Teaching the teachers

Writing with a fountain pen.Earlier this year, six CAS professors spent 12 weeks as learners themselves in the new WORD! Faculty Fellowship program. The experienced educators were challenged to think about how to help students write within the context of their various disciplines.

WORD! workshops help faculty understand “how writing can be the process through which students learn the content and [how to] inspire students to become better communicators through their own curiosities,” said Lisa Johnson Shull, Writing Program director and program co-facilitator.

Modeled loosely on the WSU LIFT program, WORD! helps educators engage in experiential education that leads to transformational learning— to make it enjoyable for both the teacher and the students, said Shull. Planners wanted the program to be “playful, relaxed, and a bit risky.”

Faculty fellows 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.

Action plans

WORD! participant Paul Buckley, associate professor of chemistry, is now 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 Department of Entomology, said she learned during pandemic-era classes to be concise and specific in her assignment prompts, but the WORD! training takes 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 areas:

Program Planners and/or Facilitators

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

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

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 the WORD! initiative.

By Beverly Makhani, DAESA, for WSU Insider