CRAFTING A WORKSHOP FOR WORDS
English majors in the Moravian College writing track aren't finished with their work when the writing's over. Junior-year writing students are required to submit a portfolio drawn from their English classes (and, optionally, other upper-level courses), as a way of showcasing their strongest work and demonstrating an ability to write in multiple genres. And that means giving past assignments new attention. "I describe it in three words: collection, selection, reflection," says writing advisor Joel Wingard, professor of English. "The students select their best work, which gives them a chance to think about what to choose and what to leave out," he says. "And because the portfolio requires them comment on their work, they have to think differently about their own writing than they did while they were immersed in it." He finds the process so useful that he has his freshman Writing 100 students compile portfolios from their work in that course. "Some first-year students don't understand that kind of reflection at first, but I find they come to understand it over time," professor Wingard notes.
The portfolios help foster an atmosphere in which students focus on learning to write, instead of plowing through one discreet writing assignment after another. "The emphasis in on the process of writing, rather than the product," says professor Wingard. "Students have a chance to work on writing projects through multiple drafts and get feedback from peers. The teacher is involved all along the way, instead of just giving the assignments and collecting the papers." This process model, which began to take hold in the 1980s, has changed the way writing classes work, says professor Wingard. "It creates a workshop classroom, which puts grades in a different light. Not every assignment is done just for the grade, and even when a project is finished it might be revised again." College-level writing classes may soon experience another wave of changes with the advent of electronic writing portfolios. "They allow us to recognize the presence of non-print media," says professor Wingard." With information gleaned at the Council of Writing Program Administrators conference earlier this summer, he hopes to bring electronic portfolios to Moravian soon. "It's complicated and challenging," he notes; "I was surprised to learn that there isn't software or web space already out there to enable electronic portfolios quickly and easily."
Also discussed at the CWPA conference was the National Conversation on Writing, an attempt to engage the general public in a discussion on how and why people write. The initiative is meant to encourage a deeper look at literacy, beyond the alarmist "Johnny Can't Read" headlines often propagated in the media. The CWPA is encouraging its members to conduct videotaped interviews with people from all walks of life about the writing they do. Professor Wingard, who sits on the steering committee of the Network for Media Action that directs the project, hopes to conduct interviews in Bethlehem during Celtic Fest this fall. "It seems like a good way to get to talk to a variety of people," he notes, adding, "Writing isn't just a school thing, or a commercial thing, or a high art thing. It's those things, but it's all kinds of other things too. And one purpose of the project is to smooth over that divide between academic writing and the rest of the world."