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WSU WORD! Fellows inspire faculty to teach writing in their disciplines

Eleven Washington State University faculty members are at work on special plans for the coming year: assigning and evaluating their students’ writing assignments in new ways.

As invited participants in the inaugural WORD! Faculty Fellowship Program—called “Word! Fellows”—the professors spent 12 weeks as learners themselves. In weekly workshop sessions, the experienced educators from several disciplines—most of whom teach large classes—were challenged to think about how to help students write as members in their disciplines.

They discussed topics such as how to incorporate wonder and play into writing assignments, the difference between observation and evaluation during assessment, and how to support students’ transfer of prior knowledge into specific contexts and types of writing, such as business letters, extension bulletins or lab reports.

The benefactors of their efforts will be the students they teach, who will be better suited to communicate within their disciplinary communities.

Experiential, transformational

The Writing Program, part of the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement (DAESA) in the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President, sponsors WORD!. Modeled somewhat after WSU’s LIFT (Learn. Inspire. Forster. Transform.) program, WORD! is designed to help educators engage in experiential education that leads to transformational learning—and to make it enjoyable for both the teacher and the students, said Lisa Johnson Shull, Writing Program director and program co-facilitator.

“We created a series of workshops that could lead faculty to think about how writing can be the process through which students learn the content, inspiring students to become better communicators through their own curiosities,” she said. Planners wanted the program to be “playful, relaxed, and a bit risky.”

Action plans

Now that the workshops have ended, WORD! members like Paul Buckley, associate professor of chemistry, are crafting new student writing assignments for fall.

“Before WORD!, I thought writing lab reports was a pretty straightforward task for students, but now I’m more aware that I can phrase writing assignments to be more understandable to STEM and non-STEM students and encourage them all to experiment a little more with how they express things,” he said. He said it will be important for him to explain the changes to his teaching assistants who help with grading.

Laura Lavine, professor and chair of the Dept. of Entomology, said she learned during pandemic-era classes to be concise and specific in her assignment prompts, but the WORD! training will take that a step further, and will help her design rubrics for writing that will be very clear to students in all fields.

“It was enriching to see that other professors shared my values regarding teaching and to see their approaches to writing assignments,” said Lavine.

“I think the program was fun. I’d give it an A-plus,” said Buckley.

Members of the first cohort

WORD! Fellows and their academic area:

  • Gabriella Bedoyan, journalism and media production
  • Caitlin Bletscher, human development
  • Paul Buckley, chemistry
  • Lisa Carloye, biology
  • Joe Hewa, human development
  • Laura Lavine, entomology
  • Julie Menard, environment
  • Catherine Perillo, crop and soil sciences
  • Sian Miranda Ritchie, biology
  • Kara Michelle Whitman, environment
  • David Makin, Criminal Justice

Program Planners and/or Facilitators

In addition to Johnson-Shull, Word! planners and facilitators are:

  • Wendy Olson, composition and writing assessment
  • Mary Kay Patton, human development
  • Clif Stratton, history and general education
  • JT Torres, Ph.D. alumnus in education

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