Learning & Teaching Writing
Fiction: Most student writers arrive at UCSC with limited writing skills.
Fact: Students arrive at UCSC having successfully navigated the genres required in high school, including five-paragraph essays, timed writing exams, and responding to the Personal Insight questions for the UC application. California students have been educated according to the Common Core State Standards, which at the high school level emphasize the basics of narrative, expository, and argument-driven writing. Incoming students are ready for support in developing argumentative, analytical, and research writing skills. (You might also be interested in understanding the history of complaining about student writing.)
Fiction: Writers improve on a steady, upward trajectory.
Fact: Student writers, like all writers, improve over time. But research has shown that when faced with new writing tasks, student writers tend to “regress,” with some (temporary) loss in skills they may have previously mastered.
Fiction: Writing assignments should only focus on academic genres, such as research papers.
Fact: Students can learn to write a diverse range of academic genres (including but not limited to research papers) by engaging a variety of writing tasks, including writing in non-academic genres and to non-academic audiences. Indeed, because doing so helps students develop rhetorical sensibilities that prepare them to write in a variety of genres and to multiple audiences, broad rhetorical practice is more useful than narrow preparation for academic genres they may or may not write in later courses.
Fiction: Responding to students’ writing means identifying and correcting errors in grammar and usage.
Fact: Responding to student writing should focus squarely on providing feedback on the skills being assessed, rather than only grammar and/or “errors.” For early drafts, formative feedback on writing is best, and research shows that effective feedback focuses on two to three issues and avoids excessive marginalia. With few exceptions, research indicates direct instruction in grammar does not yield marked improvements. A larger takeaway is that when formal writing is assigned, instructors should offers tools to help students be successful in the task of writing. For example, novice writers might also need assistance breaking a larger writing task into smaller steps. Most writers appreciate seeing samples of successful examples of the kind of text expected, accompanied, ideally, by a brief analysis that explains why and how these samples are successful.
Fiction: To improve as a writer, a large volume of writing must be completed.
Fact: Quality is more important than quantity in teaching writing; students should be encouraged to draft, revise, and reflect (often referred to as “process-based writing”). Students also benefit from meaningful writing communities and peer review. Research on college writing assignments across the curriculum also suggests more attention to designing effective assignments.
Facts & Fiction: Writing Program Courses
Fiction: Courses taken prior to Writing 2—Writing 25, 26, 1, and 1E—are remedial courses.
Fact: All courses taught by the Writing Program adhere to the principles of teaching postsecondary writing, and we offer no remedial courses. Students arrive at UCSC having had different and unequal opportunities as writers and users of academic English. Rather than thinking of some students as being “behind” or “ahead,” it’s more accurate to view students as taking different routes through our curriculum, with some students wanting or needing more time and support to meet university requirements. Through Directed Self-Placement, students determine where they need to start to be successful writers at UCSC.
Fiction: Most students at UCSC only take Writing 2.
Fact: At present, ~50% of UCSC students take Writing 1 and Writing 2. Some students “test out” of Writing 1 with SAT and ACT scores, and the current number of students taking Writing 1 and Writing 2 is slightly higher now that the University of California has made the SAT and ACT optional. Even with this increase, we are still out-of-step with the other UCs, as they require more than one writing course of all undergraduate students.
Fiction: After taking Writing 2 (or any undergraduate required writing courses), students are ready for all future writing assignments at the university.
Fact: Writing Program courses provide all students with what they need to successfully navigate the central writing tasks at the university (and are important to civic preparation). But the courses are not magic, nor can they teach the specific disciplinary genres required in the upper-division courses for each major (for more, see WAC scholarship).
Fiction: Students who are still acquiring English when admitted to UCSC will fully acquire academic English after taking required writing courses.
Fact: Those who are acquiring English while at the university bring many strengths, and the benefits of being multilingual are well-known. At the same time, learning English and acquiring academic English at the same time is challenging. There are linguistic realities that sometimes limit the ability to fully acquire certain language features.