Thursday, May 17, 2012

"The Duke Reader Project: Engaging the University Community in Undergraduate Writing Instruction" by Cary Moskovitz

Moskovitz, Cary. "The Duke Reader Project: Engaging the University Community in Undergraduate Writing Instruction." Liberal Education 97.3/4 (2011): 48-53. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 May 2012.

Many instructors at Ursuline have experienced the following phenomenon: Students turn in their final essays at the end of the semester, but seldom ever return the following semester to pick up the essays and read instructor comments, from which, of course, they could learn and thus write better in the future. Perhaps students just forget and get too caught up in the following semester's classload and activities, but it's likely that many students honestly don't care for feedback other than the grade, which they've already received. Those students are not engaged in their writing. They see it as a hoop to jump through rather than a means for learning that can still be learned from even after the grade has been turned in.

If this has happened to you, don't feel bad and don't take it personally. It's a phenomenon that happens nationwide. To counteract this disengagement and make students more invested in their writing and more likely to grow from it, Duke University has developed a program called the Duke Reader Project. Because Duke, like most higher education institutions, considers writing to be of paramount importance for learning, the University wants students to view writing less as a schoolbound activity that one directs to an instructor and performs for a grade, and more as a "contextual act" that has real world consequences and varies from situation to situation, as well as from discipline to discipline, often driven by the needs of different audiences (48).

To teach students the importance of writing and how it functions outside of an individual course, Duke makes students write for an audience beyond the instructor by pairing a student up with a volunteer professional in the student's field. Often, these volunteers are graduates of Duke and eager to interact with students. After being paired up, the student corresponds with the volunteer and then shares drafts of an assignment for feedback. Thus far, the project appears to be very successful with both students and volunteers pleased with the results. Cary Moskovitz, Director of Writing in the Disciplines in the Thompson Writing Program at Duke, reports that "For our students, the project offers the opportunity to get detailed feedback on multiple drafts of their papers from engaged readers who are familiar with the kinds of writing they are attempting. For our alumni and our many non-instructor employees, it offers a valued and interesting way to be directly involved in our educational mission. For our institution, it builds meaningful connections between segments of our community that rarely intersect" (52). Duke's innovative program is one that other institutions such as Ursuline could emulate. In fact, Tiffany Mushrush Mentzer, Director of Alumnae Relations, has indicated that many Ursuline alums would be open to participation in a similar project here, so if you are an instructor wishing to have your students be more engaged in their writing and learn how to write for different audiences, please contact her. She can put you in touch with interested alums, and you can give a similar program a try here. If so, then you might find that students start stopping by to pick up those final papers and see what you think about their work beyond the grade as well.

The article is available through our library's databases.

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