Wednesday, December 3, 2014

SNL faculty discuss supporting student writers across the SNL curriculum


When the SNL writing faculty gathered this past October for our semi-annual meeting, we discussed the points in the SNL curriculum where students do the most writing or where their writing is assessed more heavily than at other points. To deepen a conversation of how to help SNL students become better writers and succeed in the program and beyond, we asked faculty who teach SNL's Independent Learning Seminar, Research Seminar, and Advanced Project to join us and contribute their thoughts about what writing looks like and where students need support. Below are some highlights of that conversation.

Not surprisingly, we agreed that the "path" for SNL students when it comes to becoming a better writer is not always the same. Some students enter with lots of professional writing experience but little knowledge of what it means to do academic research or why research matters when students are seasoned experts in their field. Others may come straight from a community college with a great sense of what a traditional academic essay should look like, but are not comfortable "writing from experience" or "writing to demonstrate competence". Others come to us with extreme anxiety about writing in general; the idea of writing an essay or a professional letter makes them cringe. There are, of course, students who are some combination of these. Although, the ideal path is not the same, we agreed that it would be useful to have students take a writing class early on in their SNL career. Discussing the major writing assignments and the conventions of academic writing earlier will afford plenty of time for students, their mentors, and faculty to wrestle with assumptions, contradictions, and requirements when it comes to writing at SNL. This early conversation gives students the opportunity to learn SNL's language (discourse), navigate the major writing assignments they will encounter, and begin to think about the best path for them. 

Another question raised was, "What are the priorities with regard to writing at SNL in general?" Based on the overview provided for us by the ILS, RS, and AP faculty, the SNL curriculum prioritizes insightful responses to the assignments within the conventions of the genre (ILP, Research Proposal, Artifact/Analyis, etc.). However, "error-free" writing is a very, very close runner-up. In alignment with this, SNL writing faculty explained how they prioritize global issues like thesis development, paragraph focus and organization, writing as a process, conducting research, and integrating sources in our two main writing courses (LL140 and LL260), and a great deal of time is spent on these in class, in online exercises and discussion, and through instructor feedback on drafts. Sentence-level issues like grammar and spelling are also covered in the two writing courses through one-on-one conversations, individualized feedback, and in-class activities.

However, as is true for anyone trying to improve their writing, students need more practice with all of these writing concepts than a 10-week course can afford. As a result, SNL writing instructors give students the tools to address their own grammar needs over time and provide them as well as other SNL faculty with information about resources for ongoing writing support, including the Writing Center tutors and writing groups, online self-directed activities, the SNL Writing Guide, and the Purdue Online Writing Lab. The most common issue is that students pass their writing course but then forget about these resources or the processes for research and effective academic writing because there is too long of a hiatus before they need to use them again. Another issue is that their ongoing development as writers is not directly emphasized again in the curriculum until they get to Research Seminar, where the expectation for writing proficiency is sometimes near a graduate-student level or sometimes heavily social-science oriented, which may be foreign to students who are not interested in pursuing a research-oriented path. The SNL writing faculty agreed that exploring some of the various approaches to these SNL genres is key, they also felt that a continued dialogue about these genres and types of writing throughout the curriculum is necessary. They felt that if all SNL faculty members play a role in reminding students of the available writing-related resources and support them in their ongoing development throughout their tenure at SNL, even if only via one-on-one feedback on an essay or a brief discussion in class, the students are more likely to excel and further develop their writing competence.

 While these were just a couple of the points we covered in the meeting, they are foundational concepts that we agreed to continue monitoring and discussing when it comes to adult learning, supporting SNL students in becoming better writers, and helping each student succeed in navigating academic discourse and in a competence-based curriculum that is writing-intensive. We plan to continue this conversation on a regular basis to consider additional ways each person in the SNL community can meet students where they are and continue providing resources for success. SNL Writing also will continue to provide support for SNL faculty in working with SNL students on their writing through our resources such as Writing Fellows and the Teaching with Writing professional development course, the SNL Faculty Support: Writing Resources website, the SNL Writing News blog, and the SNL Writing Rubric for Papers and Essays.

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