by Marisa Yerace, WIC Intern
Our Anniversary Celebration keynote speaker, Dr. Terry Myers Zawacki, Professor Emerita at George Mason University, gave a talk titled Engaging Conversation(s): Students and Teachers Talk about Expectations for Academic Writing Across Disciplines, Languages, and Cultures. For a limited time, her talk can be viewed by OSU faculty, staff, and students through their OSU login credentials here.
We have included reflections as two graduate students working with WIC: Ruth Sylvester, WIC GTA, and Marisa Yerace, WIC Intern. We respond to the Keynote both as students invested in WIC and as junior scholars in the field of composition.
Ruth: Dr. Zawacki framed the stakes of her talk by reminding us of the myth of transience (from Mike Rose but articulated by David Russell), the myth that students must have been taught to write well in the past, or at least have been made familiar with a robust knowledge and skills base that they could continue to draw from, before they approach writing in high stakes disciplinary contexts. To combat this myth, Dr. Zawacki provided details on the implicit cues for teacher expectations, and, similarly, implicit paradigms of cultural understanding of students coming from outside the sphere of academia in the United States.
Marisa: While I was watching the keynote presentation, I took notes on Dr. Zawacki’s topic–which she is no doubt an expert on–but I also took notes on her presentation style and skill, which were at a level I hope to someday achieve. She centered student voices throughout her presentation, so that, when discussing the difficulties these students have in writing, we were hearing it from them and she was just synthesizing their points. She brought in some of what our faculty said about teaching English learners in the earlier roundtable. She pointed out some “generic terms” that teachers use to describe writing that are too vague to many of our students: “originality,” “voice,” and “clarity and conciseness.” These terms, she pointed out, vary from discipline to discipline and even teacher to teacher.
Dr. Zawacki also brought in a faculty voice about how that teacher perceived student difficulties; she then broke down their quote into small parts and placed them next to those student voices so that they were in conversation.
When we talked to Dr. Zawacki about her research in our staff meeting the next day, it was clear to me that she still remembered the details of every student she had interviewed for this research.
Finally, this outstanding scholar left us with the most important question we should be asking when evaluating student writing: Will my students’ writing serve them well in the range of academic, disciplinary, professional, and linguistic contexts?