Natasha Brown shows how Writing Accountability Groups can work for students … and professors
During Indiana University Northwest’s spring break, Natasha Brown, associate professor of communication, took a trip to Cozumel, Mexico. For her, the vacation destination was her opportunity to get work done; perhaps in stark contrast to the many others basking in the sun.
Now, recently returned home Brown can’t wait to make future travel plans to complete her next writing goals.
“What inspired me was the nice weather,” Brown expressed. “I completed 90 percent of my writing project while I was on the retreat. During the semester, you have classes, you have meetings, just regular responsibilities. And when you are away, you don't have to worry about those things. You can just focus.”
Writing Accountability Groups (WAGs) help Brown accomplish her goals, whether on a relaxed retreat in Mexico or carving out space for her writing within her busy semester schedule.
WAG groups usually meet over the course of the academic quarter or semester — anywhere from 10 to 16 weeks — and each participant seeks to finish a project during that timeframe. These structured writing communities, which requires incremental, focused effort, helps ensure success by providing support in writing goals, project completion and practical tips for reducing distractions.
“I actually ‘WAG’ with a mathematician, a nutritionist, a pharmacist and a creative writer” on different days of the week, explained Brown. “And none of them are in-person. WAGs started before Zoom and people were meeting face-to-face. But for me, I do it all virtually.”
Great focus brings great fun
With a project deadline approaching, Brown had a big idea to take one of her WAGs out of the country to embark on a writing journey to complete her goal.
“It is the Midwest. It's cold, it's raining and I had a project that I needed to finish,” Brown said. “What I did was an extended weekend retreat. I actually had a schedule. We started early in the morning, and instead of our typical 45 minutes, we had two-hour work times, so we could work and then we would go to lunch and explore Cozumel.”
Using WAG practices in the classroom
Brown brings her WAG experience into her classroom to help her students with time-management and goal setting.
“In the senior seminar course, students finish a project they proposed in the previous semester and they execute it in the final semester of their schooling,” Brown said.
By introducing WAG concepts, she can provide more assistance to students.
“Because what do students (and sometimes professors) often do? They wait and work up until the last minute; not always putting their best work forward,” she added.
During the second week of her course, those WAG concepts are introduced, and students are challenged to set writing goals for a specific period and track their weekly progress.
“I help them in the first couple of weeks make SMART goals,” Brown describes. “Around mid-semester, I do a check-in where I'll review the students’ drafts. One of the hardest things is setting goals to ensure they're making progress. If the student is struggling, I can give them the tools they need to be successful.”
WAGs can help students in many classroom settings where writing goals are present, says Brown, who provides more detail regarding how she has utilized WAGs in her teaching in an article published in Communication Teacher. Brown recommends faculty utilize WAGs for their own writing accomplishments as well. And like Brown realized, if a get-away retreat is needed, that’s a great option, too.
“I would encourage faculty members to at least try WAG concepts to see how they like it...by dedicating just one day a week, to meet up with other people (in person or online), to see how much progress they can make,” Brown suggests. “In terms of a writing retreat, the purpose is to finish up something. Find a location that is inspirational to you.”