This was a three day conference focussed on student writing. Abstracts and in many cases, Powerpoints from the conference are available here.

Malcolm Gillies (VC of London Met) started the conference with:

If you can’t write, you don’t have a voice.

Key sessions I attended included:

Lillis et al‘s keynote on academic literacies which highlighted their new research on this topic which aims to be transformative through innovative practice moving away from the bolt on ‘skills approach’. Their work:

  • sees academic writing as based on non-negotiable principles
  • highlights literacy/writing as social practice
  • explores academic writing with its producers, readers and evaluators
  • examines issues relating to power
  • sees academic literacy as only part of a wider problem and suggest the need to challenge the default position on language and writing

The lack of negotiation in academic writing practices was also a theme for Scott whose session looked at how the tendency to see individual students as ‘cultural others’ who lack what we see they need to be successful. Hence we focus on teaching them to be able to do X, to bridge the gap between ‘their’ and ‘our’ abilities i.e. a deficit approach. For example, some students need to talk before writing. Students reported that courses ‘did not make sense at first, but did in time’. Students also tended to focus on the language, divorced from meaning making and knowledge making, i.e. they did not see language as a resource for meaning making.

Galloway described an intensive ten week English for Academic course for international students who scored lower than 6.5 on IELTS. The course was credit bearing and began with an initial emphasis on personal narrative moving through to writing in academic voice. [Similar bridging / pre-sessional courses at Leeds are shorter and have academic writing as only one aspect of the course]

An innovative programme at Liverpool Hope on embedding writing support within the faculties was discussed by Smeets et al. It was a rhetorical, genre based approach which:

  • analysed features of discipline specific texts
  • encourage students to write from models
  • took an iterative approach where students received feedback, then revised and rewrote

This transformative pedagogy was in the face of initial faculty objections:

  • writing was outside their area of expertise
  • students should be held more accountable for their writing ability
  • High schools should prepare students better

Key challenges for the next steps were:

  • To improve coherence in writing support between programmes and across disciplines
  • To validate multiple literacies

Poverjuc‘s session focussed on assessment of writing. She found that students would read feedback, but could not then apply this to develop strategies for improving their writing. Through interaction with peers they could: clarify their understanding of the task requirements; edit and proofread written work; search for reading materials; design and conduct micro studies. She highlighted a mismatch between tutors, who thought that assessment criteria were important, and students who did not look at assessment criteria. Those who did found it constraining and difficult to understand. They particularly wanted clarity about weighting, benchmarks and exemplification materials.

Angela Lumsford‘s closing keynote on writing at Stanford was excellent. A key concept was the idea that,

Good writing is performative, it makes something happen in the world.

Most written work for assessment does not satisfy this goal, so students are seeing a disconnect between the writing they do for grades and the blogging, newsletters, posters, pamphlets they write in their extra-curricular lives. Lumsford saw this as a challenge for the academia and outlined some of the changes in Stanford’s writing programmes.

You can dowload her paper here.

This was also the first conference at which I tweeted – here’s my twitterstream (in reverse order):

What is writing for? Transforming, make change, clarify thinking, health, communicating, punishment, recording, establish identity…#WDHE10
30 Jun

Final plenary #WDHE10 is developing a collaborative mind map, interesting way to capture the multi-dimensional nature of writing practice
30 Jun

‘Translation is impossible and translation is absolutely necessary, because nobody can speak all languages’ Elton #WDHE10
29 Jun

Reminded again that academic writing is a second language for everyone – can you imagine a native speaker of academic English?#WDHE10
29 Jun

Jerskey is reading her paper, finding it hard to follow. Interesting – the written word failing to work as spoken discourse. #WDHE10
29 Jun

#WDHE10 ‘Students need back stage experience in order to perform front stage’ Nancy Lea Eik-Nes
29 Jun

Issues re international students struggles with academic discourse seems to be an emerging theme – what interventions work?#WDHE10
28 Jun

Academic ‘Writing goals are more likely to be achieved out of offices’ Murray #WDHE10
28 Jun

‘We need to challenge the ‘default positions on language and writing’ Lillis #WDHE10
28 Jun

‘If you can’t write, you don’t have a voice’ Malcolm Gillies at#WDHE10
28 Jun

Activity cards made, just the handouts to print for our workshop at#WDHE10
24 Jun

Suggest #WDHE10 for the upcoming Write Now conference. Any takers?
21 Jun