Writing Center Resources
Dr. Cindy Baer
A Writing Center is only as good as the resources and staff it provides for students’ writing development. To maintain a high standard of tutorial instruction, the Writing Center continues to develop resources and train staff. Both Writing Specialists and Assistant Writing Specialists are tasked with developing handouts used in tutoring sessions and available for download from the website. Writing Specialists also design and conduct workshops on special topics of interest to SJSU writing students across the curriculum and at all levels of writing development, from students enrolled in basic writing courses, to graduate students working on theses.
As faculty in residence I am tasked with fostering the Writing Specialists as they develop resources for tutoring: homegrown handouts and workshop topics and lessons plans. As part of their ongoing training in effective writing instruction, I will help them to examine the resources we currently have, identify the gaps in our resource cache or weaknesses in current resources, and develop or revise the materials.
One specific direction in which to guide the general pedagogy of the handouts and workshops is their correlation with the current changes to the way writing instruction is happening at SJSU. As English 1A is reimagined and reconfigured to mainstream remedial freshman in first year composition, the Writing Center may want to encourage students to explore more fully the intersections of reading, writing, and thinking in their writing processes. Also, useful as SJSU seeks to streamline writing instruction, advancing students from first-year composition to a new critical thinking and writing course, to a writing in the discipline junior-level writing workshop will be a greater emphasis on developing early in their sojourn as writers the rhetorical awareness that current studies suggest helps students to transfer lessons learned from one writing class to another as they advance through their degree program.
How might an understanding of audience and purpose help students to integrate reading into their writing process? How might the student advancing from first-year composition to a second semester of writing focused on critical thinking and writing need to rethink the compound or complex sentence, not just as a grammatical structure requiring a certain pattern of punctuation, but as a rhetorical and logical tool in argumentative writing?
As I survey the current list of Homegrown Handouts, and see the format for current workshops, these are the directions for future development that I detect. With an expanded awareness of the ways in which grammar, logic, and rhetoric intersect, and of the pathways toward integrating reading, thinking and writing toward continued development across four years of college writing—and beyond—the Writing Center can continue to improve its delivery of writing instruction across the curriculum at SJSU.
One of the first things I will do is make sure each Writing Specialist understands the revisions to the student learning objectives that are being implemented this year. These learning objectives define a path for continued writing development in the baccalaureate program here at SJSU.
Initially, I will ask Writing Specialists to review the resources we have—handouts and workshops—to identify what we have and what new material they might develop this term. Each specialist will then propose a topic for a handout, or a revision to a current handout, that will expand our resources to address the new SLOs and the issues of transfer of skills in writing across the curriculum that underlie current developments in composition pedagogy here at SJSU and nationally.
Workshop Lesson Plans
Immediately, I will ask specialists to either select a topic for a workshop or rework a workshop topic, taking into account the role that the workshop plays in moving students toward specific learning objectives of first year composition, critical thinking and writing, and/or writing in the disciplines. The link between the lesson planned and the specific SLO will be articulated in the lesson plan for the workshop.
Case Studies of Writing Center Tutees
This project will allow me to interview four to six SJSU students who have used the Writing Center for help with various writing assignments. The students will be interviewed once a semester for at least one academic year. I will track students’ progress in their academic careers as they fulfill the GWAR (Graduation Writing Assessment Requirement) at SJSU, as well as compile a narrative about the students’ writing experience within their majors. This information, which consists of grades in writing classes, overall GPA, and movement toward graduation, will provide data about how Writing Center tutees benefit from their tutorial instruction. Are they on a straight path to graduation? Have they faced delays? What kinds of writing did they do for upper-division courses? What grading standards did their instructors use? How do they evaluate their writing instruction experience at SJSU? How do their instructors evaluate the same experience?
In order to compose this narrative, I will use interviews with tutees, samples of their writing from various classes, the class assignments, instructors’ comments on the papers, and interviews with instructors.
My goal is to determine how tutorial support helps students maintain a focus on their studies with a path to graduation.
This study can help the Writing Center change or adapt practices to better serve our students. General writing instruction at SJSU can also be improved after we evaluate our case studies. This information, even if it raises challenging questions, can be useful to the university’s Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Coordinator, a new position coming to SJSU soon.
Assessing Students' Writing
Dr. Martin Leach
Goal: The goal of this project is to improve the writing skills of students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.
Objectives: To meet the goal, the objectives of this proposal address the skills of the students at two levels: the surface level and meaning level. The surface level includes grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The meaning level includes clarity and coherence and incorporates building sentences, constructing paragraphs, and organizing entire documents.
Background: This proposal is an extension of the research that was conducted last fall. There are two classes included in the study, one for graduate students and one for undergraduate students. The graduate class is METR-202, Research Methods, and the undergraduate class is METR-100W, Writing Workshop: Meteorological Reports.
Method: The research methods class is being conducted differently this year than last. One professor is responsible for the class this year, as opposed to last year when the professors rotated every three weeks.
Several writing assignments will be required in METR-202. The students will submit the assignments through the eCampus website. The professor will review and grade the papers for the purpose of successful completion of the course. I will grade the papers solely for writing competency, including the surface level and the meaning level. The students will get written comments from me about their writing but otherwise receive no explicit instruction in effective writing.
I am the instructor for the Meteorological Reports class. The students are given weekly assignments as well as two longer literature reviews, one at mid-term and the other as a final assignment at the semester end. The objectives of the weekly assignments vary, sometimes focusing on individual components of a technical report (e.g. an abstract), while other times emphasizing specific writing aspects (e.g. paragraph coherence). The first week of class, the students are given a three page assignment, which will serve as a benchmark for improvement. I will assess the students’ progress throughout the semester; however, I will compare the benchmark to the mid-term and final assignments.
A significant outcome from the project last year was that the students in METR-100W did better in the weekly assignments than they did in the term assignments. In the term assignments, they were expected to integrate several aspects of effective writing in one longer document, so I plan to emphasize the overall structure of a report this semester.
Outcome: I will produce a report assessing the students in both classes, including surface-level and meaning-level improvements. I expect the students in the graduate class to be better writers at the beginning of the semester, likely leaving less room for improvement. However, the focus in that class is not solely developing writing skills. The focus of the undergraduate class is improving writing skills, and I expect the improvement to be much greater. The final analysis will include how well the students in the two classes compare.