Recently, my department had a meeting during which we discussed assessment, specifically, the porfolio type assessment, and more specifically, we talked about student writing. The assessment report, iffy in some ways, may show that (on average) students improve their writing skills at the university, but not as much as we'd like. Shocking, startling, I know, because unless they come out writing brilliantly, all of them, we'd like them to write better.
I could say the same for my own writing, which has improved dramatically over the years, thanks to help from my friends.
We discussed the information. We asserted, as we do all the time, that writing isn't the purview of the English department, nor something that can really be mastered at the university level in one writing class. Instead, as everyone knows, students should work on writing in many classes, and have feedback about their writing, guidance, and instruction. If you've been in any English department in the land, or any liberal artsy sort of place, you've heard the same sorts of discussions.
But, of course, we argue that faculty in other departments don't work on writing enough. And we argue that we might not be perfect, either.
By way of demonstrating this, one of my colleagues said that he asked a senior level class what sorts of writing instruction they'd had (other than in the first year college writing course). And all of them said they hadn't had any. None. Zip.
Today, one of my classes is doing peer editing work on a major project. So we brainstormed first about the requirements of the project. During this section, I asked them if we'd talked about paragraph organization yet. They all said, nope, never heard of it. So I started talking about Christensen and paragraph organization.
And about five minutes in, one of them said, "we did this already."
And indeed, they started digging through their notes, and we had talked about paragraph organization. They can't remember from what we did in preparation for the first paper. (Okay, I didn't remember, either, but I work paragraph organization into paper writing at some point in almost every course at some point in the semester. I only make it REALLY formal in my first year writing class; other than that, I talk about it when we're working on a paper. And this time, I wanted to make sure I'd talked about it even now, rather than never.)
I told them about the meeting, and about my colleague, and I asked them what they'd tell him if he asked them about writing instruction.
And you know, if they're asked in two or three years about what writing instruction they've had since first year composition, they're going to give that big blank look and ask, writing instruction? Not us. Nope, not a bit. Never heard of it. No one has ever talked about writing, thesis statements, paragraph or essay organization, citation, nope, not a bit.
ps. I'm trying to figure out how to upload from flickr so that I can show off my work on a poem. But I keep getting the red X of nothingness. Any suggestions?