Faculty members discuss ‘good’ student writing

By on March 1, 2006

Soup, sandwiches and salad were served for about 30 faculty members on Thursday, Feb. 23 as they listened in on a workshop aimed to discuss “What makes Student Writing Good?”

In attendance were several faculty members from various different fields, including law, science, English, business, and sociology departments.

Robert Smart, English professor and director of the writing and Irish Studies programs, Suzanne Hudd, assistant professor of sociology/criminal justice, Andy Delohery, director of the learning center, and Sean Duffy, associate professor of political science, led the discussion of this particular workshop.

As Smart introduced members to the tasks they were going to participate in, he outlined why they were all present at the workshop. They were there to find out, “what is in a classroom to push students to get the writing that we want.”

Everyone in attendance listened and participated throughout the day. Some of the exercises utilized at the workshop included reading students past essays, analyzing which essay they thought to be better, and giving reasons as to why. Faculty also had to pair up in groups and discuss what was in their particular discipline that they were looking for in an essay to make it “good writing.”

Faculty offered their input. They suggested reasons for why one essay would be better than another. Some of the qualities of better student writing included a logical outline of ideas, personalizing the assignment, a clear and developed essay which responds to the assignment, and an essay that poses a question that warrants an argument.

Smart went on to say, “what we are looking for is not just that a student can give us back what they have learned in the reading, but also the manner of the arguments that they can produce.”

Students need to gain a basic understanding of the reading, but it does not stop there. A good piece of writing will be one in which they think critically and pose questions or ideas that are inspired by their own thoughts.

Professors are urged to help improve student’s writing skills by structuring the nature of assignments to activate the thinking process. Smart encouraged fellow staff to, “respond to student’s writing as readers, not editors.”

Students should be asked to think and rethink their ideas to make them better. Faculty can help this process by encouraging rough drafts. Students can rebuild them, along with linking assignments so students can see the importance of finishing one assignment before they can take on another.

“What we value in disciplinary writing is the depth of thinking that the student is able to produce,” Smart said.

Of course, every year professors and students try to find exactly what it is that makes a good paper. For next year’s incoming class of freshmen, a handbook will be produced for freshmen to purchase with examples of “good writing.” in which they should strive for throughout the year. The hope is that students will read these examples of “good writing,” know what is expected of them, and strive to do better in their classes.

Any faculty members with exemplary papers written by students can add them to the student handbook if they wish.


About Christina Stolfi