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Spring 2005
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February 28, 2005

The February 28, 2005, Writing Across Communities Conversation Builder with UNM faculty was attended by nearly 40 teachers from across the University. T he session was facilitated by Wanda Martin, Scott Sanders, Charles Paine, Michelle Kells, and Jim Burbank, all from the Department of English.

At each hourly session, facilitators posited the following questions:

    • What do you know about the language backgrounds and skills your students bring to your classrooms?
    • How do you see students succeeding or struggling with your expectations for reading and writing?
    • What are your observations about the way we teach undergraduates to write for academic and professional purposes, and how we might do a better job in the future?

Professor Ann Nihlen and student ethnographers, including graduate students James Murrell and Annaliese Mayette from the Department of Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies joined Laura Nesbitt, a graduate student in the Department of English, to capture the lively conversations, and each group created a report of their most important points. For many groups, the conversation focused on ways to enable students to have more ownership of their writing. Another key point was ensuring that students understand the professor’s expectations, which is often achieved through the use of writing prompts and rubrics.

Although many faculty agreed that grammar matters should not necessarily be the main focus of writing in the classroom, the need for helping students to master grammar was also recognized.

Several groups expressed concern about students’ ability to shift from basic writing skills to professional skills needed within a discipline.

The need for writing within and across disciplines was seen as vital to student success, with one group expressing the idea that students learn abstract concepts more thoroughly when they have to explain the ideas in writing.

The enthusiastic response of faculty to the February 28 Conversation Builder and other Writing Across Communities events is critical to determining how the English Department can best serve our diverse students and assist them as they strive to successfully complete college and enter into careers.