Friday, January 30, 2009

Hilgers, Thomas L., Edna Lardizabal Hussey, and Monica Stitt-Bergh. “'As You’re Writing, You Have These Epiphanies’"

Hilgers, Thomas L., Edna Lardizabal Hussey, and Monica Stitt-Bergh. “'As You’re Writing, You Have These Epiphanies’: What College Students Say about Writing and Learning in Their Majors.” Written Communication 16.3 (1999): 317-353.

The authors, all based at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, report on the results of interviews with juniors and seniors about writing in their majors. The results are quite detailed, but the most interesting findings for our purposes are that students often had problems with writing as a result of majors not explicitly teaching methodology, a majority of students believed that writing in their major prepared them for writing in the workplace, a vast majority (91%) thought that writing helped them learn, and 47% believed that “writing is the best way for them to learn” (342). Overall, the authors observe that writing intensive “courses, particularly those in the major, are providing students with rich opportunities to do what professionals do—to observe, gather data, make analyses, and write reports” (345). The authors suggest that their university’s investment in writing across the curriculum and writing in the disciplines has paid dividends for students, but suggest that if the methodology of a discipline were taught more explicitly, then students might be better able to utilize skills honed in past writing in future writing. Generally, this article is most useful in supporting the claim that improving student writing will improve student learning, and may console instructors kneedeep in papers that the extra effort sometimes involved in using writing in a class will be ultimately worthwhile. If you’d like to read the article, it is available through the library’s “Journal Finder” tool.

Gute, Deanne, and Gary Gute. “Flow Writing in the Liberal Arts Core and Across the Disciplines"

Gute, Deanne, and Gary Gute. “Flow Writing in the Liberal Arts Core and Across the Disciplines: A Vehicle for Confronting and Transforming Academic Disengagement.” JGE 57.4 (2008): 190-222.

The Gutes take the notion of flow theory from psychology and apply it to student writing in hopes that it might prove a useful tool for engaging students. Flow theory concerns how some activities can engage one's consciousness while others will not. Researchers into flow have suggested that activities which challenge a person too little cause boredom while those that challenge a person too much cause anxiety. The Gutes hoped to “better understand students’ subjective experience of academic disengagement and explore ways to confront and transform it” (192). To that end, they had students in two college writing classes write about classes they considered challenging, and studied whether having students directly confront educational difficulties through writing would be useful in improving their academic performances. Their findings included “the pervasiveness of anxiety and feelings of inadequate preparation among the students”; that students will be more engaged by practicing “disciplinary thought processes and concepts” and more opportunities “to get and give feedback”; and that using writing to learn strategies (where the emphasis is on using writing as a tool to spur student learning and not on instructing students in the formal writing practices of the discipline—in other words, more informal writing assignments such as journals or blogs) can provide students with a valuable way to get that practice and feedback (216). This article is most useful in suggesting how informal writing can be a valuable tool in building competency in a discipline, and how getting students to explicitly think and comment about their own approaches to learning may help them learn overall. Just plunk “JGE” in the library’s “Journal Finder” and you can read the article yourself.

Gold, David. “Will the Circle Be Broken: The Rhetoric of Complaint against Student Writing"

Gold, David. “Will the Circle Be Broken: The Rhetoric of Complaint against Student Writing.” Profession (2008): 83-93.

Gold traces the tradition of faculty complaints about student writing from the 19th century to the present day, and suggests that instructors instead of complaining, which he often finds counterproductive, might more wisely “simply admit that eighteen-year-olds frequently write poorly, and consider it our job to take it from there” (86). He notes that “empirical research has shown that students today do not make significantly more errors than students did in the past” (87), which is striking considering that today’s students are often asked to do more complex writing tasks than yesterday’s students. He uses examples from student writing to illustrate his claims, and points out that often students having difficulty with writing can be assisted by their instructors quite easily by an adjustment of pedagogy. Ultimately, he argues that scholars of literacy need to promote the findings of their research to a wider audience so as to counteract prevailing myths about writing in the general culture. This essay is useful in putting today’s “literacy crisis” in perspective, and may help instructors realize better ways to approach student writing. Please contact me if you'd like to read it, as I have a copy of this issue in my office.