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“Learning Through Writing” Alan Wright Université du Québec An excellent opportunity for: generating ideas, strategies, and techniques exchanging sample assignments debating the ‘whys and wherefores’ as well as explaining the ‘what’ and the ‘how to’

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learning through writing

“Learning Through Writing”

Alan WrightUniversité du Québec

an excellent opportunity for
An excellent opportunity for:
  • generating ideas, strategies, and techniques
  • exchanging sample assignments
  • debating the ‘whys and wherefores’ as well as explaining the ‘what’ and the ‘how to’
  • developing a sense of community and commitment to an important development at Guelph
learning through writing3
Learning Through Writing
  • institutional academic mission
  • student growth and development
  • professorial devoir
  • central to the undergraduate academic experience
key words in goals of higher ed






Critical thinking


Problem solving

Cross cultural knowledge

Social interaction

Social responsibility

Personal perspective

Aesthetic responsiveness

Love of learning



Key words in goals of higher ed:
alverno s ability based education



Valuing on decision-making

Social interaction

Global perspectives

Effective citizenship

Aesthetic responsiveness

Alverno’s ability-based education
goals of studies in biology
Goals of studies in Biology

(1) To provide students with… a core knowledge base in biology …(2) To provide students with an opportunity to engage in discovery… (3) To provide students with an opportunity to become proficient in organizational and analytical skills used in biology…

biology at queen s continued
Biology at Queen’s (continued)

(4) To provide students with an opportunity to become proficient in communication skills used in biology, including strategies for accessing scientific literature, effective scientific writing and effective oral and visual presentation using modern technology.

biology at queen s suite et fin
Biology at Queen’s (suite et fin)

(5) To expose students to the most recent ideas and discoveries in biology …(6) To provide students with a sense of the importance ofcontributions from the study of biology to other disciplines…

boyer and science at mcgill
Boyer and Science at McGill
  • Make research-based learning the standard
  • Construct an inquiry-based first year
  • Build on the freshman foundation
  • Use information technology creatively
link communication skills and coursework
Link communication skills and coursework

« Undergraduate education must allow students to acquire strong communication skills, and create graduates who are proficient in both written and oral communications. The failure of research universities seems most serious in conferring degrees upon inarticulate students… » (Boyer, p.24)

boyer and science at mcgill fin
Boyer and science at McGill (fin)
  • Culminate with a capstone experience
  • Educate grad students as apprentice teachers
  • Change faculty reward systems
  • Cultivate a sense of community
  • (Amen)
writing across the curriculum
Writing Across the Curriculum…

“ refers to the notion that writing should be an integral part of the learning process throughout a student’s education… across the entire curriculum… learning to write and think is a vastly more complex process than is usually acknowledged and…WAC is not (merely) a movement to promote better spelling, punctuation, and grammar use.” (Johnson)

the perpetual crisis
The perpetual crisis!

“Generally, WAC programs promote pedagogical reform rather than curricular change. Typically, WAC programs originate out of concerns about students’ inability to write, through a concern that their institution should be doing its’ part to address the “literacy crisis.” It’s important to note that literacy “crises” are continual.”

wac course characteristics
WAC course characteristics

-Students as makers and discoverers of meaning

-Seeing instructors as coaches and learners

-Shorter, multiple drafts of writing

-Course goals usually include higher-order thinking

-Use of journals, collaborative writing, peer groups

-Incorporate active learning techniques

-Use of study guides, emphasize writing/speaking

-Argument, supported with appropriate evidence.

national writing commission
National Writing Commission
  • Universities have a dual role: teacher education and improved writing for all
  • More time on task
  • Writing assigned across the curriculum
  • Standards, curriculum, assessment must be aligned
5. Writing is everybody’s business

6. Writing opportunities should be offered at all academic levels

7. Requires professional development across the disciplines

8. University-school partnerships needed.

guelph s commitment
Guelph’s commitment

Guelph is a learner-centred, research-intensive university that has developed a unique Ontario niche. It has a profound commitment to students and the learning experience offered to them. Students are at the centre of the dedication exhibited by faculty and staff. We are committed to ensuring the highest quality of education, and promoting and supporting access. This is not simply a platitude. (to Rae)

issues and obstacles
Issues and obstacles
  • Uncertain leadership
  • English Department orthodoxy
  • Compartmentalization
  • Testing and quantification
  • Entrenched attitudes
  • Traditional reward system (Fulwiler and Young)
pacific questions
‘Pacific’ questions…
  • How best to sell the faculty on the benefits
  • What primary objections to anticipate
  • Facing the fear assessments will overwhelm
  • Support in univ-wide sessions or at the dept. level
  • Recommended resources to support the vision-building, planning and implementation process.
  • (Hawai’i Pacific University)
hunting for pathways
‘Hunting’ for pathways
  • Use writing rather than teach writing
  • Students should write for real purposes in support of learning
  • Learn to write as a tool for thinking and working with others
  • Escape from notion of writing only as evidence of knowledge and competence. (Hunt)
more suggestions
More suggestions…
  • See R. Leamenson (1999) on learning the language of a discipline through practice
  • Grade holistically
  • Provide models of writing in your discipline
  • Think brief, non-graded
  • Both univ-wide and dept-based activity (Johnson, Nilson, Wright)
new media flashing views
New media ‘flashing’ views…
  • Redefining ‘writing’
  • New skills for college and work life
  • Multimedia projects
  • Writing online
  • Approaching intellectually and emotionally difficult topics (Ehrmann)
successful ed development
Successful ed. development…
  • Treat every colleague as a valuable contributor
  • Teach other teachers
  • Discuss and critique in public forums
  • The ownership of learning rests with the professor
  • Advances are based on practice trials and academic community relations
educational development
…educational development
  • Provide entry contributions from all career stages
  • Reflect on one’s own development and apply insights to teaching.
  • Shared leadership requires the contributions of many ‘non specialists’
  • Adopt an inquiry stance and apply to your class
educational development25
…educational development.
  • Adopt an inquiry stance and apply to your class
  • Place professional identity in the context of the academic community
  • Work with the enthusiastic to reach the reticent
  • Department heads, deans, must be an integral part of the process
  • Offer a far-reaching and on-going programme
  • The talk-the walk-the chalk- all a part of the process. (adapted by Wright)
writing and improvement practices
Writing and improvement practices

For starters…

  • resource materials
  • campus teaching and learning bulletin
  • committees on teaching and learning
improvement practices
…improvement practices

Even better…

  • writing your teaching portfolio
  • peer observation (formative)
  • seminars on student learning
  • funds to participate in t & l conferences
  • availing of a teaching consultant
educational development28
…educational development

Best of all…

  • deans and heads foster teaching…
  • …promote trust for observation
  • …praise and reward good teaching
  • reconition of quality teaching in the university reward system.