Most college professors are looking for ways to make writing a positive experience for students. This is increasingly a challenge in our contemporary world, which tends to be very image-oriented. This short paper outlines ways in which student writing-projects can be designed encourage critical and innovative thinking in students. Inclusive writing projects like the one outlined below can be integrated into classroom discussions and help students learn from each other. The process demonstrative that writing is an on-going process that is collaborative and serves a social function.
Vygotsky (1978) emphasized the importance of language in shaping our view of the world as well as in our ability to change it. Using language effectively in all of its potential for transformational power involves appropriating it in a personally meaningful fashion as well as, exploring the ways in which language is intimately connected to power in society (Freire, 1968; Shor & Pan, 1999). Writing can be an empowering process when students begin to comprehend the power of their voice; however for too many students, writing exemplifies their lack of power over their educational growth (Rose, 1985). Many students view writing as one of the least rewarding parts of their requirements for college courses (Harris, 1989). There is often a limited choice of topics that they can choose to write about, they are forced to follow standard organization procedures and finish their writing within previously set deadlines (Lyle, 1991; Rose, 1985). All of these lead students to view their writing assignments in class as an unwelcome chore bereft of any creative element.
For the reasons listed above and others, it has always been a challenge to encourage students to write in college classes. In addition, students in recent years are increasingly juggling myriad responsibilities while being students. Both young and old students have an overexposure to slick, quick cut media messages that make it difficult for them to think about a topic in sustained and meaningful ways (Shor, 1992; 1996). Often students in post secondary school education perceive their courses as simply a means to earning a diploma that would allow them 'real' job with 'real' pay and benefits (Street, 1984; Shor & Pari, 1999).
Students in my classes express a similar distaste for writing. They have so many misconceptions about what good writing is; many of them think it comes naturally to some people and that they are not one of them. Students think that the process involved for creative writing and technical writing is the same; they are spontaneous creations.
Technical writing is especially hard for many students, as they believe erroneously that personal opinions and experiences are of no help when discussing the topic. They complain about scholarly writing being dry and uninteresting.
In addition, college faculty in general have struggled with the issue of plagiarism as papers on varied topics are readily available online and can be purchased easily (Martin, 1994). Many students do not understand what plagiarism means and what constitutes cheating. Studies have shown that students tend to cheat more often when they think they can get away with it, when there are time pressures, when there is little help offered or guidelines instituted towards completing a project and when there is an over emphasis on one project as an indicator of overall performance in class. In fact, studies have demonstrated that higher achieving students tend to cheat more often than those who have less invested in doing well in class (Harris, 2001; Standler, 2000).
Over the years I have changed my writing assignments to more accurately reflect students' interests and needs. I have tried to give them projects that they might find themselves more invested in, offering them more choices in terms of topics, breaking down the goal of a finished paper into smaller segments, using more peer guidance and feedback and opportunities to work with others. …