Writing and Integrative Studies

Faculty teaching thinking and Writing have asked whether we have any information about how Keene State College students are doing as writers once they move beyond the first year course.

A report on writing assessment released in the fall of the 2009-10 academic year suggests that our students are transferring some of what they have learned in the Thinking and Writing course. The assessment is based on a random sample of assignments submitted by students from ISP Perspectives and Interdisciplinary courses that had identified writing as a primary area of skill development. A total of 60 assignments, 20 per evaluator, were assessed.  Dr. Susan Whittemore, Professor of Biology, Dr. Katherine Tirabassi, Assistant Professor of English, and Dr. Michael Cullinane, Associate Professor of Mathematics, completed the writing outcomes assessment of student assignments.

The following table summarizes the results of the assessment.

Outcome Needs Improvement Meets Expectation Exceeds Expectation % Meets or Exceeds
#1 Develop complex perspectives, positions, and/or arguments.

12 out of 60 (20.0%)

30 out of 60

(50.0%)

18 out of 60

(30.0%)

80%

#2 Support complex perspectives, positions, and/or arguments.

2 out of 60

(3.3%)

35 out of 60

(58.3%)

23 out of 60

(38.3%)

96.7%

#4 Use grammar to effectively communicate ideas.

11 out of 60

(18.3%)

35 out of 60

(58.3%)

14 out of 60

(23.3%)

81.7%

#5 Use organization to effectively communicate ideas.

11 out of 60

(18.3%)

35 out of 60

(58.3%)

14 out of 60

(23.3%)

81.7%

Students were successful in meeting all four of the outcomes assessed, though the success in meeting Outcome 2 was extraordinarily high. Compared to the assessment results from Spring 2009, the percentages of students who met or exceeded the expectations for Outcomes 4 and 5 were about the same, while performance relative to Outcomes 1 and 2 improved significantly.  In particular, the Spring 2009 results show only 42% of students met or exceeded the expectation for Outcome 1, and this percentage nearly doubled to 80% for Fall 2009.  Evaluators did not have assignment descriptions in either semester, but we suspect that many more of the fall assignments required students to provide interpretations or perspectives beyond their own personal ones. Some of this may also be attributable to faculty adjusting their assignments so that they are better aligned with the writing outcomes. There is good reason to believe, moreover, that the overall strong performance of students relative to the writing outcomes is correlated with student work and faculty efforts in the foundational ITW 101 experience.

We recognize that snapshot assessments of artifacts seeking to assess student performance do not address the changes taking place in a writer as they move from the first year. As Nancy Sommers and Laura Saltz write in “”The Novice as Expert: Writing the Freshman Year,” a longitudinal perspective on student writers suggests that changes in attitude about academic work and the ability to see a greater purpose in writing beyond completing an assignment are crucial to continued development across the four years of an undergraduate education. “The story of the freshman year is not one of dramatic changes on paper,” they conclude, “it is the story of changes within the writers themselves” (144). How students experience writing in the first year course therefore matters very much.

Students need to accept their status as novices, for sure. But we need to learn how to help them (and not punish them) as they struggle to accept their role as novices. Helping students write their way into expertise gives most of our first-year students their first taste of serious academic work. The challenge for us is to make that experience something these students can build on as they meet new challenges in their subsequent years of school.

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