We began by acknowledging that writing is a multi-phase process which includes (but is not limited to):
-Understanding and addressing the question/prompt
-Brainstorming with peers/group discussion
-Reading critically/researching the topic
-Evaluating sources as reliable (this can be particularly challenging if students are allowed to use internet sources)
Once we had evaluated the steps inherent in the writing process, we were able to identify some common pitfalls of writing that make the process difficult for students. These difficulties might include trouble with:
-Understanding the goal of the writing assignment
-Understanding writing as a multi-step process
-Being comfortable with jargon/vocabulary specific to the discipline
-Organization of the paper
-Staying on topic
-Command of the English language (particularly applicable to ESL students)
-Effectively researching/use of resources/using the library
-Being convinced that their writing and the topic is of importance
-Being aware of their writing style/voice
-Willingness to be flexible during drafting and re-drafting
-Ability to think logically and convey ideas in a logical manner
In order to effectively help students become better writers, it is important to acknowledge these pitfalls and address them individually, as separate skills and issues. As an example, in order to address the difficulty students might have with presenting their ideas with logical progression of thought, we suggested a group exercise one might use in their classroom.
The exercise involved deconstructing a short, well-written essay into individual paragraphs (or sentences) and asking the students to piece the essay back together. This will encourage them to consider the progression of thought followed by the author and help them think about thought progression in their own writing. The class could then discuss the activity: What was difficult about that exercise? What was helpful to think about while you were doing this exercise? What did the author of this essay do well? What did the author do poorly? How can we apply this to our own writing?
Useful links related to this discussion:
-http://lsc.ucdavis.edu/ (Academic Success Center)
-http://uwp.ucdavis.edu/ (University Writing Program)
-http://stenzel.ucdavis.edu/ (Professor John Stenzel's Home Page. Includes many useful links to other resources)
We welcome your comments and additions to this post!