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.