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Overview of Willamette Promise

If you’re new to Willamette Promise, then this is the place to start. We’ll cover everything you need to know, like writing proficiency, the difference between high school and college-level writing, and your responsibilities as a WP teacher.

Q: What is College-Level Writing?

A: Howard Tinberg, coeditor of What is College-Level Writing?, reminds us that while it seems like it should be easy to define college-level writing, it’s more complicated than we realize. He asks, “What characterizes effective college writing—probing, critical thinking or surface-level competency? What forms or genres of writing are appropriately taught in college? Should essay writing be the centerpiece? Should students be able to write scholarly articles in their chosen fields?” Part of the problem is that we don’t always agree on the answers.

These are all important questions and first-year writing programs are always evolving as they strive to provide better answers to them. Tinberg does, however, give us a list of attributes for good college-level writing.

  • A clear sense of purpose and audience
  • Genre knowledge (knowing what form one is writing in and the conventions required by the form)
  • Control over matters of grammar and mechanics to suit a particular rhetorical purpose and audience and genre
  • A depth of reflection and capability of expressing the implications of one’s subject

We invite you to read Patrick Sullivan and Howard Tinberg’s edited collection, What is College-Level Writing? It contains contributions from high school teachers, students transitioning from high school to college, and college administrators perspectives. Together, this collection will help introduce you to the conversation and illustrate the importance of programs like Willamette Promise that allow college faulty and high school instructors to have a conversation together about college-level writing.

Q: What are my responsibilities as a Willamette Promise teacher?

A: The first and most important thing is to familiarize yourself with our teaching guide. It contains everything you need to design an effective Willamette Promise course for WR 121 or WR 122. Below is an overview of your major tasks:

  • Distribute the writing surveys. The timing is important here. The first survey should be given to students prior to any initial reading of material; the final survey should be given to students once they have finished the final draft of their research paper.
  • Choose two of the reading topics to give to students
  • Model rhetorical reading strategies for your students and give them opportunities to practice
  • Determine the timeframe for the two on-demand essays
  • Read the on-demand essays without grading them but do give students feedback on their initial ideas, as students will choose one of these topics to move forward with as they develop their portfolio
  • Provide prompts for reflective writing throughout the process; this should be a regular part of your class, and the WP Sequence lists possible prompts that you can use at each stage of the process)
  • Provide opportunities for students to conduct research and get guidance
  • Model peer feedback and revision strategies for students and give them opportunities to practice
  • Provide feedback to students on drafts of their research paper using the formative rubric. You should do more than just circle categories on the rubric. You should also give students guiding feedback. Please don’t make writing decisions for students by telling them what they need to write or how they have to “fix” their papers. Instead, ask questions, explain why you are confused as a reader, make suggestions, but it’s important that students are in control of their papers and make choices themselves.
  • Provide instructions for the reflective letter and remind students of all the reflection they’ve done already that they can draw on to craft their letters.
  • Read and assess portfolios using the WP rubric
  • Determine level of proficiency evidence in student’s submitted work
  • Submit passing portfolios to WP; remember, that there are a number of minimum thresholds students need to meet like the required number of sources in the annotated bibliography and the length of the reflective letter. If students have not met these minimum thresholds, their portfolios should NOT be uploaded.
  • Cross-score a % of portfolios from other WP teachers

Q: What is writing proficiency?

A: We think of writing proficiency as an iceberg. It’s easy to point to the tip of the iceberg, the student’s polished pieces of writing, and use that to measure what they know. However, that perspective ignores the enormous amount of work that goes into those polished pieces of writing. Unseen, below the water, is all the work students did choosing a topic based on an in-class text, developing a research question, researching and evaluating sources, drafting and receiving peer feedback, revising and editing their writing, and reflecting frequently on their process. This work has a lot to tell us, too, about the growth of the student and the development of their polished pieces of writing.

Using a portfolio allows us to get a glimpse at some of this work, but some of it still remains invisible to the WOU faculty (although you get to see that work as the high school teacher). That’s why our partnership is so important, and why we value your assessment of the student portfolio.

Ultimately, our goal is to look at student portfolios and determine whether students have produced writing that clearly demonstrates that they have mastered the learning outcomes of WR 121 or WR 122.