First-Year Writing Instructors Attend CCCC in Kansas City

The pen, or perhaps today we would say the keyboard, is mightier than the sword.

The First-Year Writing Seminar is a foundational course at Cottey, empowering students with a
valuable toolkit for reading, writing, and analysis as they tackle college-level academic work for the first time. The course also provides a way for students to learn more about Cottey’s mission and vision, connect with the institution’s past and future, and form stronger bonds with their classmates — all essential ingredients for long-term success. Each section of the course focuses on key threads of Cottey history, along with women’s leadership, social responsibility, and global awareness.

The seminar helps students build the essential skills of communication and critical thinking. It is taught by faculty members from a variety of disciplines, who each bring their own insights and perspectives to the course. Faculty members from international relations, environmental science, leadership, sociology and more guide Cottey first-year students to expand their scholarly abilities through selected readings, class discussions, and informal writing assignments such as journal entries and reaction papers.

In March of 2018, the year’s First-Year Writing Seminar instructors Amanda Cook, Melody Denny, Peter Hyland, MaryLaughlin, and Sarah Quick attended the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) in Kansas City, Missouri. The conference — titled Languaging, Laboring, and Transforming — offered a valuable space for these Cottey professors to hone their knowledge of first-year writing instruction and exchange information and inspiration with their colleagues in the field.

One of the conference’s widely attended sessions was titled “Laboring to Transform the Culture of Writing at a Liberal Arts Institution.” Professors Denny, Hyland, and Quick participated in this session, which presented a case study from Elon University in North Carolina, which aimed to better prioritize writing as a key aspect of their mission and identity. A cross-disciplinary team – including an administrator, assessment specialist, faculty member and the director of the Writing Center – each spoke and offered their own perspective on the process. “It was useful to see how this campus created a change,” said Professor Quick.

Another valuable session focused on “Threshold Concepts,” which highlighted one writing instructor’s research on the student experience in the writing classroom. “The Threshold Concept in writing studies is useful for thinking about how we may transform students’ perspectives on writing as a process, something that involves practice, etc.,” said Professor Quick. “There are many ‘threshold concepts’ specific to writing studies, but this professor noted what the students seemed to think about writing vs. what we are trying to ask them to do.”

Insights into the latest research on writing education are always useful for instructors, particularly as they design next year’s curriculum. Cottey’s First-Year Writing Seminar is an innovative and forward-thinking course; the curriculum design reflects newer research about liberal arts pedagogy and campus culture, and will continue to evolve.  

“I was particularly proud to be part of an innovative and highly collaborative writing seminar team at Cottey,” said Professor Cook. She found the conference especially inspiring as she approaches the subject as an expert in another discipline – music instruction. “I attended a session about writing across the curriculum that discussed how to engage teachers in other disciplines, and some of the differences between writing assignments in writing classes versus other disciplines.”

Professor Cook also enjoyed a session that explored the “iSearch paper,” an alternative to the research paper. She said, “Students choose their topic and a question to answer, and use a first person narrative. The goal was to stress that you don't leave yourself behind, even when writing academically. Although this is a different assignment than we use in FWS, I think we have a strong through-line of using your own voice and experiences, bringing yourself into your academic writing. This session also discussed the importance of teaching students how to generate their own questions, do keyword searches, and find the conversation in their field. This is something I would like to emphasize more next year in FWS.”

Another interesting session focused on the importance of offering feedback on student writing — and what kinds of feedback best promote learning. This topic is of particular interest to Dr. Cook, who continues to build on the writing faculty’s established grading guidelines that provide structured feedback and set clear expectations for writing students. “One of the ideas I’m taking from this session is to use a structured comments page to help me focus my feedback. I'd like to include strengths, talk about the ideas and organization in the paper, and give three suggestions.”

Overall, the First-Year Writing Seminar faculty found the conference a fun and rewarding experience. “Having the opportunity to attend the Cs with all of the FWS seminar instructors was incredibly valuable,” said Professor Laughlin. “I had the chance to hear about writing assignment design, feedback, and pedagogy (I particularly enjoyed "Burke and Berlin in Composition Pedagogy") and to learn about international research projects. It was a great privilege to then be able to discuss and reflect upon the conference with my colleagues across the disciplines. I think it was time well spent.”  

More about Cottey's writing program can be found online at


  1. Judy, Great to hear from you! Students love to receive support from P.E.O. and enjoy hearing from you. To see some options for support visit


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