October 27, 2005
What could be improved?
How and when would you like to see writing instruction happen? What have you seen work well in other places?
at October 27, 2005 3:28 PM
I'd like to see some consideration paid to standards for writing. While we expect students to come in able to begin writing at a level appropriate for high school graduates, I'm not sure many of them do. I think it would be helpful, in an ideal world, of course, to have graduated composition courses that students need to place into. (I realize that this is probably very impractical, but I am thinking idealistically.) Quite frankly, many students need grammar classes, even before they can begin to process the bigger picture in writing.
I'd also like to see some sort of graduation standard. An earlier commenter mentioned that it's a scary thought that composition may be the only writing-as-focus course a student has here. Prior to semester conversion, the U required students to take a 3xxx Writing in [Discipline] course. Something like this that could be a pre-req for a senior seminar/thesis/project/paper class could help indicate a particular writing standard. At a top-tier school, it might also make sense to have the senior project evaluated by an interdisciplinary committee of sorts, more along the lines of how graduate school/peer review works.
I majored in English at the UWI-Madison. The class that impacted me most was called Critical Thinking and Expression. Each week our papers were due Monday, peer critiqued by Wednesday for us to revise and turn in for a professor critique by Friday, which we'd receive the following Monday and have to revise again. So we continually had two papers going, and were constantly challenged to question our statements, raise and refute our arguments, and improve our writing skills. In Madison, I also benefitted greatly from the use of the Writing Lab, where master's students critiqued my papers so that I could improve them before turning them in. I got a lot of As in college thanks to the Writing Lab.
1)Quantity is no antidote for quality. Requiring more research papers in more classes and multiplying writing requirements into writing intensive major classes and upper division writing courses will not remedy lack of writing preparedness. The English department should be the department which teaches writing, not music or sociology or physical education. Indeed, having been an editor of research papers for many years, I can attest that experts in other fields could benefit from remedial writing themselves.
2)Writing teaching theorists in the English department would do well to enter the trenches and regularly teach Freshman English themselves to get a grip on the real world of student writing. Only then would it be possible to formulate working theories of composition methodologies.
3)Quality of writing teachers needs to be vastly improved. Honestly, some of the most dull witted and uninspiring instructors I have had at U of MN have burrowed in the composition department.
I realize that some composition teachers must be demoralized by a constant barrage of mediocre papers and heavy teaching and grading demands. I think psychological counseling should be available free of charge to these composition instructors so they do not take their discouragement out on their students. Frankly, I do not think instructors should be allowed to tell stories about other students in other classes or lock students out of the classroom or indiscriminately make students victims of what the instructor considers a joke. Although the particular instructor who did this left years ago, his legacy lives on in some of the serious damage he did in some students' lives.