Foundational Writing Skills: The Chester College Writing Project

Literacy & Writing skills

Brief description

The project consisted of two main elements: a survey of English departments assessing staff attitudes to first-year student writing skills, and a pilot writing class at Chester College of HE.

Background

The issue of first-year undergraduates’ writing skills has become increasingly acute in recent years. It seems likely that departments will in future be providing more support in this area. This project sought both to find out more about attitudes in HE English departments to the problem and to develop pedagogic techniques for developing writing skills within English courses.

Project design

In the first stage of the project, a writing skills survey was distributed to English departments. The second stage involved the setting up of a pilot writing skills scheme at Chester College giving students two different types of provision:

  • weekly classes open to any student who wished to sign up each week
  • one-to-one tutorial support to students from the weekly class who requested it and to other students referred to the scheme by their tutors

The agenda for each class was set by the students, who, each week, were invited to nominate (on an anonymous form) some issue for consideration and practice at later session(s).

The Writing Class was not offered as an alternative to Chester College’s centralised support for student writing skills, but as a self-standing additional opportunity for students of English to develop their writing skills. Many issues discussed were, by nature, subject specific.

Key findings

Respondents to the survey agreed that there was a problem with first-year undergraduates’ writing skills. In many cases, student weakness in writing was not identified until the submission of the first assessed essay. Most responding institutions offered two or more different kinds of writing skills support, mostly within the English Department itself. It was clear from the survey responses that much of the work in this area depends on the goodwill of individual academic tutors rather than on rigorous systems of support.

The pilot writing scheme demonstrated that subject context offers enormous advantages both to the writing skills tutor and to the student. The scheme enabled the analysis of writing always to be directly or indirectly relevant to the student’s academic work. Subject-specific focus also made it easier to explain examples.

Learning outcomes

Respondents to the survey agreed that there was a problem with first-year undergraduates’ writing skills. In many cases, student weakness in writing was not identified until the submission of the first assessed essay. Most responding institutions offered two or more different kinds of writing skills support, mostly within the English Department itself. It was clear from the survey responses that much of the work in this area depends on the goodwill of individual academic tutors rather than on rigorous systems of support.

The pilot writing scheme demonstrated that subject context offers enormous advantages both to the writing skills tutor and to the student. The scheme enabled the analysis of writing always to be directly or indirectly relevant to the student’s academic work. Subject-specific focus also made it easier to explain examples.

Report

Project Leader

Dr Derek Alsop
Chester College of Higher Education

Status

Completed January 2003