Category Archives: Teaching Writing

Angelo State Poet Warriors

Here’s a final day photo of my happy poet warriors* in English 3356: Poetry and Poetry Writing.Class Photo 12 10 2015

And here is the soapbox Don Scott in Facilities Management at Angelo State made for me so my students would have a place to stand as they performed their poems in class.

Soap Box

Here is the syllabus for the course.

Syllabus Poster ENG 3365

More on the class here.

*”Poet warriors” is a term we used in class based on our reading in Pema Chodron’s The Places That Scare You wherein she describes the Buddhist concept of bodhichitta, the courageous and open-hearted consciousness necessary for authentic understanding and engagement with each other and the world.  Studying and writing poetry in this course were the paths we used to develop that kind of consciousness, or what is traditionally known as “the moral imagination.”

Drawing is Learning Comic Article Published in JAEPL

I’m happy to report that a 12 page comic article co-authored by my daughter Myra Musgrove and me has just appeared in Volume 20, Winter 2014-2015, the 20th Anniversary Issue of The Journal of the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning.

JAEPL Cover Winter 2014-2015

I would like to thank Joonna Trapp and Brad Peters, co-editors of JAEPL, for inviting me to submit an article for this anniversary issue on the topic of visual thinking, and especially for allowing Myra and me to create and present the article in a comic format.

Page 1 Drawing is LearningI’d also like to thank my daughter Myra for drawing such a beautifully drawn comic article.  This is our first published article together, and I look forward to many more collaborations.

Drawing is Learning - Top of Page

You’ll see “Musgrove & Musgrove / Drawing is Learning” at the top margin of the right side facing pages.  I can’t tell you how wonderful that makes me feel.

Drawing is Learning Internal Pages

I’d also like to thank Scott McCloud for inspiring me to teach comics and offering all of us new ways to conceptualize and compose non-fiction visually.

Drawing is Learning Notes and Resources Page

I’d also like to thank Sunni Brown, Mike Rohde, Dan Roam, and Brandy Agerbeck who have helped me understand the power of visual thinking, teaching, and learning.

Notes Detail Drawing is Learning

The Notes pages is one of my favorite pages.  Rather than using numbers to signal footnotes, we used actual notes.

Drawing is Learning Bio PageAnd the final page shows the proud father with his awesome daughter.

The electronic version is here.


Advice on Teaching Writing

This morning I received the following email from a graduate student at Princeton.

Dear Professor Musgrove,

I am writing to you because I recently ran across two of your articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education. I just finished grading a batch of student papers, and in my frustration, I googled “is student writing getting worse?” Worse Than Ever? was the first result.

I appreciate your thoughts on the question–especially the point that we tend to compare student writing to our own atypical experiences.

My real reason for emailing is to ask if there is any literature you can recommend for college teachers who do not teach writing. I teach political science and political theory, so I don’t get to spend as much time on student writing as I would like. I sometimes wonder what I can say to my students that will really help without turning my classes into writing classes. I hope you will understand what I am after.

Best wishes, and thanks in advance.

Here was my response:

Dear ________,

A few ideas come to mind that might be helpful.

  1. Assigning, Responding, Evaluating by Edward M. White.  Some good advice in this on designing assignments so that students have the best chance of success.  Good advice also on best ways to respond and to evaluate student writing.
  2. Style by Joseph M. Williams.  This is one of my favorite books on writing, though its emphasis is more on writing clearly than on correctness.
  3. If you are encountering student writing that consistently contains the same kinds of sentence errors, such as run-ons or comma splices or other related problems at the sentence and comma level, you might spend some time reviewing three kinds of sentence strategies: 1. simple sentences with introductory phrases, 2. compound sentences, and 3. complex sentences.  Most student writing errors can be remedied with a review of these basic sentence strategies.  See here a mini-lesson packet I developed for my students: Musgrove-Mini-Lesson-Packet-July-22-2013.pdf.
  4. Also, we know that student writing degrades significantly as students attempt to write about ideas that are new to them.  A kind of cognitive dissonance takes over when students are engaged in that struggle, and as a result, they can’t always see or read what they are writing.  So they need more time than they would if they were writing about something they were more familiar with.  In other words, they need to be reminded (or taught) that writing is a complex and time-consuming activity, and perhaps one of the most difficult tasks humans perform.  However, students will be more willing to put in the time and effort if the writing task includes two attributes:  1. Choice – students have the opportunity to choose among writing prompts – choice leads to ownership and responsibility;  2. Authenticity – students write for an audience or purpose that is not limited to professor and class – how might assignment be designed so that students will see their writing published or share with audiences beyond the classroom?
  5. Related to 4:  Students don’t write well because they don’t read well.  Sometimes, teaching students how to read the texts we offer them can go a long way to remedying writing problems.
  6. Overall, I think that if you can persuade students to value what you want them to value in your classes, like good thinking and good writing and good reading, most problems go away.  Otherwise, because most students have learned in our culture, tragically for our democracy, that thinking and writing and reading in school are oppressive activities (they are forced to think, write, and read what the teacher orders them to think, write, and read), they will continue to believe that until you persuade them otherwise through activities that offer them choices and practice in writing for eyes other than the teacher and the red pen.  See also Paulo Freire on the banking concept of education and its role in dehumanizing education.   Ultimately, your use of writing in the classroom should follow your teaching philosophy.   How might it contribute to students’ chances at achieving human and democratic fulfillment?
  7. You are competing for your students’ time outside of class.  The more you can use in-class time to help your students achieve success in writing or reading or thinking, the more success you will see.  It also follows that the better relationships you build with your students, the more time they will dedicate to you and your assignments.  That competition for student time/attention is rarely considered when thinking about student performance in our own classes.

I’d be happy to chat with you further.



When I Was 6 X 6

Monday, June 30, 2014

This morning in my “Reading Graphic Novels” class, I asked students to draw a picture of themselves when they were 6 years old and then to develop a 6 panel comic based upon an experience they had during that time in their lives.

Because they have a Final Comic Assignment due in two days, I thought I’d give them a chance to draft something this morning that they might develop further into a 12 panel comic for this week.

First, I showed them an example or two of Lynda Barry’s “Marlys” comics to give them an idea of what might be possible.

Then I asked them to draw a portrait of how they looked at 6.  I also asked them to think about what clothes they might be wearing, what games or toys they played with, and the relationships they had with siblings and friends.

Next, I asked them to draw a narrative box in which they wrote, “I am [their name], and I am [some activity].”

After letting them draw and write for about 10 minutes, I then passed out blank 4 X 6 inch note cards and asked them to draw a 6 panel comic based upon their portrait and brief narrative.  After 15 minutes, I asked them to share their comics with each other, and then asked if anyone would like to share theirs with the class on the document camera.  About 8 students volunteered.

Here’s the one I sketched quickly;

My Job My Job_001 My Job_002 My Job_003 My Job_004 My Job_005I’m happy with what my students were able to sketch out for comics in the limited time I gave them.  Now I see that this is an exercise I could use in any class to prompt personal narrative writing.  I will definitely use this exercise in my creative writing class in the second summer session starting next Wednesday.  I’m also happy with what I learned about myself at the end of my comic.

Visual Agenda 1st Day

first day visual agenda 6-2- 14Here is the visual agenda for the first day of class next week in my summer Reading Graphic Novels class.  Given the course topic, I’m trying to draw as many examples of sequential art as possible in my teaching of this course and the lesson plan or agenda for the class is a good way for me to show that.

  • Panel 1 = introductions
  • Panel 2 = review the syllabus
  • Panel 3 = ask questions about the syllabus
  • Panel 4 = diagnostic on what students already know about graphic novels and comics
  • Panel 5 = lecture and workshop on visual thinking
  • Panel 6 = homework for next class

More on this class here.

More on my use of visual agendas here.


Notes on Breathing

There are times when I get  the urge to write or draw, so I begin to look for something to read.  

Or something to look at.

This urge comes to me not because I have something to say or an image I want to make.

It’s because I want to have the pleasure that I know comes when I write or draw.

And I know I have to be in conversation with other ideas or other images to generate that pleasure.


The conversation begins with listening or seeing, and then my part in the dialogue is what I make in return.

So my words or my drawings are my replies.

No conversation.  No reply.  No pleasure in the making.

Just silence.  And darkness.

Creativity is nothing special, of course.

But it has requirements.

Like breathing.

Like breathing in light.





Conferences del Popolo

Here’s another photo by student Daniel Calhoun from our next to last day in Rome at Piazza del Popolo.  What a great place to conference with my students on their final writing project for the travel writing class I’m teaching.  Near by a trio of musicians were playing, and a man was making large soap bubbles float into the air above the piazza.Piazza del Popolo conferencing

Camminare a Roma

Here’s a nice photo of my ASU students and me on the Spanish Steps this morning.  They are taking a Travel Writing class with me during the first 8 weeks of this semester culminating in a spring break in Rome.  After all the walking I’ve done here in Rome (including a climb up to the top of the cupola at St. Peter’s Basilica), I hope my pooch Huckleberry will be ready for some extended evening hikes.Spanish Steps Travel Writing Class (1)