A WR Workshop Is Worth
By Dr. Mary Ann Stenger, Professor of Humanities and Religion
Question: What could a Humanities professor who had been teaching at the university level for over 20 years and who had always had her students do a lot of writing get out of a WR workshop? Answer: Plenty!
Like most university professors, my doctoral
training had focused on content, with little
discussion and few models of creative pedagogical approaches. Most of what I know about
teaching, I learned in action in the classroom, by trial and error for over 20 years. Assigning
and grading student writing critical essays, research papers, and essay tests have been central
to my evaluation of student learning. So why would I take a WR workshop?
I applied to be part of a WR workshop
for Spring 1996 in order to spend time developing
a new 500-level course on religious methodologies and theories. The workshop not only
provided me with that focus-time but also with writing-based pedagogical approaches that
are applicable to every course I teach.
The WR workshop began with exploring
"Bloom's Taxonomy," which lays out a wide range
of course objectives appropriate to courses across the College of Arts and Sciences. As I
reviewed this long list, I began to see numerous course objectives and learning goals
appropriate to my particular course. Some of these had been implicit in my teaching, but I
found it helpful to make them explicit and to reflect upon them in creating my assignments.
Associating specific types of writing
with particular course objectives was the next step in the
workshop and in our course designs. I decided to try a different approach to teaching
methodology. Rather than have the students just read about methodology (which is how it
was first taught to me), I would try a methodology "journal" in which the students would
analyze and evaluate the methodology used by six of the theorists read in the course. Thus, I
could teach critical awareness of methods while also teaching content. I implemented this in
my new course in Fall 1996, and was very pleased with how much methodological insight
the students had gained by the end of the course.
The workshop was also helpful in providing
suggestions on grading of writing, including
methods for spending less time grading while still teaching improvement of writing and
providing critical comments about content. My writing assignments in all my classes now
carry more explicit expectations for students' work, expectations that I always had used in
grading but had not outlined for the students before.
In early February, I participated on
a panel with some of the U of L WR staff at a Writing
across the Curriculum conference in Charleston, South Carolina. I had worried that I would
be the only non-WR person at the conference. How wrong I was! I heard reports of using
WR methods from professors in chemistry, art history, film, and religion, and there were
other sessions focused on biology, economics, and engineering, to name a few. Professors
shared "testimonials" of how using WR techniques had improved their teaching and student
learning in a wide variety of disciplines. I learned of WR programs at Duke and Purdue, as
well as at state universities and small liberal arts colleges. What the WR approach seems to
inspire, wherever it is implemented, is more creativity in the styles of teaching and student
work, without compromising but rather enhancing presentation of content.
What you can gain from a WR workshop
is not only more effective teaching but also
improved assessment of student work. Clearer delineation of course objectives and specific
means to meet those objectives correlates well with the increased college emphasis on
assessment. But the greatest reward was having the student work exceed my expectations!
Their WR work empowered them to become more creative and more critical thinkers in
response to the texts we used in class not only in their written work but also in class
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