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Designing and Sustaining an Independent Writing Program Joseph Harris, Director Center for Teaching, Learning, and Writing Duke University – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Designing

Designingand Sustaining an Independent Writing
  • Joseph Harris, Director
  • Center for Teaching, Learning, and Writing
  • Duke University

The Problem
  • Faculty at Duke were convinced of need for
    writing to become a stronger part of the
    undergraduate curriculum, but . . .
  • Most were not interested in teaching writing
    themselves, and . . .
  • Many were concerned about loss of support for
    graduate TAs working in Writing Program

  • A curriculum structures both student learning and
    faculty labor
  • Curricular reform must respond both to the needs
    of students and interests of faculty
  • Who will teach this? is as important a question
    to ask as What needs to be taught?

Response Curriculum
  • Writing 20 Academic Writing
  • Undergrads select a first-year writing course
    with disciplinary theme related to their
  • Writing in the Disciplines (WID)
  • Undergrads take two advanced courses focusing on
    uses of writing as a practice of inquiry in
  • The Writing Studio
  • Undergrads offered one-on-one help with writing
    for both first-year and WID courses.

Response Labor
  • Writing 20 Academic Writing
  • Taught by postdoctoral Mellon Writing Fellows,
    recruited from across the disciplines through a
    national search. Funded by tuition and foundation
  • Writing in the Disciplines
  • Taught by faculty assisted by graduate
    TAs.Funding for TA lines linked to number of
    faculty teaching WID courses.
  • The Writing Studio
  • Free one-on-one tutoring in writing for students
    in any undergrad course at Duke. Staffed by
    graduate TAs.

Writing 20 Academic Writing
  • First-year course required of all students, with
    no prerequisites and no exemptions.
  • Introduces students to practices of close reading
    and critical writing.
  • Limited to 12 students per section.
  • Sections listed by title, description and
    instructor on university web site, and thus
    selected by undergrads according to interests.

Writing 20 Course Goals
  • Read closely and critically
  • Respond to and make use of the work of others
  • Draft, revise, and edit texts
  • Make texts public

Writing 20 Natural Sciences
  • Communicating Science to the Public
  • The popularity of science magazines such as
    Science News, Scientific American, and Discovery
    has increased dramatically in recent years.
    Similarly, there has been a prolific increase in
    the quantity and popularity of book-length
    translations of science by such authors as Jane
    Goodall, Isaac Asimov, Stephen Jay Gould, and
    Carl Sagan. This increase in demand for
    scientific information begs the question How is
    science communicated to the public? Specifically,
    how do writers present abstract or complex
    scientific subjects to a general audience? . . .
    . In this class, we will examine what happens to
    scientific information when it is prepared for
    and presented to a general audience. Can writers
    avoid the pitfalls of oversimplification and
    obfuscation? What changes occur in the language
    used and the assumptions made? . . . . Not only
    will students examine how published authors
    communicate science to the public, but they will
    also use their own writing to engage and inform
    audiences about an aspect of science that
    interests them. All students will publish at
    least one essay produced on the course web page
    located at http//

Writing 20 Natural Sciences
  • From Walking With Dinosaurs to The X-Files
    Science in the Popular Media
  • What do you know about dinosaurs? Asteroids?
    Viruses? Volcanoes? While scientists hope that
    people get this knowledge from textbooks, many of
    our perceptions of the natural world come from
    entertainment media sources . . . . To understand
    the role that science communication outside of
    scientific journals and textbooks plays in the
    formation of knowledge students in this course
    will read, view, and write about various
    entertainment texts. . . . . During the semester,
    students will explore the theme of science and
    entertainment media across different media
    formats, historical periods, and cultural
    contexts. Students will closely analyze
    entertainment texts in order to develop clearly
    reasoned argumentative essays about how the texts
    communicate science. Students will also work on a
    small movie treatment to explore the ways in
    which filmmakers and scientists must contend with
    the limitations and possibilities of
    communicating science through entertainment

Writing 20 Social Sciences
  • The Spoken and the Written Word What Is a
  • The Oakland School Board's decision in December
    of 1996 to label African American Vernacular
    English (AAVE) as a separate language instead of
    a dialect of English disturbed many politicians
    and public figures. The Reverend Jesse Jackson
    called the move "an unacceptable surrender,
    borderlining on disgrace." The Clinton
    administration labeled AAVE a "non-standard form
    of English" rather than a "foreign language," as
    it might otherwise have been termed. These
    political positions tacitly rest on certain views
    about the nature of language. We will attempt to
    determine what those views are, and investigate
    them using the tools provided by theoretical
    linguistics. . . . How do we determine
    (politically, linguistically, ethically) which
    language is standard, and which is not? How are
    the structures of written and spoken language
    related? How are they importantly divergent? . .
    . Our first project will be an analysis of the
    different ways in which AAVE was defined during
    the Oakland School Board's debates. In the second
    project, we will use the techniques of
    sociolinguistics to analyze the distribution of
    information in the transcripts from the Oakland
    School Board hearing to determine how politicians
    and researchers make arguments. Finally, you will
    be asked to do a research project on the current
    state of English and the growing concern that it
    is declining as a language.

Writing 20 Social Sciences
  • Claiming Citizenship Belonging and Exclusion in
  • How does one claim citizenship? How have group
    classifications such as race, gender, class,
    sexuality, political beliefs, language, and
    religion affected a response to this question for
    varying groups at key moments in US history? . .
    . The methods of the course are collaborative and
    historical. As a group, you will first be asked
    to engage in the project of researching and
    identifying the key terms scholars, lawyers,
    state agents, activists, and others use to
    understand and define the category of
    citizenship. You will then be asked to use these
    terms and definitions in your own reading of
    several different kinds of citizenship documents,
    including history textbooks and monographs. In a
    second project, you will be asked to write an
    essay in which you develop your own definition of
    who belongs as a modern American citizen. For the
    final project, we will turn to the question of
    how those excluded from full citizenship have
    used writing to make demands for inclusion, or to
    forge alternative kinds of citizenship and
    membership. Students will work together to find
    and analyze sources, and to create a public venue
    for their findings.

Writing 20 Social Sciences
  • America Without High School
  • High School is an almost universal experience for
    Americans alive today it is one of the
    predominant social institutions of the 2oth
    century . . . However, the current conception of
    high school is increasingly under criticism on
    several counts that it is inherently biased and
    reinforces inequalities of race and class that
    its scale allows too many students to remain
    anonymous and uncared for, that its uniformity
    prohibits students from learning their true
    interests . . .
  • In this course you will read the work of many
    critics (and some supporters) of the modern
    American high school, in order to move from
    complaints to grounded concerns. You will create
    documents for use by other students in the course
    as you work to develop an co-author focused
    policy proposals that promote alternative methods
    of educating Americas teenagers. The proposals
    will be sent to Kenneth Jones, Program officer
    for the Bill Melinda Gates Foundations High
    Schools for the New Millennium initiative.

Writing 20 Humanities
  • Special Collections
  • What do we treasure, and why? What do we hang on
    museum walls? Stash in Rubbermaid tubs in
    basements? What has been tucked in lockets or
    buried with pharaohs? As we explore an array of
    individual objectsfrom a Gutenberg Bible and a
    1999 Delaware state quarter to Baltimore album
    quilts and a "guaranteed authentic" Velvet the
    Panther Beanie Baby with a tag protectorwe will
    develop a complex and nuanced definition of
    value. During the second half of the course, we
    will turn to the practice of collecting itself.
    How are special collections defined, preserved,
    organized, and displayed? Here we will pursue our
    inquiry through primary research, as each student
    locates and writes about a specific collector and

Writing 20 Humanities
  • Writing About the Web
  • Though the invention of the telegraph,
    telephone, radio, television, and computer set
    the stage for its arrival, the Internet has
    revolutionized the world of communications as
    nothing before it. . . . . This course will take
    as its focus Web Studies, a still emerging field
    of scholarship, in order to examine and write
    analytical and argumentative essays about these
    implications. Writing assignments will be drawn
    from three broad areas web life, arts and
    culture web business and global communities,
    politics and protest. The course also includes a
    hands-on component students write, edit and
    publish the next issue of the online journal,
    Living in the Digital World A Journal of
    Technology, Media Culture, located at

Writing 20 Humanities
  • The Rhetoric of Justice Academic Writing and
    Political Dissent
  • Academics and intellectuals outside the
    university have often felt compelled to venture
    beyond the relatively self-contained environment
    of the world of letters into the broader and more
    concrete world of human affairs and the claims of
    justice. . . . In this course, we will examine
    various examples of writing that is both
    "academic" and "activist" in nature, including
    Plato's Apology, Engels' and Marx's Communist
    Manifesto, selections from The Collected Papers
    of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
    Steve Biko's Black Consciousness in South Africa,
    and Aung San Suu Kyi's "Freedom from Fear. We
    will focus on the ways in which these authors put
    the values and conventions of scholarly discourse
    to work in service of their social and political
    agendas. Over the course of the semester, we will
    undertake various, interrelated reading and
    writing exercises culminating in the production
    of an academic text that offers a developed and
    sophisticated critique of one or another definite
    political structure or social practice.

Writing in the Disciplines
  • After passing Writing 20, students take two WID
    courses in which they learn to write as
    apprentice members of the various disciplines.
  • Over 200 new or redesigned courses emphasizing
    writing in the sciences, social sciences, and
  • Most WID courses are seminars taught by full-time
    faculty assisted by graduate TAs.
  • Students keep an electronic portfolio documenting
    their development as writers at Duke.

WID Course Guidelines
  • Write frequently throughout the semester
  • Reflect on and improve their work as writers
  • Discuss the work they are doing as writers in
  • Consider the roles and uses of writing in the
    discipline they are studying

Writing 20 and WID
  • Writing 20 draws on materials of disciplines to
    teach practices of close reading and critical
  • WID courses make use of writing as a means of
    inquiry to investigate issues in disciplines

The Writing Studio
  • A space for undergraduates to talk one-on-one
    with trained tutors about the writing they are
    doing for their courses at Duke
  • Students can consult online writing resources
  • Tutors trained to respond to needs of
    under-prepared and ESL writers
  • Central and satellite locations on both Duke

Obstacles to Reform
  • Faculty concerns
  • Previous versions of first-year writing course at
    Duke had been failures
  • Support for TAs would be discontinued
  • Teaching writing was too labor-intensive

  • Recruit and train a professional cadre of
    postdoctoral fellows to teach first-year writing
  • Shift funding lines for graduate TAs in
    first-year writing to lines in support of WID
  • Offer faculty teaching WID courses the assistance
    of TAs and tutors in the Writing Studio

Sustaining Change
  • Recruit writing fellows in an open,rigorous, and
    wide-ranging search
  • Offer writing fellows ownership over courses and
  • Offer ongoing support to fellows new to teaching
  • Insist on meaningful assessment of work of
    individual teachers and writing program

Recruiting Mellon Writing Fellows
  • Open search no inside or guaranteed lines
  • Three- to five-year contracts, with competitive
    salary and benefits
  • Excellent teaching conditions (60 students per
  • Strong support for development of fellows as
    scholars and teachers
  • Multidisciplinary faculty for university-wide

Writing Fellows as Colleagues
  • Fellows design own versions of Writing 20 in
    accordance with program goals
  • Fellows are renewed on basis of Teaching
    Portfolio that they construct to represent
    intellectual work as teachers
  • Fellows participate as full voting members at
    faculty meetings and on program committees
  • By-laws
  • Curriculum
  • Policies and Procedures
  • Search (5/7 members are Fellows)

The Writing Program as Multidisciplinary Site
  • Fellows have held PhDs in African American
    Studies, Anthropology, Architecture, Biology,
    Communications, Cultural Studies, Economics,
    Education, Engineering, Epidemiology, Forestry,
    Genetics, History, Human Environments,
    Linguistics, Literature, Philosophy, Political
    Science, Psychology, Queer Studies, Religion,
    Rhetoric, Science Communications, Sociology,
    Theology, and Womens Studies.
  • Common focus on academic writing as practice
    centering on close and responsive work with

Supporting New Teachers
  • Summer Seminar in Teaching Writing
  • Three-week August seminar for all first-year
    fellows focus on writing course materials and
    responding towards revision
  • Mellon Symposia
  • Series of events organized and led by Mellon
    Fellows addressing issues in teaching and
  • Mentors and Class Visits
  • First-year fellows are paired with more
    experienced fellows and required both to observe
    classes of senior faculty or fellows and to have
    own classes observed by senior colleagues
  • Hallway conversations

Teaching Portfolios
  • Fellows are offered initial three-year contract,
    renewable for additional two years on basis of
    Second-Year Review of Teaching Portfolios
  • Portfolios must include
  • Narrative overview of work and growth as teacher
  • Course materials (syllabi, assignments, handouts,
  • Student writings with teacher comments
  • Peer observations of teaching
  • Student evaluations of teaching

Program Assessment
  • Ongoing review of student course evaluations.
    Writing 20 consistently ranked as superior in
  • Overall quality of instruction
  • Hours of work outside of class per week
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Text-based, program-wide, comparison of
    early-and-late student essays showed overall
    gains in their abilities to criticize as well as
    restate work of other writers
  • Review of writing portfolios of minority students
    and athletes in process
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