My students are working on peer review today and my first class just completed it. This class is probably the most like 120 students I have. (My 2pm class is much more theoretical and frankly better writers on average, though I do hate saying that one class is ‘better” that another. 2pm just has had way more experience as writers than 12pm.) I noticed this the first time when they commented on how “nervous” they were about taking a writing class. They talked about how many of them have never done much “academic writing” and the writing they have done are small assignments that are comparable to summaries. (They are pretty adept at summarizing material through writing.) But they are quite afraid of larger writing assignments that ask for analysis, evaluation, and at times even reflection. I have them do a lot of “reflective” writing at the start of class or at the end (like today after peer review) and I think they are getting more comfortable at that. They also had a reflective writing portion for an upcoming assignment where they reflected on genres they will someday be writing in their field.
Still, it saddens/disturbs/sometimes infuriates me how writing is left up to English professors. Granted, it makes sure many of us have jobs in our field since more students than ever are attending college and needing writing instruction. But how can one English professor solve all the writing woes of 22 students in a period of 16 weeks? Answer is, of course, that one professor can’t solve all the writing woes, but that professor can help them learn what those problems and errors in language are and help them strategize ways to improve those faults in writing. One of these ways is through peer review, as well as through student-instructor conferences, classroom lectures/activities on good writing, and commenting on papers.
But the students also have to be involved and dedicated to this process as well and I’m finding that difficult in working with a certain group of majors. I talked to a colleague about this unnamed group of majors, and he said the same thing–they were the most difficult group for him to teach. Not because they were poor students (they are actually good workers in class) or because they didn’t want to learn (they all take good notes in class, which is fun for me to see), but because they just seem so scared of writing.
I am hoping the reflections they write in class (I make them write daily), the response essays they write (four during this semester), the description and reflection of each genre, and the other more challenging writing assignments they are doing this semester will help them at least feel more comfortable with writing and improve their writing abilities. Most of them are decent writers–the biggest fault so far has been in their syntax and I actually have recently found a great activity for helping them understand correct syntax. (I did see one example today where the writing was just vague all around in terms of a response essay, but I am considering this an isolated incident.) But my main point of all of this is that we need more inclusion of WAC and WID in the university system and we also need a university community that is committed to the goals set forth in WAC/WID. I would be more than happy to be a writing tutor in a classroom devoted to writing in a particular discipline in exchange for one course release a semester, for example. (Or perhaps without it, but I think in regards to time management, that might get tough. This semester has doubled the workload of last, which really wasn’t a shock to me.) But I think we need to think about WAC and WID a little more seriously, or at least get the word out more and educate faculty outside of English on these matters because I don’t see this being done to the degree that it should be. Though I realize WAC/WID attention isn’t the only solution to this problem, I know it could serve as a start.
Yes, there is so much work to be done.