National Writing Project

What Difference Do Writing Fellows Programs Make?

By: Dara Rossman Regaignon, Pamela Bromley
Publication: The WAC Journal
Date: July 17, 2012

Summary: To examine the direct impact Writing Fellows programs have on students' writing, Dara Rossman Regaignon and Pamela Bromley launch a pilot program at Pomona College. Their report describes the methods they took in obtaining participants, the feedback and portfolio assessment given, and the results they found.

 

Excerpt

Like any research question about student learning, the task of identifying how writing fellows programs help students improve their writing is difficult. Such programs rely on two intertwined interventions: they structure a process of drafting and feedback into disciplinary courses; and they rely on the feedback of trained peer writing tutors. The centrality of this approach to WAC pedagogy makes it worth further study; an exploration of how those interventions differentially impact student learning lies beyond our scope. Scholarship in the teaching and learning, second language, and writing center fields has addressed questions about the impact of peer tutors on students' writing processes, showing that trained peer feedback can help students improve, transform, and deepen their writing on a single assignment (see, for example, Bell; Berg; Falchikov; Harris; Min; Stay). But in writing-intensive courses with attached peer tutors, students generally work with the writing fellows on more than one assignment, and often on several assignments throughout the term. To assess the impact of such an iterative structure, we need data about students' arcs of improvement over the course of the semester. In addition to knowing whether or not students' revised papers are better than their drafts and whether or not they believe that experienced peer feedback helps them improve as writers (as shown in Light 63–64), we also need to know whether the writing of students in courses with attached writing fellows actually improves more than the writing of students in comparable courses without attached writing fellows.

We have carried out such a study at Pomona College, an elite liberal arts college with a student body of 1500 and a student-to-faculty ratio of 8 to 1. Pomona has a long commitment to WAC but no corresponding writing fellows program. Although Margot Soven reported in 1993 that Pomona was developing such a program for its first-year seminars ("Survey" 60), this never came to fruition. We were able to take advantage of this absence when we launched a pilot writing fellows program as a new writing-in-the-disciplines initiative of our writing center in 2007 by designing and conducting a quasi-experimental study of the impact of writing fellows on student writing over the course of a single semester. We launched this initiative without the mandate of an explicit writing-intensive requirement; in fact, the college had done away with such a requirement in 2004. It was our hope that a writing fellows program would provide a more flexible, grassroots approach, offering faculty interested in 1) assigning a process of drafting and revision and 2) focusing more explicitly on teaching writing in their discipline additional support for doing so. In conducting the study, we also wanted to better understand the impact of this approach on student writing so that we could, depending on the results, either further publicize the program internally or redirect our energies to other WID initiatives.

Copyright © 2011 Plymouth State University. Reprinted with permission.
Rossman Regaignon, Dara and Pamela Bromley. 2011. "What Difference Do Writing Fellows Programs Make?" The WAC Journal 22: 41–63.

Read more articles from this issue of The WAC Journal.

About the Authors
Dara Rossman Regaignon is co-author of Writing Program Administration at Small Liberal Arts Colleges (forthcoming, Parlor Press), and also works on the rhetoric of maternity and paid childcare in Victorian Britain. She is director of College Writing and associate professor of English at Pomona College.
Pamela Bromley is acting director of College Writing and assistant professor of Politics and International Relations at Pomona College.

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