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C.14 Responding to the Public Crisis in Student Writing: Results from the Study of Seniors' Meaningful Writing Experiences

Responding to the Public Crisis in Student Writing: Results from the Study of Seniors' Meaningful Writing Experiences
Reviewed by Wendy Warren Austin
wendywarrenaustin@hotmail.com

Chair: Anne Ellen Geller, St. John‘s University, New York, NY
Speaker: Neal Lerner, Northeastern University, Brookline, MA, "Accounting for Context: Researching Seniors' Meaningful Writing Experiences across Three Institutions."
Speaker: Anne Ellen Geller, St. John‘s University, New York, NY, "Waiting for IRB: Researching Seniors' Meaningful Writing Experiences across Three Institutions."
Speaker: Michelle Eodice, University of Oklahoma, Norman. "Out with the Old, In with the New: Researching Seniors' Meaningful Writing Experiences across Three Institutions."

This session, situated in a prime time slot when conference-goers are at their most fresh and attentive, competed against many other good ones, and drew a crowd of perhaps 40-50 people, even though the ballroom could have held many more. Arriving about 10 minutes into the first presenter's talk, by Anne Ellen Geller, I quickly grasped the tenor of their topic: an overview of their results from a grant-funded study across three different types of institutions. An important goal of the study was to gain insights into what "students really value about their writing," as opposed to what faculty value about their writing (or what we assume students value), to fill in missing pieces from Bob Broad's book What We Really Value. Circulated among the audience were a handout and a bookmark, the latter of which featured the researchers' names and the name of the project, along with the companion website address. The handout contained excerpts from interview transcripts that undergraduate researchers did with some of the research subjects, seniors from among the various institutions.

Since I was familiar with two of the three researchers presenting, I was really hoping for a spectacular session, but it didn't quite meet those expectations. Most of the time the researchers read directly from the handout for the bulk of their presentation content, so I was somewhat disappointed with the overall effect of the session itself. Though all the speakers were very experienced, they seemed somewhat hesitant and soft-spoken, and I kept wondering "is this all?" and hoping for more to take away from it than I did gain. Certainly, all writing instructors sincerely hope that students find their writing experiences meaningful, but what the students actually said in the interviews did not stand out as earth-shattering. It would have been more impressive if the researchers did not "just read the handout," but if they would have gone a little bit further and speculated about the implications of these comments, perhaps categorizing them by the qualities of the assignments they found most meaningful. All writing instructors listening would have been thrilled to learn what can make a writing assignment more meaningful to a student. If I had simply left the session as they finished, like so many others, and not pursued it further, I would have found this one to be surprisingly forgettable. I am glad to say that I did look into this study further and was rewarded for it.

When I looked at their website after the conference, the magnitude of the implications of their study became more clear. The researchers' plans were well thought-out and methodologically robust, and the questions well articulated, but that I had already learned from their session. Even though the project's home page is not a web wizard's dream site, it is reader friendly, functional, and clear, with links that explain better than the session did, the real value of the project's results, regardless of their preliminary nature. The site includes five main pages: Home, Learn More, Researchers, Dissemination, and References. On the Dissemination page, under the heading "Preliminary Findings," the first paragraph on that page describes four important qualities students find about writing projects that make them meaningful for them. Even though the researchers' goals, process, and findings are being discussed at multiple conferences, I would guess that if their presentations described less about their straightforward, though appropriately rich, research process, and more about their valuable findings, the conference audience would have given them a standing ovation.

Works Cited

Broad, Bob. What We Really Value: Beyond Rubrics in Teaching and Assessing Writing. Logan: Utah State U P, 2003. Print.

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