Colleen Flaherty reviews a new study, a collaboration between the National Survey of Student Engagement and the Council of Writing Program Administrators, which finds assigning more writing assignments does not necessarily mean better student writing. Instead, the study’s authors suggest that better, not more, assignments (ones that are interactive and deeper) improve students’ writing and learning. “Meaning making” writing assignments, or those assignments that require students to construct their own knowledge by interpreting texts or learning experiences, are especially helpful for students’ growth, the authors report.
John Warner’s assessment of the disconnect between high school and college writing classrooms is surprisingly more critical of college professors. In fact, Warner argues that professors are responsible for connecting college writing assignments to the outside world. In addressing primary and secondary teachers, he acknowledges that they have good goals in teaching their students restricting writing rules, but he would instead have them, along with all writing teachers, help their students focus on the rhetorical audience and purpose.
James M. Lang begins an excellent series on small changes in instruction with an article on making the most of the minutes before class. In this short time, Lang urges teachers to take advantage of the time with students, instead of using it as a time for administration or organization. Drawing from three books or studies, Lang suggests building relationships, displaying an agenda, and wondering with students.
No writing instruction can prepare students for every writing situation, contrary to what is often assumed of college composition courses. The WAC program at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) admits their required composition course sequence won’t prepare students for every writing assignment in and out of the classroom. Instead, the SLCC composition instructors contend that writing instruction should prepare students to ask questions and adapt their writing to meet different rhetorical situations. The SLCC WAC program created and shared this excellent graphic (below) with the questions their students are expected to ask, answer, and act on as they write. By teaching ways of thinking about writing instead of specific genres, students can ask questions specific to the writing task, and not just consider more general genre characteristics.
When Noreen Moore asked her students to revise, she found they avoided the task either out of fear of messing up their hard-won first draft, or out of confusion about the process of revision. In this article, Moore offers creative solutions to help students revise their writing.
Emily Chambers is an English M.A. student in the Teaching Writing and Literature program and a Graduate Research Assistant for Mason WAC. She taught sixth grade English for five years in Culpeper, VA before beginning her studies at GMU. Emily’s main interests are in teacher development and curriculum resources. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Educators often note that much of the writing students do in school settings (from k-12 to their first few years of college) is written for the “teacher as audience.” Many have suggested that “authentic writing” opportunities are more helpful to students, teaching them to consider audience and motivating them to write. Defined in simple terms, “authentic writing” is a phrase that describes writing for “real life” audiences and purposes. Examples might include asking students to write web text for a non-profit, proposals to granting agencies, letters to the editor, or pieces that will be submitted for publication.
In my five years of teaching middle school classes, the most successful and rewarding authentic writing experience was when I asked my students to submit to the America Library of Poetry Contest. My sixth-grade students used the writing process to compose poems, and after peer- and teacher-conferences, they submitted these poems to be read by national judges. We spent time through this lesson reading poems and talking about the strengths of good poems in our class sessions. This summer, I happened to read a short autobiography by a former student, written for a fundraiser. As one of her interests, Lindsay listed “writing poetry,” and mentioned that she was a winner in a national poetry contest. She had won! I was overjoyed to see that a classroom writing assignment had become a proud moment in my student’s life, and that she had taken on a role as a writer.
Barbara Fister reviews Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle, in light of new threshold concepts that reframe the way we think about what we know. Fister also writes to warn against the undue haste she believes some librarians have with this new Framework. Instead of checklists and learning skills, she would have librarians and faculty think about sharing these Framework ideas in full, fleshed out form. Foster recommends this collection of essays to librarians and those across the disciplines.
Most interesting for WI course faculty is the focus of the book Fister reviews.
Conferencing is an excellent way to not only build rapport with students, but to support and grow student writers. In a conference, a writing professor can address the individual needs of each writer: checking in on their writing progress, asking questions that help the student develop as a writer, and even proofreading assignments. Unlike marks on a student’s paper, conferencing allows for personal, timely feedback in the context of a dialogue about the student’s writing. Moreover, conferencing puts the responsibility on the student, and makes the professor a support to ask questions that guide the student writer.
We’d like to share Appalachian State University’s wonderful resource, a glossary of WAC and WID terms. This glossary (below) may be helpful to faculty in all disciplines who teach writing and work with student writers, as it provides a flexible and easy to adapt vocabulary. Terms included describe the the writing process, the various conventions of written texts, and other aspects of academic writing.
From a piece by Paul Edwards of the School of Information at University of Michigan.
So unless you’re stuck in prison with nothing else to do, NEVER read a non-fiction book or article from beginning to end.
Instead, when you’re reading for information, you should ALWAYS jump ahead, skip around, and use every available strategy to discover, then to understand, and finally to remember what the writer has to say. This is how you’ll get the most out of a book in the smallest amount of time…