Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Writing Program boasts successful inaugural year

Whether it’s a law brief, a letter to the editor, an e-mail to a client or a post on a blog, most people find themselves writing on a day-to-day basis. But relatively few are adept at writing in all its forms.

The 21 faculty members in the University Writing Program have spent the past nine months trying to change that.

The program — a permanent outgrowth of the Marsico Initiative — includes curriculum development for required first-year writing courses and writing-intensive core courses for juniors and seniors, a Writing and Research Center, and ongoing research projects intended to improve the program and advance the field of writing education. The aim: to help students become better writers on the personal, professional and academic fronts.

Program lecturers developed two new courses for this year — WRIT 1122 in the winter quarter, which focused on writing in academic and civic situations, and WRIT 1133 in the spring, where students learned writing in interpretive, qualitative and quantitative contexts.

Writing lecturer Geoffrey Bateman says teaching students to write in a variety of contexts is a “wonderful challenge. You’re kind of teaching them to be college students in some ways.”

Lecturer Alba Newmann found that her students brought a good grasp of observation and summarization from high school but did not know how to convert their observations into an argument. To build on their existing knowledge, she had her winter quarter students describe a setting and then turn their observations into an argument. 

Bateman and Newmann emphasize that the classroom is just one setting where they hope to see students apply themselves as better writers.

In spring quarter, the program sponsored a poetry slam during which more than 60 students and faculty watched members of the Denver Poetry Slam team perform. Some DU students even joined in.

Bateman says they plan to host similar events in the future so students “think of themselves as writers in a broader context.”

Whether or not students are taking a course connected to the program, the Writing and Research Center has been a resource for all students, whether they’re looking for help with a grammar question or feedback from an educated reader. 

Eliana Schonberg, the center’s director, reports that 623 students have accessed the center since its opening in September, and a third of those have been graduate and professional students. That, says program Director Doug Hesse, fulfills the program’s vision of a “place where everyone can take their writing.”

On the research side, Hesse is conducting a longitudinal study examining the writing done by 100 students over the course of their four years at DU. The study is modeled after similar research conducted at Stanford and Harvard.

The students were chosen at random and represent a variety of disciplines. Hesse says the study will look at the kinds of writing students are doing and how the writing done by an engineering major differs from that of a philosophy major. That, in turn, will help faculty to better understand student needs.

In preparation for the coming academic year, the program will conduct workshops this summer for faculty teaching next year’s writing-intensive core courses, which will require 20 pages of writing that span at least three assignments. The courses also require faculty to give students the opportunity for revision and dedicate in-class time to writing instruction.

Also beginning in fall, writing lecturers will serve as consultants to individual faculty and whole departments. They’ll be available to come to classes and conduct workshops with students, or they can help faculty learn to more effectively teach writing, Hesse says.

“I think we’re in a really good position to expand and build on things next year,” he says.

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