How can teachers help students make the most of writing instruction?
In our study, we learned the two most important things that teachers can give their students are a good set of academic writing tools, and the confidence to choose when and how to use them.
How do students think about academic writing instruction?
Teachers often direct their writing instruction toward the development of expert status in one distinct academic context. In other words, when thinking about what students ought to do, the focus is on learning to write like a physicist, or a philosopher, or any number of other specialized roles that students have mentioned above.
However, as author Ryan McCarty points out, students often want to draw on a wider range of writing tools and practices in order to reach their chosen audience. They see writing development:
as a process of learning many genres and practices from a range of disciplines, professions, and extracurricular contexts, often holding these practices up for comparison, with the goal of leveraging all of those knowledges against each other to be more effective across all of the contexts in which they write
Why is it important to learn specific academic writing skills?
So, students don’t want to stick to one discipline when writing—but that doesn’t mean that students have no need for writing instruction in their specific communities. In fact, McCarty found that most students were only able to think about the differences between disciplines after they had learned enough about one discipline to understand what sort of differences to look for.
And understanding of a specific discipline helps students see, as Kris did, that they too can “develop an individual style without straying from the conventions of the discipline”
Thus, the use of tools like hedging and boosting becomes an important way both to indicate that a student understands what is expected of them, and to further their own specific goals as writers.
What do students need most from writing instructors?
For Ryan, the most powerful moments are those when a student sees that they are able to use the tools from different disciplines in original ways. As Kris says, while integrating lessons from physics and philosophy into her own work in biology: she needs to “look at different ways to read and write.”
And Jonah helps us see that the tools that we learn to use in academic writing can be used in professional settings.
Teachers play an important part in helping students develop the ability to reflect on their choices. Let’s hear more from Ryan McCarty as he talks about how teachers do this work in the classroom.
First of all, we can help students to talk about the connections they are making, and thus make those connections consciously.
And second, pointing out the tools that are used by specific disciplines, especially as students are actually using them in their writing, is important. Students who are taught to notice specific tools like hedges and boosters.
Teachers can help students most when they develop both specific academic writing tools, and an awareness that those tools can be used creatively in other academic and non-academic settings.