First Year Writing Discussion

Max Ewing and Kyle Pyykkonen

Intro Questions:

  • Did you feel confident in your college admission essays? What were the hardest parts? How did you determine what the standard of writing was? 
  • Do you think that high school writing (i.e. SAT essays, writing for AP tests, DBQs) prepared you for college level writing?
  • Where do you think that the idea that first year students are bad at writing comes from?
  • What do you think are the main differences between high school and college writing?

Reading like a Reader

“Why Johnny can’t write, and why employers are mad” 

  • This 2013 article discusses how companies are frustrated with their applicants inability to communicate properly with their writing. These employers claim that the majority of college students are not spending enough time learning how to write to the standards of the workplace. 
  • The author explains that many authorities in the college writing community (college presidents, professors, etc.) believe that students come into college without the necessary writing skills. The author, on the other hand, thinks that students are actually good writers when they come into college but that they aren’t good at the kind of writing that college demands (mostly academic writing). This is supposedly due to high school requiring different kinds of writing. 

“First Year Writing Today”

  • The author explains that many authorities in the college writing community (college presidents, professors, etc.) believe that students come into college without the necessary writing skills. The author, on the other hand, thinks that students are actually good writers when they come into college but that they aren’t good at the kind of writing that college demands (mostly academic writing). This is supposedly due to high school requiring different kinds of writing. The author says that first year writing today mainly focuses on “macro-level” ideas like “argument, ethos, structure, or voice” instead of more specific “linguistic features” of writing. 

“For example, FY writing instruction and assessment, then as now, tends to focus more on macro-level writing  constructs  like argument, ethos, structure, or voice than on the micro-level  linguistic  features  that  might  realize  those  constructs, e.g. metadiscourse such as epistemic markers.”

Question: Do you think that your first year writing class focused on larger concepts like the ones listed here? Or on smaller and more specific details?

“My  own  conviction  from  this  research  is  that  in  most  cases, students can write when they begin college, but they write in ways that may not be valued by their college professors.”

“But there are few large-scale analyses of the linguistic features shared by many FY writers across contexts, and most FY students do not receive much instruction on  language-level aspects of academic discourse.”

Question: What kind of writing do your professors value?

Reading like a Writer: 

“First Year Writing Today”

“Likewise, many FY students and instructors have only an anecdotal sense of what  characterizes FY writing. Sancho Guinda and Hyland suggest that one reason for this lack of clarity is “the dearth of adequate descriptions of specialized genres in higher education.”

“most FY students do not receive much instruction on language-level aspects of academic discourse”

Question: Do you think that language like this builds an author’s credibility or does it actually alienate them from their audience?

  • Ironic that the author is talking about FY writers lacking skill in “language-level aspects” while using lots of overly complex language. It seems like they don’t care if this is accessible to FY writers.

“By  ‘language-level  patterns,’  I  do  not  mean sentence-level  errors,  like comma splices or wrong word usage. Rather, I mean….” 

“For  example,  at  the  beginning  of  this  paragraph,  I  used  the phrase I  do  not  mean and Rather,  I  mean. These  were  not  part  of  the specific information presented about  language- level feature”

  • These quotes demonstrate the condescending tone of the author.

“Many  faculty  I  know  critique  FY writing  because  it  contains  overstated  arguments.”

  • By  this,  instructors are saying  that  students’  written  arguments  presume  too  much  authority and  go  beyond  the  scope  of  the  evidence  they  have  to  support  them. This also shows that this is very much written for an audience of professors and not students (since the author references all of the other professors and teachers that they know).

Question: Why do you think FY students tend to use too much authority?

“Why Johnny can’t write, and why employers are mad” 

“…The organization that administers the standardized test for business school, 86 percent said strong communication skills were a priority—well ahead of the next skill.”

  • The way this data is used in the article is a little misleading. To us it sounded like the author was implying that businesses said that they really want to hire people with good communication skills because a lot of people lack that today. In reality, it’s just always good to hire people who are good communicators.

Link to 2011 Corporate Recruiters Survey Report

Question: Is there a reason for employers to re-enforce the narrative of the “Johnny can’t Write” article? Does it do them any good?

Connections to Other Discussions

This relates to the discussion we had on how audiences impact our writing. As you transition from high school to college your audience is changing drastically and this demands a big change in your writing that most students aren’t prepared for at all.

Also related to our discussion on “They Say I Say” as this is a book commonly used in high school writing (but it obviously doesn’t prepare students well enough if the level of FY writers is such a big problem)

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