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CLeaR Fellows 2017 – Dr Rosemary Wette

Common core and discipline-specific elements of proficient student writing in Arts

Dr Rosemary WetteWriting is indeed “everywhere”. Assessment for academic credit almost invariably involves some kind of written output, and the ability to write effectively is therefore essential for all mother-tongue (L1) and multi-lingual (L2) students. However, written academic discourses are complex, a high level of accuracy and skill are required, and shortcomings in students’ written texts are all too clearly visible to readers. As a result of the internationalisation of education to recruit L2 students, and equity initiatives to admit “non-traditional” L1 students, the university population has become increasingly diverse. As a result, there is a compelling need for the University to have a better understanding of what kinds of instruction and support will meet a broad range of academic literacy needs for students at differing levels of proficiency.

To date, the policy responses have tended to emphasise deficiency, remediation and English language issues; however, this overlooks the real challenges faced by incoming L1 and L2 students. Learning to write in the academy involves more than improving the quality of written products. Students need an awareness of the reading, thinking and composing processes they will draw on in order to comprehend, synthesise and transform specific information to create particular types of written outputs. They also need to understand that the texts they read and write are based on complex sets of discourses, identities, and values that vary quite markedly according to discipline, context and genre (Nesi & Garner, 2012). Some students may struggle to learn new (English) language at university, but all need to learn a new use of language, or academic discourse. While all students need to write accurately, thoughtfully, and critically, there are important differences between genres produced in difference disciplines, notably between arts and science subjects.

This project aims to develop and pilot on-line, self-study materials aligned with the requirements of undergraduate assignments in Arts, and the needs of Year 2-3 writers. It aims to contribute to the development of graduate capabilities: primarily the theme of communication and engagement, but also the abilities of critical thinking and solution seeking. Its starting point is a belief that academic literacies support needs to be closely connected with disciplinary objectives, content, and assessment practices. It is hoped that the project will raise staff and student awareness that academic writing is not just a question of English proficiency or developing technical writing abilities, but that all undergraduate students need to learn a new use of language, and to write in ways that are valued by their disciplines.

The main stages of the project will be: (1) analysis of high- and low-scoring student texts in sample courses in History, Language Teaching, and Asian Studies; (2) interviews with staff from these areas about assignment task requirements and assessment criteria, capability expectations with regard to Year 2-3 students, and specific student academic literacy needs; (3) development of pilot materials; (4) trialing with sample tutorial groups from History (also Language Teaching and Asian Studies) (Sem. 1 & 2); (5) revision of pilot materials and creation of on-line materials to be made available to Arts students through CourseBuilder or Canvas (Sem.2); (6) trialing of on-line materials, with feedback from student evaluations of the usefulness of the materials.

Nesi, H., & Gardner, S. (2012). Genres across the disciplines: Student writing in higher education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.