The Needs of College Student Writers

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1 The Needs of College Student Writers The fact is that most student writing that faculty evaluate for the purpose of grading and feedback consists of poorly planned, last minute drafts of essays. This poor writing product reflects a lack of writing discipline and an ignorance of the processes of writing on the part of students. In order to produce sophisticated, clear and well-structured essays, students require an explicit demonstration of three aspects of essay writing: the writing process, essay formatting and essay types. 1) The Essay Writing Process: Students typically begin writing an essay within 1 to 3 days of the due date of the assignment. This prevents an adequate process of expression/reflection/revision of the essay. Faculty can dramatically improve the quality of student writing by teaching, setting expectations, and evaluating components of the writing process. Facilitation of student adoption of the essay writing process consists of the following: 1) A description of distinct stages of process and expectations for the production and evaluation of each of those stages. 2) Adequate time for the development and maturation of the project and appropriate feedback as needed. 3) An opportunity for revision of the essay. Challenges: Student knowledge gaps often require faculty to teach aspects of writing that instructors expect students to have mastered. Considerations mitigating student success without explicit teaching of the writing process include: the challenge of larger, more complex essays and subjects; higher expectations for academic work; introduction to writing within a discipline; new genres of writing or essay types. Solutions: Acknowledge student writing deficits; explicitly introduce writing process in order to engender self-reflective practice; model writing process through structure of assignments; increase time for students to complete writing assignments; set expectations and clear deadlines for students to have completed and even submit for evaluation writing products at several stages of the writing process. 2) Essay Formatting-- Students are not coming arriving in the college classroom with a clear understanding of the basic components of an essay, knowledge of writing genres, assignment interpretation, critical thinking skills, a clear understanding of the development of a thesis, the incorporation of research into writing, or citation styles, including a clear understanding of plagiarism. Challenges: Students often come to college from primary educational institutions which have not exposed students to high standards for writing, genres of writing other than narrative, the concept of intellectual property, citation styles, etc. Many students may not have ever typed a paper, nor have they composed an essay exceeding a single page in length. Likely, students have been taught many different strategies and rules for writing some contradictory. It is not uncommon for students to have been taught inappropriate practices that reflect the pet peeves of their primary instructors. If unaddressed in the college classroom, students will draw upon their primary educational training to write college level essays.

2 Solutions: Acknowledge even the most basic student writing deficits; clearly define expectations by providing concrete examples (i.e., examples of good and poor essay elements-- Here is a good introduction; here is a bad one. You may even go as far as to assign a minimum number of citations and/or require/forbid the use of specific resources. Always share your pet peeves regarding essay construction with students in class and encourage meta-essay discussions in order to air out these potential misunderstandings. Finally, abide by the basic teaching compact with your students: Don t evaluate what you don t teach! That is to say that we should always provide the instruction that will supply our students with the knowledge for which we will test them. This is particularly critical in the case of writing. 3) Essay Types-- Students have not been explicitly trained to write in different genres of essay. The following constitute some common genres of the academic essay the conventions of which faculty will have to teach in clear terms: Criticism/Evaluation the application of an evaluation by means of reference to a standard of excellence, i.e. a theory or an outcome Analysis examining a subject by breaking it into its components Reflection reporting the reception of a reading by a reader Editorial offering a public argument that casts praise of blame on a person, concept, event or position. Summary a recapitulation of a written work in the writer s own words Argument an essay in which a writer adopts and advances a position using persuasive appeals and evidence (often requiring the identification of counter arguments). Research like the argument, an essay in which a writer adopts and advances a position but which cites and employs scholarly sources in support of claims Report a work that explicitly follows a methodology that is prescribed by disciplinary practices. Proposal a description of an intended course of work or study with an explicit discussion of process and outcomes. Causes: Students have been exposed to different standards and loosely labelled types of essays, or they have never been exposed to a given type of essay. Don t presume that the students already has a good idea about how to write a given essay type. Solutions: Don t assign students an essay or a reflection. Be specific. Teach the genre and your expectations and standards for evaluation: I want you to write an analysis. An analytic essay should contain the following...

3 General strategies for teaching students how to write an essay Explicitly teaching writing as a practice in our courses demands that we take great care as instructors to intentionally address each of the potential writing deficits that students bring to our courses. The teaching of effective English composition is not a matter of communicating rules but of communicating processes and strategies. Effective composition instruction requires a transformation of largely passive student writing habits into a self-reflective and self-conscious process of composition. In order to achieve this transformation, students require the following: An awareness of the need for multiple drafts to create and complete a successful text. The utility of flexible strategies for generating, revising, editing, and proofreading. An understanding of writing as an open process that permits writers to use invention, research, and re-thinking their understanding of the subject to revise their work. An appreciation for the collaborative and social aspects of writing processes. 1) Basic elements of the essay. -- Don t hesitate to teach the basic elements of the essay: Introduction, body and Conclusion. 2) Identify and explain essay type. -- In addition to the materials on hand (refer to the WC website) SWAs will be presenting materials every other week as guides for writing in the disciplines. 3) Don t hesitate to explicitly model and explain your expectations for individual essay formats. -- This entails advice for writing a good essay, and is not prescriptive but rather serves as a place to start for the struggling student, i.e. the introduction should be no more than a single page, do not offer a summary of the work read, you should include at least 8 citations, etc... 4) Target your teaching of grammar to respond to student writing errors, focusing on only the most important errors (no more than three types of error per essay). -- Only address serious and repeated errors. -- Don t continue to correct errors but stop and mark for student correction. -- Better yet, ask student to read sentence with error in order to find it him or herself. -- Always leave most of the identified type of error uncorrected, for later student correction (this inculcates self-correction as a practice).

4 The Writing Process Effective and error free writing is the product of the writing process. Writing is the complex invention and assembly of language for the purpose of effectively communicating our ideas over time through the process of revision. The Individual Stages of the Writing Process Invention Outlining First Draft Critique Revised Draft Alienation Final Revision Editing Reflection 1) Invention A) Generative reading and note taking to explore ideas and writing options B) Heuresis--the process of generating ideas --expression of ideas already percolating in the mind --seeking new ideas by exploring structured connections among facts, concepts and events Freewriting Freewriting is the process of getting the pencil to the paper or the fingers to the keyboard in order to warm up the writer. Freewriting is writing without structure in order to permit the ideas, the relationships, and associations that the writer him or herself has not yet identified to come to the surface. Freewriting is a way of getting started. One begins freewriting by placing the subject of inquiry in one s mind and then writing whatever comes to mind without regard for complete sentences, grammatical rules or punctuation. This may be difficult at first, but as one writes sentence after sentence, ideas, associations and themes emerge from the writing that can productive lead to the discovery of one s own ideas regarding the object of inquiry! Freewriting is a method for discovering the hidden relationships within our own patterns of thinking through the process of free association.

5 Looping Looping is a more structured form of freewriting. Looping was also developed by Peter Elbow. This variation on freewriting, incorporates feedback from the freewriting in order to refine and redirect the writing. Looping is an excellent way to "get to the heart" of your feelings, opinions and ideas in an articulate way. Looping is an excellent method for identifying and expressing your opinions and attitudes toward a variety of topics in a structured exercise. Looping requires three loops. 1) First loop freewrite for 3-5 minutes with the object of inquiry in mind. Then, the writer is required to stop and read the material that he or she has generated. The writer is then asked to write a summary of what he or she has just written in a single sentence. The sentence is what Elbow calls a Center of Gravity Sentence. The writer should take a little time to carefully consider the meaning of the first loop in order to start the next loop. 2) Second loop freewrite for 3-5 minutes, now with the Center of Gravity Sentence as the focus of the writing. Again, the writer should stop and read the material generated and write another Center of Gravity Sentence. 3) The writer is asked to repeat the looping until he or she is fully in agreement with the statement produced or until he or she finds that the loop has repeated itself. 2) Outlining 1) Visual diagrams such as Venn Diagrams, Clusters or tables can be useful strategies for expressing and structuring one s thinking. Assisting visual thinkers can begin with exercises on the board in class or through after-class assignments. 2) Source outlines are outlines that are constructed from the citations, references, and examples. Concrete thinkers like to compile and order their thoughts in this way 3) Traditional outlines record and structure the thoughts of the writer upon the subject by ordering it within a visual representation for the purpose of evaluating coherence and omission.

6 3) First draft A critical feature of this draft is that it constitute at least 75% of the required length of the assignment -- Flowing is the strategy of drafting one s essay from scratch after having structured one s thinking by means of the outline. -- Blocking is the process of writing within the outline by dumping notes, references, examples, etc... into the outline and writing to expand those sections 4) Critique A critique by another person for the purpose of providing feedback, either written or verbal. This feedback should not take the character of mere editing but ought to address global writing concerns such as elaboration, support and exemplification of a contestable thesis. The order of ideas, the quality of their rationale and development and the nature of the transitions with which they are connected. Choices of example, citation, argument/reasoning, and diction. Finally, the balance of topic treatment, development of introductions and conclusions and consistency of tone, diction and topic treatment. 5) Revised draft A substantially revised draft which incorporates feedback from self, peers, instructor, and/or others in ways that might challenge the author s original premises. Read the paper to evaluate it. The revision process should focus on readability, logic, and clarity. Evaluate the following and move, rewrite or delete paragraphs/sections of the essay as necessary: Logical organization Adherence to the actual assignment Alignment of all claims with the thesis statement. 6) Alienation A period of alienation from the writing permits the student to break from the pattern of thinking to which he she had been first committed to the essay in order to step-back, as it were, for a critical look at the essay. A simple way of expressing this stage is the divorce between the idea of the paper as the student imagines it and the actual paper as it has been realized on the written page.

7 7) Final Revision/Draft The final revision of the essay should focus on readability, logic, and clarity. The bulk of the work in the final revision includes moving paragraphs, writing transition sentences, and normalizing the diction employed throughout the essay. Read the paper to evaluate the following: Logical organization? Does the essay address the actual assignment? Verify the alignment of all claims with the thesis statement. 8) Editing Editing is the process of proofreading the essay in order to correct the following: 1) Errors-- spelling, diction, punctuation. 2) Formatting-- addressing cover pages, pagination, paragraph style, 3) Citations-- In-text citations, footnotes, endnotes, references are edited for style and content. 9) Reflection A reflective writing about your writing processes and products. These steps are meant to help you focus on specific aspects of your writing and get relevant feedback at different points in the writing process. With certain assignments, we may devote more time to certain stages of the process, and at other times, we may move more quickly. And at least once, we ll experiment with publishing your text.

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