The most significant question which can be asked about any situation or experience proposed to induce learning is what quality problem it involves – John Dewey
As instructors of Rhetoric and Composition, we are continually questioned by those in other disciplines. The favorite question, of course, is to ask why the quality of student writing is not better than it is. Implied in this question, not so subtly, is that the lack of quality is our department’s responsibility. My favorite answer, and the one that I believe to be true, is that student writing does not belong to one discipline. If we wish to see an improvement in student writing, we need to first work towards a cultural change, one that suggests that student writing is a universal priority, and therefore, a goal we attain together.
Faculty workshops are a necessary component in improving Writing Across the Curriculum. In Engaging Ideas, John Bean writes that in this teacher’s guide, he aims to “create a pragmatic nuts-and-bolts guide that will help teachers from any discipline design interest-provoking writings and critical thinking activities and incorporate them smoothly into their disciplinary courses” (xi). Like Bean, I believe that WAC workshops should not only be skill-specific but also that we should use this time to give faculty the space and the resources to create materials within a group setting. For instance, we might demonstrate methods for creating thought-provoking essay questions and rubrics that eliminate the guesswork for teacher expectation. Or we might demonstrate methods for classifying student errors instead of circling errors, responding to the very common complaint regarding the current quality of student grammar. We can also develop workshops on how to conduct scholarly research, how to employ new media in the writing process and how to incorporate non-graded writing assignments which still serve to promote active learning. In providing faculty with options and with the skills they need to incorporate writing into their classroom, in efficient but thought-provoking ways, we are improving the writing program’s presence on campus, and more importantly, we are taking significant strides in working together to create sensitive readers and critical thinkers.
In the link below, you will find one example of the types of materials you might create in a WAC faculty workshop. In this workshop, I am responding to the need for students to analyze quotes instead of simply listing information. The assignment and rubric attached demonstrates one way of tackling this issue. By creating a clearly written assignment, a skill specific rubric, and by asking students to include visual markers in their writing (such as different fonts for different source material which highlights the ratio of using quotes:student analysis), we not only reduce time for faculty grading this assignment but also we empower our students to assess the work of their peers in an effective and timely fashion, if allowing for peer workshop in class. For more examples like the one below, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.