Skip to content

Composition Forum 48, Spring 2022

Preparing Disciplinary Writing Instructors: The Curry College Faculty Writing Fellows Program

Heather M. Falconer

Abstract: This program profile describes the development and implementation of the Faculty Writing Fellows program at Curry College. The Writing Fellows program is designed to introduce faculty outside of Writing Studies to Writing Across the Curriculum theory and practice, which leads to their development (or reworking) of a Reading and Writing Enriched course at the College. It was designed to orient faculty to best practices in the assessment of reading and writing, while minimizing the labor associated with writing-intensive courses.

Institutional Context

Curry College is a small, private, liberal arts-inspired institution located in Milton, Massachusetts. Established in 1879, the College offers students a wide variety of degrees (predominantly undergraduate), including Communication, Nursing, Business, and Forensic, Biological and Environmental Sciences. Due to its proximity to Boston and Cape Cod, the college attracts students from a wide range of communities within New England and the Eastern seaboard. Additionally, because of its novel Program for Advancement of Learning, a significant number of students (~20%) note having language-based learning disabilities, such as dyslexia or executive functioning disorders.

The College requires all undergraduates to complete a comprehensive General Education Curriculum, which is where all Writing-designated courses are located. In order to meet the general education writing requirements, students are required to take two composition courses (Reading, Writing, Research I and II), as well as a course designated Reading and Writing Enhanced (RWE). RWEs are intended to capitalize on the reading and writing practices students develop during the Reading, Writing, Research sequence in the first two years. Ideally, RWE courses immerse students in the reading, writing, and knowledge-making practices of specific disciplines, though that is not a requirement.

The RWE outcomes were developed over a five-year period by the Writing faculty and General Education Curriculum Committee, with the first RWE courses being offered in 2017. Upon successful completion of an RWE course, students should be able to:

  • Develop and complete an inquiry-based project within the disciplines through multiple drafts and revisions;

  • Critically read a variety of texts in order to analyze rhetorical situations within the discipline, including audience expectations and genre conventions;

  • Use writing as a form of thinking and problem-solving within the disciplines;

  • Demonstrate the appropriate use of resources in the field (including incorporation of ideas and documentation);

  • Identify and demonstrate written conventions within the discipline (structure, mechanics, punctuation); and,

  • Respond to feedback through revision.

In order for a course to qualify for RWE designation, the faculty member who teaches the course must meet with the Writing Across the Curriculum Coordinator and demonstrate, through a syllabus, assignments, and explanation of teaching approach, that students will receive adequate scaffolding and disciplinary reading and writing instruction to be able to succeed in the course. To accomplish this, they must explain how they will explicitly teach the reading and writing skills needed (including rhetorical structures and disciplinary discourse), provide a variety of texts that require different reading strategies, designate at least 30 percent of the course grade to writing assignments, and require at least 15 pages (double-spaced) of low-stakes and high-stakes writing throughout the term, inclusive of revisions. If the course meets the requirements, it is reviewed and voted on by the General Education Curriculum Committee, the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee (if a new course overall), and then the faculty as a whole.

The Faculty Writing Fellows Program

The Need and Aim

In Spring 2019, I conducted (in my role as WAC Coordinator) an informal audit of RWE courses listed in the College’s course offerings. This was in part to ensure that all RWE courses continued to meet the requirements, as well as to get a sense of how faculty at the college were teaching them. It became clear in this audit, and through subsequent conversations with faculty who teach RWEs, that they had very little preparation for implementing the requirements and were unsure if they were “doing it right.” Further, the number of RWE courses being offered in a given semester were small, and were often located in general elective courses, which caused high-demand for upper-level students who needed to satisfy the RWE requirement for graduation, and did not address the purpose of teaching writing within the disciplinary majors. Conversations with faculty who did not teach RWE courses highlighted a strong aversion to doing so because of the perceived workload and required skills to teach writing.

In response to this need, I discussed a potential faculty training program with the Writing Program Director and Provost. This training program would be one semester long, include explicit instruction on ways of teaching and assessing disciplinary writing, and assist faculty participants in developing RWE courses that they felt confident teaching. As part of the argument for program development, I drew attention to the number of RWE waiver requests I received each semester as Coordinator (averaging 5), explaining how difficult it was for students to satisfy this graduation requirement in high-demand programs like Nursing and Business because of conflicting schedules and lack of availability. Students were often taking a similar course outside of the institution during the summer, which meant a loss of revenue for the college, or asked to modify a non-RWE course to meet the requirements, which became difficult to monitor and manage. The existing structure and limited opportunities were having a direct impact on students’ ability to graduate, causing the need for the RWE requirement to be brought into question. After careful consideration of the program design, the Provost agreed to conduct a pilot of the Faculty Writing Fellows, providing one course release per person for up to five full-time faculty members.

The aim of the Faculty Writing Fellows program was to cultivate and support a culture of writing at Curry College; one that would support other efforts to retain and prepare students to be successful, in line with the College’s Strategic Plan. In return for their participation and course release, the Provost required that participating faculty members agree to teach three RWE courses over the subsequent two years (creating 15 new course sections), helping to relieve the bottle-neck of RWE options for students in various stages of their degree progress. These faculty members were also required to serve as an advisor to their respective department on the teaching of, response to, and assessment of writing within their discipline (e.g., assisting faculty with the drafting of new RWE proposals, discussing writing assessment practices within the department).

In Fall 2019, a College-wide call for applications was circulated (see Appendix 1). Five faculty members from different disciplinary spaces were accepted, and the program was slated to run during the Spring 2020 semester.

Program Design

The Fellows structure was designed explicitly to capitalize on the implicit writing knowledge faculty brought to the program and, as such, was not a top-down approach. By selecting individuals from different disciplinary spaces, we were able to draw on the collective knowledge of the community to determine how disciplinary differences play out in reading, writing, and critical reasoning. Understanding these differences would help our students because we would be able to articulate these differences and how they might affect instructors’ reading of student writing. It also alleviated any tension faculty might bring to the program with regard to someone outside their discipline telling them how to teach their discipline’s discourse. This work, however, would be grounded in the scholarly literature of Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) and the Study of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), as well as current scholarship in topics such as linguistic diversity, antiracist assessment practices, and assignment scaffolding to address inclusion and accessibility.

Given the heavy teaching and service demands of Curry College, I knew that instruction on reading, writing, and critical thinking in the Fellows Program needed to be easily accessible and practical; asking faculty to read multiple scholarly articles from outside their field each week would not bode well for the program or faculty engagement. I also knew that requiring weekly attendance for two and half hours would be challenging due to the many demands competing for faculty attention (department meetings, advising, etc.). There were small windows of time during the week when all Fellows could gather. To reduce tension around the program, I decided to incorporate asynchronous aspects that faculty could complete when it was most convenient.

The program was divided into 6 two-week hybrid modules. The first week of a module involved watching two to three short video presentations I created (6 to 12 minutes in length) that distilled the scholarly literature around the module’s theme. The first, asynchronous week also included exercises for the Fellows to work through. In the second week, the faculty cohort would meet in person to discuss the content and exercises and extend the work to their own courses. Each week required no more than 2.5 hours of the faculty member’s time. What follows is a brief description of each module.

Module 1: What is “good writing”?: Understanding disciplinary differences

Rooted in the who, when, where, what, and why of writing, this module explored how our motives as writers are part of a system of disciplinary activity and how our experiences with these systems influence the ways we evaluate student texts. Importantly, this module discussed recent assessment data the Writing Program collected to illustrate the competencies possessed by students upon completion of the First-Year Writing sequence.

The structure and approach for this first module drew on scholarship from Wolfe, Olson, and Wilder, Wilder, Yancey et al., Grant-Davie, Harris, Falconer, Gauthier, Freedman, and Nathan et al. The learning goals for this module were that faculty would understand:

  • That every time we write, we are responding to a rhetorical situation;

  • That perceived errors in student work may be the result of misreading the rhetorical situation or being new to the disciplinary community;

  • How effective writing looks very different from discipline to discipline;

  • What students are generally capable of doing after leaving the First-Year Writing sequence; and

  • That subconscious bias as a result of expertise is a real thing that we need to be aware of in evaluating our students’ work.

As this was the first module in the program, faculty members were asked to complete reflective work (see Appendix 2) before arriving to our first in-person meeting, as well as watch a short video explaining what is meant by the terms Writing Across the Curriculum, Writing in the Disciplines, and Writing to Learn (and what each approach accomplishes). That reflective work asked faculty to discuss the kinds of writing (if any) that they have assigned in their courses (regardless of whether they already taught classes with the RWE designation). I asked them to explain what they are trying to get students to do in those writing assignments, where students encountered obstacles, and what their best students are able to do with writing that other students struggle with, including where they believed those best students learned those skills.

Because many faculty learn their pedagogy around reading and writing from their own experiences as students, I also asked them to reflect on their own writing experiences. They were tasked with describing how they learned to write as a member of their discipline, whether they had explicit instruction in this journey, and what their current writing processes looked like. Finally, Fellows were asked to reflect on their disciplines broadly—to explain what its focus is, how the discipline creates knowledge, its privileged research methods, common genres that are composed, what forms of evidence are considered valid, and, eventually, how they recognize “good writing” in their field.

In addition to providing me a glimpse into the beliefs and practices faculty were entering the program with, this reflective exercise also formed the basis for the first in-person gathering. The workshop began with a genre analysis exercise designed to make the implicit explicit, identifying audience and genre constraints of common texts such as greeting cards and invoices. The group then identified what counts as quality writing in one set of texts. They were then asked to apply this reasoning to the second set of texts and see if the rules held up. In this way, faculty were able to understand rhetorical situation and how we are naturally following different rules in writing on a daily basis based on context, audience, exigence, etc.

This exercise set the stage for a closer look at the disciplines present in the room. Asking faculty to refer back to their reflection document, the cohort unpacked how they define “good writing” in their classrooms and what it looks like. This conversation immediately highlighted the disciplinary differences across the group. For example, a faculty member from Business emphasized short, succinct sentences, with ample use of structural features (e.g., bullet points and headings) and a lack of quotations. Immediately, faculty members from Philosophy and History pushed back, explaining the role of complex sentences and use of citations and quotes to work through the nuances of ideas. The group discussed differences in grammar, diction, and syntax across the disciplinary spaces, as well as what counts as evidence and supporting claims in their different spaces.

This animated conversation led the cohort to making important connections for students in the small, liberal arts-inspired college. Simply put, the unspoken expectations that were present in the different classes meant that students were having to negotiate widely different rules regarding writing within the span of a day or week without any guidance or recognition that such differences even exist. The group was able to make connections between these constraints and their own pet peeves about student errors in writing.

This conversation led naturally into a discussion of explicit teaching. Faculty were provided with a handout defining this practice, as well as sample activities from my own courses to illustrate ways this could be accomplished (e.g., rhetorical outlining, vocabulary worksheets, activities on identifying bias). Importantly, this conversation was connected back to the students at the institution, many of whom come from historically underrepresented groups in academia (with a high percentage of students with language-based learning disabilities). Explicit teaching serves as one way classroom spaces can be made more accessible and equitable.

At the close of this first in-person meeting, faculty were asked to spend time reflecting on what these differences might mean for the students in their respective classrooms. They were also asked to spend time articulating the course goals for the class they were developing into an RWE, and some potential writing goals students would meet over the course of the semester. This homework would both help faculty make explicit what they are interested in assessing, as well as set the foundation for our second module.

Module 2: Critical reasoning in the disciplines

In this second module, the cohort explored definitions of critical reasoning and critical thinking in an effort to find common ground. The workshop began by formulating a common definition of the term, followed by asking faculty to map what critical reasoning looked like in their field. How do they recognize good reasoning when they see it? Can they identify specific areas where students have challenges? These map and gap exercises would provide the foundation for later assignment designs.

Drawing on the work of Mickelson, Moore, Pearlman and Carillo, Facione, Williams and Colomb, and Rademaekers, the learning goals for this module were that faculty would be able to articulate:

  • A common, working definition of critical thinking;

  • How critical thinking is demonstrated within their discipline;

  • Ways that they could identify moments of critical thinking in a text;

  • Language use in prompts that would solicit critical thinking in student writing; and,

  • Ways in which they could model critical thinking for students.

The first week of the module focused on asynchronous, virtual activities. Faculty Fellows were asked to watch two videos. The first provided a recap of the first in-person meeting, highlighting that the key things agreed on were that good writing carefully considers its audience, accomplishes its purpose, and uses language and forms that are appropriate to the situation. The video reminded Fellows that all writing has its own conventions and that students often need to have these affordances and constraints made explicit to them. The second video discussed scholarship around critical thinking and reasoning, noting places of resistance for faculty and students, and the widely varying interpretations that exist across disciplinary spaces. Faculty were asked to prepare for the next in-person meeting by drafting a definition for critical thinking in their own words and identifying ways in which they might be able to see critical thinking in student writing (reflecting on disciplinary practices). Faculty were also asked to create a visual representation of what critical thinking looks like in their field, including the relationship between parts.

The second in-person meeting focused on sharing definitions of critical thinking and what they look like in the classroom space. Importantly, these discussions explicitly addressed the academic level of the courses and how expectations about what students can and cannot do should relate to their place in the curriculum. Some Fellows expected students at the first- or second-year level to be able to effectively critique texts and situations in a detailed and analytical manner, while others noted that most of what their third- and fourth-year students turn in are summaries of things they read, not analyses. These conversations provided an opportunity to discuss the Fellows’ own growth as critical thinkers in their careers and where they learned to do the things that they wish to see in student work. It offered a space to discuss terminology related to critical thinking and writing assignments (e.g., analyze, discuss, describe, outline), and what that language means to students.

In preparation for the third module, Fellows were asked to spend more time reflecting on their course goals outcomes. They needed to think about whether students would be able to demonstrate meeting outcomes through low-stakes writing to learn activities, higher-stakes academic essays, or high-stakes disciplinary texts. During our discussion of these approaches, I regularly introduced the Fellows to multimodal and public-facing genres and assignments that I use in my own courses (e.g., podcasts, infographics) and asked them to keep in mind a capacious definition of writing, as well as consider if and when such approaches might be appropriate. Once that work was complete, Fellows would need to draft (or revise) language for their students that articulated their definition of critical thinking and what that would look like in their classroom. This would require articulating clearly what they wished to see students do in speech and writing, as well as what they did not want to see students doing.

Module 3: The reading-writing relationship

While faculty might be able to see when students are struggling with writing, they are not always able to see when students struggle with reading, or how students’ reading practices are influencing their writing. This workshop began with a discussion of the cognitive relationship between the practices of reading and writing. It was followed by guiding faculty in activities to make their disciplinary reading practices explicit. We practiced classroom activities that would help faculty see where students may be struggling in their reading of disciplinary text, as well as those aimed at improving content retention.

Drawing on scholarship from scholars such as Carillo, Haas and Flower, Mickelson, and Egege and Vered, the learning goals for this module were that faculty would be able to:

  • Articulate how members of their discipline read;

  • Identify techniques to improve critical reading in their classroom;

  • Articulate the relationship between reading, writing, and knowledge retention; and,

  • Design a reading guide to correspond to a scholarly text for their course.

The video portion of this module involved an exploration of the ways in which students engage with texts, drawing on Haas and Flower, as well as the Writing Program’s recent assessment data. A significant problem identified at the college was that many students simply did not read assigned texts. The other noted problem was that many who did read did not understand what they had read. As such, it was important that Fellows understand what factors play a role in how students engage with assigned readings. Some strategies offered in the video included explicitly teaching reading practices in the classroom, providing reading worksheets to guide students through the text, using graphic organizers to identify relationships between parts and themes, teaching annotation, and using Writing to Learn assignments to assess comprehension.

In order to explore the tensions students face reading, though, it was important for the Fellows to experience the tension themselves. Because none of the Fellows came from the field of Rhetoric and Composition/Writing Studies, I brought a highly complicated text from Applied Linguistics to the in-person meeting. Fellows were handed a copy of the text and asked to read it while I attended to organizing other materials. (This was intentionally presented as though they would not have any challenges with the material.) After a few minutes, the Fellows were asked what they thought the key takeaways were.

Predictably, none of the Fellows were able to clearly explain what they had read. I asked them how they read, which received varying responses—some read start to finish, while others skipped around sections. We used this experience to highlight how students feel in our classes when confronted with new genres and scholarly texts. Without explicit guidance on how to engage with the texts, or scaffolding around language, terminology, and structure, students often feel lost, vulnerable, and frustrated. As a result, they frequently disengage. Faculty were then provided with an assortment of strategies for addressing reading in their courses (e.g., reading guides, group activities, worksheets to teach critical reading of academic articles).

Module 4: Designing effective writing assignments

According to Melzer, 66% of writing assignments at the college level ask students to provide informational content—to demonstrate knowledge retention and summarize facts. But informational content and summary only tell us so much about our students’ learning. This workshop explored the ways we can design writing assignments to see student learning (i.e., understanding content), reasoning (i.e., synthesizing information to form conclusions), and rhetorical skill (i.e., communicating as a member of the disciplinary community). The work during this module drew on the faculty members’ existing assignments to determine what they were asking students to do, discussing the types of writing assignments that are suitable for specific courses, and worked toward identifying a breadth of assignments that provide students an opportunity to better demonstrate what faculty wished to assess.

Drawing on scholarship such as Reid and Kroll, White, and Carter, the learning goals for this module were that faculty would leave capable of:

  • Inferring the relationship between writing prompts and student compositions;

  • Composing writing assignments to assess a variety of skills, as well as composition;

  • Scaffolding writing assignments to aid in student success; and,

  • Connecting course and department learning outcomes to writing assignments.

During the asynchronous week of this module, Fellows were tasked with watching a video on designing effective writing assignments while simultaneously completing a heuristic for the course they were developing. In the video, I discuss how the perceptions of the purposes of writing for college varies widely between faculty and students. For faculty, we often see writing as a form of documentation or as a tool for accomplishing some larger agenda. For students, they often approach writing as a generic form of demonstrating knowledge. Whether recognized by either party, in the college classroom writing often serves as a form of performance testing—assessing how well a student can read an assignment prompt, determine what the instructor values, and then execute the work in a manner the instructor deems appropriate and valid.

In the video, I ask faculty to begin at the end: to identify their end goals for the course. Next, they are asked to identify which of the end goals can effectively be assessed through writing. For goals that can be assessed in writing, they then needed to identify whether these would be low- or high-stakes writing activities (referring back to our introduction to WAC, WID, and WTL), as well as to articulate how they would know when and how students had met those goals. Overall, the focus was on finding congruency between the course goals and the writing assignments developed. The final activity for the asynchronous week was to pick one of these writing tasks and develop the prompt, taking into consideration rhetorical situation (with a strong emphasis on student audiences).

During the in-person workshop, I introduced a series of handouts to the Fellows, including a list of common assignment terms (e.g., analyze) and their definitions and some sample assignment prompts that addressed low- and high-stakes, WAC, WID, and WTL activities. We spent some time discussing what this looked like in their respective disciplines and how some requests, like “provide evidence,” look very different in one discipline than in another.

The majority of time was spent workshopping the Fellows’ prompts, however. The Fellows brought copies of their assignments that the group could mark up and I used this opportunity to address both assignment composition and peer review strategies (see Appendix 3). Peer review is a required component of all RWEs and many of the Fellows had attempted to have students peer review each other’s work in the past, with largely poor results (focusing on small line edits and offering comments like, “This is good.”). Since we were peer reviewing each other’s assignment prompts, I used the opportunity to introduce two different strategies that have worked well in my own courses. The first comes from Design Thinking practices, and asks for immediate, on the spot feedback targeting what they like about the project, questions they have, and suggestions for further consideration. By offering directed feedback in this way, without a chance to edit or revise, the Fellows were able to immediately see areas in need of improvement and places for revision. The other element I introduced was a think-aloud protocol inspired by Haas and Flower, asking a Fellow to read aloud a colleague’s prompt and to articulate what they are thinking as they read. Again, this helped make explicit the questions that students might have as they were reading an assignment prompt and places where they might get stuck. Once we had tried these two strategies, I asked all members to spend time annotating the assignments, noting what they thought the assignment was asking them to do, areas of confusion, places where they felt the direction was clear, and eventually how they would respond to the prompt if they were a typical Curry College student (i.e., what they would turn in).

This activity was among the most appreciated of the program. One faculty member arrived with 2 pages of dense text; another arrived with a 6-page prompt full of bullet points that included everything from rhetorical constraints to directions on mechanics and formatting. By offering insight into how these would be read and responded to by students, the Fellows could begin to see why they were receiving the kinds of writing by students that, as one Fellow noted, had “plagued” them for years.

It is worth noting that this was our final in-person meeting, as the Covid-19 pandemic transitioned the College to 100% online instruction on March 13th, 2020. After this point, all meetings were held via Zoom.

Module 5: Fair writing assessment

Writing assessment was a topic of great concern in the College broadly, and in the Fellows program specifically. What makes an ‘A’ paper an ‘A’ and not a ‘B’? How do we handle grammar and mechanics in student writing? What constitutes a fair assessment of student writing in our disciplinary courses? What about feedback and revision? Though I knew that I would meet with some resistance, I approached this workshop inspired by and drawing off the work of Balester, Carter, Carter et al., Inoue, and Young et al.. Faculty were expected to leave the modules able to:

  • Devise writing assessments that are considerate of diverse learners;

  • Create rubrics or other assessments that are congruent with the assignments; and

  • Compose formative and summative feedback that would be of use to students.

This module drew on the knowledge built into the previous workshops to clarify best practices in assessing student writing. In the asynchronous video, I focused on the steps of developing an assessment plan that is congruent with the assignment. This began by seeking key words in the prompt that related to what was being tested. It was followed by identifying how students would demonstrate their knowledge and understanding—what it would look like in practice. Fellows were then asked to identify the top 4 or 5 criteria they felt was of most importance in the assignment and what they could reasonably assess for. Finally, they were asked to think through the best tool for completing this assessment (e.g., a holistic rubric). In the video, I modeled this approach with one of my own assignments, including a discussion of how my assessment plan could vary based on what I was privileging in the assignment. I also felt it was critical to model for the Fellows how I explain my assessment plan in class to the students before any of their writing takes place.

Importantly, I spent a considerable amount of time emphasizing that Fellows should be evaluating what they are teaching in their course, not on elements that they felt students should have learned elsewhere (i.e., grammar and mechanics). I suggested that if they felt strongly that they need to include mechanics so that students will proofread (as one member argued), then this should make up no more than 5% of the final grade so as not to penalize students who are multilingual learners or struggle with writing due to other reasons. While there was some initial resistance to this approach—with one Fellow seeming to take personal offense to student errors—we eventually agreed that, if a student’s work was so riddled with error as to make it unreadable, then they would be losing points in other elements of the assessment already. If a student had minor errors, but could communicate an understanding of what was being taught, then they were meeting the goals of the assignment. In the end, we needed to keep asking ourselves: What are we privileging in this assignment?

As a group, we investigated the intertwined nature of writing assignments with assessment to ensure congruency. By investigating the capabilities of rubrics (and the various options available), we identified when they would be appropriate and when they might actually cause harm. We also explored the use of contract grading and “spec” grading (Nilson), both as steps toward making our assessment more equitable, as well as easing the labor of grading for larger classes.

In these conversations, I ensured that the discussion around assessment practices always came back to the students—to make explicit how common practices (like grading heavily for grammar and mechanics) can disproportionately harm certain population groups—and strategies to make sure that our students understand our expectations as instructors. By workshopping assessment plans in relation to their assignments, Fellows were able to see areas for clarity and improvement.

Module 6: Multilingual Writers/Writing

Because of College efforts to connect with organizations in Boston that place international students on campuses, it became increasingly important to address writing assignments and assessments through the lens of multilingual learners. The work of learning to write and speak in another language is an incredibly difficult and time-consuming task. Many times, our multilingual writers are learning English as their third or fourth language and have to reconcile the linguistic structure of their other languages with one that has many hidden and seemingly illogical rules. This final module in the series explored the ways in which our work with multilingual writers is different from those whose native language is a form of English. We examined the wide variety of fluency, accuracy, quality, and structure of writing between L1 and L2/3/4 writers and strategies for helping multilingual writers in our classrooms.

Drawing on work from scholars such as Howard, Leki, Matsuda et al., and Young et al., this module was designed so faculty would be able to:

  • Identify the wide variety of multilingual learners present at Curry College;

  • Illustrate the ways in which Standard American Academic English is different from other dialects of English;

  • Recognize obstacles multilingual learners might encounter with writing assignments; and

  • Integrate strategies to assist all students in understanding course writing prompts.

Because this module focused closely on interpersonal communication, I also drew on scholarship from scholars like Haswell and Sommers to orient faculty toward responding to student writing and created opportunities for them to safely try out a variety of response types.

The asynchronous week involved two ten-minute videos for faculty to watch. The first introduced faculty to key terminology and myths and misconceptions (i.e., multilingual learners are only international students or learned English much later than their first language). This video also discusses the various forms of English that exist internationally, as well as within the US directly. The goal with this first video was to emphasize the strengths multilingual students bring to the classroom, and highlight the various multilingual learners at the College specifically. The second video discusses strategies for working with multilingual learners, making explicit the various ways cultures around the world construct an argument, verb tenses and agreement, and colloquialisms. One critical element of this second video was the explicit discussion of intellectual property and citation practices. In the US, there are very strict rules around what can be reproduced, by whom, and when. Outside of the US, however, rules about the reuse of others’ words and ideas vary from country to country. This extends to pastiche and patch-writing (Howard).

The final meeting of the semester involved a discussion of the various ways Fellows have already seen these things show up in their classes. Importantly, many acknowledged how it caused them to rethink how they perceived their students and what those students could reasonably accomplish within their courses. Because of the challenges of the pandemic at this point in the semester, much of this final session focused on putting all of the pieces together and troubleshooting problems Fellows were anticipating.

Program Strengths and Challenges

As a pilot run of the Fellows Program, I was incredibly pleased with how the overall program ran, though recognized there is room for growth in terms of content presentation and scope. The Faculty Fellows were very engaged with the content and ideas, and explicitly incorporating a diverse range of disciplinary identities worked in our favor, as it became easier to step out of our silos and see how other fields engage with text and create knowledge. What I had not anticipated was the amount of time the Fellows would need in terms of active discussion about the concepts presented in the videos, and the number of exemplars we would need to work through and extend to their own learning spaces.

During our in-person meetings, which lasted 90 minutes to 2 hours each, we often ran out of time discussing concepts theoretically, and their immediate applications. Exemplars I provided from my writing courses made sense to the Fellows for my learning space, but it often took more time than I expected to help them see how those could be adapted to their classrooms. As with classroom discussions, I often found myself having to manage the conversations, creating space for all members to articulate their ideas, rather than allowing the conversation to be dominated by one strong voice. Personality differences and tensions from outside of the Program also needed to be carefully navigated.

One surprise was the degree to which the Fellows questioned their own authority in the classroom with regard to writing assignments, and how their default assessment methods often resorted back to the areas with which they were most comfortable (grammar and mechanics, identifying thesis statements, and citational practices). The question of fairness was a regular theme emerging from suggested pedagogical approaches and I found myself regularly asking them: Who is benefitting from your current method? Who would benefit if you modified your approach? Which do you think is more fair? Many would frequently get stuck on the idea that students should graduate with a reading and writing skill that was comparable to publishable writing, even if this standard wasn’t articulated as such, as it was hard for the Fellows to let go of these preconceptions.

The program itself hit challenges with regard to funding and later engagement. The pilot ran during the Spring 2020 semester and had to move online halfway through due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The sudden shift in instructional mode meant that all faculty at the college were experiencing cognitive overload (very few had ever taught online). As such, some of the more engaged, critical work I had hoped to accomplish in the second half of the semester had to be put aside in favor of activities that would involve a lower lift of mental energy. One benefit of the timing, though, was that we were far enough along in the module series that the Fellows had a toolkit of strategies for accommodating the modality shift in the classes they were actively teaching. Much of my time as WAC Coordinator shifted to assisting other faculty in the use of writing in online, often asynchronous spaces (many essentially doubled their student workloads with discussion board requirements to account for seat time, etc.).

During our last meeting, some of the Fellows discussed the ways in which they modified the courses they were teaching to include many of the practices we discussed, despite the courses not being designated RWE. One member noted how she added a multimodal component to an existing assignment sequence, asking students to create 3-minute TikTok-style video addressing an aspect of a film under analysis. The quality of thinking displayed in this smaller, low-stakes activity, she remarked, let her see how her students were understanding interpretive frameworks in a way that was not presenting in their written papers. Another Fellow noted how the amount of time he spent responding to student writing had drastically decreased when he shifted to commenting only on global concerns and not grammar and mechanics (confirming, as well, that many of the original mistakes seemed to be fixed in the students’ revisions). Despite the Fellows reporting a positive impact of the program on their teaching during Spring 2020, and then again in Fall 2020, the program was not allowed to continue without external funding. Shortly thereafter, in late Fall 2020, Curry College entered a period of retrenchment that would dramatically shift the institution’s foci, faculty makeup, and educational offerings.

Looking Forward

As I begin the development of a similar program at my new institution, economies of scale and modification of content are at the forefront of design considerations. Some of the questions I am working through are:

  • What does a program like this look like if all faculty come from the same or similar disciplines? How does working only with engineering faculty, for example, change the understanding of writing instruction and assessment?

  • What is the best number of faculty participants for a program like this? While a cohort of four or five allows for a personal and bespoke experience, it can also lead to interpersonal tensions.

  • Can a program like this be scaled and delivered in a way that it would benefit graduate students, teaching assistants, and other faculty without requiring regular meetings? Is there a way to deliver this like a Massive, Open, Online Course (MOOC)?

  • What types of incentives would make a program like this effective and enticing on other campuses, especially during a time of austerity? How might we build instructor buy-in if participation is not financially incentivized?

  • How much information is too much information? What is the right amount of content to deliver without being overwhelming, but also being effective?

  • How much labor and maintenance does a program like this require to build at this institution? How much is required after its first iteration? What is feasible and sustainable?

Ultimately, like any WAC program, developers need to consider the specific contexts in which they are working. The social contexts and priorities at Curry College are vastly different from those at the University of Maine, as they will be at any other institution. Each space has its own affordances and constraints that have to be taken into consideration. While I was able to approach the Fellow Program at Curry much in the way I would a graduate-level course (essentially requiring the time and energy of one new prep), it will require considerably more time and energy at my new school. The program I am currently developing, for example, will begin with a focus solely on STEM writing and address the specifics of those disciplinary spaces, rather than writing broadly. While some of the content I developed for the Fellows at Curry will be reusable, much of it will be new and reformulated. In the end, what is critical is knowing the institution, who is already inclined toward this work, and building those coalitions to meet the needs of students and faculty alike.

Works Cited

Balester, Valerie. How Writing Rubrics Fail: Toward a Multicultural Model. Race and Writing Assessment, edited by Asao B. Inoue and Mya Poe, Peter Lang, 2012, pp. 63-78.

Bell, Derrick A. Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma. Harvard Law Review, vol. 93, no. 3, Jan. 1980, p. 518.

Carillo, Ellen C. Reading and Writing Are Not Connected. Bad Ideas About Writing, edited by Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe, West Virginia University Libraries, 2017, pp. 38-43,

Carter, Michael. A Process for Establishing Outcomes-Based Assessment Plans for Writing and Speaking in the Disciplines. Language and Learning Across the Disciplines, vol. 6, no. 1, 2003, pp. 4-29.

---. Ways of Knowing, Doing, and Writing in the Disciplines. College Composition and Communication, vol. 58, no. 3, 2007, pp. 385-418.

---. Writing to Learn by Learning to Write in the Disciplines. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, vol. 21, no. 3, July 2007, pp. 278-302.

Egege, Sandra, and Karen Orr Vered. Using Shared Inquiry to Develop Students’ Reading, Reasoning, and Writing in the Disciplines. Across the Disciplines, vol. 16, no. 3, 2019, pp. 1-14.

Facione, Peter A. Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction. California Academic Press, 1990.

Falconer, Heather. Assessing Writing in Undergraduate Biology Coursework: A Review of the Literature on Practices and Criteria. The WAC Journal, vol. 28, 2017, pp. 123-38.

Falconer, Heather M. ‘I Think When I Speak, I Don’t Sound Like That’: The Influence of Social Positioning on Rhetorical Skill Development in Science. Written Communication, vol. 36, no. 1, Jan. 2019, pp. 9-37.

Freedman, Aviva. Show and Tell? The Role of Explicit Teaching in the Learning of New Genres. Research in the Teaching of English, vol. 27, no. 3, 1993, pp. 222-51.

Gauthier, Launa. Redesigning for Student Success: Cultivating Communities of Practice in a Higher Education Classroom. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, vol. 16, no. 2, Apr. 2016, pp. 1-13.

Grant-Davie, Keith. Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents. Rhetoric Review, vol. 15, no. 2, 1997, pp. 264-79.

Haas, Christina, and Linda Flower. Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning. College Composition and Communication, vol. 39, no. 2, May 1988, p. 167.

Harris, Joseph. The Idea of Community in the Study of Writing. College Composition and Communication, vol. 40, no. 1, Feb. 1989, p. 11.

Haswell, Richard H. Minimal Marking. College English, vol. 45, no. 6, 1983, pp. 600-04.

Howard, Rebecca Moore. Plagiarisms, Authorships, and the Academic Death Penalty. College English, vol. 57, no. 7, Nov. 1995, p. 788.

Inoue, Asao B. Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom. University Press of Colorado/The WAC Clearinghouse, 2019.

Leki, Ilona. Undergraduates in a Second Language: Challenges and Complexities of Academic Literacy Development. Routledge, 2007.

Matsuda, Paul Kei, et al. Second-Language Writing in the Composition Classroom: A Critical Sourcebook. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010.

Melzer, Dan. Assignments Across the Curriculum. Utah State University Press, 2014.

Mickelson, Nate. Cultivating Critical Reading: Using Creative Assignments to Promote Agency, Persistence, and Enjoyment. no. 1, 2018, p. 14.

Moore, Tim. Critical Thinking: Seven Definitions in Search of a Concept. Studies in Higher Education, vol. 38, no. 4, May 2013, pp. 506-22.

Moore, Tim John. Critical Thinking and Disciplinary Thinking: A Continuing Debate. Higher Education Research & Development, vol. 30, no. 3, June 2011, pp. 261-74.

Nathan, Mitchell J., et al. Expert Blind Spot: When Content Knowledge and Pedagogical Content Knowledge Collide. Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado, Boulder, 2001.

Nilson, Linda B. and Claudia J. Stanny. Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time. Stylus Publishing, 2014.

Pearlman, Steven J., and David Carillo. The Critical Thinking Initiative: Faculty Companion to the Student Handbook. Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2019.

Rademaekers, Justin K. Getting Specific about Critical Thinking: Implications for Writing Across the Curriculum. The WAC Journal, vol. 29, no. 1, 2018, pp. 119-46.

Reid, Joy, and Barbara Kroll. Designing and Assessing Effective Classroom Writing Assignments for NES and ESL Students. Journal of Second Language Writing, vol. 4, no. 1, 1995, pp. 17-41.

Sommers, Nancy. Responding to Student Writing. College Composition and Communication, vol. 33, no. 2, 1982, pp. 148-56.

White, Edward M. Assigning, Responding, Evaluating: A Writing Teacher’s Guide. 3rd ed., St. Martin’s Press, Inc., 1995.

Wilder, Laura. Rhetorical Strategies and Genre Conventions in Literary Studies: Teaching and Writing in the Disciplines. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.

Williams, Joseph M., and Gregory G. Colomb. The Case for Explicit Teaching: Why What You Don’t Know Won’t Help You. Research in the Teaching of English, vol. 27, no. 3, 1993, pp. 252-64.

Wolfe, Joanna, et al. Knowing What We Know about Writing in the Disciplines: A New Approach to Teaching for Transfer in FYC. The WAC Journal, vol. 25, no. 1, 2014, pp. 42-77.

Yancey, Kathleen Blake, et al. Writing across College: Key Terms and Multiple Contexts as Factors Promoting Students’ Transfer of Writing Knowledge and Practice. The WAC Journal, vol. 29, 2018, pp. 42-63.

Young, Vershawn Ashanti, et al. Other People’s English: Code-Meshing, Code-Switching, and African American Literacy. Parlor Press, 2018.

Return to Composition Forum 48 table of contents.