Divergent Assessments of Writing Proficiency

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For the past twenty years, a consistent concern of faculty is the limited writing proficiency of incoming students.  Sometimes we relate this to the perceived lack of writing training in high schools.  More recently, we surmise that the way students communicate through social media with acronyms, abbreviated words and short statements limits their ability to write sentences and paragraphs.

Colleges like AMC address this concern in multiple ways.  Writing is central to the Colleges summer bridge program which is offered to incoming freshmen.  Most freshmen take a writing course in their first semester.  The Success Center provides multiple opportunities and resources to assist students with their overall writing skills and their specific assignments in their classes.  The good news is that we see the results of these efforts in the increased writing proficiency of our students throughout their undergraduate experience.

With this as the context, I was interested in a recent article regarding the self-assessment by freshmen of their writing skills.  While described as an impressionistic picture of the views of incoming students rather than a formal or scientific study, the results were surprising to me.  This may explain why some freshmen resist the multiple offers of assistance to improve their writing until they receive repeated feedback from their instructors.

The Conference on College Composition and Communications, the Two-Year College English Association, and the Council of Writing Program Administrators collaboratively organized conversations between students and faculty members on a number of campuses.  The results reflect information generated last Fall from 63 professors teaching 2,200 students.

A vast majority of the students who participated in these conversations believe that they arrive on campus with college-level writing skills fully formed.    They also state that they write about 25 hours per week.  They define their writing time as being related to their coursework and not primarily texting or other social media activities.

This self-reported assessment is consistent with the findings from the CIRP Survey which I wrote about a few weeks ago.  In that national Freshmen Survey, only about 15% of the respondents thought they would need tutoring in writing and over half thought that their writing skills were above average as they entered college.

Even those faculty who believe students are relatively proficient in their writing when they begin their college education, raised concerns about the meaning of writing proficiency.  What was clear from these responses is that most students view writing as a performance rather than a process.  If they can earn a satisfactory grade, they can write.

Those who teach college-level writing see writing as a process through which students develop a number of skills (e.g., creativity, flexibility, persistence, metacognition) as well as the ability to write in different ways for different audiences.  Most faculty view writing as developmental where improvement is continuous without necessarily reaching mastery.  We can all improve our writing even bloggers.

Our responsibility is to do our best to insure that graduates have both the ability and appreciation for critical thinking, analysis and writing. Whether they come to us more or less proficient, the key is that they graduate ready to use these abilities and open to continuous improvement.

 

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Thursday, 24 July 2014