Spring 15 Session 3 (2/18/2015): Annotation


Last session (2/11/2015), we discussed how to engage with an audiovisual text. This week we moved on to discussing how to engage actively with a written text through annotation, which simply means marking the page with notes.

The Hunter College Writing Center does an excellent job of explaining why annotating a written text is better than “passive reading” or simply highlighting. Check it out here: http://rwc.hunter.cuny.edu/reading-writing/on-line/annotating-a-text.pdf

In class, we reviewed three major categories of information that can be helpful to capture when annotating a text.   These categories are:

  • Content notes (a.k.a. what the text says). When we take “content notes” for a section of text, we’re capturing the overall message/main idea of the section.
  • Descriptive outline notes (a.k.a what the text does).  The Hunter College Writing Center gives a helpful explanation of this category:

A descriptive outline shows the organization of a piece of writing, breaking it down to show where ideas are introduced, where they are developed, and where any turns in the development occur… A descriptive outline will focus on the function of individual paragraphs or sections within a text. These functions might include: summarizing a topic/argument, introducing an idea, adding explanation, giving examples, etc. This list is hardly exhaustive and it’s important to recognize that several of these functions may be repeated within a text, particularly ones that contain more than one major idea. Making a descriptive outline allows you to follow the construction of the writer’s argument and/or the process of his/her thinking. It helps identify which parts of the text work together and how they do so.

  • Synthesis notes (a.k.a “what you say”).  This is the space for your “conversation” w/ the text.  Examples include comments, questions, connections to personal experience, connections to ideas from other sources.

When you’re working with a text that you can’t mark up, you can divide a separate sheet of paper into four columns. The class handout includes a visual example and template for this method. Check it out here: WS S15 Session 3

We practiced this method using the article “But They’re Happening to You at the Wrong Time” (Burles & Thomas, 2012). Sloan will be reviewing this article with you next week in class. You can read it here: photovoice article hw


This week, we’ll be discussing how to write a response paper. To prepare for class, please do the following:

1) Read The Science of Success (Dobbs, 2009). Annotate at least pages 1-4 and 12-13. Your annotations should include at least three categories: 1) what the text says (i.e. content/main ideas), 2) what the text does (i.e. how each part functions), and 3) your own reactions to the text. You can download and print a copy of the article here:

The Science of Success – The Atlantic

or you can access the online version of the article here:


2) Read the handout How to Write a Reaction Paper or Reader Response




Spring 15 Session 2 (2/11/2014): Fake It Til You Make It

As discussed in your syllabus and in session one, the theme of the course content this semester is “success,” and more specifically, what is it and how do we achieve it?  Each week, we are exploring material from writers, scientists, philosophers, and so on, each of whom contribute ideas to our conversation around these questions.

The topic of session two was “Fake It Til You Make It,” in reference to Amy Cuddy’s TED talk, in which she teaches us how “tiny tweaks” involving our bodies can lead to major positive changes in our lives. Amy Cuddy enhances her talk by contributing her personal “success story,” in which she explains how, in spite of expectations to the contrary, she recovered from a devastating head trauma and went on to become a Harvard professor.  Her ultimate claim is that, when it comes to a situation in which your own self-doubt threatens to undermine your success, not only can you “fake it til you make it,” you can “fake it til you become it.”

We used this material to practice our first writing skill: Engaging with an Audiovisual Text.


Warm Up: Marjorie started us off with a laughter yoga exercise inspired by Amy Cuddy’s talk, in which we used laughter and movement to increase our focus and energy. To read more about the practice of laughter yoga and its developer, Dr. Madan Kataria, check out http://www.laughteryoga.org/english.

Reviewing Today’s Topic: After the laughter yoga exercise, we transitioned to talking about today’s academic writing skill: engaging with a text.

A text, in this class, is anything that we write about. In most cases, it would be a written text (e.g. a book), a visual text (e.g. a photo), or an audiovisual text (e.g. a movie or a lecture).  While we’ll be focusing on written texts for the majority of our time together, today we discussed how to engage with an audiovisual text.

Our discussion included reviewing how an audiovisual text is different than a written text. For example, while you can stop and re-read a textbook chapter, you usually can’t stop a live lecture. So how do you “engage” in this setting in a way that will enable you to write about it later on?

When you are asked to write about a text, the first step to finding an interesting angle lies in the reading – or in this case the listening/watching.  To find aspects of the audiovisual text that most engage your interest, start by trying the following strategies:

  • Get Curious.We are often taught to approach a text from a stance of “interrogation.”  This sets us up to find only what is wrong with the text.  It is easy to attack a text – we are inclined to be critical.  It is more difficult, and more skillful, to approach the text with curiosity.  If you can “get curious” about a text, you have a better chance of noticing more about it.
  • Practice listening well. Another way to think about “engaging” with an audiovisual text is listening.  Try listening as if: 1) you don’t know anything about the topic (even if you do), 2) the speaker has something very important to say, 3) you’re receiving a gift from someone you respect.
  • Take notes. Do your best to capture the major messages, key terms, and supporting details on paper.  This practice can help you maintain your focus and retain the information.

There are many different methods of taking notes during a lecture. If you have one that works for you – excellent. We reviewed a simple two-column method in class.

Practice: After discussing how to engage with an audiovisual text, we practiced the skill by listening to the TED talk that I referred to earlier. As many of you found, it is difficult to listen well and also take notes. This is a skill that requires practice – you get better as you go along.

TIP: If you encounter significant challenges, to the point where you cannot absorb information while taking notes, you might consider asking for an accommodation from your school – specifically for permission to audio record lectures.

Another significant challenge involved in listening to a lecture is capturing your own reactions to the material. Because the dual tasks of noting major points and comprehending the lecture absorb most of our attention, noting our own reactions might go by the wayside. One way to capture your reactions while they are fresh is to do a freewrite journal for 15 minutes after class. We also practiced this today.

Preparing for Next Class

Next class we’ll be talking about how to engage with a written text. To prepare for next week, please do the following:

1)      Read the handout from Hunter College entitled “Invention: Annotating a Text” (pages 1-2 of the packet) and review the two versions of annotation attached to the handout (pages 3-7). You can download the handout here:

WS S15 Session 2 HW

2)      Read the article “But They’re Happening to You at the Wrong Time” (Burles & Thomas, 2012).  Practice annotating the introduction section (pages 672-673) using one of the annotation methods depicted in the Hunter College handout.

photovoice article hw

3)      Bring both the Hunter College handout and Burles & Thomas article to class next week.

Session 1 (2/4/2015): Welcome!

Welcome everyone! I’m excited to embark on this semester-long journey with you. As I explained in class, this site will serve as your course “hub” for the semester. You can find assignments, readings, and session recaps here. You can also post questions and comments.

The general format for each post will be the same: I’ll recap what we did in class, explain any assignments that are due, and provide links to further readings that may be helpful to you.

So without further delay, here’s the Session 1, Spring 2015 post:


Since today was our very first session of the Niteo Writing Seminar, we started off with introductions. Marjorie and I (your instructors) shared a bit about our backgrounds related to writing, and we asked you to share a favorite piece of writing or favorite author. Based on your sharing, it seems safe to say that you are a class with wide-ranging interests and excellent taste! Included in the list of favorite authors/works were Philip K. Dick; Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, and The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant (later made into the movie Lawless). Thanks for the recommendations!

We briefly went over the syllabus, and I encouraged everyone to review it in its entirety before the next class. One part we spent some time on was the Kurt Vonnegut (1985) quote from his essay How to Write with Style:

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about.  It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.  I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something.  A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.”

We wanted to draw your attention to this quote because it gets to the heart of this course, which is helping one another find “our angles”  — to identify what it is we care about in each of the course readings so that we can better enjoy the writing process.  For more on this, see the course syllabus.

After reviewing the syllabus, you each shared how you were feeling about starting this course. Responses varied from “motivated” to “neutral” to “anxious.” We discussed that it’s normal to have mixed feelings about beginning this course – after all, it is academic in focus, and it’s going to require that you access a skill set you may not have used for some time or may not be entirely comfortable using. We ask that you keep in mind that this is a space to practice, to make mistakes, to learn, and to build your confidence. There’s also a good amount of fun and laughter – so keep coming, even if you have reservations.

We ended the class by watching a TED talk entitled “A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success.”  We watched this film because the organizing theme for the course content is “success” – what is it and how do we achieve it?  In his talk, Alain de Botton challenges us to think critically about our societal and personal ideas of success. He explains that “developed individualistic countries” foster a particularly stressful culture, where our expectations for ourselves and one another, in terms of personal achievement, are unfair and damaging to our self-esteem. De Botton says that concerning ourselves with being successful is still a worthwhile pursuit; however, he emphasizes the need to carve our own path. He states

“So what I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we are truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough, not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want and find out at the end of a journey, that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.”

After viewing the video, some of you shared your reactions. An emergent theme in your responses was “easier said than done” – it’s hard not to care what other people think. I encouraged you to continue to approach the course materials with an open mind and to continue to note your reactions. While the readings and videos we will be covering all have something to offer, there may be elements that are problematic. We encourage you to continue to voice your opinions.

Each of you went on to discuss your own ideas of success in writing. You filled out a survey that is intended to give us, your instructors, an understanding of your strengths and areas in which you want to grow in terms of writing. We’ll discuss the results of those surveys, in a general way, next class.

Finally, we gave you information on the material we’ll be covering in Session 2, which takes us to the…


Watch “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” TED Talk by psychologist Amy Cuddy (21 mins)

For next time (2/11/2015), come prepared to engage in a class discussion on the following:

  • What are the speaker’s key points?
  • What did you find interesting, surprising, or thought-provoking about this talk?
  • Did you find anything about this talk problematic or confusing?
  • What personal experiences can you relate to this talk?


We also spent some time in class explaining that we will be integrating mindfulness-based relaxation exercises into the course. Writing – for school, work, or fun – is a creative process, and relaxation is key to promoting creative thinking.  Practicing mindfulness can help you to approach assignments with increased focus and ultimately improve your productivity. For those who are interested in learning more about how relaxation is linked to creativity, check out the buffersocial blog post entitled “Why We Have Our Best Ideas in the Shower: The Science of Creativity.”

Spring 2015 Syllabus

Niteo Writing Seminar Syllabus

Spring 2015

Sarah Satgunam, ssat@bu.edu, 617.358.7734 (office)

Marjorie Jacobs, mljacobs@bu.edu

Kim Bovell, kbovell@bu.edu

Wednesdays, 10:30AM, LCR


Essay. Writing.

As you read those words, what goes through your mind?  Some of you, aspiring writers perhaps, feel a sense of anticipation and excitement.  Others, perhaps preferring to spend your academic time with numbers, may feel a sense of drudgery when seeing those words.  Love them or loathe them, you will be asked to write essays in college.  The question then is, how do you make the most of it?  If you love essay writing, how do you hone your craft?  If you are not so fond of this particular kind of assignment, how might you be able to come to enjoy it?

Kurt Vonnegut, one of America’s most well-known modern writers, lends insight into the question of how we can all write better – whether it’s essay writing, email writing, or love letter writing.  He says:

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about.  It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.  I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something.  A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.”[1]

[1] Vonnegut, K. (1985). How to Write with Style.

According to Vonnegut, writing well is not about your expansive vocabulary or stylistic choices; it’s about your own investment in the subject matter.

You may say that, in college, when it comes to essays, you don’t usually have a choice of topic.  You are usually given a specific assignment and are expected to respond appropriately.  Agreed.  In fact, assignment parameters can be helpful – they can serve as a springboard for your creative thinking.  The (exciting) challenge is to find an angle (within those parameters) that you care about.  But how?

This class is about helping one another find our angles; to identify what it is we care about in each of the course readings so that we can better enjoy the writing process.  We will make the practical skills involved in essay writing work for us, using them to capture and clarify points of interest that we can then explore in more detail in the form of an essay.

Course Overview

The word essay is derived from the French verb “essayer” meaning “to try” or “to attempt.”  We can think of writing an essay as just that: an attempt to communicate our ideas in response to a prompt.  We might achieve different degrees of success with each writing attempt, but as with any learning process, the more we make attempts (i.e. practice), the more we develop our skills.

The purpose of this class is to help you approach the essay writing process with confidence.  Even if you already feel confident in your ability to write an essay, this course can serve as a way to enhance your skills.  To help you do so, instructors will review the stages of the essay-writing process, from pre-writing to peer-editing.  We will read academic journal articles and excerpts from literary works; however, the majority of our course materials will be derived from popular (rather than scholarly) sources.  We will use these sources as the basis for thoughtful, engaging discussion and writing assignments.

The organizing theme for the course content is “success” – what is it and how do we achieve it?  We will explore perspectives from a range of disciplines that attempt to address these questions (e.g. genetic science, psychology, philosophy).  This course is not meant to be a comprehensive examination of what it means to be successful; rather, it is meant to stimulate and inform your ongoing thinking around these questions and complement the material you will be working on in other classes and your coaching sessions.

Another important element of this class is practicing mindfulness-based relaxation exercises.  Writing – for school, work, or fun – is a creative process, and relaxation is key to promoting creative thinking.  Practicing mindfulness can help you to approach assignments with increased focus and ultimately improve your productivity.

Objectives of the Writing Seminar

Students will:

  • Annotate a text with summary, descriptive outline, and synthesis commentary
  • Recognize different methods of analysis and practice applying methods to readings
  • Determine a paper topic appropriate to the given prompt
  • Develop a manageable and compelling thesis statement using a step-by-step method
  • Construct a sketch to improve the conceptual organization of an essay
  • Write a three to five page essay using the skills presented in this course
  • Practice mindfulness-based relaxation and movement activities exercises to increase creative thinking, concentration, and productivity

Online Access to Course Materials

Students can access all course materials online via the Niteo Writing Seminar blog.  Each week, a recap of the class session will be posted, along with assignment instructions and links to readings and additional resources.  The blog address is: https://niteowriting.wordpress.com/  (If you are reading this, congratulations, you have arrived!)

Click on the image below for a full-size version of the course schedule:

course schedule


Basic Expectations of Our Time Together

Coming to class and completing assignments are crucial to earning a college degree.  This program is designed to help you develop the habits and skills you will need to meet your education-related goals.  Believe us when we say we know, we are all adults, and life happens.  We will work with you to troubleshoot any issues that arise.  The policies and expectations below, therefore, are not meant to be Draconian rules; they are meant to help you successfully engage in this course and in your future college courses.

Student Responsibilities

  1. Attend all class sessions. Students are expected to attend all classes.  When you anticipate being absent from or late to writing seminar, please notify one or more of the Niteo staff members. Again, life happens, and we will work with you to troubleshoot any issues that arise.  After two unanticipated/unexcused absences, one of the instructors will request that you work with your coach to 1) identify what is getting in the way of coming to class and 2) create a plan to address those challenges.
  1. Come to class on time. Students are expected to be seated and ready for class at 10:30AM.  Every class, there will be a two-minute window (10:30AM – 10:32AM) where you will be asked to respond to a prompt written on the board on a 3×5 notecard.  Handing in that notecard serves as documentation of your arriving on time. If you know you are going to be late for a class, let us know ahead of time via email, text, or phone message.  If you are running late, even very late, we encourage you to come anyways.  Showing up is much better than not coming at all.  Please note: Three times late to class (w/o prior notice) = one unexcused absence.
  1. Complete all assignments. Students are expected to complete all in-class and homework exercises.  If you don’t understand an assignment or are having difficulty completing an assignment, please don’t hesitate to ask one of the instructors for help.  If you are concerned about being able to make an assignment deadline, please talk to one of the instructors ahead of time (anytime except during class – before or after is OK).  Again, life happens, so you get one “free pass” where you will be allowed to submit an assignment late.
  1. Participate in discussions. Students are expected to participate in class discussions and to allow space and time for others to participate.  It is important that everyone has a chance to be heard, so please listen when others are speaking.  To avoid people talking over one another and interruption, please make sure others are finished speaking before starting to share your thoughts.
  1. Treat others with kindness and respect. Treat others as you wish to be treated (i.e., with politeness, patience, empathy, etc.).
  1. Keep all electronic devices on silent or vibrate and out of sight. If you have a learning-related need to actively use an electronic device in class, please inform one of the instructors.
  1. Practice writing and mindfulness skills at home. In addition to required assignments (which do not start until March), we will give you optional exercises to practice your writing and mindfulness skills at home. We encourage you to practice as much as you can.

Responsibilities of Instructors

  1. The class instructors will teach and support students to the best of their ability.
  2. The class instructors will treat students with kindness and respect.
  3. The class instructors will provide extra help (including one-to-one tutoring sessions) to students who need instruction or support.
  4. The class instructors will meet the responsibilities described for students in the class.

Grading Policy

This class is a safe space where making mistakes along the way is a part of the learning process.  To help you focus on the process, we give you a choice as to whether you wish to receive a grade for your work.  For each assignment, you will be given a cover sheet where you can indicate whether you wish to receive a grade.  Regardless of whether you opt for a grade, you will receive encouraging, constructive feedback on your work.  If you do request a grade, your grade will be reflective of what you could expect to receive in a college-level writing course.