Suggested Writing Elements in WI Courses in GE

Writing intensive courses are a method of putting programmatic emphasis on student writing within a range of courses and providing support for student writing in those courses.  

According to EM 10-01, Pathways in the GE Program must designate enough general education courses WI that all students end up taking four during their GE coursework.  One of these will be a course in Foundations Area A2; another is the capstone or capstones for each Pathway.

The course elements and activities below are drawn from what research shows are the most common elements in effective Writing Intensive in colleges and universities nationwide.  Allowing for some variation due to course level, focus and other intentional structures, they represent what should be present in WI courses at Chico State.  In its review of courses proposed for WI status, GEAC/GEIT looked for most or all of the following:

  • Multiple drafts and revisions.  Guidelines in the syllabus should specify, how papers go through a complete revision process and how that process is managed by the teacher.  Guidelines may also indicate how drafts are read and responded to by the instructor, peers, and teaching assistants or readers.  At least some of these guidelines should make clear that feedback and revision involve more than pointing out and correcting surface errors (e.g. problems in spelling, grammar, and the like).
  • Chunking writing into manageable parts.  One or more writing assignments should be spread throughout the course in a sequence of related assignments rather than concentrated in a large term paper solely at the end.  As one WI course website puts it, "Students often benefit most when the work of the semester can be conceived as one project, phased in stages or logical sequences.  Moving through a logical sequence of assignments is one way to increase the level of conceptual difficulty gradually, and to ensure that students build on material they have studied in earlier portions of the syllabus."
  • Peer critique/editing and revision workshops.  Instructors should consider dedicating some class time to the exchange of student drafts and other forms of writing workshops.  Workshops teach students to critically analyze their own and others' writing, motivate substantial revision and active learning, build community, and model substitute for the focused, contextual commentary that a faculty member can provide, writing processes and assert more control over them.  See our page on setting up writing workshops for more information.
  • Writing instruction.  An effective WI course involves more than simply assigning and grading writing; students should receive writing instruction that provides lessons or discussions on developing paper topics, research techniques, strategies for giving feedback on drafts, and so on.  The syllabus should indicate in a general way the issues covered or activities students will engage in on the days when writing is taught.
  • Significant amounts of writing. This refers not to the number of words students write but to the role writing plays in supporting learning and also the relative weight of writing assignments in a course.  An effective WI course might include some combination of formal and informal writing, in-class and out-of-class writing, drafts, and journals; guidelines should also specify the number and length of formal papers.  The course should also have made written work a significant percentage of the final course grade.  A total of 40-50% of the grade devoted to writing is good; 20% is likely too low.
  • A variety of genres or kinds of writing.  The syllabus for a WI course should specify how writing engages students in a variety of particular tasks, e.g., summarizing a complex problem, analyzing data, integrating sources.  Assignments may ask students to do a variety of things: discuss ethical issues of the discipline, expose students to a disciplinary problem to be solved or a question on which experts disagree, or something else. Clarify these things for students: help them see the purpose for the assignment along with the audience to whom students are writing and the genre (or formal) conventions it should follow.  The syllabus should contain explanations of audience, purpose, and genre for all writing assignments.
  • Low-stakes, reflective or "Writing to Learn" activities.  "Writing to learn" activities are short, informal writing tasks that help students think through key concepts or ideas presented in a course.  Often, these writing tasks are limited to less than five minutes of class time or are assigned as brief, out-of-classes assignments.  They may be collected and graded/ungraded, shared with a a peer, or for the writer's eyes only.  Guidelines should indicate how much these assignments are worth, when they're due, and how they are evaluated.
  • Writing integrated with course content.  This is the strategy of the "embedded assignment" developed by Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Anderson in Effective Grading (see also Walvoord's Assessment Clear and Simple). In this approach, the instructor either takes an assignment already embedded in a course and revises it to include writing or creates a new writing assignment to assess student performance.  In both cases the writing is clearly not an add-on but is central to the course-it helps shape conversation about core issues and questions and encourages students to engage them directly in their writing.

In addition, guidelines and syllabus descriptions may recommend that students seek tutoring in the Student Learning Center.

Other Resources About WI Courses

Bazeman, Charles, Joseph Little, Lisa Bethel, Teri Chavkin, Danielle Fouquette, and Janet Garufis.  Reference Guide to Writing Across the Curriculum.  West Lafayette, Indiana: Parlor Press, 2005.

Farris, Christine, and Raymond Smith.  "Writing intensive courses: Tools for curricular change." In S. McLeod & M. Soven (Eds.), Writing across the curriculum: A guide to developing programs (pp. 53-62). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1992.

Townsend, Martha.  "Writing intensive courses and WAC." In McCleod et al. (Eds.), WAC for the new millennium (pp. 233-258). Urbana IL: NCTE, 2001.

Walvoord, Barbara E. Assessment Clear and Simple: A Practical Guide for Institutions, Departments, and General Education.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004.

Walvoord, Barbara E. and Virginia Johnson Anderson.  Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 1998.

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