ITW Faculty Dinner Minutes: Friday, 20 November 2009

In Attendance: Mark Long, Jack Hitchner, Maria Dintino, Len Fleisher, Kate Tirabassi, Tatiana Schreiber, Kirsti Sandy, Linda Aldrich, Steve Kessler, Lorianne Schaub, Leaf Seligman


1.Keene is Writing! Among the 300 or so people who showed up at this celebration of writing were first-year students enrolled in ITW. The event offered students a glimpse of the place of writing in our lives and an opportunity to consider the place of writing in their own lives. Please forward ideas about the event for next year to the Writing Task Force via Phyllis Benay, at

2. Library faculty: The library has asked to meet once again with the ITW group. Mark suggested a meeting in February dedicated to working effectively with the library and the Center for Writing. We talked about the ways the library sessions are working well and the ways they are conflicting with our class objectives. Mark invited comments about how these ITW partnerships are working for you and your students. Please send along your thoughts by December 15th.

3. The Center for Writing: the Center is almost completely booked through December third. Phyllis has requested that students need to make appointments early—for if they wait, the Center may not be able to accommodate them. Phyllis has also asked that ITW faculty require students coming to the Center to prepare one or two questions that they would like to address in the conference. When students have an agenda the tutoring sessions are more focused and productive.

4. Course Scheduling for 2010-11: Marked thanked everyone for responding to his request for interest in teaching ITW next year. We are currently adjusting to program needs in English and projected seats in Integrative Studies and Mark will get back to everyone about the 2010-11 scheduled soon.

5. ITW web site: While it is increasingly clear that we need a site to communicate what we are doing in the course, technical difficulties with setting up the web site have put this project on the back burner. Mark will be completing the site over winter break. Please let Mark know if you have ideas about content or if you have a student (or former student) who Mark might profile.

6. ISP Assessment: Mark presented a general overview of ISP assessment and the specific responsibilities of ITW faculty. Please find attached a printed summary of ITW assessment for faculty and students.

7. Spring ITW meetings: we are scheduled for Thursday 11 February from 5-7 and Thursday 8 April from 5-7. Please mark your calendars.

Question for Discussion

How do we read student writing when the assignment is designed to develop thought?

In our October meeting we shared strategies for helping students begin their inquiry in ITW. We are now at a point in the course when students have produced substantial pieces of writing and we are supporting them as they meet the challenge of moving from simple to complex perspectives on their area of inquiry. In October we reviewed the principles of the course outlined by Kirsti Sandy in her essay “What Is Thinking and Writing?” that appeared in the issue of ON T@sk: The Newsletter of the Keene State College Writing Task Force dedicated to ITW: that students’ writing ability is largely a function of their thinking ability; that academic writing requires the student to make a commitment to a stance or position while demonstrating an awareness of multiple perspectives on the issue; and that in order to learn how to write well, students need to write about a subject in depth, over time, with consistent feedback and opportunities to revise.

These shared principles framed our discussion. We started with thinking about the motivation of students. One metaphor Len brought to the table was that thinking and writing should move from the inside out: the challenge is getting the area of inquiry and the ongoing work of developing thinking to come from students—often at the expense of the quality of the writing. But how do we stay focused on developing student thought?

We talked about our strategies when reading drafts that do not focus obsessively on the writing itself.  In first drafts especially, many of us are finding new ways to focus on how students are thinking. Kirsti talked about writing a letter to student using a “difficulty rating” (1-10 scale) to motivate students. She also offers students “an interpretation of the claim” (to help students see how their claim is being read.) Mark and Steve described conferences focused on conversation with the student in which the essay is not the focus of the conversation. Linda talked about students getting all “fuzzy minded” and the necessity of addressing their thinking rather than becoming preoccupied with the record of that fuzzy thinking on the page. Kate contributed an exercise that involves cutting an essay into paragraphs and having writers and readers reassemble the units of prose. Others spoke of the need to continually ask students (and have them answer in writing) questions that prompt more thinking: “So what?” Show me why I should care about this? How is this meaningful? Who is in on this debate other than you? Lorianne, finally, talked about a research journal and suggested that we might take this writing more seriously. She described the value of this method of thinking in writing her doctoral thesis and suggested that perhaps students should keep such a journal and we should review it periodically—perhaps in conference. She described the journal as a kind of “compost heap.”

Leaf raised the issue of use value: the assumption among many of our students that anything one does needs to count for something. This broad set of anti-intellectual assumptions in our culture make it especially difficult for students to see the value of writing that ultimately will not be included in later drafts of the essay. We noted, however, that informal writing (the compost heap?) is a place where ideas are broken down and reformed and we need to help students see the value of the thinking they are doing in both the informal and formal writing we ask of them in the ITW course. One challenge is helping a student writer learn that much of the writing one does in the earlier drafts will not appear in the final version of the essay, and that this writing is nevertheless important to making progress. How do we help students not only produce writing but actually give up that writing as their thinking develops? We concluded our conversation with ideas about how we make clear to students in our comments on their writing, and in our expectations, that thinking and writing takes time, and that they should be spending up 5-8 hours each week outside of class working on their writing projects. The challenge for us is to help students see that the thinking and writing course asks for a kind of writing (and a writing process) that might differ from other kinds of writing they do. The challenge for us is to help them experience the value of this process as they learn to use writing to develop their thought.

Have a wonderful holiday break.


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