NOTE: At its regular meeting on March 17, 2003, the Faculty Senate approved the following curriculum item from the Academic Affairs Committee. President Gates approved this item on April 1, 2003.
Guidelines for W (Writing Intensive) Courses
Paul Parrish (Chair), Rick Curry, Rick Carlson, Cady Engler, Charles Glover, Arthur Hobbs, Kenn Harding (Faculty Senate), and Valerie Balester (University Writing Center)
We offer the following guidelines in accordance with the Faculty Senate’s Core Curriculum Review Committee report entitled “Educational Leadership at the Beginning of the 21st Century” (March 28, 2000, as amended and approved by the Faculty Senate, May 8, 2000)–where this report establishes the W course graduation requirement.
To quote that report directly:
4. As a complement to the six-hour communications requirement, require additional writing instruction in two writing-intensive (“W”) courses. Each of these courses should include approximately one semester-hour of writing instruction, and the course must be graded accordingly on the level of demonstrated writing skill. (For example, a one-hour lab that contains significant writing instruction with its grade dependent on the level of demonstrated writing skill satisfies this requirement.) To allow as much flexibility as possible in meeting this requirement, “W” courses can be provided in a number of ways, for example, by adapting existing courses, by designing new courses specifically for the purpose, through “capstone” courses, or through preparation of a senior thesis with an appropriate component of writing instruction. “W” courses can be proposed by any department and will be approved and monitored by the Core Curriculum Council, as described elsewhere in this document.
The report states further that the university should:
5. Establish a new graduation requirement: students must complete two “W” courses. The intent of this requirement is to develop writing skill appropriate to the major field of study; we therefore encourage departments to develop their own “W” courses.
Given these charges, then, the following criteria are considered necessary for the approval of a W course.
1. A W course must:
Be a discipline-specific, content area-course that incorporates writing either to demonstrate knowledge or to reinforce learning or both.
Include approximately one-semester hour of writing instruction with demonstration of writing skill to account for an appropriate proportion of the final grade. For example, the requirement might be met by a three-credit course that devotes at least one-third of class instruction to writing and that bases at least one-third of the final course grade on writing competence, or by a one-credit course in which the grade depends in the main, though not necessarily exclusively, on writing.
2. Furthermore, we offer the following additional requirements:
As a general rule, undergraduate students will not be allowed to grade writing for a W course. However, if special circumstances demand their use, an exception is allowed if said students are trained and supervised by a faculty member. Further, undergraduate students may determine no more than 10% of the writing portion of the final course grade.
Transfer of course credit into Texas A&M to satisfy the W requires proof that the W requirement was met, in the form of a course syllabus to be submitted to the W Course Advisory Board.
3. In addition, a W course should:
Specify in the syllabus that a portion of the final course grade is based on writing quality.
Provide feedback to students as to the content, style, mechanics, format, organization, and presentation of writing assignments. This feedback, which may be provided by any number of means such as preliminary grades, peer review, writing center consultation, or self-analysis, should be structured so that students may use it to revise drafts in progress.
Provide instruction and opportunities for practice so as to increase fluency and knowledge of discourse conventions within a given discipline.
Assign writing from genres (or types of documents) likely to be of use to students in academia or the workplace.
Address ethical issues, particularly plagiarism, including making the consequences for plagiarism clear in the syllabus. Ideally, W courses should be structured to minimize plagiarism by providing:
Sufficient time for writing;
Feedback on successive drafts for major papers, and
Instruction in documentation and citation for specific disciplines.
The following guidelines are also recommended. While these are not the only means to create a W course, they should help those proposing W courses understand the sort of course envisioned. Deviations from these practices should be justified in course proposals.
- Class size is not mandated, but a 20-to-1 ratio (or less) is recommended.
- The instructor of record for a W course should be a faculty member who is in control of the curriculum and who is available to students as well as to any assistants (such as peer tutors or teaching assistants). Faculty should have approval over grades given by any teaching assistant and should have set up a workable method to ensure consistent and fair grading.
- The course should provide opportunities for revision and feedback as well as encourage students not simply to correct surface errors of first drafts, but also to use writing as an opportunity to think more substantively (or more clearly) and to communicate more effectively. Such feedback does not have to be graded. Syllabi presented for approval should specify how this will be accomplished.
- Finished, edited writing for grading should total at least 2000 words (8 pages) in a 3-credit course. However, this guideline may vary for discipline-specific reasons: in business, a concise, 500-word memo may be more difficult to produce and more valuable than a 2000-word essay. Two shorter papers (1000 words each) spaced throughout the semester may be more pedagogically sound than one major paper at the end of a course.
- Writing assignments are preferably distributed throughout the course to allow students to benefit optimally from feedback. While feedback does not have to take the form of a grade, it can be useful for students to have at least a mid-term grade so that they are clear on course standards and expectations.
- Assignments that encourage creative, critical thinking and that invite students to take ownership of their ideas are preferred over assignments that require a stock or uniform response. While many teachers find it effective to grade essay exams by searching for key terms, such a practice is counterproductive in a W course. Students instead should be learning the acceptable forms of proof or types of evidence, the respected arguments and authorities, and the standard methods of documentation in their majors.
- Ungraded, informal writing can contribute greatly to students’ improvement. Low stakes assignments such as having student write journals can help them develop fluency and provide them with ideas to explore in more formal papers. Short, in-class writing can provide opportunities for practice and discussion. Major assignments can be preceded by short, ungraded assignments.
Mechanisms to Satisfy the W Requirement
It was the intent of the Core Curriculum Review Committee that students “develop writing skills appropriate to their major field of study,” as stated in number 5, from their report (excerpted above). Thus, the course should preferably be in the student’s major–at the upper division. Therefore, we recommend the following:
- The course should preferably be in the major. However, it is recognized that not all departments will elect to create two W courses (that is, they may find other acceptable courses outside their departments their majors can use to fulfill the requirement). In such cases, departments should ensure that the W courses their students take can be reasonably said to develop “writing skills appropriate to their major.”
- The course should preferably be upper-division (i.e., at the junior or senior level). Lower-division courses do not typically require the level of engagement with course material most conducive to developing writing skills in a particular discipline. Texas A&M students already receive instruction in general writing through English 104 (Compositions and Rhetoric) and through English 210 or 301 (Technical Writing). Many also take lower-division humanities courses such as English 203 (Introduction to Literature) that require writing. While valuable, such courses do little to instruct students about writing in specific disciplines. Furthermore, credit for lower-division courses is often transferred into Texas A&M; a course designated here as W might not include significant writing instruction if transferred from another institution.
Many existing courses already either fit the W requirement or could be adapted to do so—therefore, we recommend that the graduation requirement of one course be listed in the Fall 2004 TAMU Catalog. The second course should be implemented within two years of that time (Fall 2006). While we anticipate that the Fall 2004 Schedule of Classes may not contain a sufficient number of W courses, there should be sufficient courses by 2006 when most entering students are upper-division.
A course will be approved for a period of four years and will be reviewed in the fourth year. For example, courses listed in the Fall 2004 schedule will be reviewed again in Fall 2007 for inclusion in the Fall 2008 Schedule of Classes.
Proposed W courses will be reviewed by a W Course Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee will recommend action to the Faculty Senate Core Curriculum Council, which will in turn submit its decision to the Faculty Senate for final approval. Should the W Course Advisory Committee reject a proposal, the committee must provide appropriate recommendations to the faculty proposing the W course, and invite re-submission.
The composition of the W Course Advisory Committee will be as follows:
- Chair: University Writing Center Director
- Secretary: Associate or Assistant Director of University Writing Center
- Members: One representative from each of the ten colleges and from Evans
- Library–to be appointed in the College (or in the case of the Library, by the Dean). We recommend appointment of faculty who have taught or proposed W courses.
- 2 upper-division undergraduate students, to be appointed by the Student Government Association
Terms for the College and Library representatives will be three years, on a rotational basis.
The W Course Advisory Committee should convene as soon as possible and begin piloting the process of course review. Courses submitted in Spring or Summer 2003 can be pre-approved for Fall 2004 through Fall 2007. Responsibility for informing faculty about the opportunity to submit W course proposals as well as assistance in preparing these proposals will be that of the director and staff of the University Writing Center.
Assessment and Effectiveness
The W Course Advisory Committee should monitor the progress of implementation, in particular:
- The creation of acceptable W courses
- The quality of W courses
- The ability of students to find acceptable courses, and
- The overall effectiveness of the W courses in improving writing at the University
It is expected that this graduation requirement will not seriously impede students’ progress toward completion of their degrees.