Helping Students Write Within Their Disciplines Lori Kanitz Faculty Retreat Fall 2007
Definitions • Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) • Overarching program designed to encourage sound writing pedagogy across the entire university curriculum; to provide faculty development and support for writing; to encourage the use of varied writing assignments in all disciplines to improve student learning and writing
Definitions • Writing in the Discipline (WID) • Programs designed to support and foster the unique role of individual areas, departments, and courses within majors in helping students become confident and skilled writers in the genres and styles of their disciplines
WID and Program Review • Five Questions • What do we consider essential writing skills for students graduating from this program, in this disciplinary area? • Are we teaching these writing skills in our major courses? • If so, where? Which courses cover which skills? • Is the sequence of courses and/or writing skills effective? • Are there any gaps? Where?
Good Writing is Good Writing, Isn’t it . . . ? • Generic standards for academic writing • Content reflects informed, scholarly study • Tone reflects reason not emotion or sensory perception • Style and content crafted for a skeptical and rational audience
Informed Content “clear” “well-researched” “informed” “reflects careful thinking” Generic Terminology Emotional distance • “logical” • “balanced and fair” • “objective” • “avoids impressionism or mere feelings” • “avoids the first person, ‘I’” Skeptical audience • “defends position” • “adequate evidence” • “logical argument” • “cites relevant research” • “convincing argument”
Good Writing is Good Writing, Isn’t it . . . ? • Common terminology hides significant differences among and within disciplines in • exigency • epistemology • style • form/genres • formatting
Same Terms, Different Expectations • political science professor • “‘I’m not trying to make undergraduates into political scientists. I want them to be clear and logical writers.’” • anthropology professor • “‘If undergraduates can write clearly, logically and reasonably, I’m happy.’”
“Clear and Logical” Means? • Political science: concise, action-oriented prose • Anthropology: prose modeled after classic literary and anthropology texts • “‘I hate that scientific paradigm that prose is supposed to be transparent. [ . . . ] You’d look at [the student’s] writing and it was all bullet style writing, close small sentences, active verbs. I couldn’t help saying ‘This is not how you write. Don’t bring that to this class’ [ . . . ]” (Thaiss and Zawacki 71).
Developmental Stages in Student Learning • Three stages • First stage • student sees generic academic conventions as fairly consistent rules • Second stage • student perceives differences as teacher idiosyncrasy • Third stage • student sees differences as “components of an articulated, nuanced idea of the discipline” (Thaiss and Zawacki 110)
How Students Learn WID • Student-centered methods • Methods • Before, or in absence of, feedback and guidelines • “Reading” the teacher • Prior experience and stereotypes • Feedback on the first paper • Models • Reading widely and deeply the subject matter • Problem? Require a great deal of motivation, savvy, trial and error on part of student
How Students Learn WID • Instructor-centered methods • Frequent writing assignments for a variety of teachers and courses • Reflecting on their writing • Instruction about rhetorical contexts
What Constitutes the “Rhetorical Context”? • Five Contexts • The academic (generic, academic principles) • The disciplinary • The subdisciplinary • The local or institutional • The idiosyncratic or personal
Sample Nursing Writing Assignment • “Respond in a 5-7 page paper to an ethical dilemma in pediatric nursing from a biblical perspective. Your paper must reflect a thorough knowledge of current research on the issue as well as the current laws relevant to it. You will be required to cite at least 5 scholarly sources and information from the last four class lectures. Be sure to present a clear thesis, well-supported with sound reasoning. The paper should use APA format.”
The “Rhetorical Context”? • “Respond in a 5-7 page paper to an ethical dilemma in pediatric nursing from a biblical perspective. Your paper must reflect a thorough knowledge of current research on the issue as well as the current laws relevant to it. You will be required to cite at least 5 scholarly sources and information from the last four class lectures. Be sure to present a clear thesis, well-supported with sound reasoning. The paper should use APA format.”
Practices for Teachers* 1. Define expectations early and place them in the context of the discipline. 2. Teach students the differences between generic academic writing and writing in their disciplines. 3. Provide students feedback on their writing, especially early in a course.
Practices for Teachers* 4. Design assignments that give students practice with the variety of rhetorical environments they will encounter in the discipline and the workplace. 5. Design assignments that can validate students as “experts’’—as potential contributors to the field through writing.
Practices for Teachers* 6. Create opportunities for student feedback and reflection on their growth as writers in the discipline. 7. Talk to students about your own developing career as a scholar and writer. * Adapted from Thais and Zawacki 142-56
Retreat Discussion Questions • Brainstorm ways to talk about writing in your discipline with majors in your area. • Do you talk in classes about your own writing? • Do you share examples of your writing with students? • How do you talk about your field with majors? As a system of rules or as a community of scholars? • How does writing play a part in your thinking about your discipline? • What are the specific characteristics of good writing in your disciplinary area? How did you learn to write for your discipline? • Brainstorm types of assignments that are, or can be, used to teach students how to write for their discipline. • How can technology be used to help students in your areas become proficient writers in their disciplines? (e.g. blogs, electronic forums, ePortfolio, web pages)
Further Reading • Summary of study results and recommendations online at http://mason.gmu.edu/~cthaiss/#Research • Online writing guides for students at George Mason University at http://wac.gmu.edu
ORU WAC Web Page and Contact Information • Link to WAC faculty resources web page can be found on ORU Intranet “Faculty Resources” page at http://faculty.oru.edu • Lori Kanitz • Phone ext. 6064 • E-mail email@example.com
Work Cited • Thaiss, Chris and Terry Myers Zawacki. Engaged Writers and Academic Disciplines: Research on the Academic Writing Life. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook Heinemann, 2006.