Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Liveblogging CWPA 2009: Part 2

9:06: The folks from the College of Charleston are describing their adjustment of the first-year writing requirements. Chris Warnick begins...

The new program replaces a two-semester FYC sequence with a single semester course. Problems with this set-up? The second semester often saw too much focus on literature and de-emphasis of composition. Students often perceived it as redundant.

The new set up features a one-semester, four-hour course, streamlined for pedagogical and financial reasons. It is hoped that this one-semester course will see more intentional instruction of composition, and it's certainly helped financially: the college's dependence on adjuncts has been greatly reduced by the drastic reduction in the number of required instructors.

They've had to face and conquer various myths about writing instruction, including (1) the notion that writing skills "transfer" from one discipline to others (reality: this is nonsense) and (2) the notion that two semesters of writing instruction are better than one (reality: no number of first-year courses will adequately prepare students for disciplinary writing).

9:17: Amy Mecklenburg-Faenger continues, playing "Negative Nancy," addressing challenges faced with the changes they've made...

The appearance on the surface is that the department is very much on the same page with regards to writing instruction. However, there are always different perceptions of the nature and effectiveness of curricular change, and in reality there has been a good deal of resistance to the changes, and the WAC component concomitant their overhaul has yet to take hold.

There's a leadership vacuum, with no one there to oversee the program directly, resulting in inconsistent quality of instruction. In particular, one could not assume that students in the second-semester course had been taught particular skills in the first semester-course.

There's very little training and faculty development, and since the responsibility for maintaining the courses is shared throughout and governed by the entire English Department, when pivotal decisions are made regarding composition instruction, the votes of the "non-experts" get swamped by those of the "experts."

There's no centralized place (physically speaking), leading to a defocused existence in space and a lack of coherence program-wide.

There's the notion that writing about literature is superior in some way to basic composition, and the notion that students will "learn to write by reading."

There are antiquated grading systems still in place that punish students for almost arbitrary, acontextual compositional errors.

The nature and quality of thesis-driven research-based writing is highly inconsistent from section to section.

There's fear on the part of faculty that they're being micromanaged, being told what to teach. In reality, a well-designed, shared curriculum ensures that faculty don't have to start at zero, and can benefit from a well-developed and standardized curriculum. Students, too, can be assured that they will receive similar instruction, no matter who their instructor is.

9:35: Meg Scott-Copses continues...

They've amassed a goodly pile of materials in the process of redesigning the curriculum.

A list of student goals for the single-semester course helped reify the intentions of the course's faculty. A list of recommended readers help as well. Rather than mandating a particular reader, they've attempted to standardize an assignment sequence: (1) summary and response, (2) analysis, and (3) synthesis.

They've been partnering with the library in coordinating instruction of research and information literacy skills, and have developed a list of expectations regarding this instruction. These expectations focus on instruction on critical evaluation of sources.

Now, what to do with the fourth hour of the course? Conference with students? If so, in class, in small groups, or individually? This fourth hour gives instructors extra time to fit in instruction they would ordinarily have had to do "on their own time."

But how is it all working? Hard to say. To say something about it,

9:53: Jennifer Burgess continues, on assessment...She's built an assessment program from the ground up. It's a hefty program!

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