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Composing Honors Students. Carol Denise Bork Barbara Hamilton American Honors Conference Denver, CO July 26, 2014. WhO are we?. Barbara Hamilton Ph.D. Comparative Literature, Rutgers Former Coordinator, Rutgers Writing Program

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composing honors students
Composing Honors Students

Carol Denise Bork Barbara HamiltonAmerican Honors Conference Denver, COJuly 26, 2014

who are we
WhO are we?

Barbara Hamilton

  • Ph.D. Comparative Literature, Rutgers
  • Former Coordinator, Rutgers Writing Program
  • Mercer Asst. Prof. of English — courses: Composition, Intro. to Drama, World Literature I and II

Carol Denise Bork

  • Ph. D. English, Rutgers
  • Former Coordinator, Rutgers Writing Program
  • Founding Coordinator, Mercer Honors Program
  • Mercer Prof. of English

-- courses: Composition, Intro to the Novel, Women in Literature

history of mercer honors
History of Mercer Honors

What we have done and the basics of how we do it



Strategic help in achieving what they need to move on

How might they differ from traditional community college students?

In general, they have had

  • some measure of success in high school English
  • a supportive relationship with a former instructor they feel close to.


common expectations
Common expectations

Our students:

  • know what has worked well for them in the past,
  • assume that we will enable them to succeed in the same way they are accustomed to,
  • often anticipate a close working relationship with us,
  • and can’t really imagine how college-level work differs from high school work.

WHAT WE expect of our students --Entry into the messy, exhilarating, and fundamentally necessary world of intellectual engagement, public discourse, and social action

Our challenge: getting them to construct knowledge by talking to each other rather than just listening to or talking to us.

yoshino kenji covering the hidden assault on our civil rights ny random house 2007

OUR APPROACH Supportive Disruption

“He had this teacher’s gift, the ability to find the edge of a student’s capacity, and to wait there for him to leap.”

~ Kenji Yoshino, Covering

Yoshino, Kenji. Covering: The Hidden Assault on our Civil Rights. NY: Random House, 2007.

“Inside-out writing” =- Writing without a thesis - mining the text — low-stakes but intensive “discovery work”- challenging rather than simply praising = Always raising the bar- delaying return of one essay until they have drafted another

(Not having a thesis is difficult for students used to formulaic writing.)

(They resist work with a minimal point value until they see the strategic benefit for their final drafts.)


Circumventing the prize student – beloved teacher paradigm =- redirecting the conversation and questions to other students- encouraging group work and collaboration (Flipped classes)- setting up revolving student discussion leadership- mandating directed peer review and post-draft revision

(This is unsettling for those who need the comfort of faculty validation and attention to their ideas.)


What works:

  • Seminar-style classrooms and small class size,
  • Changing student groups for draft workshops and discussion-leading so that all voices contribute,
  • Multi-section conversations and draft workshops,
  • Cross-section discussion forums,
  • Honors social media networking,
  • Dedicated Honors study/lounge space.

How do you encourage students to work together and form a community?

2 faculty support and encouragement for honors students being there in every way
2. faculty support and encouragement for honors students:being there in every way

(but not in the way they expect)


What works:

  • Paying attention: listening, remembering details and using them,
  • Building student input into the course,
  • Choosing “whole text” readings so that students spend time with writers and watch how their ideas develop,
  • Modeling connections: circling back to previous ideas and other courses,

What works for you?


What works:

  • Responding quickly to emails and requests; encouraging office visits,
  • Commenting carefully on oral and written work to point out the promising and encourage development,
  • Treating them as less-experienced colleagues and fellow scholars,
  • Trusting them to think for themselves.
exercise 2 disruptive and supportive commenting
Exercise 2: disruptive and supportive commenting

How would you comment on these two passages to both disrupt unhelpful norms and support students in revision?

thanks for sharing your ideas

Final Discussion


Contact info:

Carol Denise Bork:


Thanks for sharing your ideas!