First Year Reading Program adds writing assignment

| Staff Reporter

In an effort to improve the quality of First Year Reading Program (FYRP) discussions, new students had to complete a mandatory writing assignment about the First Year Reading book on Blackboard.

The program, which has been in place since 2003, typically consists of reading a selected book, followed by a discussion led by faculty during orientation. This year, in addition to requiring incoming students to read “Citizen: An American Lyric,” the FYRP mandated that students write a response of about 250 words to one of three questions on the text.

The written assignment was initially developed to function as a piece of the one-credit freshman identity literacy class, created on the recommendation of the now-defunct Mosaic Project, a temporary initiative to address issues of diversity at Washington University. Although the course is not currently required for all students as the Mosaic Project’s final report advised, FYRP organizers felt that all students could benefit from the writing assignment.

Jill Stratton, director of the FYRP and associate dean of undergraduate residential learning, said that one of the goals of the new process was to increase the rigor of the summer assignment.

“We thought that we could add something intentionally to have them reflect before they got here,” Stratton said.

Stratton said the idea was also supported by discussion leaders, facilitators and upperclassmen.

Stratton explained that the idea to have the written response is in part connected with the piloting of the new one-credit identity literacy class, which Stratton is co-chairing. According to Stratton, only a subset of the freshman class is taking the class this year, though they are hoping to expand it in the future.

The assignment was originally inspired by the identity literacy class, according to Stratton, but after considering that all students had something to gain from a short reflection, they expanded its reach to the entire freshman class.

“We think this is advantageous to their learning,” Stratton said.

Stratton and her committee are working on a follow up assessment of feedback from everyone involved in the discussion.

“Anecdotally, I’ve talked to lots of faculty who have facilitated and they’ve said these have been some of the best discussions they’ve had, and they’ve been doing it for 10-plus years,” Stratton said, although she noted it’s unclear whether the assignment sparked better conversation or if the content itself was particularly relevant.

Freshmen had varying views on the assignment.

“I think it was an incentive to make them read the book regardless of whether they talked in discussion,” freshman Allie Hough said.

Freshman Thomas Kelly said, “To be honest, I just wrote to the word count and didn’t think much about it.”