Implementing a Writing-About-Writing Approach in a Foundational Writing Course

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Joel Heng Hartse, Faculty of Education

Project team: Mohsen Moghaddam and Taylor Morphett, research assistants

Timeframe: May 2016 to April 2018

Funding: $5,000  

Program addressed: Foundations of Academic Literacy (FAL)

Final report: View Joel Heng Hartse's final report (PDF)

Description: The Foundations of Academic Literacy (FAL) at SFU was created as a result of a writing across the curriculum initiative that began in 2006 and a perceived need for a foundational writing course for students who would not be prepared for higher-level writing-intensive courses. Like many first-year courses for novice academic writers, FAL has historically been a de facto “contentless” course in which the focus is on generic writing and language skills rather than a particular area of academic expertise. This approach is common in courses that are commonly described as “first-year composition” and “basic writing”. The Writing About Writing (WAW) approach (Downs & Wardle, 2007, 2011, 2014) advocates a pedagogical shift in writing courses from being solely focused on learning how to write to learning about writing. WAW turns the beginning university writing course into a kind of “introduction to writing studies”.

For this project, I plan to develop an approach to teaching FAL which maps the priorities of the WAW approach onto the existing requirements for FAL, which include timed, in-class writing assignments. Instead of using texts involving topics of general interest as is current practice in FAL, I hope to explore the ways in which WAW can enhance students’ language awareness, knowledge of the situatedness of academic writing practices, and not only procedural knowledge about how to write, but metacognitive and metadiscursive knowledge about academic writing and language. I am also interested in understanding the experiences of instructors who implement this approach.

Questions addressed:

  • What are some ways that WAW approaches have been implemented in first year composition, basic writing, and other courses that are similar to FAL?
  • How can WAW approaches be adapted for the unique needs of FAL?
  • What are students’ perceptions of the WAW approach?
  • What are instructors’ perceptions of the WAW approach?
  • (How) does FAL result in metacognitive and metadiscursive knowledge about academic writing and language?

Knowledge sharing:

Heng Hartse, J. (2017, May). Writing about writing with second language writers. Paper presented at the BC TEAL: Teaching of English and Other Language Conference on College Composition and Communication: Cultivating Capacity, Creating Changes, Vancouver, BC.

Heng Hartse, J. (2017, March). Implementing a writing-about-writing approach in a high-stakes foundational writing course. Paper presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication: Cultivating Capacity, Creating Change, Portland, OR.

Keywords: writing; writing skills; Writing about writing; first-year writing; academic literacy; composition; language ideology