Starting Fall 2020, Writing Across the Curriculum has a new offering for Writing Intensive certified instructors and their students. WI certified faculty can direct students enrolled in their classes this semester to WAC Office Hours. These office hours are one on one sessions in which a City Tech WAC Fellow provides a student with guidance and feedback on written work for a class assignment. This is an ideal way for City Tech students to refine their writing through research-backed WAC pedagogical principles. Now that all of CUNY is getting accustomed to 100% remote instruction, many of us are finding ourselves and our students facing isolation along with a heightened struggle to get a feel for progress in classes. One solution to this is to build connection around coursework into our syllabi. Some instructors are incorporating peer review, mandatory meetings with the professor, and even attendance at tutoring sessions.
For many students, getting feedback on their writing during the revision process, as opposed to after submission, is a new experience. This post addresses four best practices for developing a community of practice around writing. The ideas offered below can be used as a way to guide students in their use of support from WAC Fellows and other methods of engaging with others around their writing process.
Use the limited time with others to focus on higher order writing concerns. Higher order concerns (HOCs) are where the rubber meets the road when it comes to the connection between writing and critical thinking. While lower order concerns (LOCs) deal with the mechanics of writing such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation, HOCs are crucial to crafting written work that successfully articulates ideas and defends theses (Weber 2017). HOCs are elements like the hypothesis or proposal, overarching structure, and methods used to support a conclusion. We can all remember the experience of grading a paper in which HOCs are not well developed. These are the papers that we pick up and reshuffle to the bottom of the pile of grading because they can be very challenging to decipher, much less provide feedback for. A clearly defined and well-supported thesis will shine through a paper in which the mechanics need improvement. The opposite is rarely true. A paper that needs HOC work might confuse a reader by not delivering a clear thesis, building to a point that seems different than the original thesis, or neglecting to actually support the important points. The challenge is that students and graders often focus first on LOCs because they immediately stand out and offer up their own feedback. Addressing HOCs requires more time and strategic thinking. This makes these areas ideal for tutoring and peer review contexts. The conversation between participants can be used to help develop ideas, test out essay design, and redirect faulty logic.
Implement rhetorical stances into the writing process. Elements like audience and genre are HOCs that Bean (2011) brings together in the mnemonic RAFT. Bean distinguishes between the problem posed by a well-constructed assignment and the “RAFT”, or the role (purpose), audience, format (genre), and task (98). Many students write papers in a generic “this is a college paper” format. It’s not their fault. They have likely encountered multiple assignments that do not specify elements like audience and genre, and to boot, many students have been taught through years of schooling to write this way. If we ask students to think about the difference between explaining a concept to a friend or a family member versus a group of academics, we can see how rhetorical aspects refine and supplement a topical problem to solve in an assignment. Students and tutors or peers can use the RAFT to think through the necessary elements to answer a question. Some possible questions to address: What will your audience need to access and understand your ideas? What sorts of information will build on the audience’s knowledge and scaffold them to an understanding of the author’s point? What are the writing conventions of the genre, and how closely should the author stick to these or can playing with them do some beneficial work? What sorts of examples and proof move your readers to your point? Addressing these questions also allows the author to decide if they have the required understanding of the topic or problem to speak to their audience.
Decide how to use feedback. As challenging as it can be to provide valuable feedback, it can be equally challenging for students to implement. (See here for a WAC workshop on Effective Grading and here for a blog from a WAC Fellow for more ideas.) Does the student have a specific set of issues they want to address in the session, or are they at the stage of writing where they need more general guidance? A tutoring and feedback session can set goals and realistic methods for implementing feedback. It can also model for students ways to look at writing with a critical eye.
Embrace brainstorming! In my experience, students often discount the importance of this stage of the writing process. It can feel like an extra step with no resulting deliverable. On the contrary, my writing process transformed when I took the beginning step of idea generation seriously. Brainstorming through writing can provide a wealth of ideas that never occur to us if we try to come up with a complete thesis and essay structure too early in the process. Even devoting an hour to letting the mind wander around a topic and putting these ideas on the paper or in a doc will point writers in directions towards an eventual finished piece. Students can work with peer reviewers and tutors to talk through possible ideas for an assignment. Taking advantage of the social nature of thinking and learning will have real benefits for the final written product.
Indeed, the writing process is deeply tied to the thinking process, and both of these are thoroughly social processes. Writing is always to another, even if that other is the writer themselves. Thinking is a way of grappling with the world around us and taking eventual action. Using these ideas can help students make the best use of WAC Office Hours, peer reviews, and one on one meetings with professors.
Bean, John C. 2011. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Weber, Breanne. 2017. “Higher Order vs. Lower Order Concerns.” Last modified June 16, 2017. https://pages.uncc.edu/unccwrc/blog/2017/06/16/higher-order-vs-lower-order-concerns/.