The Waiting Room

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Riddle Me This

Posted by Seeking Solace |

OK, this is for those out there who do not teach writing. How important is writing skills in your courses? Do you require students to submit a written assignment? Do you expect some level of proficientcy. Whar do you do with those whose skills are sub par?

I have always had written assigments for my students, regardless of what I teach. I emphesize good writing skills. For shorter essay assigments, I allow students to submit a revision for the chance to raise their grade. Yes, there is more work for me, but my hope is that my students will not only leave my class knowing the subject, but they willbe better writters. After all, we have heard the stories of how many grads cannot write effectivly.

I also understand where that is not possible in some subject. Nor should it be. But, I was informed that my approach was not only wrong, but it is not my responsibility. The students should learn such skills in their writing courses. I should focus on my subject and get the students through the required material.

Sorry, I think this is exactly the kind of crapola that causes frustration in the work world. If an employee cannot present information effectively, all that knowledge is wrothleas.

But, that's just me. Give me your thoughs. Feel to disagree. I am trying to wrap my mind around this...if that is possible.


Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I just don't agree with the idea that you shouldn't worry about writing in your courses.

I suppose there are a few disciplines in which papers aren't appropriate, BUT -- those courses also require the student to put the course information into their own "words". For example, my logic students must create proofs -- which are the equivalent of answering essay questions.

Depending on the size of the class and the nature of the subject matter, it may be smart and practical to adjust both expectations and assignments. So, for big classes I reduce the number of papers, but include written work on their exams-- generally terms or essay questions.

I'd bet that whomever told you to leave that stuff to the comp teachers wasn't a comp teacher. The concept of writing across the curriculum was en vogue about 10ish years ago -- and has become common practice.

In fact, I've been part of writing assessment projects that prove comp 1 is not sufficient to teach those skills, they MUST be practiced elsewhere.

Also, how are you supposed to assess their work if they don't have to write? Anybody can do well on a multiple-guess exam, but -- poor writing is often due to the fact that the students don't know what to say -- rather than not knowing how to say it. Thus, they need to write about course content so that you can see that they know what they're talking about.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I completely agree that writing skills are important in any class, especially in the humanities (not that they're not elsewhere, I just don't want to speak for other disciplines).

First, different disciplines have different writing conventions, which comp classes can't be expected to teach. So I always figured part of my responsibility was to teach them how to write as historians.

Second, writing is part of the learning process; writing about something is one of a number of ways to learn about it. I think it's crucial since often students (me included!) don't really realize what they do or don't know about a subject until they actively have to produce that knowledge - it could be done orally or visually, but writing is an important way of creating/producing information, which helps students synthesize and analyze better.

There are lots and lots of kinds of writing that students can do, and I could see arguments about which kinds are most appropriate for a given setting. I can also understand that if you think of writing as only grammar and spelling, those things probably aren't the most productive to focus on a lot in non-writing classes. But I think of writing way more broadly, plus it's the work product that historians traditionally produce, so how could I not teach it?

Seeking Solace said...

See, I am with both of you. I agree that many Freshman Composition courses do not provide the necessary skills one needs because so much time is spent doing remedial work. That was my experience as a writing teaching.

And I also agree that the skills help the learning process. One must be able to express ideas in writing if the goal is to reach higher levels of learning.

Anonymous said...

I've taught comp and research and graduate writing as well. Now I teach a different subject entirely. I do not require papers. I require a research presentation and incorporate annotated bibs, outlines, everything that goes along with writing a paper except writing the paper. They create a presentation instead of writing a paper.

Oh the JOY of NOT having to grade writing and review multiple drafts and taking SO much time away from actual teaching of content.

If I wanted to teach writing, I'd go back to teaching comp. I want to teach my content area, NOT writing. If a student has horrible writing skills, I send him/her to the writing center and tutoring services. It's not my job in a content course. It was my job when I taught writing.

RageyOne said...

Educators should be concerned about the whole of education and that includes all aspects of teaching. Therefore, writing should be stressed in all classes. I can't see a student turning in a paper riddled with errors and the instructor not pointing them out and wanting a better product. It should be expected that students produce quality work in all subjects, so yes, writing is important.

rented life said...

You know what I teach. Community College has a writing requirement for ALL classes--so even I need to have writing assignments. But even without that there's a fair amount of writing, outlining and planning in my gen ed class. Writing is practically ALL they do in the major classes. lots of papers. Writing and critical reading are really important to me. Next is being able to speak well (as in you didn't "axe" me a question.

TiredProf said...

The only way to raise the level of writing is to require it (it doesn't have to be big assignments which, believe me, I know are time-consuming to grade. I'm a historian, I do research papers in many classes). I see it as a responsibility, along with requiring reading comprehension (hence many "see what the syllabus says and then get back to me if you have questions" e-mails to the freshmen). My little contribution to raising the intellectual level in this part of the country, regardless of major and regardless of whether or not the student ends up graduating. I think a lot (though certainly not all) of the mortgage, bank, and other recent crises could have been lessened if more people took the time to read the "fine print" and then ask questions. Call it "teaching as guerilla political action," but it does work. They realize they won't get an answer out of me until they read the directions/syllabus, but then know I will help them lots, once they can ask relevant questions or if they're truly confused. All of my students, in all of my classes write (and I see and grade the papers of several hundred students a semester, w/o TAs). It's very important--writing across the curriculum. It's not just the English Department's job (and here they manage to write very little in Freshman Comp classes, despite the smallest class sections--25--on campus).

OK, off the soapbox!

Astroprof said...

Scientists and engineers must write ... a LOT. So, I feel that it is very important that I make sure that my students can write.

Brigindo said...

I feel strongly that writing is an important component of thinking. I also think writing is one of the skills that gets you far in almost any field. Writing takes years to master and to expect someone to "learn to write" from one or two composition classes is to expect someone to fail. I don't teach writing but I "teach writing" in every course I teach--from undergraduate to doctoral. It does take a lot more time but I feel its worth it.

Psycgirl said...

Okay so it's someone else's job - which means students learn to "write" in one class...

as with most skills covered in only one class (research methods come to mind..) I seriously doubt students are going to be expert writers OR apply those skills once they finish that class. learning anything long term requires multiple iterations.

I have writing assignments, and i work on writing with my students even though I have never taught a writing class per se. Psychologists write constantly, regardless of which niche they go into. But even students who don't go into a related field need to know how to write. It's a basic skill for many jobs.

Ellen said...

A - my math degree has me in a ...WRITING intense job, which I am decent at because I am above "math person average" in writing

B - for the types of things you teach, I would count decent writing skills as a prereq. I would think AT THE VERY LEAST you can ding someone for poorly communicating their point a few pts here and there. That would be like me teaching calc but not being allowed to take points off for arithmetic or algebra mistakes

And I need to remember to call you tonight and see how you are. I have a bad case of brainfarts