It takes a village to raise a child and, apparently, takes a village to raise a writer as well.
That notion is being put to the test thanks to a collaborative research project to assess the impact of an innovative instructional strategy developed by the Writing Across the Curriculum program—group writing tutorials.
“We’ve developed a writing support technique that, instead of one-to-one tutoring sessions, uses small groups of students—up to 15—working with one tutor,” said Roger Graves, professor in the Department of English and Film Studies and lead on the project that received a $62,788 Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund grant. “Early evidence suggests that this method significantly improves the quality of student writing as measured by their professors’ grades.”
Writing Across the Curriculum is a university writing initiative designed to evaluate any curriculum’s writing components, help instructors and departments incorporate better writing assignments and help improve the writing of students in a group setting.
Graves says the group setting allows students to see what their peers have written, which allows for the proliferation of ideas and the ability to address elements that may have been misunderstood in the assignment—and that can be changed before being handed in.
“It allows students to see that others are struggling with some aspects of the assignment, too, and that encourages students to keep going because they realize they aren’t the only ones who couldn’t figure something out,” he said. “I think the program works on several levels and does things that one-on-one won’t do—in fact, can’t do.”
Graves, who has introduced Writing Across the Curriculum in departments and faculties across the spectrum, says the project will help determine whether this improvement in grades and quality is widespread. He also hopes it will allow researchers to create an instrument whereby students could determine whether they would benefit.
“This type of predictive modelling represents an innovative shift in writing studies,” said Graves, who notes he is hoping to enrol 500 students in the project this year.
“Undergraduate students will not only benefit from these sessions but will also be able to determine this ahead of time.”
With the help of Geraldine Lasiuk, professor in the Faculty of Nursing, and Daphne Read, undergraduate program co-ordinator in English and film studies, Graves is rolling out this program whose success not only helps students but has an economic benefit.
“We can provide writing support to students in courses in their discipline for a fraction of the cost of one-to-one tutoring, and within the context of the subjects they are studying,” said Graves, noting the Centre for Writers’ budget limit for the number of one-on-one appointments it can deliver is about 5,000 per year.
“The Writing Across the Curriculum group tutoring initiative can deliver writing support to another 1,500 to 2,000 students this year. We’re trying to release our ‘inner radical,’ to paraphrase President Indira Samarasekera.”
One-on-one resources for writers include the Centre for Writers in Assiniboia Hall, Writing Resources in Student Services in the Students’ Union Building, the Writing Centre in Augustana Campus and the Centre d’écriture bilingue (Bilingual Writing Centre) in Campus Saint-Jean.
Writing Across the Curriculum
This article originally appeared in the September 21, 2012 issue of Folio