Writing Fellows Program
the connors family learning center
Many faculty members, from all disciplines, would like to focus more attention on student writing in their courses. A Writing Fellows Program pairs interested faculty with students who are trained to respond to writing and to work with students. In a “fellowed” course, the faculty member assigns a sequence of typically three papers spread throughout the semester, with scheduled due dates for drafts and final versions. Students must hand in drafts of their papers and meet individually with their writing fellow, who offers feedback for revision before the final due date. When students hand in their final version, they also include the earlier drafts and comments from the writing fellow.
Throughout the year, the writing fellows attend a weekly seminar during which time they receive training in responding to student writing and the rhetorical expectations of the specific discipline; they also meet periodically with the partnering faculty to discuss their expectations for the writing assignments as well as questions or concerns arising from the drafts.
Why a Writing Fellows Program?
This initiative responds to a broadly perceived need among administrators, faculty and students to make writing more central to all fields of study in higher education. It allows a greater attention to writing instruction without costly modifications to the curriculum through a Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) or Writing in the Disciplines (WID) program.
History of Writing Fellows at Boston College
The idea for the BC Writing Fellows Program began at a meeting of the BC Core Curriculum Committee in 2003. Dr. Paul Gray (Sociology) asked how he might better teach writing in a core sociology course of 60 students. Dr. Paula Mathieu (English) briefly described the Writing Fellows concept as one used at other universities that might work here. Dean Joseph Quinn followed up that meeting by encouraging Mathieu to apply for a Teaching Advising and Mentoring (TAM) Grant to develop a pilot for such a program.
2004-5, Mathieu formed a Writing Fellows Team, in cooperation with the Connors Family Learning Center (directed by Suzanne Barrett), to create a pilot Writing Fellows Program. The pilot focused on partnering with Dr. Gray’s Comparative Social Change, a core Sociology course with 60 students. Four Writing Fellows, incoming English MA students, received training in reading and responding to student writing, sat in on Dr. Gray’s course, and met regularly with the Writing Fellows Team to discuss better ways to serve the students. The WF Team followed up the pilot with visits to two large, successful Writing Fellows Programs, at Brown and Tufts Universities, and assessed the value of the one-course pilot.
2005-6, supported by a second year of TAM funding, a slightly revised Writing Fellows pilot worked in three new disciplines: History, Political Science and Geology. In the Year-Two pilot, all “fellowed” courses included at least three writing assignments, sequenced throughout the semester, which allowed for more discussion of writing and revision spread throughout the term. Writing Fellows no longer sat in on the “fellowed” course, but instead attended a weekly seminar in writing pedagogy, run by Mathieu, and Dr. Suzanne Barrett. The cooperating faculty members periodically attended this seminar, during which time they worked with the WF Team to improve their assignment handouts and clearly delineate their writing expectations to the Fellows.
2006-2007, the Writing Fellow Initiative received a third year of pilot-level funding from the College of Arts and Sciences, and partnered with two new courses in the fall: Perspectives (a year-long core course) and World Music. In the spring, we continued with the Perspectives course and partner once again with a Geology/Geophysics course, to test what a second semester of Writing Fellows contributes to a faculty member.
Results and Feedback on the Program
While all of our research is necessarily anecdotal (we cannot know how these same students would have performed without the Writing Fellows component), our results are strongly positive. In year one, Dr. Gray reported that he received “more A and fewer C” papers than in previous semesters of the course. Seventy-two percent of the students in the course responded that the program provided a useful resource; most of the remaining students admitted they did not take full advantage of the resource.
In year two, all three participating faculty commented on the higher level of writing in their courses overall, and particularly from students who seriously committed themselves to the program. Two of the three also noted that they found the program helped their own process of conceptualizing and designing assignments. In a survey of 80 students who participated in the program, 80% found it to be a useful resource.
In year three, the results confirmed and strengthened our earlier findings, especially in the year-long and repeat course. In an end-of-year survey, 92% of students agreed or strongly agreed that the WF conferences improved their finished work.
Finally, the Writing Fellows themselves have all commented that the year of working with students on their writing helped prepare them to teach First-Year Writing the following year. As new graduate students, this intensive year of preparation in writing pedagogy and working with BC students helped create a foundation for successful teaching in year two. The four writing fellows from years one and two received course evaluations higher than most of their peers when they taught FWS in year two of graduate study.
The Future of the Writing Fellows Program
In 2007, the College of Arts and Sciences committed to continue the Writing Fellows Program with funding for 10 writing fellows. This is a solid basis, from which we can work and grow, possibly seeking out partnerships with other colleges or other ways to grow and develop this important resource for writing and writers at Boston College.