A few weeks ago I raised the question of whether the institutions could work together to improve the synergy between English departments in college and secondary education. Even though this week’s readings were supposed to shed light on this, most of the guidelines ended up leaving me a little perplexed, since they were all recommending the same things: critical thinking/rhetorical knowledge/conventions/processes. It appeared clear to me at this point that it is not a lack of clear regulations that creates a divide between secondary/post-secondary education.

In her comment to Giselle’s post, Kristi suggested that we should share with our students some of these goals, to make sure they would get a better understanding of what is expected of them – however, although they seem to speak clearly to the bureaucracy, I am sure they would appear daunting in the eye of most of our students. I believe “apprehension”, a word employed repeatedly in Addison and McGee’s article,   is a key term for us, and I am afraid that sharing those goals without proper stigmatization would exacerbate the issue rather than solve it.

Futhermore, the similar taxonomies employed in all the documents we looked at reminded me of Micciche’s article and made me wonder whether a radical reevaluation of those could be beneficial –  for example, what if “conventions” were not approached as such, but treated as part of the critical thinking/rhetorical knowledge process instead?

I find it hard to chime in when it comes to what’s required in high school classes in terms of writing, as my memories of my year as an exchange student in Seattle ten years ago are not too vivid. I do not remember writing much for my actually English classes, but I remember that our Senior Project consisted in a quite consistent research project. I was able to retrieve the guidelines for it online –

The senior project at Sumner High was designed in the late 1990s by a steering committee of six teachers and the school principal. Several adjustments have been made to the process since then, including having staff advisers support five or six students throughout the process.

The requirement consists of 15 hours of work on a project of the student’s choosing, a portfolio to document the process and an eight- to 10-minute presentation before a board made up of staff and community members.

Each student is provided a senior project manual at the beginning of the year, detailing the purpose, requirements and process. A copy of the manual is available online at the school’s Web site (www.sumner.wednet.edu) The manual includes timelines, forms, worksheets and examples of the criteria the board uses to judge each project.

Research time is provided during the school day. Writing labs offer on-going support and computer labs are open after school to assist students who do not have access to that technology.

Following the final presentation, students are allowed the opportunity to redo work through a provisional pass and specific instructions for improvement, as long as those changes can be made within a one-hour time frame. (Source: Courier-Herald: http://www.courierherald.com/news/protesters-angry-at-senior-project/ )

Aside from the poor support some of us were getting from our advisors (which really represented an issue because our classes were not really preparing us for this kind of project either), I remember most of my peers and I walked away with a sense of fulfillment from this initiative. I wonder if framing writing as the final stage of a tangible process (any kind of activity that requires active and critical thinking) could help us make writing less intimidating in the eyes of our students.

According to the Addison and McGee, most students interviewed reported that they enjoyed writing for their own personal goals but disliked assigned school writing… well, on my first day of class this semester I asked my students what their relationships with writing was, and I got completely different responses. Although what I got ranged from “It’s boring” to “I hate it”, most of them said that they only ever perceived it as a school assignment and would never think of engaging with it on their own. Also, unsurprisingly those who said they didn’t have a particularly good relationship with it are not necessarily less proficient in it than those who said they do. At the end of the semester I will be posing the same question, hoping their answers will make me feel like I did my job and defeated at least in part the abovementioned apprehension.

 

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