Part One: Reading and Coding Student Writing
The centerpiece of the assessment project is a close examination of first-year student writing. To initiate this examination, the Institute collected first and final papers from students in every first-year writing class for three years. From these papers, a random representative sample was collected, rendered anonymous by an independent observer, and then coded by three groups of readers, constituted of 9 faculty and 2 graduate students. Papers were coded in order to address particular questions that had evolved from the faculty’s year-long efforts to define the first-year writing courses’ learning outcomes. The questions explored are as follows.
- One group read entire papers and considered questions including: Does the paper have a guiding claim? What kinds of evidence does it offer? What are the strategies for introductions and conclusions?
- A second group read two-paragraph samples from the same papers, asking: Does the paragraph have a controlling claim? What kinds of evidence does the writer use? What sorts of transitions?
- A third group examined the sources that students cite in order to determine how these sources are being represented. Are students quoting? Paraphrasing? Summarizing? Patchwriting?
We expect the data we collect to allow us to determine patterns in first-year student writing in four student groups: those who take only FYS, those in WRIT 2-3 and FYS, and those in Fall-Winter or Winter-Spring WRIT 5 and FYS. We also intend to study individual student writers to observe how knowledge about writing transfers (or doesn’t) from course to course.