Teaching Writing 2-3
Many instructors wonder what skills their students will bring with them to the Writing 2-3 classroom. Writing 2-3 has an especially diverse population who bring with them an array of writing skills and writing challenges.
2-3 students are bright students who, for one reason or another, find that they are underprepared for the writing that they will have to do at Dartmouth. Some 2-3 students are international students who don't have the skills to express their complex ideas in English. Others are more interested in math or science than they are in writing and come to the course feeling that writing is something they're "just not good at." Still others come from high schools with weak writing programs. Some have little experience writing academic papers; some have never done research. Most are relying on simplistic structures—typically the five-paragraph theme—that won’t be sufficient for success at Dartmouth. Several can express themselves very well in narratives or informal writing but are daunted by the demands of academic prose.
It's also worth noting that the Writing 2-3 population is typically three to four times more diverse than the typical Dartmouth classroom. Our classrooms are populated by students from different countries, different economic backgrounds, and different ethnicities; our students also have very different learning styles. While this diversity makes for an especially rewarding classroom experience, it also creates challenges for the instructor, who needs to take difference into account. Some international students, for instance, may come from a culture where argument is frowned upon; where a thesis sentence is seen as anti-intellectual; where arguments are embedded in narratives; where bombastic language, digressions, and convoluted sentence structures are valued. In Writing 2-3, you will need to find a way to teach students the values of the academy while respecting the values and experiences that they bring with them from their home cultures.
Finally, because every student who takes Writing 2-3 has elected to do so, you can expect that your students will be committed to the work of the course. By and large, 2-3 students are "game": they are willing to work hard, and they are eager to see improvement in their writing. And they do improve. Indeed, Writing 2-3 counts among its alums a Valedictorian, a Salutatorian, Phi Beta Kappas, and Presidential Scholars. Expect that your students can meet the rigorous challenges you place before them.
Because Writing 2-3 is populated by students who are not yet prepared to meet the challenges of college writing, the Writing Program asks that instructors teaching Writing 2-3 be especially sensitive, demanding, and committed to the intellectual development of their students.The list of goals for Writing 2-3 is long. Instructors are expected to introduce students to the conventions of academic discourse. They will instruct the students in close and careful analysis of difficult texts. They will assign and guide their students through a two-term research project. They will create a classroom community that is inviting and supportive, a place where a diverse student population can engage in meaningful work together. Most important, they will teach their students to write.
As in the other first-year writing courses, teaching writing will not depend simply on assigning writing—though writing will be assigned, and often. Instructors will frequently conduct writing workshops, confer regularly with students about their writing, provide careful and thoughtful feedback, and make good use of the collaborative learning and active learning ideas described throughout this website. For a more thorough description of the program's expectations, please see Writing 2-3: Guidelines for Faculty. We hope that you will especially note the following:
- Make your course rigorous, and keep your standards high. Too often, courses for underprepared students are "slowed-down" versions of mainstream writing courses. In Writing 2-3, we believe that the best way to prepare our students is to load up the work. Students should be reading challenging texts and continuously writing. Assign several short papers early on. Require students to revise their papers at least once. Talk with them about what makes a good paper, and hold them to these standards.
- Plan to spend substantial class time on student writing. Don't allow course readings to crowd out discussion of student work. Treat student work as another text for the class, using it as the basis for in-class writing workshops. See Conducting Writing Workshops for proven strategies.
- Involve your students in writing instruction. Common wisdom tells us that students best learn to write when you involve them in peer instruction. Train your students to diagnose and respond to the work of their peers, and soon you'll see marked improvement in their writing. See Collaborative Learning for ideas on how to structure this collaborative work.
- Invite your TA to be your teaching partner. The Teaching Assistants meet with students every week. They often perceive problems in student writing before you do. Seasoned 2-3 instructors meet regularly with TAs and use the TAs' insights to tweak the teaching plan. TAs are often willing to hold x-hour workshops to address common writing issues, or to meet in discussion groups with students who are struggling with a particular text. Talk with your TA to create a partnership that will work for your course. (For what to expect of your TA, see below.)
Students come to Writing 2-3 with equal parts enthusiasm and anxiety. As noted above, every student enrolled in 2-3 has elected to be there, and they expect to work hard on their writing. In turn, students have expectations of you.
- Students expect the classroom format to be discussion-based, rather than lecture-based. They want a class that is intimate not only in size but in character.
- Students want feedback from you on their writing. You should respond not only to the content of the writing, but also to the structure, form, and style.
- Students expect that you will return their papers to them in a timely manner, so that they have sufficient time to absorb and incorporate your comments before the next paper is due.
- Students expect that you be available to meet with them in conference throughout the term to discuss their progress as writers. They also hope that you will be available to them in office hours and via email.
- Students want your criticism; they need your support. It's important to be frank with 2-3 students. They understand that they need to improve their writing, and they are eager to hear from you what it is that they should do. But they also require your support. Your students will expect you to remain engaged with them as writers and as thinkers, so that they in turn can do their best work in your course.
Every instructor teaching Writing 2-3 has a Teaching Assistant. Because they meet with students individually for an hour each week, the TAs are often the first to diagnose problems in student writing. They are also in a good position to give the students the individual attention that they need. To help you make the most of your TA, the Writing Program has compiled The TA Operator's Manual (doc), which you can download here.
If you have questions about teaching Writing 2-3, please contact Karen Gocsik, Executive Director of the Writing Program.
Last modified: Friday, 19-Oct-2007 21:06:48 EDT
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