Fr. Raymond Schroth points out in "Why Johnny Can't Write" some saddening observations about the lack of writing assignments in college classes, particularly among education and business majors. Today my very own education and psychology students will be reading here, and I hope they click the link to Father Schroth. With only a modicum of appropriate grumbling, my students have been writing each week a paper at least three pages in length integrating class lectures and discussions, textbook, and then going beyond and finding outside reference. By midterms, in addition to other assignments, they will have written at least 18 pages and received a great deal of feedback, and I have gained a great deal of satisfaction learning from their insights.

Good writing can't be separated from reading and critical thinking. I suspect if you were to ask a large group of people what "critical thinking" meant, you might obtain answers suggesting that it involves disputing the opinions of others, justifying your own positions, or correcting factual mistakes or omissions. These are indeed part of critical thinking--but this highly advanced cognitive skill is much, much more. Benjamin Bloom, educator from the University of Chicago, is known for his work in exploring the meaning of critical thinking. He created six different domains: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. Knowing these helps teachers and writers--and, in this new age--bloggers, too.

Perhaps many of us focus on the Knowledge and Evaluation domains when we put on our critical thinking caps. Bloom noted that the Knowledge domain was the most basic, as memorization of important facts is necessary for creativity in any intellectual endeavor. The Knowledge domain can include any intellectual activity involving memorizing, listing, reviewing, defining, identifying, naming, or matching. Although important, Bloom classified these skills as lower order thinking.

The Evaluation domain is one that frequently is part of debates, verdicts, recommendations, reports, or giving of opinions. The kind of higher order skills involved in this domain may include judging, deciding, disputing, criticizing, defending, or justifying. We may find many of these processes going on in classrooms, broadcast and print journalism (especially editorials), and giving responses to others on the Internet, especially via the response capabilities within on-line journalism.

Bloom's four other domains of "critical" thinking extend the concept beyond factual accuracy or ideological/argumentative engagement by expanding the definition of critical thinking itself and offering specific activities that can lead to better dialog as well as greater depth in intellectual inquiry. For example, in the Comprehension domain one shows that one fully understands a belief, position, or situation by paraphrase, explanation, or summary. Perhaps all "disputations" might begin with this kind of critical thinking in order to show that there is mutual awareness of what is being discussed.

From my own experiences as a reader, teacher, and blogger, I believe Bloom's domains of Application, Analysis, and Synthesis are not used as frequently as the others and that these offer us tremendous potential in the classroom or in the writing of books, articles, or Internet blogs. For example, the Application domain asks us to take one idea or concept and apply it to a new situation, to extend a discussion by giving an illustration, or to construct a proposed solution to a dilemma, quandry, or crisis.

The Synthesis domain suggests integrating different viewpoints, hypothesizing new ideas, modifying what has been done or thought in the past when taking into account new developments or circumstances, or creating new options or possibilities. The Analysis domain asks us to distinguish between different situations, classify existing ideas (often in a new manner), or compare the similarities and differences in people or events without making an evaluative judgment.

Many of these same thoughts of Benjamin Bloom are distilled in Mortimer Adler's classic How To Read A Book I hope Benjamin Bloom's ideas will be of interest and be an inspiration toward better writing, and hope students and others will visit Father Schroth's series "How to Succeed in College," where I have been learning, among other things, how to be a better teacher.

William Van Ornum




Samantha Sciacovelli | 4/7/2011 - 6:28pm
After reading “Why Johnny Can’t Write,” I was a bit discouraged about the education my generation is receiving, particularly those who are studying education themselves. To read that business and education classes don’t give nearly enough writing assignments to meet the quota is a little scary. It concerns me as an education major because if we as future teachers aren’t being taught to write proficiently then how are we supposed to teach our future students to write well.
Although I am not a big fan of writing papers, I feel that if we did have more practice with it and did it more regularly then we would have a more positive attitude about it. One thing that I learned in some of my education classes is that we have to have a positive attitude towards what we are teaching so that the students do as well. I worry that there will eventually be a perpetuating cycle of negative attitudes toward writing and not being able to write well.
In this article a good point is made in that most people only use the lowest and highest stages of Bloom’s taxonomy; knowledge and evaluation. After reading the explanations of this I agree with this observation and it makes me as a future teacher keep this in mind so that when the time comes for me to plan lessons using Bloom’s Taxonomy I will try to incorporate those middle levels more.  Since people most frequently use the knowledge and evaluation levels, I wonder if many people only focus on the evaluation level for only a select number of topics, less than they would if they were focusing on a level a little lower. I also believe that if the middle levels were used more people would then become more proficient on topics as well in a larger number of areas.
Julie Owens | 4/7/2011 - 4:31pm
As a student in Professor VanOrnum’s class, I think that it has been helpful for reading these articles and writing responses. Not only does it prove that the students understand the materials we are supposed to be learning but it lets us express how we feel about the issue as well. I know that I definitely prefer to write papers and essays instead of taking tests, its less stressful and allows me to really open my mind about all different topics in a specific subject.
I agree with you that people tend to use Knowledge and Evaluation, from Blooms Taxonomy, most frequently when writing essays. I think that most students feel more comfortable stating the facts that they have just learned (Knowledge) and taking about one specific issue or topic. I think that it is important to use Application, Analysis, and Synthesis as well. I especially think that in most papers and such that anyone writes they should include Synthesis because that integrates different viewpoints and ideas, and it allows the writer to put their spin on the idea or topic they have chosen to write about instead of just listing facts. I think that it is important for college students to keep this in mind when writing assignment because when incorporating a topic that has been previously discussed into the new lesson because it really shows that you understand all the topics learned throughout the year. 
Courtney Lynch | 4/2/2011 - 4:58pm
As a future teacher in today’s diverse and ever changing society, it is important to reflect on how your students are learning, your teaching methods, the integration of outside sources brought into the classroom to enhance class lessons, the students’ feedback to activities and the pace of lessons amongst many other things. Reflection and change to improve weakness and to achieve speed, accuracy and efficiency are essential to the profession of teaching. In “Studying Teachers’ Transformations: Reflection as Methodology” it noted that, “teachers, as individual learners, internalize reflective practice, professional inquiry, and strategies for carrying out innovative instruction” (Swain, 1998). Moreover, writing and speaking are two crucial components to be highlighted and encouraged in class lessons and outside of school. From my own personal experience, I have many opportunities to write and enhance my writing skills. From first grade, all throughout my elementary school, high school and the three years of my college education, writing has been stressed in a myriad of assignments.
Furthermore, I do believe that there out of Bloom’s six levels, that knowledge and evaluation questions, assignments are more prevalent. Diversity in questions, activities and assignments will make the students more interested and eager to learn. By not highlighting the middle four levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy chart, students that excel at those types of questions will never get the chance to shine in a classroom environment. Additionally, students in some classrooms are labeled as either below grade level or above grade level. Students are either being pushed to far or not challenged enough. In order for students to learn, they need to feel a little uncomfortable when first presented with a problem or a question and as they work their way though it alone or in a group, they generate answers or solutions that would satisfy the question or the problem. It is imperative for teachers to teach to their students’ zone of proximal development. Therefore the middle questions that reside under the categories of Comprehension, Application, Analysis, and Synthesis should be incorporated more in classrooms of all levels all over the nation.
Swain, S., (1998). Studying teachers’ transformations: reflection as methodology. Clearing House. 78(1), 28-34.
Erica Rascati | 4/1/2011 - 11:50am
I believe that writing is necessary for students to develop critical thought and knowledge. In my education courses now we are learning about the importance of writing, how to implement it into lessons, and how to teach your students how to write. Many teachers assume that their students should know how to write once they reach a certain grade level or age. This assumption is often false. Many students were never taught how to properly express their ideas, the parts of speech, and other key components of writing. It is important for teachers to assign writing to their students as well as to model how they should be completing these assignments. Throughout college I have done many writing assignments, typically a few each week. These assignments have not only helped me become a better writer, they have helped me learn and acquire great amounts of knowledge on different topics. Recently, many of my professors have been discussing the importance of using Bloom’s Taxonomy which you speak of here. After learning about the importance of asking students questions on all levels to not only get them thinking, but thinking critically, I can say that I definitely will address all the levels of Bloom’s when I am placed in a classroom. Students need to learn how to evaluate and examine what they learn and to think on a higher level. When teachers address the different levels of Bloom’s in assessments they use with their students, they will be sure that their students are learning to think critically!
Kailee Mcevoy | 3/31/2011 - 3:35pm
I agree that many college students are incapable of writing at the level they should be, but I do not agree that Eduation Majors at Marist necessarily fall into this category. For every education class I have taken in my two years here, there has been a significant amount of writing in various forms.  However, in my core classes I have come across multiple Marist students who did not know how to write an essay whatsoever. Each Marist student must take a college writing course, but I think writing really needs to be implemented more at the high school level.  Students should not be exposed to higher levels of education if they are incapable of writing essays in high school.  Writing is so important in every aspect of a person's life, and it's unacceptable to graduate college, or even high school, without the proper abilities. In many of my education classes when an essay or writing assignment is assigned, my peers may complain that "we won't need to write in our profession, so why are we doing this?". This is just pure ignorance. Everyone, including elementary school teachers, needs to write. In my past, I have received many letters, e-mails, notices, and worksheets from teachers that had multiple spelling and grammar errors. Making such errors makes a teacher appear to be uneducated, and may make readers doubt the teacher's abilities to educate.

Christine in post #31 brought up an excellent point that our technological culture may be to blame for many problems in writing.  According to a blog I recently read entitled Texting Affects Student Writing: R U Concerned?,"64% of teens admit that they incorporate, often accidentally, at least some informal writing styles used in personal electronic communication into their writing for school. (Some 25% have used emoticons in their school writing; 50% have used informal punctuation and grammar; 38% have used text shortcuts such as "LOL" meaning "laugh out loud". (" Students nowadays need to make a distinction between social uses of communication, such as texting and Facebook chatting, and academic writing.  I didn't mean to write a novel on the topic, but I do have strong feelings on the importance of writing in every day life.  

Ryan Mead | 3/3/2011 - 11:31pm
I'm a senior now at Marist College and transferred here for my junior year. I can honestly say that before attending Marist I could not write a paper for my life. While my elementary education and community college taught me many things, writing was not one of them. As soon as I stepped foot on Marist college I was writing up to 6 pages a week and now it's around 12 pages. I had to learn how to write to survive on this campus. During my education I was the middle of the road child which few to no teachers paid any real attention to. The honors kids and the kid's with behavioral issues or bad grades got the most help. Fun fact about me, I was taught how to hand write incorrectly. Most everyone I know writes from top to bottom but I write from bottom to top. This was an issue and it was noticed early on but they said the school district shouldn't worry about it because I can still write and I will be typing most everything when I'm older anyways, thank god they were right.

Although writing consumes a good part of my week I know in my field of psychology that it will be a lifelong skill that will follow me. I find it sad that many of the bigger university’s neglect their students writing pieces and grade them easily when handed in.

I really hope our education system turns it around soon because too many children are being overlooked
Kate Conard | 3/2/2011 - 4:47pm
I think it's difficult to "mindlessly" write a paper.  I too attend Marist College and have written countless papers.  I love writing, especially creatively.  A few of my classes have allowed me to create creative pieces, while for other classes I have written research papers.  Writing takes a lot of time and effort.  To do it well, you have to do the proper research and have to put a lot of thought into what you are saying.  I think that when I write papers, I learn more than studying for a test.  When I study for a test, I just think about getting a good grade which usually requires me to spit back the information i memorized.  When I write a paper, the information really sticks with me and I feel I can remember the information forever.  
It's unfortunate that larger schools do not give the same opportunities for their students to write papers because it is too difficult for the professors to read 150 papers.  This allows me to realize how fortunate it was of me to pick a smaller school where the professors will be able to take the time to read my papers and give me feedback.  
Writing is so important to me, and is really where I have learned the most.  
Lia DeGregorio | 2/27/2011 - 10:25am
Bill, I agree with you about your following feelings: ''From my own experiences as a reader, teacher, and blogger, I believe Bloom's domains of Application, Analysis, and Synthesis are not used as frequently as the others and that these offer us tremendous potential in the classroom or in the writing of books, articles, or Internet blogs.'' From my experiences as well, throughout my education, many of my teachers have not even attempted to focus on these aspects, thus creating a loss of students' ability to see the bigger picture when learning new information. I can't even tell you how much information I was forced to commit to memory in my AP World History class, since my teacher only lectured every class, without providing any visual aids or outside materials.
Vic, (#17) I actually disagree with your take on the amount of writing Education majors take part in. Maybe it's because I attend a school whose Education major is considered to be Psychology/Special Education, but I personally have had to write many papers in college. These papers focused not only on my own opinions but on my analysis of the opinions of others, problem solving, understanding past circumstances in the education system and creating solutions to aspects that do not work well, and comparing and contrasting information. Many of the Analysis, Synthesis, and Application components which seemed to be lacking in my High School education have not been lacking since I've been at college, fulfilling my Psychology/Special Education requirements. Maybe this is a new occurrence after generations of Education majors not having to write very much, but I believe it is extremely important for teachers to understand the importance of writing and make sure to pass that on to their students.

Marie Rehbein | 2/25/2011 - 9:11pm

I think there might be a difference between learning how to think and learning facts or how to play an instrument or golf.
Eugene Palumbo | 2/25/2011 - 12:14pm
Janice Feng writes, ''That is why although these papers we have to write may be tedious at first, I know I am learning a lot more than when I am only focused on learning/memorizing information for an exam.'' 

That's what I would have thought, too, but a recent N.Y. Times story raises some questions about this.  Here's how it begins:  ''Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques.''

See ''To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test,''
Janice Feng | 2/24/2011 - 6:31pm
I would agree with Alyssa that due to the characteristics of our college, many of the students here have written plenty of papers. On the grade aspect, I think for some classes you can certainly get a decent grade without trying too hard, but then there are also some classes that even through countless hours of effort, one may get a less than average grade. I believe every college is like that. Also depending on the level of interest a student has to the particular topic, they will do better or worse. By this I mean, those who love science may tend to do better in science classes than those who do not due to the interest in the information. The student who dislikes science, no matter how hard they try may easily get a lower grade than the student who likes science and who did not nearly put as much effort into the class. I believe that the 6 different domains of critical thinking may be put into better use at a small college such as Marist then a large university for the reason that we are assigned countless projects, papers, etc. than the university student whose teacher does not have time to read everyone's papers. I believe it is in papers where a student best applies these domains of critical thinking. That is why although these papers we have to write may be tedious at first, I know I am learning a lot more than when I am only focused on learning/memorizing information for an exam.
we vnornm | 2/24/2011 - 12:33pm
sorry, Gabriel. bill
Gabriel Marcella | 2/24/2011 - 12:00pm
Please note that my name is Gabriel. Thank you.
Marie Rehbein | 2/24/2011 - 11:55am
In response to Vic's observation, I want to mention that when I was in college one of my work-study jobs was to be a fifth grade teachers' aid at the local public school.  One of the remarkable features of the class that year was that they loved to write.  If only we knew why and how well they were writing once they got to college...
we vnornm | 2/24/2011 - 11:30am

Nice idea. I ain't da one ta do it cuz I'm just a journeyman in dis from Chicago; but good writing falls under the umbrealla of culture and perhaps AMERICA's Culture Editor Jim Martin SJ scans the blogs. The British Catholic magazine THE TABLET has a crossword each week so maybe there is a way to make an entertaining little spot regularly on "language and writing"? NYT also has regular online features on style, usage, and writing. I would hope, however, that the disucssions on writing not reach the level of detail as those on translations of the Liturgy! best, bill
we vnornm | 2/24/2011 - 11:20am

Many colleges now have "writing centers" or "proofreading centers" where students can turn for help with papers BEFORE they turn them in. (I don't recall this service ever being available when I was in school; in fact, we were supposed to do all the work ourselves.) This gives lots of evidence to what you are saying about students coming to college and not being prepared.
best, bill
Vic Gallerano | 2/24/2011 - 11:04am
There is an intimate connection between writing and thinking, but you are over-thinking a simpler problem: it has nothing to do with pedagogy.
College students need to be able to write before they get to college. Colleges can't make them do what they don't know how to do. But, although college is WAY too late to teach them how to write, it is still the place to fix this problem.  Fr. Schroth puts his finger on it when he observes that education is a popular major in which one can take a degree “… without doing much writing at all.” Precisley.
Education is a popular major because education majors do not (and have not for generations) had to write much. Consequently, elementary and secondary school teachers do not write; do not value writing; do not write well; do not know how to teach writing; and therefore, do not teach writing. Then, they send their students to college where they are still not asked to write because college teachers - even if they know how to write - fill their classes by not requiring much writng. As Frank Zappa used to say (in a slightly different context) it “...rots yer heart, rots yer brain, rots yer guts…cucaracha.”    
Gabriel Marcella | 2/24/2011 - 10:15am
Thanks to you and Padre Schroth for the excellent posts, and to the college students above. Since writing skills are declining across our society, America could take the lead with a regular column or blog that focuses on the ned to improve such skills. Perhaps a commentary on great prose could be inserted. It would then become an inspiration for students, teachers, and others who want to maintain excellence in writing.
we vnornm | 2/24/2011 - 8:52am
Alyssa, Casey, Stephanie,

See #9,

we vnornm | 2/24/2011 - 8:50am

B students-make so much money that they can eat out at the best restauranrs every night?
we vnornm | 2/24/2011 - 8:46am
Note to Susan and students:

Susan, glad you mentioned the need for "study" of the faith. Would be great if more college students/adults knew about, just read, or could be guided through the great "classic" Catholic writers. When I waited for Mass in Rome with the Pope in the papal apartment chapel, I noted that all of the works of the 36 "Doctors of the Church" (Augustine, Catherine, Teresa, Ignatius, etc.) were bound as a set in several large bookcases in the papal library. Can't think of a better curriculum!

As a teacher of psychology, I don't get the opportunity to teach on this subject, but I did teach a course in Rome listed under psych/religion. The texts were Thomas Merton, "Seven Storey Mountain," Henrin Nouwen, "Clowning Around in Rome," and William James "Varieties of Religious Experience." These books were well-received. bill
we vnornm | 2/24/2011 - 8:25am
Thanks to all, including the students, and greetings to students who are just reading. Marie and Crystal-thanks foe mentioning the necessity of interst and of passion-crucial and intangible. Brett, thanks for mention that "new" isn't necessarily "right" or better", a truth in the vein of CS Lewis and his criticisms of historicisms and academia. bill
Susan Murray | 2/23/2011 - 10:55pm
I liked your column, and both your and Fr. Schroth's pieces give me pause. 

Maybe I should not be surprised.  Culturally, we seem to have grown impatient with any process that we perceive to ''slow us down''.  Reading slows us down.  Re-reading for deeper understanding and synthesis slows us down.  Being forced to clarify our thoughts by reducing them to writing slows us down.   Perhaps we resist slowing down because that might require us to check our logic, sort out inconsistencies, or, perhaps worse, look in the mirror.  We don't seem to like to do that and tend to use our busy-ness as an excuse to avoid it.

I think there may be a connection between the trends you and Fr. Schroth highlight and either (or both) of the following trends:
- the diminution of civility in the public square we've experienced in the last couple of decades (We don't pause long enough to consider other views with thoughtfulness and charity.  We fight about superficial points, rather than debate the actual merits of each disagreement.  Maybe we don't want to think that hard. We just want to "win".)
- the weakening of (at least) the US Catholic community as exhibited by, for example, long -term declines in mass attendance, in sacramental participation, in enrollment figures for religious education for children etc ... (Many of us don't actually know our faith because we've not taken the time to study and learn it.)
Maybe you'll accept this as an invitation to comment further on my premise at some future point. 

At any rate, I say thank you for forcing your students not only to think but also to articulate their thoughts clearly.   As for the reading end of things, you have virtually guaranteed that I will continue a practice I started a few years ago of forcing ''Mommy Picks'' on my school age kids every so often - good length biographies or historical fiction at their reading levels from various periods in time (including a few saint bios).  They typically offer up initial resistance, but ultimately can't help getting sucked into the story. 

Susan M.
Crystal Watson | 2/23/2011 - 9:40pm
I attended a fairly small state college and majored in  philosophy and later history so I wrote a lot of papers.  Later I tried writing some fiction short  stories - a different kind of writing, but challenging too.  Now blogging is the only kind of writing I seem to do.  It's all fun.   I think if I wanted to encourage students to be better writers, I'd give them a lot of really good writing to read, and I'd also try to get them emotionally involved in what they were writing about.  And perhaps a class in logic wouldn't hurt  :)
Stephanie Waring | 2/23/2011 - 3:56pm
Being a liberal arts dual major, I find myself writing at least 3 papers a week. Some friends of mine that attend larger schools are shocked when they hear how much work I have to do. The workload doesn't bother me because I feel that I become a better and better writer each time I submit a new paper for classes. If my teachers didn't assign me endless amounts of paper to write, then I wouldn't be trying, and college would be a joke.  I know for a fact that my writing is getting stronger and stronger because of all the feedback I am offered.  A goal to being a great writer I believe is reading magazine articles and newspapers because you enhance your vocabulary and your reading skills that way.  The more used to writing you are, the better a writer you can become.  I feel that my best writings are based around something that I find extremely interesting, or else an outsider reading my paper can tell it is of no importance to me.  If you can find something interesting to write about, regardless of the size of your classroom setting and the amount of papers assigned, then anyone has the ability to become a great writer; it's up to them to focus on getting better by any means that it takes
Casey McGowan | 2/23/2011 - 3:36pm
From my own personal experience I can attest to both sides of the class size issue. My first semester I attended the University of Vermont- a large public institution of about 12,000 undergrads. That semester I was in two classes of over 150 students and wrote a combined total of four pages for them. The professors simply did not want to read all those papers and could not have been expected to give significant feedback to every student in all of their classes had there been a longer paper. After transferring to Marist, my workload increased significantly. Like Alyssa, I always stay on top of reading assignments and do everything that is expected, even when other students don't see the need. While reading is a major component of many classes, I also am required to write much more than I was at UVM. In every class I have taken at Marist I've had at least one paper that requires the use of many of Bloom's critical thinking domains. While I can only speak for psychology majors at Marist, in order to earn an A you need to demonstrate more than an ability to spit back facts and information. In my experience, professors don't want to know what you read, they want to know how you interpreted that information.
I think that Father Schroth makes a valid argument for certain situations. There are certainly some schools and some professors who do not do enough to help their students develop their writing skills, but we need to be careful not to paint with a broad brush. Some students do put forth the effort and as a result, become very capable critical thinkers.
Alyssa Cariani | 2/23/2011 - 3:15pm
Mr. Killoran, I certainly agree with what you're saying. I am a student at a small liberal arts college where my classes never reach more than 30 students. I am almost always poked fun of when I tell my friends who attend larger universities that I have homework to do. This is because their education consists almost entirely of one paper and two major exams for each class.

At Marist, I have done hundreds of writing assignments. With each paper I write, I learn something new, from information on the topic to new vocabulary. With these larger class sizes, it is impossible for professors to assign more writing assignments, thus preventing students from learning more about new subjects, as well as regarding their own writing styles.

Unfortunately, not all of my fellow Marist students see the importance of writing and studying. In response to Father Schroth's article, I would like to point out that I am one of those students who does study the "appropriate" amount, and I complete every reading assignment as thoroughly as possible. What I've noticed at Marist is that many students do not see the importance of learning-they're mostly focused on the grade. Interestingly enough, these students do relatively well in their classes. I joke around with my friends and say that Marist students have to try to get an A, and they also have to try to fail. However, when it comes to a B, it seems students can do next to nothing and still receive that grade.

I believe both sides are at fault-the students for not caring enough about their learning to excel, as well as the schools for perhaps pushing "perfection" as much as they do. At Marist, it's all about ratings-it's about being the best out of everyone. Maybe students aren't given the grades they deserve because schools are so concerned with making a name for themselves, but at the same time students are not inclined to do anything about it.

Anonymous | 2/23/2011 - 2:56pm
"The Synthesis domain suggests integrating different viewpoints, hypothesizing new ideas, modifying what has been done or thought in the past when taking into account new developments or circumstances, or creating new options or possibilities."

I agree that all ideas should be considered and that a rational, unemotional approach should be used when writing in any form - online, or in class.  That being said, new ideas or a hegelian type of synthesis does not always produce thoughtful response and often such as a dialectic presuppose a world view that is at odds with more measured and reasoned theology.  So there is no need to assume that this is a superior way of analysing the world.

Presuming that progress occurs through "new" ideas or a conception of man via new science can often hinder true thought and true vision of the world and human nature as much as it has the potential to inform that vision.

Vince Killoran | 2/23/2011 - 1:29pm
There's a impediment to good writing that affects an increasing number of college students: large class size.  I teach at a small, four-year liberal arts school where course enrollments are capped at 25 students ( a few allow 30 students).  We assign lots of writing and provide opportunities for students to revise their work.

This is not the case at other higher education institutions. Class enrollment is growing and many of my academic friends report that they are requiring fewer essays. How can they be expected to grade essays in courses with fifty or more students? 
Marie Rehbein | 2/23/2011 - 12:54pm
In addition to visiting Benjamin Blooms domains of critical thinking in producing written work, I think a certain amount of emotional engagement with the subject matter contributes greatly to the quality of the product.  Finding something interesting, for example, is an emotional reaction that leads one to seek more knowledge and inclines one toward analysis.  On the other hand, too much of an emotional reaction can lead to too little acquisition of knowledge and limited analysis before making an evaluation.   
Bill Collier | 2/23/2011 - 4:50pm
Alyssa, Casey, and Stephanie-

It's refreshing to hear from college students who are enjoying their studies and who appreciate the value of education, including the development of good writing skills. If I were your teacher, I'd give you A's just on the basis of your positive attitudes.

Good luck with your studies!   :)
Peter Shore | 2/23/2011 - 1:05pm

From personal experience (both having attended a university and then later, being employed by one to help with grading writing assignments), it seems that it's not just a lack of writing assignments. Frequently, with the exception of professors working in a field where quality of writing is absolutely essential and/or where it would be odd to think that you could get away with bad writing (so, basically, wih the exception of political science, english/lit, philosophy professors), I've found that most academics are pretty terrible writers. Some of it has to do with getting tangled up in the sometimes impossible jargon particular to their field, some (really, too often) professors get critical thinking and writing confuse with cleaving to one particular interpretation (the professor who puts much more value in whether provide an opinion similar to their own rather than in how you write) but often times (and this is especially true of professors of Business, Education and a number of the hard sciences), the professor simply cannot write themselves, cannot judge writing, and, frankly, isn't even interested in it.

Christine Castellana | 3/4/2011 - 11:34am
I think out of all the things that can be learned in school, writing is the most important.  Our version of writing today has been tarnished with "textese" (my research methods report is on this dr. v....i'll give you a copy!) and other abbreviations to make electronic writing easier, but I think we are still smart enough and capable to all become great writers.

At my community college, each class, even Biology, was required to have at least one paper assignment.  From that college's standpoint, writing is a life skill and many occupations out there require report and memo writing.  The college wanted to prepare us for bigger and better institutions, as well.  I am forever grateful to this requirement.  I have always been a decent writer, in my eyes, and I feel like I have done nothing but improve in my college career.

Now that I am attending Marist College, I am writing at least one paper a week, depending on the coursework.  At first, when Dr. Van Ornum told us that we had to write a weekly research paper, I was extremely nervous.  You see, even though I have written many papers here at Marist already, I have never received them back!! I am dying to know how well I did on certain papers that are now lost.  With Dr. Van Ornum though, I get weekly feedback and I feel that I am increasingly perfecting the craft. These assignments aren't just helping me in his class, but in others as well.  I am taking the skills that I am learning and applying them to my Research Methods class and my Ethics class.

Since I have been practicing so much writing, I am coming to find that the process of writing a paper goes by A LOT faster.  I am also starting to memorize how to properly cite in APA format without having to look at a reference book or by using a citation machine online; it is starting to just come naturally!

Also, for Research Methods, I must write a 15-20 page paper and I feel like that will be a piece of cake now! Once you get passionate with a subject, it just flows out of you and you may come to find that you write MORE than you need to instead of less.

Writing weekly is also a challenge in terms of time.  So with these assignments, you also receive a lesson in time management, which is another valuable skill to have not only in terms of career, but life in general!

So with much sincerity, THANK YOU Dr. V for pushing us with writing! It really does pay off and will continue to in our futures.