Writing Assignments

NOTES FROM THE FEBRUARY 16, 2010 BROWN BAG DISCUSSION ON

“WRITING ASSIGNMENTS”


WRITING ACROSS THE CURRICULUM:

  • In the 1960s, VU's basic composition classes focused on "the VU paragraph":  students copied models of excellent paragraphs in various styles:  comparative, descriptive, persuasive, etc.  This was discontinued around 1974.
  • In the 1990s, VU was involved in "Writing across the Curriculum."  We even advertised ourselves as the school that made students into good writers.
  • One person had their best writing assignment in college in an Astronomy 101 class:  a one-page take home exam.
  • There is still some writing in VU science classes, but students indicate that there may not be enough.
  • At some universities, students are required to take a certain number of "writing intensive" courses, which require papers with multiple drafts.  Should we do that?

WRITING ASSIGNMENTS:

  • An area where most faculty are weakest or least mindful is explaining writing expectations clearly:  provide clear instructions on what students are to do, explain criteria for evaluation, explain process for the assignments (drafts, due dates, etc.), explain why students are doing this assignment, i.e. what they should learn from it.  Students need to know the purpose of the assignment (how does it tie in with your course objectives?) and the audience to be addressed.
  • For each writing assignment, we need to specify the technical details:  length, citation style, headings, and page-numbering style.
  • We should give examples or models of good writing and provide a rubric of how we will grade the paper including the relative importance of grammar, style, content.
  • Try using role-playing in writing assignments:  ask students to write as if they are a real or fictional character.
  • Have students write longer assignments in stages.  Take care that you specify the order and require them to hand in parts of the assignment as they go.  Example:  the CORE Worker Profile paper asks students to interview someone about his or her field.  However, poor interviews can sometimes result when they do the interview first and only later add their research on the person's field.  It is much better to do their research before the interview, so this should be specified and required.

INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS:

  • Some international students write in their own language, then run it through a translator.  This leads to problems with word order, word choice.
  • One instructor separates the grading for mechanics and content, and grades each at 50%.  This way international students can be clear whether it is their mechanics that needs work.
  • Overall, faculty felt it would not serve students well to accommodate too much for international students.  Grading should be the same for all.  Double standards cause signficant problems.
  • Style, terminology:  We may need to clarify our way of numbering pages, sections, writing decimals, dates, etc.  International students may also need explanations of the kinds of writing that we are requiring, so be sure to clearly define words like:  portfolio, essay, expository writing, lab report, etc.
  • At Purdue:  some of the writing center student consultants also work for international students as paid editors.  Is this acceptable, or should we have a policy about this?
  • Saudi students tend to collaborate and sometimes produce a group paper.  This is part of their culture.  Is this acceptable to us or does it constitute unauthorized assistance?
  • The new Academic Success Center will definitely help these students, but right now it is not affiliated with any national organization, so it does not operate with a long-established set of principles.

COMMUNITIES OF DISCOURSE:

  • Since language and usage evolve, should we insist on the rules of our generation or adjust to their discourse?  For example, with email should we teach them to use it more formally, or is it OK to have no salutation and no sign off (since the email itself tells you who it is from and to)?
  • Students need to know not only how to write an essay, but they need high level skills in social media, i.e. how to blog, text, use Facebook, etc. in a professional manner.  Many fields they will be entering use these new media, and they need to know how to write correctly in them.
  • For each medium, they need to learn the accepted etiquette, shortened spelling, symbols, etc.  There are different standards and levels of rigor for each medium.
  • One faculty member requires her students to follow and join the twitters of some top professionals.  She monitors their participation for professionalism.  One student got a job at a major corporation for her thoughtful comments on the CEO's tweets!

THE WRITING CENTER:

  • The Writing Center: 1/2 to 1/3 of appointments are now with international students.  This reflects writing centers nationwide.  Centers are questioning whether some of their methods, and even basic principles, need to change to accommodate these students.
  • The Writing Center offers online as well as in-person writing help.  Both are popular, both are equally effective.  Some students opt for the on-line help because they are approaching their paper quotas.
  • If you send students to the Writing Center and want to be sure they have gone, you can request that they have their consultant fill out a short form that confirms their attendance.

OTHER RESOURCES: