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Students become better writers when instructors engage with their work. This simple idea is the guiding principle of everything we do.
College Writing Mentors began as a response to the continuing struggles that college students face when they write for their classes. We wanted to create a space of solidarity between students and instructors.
Our mentors are all current or former university instructors who are passionate about helping students. Working directly with student writers as they respond to conceptual, grammatical, and rhetorical issues that appear in written drafts, mentors explain how subtle discursive techniques can cultivate the type of writerly ethos and rhetorical awareness necessary for successful academic composition.
We provide students with discipline-specific guidance that allows them to skillfully navigate the complex terrain of college writing. When students learn the implicit rules of academic discourse, they not only gain a platform through which their voices can be heard but also the ability to make a meaningful contribution to the debates that shape contemporary knowledge at the university. Ultimately, the goal of CWM is to enable students to competently articulate their own original ideas in a way that speaks to a committed audience.
Finding your academic voice
Understanding the intervention that we are trying to make begins with understanding the concept of "critical literacy." Critical literacy prioritizes a way of learning that helps students recognize the social, symbolic, and physical conditions that shape the world that surrounds them. The implicit implementation of this principle—sometimes operating under the rubric of “critical thinking”—is now ubiquitous in the academy. But such was not always the case. The history of the mainstream adoption of critical literacy in American higher education is complicated, but it roughly began in the early 1970s when instructors started publishing their own accounts of Paulo Freire’s novel theories on teaching.
One of the key ideas in Freire’s work is the distinction between narrative education and problem-posing education. In narrative education, teachers push students to systematically memorize the teacher’s own “narrated content." Content is determined in advance, and students strive to contain as much of it as possible. In contradistinction, problem-posing education allows students to become “co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher” (81). Freire explains that in “problem-posing education people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves” (83). Through this measure, students “come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation” (83). Even if instructors do not consciously draw on Freire in their pedagogy, they implicitly invoke his concept of critical literacy when they encourage students to construct their own concepts of course material through engaged dialogue and searching critique. Indeed, such methods have become the backbone of humanities-education at the university.
Nevertheless, the methods through which instructors assess their students, that is, how they determine which grades their students will receive, has not kept pace with the advancements in teaching brought about by an emphasis on critical literacy. Most assessment is done through the evaluation of term papers. In these papers, students must demonstrate their competence by adapting to the conventions of academic discourse. It is no secret that first-generation college students, international students, and other marginalized groups suffer most when a college course requires analytical writing. And students have few resources for gaining the necessary tools for effectively communicating their ideas to their instructors. Office hours are never long enough, and writing centers are under-resourced. Instructors, meanwhile, are caught in between. Many recognize the need to honor the unique voices of their students, and even some support the radical pedagogical aims of decolonizing their syllabi. Nevertheless, discipline-based forms of communication draw a sharp border around a language community from which many students are excluded.
We want to change that. CWM allows instructors to engage with students throughout the writing process. Students gain direct insight into the strategies that academic writers employ when they attempt to persuade their audiences. With CWM students can find their academic voices.
Students find their academic voices when they...
Are guided to understand strategies for sharpening their arguments
See how an argument can be refined in order to meet the expectations of an academic audience
Understand why an argument needs to be changed in order to meet the stated objectives of a thesis statement
Are helped to both locate and correct mechanical errors
Are shown how to correctly format a paper
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