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Teaching a Writing Proficiency Course

Understanding the Goals of a Writing Proficiency Course

A Writing Proficiency course is one in which the development of writing skills is an integral part of the course objectives.  Writing skills do not develop in a vacuum; they develop as students begin to form opinions, ideas, arguments, and understanding of course content.  An important longitudinal study conducted by Christina Haas found that students' writing skills see their greatest development during their sophomore and junior years.  Her conclusion: Students best develop their writing skills when they begin to interact within their chosen major / discipline.

The goal of Writing Proficiency Courses is to provide students with opportunities to develop basic writing skills and learn the process of writing as practiced within a particular academic discipline or profession.  Writing Proficiency courses emphasize and perhaps expand on those research, writing, and communication skills taught in Writing 101 and Communication 101.

Understanding the Objectives of a Writing Proficiency Course

In addition to helping students build on basic writing, research, and communication skills taught in Writing 101 or Communication 101, the objectives of a Writing Proficiency Course are to assist students in developing a successful writing process and to introduce students to the conventions of a particular discipline.

Most students are considered "one-draft" writers (Emig, Perl, Sommers).  In other words, when given an assignment, students will research, write, and print a final draft in one sequential sitting.  Students in such an environment are doing little to advance their writing skills.  Furthermore, this process doesn't even reflect the reality of successful writing in that it often involves multiple revisions and guided response.

While there are many pedagogical strategies and theoretical nuances for teaching writing as a process, there are two basic premises.  The first premise is to devise a way to divide a traditional writing assignment into "stages" that lead to the final product.  This can be accomplished through requiring students to write a topic proposal or annotated bibliography before starting a research paper, having students complete in-class writings to develop ideas or thesis statements, or asking students to turn in a draft of their paper before the final project is due.   

The second premise of teaching writing as a process is to provide feedback and response to the students' work-in-progress.  This can be accomplished through structured response to each stage of the writing assignment (i.e. responding to in-class writing, annotated bibliographies and research reviews, topic proposals), a required visit to the writing center, or meeting with students during office hours to discuss the development of a draft.

Finally, a goal of the course is to introduce students to the writing conventions of a particular discipline.  While this may include an introduction to stylistic conventions (i.e. Chicago , APA, Harvard, etc.), it may also include an introduction to research methods or rhetorical conventions unique to your particular discipline.

Understanding the Criteria of a Writing Proficiency Course

Writing 101 is a prerequisite for the course.  Both 200 and 300-level courses make excellent environments for a Writing Proficiency Course (for many of the reasons mentioned above"i.e. student emergence into a major/discipline).  In many majors, capstone courses also serve as excellent locations for a Writing Proficiency Course.   

When developing a Writing Proficiency Course, clearly identify the writing assignments in the course syllabus.  More details about each assignment may be distributed during the course of the semester, but the initial syllabus should identify the assignments and the process work leading up to the completion of the final project.

When proposing a Writing Proficiency Course, write a small description of how you intend to use the course to develop students' writing skills.  The description should describe how the process assignments will help students develop a more successful final draft.  In addition, briefly describe how you plan to respond to writing-in-progress (i.e. office hours, response to drafts, writing center visit, etc.). 

Works Cited

Emig, Janet.  The Composing Process of Twelfth Graders.  Champaign : NCTE, 1971.

Haas, Christina.  "Learning to Read Biology: One Student's Rhetorical Development in

College."  Written Communication 11.1 (1994): 43-84.

Perl, Sondra.  "The Composing Processes of Unskilled College Writers."  Research in the

Teaching of English 13.4 (1979): 317-336.

Sommers, Nancy.  "Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult

Writers."  College Composition and Communication 30 (1980): 378-88.