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On the Write Track: Reframing How We Think About Teaching Writing

A person holding a pencil, taking notes on how to teach writing.

Tackling first-year composition at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) is no small feat. With over 8,000 learners – each with unique backgrounds and experience – moving through our Composition I and II courses every single term, it isn’t lost on us how monumental a task it is to prepare writers to enter their degree programs. As we explore strategies in composition curriculum and instruction, we’re seeking out common writing issues to springboard learners toward discipline-specific success.

On the Write Track: Helping Learning Writers

As part of our WriteScape project, SNHU’s Writing Across the Curriculum initiative, our composition team led a webinar series, “On the Write Track,” to cover common writing issues First-Year Experience instructors encounter in their courses.

From that webinar series, we’ve pulled a list of instructional highlights to guide a learning writer:

  • Be open to the way a learner’s unique language background can create effective writing. Learners bring a range of language experiences to the classroom, and instructors can respect their learners’ diverse identities by listening and understanding that effective writing can take many forms. Instructors can work with learners to identify their current knowledge and strengths and guide them toward writing choices and approaches that are appropriate for the context.
  • Address sentence-level concepts within the context of the learner’s own writing. Studies show that grammar instruction in isolation doesn’t lead to long-term retention. Showing a learner how to adhere to a grammatical construct within their own writing gives them the tools to follow these conventions in future writing.
  • Attend to higher-order concerns before lower-order concerns. In our survey, when we asked instructors which writing issues have the most grade-bearing significance, they pointed to more global issues, like organization and overall focus. Be careful not to prematurely promote the editing stage before the foundational issues have been addressed during the revision process.
  • Assess the learner’s comfort level when it comes to finding and evaluating sources. The information landscape is ever-evolving, and learning writers need to know where to look for valid information. Make sure they’re all set during the research stage before they get too far in the writing process.
  • Point learners to academic resources. SNHU has a wealth of resources and expertise at learners’ disposal. Our Online Writing Center and Academic Resources page are just two pieces of this extra layer of support. However, they may need a nudge to visit these resources. Keep learners informed of any similar options at your institution.
  • Build on prior knowledge. As learners tackle writing assignments outside their composition courses, it’s extremely helpful to fall back on familiar terminology (thesis statements, outlines, etc.). Starting with the writing process and showing learners how it applies to any writing assignment will help them reinforce those skills and continue practicing.

Overcoming Writing Anxiety: The Instructor’s Role

For learning writers, especially those diving into their first-year courses, instructors can play a pivotal role in demystifying the college experience and helping them develop life-long skills. As educators, it’s helpful to take a step back and remember what it was like to struggle with both the process and confidence required to produce written work. Ensuring a learner’s foundation is strong before building on additional complexities is essential to retention, so it’s critical to stop along the way to identify potential gaps in learner understanding.

As we move forward in our WriteScape project to address writing in higher-level undergraduate courses, we’re seeking out opportunities to continue to build on these foundations, with the hope that these key concepts are being reinforced throughout. Again, ensuring we’re giving our learners exactly what they need to not only succeed but to thrive as confident participants in the professional world should be our priority – and we accomplish this through working together as educators to ensure learners aren’t climbing ladders with missing rungs.

Amanda Groves is an associate dean of liberal arts at Southern New Hampshire University and specializes in composition and rhetoric. Her academic concentration includes student empowerment through writing, especially in First-Year Composition. Before her time at SNHU, Groves worked as a writing tutor and instructor, assisting and teaching writers at all academic levels within higher education.

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