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The Student's Perspective: A Conversation

posted: 2.3.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

MichaelMichaudToday we welcome guest blogger Michael Michaud. Michael teaches courses in composition and rhetoric at Rhode Island College where he is an assistant professor of English. His current research investigates the role that professional or workplace identities play in adult students’ transition to academic writing. He has been experimenting with Writing About Writing pedagogies in first-year composition courses since the fall of 2008.

MilnerMary Milner is a freshman studying History and Secondary Education at Rhode Island College.  She is currently interested in someday teaching middle schoolers, and is considering also studying Special Education.

Michael: When I was asked to write a post for “Write On: Notes on Teaching Writing about Writing,” I immediately thought of my experience working with Mary Milner in my honors section of first-year writing during the fall, 2010 semester. Mary agreed to join me for this post to talk a bit about her experience in my course.

Hi Mary! Thanks for taking the time to talk about your experience with the Writing About Writing pedagogy (WAW) in Writing 100, our first-year writing course here at Rhode Island College (RIC). Maybe we could start with you just saying a word or two about yourself. Where are you from and what are you studying?

Mary: Hi Professor Michaud, thanks for asking me to join you in this conversation. I’m from Lincoln, Rhode Island, and I’m a freshman studying Secondary Education/History at RIC. I was enrolled in the honors section of Writing 100 during the fall of 2010.

Great. Can you tell me, as you have come to understand it, what WAW is about?

My understanding of WAW is that it introduces students to a new discipline: Writing Studies. This introduction is a model of how students should approach the new disciplines they will be writing for while attending the university. Students study the knowledge of this field, which they can then use to improve their own writing.

Was your experience with WAW a good one?

As far as enjoyment, my experience had its ups and downs. The work wasn’t easy and it wasn’t always straightforward. But by the end of the semester I would consider my experience a positive one. I think I went into the class with a very narrow vision of what college writing was and that changed a lot, in a way that I think will make my college experience a more enriching one.

Thanks for your honesty. I’m not surprised by your answer. My section of Writing 100, which used the WAW pedagogy, was probably pretty different from what other instructors were doing. I’m glad to hear that by the end you were able to feel like the experience was a good one. The question, of course, is whether or not the course will, in fact, make your college experience more enriching. I think it will, but as you know we don’t have much data yet to support the argument that teaching with WAW will lead to greater positive transfer of learning. You took on a terrific research project on that subject last term; could you say a few words about it?

My project was a study of WAW itself. I researched the origins of the idea, the controversy surrounding it, and what (if any) attempts were made to test the validity of WAW. I gained awareness about the field of Writing Studies in the process. In addition to this investigation, I did some primary research of my own in which I surveyed students who had taken the course previously and interviewed a student to gain insight into transfer of WAW.

I thought your project was great, one of the best I received, but did you find it useful? What did you learn?

Working on this project was extremely rewarding. I was proud of my ability to conduct a project that had more depth than just reviewing the research of others. I got a small taste of what it is like to conduct primary research and I hope to be able to do more as I progress through my college career.

One more question—based on your experience with WAW and your research, what do you see as good or useful about WAW, and what about this way of teaching writing are you perhaps skeptical of?

One of the big issues I encountered while conducting research about WAW was how little empirical evidence there is in support of this approach. It’s very theoretical at this point, and even though it seems to be a good theory, I agree with the scholars in the field who urge more research. I would have to say that I don’t think my own writing has drastically improved; instead, the way I think about prompts and the purpose of writing has changed and I think that is extremely beneficial.

Well, you came into the course a pretty good writer already, Mary! I’m glad that the course has changed your thinking about what you call the purposes of writing. I think helping students reflect on “big picture” questions about writing is really important. I also think your point about the lack of research is a good one, and I’m hoping that in the next few years, we’ll learn more about the effectiveness of WAW and also the effectiveness of other writing pedagogies in encouraging transfer of learning. Thanks for taking the time to chat and good luck with your classes this semester!

Thank you, Professor Michaud.

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Categories: Writing about Writing
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