Assessing First Year Writing

Though comments from students and alumni tell us that our faculty are successful as teachers of writing, we aim to strengthen writing at Bates even more. We examine student work to compare what our students can do as writers with what our faculty would like them to be able to do. In 2007-2008 we launched a college-wide assessment of writing. In spring 2008, eighty members of the faculty read papers of first-year students and talked about goals for writing, focusing on writing as a way of thinking and communicating.

These discussions pointed out our need to more closely delineate our goals for writing in the first year and to tie assessment to faculty development around writing. As a result, in the summer of 2009, 20 faculty read a new group of first-year papers and delineated five goals for writing in the first year which directly relate to our general education writing goals. In the fall, they conveyed these objectives to other faculty teaching first-year students.

Again in summer 2010, 20 faculty members read papers collected from first-year seminars in the fall. They ranked papers and fine-tuned the guidelines. A group of faculty from the group will talk about the process and present the findings of the group at a seminar workshop in September 2010. In addition the Director of Writing developed a series of targeted workshops for faculty dedicated to the five areas of writing and ended the year with guided reviews of first-year syllabi and workshops on writing and oral communication during Short Term.

Getting the Story Straight: Writing, with Words, Pictures, Numbers, and Sounds, ourFifth Annual May Conference on May 7, 2010, featured writing with technology. The lively keynote address of Lynne O’Brien, Director of Academic Technology and Instructional Services for Perkins Library at Duke University, was both inspiring and packed with resources and ideas. Concurrent sessions featured faculty presentations on the technology they use in the classroom from blogging to the ways they ask students to incorporate imagery into their work. During the past several years, the working lunch of the May Conference, a one-day gathering of faculty that features pedagogy, has highlighted students and the senior thesis. In May 2010 five seniors showed how they had used technology in researching and writing their senior theses.

This approach of assessing our students’ learning in W1 courses, communicating the assessment’s findings to past and future W1 instructors, and offering faculty development opportunities around our findings are now an ongoing feature of our academic program.