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?
This article describes the Panel and Roundtable that were part of the WIC 25th Anniversary Celebration on May 21st, 2019. We have included reflections as two graduate students working with WIC: Ruth Sylvester, WIC GTA, and 2nd year MA in Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture, and Marisa Yerace, WIC Intern, and 1st year MA in Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture. We respond to the day both as students invested in WIC and as junior scholars in the field of composition.
As part of the WIC 25th Anniversary Celebration, a panel of faculty presented how they innovate when teaching writing in the disciplines:
Deanna Lloyd (Horticulture), Integrating Lessons of Difference, Power, & Discrimination (DPD) into a Science WIC.
Rachael Cate (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), Transcending the Technical/Non-technical Divide: Collaborative Team Teaching in a WIC Capstone Course.
Celeste King (INTO OSU), A Running Start: Preparing ESL Students for Future WIC Courses.
Charlotte Headrick (Theatre), Transforming my Teaching Since 1994: The Writing Intensive Program.
Marisa: First of all, I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to organize this part of our Celebration and work with these excellent faculty members. Despite only teaching WIC courses for two years, Deanna Lloyd began our panel on a strong note. She walked us through the modules of her WIC course and centered student voices throughout her presentation–just to show the impact that her class had made. One of the key themes of incorporating DPD into WIC, for her, is continuing to question “Knowledge”–whose knowledge? Who promotes it and circulates it? Who does it leave out? These are big questions and perfect examples of what we can think through when writing. Deanna also begins her class on a more personal note that allows students to talk about their own homes before needing to write about course content.
Rachael Cate has her students in EECS analyze what effective teamwork and communication is throughout their three terms of WIC as an engineering senior capstone course. She also talked about the push to embed WIC even when bringing writing and communications concerns into engineering wasn’t super popular–an effort that I, as a composition student and teacher, have to appreciate.
Celeste King, INTO, spoke about the pathways INTO students take and the skills that the program focuses on to prepare them for their writing courses in the university. I was excited to have Celeste on the panel because, although she doesn’t teach a WIC course, I think this information is important for everyone who teaches writing at OSU.
Finally, Charlotte Headrick offered the perspective both as a longtime WIC instructor and one who had a class perceived as “easy” for students who needed to graduate soon (spoiler alert: it was not that easy).
Ruth: I’m thankful for the opportunity to have heard these panelists. A common thread among the presentations, a thread that continued through the roundtable and keynote and into the evening, was the notion that diligent attention to student voices is not only urgent and necessary for innovation in WIC, but also vital for the professional development of instructors as they teach and write in the disciplines. Deanna Lloyd provided us with details of student feedback for each of her modules, and these details helped the audience to understand her investment in the subject matter of her class. Many in the audience told Deanna later that they would have liked to take the class that integrates inclusion with environmental studies.
Following the panel, a roundtable of WIC faculty shared their experiences:
Lauren Dalton (Biochemistry and Biophysics)
Mark Edwards (Sociology)
Kate Field (BioResource Research)
Claudia Ingham (Animal Sciences)
Matthew Powers (Forest Engineering, Resources and Management)
Janet Tate (Physics)
Ruth: I was invested in Lauren’s discussion of the ways that she teaches transitions in the writing process, and how she often encounters transition-less paragraphs in student writing; Lauren calls these paragraphs “fact islands,” as they are disconnected from the “archipelago” of the context that the student is pursuing in writing about a topic. Throughout the roundtable I was encouraged by the speakers’ commitment to helping their students engage with discipline-specific values in the writing process. They all showed great enthusiasm for the content that they teach, and their anecdotes demonstrated their successes at making processes of writing in the disciplines more transparent for their students. With regard to this metacognitive transparency, I especially appreciated Mark Edwards’ strategy of writing a letter, or memo, to the class to alert them to things that many writers struggled with in completing an assignment. This strategy positions the instructor within the community of student writers and provides students with a new genre to mediate their classroom experiences with writing.
Marisa: I liked Lauren’s strategy of end-of-class notecards just as check-ins with her students after every meeting. I’ve been employing attendance sheets in my own teaching, but I think her strategy is a little cleaner and allows for more trust and more opportunities for students to reach out.
Janet Tate discussed the role of professional societies when teaching her Physics students about writing; she also pointed out the “true-statement-trap” that many of her students fall into when they think stating the facts is equivalent to writing well. When Claudia Ingham teaches science writing to Animal Science majors, she uses “ROTs”–Rules of Thumb–to both point out and poke fun at the writing conventions of her discipline.
These WIC faculty also listed their favorite (unofficial) WIC outcomes: student ownership of writing; students having fun with and becoming invested in their topic; students being able to become experts in one of their interests; and student use of writing-to-think.
Overall, as the roundtable continued, more and more of the audience got involved, turning the event into a discussion–something that was productive for everyone there.