You know, it's really interesting talking with faculty from a variety of schools and fields, as we have here at the Abbey. At times, it makes me realize how much I've learned. At other times, it makes me realize that I have a whole lot to learn.
One of my colleagues here was talking about her disatisfaction with her students' writing skills in her class, which is designated as "writing intensive" in her field. (At her school, students have to take several courses designated "writing intensive" as part of the effort to get students to write better.)
She's telling me that these writing intensive classes give students lots of writing assignments, and it's really frustrating to read and grade the resulting papers.
So I asked, and it doesn't sound like she's teaching them writing skills at all.
And she hasn't yet made (nor has her school) the jump to realizing that it's not enough to just give writing assignments and grade them. Yes, some students will improve some from that, but if you really want students to improve as writers, you have to focus their practice and help them learn about writing in and for whatever field you're in.
But (and this is so familiar)she doesn't want to give up "content" to teach writing.
In the interest of sanity, though, wouldn't it be better to focus at least some time on writing in order to suffer through the grading so badly?
There's also the other elephant here: she doesn't feel confident about teaching writing. And I totally understand that.
And here's where her administration needs to step up: if you want faculty to focus on teaching students writing skills, then you have to put in some serious faculty development to helping them learn to do that effectively in their contexts without it being onerous. And you have to convince faculty that this can work to make student writing better and faculty work more fulfilling. (Let's face it, smacking your head against the wall of teaching without seeing some results is just so frustrating!)
Some of my students have a paper coming due next week. During the last class period, we spent some time freewriting and talking about ideas together. Today we'll do some bubble mapping. And it will take away from the literature we're reading. But it will help them learn about what they're writing about, and it will help them write better papers, and it will help me be less frustrated when I grade them.
The thing is, if you do this with people who are already pretty good writers, they improve WAY more (at least in my experience) because they're ready to put the new tools to work more effectively. And maybe they've forgotten about some of the strategies, and reminding them at a different point will get them to actually use them for real.
I know. I sound like a convert, don't I? Bleargh!