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Monday, May 06, 2013

Integrated Writing Approach


 If you’re looking for a humorous and enlightening conversation, ask some professors about the writing assignments they receive from students in their courses.  The reactions will amaze you.  When I asked a professor whom I’ve had for two courses, “What are the problems with student writing that most bother you personally?” he sighed deeply, threw up his hands, and exclaimed, “Everything!”  He, then, began to explain the problems in students’ writing concerning content, organization, and mechanics that he faces in all of his courses.  You may be thinking, “Well, if he teaches freshmen, then, that’s understandable,” but this professor does not only teach freshmen; he teaches upperclassmen as well.  Why is student writing so horrendous across the board at the University level?  What is the Writing Lab’s role when helping students, from freshmen to graduate level, with academic writing?  How can the implementation of good writing practices be integrated into every course and department in the University?

During our conversation, the professor explained that our Writing Lab should be doing more to promote our image, what we do, and, especially, what we don’t do.  He suggested coming into more classes and presenting information about the resources that the Writing Lab offers.  He suggested more literature and more advertisements to get the word out that the Writing Lab exists to help all students discover strategies to recognize and address their personal strengths and weaknesses in writing, not proofread or spellcheck papers.  While I think that all of these ideas are valuable and that the role of the Writing Lab should be clearly stated to students, I could not help feeling like a misguided view of the Writing Lab was being presented.  The Writing Lab is not the superhero of writing for the University.  It is not our job to “save the day” and solve all of the problems that students face in their writing.  We are most certainly a large resource (and a good one if I do say so myself) for students to take advantage of, but I believe that the Writing Lab is just one puzzle piece in the big picture.

What universities need is an integrated writing approach.  At the University where I attend, the only support for learning about academic writing that freshmen receive in their coursework is English Composition, and, for many students, this course is not enough.  Why does the Writing Lab have to take on all the responsibility of helping undergraduate writers with their writing after this one semester course?  Shouldn’t partnerships between the Writing Lab and professors be created to promote best practices in writing?  Shouldn’t an emphasis on writing be established throughout each student’s college journey?  In the book, Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom, the author explains that “writing is closely linked with thinking and that in presenting students with significant problems to write about- and in creating an environment that demands their best writing- we can promote their general cognitive and intellectual growth” (Bean xvi).  The key aspect of this quote is about professors creating an environment that demands students’ best writing.  In order to expect college level writing, professors must create an environment that promotes the discovery of writing strategies; they must create an environment where students can address personal strengths and weaknesses in their writing.

Partnership with the Writing Lab and an emphasis on writing and best practices in writing in every course are essential for an integrated writing approach in universities.  The Writing Lab should not be the last resort when a student fails to produce a college level paper.  The Writing Lab should be a resource in partnership with professors as they create environments in their classrooms that promote, not only good writing, but good strategies for writing.  Working together, an integrated writing approach in universities can become a reality.

Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2011. Print.

4 comments:

  1. Suzy, I like what you had to say about the necessity of the professor creating an environment that requires the students’ best writing. Perhaps one of the greatest errors of non-English professors is expecting wonderful writing in a classroom that is not conducive to that work. On the other hand, the greatest fault of English professors may be a failure to communicate the importance of the writing skills learned in their classes. Linda R. Robertson notes in her book Discovery: Reading, Writing, and Thinking in the Academic Disciplines that not all students realize that the skills they learn in English composition courses can be used in other classes (Robertson, v). Shocking though this may be, professors across the board should encourage students to write like they would for an English paper. All students, myself included, take their writing a little more seriously for English class.
    A second comment from Robertson that I found enlightening stated that “A college or university is a community of scholars…Professors are students of their subjects. A student new to the academic community who wants to know what it means to write in college is really asking what it means to join a community of scholars or how the older students go about writing” (3). What an idea! Professors are the example for their students, and we are to learn everything from them, including the style of writing that belongs to their discipline.

    Robertson, Linda R. Discovery: Reading, Writing, and Thinking in the Academic Disciplines.
    New York : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1988. Print.

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  2. Susy, I think the concept of writing labs working in partnership with professors is a really good one. Often the lab can become a place that students are sent to by professors, or where students come to find refuge from the grades professors give when they don't come; a three way collaboration is not as often evident. I would love to see more teachers who care deeply about a student's writing, thinking, and learning, and who show that they care by holding them accountable to standards, by investing in and encouraging students, and by finding creative ways to share that responsibility with other resources like the writing lab. In "The Writing Lab and the New Professor," a brief article available here, Jared Gardner discusses how he learned to work with the writing lab as an English professor, and concludes that it truly is most helpful for the students when the teacher and the lab are purposefully working together.

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  3. Whoops, this is the link to the article:
    http://www.grinnell.edu/files/downloads/new_gj.pdf

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  4. Susy,

    I think your observations bring up important practical implications and possible "next steps." As your professor pointed out, the Writing Lab is essential as the main element (besides Freshman Comp) in the Writing Program at University. However, I think the significant implication there is that the WL can serve as the "seed" for a more highly-developed Writing Program. As Writing Lab workers, we not only raise the visibility of our services, but of students' needs and best practices in developing strong writers at the University.

    Although undergraduate Peer Writing Consultants may not be able to start a Vertical Writing Program or other overarching program, the possibility of developing and promoting partnerships with professors IS feasible. Letting professors know how they can help (including suggestions from Keturah's link) can motivate them to act, rather than just learning about Writing Lab services.

    Perhaps some Writing Consultants from other schools have comments on a Writing Fellow program at their school--one where WL workers spend time with specific classes? Or on in-class workshops which deal with particular writing skills?

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