UW News

November 6, 2008

Writing Day launches second phase of Writing in the Majors

Once upon a time, it was enough for University freshmen to get through first-year English composition courses. Most would then go on to things like sophisticated mathematics or the key concepts of choreography or the best ways to design social services.

But the dirty little secret has been that four years later, students have too often graduated with weak writing skills — and such weakness has sometimes held up their work as professionals.

UW Writing Across the Majors addresses the problem, and its second phase kicks off Nov. 13 with Writing Day. Open to members of the campus community, the program is scheduled for 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the Walker Ames Room at Kane Hall.

John C. Bean, a professor of English at Seattle University, will explain ways faculty members at various universities integrate writing into their courses so students learn how to think like professionals in their fields and at the same time become good writers.

It’s part of the latest phase of Writing in the Majors and an effort to define the writing skills members of individual disciplines must have, said John Webster, an associate professor of English at the UW, director of writing for the College of Arts & Sciences and university coordinator for the Puget Sound Writing Project.

“We first want to help faculty define the writing skills members of their disciplines must have,” Webster said. “We want to learn from them what their students need to become expert inside-prose writers.”

Courses with well-embedded writing include low-risk practice assignments which help students build the scaffolding for more rigorous assignments, the ones that reach deep into core ideas of the discipline. Such courses also offer students considerably more feedback on their writing, especially from peers as well as professors.

The 4×4 Initiative, begun four years ago at the outset of Writing in the Majors, brings together groups of four faculty members from each of four departments. During an academic year, they learn to integrate writing skills with course content.

Webster said that since the beginning of Writing in the Majors and the 4×4 Initiative, 78 faculty members, 18 departments and at least 160 classes have participated in the work. Additionally, 100 non-4×4 faculty members have participated in department-led seminars.

Webster estimates that in the past 10 academic quarters, about 10,000 students have been taught using 4×4 instilled writing-integrated methods.

In a report on the 4×4 Initiative, Scandinavian Studies Associate Professor Marianne Stetcher-Hansen says she learned that students need not learn to write, but learn by writing.

The College of Arts & Sciences funds Writing Across the Majors, including the 4×4 Initiative.

Writing Day and Bean’s talk will be featured in the Center for Instructional Development and Research’s Fall Quarterly Forum on teaching and learning. To register for Writing Day, send an e-mail to rsvp@cidr.washington.edu.