. The meeting went well. He showed me a project proposal. 

writer's block, fluency, journal writing

facing the blank page

I thought I could get the students writing more toward their 200 words. I’d ask them where their mentor worked. I’d ask them where they met. I’d ask if they were nervous. I’d ask who talked first. I tried to get the students to just go into more detail and make what they were writing a story of the meeting. I would tell the students that the answers to my questions should be put into the writing.

I thought my questions should fire the catalyst to write 200 words, but I found that I had to keep asking questions until the student reached the minimum writing requirement. The students hadn’t had much practice making words come when they needed words to come. Is this something that matters?

7 min writing word count: 337

Maybe next time:

  • Vonnegut’s writing desk
  • Memorable or useful experiences in the writing classroom
  • Somewhere to Live.
  • Places I’ve Lived.
  • Gluten for Punishment.

Journal Entry June 29, 2018

I am thinking about having students in my writing courses write for seven minutes each class session. I could give them the choice of writing in a journal or in a digital document. I wondered how many words I would write in seven minutes. Here I go.

Of course writing is more than about word count but if there isn’t a minimum word count then there will be a few students that will write something like 17 words, call it a day, and then check their phone or head off to the bathroom. So there needs to be a minimum that they can finish up on their own time.

I feel torn about the WAC class I am to teach. On the one hand, I like thinking of writing studies as a field that can be studied like an Introduction to Psychology class. There is much to be learned for sure. It makes the course more rigorous. Will any of the info stay with the students in the years to come? Will I be able to get the students to engage with texts about how writing works?

Rapid change of topic: can I figure out a way to give the students reading check quizzes online? What platform should I choose that will integrate with Digication, the platform I will use for the students’ to build their ePorts? I haven’t given reading quizzes for years, but I need to use some leverage to get the students to read, right?

On the side opposite the idea for a writing studies class is more of a digital genres kind of class where I can bring in some of my enthusiasm for podcasts, documentaries and working with images and video. There is a more straightforward path I can see to the students enjoying the content and the experience being more memorable for the years to come.

7 minutes is up. Word Count: 312

Welcome to Torg Stories!

Torg Stories is a place for me to write about what tugs at my attention. I spend a lot of my time thinking about writing and the teaching of writing, content creation, and coaching basketball. Over the years, I’ve directed four films, had three books of fiction published, and won several screenplay awards. I’ve organized some of the topics I write about into the following categories:

  1. Youth Basketball Workouts and Player Development
  2. My family’s French Broad River Adventure
  3. The Craft of Writing and Teaching Writing

Like Holden Caulfield says in The Catcher in the Rye, “The trouble with me is, I like it when somebody digresses. It’s more interesting and all.” Rather than chastise myself about too many digressions or what could be seen as a scatterbrained approach to my work, I’ll say my writing here embraces an interdisciplinary way of thinking that allows for more of life to come in from the outside and get onto the screen. A big hope for this space is that it might allow us to learn from each other and share a good story or two. Like this one time, me and my family–having never rafted on our own in our entire lives–rafted 149 miles of the French Broad River…

On the French Broad River Torgerson French Broad River Paddle Trail Asheville Rosman MountainTrue RiverLink

Charlotte, Bill, Izzy and Megan Torgerson with Hot Springs, NC in the Background

A bit more about me: I’m a native Midwesterner who was born in Logansport, Indiana and a person who moved to Illinois to go to college, back to Indiana to teach and coach, to North Carolina for graduate school, to Georgia for more graduate school, to New York City to teach at St. John’s University, to Connecticut to escape the crowds, back to New York City to escape the commute, back to North Carolina for the mountains, back to Indiana to coach, and now we Torgs are getting ready for another move back to North Carolina. Next fall I will begin a lecturer position teaching composition at Appalachian State University in Boone. A few things I learned the past year:

  1. I found it impossible to meet my expectations for the kind of English teacher, basketball coach, husband, and dad I wanted to be balancing all of those responsibilities.
  2. I want to be free in the late afternoons to spend time with my wife and daughters, whether it’s playing hoops, working out, doing homework, creating content, or going on family adventures.
  3. We Torgs feel at home in the mountains of North Carolina.

Below, you’ll see a bit of what I’ve been up to over the years:

Books

Click here for Torg books for sale on Amazon

Indiana, basketball, love, divorce, winamac, Indiana, Pat Conroy, book club

Pat Conroy called The Coach’s Wife“One of the best books about basketball and coaching I have ever read with a love story so complicated and wonderful it will have book groups talking about it for years.”

Thanks to Pat. I learned a lot about writing from reading his work, and I’m thankful to be able to keep hearing from him via his books.

***

MIdwestern Gothic, novel in stories, Winamac, Indiana, basketball, Flannery O'Connor, William Torgerson

Horseshoe is Midwestern Gothic collection of stories with themes about love, sin, guilt, and redemption.

romantic comedy, eighties, John Hughes, Say Anything, Olivet Nazarene University, basketball, college writing, winamac, Indiana, book club

In Love on the Big Screen, Zuke is a college freshman whose understanding of love has been shaped by late-80’s romantic comedies.

Films

morel mushrooms, hunting, Indiana, France Park, Bill William Torgerson, Martin Torgerson

The Mushroom Hunter is about my father and his buddies’ passion for hunting morel mushrooms.

Click here to watch “The Mushroom Hunter” free online.

More Torg Stories films: Christopher’s Garden and For the Love of Books

Assignment Overview: A Writer on Writing

For an upcoming meeting at St. John’s University where I teach First Year Writing Courses, I was asked to speak about some aspect of my teaching. I decided to share an assignment I’ve been giving the past few years I call “A Writer on Writing.”

Some ways we learn about writing in our course:

  1. We write regularly for an audience we interact with.
  2. We read what other writers have to say about writing.
  3. We write to learn by situating our thoughts and reflections about writing within what other writers have written about writing.
  4. We learn to read like a writer by paying attention to choices writers make in their creation of texts.

Here are some examples of the kinds of texts students take a look at: 

  • Zadie Smith’s “That Crafty Feeling”
  • Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts”
  • Keith Richards’ excerpt from Life about songwriting
  • Stephen King excerpt from On Writing
  • Alice Walker interview “Writing to Save My Life”
  • Mark Doty’s “Souls on Ice”
  • Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”
  • Do you have favorite texts about writing to recommend?

My introduction to this assignment from the course I taught this summer:

At least in this class, you have been a writer writing with other writers. I want you to claim this identity of being a writer for at least the purpose of this paper. You are the writer saying something about writing in this paper. My impulse to give you this assignment was that you would tell us about your experiences writing in this class while integrating the thoughts of writers you have been reading.

I do want to give you the space to do something different with this assignment if you’d like. Some students in the past have decided to focus on their learning of English, their dislike of writing, their wish to write screenplays, that they do slam poetry, that they speak five languages, or to think about the writing they publish on Twitter or other social media platforms. It’s a wide-open assignment as long as you focus in some way on writing and/or the use of language. Write at least 1,500 words and quote from at least three of the Writer on Writing texts (Peter Elbow counts as one if you want). You’ll use signal phrases, direct quotes, parenthetical citations, and do an MLA works cited page.

Some titles and “Golden Lines” from papers written by students the past few semesters:

  • I Dare You: I hate what they’ve done to me. They’ve made me into a robot. They’ve made my writing into a Mad Lib. Insert noun here, adjective there, quote here, citation there.” -Tatiana Castellanos
  • Writing for Me: In high school, we were assigned a paper and whenever it was due we would just hand it in to the teacher hoping to get a high grade. Having classmates listen along as you read your paper was something I’d never done before. Something I realized while writing papers in this class was that I was afraid. In “The Teacherless Writing Class” by Peter Elbow, he claims, “You have to keep from making apologies or giving explanations. For example, ‘I just wrote this last night, I didn’t have much time and didn’t revise it at all’” (101). Even though I felt self-conscious and uncomfortable reading my paper to people who were then strangers to me, I stopped myself from making excuses about my writing and waited for their criticism. What surprised me was the amount of positive feedback they had to say about my paper. -Sharin Chowdury
  • Learning to Write an Essay: Have you ever been afraid of doing something? For example, have you ever been afraid of talking to people? Or have you ever been scared of opening your mouth and saying something in your head? I have. I am a student from China still trying to learn English. -Xinxin He
  • Writing Does Not Have to Be a Burden: I remember that my classmate Farzana Haniff wrote in her process essay about how she kept erasing and rewriting her essay about her trip to Guyana because she thought it wasn’t good enough. Then she wrote about how she was able to get over her writer’s block which I think serves as great piece of advice. She wrote, “I decided to just go with my gut and to just continue writing whatever came to my mind. So I completely ignored the ‘delete’ button on my laptop and I just kept typing without even fixing spelling errors.” I thought about what Farzana wrote whenever I encounter the same problem of erasing and rewriting and it has helped me over think less about my writing choices. -Sammie Li
  • The Little Big Things: The writing process was tricky for me. I wanted to avoid being cliché and dull but when trying to write about something of this content, it can be difficult. During this process the reading from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott reminded me that no matter how successful a writer is they often feel like they are “pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid” (22). This told me that it was okay that I was having a difficult writing process; I simply had to feel it out and roll with the punches. -Sarah Khan