An Introduction to Writing Intensive Courses

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In this introduction, Troy Hicks, Professor of English at Central Michigan University (CMU), provides an overview for this Writing Intensive Faculty Workshop. To begin, Hicks explains why learning to write is a lifelong process, shares findings about high school seniors' writing competency from the Nation's Report Card, and previews goals for the rest of the modules: 
  1. to review the parameters of a WI course,
  2. to discuss engaging and effective assignment options,
  3. to explore a variety of teaching strategies,
  4. to discuss ways to provide feedback to students, and
  5. to consider ways of assessing the process and products of writing.

Navigate to references for Module 1.

​The Role of Writing in General Education

Learning to write is a life-long process, and college students are still in the early stages of this process. Much like any apprentice learning his or her craft, our students need to be coached into their roles as writers. Building on what they have learned in their K-12 careers, part of this apprenticeship happens through ENG 101 and 201, and part of it occurs as they enter their chosen fields of study. With the help of you – skilled faculty who understand the conventions and expectations of writing in your discipline – our students will become accomplished writers.

Research in the field of composition (e.g., Berninger, Fuller, & Whitaker, 1996) has repeatedly demonstrated that, compared to skilled writers, novice writers are less likely to:
  • plan before writing (instead, they plan while generating text),
  • build connections between adjacent ideas and sentences (that is, sentences that generally relate to the overall topic feel "good enough" to them, and may not connect directly to the previous ideas), and
  • engage in global revisions that improve the organization and cohesion of their work (alternatively, they edit surface features, like spelling and grammar, rather than focusing on meaning).
The mental activity of writing is resource-intensive. More than just an extension of how we talk, writing takes a certain kind of discipline. Expert writers are able to hold multiple representations of ideas in their minds, including information about the content they want to convey, the meaning of the text they have just written, and possible interpretations of that text by prospective readers. As one researcher explained (Kellogg, 2008), 

Thinking is so closely linked to writing, at least in mature adults, that the two are practically twins.  Individuals who write well are seen as substantive thinkers, [and] the composition of extended texts is widely recognized as a form of problem solving. (p. 2).​

Echoes of this sentiment can be heard in a variety of blue ribbon committee reports, curricular documents, and calls for educational reform. Today, the national movement for writing across the curriculum is more than a movement to promote clear writing: It is a movement to improve learning and critical thinking through writing. 

​At CMU, the General Education Program's Writing Intensive (WI) requirement affirms our commitment to helping students develop their thinking skills through courses that provide meaningful writing experiences and feedback. This website reviews the requirements for WI courses, explains the difference between writing-to-learn and learning-to-write assignments, summarizes recommendations from experts on the teaching of writing, and provides some time-saving suggestions for instructors across all disciplines.  

Finally, p​lease consult with CMU's Writing Center if you plan to build a visit to the Writing Center into your course requirements. ​

We appreciate your efforts to support students as they grow their capacities for creative expression, critical thinking, and synthesizing their ideas through writing.


Refe​rences​

Alred, G. J., Brusaw, C. T., & Oliu, W. E. (2012). Handbook of technical writing (10th ed.). New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.

Bean, J. C. (2011). Engaging ideas: The professor's guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom (2d ed.).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Berninger, V. W., Fuller, F., & Whitaker, D. (1996). A process model of writing development across the life span. Educational Psychology Review, 8, 193–218.   

Brockman, E., Taylor, M., Kreth, M., & Crawford, M. K. (2011). What do professors really say about college writing? English Journal, 100, 75–81.

Pinker, S. (2014). The sense of style: The thinking person's guide to writing in the 21st century. New York, NY: Viking.

United States Department of Education. The Nation's Report Card .