Class Synthesis 2/15

by Miranda, Lindsay, and Nick H.

Writing Program Issues

  1. No agreed upon standard of teaching writing
  2. SWE what makes good writing? Teaching writing?
  3. Macro vs. Micro (binary but complex)
  4. Are students reading essays that raise critical consciousness, own writing, or both?
  5. Infamous labor problem
  6. Who are the specialists?
  7. Why the one course? (FYC)
  8. 103 divorced from other sources (next level)

The class period centered around bridging the gap between pedagogies to writing programs. Dr. Campbell posed the question, “Can writing be taught?” This question led to a lengthy discussion about “authentic voice,” and “can you teach authenticity?” After discussing the Newsweek article, “Why Johnny Can’t Write,” we questioned when writing should be taught to students, especially considering common core standards in high school. In response, WPA specialists commented on if the author knew that experts in the field of composition research the topics discussed in his article.

One of the intractable issues of the writing program, macro and micro levels, is a key issue in the field. The macro level refers to those who know how to teach writing but cannot get it into the classroom. And the micro level refers to the classroom. In our class discussion, we specifically focused on the 103 FYC at SU. Along with the politics of administration, we discussed the issue of the writing specialists and how they become qualified as writing experts. Is it research and reading about other’s research that leads to writing expertise? Or should teaching and classroom experience (interaction with students) lead to one being considered an expert in writing? Perhaps a combination of both.

We also discussed the issue of the senior in her/his last semester who requests to be exempt from taking the FYC. Questions surrounding this issue include: Why was this student able to progress to her/his final semester without taking the FYC? Should this student be able to skip the class because s/he has a B+ average? Why is the FYC viewed differently from other entry-level courses in other disciplines?

As we began to discuss the text on Writing Program Administrators (WPA), we talked about how informal and conversational the style of the writing is compared to other types of research and scholarly articles. The second-person point of view positions us in the position of a WPA. The section, “What Are Students?” reminds us to remember that we were also students at one point. We also discussed the rise in dual enrollment students and how money and financial issues factor into the world of the FYC, the writing program, and higher education as a whole.

Transfer knowledge is another big problem that WPAs must address. Transfer knowledge leads to the assumption that all students come to class with a prior knowledge of writing. This is not always the case, which is why it causes controversies among WPAs and writing teachers across the discourse. This unexamined assumption stems from wishful thinking that students have the ability to acquire short-term knowledge and then apply it to a long term scenario. Wardle states: “basic skills do not come close to fully compromising writing knowledge; the entirety of writing-related knowledge is complex and its use in new settings is complex” (144). This statement gives insight to the root of the problem: students cannot be expected to transfer old knowledge to continuously evolving, new rhetorical skills. Furthermore, as teachers and WPAs, we must consider ways to successfully implement effective transfer of prior writing knowledge or, at the very least, consider if this is even possible.

The question of “what constitutes a good assessment?” is another major aspect for a WPA to consider. It seems that the first year writing courses are prime targets for assessments due to their generally small class sizes and the abundance of instructors who teach the FYCs. Harrington suggests that the most crucial moments are those that follow the assessments (160). Assessments become largely important when deciding what needs to be changed in the curriculum, or as we discussed in class, asking: “are the students picking up what we [instructors] are putting down?” The moments that follow the assessment should answer: why the assessment was done and what can be improved upon. The goal of any “good” assessment is aimed at moving the curriculum’s progress forward, in hopes of benefitting the students as well as the university.

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