Getting Started: Developing a Writing-in-the-Major Program*

Developing a writing-in-the-major program requires a coordinated and systematic effort among faculty in each department. We recommend that larger departments (more than six faculty members) select a team to develop the program, in consultation with the department, in order to help build consensus about goals, criteria, expectations and standards. Smaller departments should try to involve all their members.

Build on what you already do

  • Take inventory of the types and amount of writing students already do in the program.
  • Use any existing evidence about student writing in the program (e.g., results of standardized tests; performance in capstone courses; performance in writing-intensive courses, etc.) to evaluate strengths, weaknesses, or gaps in students' writing during the course of the major.

Define departmental goals for writing and learning

  • Clarify important learning outcomes for students in the major.
  • Determine the competency and proficiency levels expected of graduating seniors in both writing and learning.
  • Explore the criteria already used by faculty to evaluate student writing and learning. 
  • Compile these, looking for overlap, commonalities and key differences, and then determine the extent to which current practices help students achieve learning outcomes.
  • Establish a sequence of goals to be achieved throughout the program so that graduates arrive at the competency and proficiency levels.
  • Publish the goals to help students know what is expected of them, and ensure that course descriptions link to program goals.

Plan how to integrate writing-to-learn in the major

  • Think about how writing can support departmental learning goals in the major.
  • Explore how writing can help students learn particularly difficult subject matter.
  • Investigate how writing can be used as a knowledge-building activity.
  • Discuss how writing can support the development of students' understanding in a sequence of courses.

Develop a shared evaluation framework

  • Clarify the dimensions of student writing that matter most to instructors. 
  • Define a set of criteria that encompasses these dimensions. Possible criteria include the following:
  • clear organization
  • adequate development of ideas
  • logical reasoning
  • audience engagement and appropriateness
  • credible author persona
  • concise and coherent prose
  • conventional spelling, punctuation, formatting, etc.
  • informed use of disciplinary conventions (such as documentation style, tables and figures, etc.)
  • Conduct norming sessions periodically in which instructors use the set of criteria to evaluate several pieces of student work and then discuss and try to resolve differences in the use of criteria and standards.

Establish effective writing processes in the major

  • Discuss how writing processes might be incorporated into a sequence of courses taken by all students in the major.
  • Consider writing from a developmental perspective.
  • Are some forms and goals of writing better suited to entering students?
  • What aspects of writing might take longer to develop?
  • Are there developmental paths for certain writing goals?
  • Build a feedback system in which instructors are not the only ones providing feedback and guidance (e.g., use student peer review or train undergraduate writing fellows/tutors).
  • Use examples of written work as models for major assignments and projects; maintain a library of "high impact" writing assignments in the department.
  • Develop a departmental language for talking about writing and for giving feedback to students. Create a student handbook for writing in the major. 

Help students develop their capacity for self appraisal and improvement of writing

  • Ask students to use departmental criteria and standards to evaluate their own work.
  • Have students apply departmental criteria and standards in peer review sessions.
  •  Help students internalize evaluation criteria through critical reading and analysis of samples.
  • Invite students to reflect upon differences between an early and final draft of their own work.
  • Teach revision strategies.

Design a strategy for improving the writing-in-the-major program

  • Consider ways to monitor and evaluate student writing as you design the writing-in-the-major program.
  • Anticipate the evidence you will want in order to document students' writing proficiency at the end of the program.
  • Explore ways to monitor students' development (not just exit proficiency) in the program.
  • Establish benchmarks and milestones: What are students' writing abilities as they enter the program? At the end of their first, second or third year, etc?
  • Investigate how students' abilities to use writing as a tool of learning change as they move through the program.
  • Consider what and how to use the assessment process to provide self-corrective feedback to students.

* Modified from a web page developed by Bryan M. Kopp, Ph.D.,Writing Programs Coordinator and Assistant Professor of English, University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse