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SFU students benefit from writing-intensive courses.

Teaching teachers to teach writing

February 19, 2009

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Wendy Strachan, formerly director of SFU’s Centre for Writing Intensive Learning in the Faculty of Arts, is passionate about helping teachers teach students how to write better.

And she got the opportunity of her career to do just that in the four years before fall 2006 when SFU became one of the first Canadian universities to make discipline-based writing a compulsory element of its undergraduate curriculum.

It was Strachan’s job, along with her colleagues, to help faculty members develop the courses they needed to make the new writing-intensive requirements a reality. "The challenge," she recalls, "was to encourage faculty to participate and then be successful in incorporating teaching writing."

The goal was nothing less than a campus-wide cultural transformation in the way writing is taught at SFU, a process Strachan documents thoroughly in her recent book, appropriately titled Writing-Intensive: Becoming W-faculty in a New Writing Curriculum (USU Press, 2008).

Writing-Intensive is one of the few—if not the only—book-length studies written about a major post-secondary writing-across-the-curriculum initiative, from concept to implementation.

"It presents an account of a whole project from beginning to end," she says, "and includes the stories of 10 outstanding SFU faculty members and what we have learned about mentoring faculty."

As faculty members volunteered to pilot writing-intensive courses and administrators and committees adjusted the process toward full implementation, planners grounded their pedagogy in genre theory—a new approach for many non-composition faculty members. The result was a coherent yet flexible framework through which students might improve their writing in all disciplines. The book includes tips on how to:
  • Avoid ghettoizing the teaching of writing in writing-intensive courses.
  • Engender a university-wide culture that naturalizes writing as a vital means of learning.
  • Keep the teaching of writing organic and understood as scholarly practice.

Writing-Intensive "offers a model for successful faculty development," says Strachan, "which I hope not just other SFU committees but other institutions going through a similar process will find useful."

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