Phone: 616-331-8655
vandkrys@gvsu.edu

Brooks College Dean's Office
224 Lake Ontario Hall
Allendale, MI 49401
SWS Faculty Frequently Asked Questions

Why SWS?
What do students expect of an SWS course?
I'm not a writing teacher.  How can I use writing in my classroom?
What is "writing-to-learn?"
What role does mechanical correctness play?
What types of writing assignments are best?
What criteria should be used to grade writing in SWS courses?
How should I respond to student writing?
Why is revision required in SWS courses?
How can I get students to take revision seriously?
Can peer revision actually work?
How can I make the best use of the required four hours of writing instruction?
Do writing exams count toward the required 3000 words?
How can the Writing Center assist with my SWS class?
Where can faculty go for help?



Why SWS?
GVSU students are required to pass 2 SWS courses, typically one in their major and one in general education. The purpose of the requirement is to insure that students master writing conventions of their own disciplines. GVSU's writing-rich curriculum is intended to teach students both to distinguish writing conventions and expectations in their major field from those in other fields while still recognizing that all writing depends on communicating purposefully with an audience.

What do students expect of an SWS course?
Who really knows what students expect? Faculty are the last to know. We can only surmise what their expectations might be. Some students come to SWS classes expecting more writing assignments; others expect more help with their writing. Some are completely oblivious of the fact the class is SWS. There's no knowing ahead of time. Ask your students, that will give you a better idea of their expectations than any FAQ. And remember that how you describe the course, in your syllabus and in your first comments to the class, will have more to do with student expectations in the class than any preconceived notions they bring with them.

I'm not a writing teacher.  How can I use writing in my classroom?
Both the Writing Across the Curriculum and the Writing to Learn movements have encouraged using writing as a tool to help students master a discipline. Many genres or types of assignments can be useful for this task. Writing in the content classroom can take the form of a report that is specific to the discipline or a piece of writing such as a response journal or log to check students' understanding of a lecture, discussion or reading. Writing should be thought of as a way to assist students' thinking and understanding of concepts and problems in a discipline, rather than as just finished projects to be graded.

What is "writing-to-learn?"
Writing-to-learn emphasizes writing more as a way for students to learn rather than a way for instructors to assess students. Non-graded writing assignments which encourage students to think through the key concepts or ideas presented in a course are often referred to as writing-to-learn. The primary function of writing to learn is not polished communication but a tool for exploring, shaping meaning, and reaching understanding.

What role does mechanical correctness play?
Proofreading and editing differ from revision or construction of meaning, and are more appropriately addressed after the clarity and content of a piece of writing has been developed. That is, slips in punctuation, spelling, or agreement of nouns and verbs may not even be noticed by readers engaged in an essay written with meaningful, challenging content and purposeful structure. On the other hand, numerous errors can interfere with reading, and these problems somehow appear more numerous, even maddening, when we read carelessly organized papers. Tell students that the reason to avoid mistakes in spelling, punctuation, and grammar is that it gets in the way of understanding their message. How can you show this? Usually, students are quick to spot others' mistakes, so display a paragraph with numerous non-standard forms and ask students for their comments. They should be able to reason back from this to the importance of editing their own written work in its final draft.

What types of writing assignments are best?
It depends on the faculty's purpose for each particular assignment. If the purpose of the writing is to check students' understanding of material, then a simple response to a question or text which can be read quickly without concern for the mechanics and grammar is appropriate. When a faculty member wants students to approximate formal writing done in a field, then an assignment which provides examples of that type of writing, asks students to write something similar, includes ample time for multiple drafts, and gives opportunities for feedback during the writing process is appropriate. Faculty need to consider purpose, decide on a response method and then develop materials (sample papers, response rubrics, grading criteria) appropriate to that assignment. Possible writing assignments include: argument or opinion papers, case studies, reviews, annotated bibliographies, lab reports, scientific papers, explications, screen plays, dialogues, poems, etc. Resources are available through the SWS director.

What criteria should be used to grade writing in SWS classes?
Criteria should fit our individual assignments and serve our pedagogical goals. Criteria, like many writing conventions, are discipline-specific:  what's appropriate or emphasized in one field is not equally valued in other disciplines. If you're looking for an example, check out the writing criteria used in the required first year writing course, WRT 150 (formerly ENG 150), available at the following website: <www.gvsu.edu/writing>. Other examples can be obtained from the SWS director. Whatever criteria you use, remember to make them available to your students. Involving students in a discussion of the reasons for various criteria is one good way of assuring that they understand the criteria for your assignments. (It's possible that criteria for one assignment in a course may be very different from criteria for another assignment because of the type of writing and the purpose.)

How should I respond to student writing?
Responding to student writing can take several forms. Which you choose should be determined, in part, by the goal of a writing assignment. Not all writing requires grading or marking papers. Writing can be used to check understanding and, thus, brief comments about what a student has or has not understood might be worth adding. Some writing can be responded to orally in conferences with students or by using the writing to begin discussions in class. Drafts of papers can be commented on by the instructor or by peer response groups. Regardless of whether instructors or peers respond, check sheets or rubrics may be devised as an aid for responding to certain parts of the writing assignment. If such guidelines are available before an assignment is written, they can help student writers understand how various writing elements will be assessed: organization, particular elements, style, grammar and mechanics. There are several books available to assist with ideas about grading and responding to writing available in the SWS/FTLC library in LOH and in the campus libraries in Allendale and Grand Rapids.

Why is revision required in SWS classes?
Because revision is the primary method by which students learn how to improve their writing. Few writers compose final, polished drafts on the first try; most of us draft and redraft, over and over, until we "get it right." Students need to be taught to do the same, to develop a writing process, which enables them, through a succession of drafts to develop more thoughtful and better-written texts.

How can I get students to take revision seriously?
Make revision part of your course outline, syllabus, and assignment sheets. Allow time for revisions to be submitted; devise a grading system that rewards revision. Explain how you and other professionals revise your writing; show examples of marked-up texts. Define revision as different from correction and demonstrate that difference to the class. The list below suggests what thorough revision might entail:

  • globally reconsidering purpose and content of early drafts 
  • fitting style and content to intended audience 
  • rewriting ineffective sections 
  • reorganizing poorly arranged paragraphs 
  • adding new material, especially details or examples 
  • deleting unnecessary or redundant material 
  • clarifying meaning.

Can peer revision actually work?
Students can be taught to respond effectively to one another's papers. In fact, understanding criteria for an assignment and learning to be critical about texts are important dimensions of becoming a successful thinker and writer. To facilitate serious and thorough efforts:

  • model responses to a paper 
  • provide limited specific questions about the content and writing to consider
  • encourage positive yet critical feedback 
  • have students read more than one paper before responding to give them a broader context 
  • find ways for the writer to take responsibility in seeking feedback.

The more peer review is done, the better students become at it. It's possible to ask the Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors to provide consultants to facilitate small group peer feedback. Please email the request to Ellen Schendel at schendee@gvsu.edu at least two weeks in advance with the details: class size, location, day, time, assignment, any response rubrics being used, and a sense of where the students will be in the process.

How can I best make use of the required four hours of writing instruction?
By writing instruction we do not mean grammar and punctuation drills. Nor do we mean lecture, which is the least effective method of writing instruction. Instead we suggest having students engage in any of the following activities: discussing evaluation criteria, generating questions about the assignment, analyzing sample papers, reading peers' papers or sharing drafts in small groups, critiquing peers' writing. Another strategy is to present drafts of your own writing and answer student questions about your process and/or the process of professional publication.

Do writing essay exams count toward the required 3000 words?
Yes, essay exams can count toward the total word count, as the ability to express one's thoughts in a concise and correct manner is an important writing skill. However, the main emphasis of the 3000 word count in SWS courses is writing which is revised and polished through a series of drafts.

How can the Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors assist with my SWS class?
The walk-in centers on all three campuses are available for your students' use. Trained writing consultants can help your students at any stage of the process: brainstorming, drafting, revising, and editing. The feedback provided is an especially good resource during the revision process. In addition to walk-ins, the Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors can send a consultant to introduce your class to the Center and its services or schedule a group of consultants to facilitate peer group responses to written drafts. The director of the Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors can offer consultation on assignment design and ways of providing feedback. Writing Center information for faculty can be found at <www.gvsu.edu/wc>.

Where can faculty go for help?
There are a number of resources available to faculty teaching SWS courses at GVSU. Faculty can go to the SWS web site for current information and helpful tips. Members of the SWS committee may be contacted for assistance. Their email addresses are on our homepage. The staff at GVSU's Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors are also available for further help. In addition, the Faculty Teaching and Learning Center/SWS library, in LOH, and Zumberge or Steelcase libraries provide many useful resources. Finally, faculty could seek help within their own department from their unit head, syllabi of other SWS courses, and colleagues with experience in SWS courses.

  Last Modified Date: April 16, 2014
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