Academic Writing Research
studying how to teach writing
Because communication is the foundation for society, it is essential that we foster literacy in our educational system. We should not define “literacy” as the reading and writing of words; instead, we should embrace a broad definition of literacy education.
Academic Writing Interests
- How can we implement and maintain “writing across the curriculum” (WAC) programs within our schools and universities?
- How should we adapt writing courses, both online and in traditional settings, for students with special needs?
- Why should we accept the current academic genres?
As a master's degree student at California State University, Fresno, I worked with my academic adviser to analyze papers submitted by students in a variety of courses, including history, music, and biology. What was clear to me is that though the students seemed to improve their writing within composition courses, these improvements did not always transfer to other courses.
One of the surprising findings was that instructors in other disciplines emphasized basic grammar and mechanics over critical thinking skills. As a result, students were hesitant to take risks in papers for these courses, concerned they would be penalized for any writing issues. This approach to grading student assignments might also explain why other disciplines view writing instruction with some suspicion: we are focused on thoughts, while other departments want us to address the most basic writing issues of our students.
How we work with other departments, including how we educate other disciplines about writing scholarship is of concern. We must explain what we emphasize in writing courses and why. Critical thinking skills should be valued throughout the university, not treated as equal to spelling skills. Ideally, students enter colleges and universities with basic skills, but we know that is often not the case.
Online courses hold a unique promise for students with special needs or facing challenging circumstances. The online space is often viewed as an accommodation for students with mobility issues or other physical impairments. I believe there are also situations when online courses might be an ideal alternative for students with cognitive challenges.
Autism Spectrum Disorders
and Language Arts Education
As a researcher and educator, I have a personal interest in students with developmental disorders, in particular autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Among the challenges for autistic students, ASDs affect language development and social skills. Writing is social, requiring both collaborative skills and empathy for the audience. I believe we can and must use technology to help students with autism express themselves. Effective self-advocacy and participation in the greater community both require a form of “composition literacy” that extends beyond traditional writing, as well.
Though we must explain to students that academic standards, such as the MLA and APA publication guides, serve to make cumulative research possible, our students also have a great deal to teach us about trends in multimedia composition. Why shouldn’t we embrace podcasts, videos, and interactive websites as new and valid forms of academic expression? Writing scholars often write of challenging tradition, yet we are as conservative as many other disciplines when it comes to the products produced in our classes.