Mason WAC’s learning module on best practices for writing assignment design in any discipline!
By Caitlin Holmes
Since Dr. José Bowen visited Mason in September 2014, I have been working to implement more of his suggestions for teaching practice into my class. I wrote previously about utilizing one such suggestion: a combination of reading, writing in response, and discussion to understand the rhetorical nature of APA style. More recently, I have experimented with another approach to improving student writing in a low-stakes environment that requires students to show the higher-order thinking skills that Dr. Bowen emphasized: read-around groups. During his workshop at Mason, Bowen reminded us that students respond well to uncertainty, failure, and experimentation, and read-around groups (or RAGs, as they are also known) certainly allow for those conditions to emerge in a productive way.
As the conversations about Writing Across the Curriculum continue to evolve and march forward, it is always helpful to look back and see how far the program has come, both nationally and close to home. Today, we are linking back to a Mason WAC Newsletter from Fall of 2002 that highlights the strengths and challenges of digital writing. Lesley Smith and James Young offer insights into the benefits of digital writing in e-portfolios, and Ruth Fischer shares the credentials she and her colleagues created for the necessary IT skills of first-year composition students. The methods for implementing digital writing in the classroom have certainly progressed in the last twelve years, but the core pedagogical concepts remain the same.
“In an electronic space,” Smith and Young write, “those who perhaps struggle with words but excel with images might combine the two, and access a richness of perception previously denied both to them as writers and to their faculty members as assessors.”
In a recent post from Bryn Mawr’s Teaching and Learning Together in Higher Education, Professor Alejandro Quintana, Assistant Professor in the History Department at St. John’s University, and his student Writing Fellow, Morgan Zajkowski, have written an excellent blog post detailing their work together. Over the course of a semester, Quintana and Zajkowski collaborated on ways to improve student writing, retention, and participation in Quintana’s history course, guided by the principles of WAC. They offer helpful insights into fostering student engagement and making the classroom a dynamic place for collaborative discussion, while using low-risk writing assignments to build student confidence.
“I expected at some point to be forced to say no to any major suggestion to change my teaching practices. To my great surprise this never happened; our collaboration was progressive and smooth. Before I realized it, we were making significant changes to my teaching methodology. I learned so much from Morgan and my teaching practices were reshaped for the better. Today, a year after our collaboration, I have incorporated into all my current courses all the activities and assignments she helped me develop during the spring semester of 2013.”