Sunday, February 13, 2011

Blog Assignment #3: What Do Professors Really Say About College Writing?

Elizabeth Brockman, Marcy Taylor, Melinda Kreth, and MaryAnn K. Crawford. "What Do Professors Really Say About College Writing?" English Journal 100.3 (2011): 75-81. Print.

After exploring social software in two posts, I wanted to learn what professors expect in student writing because of the debates (for good and ill) about writing skills and digital tools. What kind of writing skills should students have? The answer to this will allow me to focus on how social software can help my students develop the writing skills they need in college.

The four authors of this article completed an extensive research study of writing at Central Michigan University. They published their findings first in the January 2010 English Journal (“Helping Students Cross the Threshold: Implications from a University Writing Assessment” may be accessed with an NCTE login). The 2011 article that is the focus of this post delineates the findings of the study’s focus groups. These groups consisted of professors from “various disciplines, experience levels, and pedagogical views” (75) who met to discuss the kinds of writing and how much writing they assign, strengths and weaknesses they see, and their definitions of “’good’ writing” (75) in their disciplines.

What is nice about this study is the authors split their findings into two articles. Each article is more accessible for high school English teachers, due to the shorter length and singular focus. While many teachers would love to keep current of in-depth research studies, the demands on their time just do not always allow for such reading.

The authors’ goal if this article is “to promote not automatic acceptance of [the focus groups’ comments] but, instead, teacherly reflection, further assessment, and ongoing conversation about what our colleagues across disciplines say about student writing” (75). They present direct quotes from the groups in three areas: writing overall, “reading and managing sources” (77), and “learning to write” (79). Each of these sections, after presenting quotes without any commentary, follows up with a summary of the conversations. This structure achieves what the authors hoped – a springboard of quotes for further discussions plus reflection on writing overall.

Ultimately, as a high school English teacher, I take away from this article a clear idea of how to enhance students’ writing preparedness. First, assign writing tasks that require “complexity of thought” (76); next help students see research as a “variety of skills associated with managing sources” (78); and finally “combine the previously mentioned strategies with the right mindset toward writing, especially writing growth” (79). The authors do not offer ready-made assignments, something that might frustrate a teacher looking for next week’s lesson. However, I was left with enough information to feel empowered to revise my own writing instruction, which brings me back to the social software I have been exploring. I see social collaboration as an excellent tool to deepen writing instruction for the complexity that can come with interacting with many viewpoints, the shared integrating of research findings, and the constant inducement to write to engage your readers.

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