In structuring Curriculum 2000, our faculty recognized that Duke undergraduates would benefit from writing practice and instruction beyond Writing 101, and that this work should be guided by instructors across Trinity College, since they are the most knowledgeable about writing practices in their fields. But while the curriculum mandates that students take at least two officially coded ‘W’ courses, students also have significant writing assignments in many other courses. Whether you want to help students improve as writers or just get students to produce writing that better meets your expectations, one of the most powerful moves you can make is to become familiar with the goals and practices of Writing 101 and then to communicate to your students that (1) you care about the quality of their writing, (2) you are familiar with the goals and practices of Writing 101, and (3) you expect them to draw on what they learned in that class. If you connect your writing assignments explicitly with the ideas and vocabulary of Writing 101, you can help students transfer what they learned in Writing 101 to your course. And reinforcement in your class can help our students internalize these ideas and practices for their lives beyond Duke:
Drafting and Revising
Students who have completed Writing 101 should have a working understanding of what it means to work in drafts—sketching out ideas or making notes, composing a thoughtful first draft, and then revising that draft in substantial ways. Even so, they will need explicit guidance if you want them to continue these practices in your class. Student work tends to be better when assignments include explicit drafting phases; establishing intermediate deadlines not only helps students to improve their writing but provides them an opportunity to rethink the content as well—a powerful way to help students refine their understanding of course concepts.
In Writing 101 we differentiate between revising—making substantive changes in content, organization and strategy, and editing—polishing language and correcting errors in a final draft. Both practices are important, but heavy editing of early drafts may reduce the likelihood of further substantial revision. Writing 101 instructors generally encourage students to postpone extensive editing work until nearing a final draft. If a draft is simply unreadable, we will likely return it to the student for rewriting.
Whether or not your course carries an official “W” designation, students can get useful feedback by reading and discussing each other’s works-in-progress. Students who have completed Writing 101 should be reasonably comfortable and experienced in discussing their writing in this way. Whether or not you have experience directing such work, consider drawing on your students’ knowledge to help organize workshopping sessions, including when and how to exchange drafts and to choose a format for response. Feel free to consult the WID program for advice in organizing workshops for your particular class. We are also happy to come to your class to co-direct a workshopping session.
Giving and receiving feedback is central to every Writing 101 course. We call such feedback—which is constructive rather than evaluative—response. Instructors both respond to student writing and ask students to respond to one another’s work, either orally or in writing. And we use the term response to distinguish an instructor’s formative comments—intended to help a student with the current project or the next one—from grading comments—the explained evaluation of a student’s work. Students can respond to one another’s work in pairs, small groups, or as a class. Student response can be communicated in a workshop (see above), in out-of-class meetings, or on-line (using Blackboard, for example). We often respond (and encourage our students to respond) by sharing our experience as a reader: Where do we stumble or lose the line of reasoning? Which parts do we find compelling and which not? Where are we satisfied and where were we hoping for more?
For More Guidance
If you teach a course that works with student writing, we encourage you to draw on these ideas for your class. If you would like to discuss how this might be done for your class, or to schedule a “Building on Writing 101” workshop for your department, contact Cary Moskovitz.