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The Student’s Perspective: WAW for Nontraditional First-Year Students

posted: 6.23.11 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

Michael Michaud headshotToday we welcome back 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.

H.Gieseke.HeadshotHeather Gieseke is a senior studying Social Work at Rhode Island College. Upon graduation, she plans on attending graduate school and eventually becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Heather currently resides in Providence, RI with her fiance and their two dogs.

After working with Mary Milner in my first blog post earlier this year, I was on the lookout for students who brought interesting experiences and viewpoints about WAW for future collaborations. Heather Gieseke was a student in an evening section of first-year composition (FYC) that I taught during the spring 2011 semester at Rhode Island College. As a nontraditional first-year student who had experience with upper-level coursework and workplace writing, Heather had lots of great observations about the materials we were reading and what WAW was doing to change her thinking about writing. Here’s our conversation.

Michael: Unlike most RIC students, you took FYC near the end of your college journey. Why?

Heather: I had already taken an FYC course at my previous institution. However, because that course was not similar to RIC’s, it only transferred as an elective.

If you had to explain the Writing about Writing (WAW) pedagogy that you experienced in FYC this semester to a friend or family member, what would you say?

I think WAW gives a different approach to writing that presents the information and tools necessary to write in any situation, rather than just doling out rules that “must” be followed (as many students are taught). WAW allows students to gain skills and knowledge through self-examination and personal experience, as opposed to being lectured at and told what to do.

How was the WAW-focused FYC course that I taught this spring different from your first FYC course in Minnesota?

My first FYC was much different! My prior institution did not seem to place much emphasis on the importance of writing. From what I can recall, my previous FYC was structured almost as if it were a combined writing and literature course. I read a few different pieces from various genres and then wrote essays about what I read. I remember some basic instruction on how to write, but this only included things like sentence structure and flow (as well as some of the constructs WAW later advised me to resist!).

You encountered WAW after having already declared a major and taken a good number of upper-level courses. How was your experience different from, say, that of a traditional-age first-year student?

I believe that taking this course at this time in my undergraduate career was more beneficial than if I had taken it as a freshman. Ideally, WAW prepares students to be able to adapt to writing situations in any genre, setting, or course. What better way to see this and put it to practice than to concurrently be taking other courses that require me to do exactly that? Also, being a little older than the typical FYC student, I’ve had some additional life experiences that allow me to see how WAW can be applied to settings outside of school. What I probably valued most about WAW was its capacity to transform the way I view writing, as well as my own writing process.

What do you see as the advantages and/or drawbacks of WAW?

WAW pedagogy provides an opportunity to challenge prior assumptions and teachings students may have had, allows students to learn more about themselves as writers, encourages students by showing them that no one is “born” a good writer, and equips students to write well in generally any situation. The only disadvantage to WAW that I see is that traditional-age first-year students may find it hard to buy into all of WAW’s claims, given their prior experiences with writing instruction.

You may be right about the challenges first-year students face. For many, WAW is a long ways from what they are accustomed to. Thanks for taking the time to chat about your experience and share your insights and best of luck with your summer courses and post-graduation plans.

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Categories: Writing about Writing
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