Writing Assessment Discussion. February 3, 2010. Marcie Leek. Christina Purdy. JC Clapp. Bradley Lane. Jane Lister-Reis. David Bucci. Christopher Davis. Jack Bautsch. Write a short essay addressing the following:
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Barack Obama recently became President of the United States. The cartoon can have many meanings.
1. What does the cartoon say to you?
2. Does it leave anything out?
3. Which classes that you have taken here at North help you to think about your answer?
For your information: The words listed in this cartoon are the names of some important people and events in United States history.
Applying this rubric to these writings was hard. It was out of any context. I had no idea of the range of students I was dealing with.
The rubric was not designed to go with that assignment. They were created independently.
It also felt odd to be comparing students who were clearly learning English as a second language along with students who say they have taken English 102 and coordinated studies.
I understand that it is supposed to be asking as a college, “Are they coming out with these outcomes?’ That means you do have to have students across the entire range.
For me, I don’t know how useful it is to find we have an average of 2.0, which equates to “developing” on this rubric.
Yep. If you look across the campus you would probably agree most of our students are “developing”.
I agree. It was out of context, we didn’t know our audience, and we wonder, “Why are we doing this?”
I really liked our getting together. In our group we had English people and people who had not much experience gauging writing skills, so we had some respectfully combative meetings. It was exciting and fun.
Maybe because we didn’t create the assignment, it doesn’t help us much. It says to write an essay about these three things…
…which forces them to link them together in a way that they might not have done…
The wording in the boxes of the rubric led us in different directions. The word “expert” leads some to think a different way. We had a lot of comments about the rubric itself.
We thought that designing a rubric that goes with the assignment would be a better start for this inquiry.
We were expecting things out of the writing, based on the rubric, that I’m not sure the student, given the prompt, would know how to produce.
It says, “Write about this cartoon.” Typically, I give expectations: there needs to be paragraphs; it needs to be organized in a way that makes sense.
Without those expectations it is difficult to gauge what we should expect they produce.
There is no place on the rubric to consider how they are making meaning out of this. Is it giving us something interesting?
Of course, no. That is for the Critical Thinking Rubric. I found it hard to separate it out. “Well, the paragraphing is not bad…
For those of us who teach writing we want there to be interesting ideas. The critical thinking piece can’t really be separated from writing totally.
I will concur with Marcie that the conversation with colleagues was good.
For me that was the most interesting thing. I got to sit with Jane and Bradley for an hour and a half. We talked about how we assess writing and what we do in our classes.
We have a need to have those conversations to happen even more deliberately outside of the traditional disciplinary boundaries across the curriculum.
I have my perspective of what is good writing, but what is good writing in business or electronics? What kind of writing to they need to see produced?
If we are trying to create good writers, then we need to see those possibilities and develop that kind of vocabulary.
Or agree across the board that these are a standard that we want all our writers to have no matter what their pathway is.
Part of what came up in our conversations on assessment of writing was we can’t fault the students for not carrying skills over between classes, when that is not necessarily how we structure most classes…
…or how we structure curricula… or when we don’t create pathways that are quite deliberate for them to build their abilities.
If we have intentional pathways, students can understand how the skills developed in this class will help you in the next class. We haven’t designed our curriculum in a way for students to understand the interrelatedness.
Informally surveying my English 101 class, I find people wait until the very end to take it. “I have to have this so I can graduate.”
So rather than use those skills in their classes, they put it off until the end.
I have faced frustration across the campus. I have heard from other instructors that students enter their classes not being able to write. They have asked me, “Why don’t you do something about their writing?”
We may have moved them from 1-point-1 to 2-point-something. They made progress, but they are still developing.
What is disappointing is that we don’t have a college-wide understanding of what is considered college-level writing.
In some colleges you take your writing class in your major as well as English 101 independently. Your subsequent course is given in your discipline.
I don’t know if we have enough students, enough faculty, and a big enough program to fill courses that way. Could we actually teach a writing class for science majors? I don’t think so.
We understand there are disciplinary kinds of writing styles. However, we are talking here about general education.
Are there elements that cross disciplines that are really the nuts and bolts?
Every car has an engine, but the outside of the car looks different. What we are looking for is “what is good?”
We also need to talk about what is writing, because in sciences much of the writing is reporting. What is it that we do when we use written language?
We want them to investigate text, examination, and analysis as well as reporting.
My interdisciplinary background has fore-fronted the question of “What counts as a contribution?”
A scientific orientation is devoted to making methods clear. A literary orientation is wrapped in the enigma of genius. You don’t know my process.
These are deep down conflicting principles that impact the kinds of writing that come out. How do we teach students about that?
I don’t think it is that hard. I tell my students, “You have 2 or 3 different jobs. You have had 2 or 3 different bosses, and they all had their different criteria.” They get the shift in context and demands.
Wearing your uniform was more important at MacDonald’s than it was when you cleaned the floors at North. Hey! It exists in academia, too.
I say to my students that you pay attention to what is being asked of you and trust that what we are asking you to do is not so “my way” that it won’t serve you in the future.
I think it is important for us to point it out that there is MLA and APA and all of that, but we don’t have to try and do it all.
I think we are saddled with an onerous task. We have students walk through the door with a pretty minimal skill set, and we are supposed to be getting them up to speed in our discipline as well as somehow polishing grammar and sentence structure to make that all pretty…
…as well servicing the rest of the campus who say, “Have you taken your English class? Then why are you writing this way?”
We have a lot to cover in 11 weeks. We know that language does not work that way. Brains don’t work that way.
I am not trying to pass the buck here. I think we have responsibilities, but we have to consider what is reasonable in what we are able to do.
It raises the pathway issue. If we are setting up courses to produce certain outcomes across the campus, how do we create the funnels that enable them to benefit, rather than begrudgingly take them into a class at the very end?
Carol and I were talking this morning about rolling people who are ready for English 101 into our coordinated studies Beginnings class, which is normally taught in the fall.
The Beginnings class provides a holding and support around literacy, diversity and communication skills. It integrates reading, writing, thinking, and speaking in a supportive learning community.
We were thinking about rolling people over that hump in order to be successful in college level composition and to get them to take their English 101 right away.
We are talking about pathways for moving people through those basic general education literacies: writing, thinking, speaking and diversity that are essential for students to be successful as they think about their major and pursuing their interests.
There seems to be a lot of anxiety about the way that writing is taught. I hear this discourse that you should come out of English 102 able to write anytime anywhere anything.
Those discourses say we need better conversations about writing across the campus. We composition teachers give people a particular style of writing. There are other styles.
We need those kinds of conversations. Here is a new style. Here is where it changes. Here are the expectations of it. Those are the conversations that have to happen.
I think the next thing for us to do is to find out what people across campus think we do as English teachers. Within our department we have a pretty clear sense of what we do.
What bugs my colleagues in other disciplines is sentence level grammar. That bugs all of us.
But that’s one aspect of an entire course that we teach. Our major job is not to teach verb conjugation.
We have this huge problem when we get very large numbers of International and ESL students in our classes who have sentence level problems. What do we do? As we know they aren’t going to get it that fast.
At the end of the quarter they have done the assignments, they have shown they can think and read, but their sentences are not pretty.
Do I make them retake it? Do I give them a 1.0? If I do, they move to Central.
We need an asterisk in the brochures that says it is highly recommended that you take English 101 and 102 early. I don’t think students understand how course sequencing works and how significant it is.
One time Jim Harnish showed his students the degree sheet and asked, “Do you know why it is set up this way?” There was this huge silence.
They saw them as hoops to get through, separate boxes to check off, that had no deeper thought to them.
There is nothing visible that says we care about you, that we want you to succeed, and we have thought about how learning unfolds.
We should show them. I think it is reasonable to provide a pathway. Here is Johnny and Jane student. Here are the courses Johnny and Jane ought to try to get into.
I don’t know how many of you got to hear Eric Liu this morning. He was talking about true patriotism. Basically he was talking about general education values and tying them to citizenship.
He was conveying what it means to struggle with the discourse about values, being connected, modeling responsibility, and building community.
We have an opportunity to re-language what we mean by general education. General education sounds to students like something you have to do before you know what you are doing…
…versus this preparatory experience around what it means to be a citizen in a global world in the context of place.
It seems to me that we can do a much better job of making it sexier, relevant, challenging, thought-provoking, and problem based.
That’s why we all love it, because general education is around critical thinking about values, whose values, and how we challenge each other on those values.
If we were able to say to our students, “We do this because we want to prepare you for the world you will lead, and we take seriously our role in that.”
Then we can say, “These are the pathways that can open up that discourse for you.”
The way we set up our degree sheets now implies that we lack any grounding in any kind of understanding of human development.
General education is about fundamentals, and if you are not doing the fundamentals first, you can’t move on to the higher-level work.
I think it would be interesting if a group of people looked at the design of our AA degree and played with the question: what would a systemic degree look like…
…that had literacy, citizenship and diversity imbedded in it? How could we design it? What would it look like?
Because we have this check box structure we are fostering a sense of disconnect that people are fighting against at the classroom and the department level, which is not possible to solve because of the basic design.
I would like us to take on designing pathways based upon how meaning is deepened and widened and attracting students that way.
I think it is a good thing to give students a particular design, structure and form for general education.
If we have an accepted view of what general education is about across the school, we could go from there to design our courses to meet what we are trying to do.
I think the institution itself doesn’t want general education, because it is not easy to fund, and students don’t want it either.
I think students see an institution like this as a temporary thing. They need to get through it as quickly as possible.
This isn’t a group of eighteen-year-olds having an experience together. This is a collection of very different individuals pursuing very different goals. To many students, school is just another chore in their lives.
It is sold that way, as something you have to get through. But students do love complex issues, and they do love education that is related to the messiness of the world today.
Students may appreciate complexity and education when they are in the middle of doing it. But when picking classes, they are saying, “I need to get through this, so I can get to the real school or to a job.”
I think students see education only in terms of vocational education. 60% of students nationwide are business majors. I don’t think they see the value of education in the general sense.
It’s not that they don’t want it. I don’t think they know it is a good thing. I don’t think anything in our society supports it either.
I think there is a current wave of faculty nationwide who are beginning to recognize that participating in the unrelated checkbox design has put our country in jeopardy.