Am I making my expectations for student writing clear in my assignments?
When my students are completing their assignments, will they be able to successfully deploy concepts that I’ve taught?
How can I adapt my teaching and my assignments to help students become more proficient writers?
These are questions undoubtedly familiar to many college instructors who incorporate writing assignments into their courses—and these questions, along with others pertaining to writing-related pedagogy, can be answered with help from a Writing Associate.
Writing Associates, or WAs, are well-trained undergraduate tutors who are embedded into courses to offer writing-related support in a variety of ways. Whether WAs are helping instructors to adapt their writing pedagogy, to find solutions to common challenges faced by student-writers, or to determine how assignments are understood by students, collaboration is key. It is the heart of a WA-and-instructor partnership.
One such collaboration in Spring 2018 was between Dr. Amy Shuster and Cat Dotson, an OSU junior and WA, in Dr. Shuster’s Philosophy 2400 course. In previous work with a WA, Dr. Shuster had seen how pedagogical interventions about introduction paragraphs had positively impacted student writing. Now, she was curious to assess how pedagogical interventions relating to other issues of writing in philosophy might affect her students’ success in their assignments. When meeting early in the semester, Dr. Shuster and Cat pinpointed several key issues that had often emerged in students’ papers the previous times Dr. Shuster had taught the course. For instance, because many students were new to philosophy, they struggled both to integrate complex philosophical concepts into their papers and to follow philosophy writing conventions.
Dr. Shuster and Cat responded to these issues in several ways. As a WA, Cat divided her time between Dr. Shuster and the students. Cat read over drafts of student writing, looking for trends of success or struggle. She met regularly with Dr. Shuster to discuss these trends, as well as how she and Dr. Shuster might respond to them. Cat would sometimes observe students as they worked in small groups in class to identify points of confusion. Cat also provided tutorials to students, providing feedback on their papers before they submitted them.
One of Cat’s most valuable contributions was helping Dr. Shuster create a structure for small group peer review. This entailed both using the peer review function in Carmen and allowing students time to discuss their writing with one another in class. Over the course of the semester, Cat and Dr. Shuster worked to fine tune and tweak this peer review process to make it more appealing and beneficial to students.
With the creation of this small group peer review framework, Dr. Shuster now feels she has an intervention to assess in coming semesters. It has added what Dr. Shuster calls “a whole new piece to my teaching toolkit,” providing her with a pedagogical model she can use in classes even now that her collaboration with Cat has come to an end.
This collaboration, however, is just one of many. WAs can engage in a variety of other practices, too, from leading in-class writing workshops to helping instructors revise specific assignments to creating writing resources for students. Each collaboration is unique, shaped by the individual WAs, instructors, and student-writers. But all WAs, according to Cat, should aim to bridge the gap between instructor and student, helping to facilitate more effective communication between them. In this way, WAs can contribute to a more fruitful experience for both instructors and students, while enabling instructors to make discoveries about and expand upon their writing-related pedagogical practice, thus adding to their own teaching toolkits.
Apply for a WA today to join your Autumn Semester course. Applications due May 7, 2018: https://go.osu.edu/wa4AU18