An open letter regarding changes to the Writing One Program
For the past few months, Student Union Senate’s Academic Affairs Committee has been working with Dean Robert Wiltenburg and Ms. Doreen Salli to make improvements to the Writing 1 program. Before discussing the changes and recommendations, Student Union would like to thank Dean Wiltenburg and Ms. Salli for their time and work, and for including Senate in these discussions. Student Union believes that the Writing 1 program for the Class of 2016 and beyond will be markedly improved compared to years past, in part because the student voice was heard while the program was developed. Consult Student Union, and the University will be a better place for students; just ask Dean Wiltenburg or Ms. Salli how easy it was to work with SU.
The following recommendations and vision from Senate for the Writing 1 program combine input from SU senators, students and instructors of Writing 1, and keep in mind the goals of the Writing 1 program.
One of the biggest changes to look for this coming fall is the reduction of class size to 12 or fewer. By reducing the class size, instructors will be able to have more meaningful conversations about what students produce. Senators believe that there was too much variation in the quality of teaching and made it abundantly clear that the increase in the number of sections must be done without sacrificing the quality of instructors.
Another change that will be made is changing what literature students read for class. Most senators agreed that reading novels, analyzing them, and writing about them is a way to make the class more rigorous. In turn, students will develop more as writers. Many students enter Writing 1 unsure of what lies ahead, glance at the syllabus and realize the amount of time given to write one essay is particularly long. The low number of assignments results in students not writing their best and not continuously improving. The vast majority of senators also expressed deep concern with the current textbook. Specifically, when the book was used, if at all, it was used ineffectively. Using novels and scholarly articles about analysis techniques is more than sufficient for the course’s needs and would allow instructors to focus on something they are passionate about.
Additional recommendations from senators include making more themed sections, rethinking the lens essay, and adding creative or personal writing. Students seem to enjoy the sections that focus on a particular theme, for instance “Monsters in Literature.” These themed sections were better received by students because the instructors were especially passionate about the topic. Including more themed sections will allow for an improved classroom experience, because both the instructor and student are interested in the topic at hand. Furthermore, the lens essay is something that senators had mixed feelings about. This stemmed from the fact that instructors’ expectations for the lens essay were inconsistent. A more consistent expectation for the lens essay is necessary. Lastly, many senators felt that the addition of creative or personal writing would add value to the course. Beyond allowing students to explore other genres of writing, it would be a practical exercise for future medical school, graduate school and law school applicants and for the professional realm.
Student Union looks forward to seeing these changes implemented in the coming semester, and working with Ms. Salli to evaluate the success of the new program, including any minor adjustments that can be made for the future.
Matthew Re, vice president of administration & former chair of the academic affairs Senate committee