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Possible Initiatives For Discussion


I.          Improving Communication Skills     


A.        Writing   (For further details, please also see Appendix.)


Writing is a process.  Learning to write well takes time, regular and consistent practice, disciplined attention, and critical feedback.  Extraordinary papers require multiple drafts; one should never expect to write an excellent paper in a single draft.  The process of writing, after all, is inextricably linked with the development of one's thinking: a theme a student is just beginning to identify in a first draft becomes more and more clearly articulated in each successive draft, enabling, in the end, a more powerful and sophisticated organizational structure not apparent at the outset. 


Similarly, good writing cannot be taught in a single course.  To learn to write well, one must sustain the practice of writing over time as well as receive quality feedback on one's writing with some regularity.  It is for these reasons that the Task Force proposes that Tufts institute a four-year writing program.  Such a program would have benefits beyond improving writing skills.  There is no surer way to improve our students’ capacity to think clearly than by improving their ability to write with precision.


            Before outlining our various ideas for such a program, we wish to underscore the integral importance of each of our existing writing programs to our vision for an expanded, four-year writing program.  We view these existing programs as successful at their specific goals: English 1 and 2 teaches first year students how to write grammatically correct, well-constructed arguments with clear thesis statements; Writing Across the Curriculum helps students learn to use writing as a tool to explore and sharpen their thinking on a particular subject; and the Writing Fellows Program as well as all of the writing resources offered by the Academic Resource Center gives students the individualized attention they need to improve their own writing process.  We believe that the widespread dissatisfaction reported by faculty and students alike with the quality of Tufts students' writing can in no way be blamed on any one of these programs.  Rather, it is the lack of a systematic and sustained attention to writing throughout the four years of undergraduate education that explains why our students' quality of writing fails to meet our expectations for such bright and accomplished individuals.


There are of course several important issues to consider with regard to any writing initiatives, which we note before turning to the initiatives themselves. First, both writing and the teaching of writing are labor-intensive and time-consuming endeavors.  Instructors of writing must read and provide feedback on multiple drafts for all of their students.  Most faculty, however, do not have the time or inclination to read more than one or two drafts of a student's paper, and, moreover, the comments they make usually address the content rather than the writing itself. [1]  Second, many faculty do not feel it is their job to teach writing.  They may say, "that's why we have English 1 and 2."  For students, however, English 1 and 2 only begin the process of learning to write at Tufts.  Despite the fact that students may subsequently take several of Tufts' many writing-intensive courses, it is usually the content or subject matter of students' written work –  and not the writing itself –  which receives the most attention.  Third, even of those faculty members who are themselves gifted writers, not all will be effective teachers of writing.  The existence of the field of writing pedagogy underscores the knowledge and skill involved in teaching writing well.  Finally, attention paid to writing in coursework comes either at the expense of course material or requires additional meeting time on the part of students and faculty.  The former is unappealing given the already short semester and the latter is an unacceptable burden for faculty already stretched thin by other responsibilities.


            With all of these issues in mind, we offer below several ideas for ways to support a four-year writing program that builds upon our existing programs. In an appendix to this document, we provide two examples of possible ways in which a four-year writing program could be structured.


·        External Review:  Before designing this program, we suggest carrying out an external review of our overall efforts to teach undergraduate writing.  This initiative would look comprehensively at our writing pedagogy rather than focus on particular components of our writing program.  This comprehensive review would help in sharpening the design of a four-year writing program.


·        Writing Portfolio:  Require students to construct a four-year writing portfolio.  A number of papers meeting certain criteria (e.g. length, subject matter, disciplinary breadth and depth) would be added to the portfolio over the four year period.  The portfolio might be used, for example, to determine suitability for graduation summa cum laude.


·        Augment Pool of Writing Fellows: Significantly increase the number of graduate and undergraduate Writing Fellows.  We note that writing fellows make possible multiple draft assignments that are critically important in developing effective writing habits.  We also note that studies show that the experience not only benefits the student writing the paper, but also the student assisting them.  The writing program examples in the appendix place a heavy reliance on these fellows.


Click here to see details of two possible options for a 4 year writing program:  Appendix.

[1]   There are obvious exceptions to this generality.  We heard many comments from students about particular examples of excellent writing instruction beyond the formal writing programs discussed above.



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