Profs, teachers discuss writing

Mar 06, 2003, vol. 26, no. 5

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Forty high school teachers from around the Lower Mainland recently met with history professors at SFU to discuss issues around writing and critical thinking.

The unusual, half-day, round-table seminar was jointly sponsored and organized with the centre for writing-intensive learning and was a first for the department.

“This kind of seminar,” says Wendy Strachan (left), director of the centre, “helps us in planning for the university's new curriculum initiatives which call for a greater emphasis on writing and quantitative reasoning.”

The event was positive for both professors and teachers, says associate professor Karen Ferguson, who is the undergraduate studies chair for the department.

“We got a better understanding as a faculty about the constraints high school students are facing and about what they're being taught,” says Ferguson. She says professors were surprised to learn that in Grade 12, history teachers feel compelled to teach to the provincial final exam, which is primarily multiple choice, and therefore eschew essay writing in favour of facts and figures.

“So we discussed ways that teachers could do more to encourage writing, such as incorporating a five-minute assignment in class that gets students to think about what they've just learned and then explain it through writing.”

The seminar also offered sessions on how to make Canadian history interesting, how to foster students' curiosity and research skills and how to overcome the challenges of teaching First Nations history.
Overall, says Ferguson, teachers and professors came away from the meeting with more respect and understanding for what each group does and how they do it.

The teachers' positive response to the seminar has encouraged the department to plan future workshops.

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