Paul Matsuda, Professor of English and Director of Second Language Writing at Arizona State University and an international leader in the teaching of second language (L2) writing, visited Oregon State on Feb 11, 2016, to host workshops and share strategies for teaching and assessing L2 writing. He conducted workshops for tutors in the OSU Writing Center and for graduate teaching assistants in the Writing program. He also presented a lecture entitled “Writing Assessment in the Linguistically Diverse Classroom.”
Matsuda’s afternoon presentation addressed issues that many WIC instructors encounter when assessing L2 writing and provided concrete strategies to address these issues.
Assessing vs. Evaluating
Matsuda explained the difference between assessment and evaluation of writing. Assessment is “formative,” and includes observing writing performance, monitoring progress, and providing feedback. Evaluation, on the other hand, is “summative,” and includes grading and ranking. Based on this distinction, Matsuda explains that grammar should be “assessed” rather than “evaluated.”
Dealing with Error in L2 Writing
Matsuda observed that faculty are often concerned about errors in L2 writing, but the fact is that L2 writing improves very slowly and only with lots of practice. Rather than focusing on errors, he recommended, teachers might:
Focus on content, organization, and other elements of writing that L2 writers can address and improve upon
Focus comments on specific areas for development, not on deficits
Limit grammar to, say, ten per cent of the total grade
Add points for language improvement
Include reflective assignments such as grammar logs, portfolios, and self and peer assessment, all of which research has shown to benefit L2 writers.
Because students frequently misunderstand written feedback, teachers can mitigate this misunderstanding both by paying particular attention the clarity of feedback and by conferencing with L2 and with all students. Not grading grammar or minimally grading it helps encourage students to see writing as something more than a system of grammatical rules. However, in the case where grammar is an extremely important component of an assignment, Matsuda suggests that the percentage grammar is worth be proportional to the grammatical instruction and feedback the teacher provides.
Reflective writing also provides a valuable opportunity for students to examine their writing practices. Students might turn in a letter or process memo with their assignment responding to these questions:
What did you struggle with in your writing?
What issues do you want the instructor to address in their feedback?
What aspects of this assignment are you proud of?
Matsuda recommends that teachers take every opportunity to make the improvement of second language writing a collaborative process.
We are happy to announce our Spring Lunch Series schedule. This year’s topics are lively, and we look forward to the stimulating conversations that will occur. All lunches will be held on Fridays in Milam 215 from 12 to 1pm. If you have any questions regarding the lunches, please contact the WIC GTA, Kristina Lum, at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, delicious American Dream pizza and beverages will be provided.
The topics for this year’s series are:
April 22nd – “Can We Make WIC Students Plagiarism-Proof?”
A panel of faculty from Writing I, Writing II, and INTO discuss how students can be taught citation and use of sources.
April 29th – “Mindfulness for Distracted Writers”
Vicki Tolar Burton shares research and strategies for helping writers improve focus and reduce writing anxiety.
May 6th – “What are the Roles of Graduate Assistants in WIC Classes?”
A panel of graduate students and faculty discuss appropriate roles and training for graduate assistants involved in WIC classes.
May 13th – “Writing for Audiences in STEM and Beyond”
WIC guest speaker Chris Thaiss is the Clark Kerr Presidential Chair and Professor in the University Writing Program at the University of California, Davis. He is co-author of Engaged Writers/Dynamic Disciplines and co-editor of Writing Programs Worldwide: Profiles of Academic Writing in Many Places. He was also part of a multi-institutional NSF grant focused on writing to learn in STEM.
To RSVP to one or more of our lunches, please click here.
The WIC program and staff would like to congratulate the 13 faculty participants of the 2016 WIC Winter Seminar. We are pleased to have these members of the WIC community committed to seeking professional development in the teaching of writing across the disciplines.
This year’s seminar reflected growing interest in how to create support for student writing development over the course of the students’ college career. Faculty were filled with suggestions regarding better ways to support and integrate writing into courses, which included the role of GTAs in WIC courses. These discussions revealed a possible need for GTA training/support so that GTAs involved in teaching or assisting with WIC classes are familiar with the key elements of a WIC course, such as writing-to-learn activities, peer review, and instructor feedback to guide revision. In doing so, participants contributed to a dialogue that is likely to influence future WIC events and the larger university teaching communities.
In evaluating the seminar, participants noted that they enjoyed the interdisciplinary collaboration. One seminar member saw this collaboration as a point of creative inspiration for their own curriculum design:
“It was good to see how people from different departments approach challenges. The solutions they implement have helped me think more deeply about how to make my own class better.”
It was a privilege and pleasure sharing the learning space of the WIC Winter Seminar. This year’s participants were:
Jeneva Anderson (Microbiology and BioHealth Sciences)
Kim Gratz (Civil and Construction Engineering)
Kelsy Kretschmer (Sociology)
Kevin McGrath (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science)
Cynthia Mojica (School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences)
Ryan Mueller (Microbiology and BioHealth Sciences)
Andrea Myhre (Human Development and Family Sciences)
Monica Olvera (Human Development and Family Sciences)
Doug Reese (Fisheries and Wildlife)
Kim Rogers (Kinesiology)
Aimee Snyder (School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences)
Jason Tanenbaum (Political Science)
Paul Thompson (Economics)
We were excited to work with you and look forward to continuing to do so in the future!
Sally Hacker is a community ecologist and professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at Oregon State University. Among other research and teaching responsibilities, Dr. Hacker developed and co-instructs a 15-credit marine biology WIC course (BI 450 Marine Biology), which is offered every spring at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. Admission to BI 450 Marine Biology is competitive; students who are accepted into the course live in Newport for the term and take only this one class. In the following excerpts from a longer interview with WIC program intern Natalie Salah, Dr. Hacker discusses her background as a community ecologist, the structure of BI 450, and the kinds of writing students do in this course.
Natalie Saleh: Can you give a brief explanation of what you do as a community ecologist?
Sally Hacker: As a marine community ecologist, I look at how species interact with one another in natural systems on the coast. My current research focuses on the role of species interactions and coastal oceanography in structuring coastal ecosystems including rocky shores, estuaries, and sand dunes. In other words, I study how the physical forces from the ocean influence the ecology on the shoreline.
NS: What inspired you to study community ecology?
SH: I was inspired when I was an undergraduate at the University of Washington. I was really interested in marine biology and ended up going out to Friday Harbor Marine Labs up in the San Juan Islands. I really liked studying animals and working in coastal habitats and being outside. I fell in love with community ecology and ended up going on to graduate school and choosing it as my life’s work.
NS: How long have you been at Oregon State?
SH: I have been here for 11 years. Before coming to OSU, I was a faculty member at Washington State University in Vancouver, Washington.
NS: Can you tell me about the WIC course you teach?
SH: Marine Biology (BI 450) is a WIC class where students spend the term at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. The class is divided into six one- to two-week sections, which focus on different topics and are taught by different faculty. The topics covered in the course are marine invertebrates, marine fishes, marine algae, community ecology, marine conservation, and a final research project of the students’ choosing. I teach the first two weeks, which focuses on marine invertebrates, and the last two weeks, which focuses on the final project.
In the last two weeks, the students take all the knowledge they have gained during the prior eight weeks to design their own research project. The projects involve some kind of research outside in the field or inside the laboratory. The students collect data, and then they write a scientific paper based on that data. Then they present their projects to the class, and we invite everyone from Hatfield to come for their presentations.
NS: What does the average day look like for students in BI 450?
SH: Oh, it’s really long. It depends, but we are often in the field by 6 a.m, if that is when the low tides are. Fieldwork might include walking around, identifying species, collecting some of them to bring back to the lab, taking notes. We might spend two or three hours out there.
The rest of the day usually includes a couple of lectures and a few hours of lab work. Sometimes at night, there are special lectures. We will have somebody come in and talk about their work or their research or about what it’s like to be in graduate school. During the first week, we schedule a lot of evening activities so that people can get to know each other.
The course instructors are always beat by the end of our two weeks of teaching. We’re basically working all day long, and there’s no time to do anything other than be part of that teaching experience. But after our two weeks, the students are still there. They love it, but it’s pretty intense. They’re really devoting ten weeks of their life to that class, away from Corvallis, not being around their friends. But most people who do it say it’s the best class they ever took at OSU.
NS: What kinds of writing do students do in BI 450?
SH: They do all kinds of writing, but the major formal assignment is a scientific paper about their final project. To do that, we teach them how to write different parts of the paper in each section of the course, so by the time they actually write their papers they know what they are doing.
We also have them write an op-ed in the conservation section of the course, about a topic they are interested in. They have to take a side and write an opinion about the topic. This is a really different writing style than scientific writing, so it gets them out of their comfort zone.
We have a blog for this course, and students are responsible every week for writing a blog post in which they reflect on what happened that week. It is informal writing; the only requirement is that they write about their experiences in the course, try to spell things correctly, and make sure it is PG-13!The blog is really fun for the professors too, because you can find out what the students are up to in the sections you aren’t teaching.
The course involves a lot of memorization of species names. To help with this, one instructor has the students make ID cards. She gives them a certain group of marine algae that they have to work with, and then they have to teach the other students about that group of algae, using the ID cards.
The students always have notebooks out in the field to record their observations. Just taking notes is a skill, especially when it’s pouring down rain. Taking the time to observe something about a given species and write their observations down on paper can help quite a bit in learning about the species.
NS: Going back to the formal writing assignment, can you give some examples of final projects students have done?
SH: They do all kinds of projects. The Hatfield visitors’ center has a resident octopus living in one of the tanks. It is really popular. Students have done projects looking at how octopuses find and determine whether something is prey. For example, one project involved trying to trick an octopus with a plastic crab versus a real crab to see if the octopus can detect which is which. The octopus of course picks the real crab, because octopuses are really smart.
Other students have investigated limpet feeding or fish foraging behavior in the intertidal zone. Also there are a lot of projects looking at crabs—where they live, their habitat preferences, and how they avoid being eaten. And there have been projects about the behavior of mother and baby seals. Students will look at harbor seals and examine how often the baby seals feed. Some students have looked at whether seals are scared by boats or are disturbed by people.
NS: What advantages do you see about writing the scientific paper in such a condensed time frame?
SH: I think it gives students a sense of accomplishment to be able to complete a research project from start to finish in two weeks. It’s a culminating project, pulling from all they have learned over the prior eight weeks of the course about how to do research, write a research paper, and give a talk. My experience is that they are excited to finally sit down and write their own paper on the discoveries they have made. All the preparation they have had for that moment unleashes a sense of independence and accomplishment that is great to see as a professor.
NS: In what ways do students help each other on the final project?
SH: They can work in groups of up to three (some do work alone though) and they help each other with all aspects of the project from writing the proposal to collecting data to analyzing their data to reading each other’s work. But they are all responsible for their own papers in the end.
NS: How do you think the genres that aren’t typical in science fields, like the blogs, help students learn the course concepts?
SH: I think it helps them a lot, because they are not pressured by getting the writing right. They are just thinking about communicating something to somebody else.
NS: What do you think is the main advantage of taking the 15-credit marine biology course as opposed to more traditional classes at OSU?
SH: What people have told me is that they benefit from being immersed in marine biology all the time. The students don’t have anything else to think about but this class. The class is also split up into sections, and once a section is done, it’s done. I think students quickly realize that that’s a really good way to learn, because they are not thinking about multiple topics and trying to get many different projects done at the same time.
They also meet so many people at the marine lab. There are many people who work for the state and the federal agencies, so students get to meet people who can help them potentially get a job, further their career, or help with their research. It really benefits the students once they leave OSU.
As spring term arrives, please remember to nominate outstanding undergraduate writers for WIC Culture of Writing Awards. Recognizing exceptional student writing communicates to our students and the university that good writing matters in every discipline. To nominate outstanding undergraduate writers, interested units (schools, departments) seek nominations from the faculty and select the best paper from the major. For each writing prize winner, WIC awards $50, matched by $50 from the unit, for a total of $100. What an excellent way to acknowledge the hard work and talent of our undergraduate writers!
Once your department or unit has chosen a paper to nominate, fill out the nomination form and submit it to Julie Howard by 5:00 p.m. PST, June 1, 2016. The complete policy and submission instructions are on the WIC website. Here are a few tips and models for the award nomination process:
Model 1: the academic unit might use the department or school awards committee, who asks faculty to nominate and submit their best undergraduate paper for the year. The committee chooses the awardee.
Model 2: the academic unit wants the awardee to be from a WIC course, so one or more WIC instructors select the best paper.
Model 3: the top academic writing occurs in a capstone course with a team project. The unit selects the team with the best-written capstone project for the award. When the award goes to a team of four, some units divide the $100 award 4 ways, while other units contribute more than $50 so that individuals will receive a more substantial award.
Because the only way a student at OSU can receive a monetary award is through a deposit in the student’s account, the award is typically given to a student who is currently enrolled. If a student winner has graduated prior to June 2016, additional paperwork and processing time will be required. If possible, submit those nominations as early as possible. In addition, if units would like to receive the award certificate in time for an awards event, include that information and the date of the event with the nomination form. Units with special considerations regarding the due date should contact Vicki Tolar Burton, copying Kristina Lum.
Student awardees are invited to submit their paper to the WIC section of the ScholarsArchive@OSU.