Professional Development for FWS Instructors

Pre/In-Service Training and Ongoing Support

The Knight Institute seeks in a variety of ways to support and improve the teaching of writing at Cornell. Often this support is informal, involving conversations and advice as the need arises. The Institute also offers more formal instruction in the art of teaching writing. Ideas for appropriate topics and approaches in a writing course may be found by reading The Elements of Teaching Writing.

Writing 7100: Teaching Writing

Graduate students appointed to teach First-Year Writing Seminars are required to take a course in the theory and practice of composition instruction, Writing 7100: Teaching Writing (offered summer and fall). In addition, they are encouraged to take part in an internship program offered during the six-week summer session, in which experienced instructors introduce them to the teaching of writing. During the academic year, faculty members from the various departments act as course leaders to continue this support and training. New graduate students may also be assigned to more experienced graduate students as part of a peer-mentoring program. Approximately 80 graduate students participate in Writing 7100 each year.

Faculty Seminar in Writing Instruction

The Faculty Seminar, made possible by the John S. Knight Endowment and facilitated by the Knight Institute staff, is held every summer. Four intensive meetings spread over two weeks orient participants to issues and practices related to the teaching of writing. Two of these meetings are devoted to an extensive review of course materials produced by participants. Faculty participants are typically either planning a new course or revising an existing course. These courses are frequently First-Year Writing Seminars or Writing in the Majors courses but they need not be.

The seminar serves two primary functions. First, it gives faculty an opportunity and incentive to reconsider teaching practices with a particular focus on the role of writing at all levels of the curriculum. Second, it provides faculty with an opportunity to discuss teaching with a small group of colleagues from a range of disciplines. Departments and programs represented in recent years include: Africana Studies; Anthropology; Art; Asian Studies; Art History; City and Regional Planning; Classics; Communication; Comparative Literature; Creative Writing; Development Sociology; Education; English; Entomology; Food Science; German; Government; History; Horticulture; Human Development; Labor History; Law; Medieval Studies; Molecular Biology; Music; Near Eastern Studies; Nutritional Science; Performing and Media Arts; Philosophy; Physics; Science and Technology Studies; Sociology; and Spanish.

Interested faculty submit applications in response to the Call for Applications, distributed each spring by the Knight Institute. Participating faculty receive a generous stipend. The seminar typically includes eight participants.

The Peer Collaboration Program

The Knight Institute supports graduate students who would like to participate in collaborative activities such as team-teaching, team-grading, team-conferences, or team-observation. Graduate students submit their proposals directly to their course leader, who in turn submits them to the Institute for consideration. Participants in this program receive a small stipend.

The Peer Mentorship Program

In the Peer Mentorship program, an extension of the Peer Collaboration program, the graduate student who is teaching a FWS for the first time consults throughout the semester with a more experienced graduate student (usually someone who has taught two or more seminars and has previously participated in the Peer Collaboration program). Participants in this program receive a small stipend.

The Graduate Writing Service

Graduate Writing Service tutors—experienced writers and teachers of writing from multiple disciplines—work with Cornell graduate student instructors and faculty to refine and develop strategies for drafting and revising their writing and teaching materials.

First-Year Writing Seminar instructors can schedule face-to-face meetings or online appointments (using an internet-based video and messaging platform). Tutors can also provide written feedback on drafts or course materials through an eTutoring system.

Tutors provide feedback on syllabi, writing assignments, and lesson plans. They are also available to review a set of student papers and discuss strategies for responding to and evaluating student writing. Visit for more information or to schedule an appointment.

The Essay Response Consultation Program

The Essay Response Consultation Program enables instructors to sit down one-on-one with writing tutors to talk about student writing. Because writing tutors have a great deal of experience in reading student essays and teacher comments, they can usefully support writing seminar instructors who want to deepen and extend strategies for commenting on student work. Instructors can work with writing tutors to review a set of papers on which the instructor has already commented, or to discuss a set of papers when the instructor is in the process of providing response and evaluation. Either way, the Essay Response Consultation Program offers instructors a rich opportunity to consider, with informed peers, how their writing assignments and response strategies best facilitate student learning. Contact Tracy Carrick ( or Kate Navickas (

Center for Teaching Innovation

The Center for Teaching Innovation emphasizes the importance of life-long learning in the development of outstanding teachers. CTI’s programs encourage a constant refinement and development of the practice of teaching and encourage a culture in which teachers may discover their most effective teaching methods. These programs support graduate students as they begin their careers as well as faculty members as they strive to achieve excellence in teaching. All CTI programs and activities, be they workshops and seminars on teaching issues and skills or confidential individualized assistance, ensure equality in a diverse community. Further information is available at

Graduate Student School Outreach Program

Offered by Cornell’s Public Service Center, the Graduate Student School Outreach Program provides an opportunity for graduate students to share their knowledge and some of the resources of Cornell University with area elementary, middle, and high school students. Graduate students collaborate with teachers to share their expertise and experience with students through a variety of 3–5 session mini-courses taught by the graduate student. These mini-courses typically take place during one class period weekly. The specific schedule will be determined by the collaborating graduate student and teacher. Want to get involved? Visit

Course Leading - Participant Expectations

All graduate students and temporary lecturers, regardless of experience, work with course leaders. This mentorship serves the goal of collaboration in matters of pedagogy; it also assures graduate students that they will be able to ask knowledgeable faculty members to write letters of recommendation about their teaching when they go on the job market.

The following description of course leader and staff responsibilities should prove useful, whether simply as a review or as new information.

Course leaders

The responsibilities of a course leader, for each semester, are as follows:

  1. In August (or January), before classes begin, to check syllabi and consult with graduate student instructors, to ensure that all sections fall within First-Year Writing Seminar guidelines (5–8 papers; guided revision of at least three essays; at least 25 pages of student writing; no more than 75 pages a week of reading; and so on).
  2. To hold regular meetings at which instructors share ideas with each other such as the integration of the teaching of writing into regular class time and planning essay assignments.
  3. To visit classes taught by the graduate student instructors.
  4. To review each instructor’s responses to student essays.
  5. To be available as a resource for instructors and their students when they need the assistance of a disinterested person.
  6. To review the student evaluations of each instructor’s work at the end of the semester. These evaluations come first to the Knight Institute and are then returned to instructors via their department chairs or DGSs.
  7. To participate periodically in assessment activities related to regional re-accreditation standards.

Visits by the course leader to a graduate student instructor’s class can be made more comfortable for all concerned if certain matters of form are discussed in advance (will the course leader participate in the class, or act as a passive observer? should the course leader be introduced to the class, and in what capacity? etc.). Early staff meetings might cover designing a syllabus (how can the teaching of writing fit in with the sequence of readings? should essays be assigned before, during, or after discussing a text? how much time should be allotted for discussion of rough drafts and revisions?). Other meetings might discuss choosing appropriate paper topics, conducting discussions of texts, correcting essays, and determining (and perhaps even agreeing on) standards of grading

In spring, it is important to meet with prospective graduate student instructors of writing to review the plans they will be developing for reading and writing assignments. An early meeting in spring is especially important if the graduate students will be taking Writing 7100 in the summer. They need suggestions before they develop teaching plans in Writing 7100.

Graduate student instructors

Graduate student instructors, aside from teaching their courses as effectively as possible—which means meeting all scheduled sessions of your seminar, and arranging for an appropriate substitute when necessary — are responsible for attending all meetings called by course leaders and participating in any planned activities such as commenting upon an essay for group discussion. Graduate student instructors should feel free to consult course leaders for help beyond that provided by the regular activities (see item #5 above).

Please call George Hutchinson or David Faulkner if you have questions or if you would appreciate assistance.

Indispensable Reference Home