ECLP Faculty Seminars: Put It in Writing
Why is something written? To be read. For whom is it written? The reader. How is it written? So the reader can, and will, read it.
Jan Gabrielson, adjunct faculty, Negotiation, Conflict Resolution, and Peacebuilding Masters Program, echoes these sentiments after attending a workshop in May presented by the Enhancing Critical Literacy Project (ECLP).
“My goal is to teach my students to write clearly and effectively, to anticipate what the reader wants and needs, and to write so the reader will want to keep reading and benefit from what my students have written,” he states.
ECLP, a five-year grant, is in its third year, focusing on the reading, writing, and critical thinking skills of CSUDH students through programs such as the Center for Learning and Academic Support Services (CLASS). Part of the Title V grant’s mission is also to teach the faculty how to help their students realize their potential in these areas, whether their coursework is literature or physics.
“By 2008, the university will have a new writing requirement for graduation and every student will have to take two writing intensive courses,” states Linda Pomerantz-Zhang, director, ECLP and emeritus professor of history. “The grant is designed to help faculty develop the courses and also develop the strategies to be able to teach them.”
A 15-week class is offered every spring for faculty members, focusing each year on a particular department or curriculum. By the end of the course, faculty will develop syllabi for two writing intensive courses in their field, one of which will be piloted the following year. The hope is to create a bank of classes to be offered later for students to fulfill their writing requirements. Other aspects of a well-rounded education are addressed by a program in conjunction with the Center for Teaching and Learning and Community Service Learning with a seven-week course open to all faculty in the fall.
“That will emphasize not only more writing opportunities, reading and critical thinking, but also student engagement,” says Pomerantz-Zhang. “There will be material about working in teams, service learning opportunities for students, and helping students use Internet services appropriately to evaluate good sources from weaker or biased sources.”
“Students need to know what kind of writing standards and genres they will need in their chosen discipline or professional occupation,” emphasizes Pomerantz-Zhang. “There will be certain types of writing they will have to master in their fields. The basic idea of the grant is a concerted effort to increase the students’ opportunities for writing in their undergraduate education,” she notes.
Carole Shea, director, School of Nursing, underscores the importance of critical literacy skills for students in the medical field.
“We stress that nursing students must demonstrate critical thinking and the skills of analysis and synthesis,” she notes. “These are essential in communicating clearly and effectively in scholarly journals and other types of professional communications. Our students are working full-time as registered nurses and are so used to writing with medical jargon at work that they sometimes forget to write their papers using a formal scholarly style. They need to brush up on the rules of grammar, composition and writing style appropriate for writing as a professional nurse.”
“In the fall of 2003, we had a budget problem, so we weren’t able to specify any of the classes as writing intensive courses in which you could limit the number of students enrolled,” says Annie Watanabe-Rocco, project coordinator, ECLP. Most of the faculty chose not to try using those techniques because it required a lot more work and they couldn’t do it with classes with 65 students. But some did.”
Many faculty and instructors are already implementing ways to upgrade their students’ skills in class. Barrington Hunt, lecturer, Division of Health Services, puts students through their paces when giving assignments in his class.
“I offer students many opportunities to write in several formats and styles with reports, essays, position papers, online discussion groups and storytelling,” says Hunt. “I also encourage them to share their work and receive comments from fellow students in teams. Lots of writing and feedback from faculty, students and CLASS workshops will help them move to the next level.”
A lean budget also plays a role in the survival of ECLP, as Caron Mellblom, director, CLASS, emphasizes.
“Title V monies are seen as seed money,” she says. “With each year of the project, you receive a little bit less funding with the understanding from the federal government that they gave you this money to get the project off the ground. It’s up to the institution that accepts the money to institutionalize the goals of the project. We have to come up with a strategy to do that and to maintain the improvements that we made in tutoring.”
Some of these improvements have included hiring more tutors in response to students’ availability needs, upgrading and purchasing new equipment and being able to take up a whole building in the Small College Complex to accommodate these additions to CLASS’s services.
“A very important part of it is that students need the support structures to help them improve their writing to meet the new expectations,” says Pomerantz-Zhang. “Last semester, we offered more than 60 workshops on different aspects of the writing process and some related to critical thinking, reading and study skills. These workshops will become a regular part of the offerings that CLASS provides for the university.”
As a Title V Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), CSUDH serves an undergraduate student body that is more than 25 percent Hispanic or Latino in origin, 50 percent of whom are considered low income. A major concern for many faculty is the large number of English as a Second Language (ESL) learners whose difficulties with reading and writing have been largely ignored in their secondary education.
“Next year, we’re going to ask our faculty who specialize in teaching English as a second language to organize a workshop that would be a help to all of us,” says Pomerantz-Zhang. “There may be strategies that we can employ in our classes in general that will help students for whom English is not their first language.”
The ECLP grant was authored by Lyle E. Smith, former professor of English, in 2002. He served as its project director until his retirement in 2004, at which point Pomerantz-Zhang took the helm.
“The basic proposal was based on research in the field of writing,” she recalls. “The research shows that students need many opportunities to write and to receive feedback on their writing. Writing is one of the important skills and it depends upon reading. All we can do is try to concretely show students the ways these skills are important in their particular fields of interest. We can try to indicate to them why learning effective written and oral communication, and things like learning how to function in groups in a multicultural setting, why these are basic skills that are important to be successful in life.”
Photo above, L to R: Margaret (Dee) Parker, coordinator , Human Services Program,and Susan Roberts, assistant professor of nursing, College of Health and Human Services.