Kairos 17.3

WRIT1000 – Writing English: Style & Method

In WRIT1000: Writing English—Style & Method, students learn the technical aspects of writing to develop clarity in their written expression. While students might come into the unit expecting grammar drills, they leave with a greater understanding of how grammar is but one part of writing stylishly. Learning assessments are based on a three-pronged approach of rhetoric, cross-cultural or intercultural communication, and reflective writing. These three aspects are developed and applied throughout the course to show students the importance of audience awareness and reflection in the writing process. As culture is a term that can be both broadly and narrowly defined, students are encouraged to reflect on their own culture(s) early in the course through a brief oral presentation of something they consider a cultural artifact. This activity has several purposes: It engages the students in a smaller group setting prior to collaborative tutorial activities; it demonstrates how culture varies from student to student; and it gives students a sense of ownership and authority in a writing course that many have enrolled in because they believe they cannot possibly write well. As WRIT1000 attracts both ESL and native English speaking students, it is important to establish that writing affects culture just as culture affects writing—and that this is not a negative thing.

Students begin the course with a purely reflective assignment in which they are asked to consider their experiences with and approaches to writing, including how their culture has influenced their writing style. This approach gives students what is often their first experience with reflective writing and challenges their assumptions of what styles of writing are also academic. This reflective component is then built into each subsequent writing task, as are considerations of culture and rhetoric.

Students complete a short writing task where they choose sentences from two cultures, one of which is their own, and then compare and contrast the sentences. This again allows students to define their own culture and engage in reflection as they note similarities and differences in writing styles, grammatical structures, rhetorical appeals, and language. Students are encouraged to make the task their own, and they have done this in a variety of ways. Some students choose to translate sentences from their first language to show how subject-verb-object order and emphasis through arrangement compare to English. Some students choose sentences used in academic and non-academic writing, while others might choose two countries’ press coverage of a current event.

This approach of encouraging students to think outside a formula or preconceived notion of academic writing styles carries over to the other writing tasks in the course. For example, in the next writing task, students reflect on the various methods of incorporating research into their writing. In considering paraphrasing, quoting, and summarizing, students can either write a new paragraph or choose to reflect on previous writing. Many students choose to reflect on writing they have done in another university course, and often they are able to recognize their strengths and weaknesses through the reflection process.

In the following task, students use one of the sources identified in the research-focused task in a new way to write a single, new paragraph. This might mean changing the way the research is incorporated, changing the audience, or changing the paragraph structure. No matter what approach a student chooses, they then reflect on their writing and research processes, again considering audience, purpose, tone, voice, grammar, structure, and culture. It is after this that the students learn about the benefits of peer review. As noted earlier, students coming into this course often do not consider themselves to be capable writers. In doing a peer review, they are able to apply what they’ve learned in the unit in a way that shows them that they do not have to be a native English speaker or a professional writer to give constructive and helpful feedback. This assignment consists of a peer review of the paragraph from the previous task written to the student’s partner, followed by a reflection on the review process written to the teacher. In the final assignment for the course, students use their peer feedback to revise their paragraph and then write a subsequent paragraph, both of which draw upon the teachings of the course. As with the other assignments, students write a final reflection on their writing process.

Along with these written assignments, students are engaging in self-directed online modules that target grammar, sentence structure, paragraph development, and research skills. These modules include diagnostic pre- and post-tests. The pre-tests are done at the very beginning of the unit, before students have had tutorial workshops or submitted any assignments. While the scores of these tests are not used in the final grade for the unit, they serve to give students an idea of their current level of knowledge. The post-tests are done at the end of the course, giving students a tangible and immediate indicator of what they have learned and, in most cases, showing a marked improvement in just a short time. By using online modules to target grammar, students can manage their own time and learning without having lectures or workshops dedicated purely to drills. This allows for lectures that address broader themes of rhetoric, writing across cultures, and reflective writing, and workshops that focus on collaborative writing activities.