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?
As part of our WIC 25th Anniversary Celebration, we surveyed more than 200 past winners of the WIC Culture of Writing Awards in the disciplines. Nearly 100 of these OSU graduates responded, answering questions about their careers, their workplace and personal writing, and how well prepared they felt as writers. In an open-ended question, many wrote about their gratitude for what they learned in WIC courses and for having their writing recognized through the Culture of Writing award. This is what some of the grads told us:
“I was truly honored to be recognized with my department’s WIC award and am happy to be counted among the winners, past and future.” (Liberal Arts)
“Thank you, OSU, for helping me to become a published science writer! OSU was the best foundation I could have hoped for, and from that foundation I have been able to put together a slightly odd and highly satisfying career, spreading the joy of birds and birding to a wide audience.” (Ag Sciences)
“Writing is honestly a joy. I, among others, have always found a freedom of expression in writing. I am so glad that this program continues to honor writing – thank you!” (Business)
“WIC is as important as STEM related course work in engineering. Most students will spend a relatively small portion of their career performing technical calculations. They will spend a significantly larger portion of their career communicating with peers or reviewing/revising the work of employees they supervise.” (Engineering)
“Some of the best writers at our company went to OSU. The WIC program was instrumental to their success, whether they acknowledge it or not.” (Engineering)
“Thank you for your support. The Culture of Writing Award was the first award I received during my academic career. It’s an accomplishment with significant positive impacts on young scholars during a vital stage of their progressive young careers.” (Science)
“It was one of my biggest honors at OSU to receive this award, and it really gave me the confidence to proudly display my writing skills and highlight them as one of my biggest strengths.” (Public Health and Human Sciences)
“….The encouragement from my professors truly helped me reframe how I saw myself and my ideas. When Dr. Natchee Barnd presented me with the WIC award, I actually cried because, still, in my senior year, I wasn’t terribly confident in my writing, and I think part of me thought I was undeserving…The award spoke far more to my skills than I realized, and it validated all my hard work…To every professor at OSU, your words of encouragement, validation, and affirmation go such a long way.” (Liberal Arts)
More of these interesting responses in the fall.
Thank you to each WIC teacher who nominated a student for a Culture of Writing Award in your discipline this year. See the list of this year’s winners and their nominating faculty member here. If you are wishing you had nominated someone, remember next year.
I also want to recognize and thank the people who made the 25th celebration of WIC possible. First, thanks to Vice Provost Alix Gitelman and the Division of Undergraduate Education, who approved funding for the events. Second, thanks to my amazing WIC team, who planned and made the event happen, and whose ideas shaped the day: Executive Assistant Caryn Stoess, GTAs Lindsay Schwehr and Ruth Sylvester, and intern Marisa Yerace. Marisa planned the outstanding afternoon mini-conference. Thank you. Thanks also to the WIC faculty who participated in the afternoon mini-conference, and to my friend and WAC colleague, Terry Zawacki, who flew here from Virginia to be our keynoter.
I will lead my last WIC Faculty Seminar in the fall, as I am retiring January 1, 2020. Please encourage WIC faculty who have not had the seminar to ask their chair/head/director to email a nomination to me. I look forward to another great group of faculty in the fall. We will me meeting on Thursdays, 3 to 5, rather than Wednesdays, due to space constraints.
Finally, thanks to the WIC team for a rewarding year despite many challenges. To WIC GTA fall and winter Lindsay Schwehr, thank you for your endless good cheer and your thoroughness in review of WIC courses. To Ruth Sylvester, who stepped in as WIC GTA when Lindsay took health leave, thank you for devoting two years to interning and working to improve the program and strengthen its research-based foundation. All the best to Ruth as she enters a PhD program in Rhetoric and Composition at U. of Nevada Reno. Thanks to intern Marisa Yerace, especially for taking responsibility for the 25th celebration mini-conference. Marisa will be the WIC GTA next year. Finally, thanks to Caryn Stoess, who has kept all things WIC moving in the right direction this year, even while taking on a new position as Interim Operations Manager for Academic Programs and Assessment. I am deeply grateful, Caryn.
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.