Despite the challenges of remote instruction, students in my Writing 100 class have done very well to engage in their learning by working with each other and reading and writing in meaningful ways. What follows is shout out to my students and their ongoing, insightful, and differently demonstrated participation throughout the term.
This is a shout out to students like Gail and Maya whose willingness to voice questions, offer answers, and venture guesses during class created momentum for our learning. There are also those students who looked out for each other, or looked to each other, for their learning, like Mary and Jack. This also a shout out to students like Lesley, Bradley, and Emily who attended office hours or sent emails to advocate for their own learning.
By the end of an exhausting and unsettling semester, it was difficult for students to feel connected to the class, so those who attempted connections, like Ari, who has a pit bull, and Clayton, the only student with a country music submission to our course playlist (see below), made things feel more personable. Kim was the only student who kept her camera on during class meetings. Though I don’t require students to appear onscreen, it was still a little sad to see so many black squares, so Kim made remote teaching feel more connective.
This is also a shout out to students like Rebecca and Shaila who wrote such thoughtful annotations in the shared readings that they elevated coursework marginalia to a craft.
This is also for those students whose writing and research really stood out: from Doane’s laugh-out-loud literacy narrative, to Rushil’s exceptional analysis; from Nick’s unique subject for his research paper, to Olivia’s innovative take on the clapback as a rhetorical device; from Rylie’s nuanced analysis of social media, Christian values, and the presidential election, to Max’s clear practice of establishing positionality in academic writing.
In sum, we had a successful semester.
April Conway Lecturer, Sweetland Center for Writing
It goes without saying that this has been a semester like no other. From the transition to remote learning to strikes on campus to the outbreaks and impacts of COVID-19, U-M students have contended with a lot.
Given all of these challenges, we at Sweetland are grateful for what we can view as successes of the semester, including our ability to help faculty implement writing-to-learn assignments in their MWrite courses. The MWrite program focuses on deepening student learning by using content-based writing assignments as well as a writing process of drafting, peer reviewing, and revising.
Over four years we have been running MWrite, we have learned a lot about how writing-to-learn pedagogies can help with student learning in a range of courses and disciplines. Our research indicates that these assignments can support conceptual learning and disciplinary thinking, while also helping students identify that what they are learning is relevant beyond an academic context (see Finkenstaedt-Quinn et al. JCE 2017; Halim et al. CBE 2018; Watts et al. CERP 2020). With the pandemic, we have learned something new: these assignments translate well to remote learning and provide an important opportunity for students to engage with each other by giving and receiving peer feedback
None of our success this semester would have been possible without our undergraduate Writing Fellows. Writing Fellows are the heart of the MWrite Program and work throughout the semester to help students in their courses. The work that Writing Fellows do is complex, as it requires not only a solid understanding of assignment content but also ideas for how to explain the material to other students. Although Writing Fellows receive a stipend for their efforts, they often say their favorite part of the experience is the chance to help other students. Fellows are incredibly committed to helping the students in their courses and have noted how much they gain from being a Fellow, especially an appreciation for all of the different ways that students approach their assignment and useful skills in giving feedback and working as part of an instructional team. This semester, Sweetland supported 63 Writing Fellows in 8 different courses, including high enrollment courses such as Stats 250 (Introduction to Statistics) and Math 216 (Differential Equations). We were also able to expand our efforts to the School of Nursing, by working with Professor Megan Eagle on using MWrite in Nursing 420 (Introduction to Global Health).
Despite the challenges of the semester, the Writing Fellows more than rose to the occasion by investing additional time and energy into their efforts. The Writing Fellows not only did more to hold their remote office hours by learning the ins and outs of Zoom, but also spent more time attending weekly meetings to coordinate our efforts. Writing Fellows were there to help answer student’s questions via email and Piazza and were more than willing to make accommodations when students had emergencies.
Even more remarkable, the Writing Fellows did all of this while contending with their own challenges related to online learning, COVID outbreaks, and working from different parts of the country and even the world. Our experience this semester just confirmed what we already knew about our Writing Fellows—they represent the best of us and make us proud to Go Blue every day. We are wowed by their perseverance, their compassion, and their work ethic and are so grateful to have the opportunity to work with such a fine group of students.
Through this trying time, we can say this for certain: we have never been more proud of U-M students, for showing up and giving it their all. And we are especially grateful for the work of our Writing Fellows, who not only persevered under such trying circumstances but excelled. We thank each and every one of them for their help in making this semester a success.
Finkenstaedt-Quinn, S. A., Halim, A. S., Chambers, T. G., Moon, A., Goldman, R. S., Gere, A. R., & Shultz, G. V. (2017). Investigation of the influence of a writing-to-learn assignment on student understanding of polymer properties. Journal of Chemical Education, 94(11), 1610-1617.
Halim, A. S., Finkenstaedt-Quinn, S. A., Olsen, L. J., Gere, A. R., & Shultz, G. V. (2018). Identifying and remediating student misconceptions in introductory biology via writing-to-learn assignments and peer review. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 17(2), ar28.
Watts, F. M., Schmidt-McCormack, J. A., Wilhelm, C. A., Karlin, A., Sattar, A., Thompson, B. C., … & Shultz, G. V. (2020). What students write about when students write about mechanisms: analysis of features present in students’ written descriptions of an organic reaction mechanism. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 21(4), 1148-1172.
Larissa Sano Lecturer, Sweetland Center for Writing Faculty Director – Writing in STEM
Ginger Shultz Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry MWrite Co-Principal Investigator
Sweetland and the English Department Writing Program offer prizes for student writers in LSA. Sweetland’s prizes include: the Prize for Outstanding Writing Portfolio, the Matt Kelley Prize for Excellence in First-Year Writing, and the Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing. Instructors nominate student writing for each of the prizes. These prizes are awarded annually in the winter term.
Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (Social Sciences)
Max Steinbaum, “D.C. Dog Fight: Principle and Pragmatism of the Bush-era Supreme Court” Nominated by Jacob Walden, POLSCI 319: Politics of Civil Liberties and Civil Rights
Maryellen Zbrozek, “The Plastic Problem: What are Scientists doing to Reduce their Environmental Footprint?” Nominated by Julie Halpert, ENVIRON 320: Environmental Journalism – Reporting about Science, Policy and Public Health
Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (Sciences)
Alice Sorel, “Cerebral Organoids: Promising New Window into Neurodevelopment” Nominated by Jimmy Brancho, WRITING 400: Writing and Research in the Sciences
Franco Tavella, “Gene editing for the 21st century: CRISPR/Cas9 and Prime Editing” Nominated by Qiong Yang, BIOPHYS 450/550: Intro to Biophysics Laboratory
Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (Humanities)
Jinan Abufarha, “عنوان” Nominated by Christine Modey, WRITING 300: Seminar in Peer Writing Consultation
Davis Boos, “A Second Exile: Mario Benedetti’s Absence in English” Nominated by Marlon James Sales, COMPLIT 322: Translated Wor(l)ds
Sweetland interns Anna Vanderberg and Briana Johnson spent the summer refining databases and analytical materials for both the Minor in Writing and Peer Writing Consultant Program. The two focused for much of the three months on making a more accessible database for the Minor in Writing Capstone Portfolios and designing a system to categorize each student’s project. They also surveyed and analyzed other campus peer mentoring programs in order to improve the experience of Peer Writing Consultants. Additionally, Anna and Briana spoke to a total of 52 classes about Sweetland services as part of their outreach initiatives. The two gained experience in creating calendars and checklists through Google Sheets, and enjoyed connecting with faculty and students during the Spring and Summer terms.
For the Peer Writing Program, Anna and Briana analyzed the surveys and created a three-page report that included pay rates, hours worked, and training focuses, which then was shared with other peer-led tutoring facilities on campus. For the Minor in Writing, the main goals for the database were to understand what program resources are being utilized and what resources minors could be educated on more, and how confident minors seem to be in creating multimodal work. Towards the end of the summer, the two created a promotional video for the Peer Writing Center’s new space in Shapiro Library and an informational video about Sweetland’s services.
The two enjoyed their experiences during their
time at Sweetland’s, even when they forgot to take out the trash and their
entire office smelled like rotting chicken! Beyond their forgetfulness, Anna
and Briana built off each other’s passion for work; they worked hard to meet
project deadlines and were open to learning new skills when it came to spreadsheets,
graphing data, and video editing software. The two hope to take their new-found
skills into their post-grad careers.
Sweetland’s prizes for outstanding writing in First-Year and Upper-Level Writing Requirement courses consists of a monetary award along with their work published in a series that collects the prize-winning writing in two volumes, Excellence in First-Year Writing and Excellence in Upper-Level Writing. Writing Prize winners were recognized at a ceremony in April 2019.
In Summer 2019, the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program (LHSP) officially adopted a new name: Lloyd Scholars for Writing and the Arts (LSWA). Lloyd staff, in consultation with students, chose this name because it better reflects the program’s mission and theme (“writing and the arts”). Yet we haven’t made this decision lightly. Since our program has a long history, starting with the Pilot Program (1962) then transitioning to the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program in the mid-90s, we decided to hold onto “Lloyd” in our new name in deference to this rich history. The new name both honors that past and more accurately describes the program.
LSWA continues to offer
innovative writing and arts classes, student-led clubs, poetry awards,
leadership opportunities, and an annual writing and arts publication. Most
important, the community of first- and second-year students, student leaders,
and RAs remains a close-knit, supportive, and diverse group, where students can
be creative, whatever their major.
Sweetland faculty provides LSWA students innovative and interdisciplinary writing classes. In the fall term faculty taught a variety of LHSP 125 classes that fulfill the first-year writing requirement. Winter term courses include such old favorites as Writing and Movement and Children’s Literature, as well as new offerings such as Playwriting and Dramaturgy and “Event Zero: Writing into Mystery.” Another winter term highlight: LSWA will showcase artist-in-residence Carrie Morris, a Detroit-based director and performance artist whose work combines puppetry, multimedia, and experimental theatre. Additionally, LSWA is working with the LSA Opportunity Hub on developing arts and writing related internships with LSWA alumni.
To learn more about the program, please check out our student-produced video announcing LSWA’s new name.
It’s finally done! After 8 years, 169 students, 322 surveys, 131 interviews, 94 electronic portfolios, 2406 pieces of writing, and untold numbers of hours invested in reading, analyzing, and writing, the book-length study of writing development among U-M students has been finished. This ground-breaking study offers a comprehensive portrait of how students develop as writers during their undergraduate years. Results of this study show that when they graduate student writers have an increased awareness of audience, a deeper understanding of the social nature of writing, greater ability to use feedback effectively, an enhanced capacity to produce nuanced arguments, and deeper understanding of the connections between writing and their own personal and social development.
Despite these general trends, this study showed that students’ writerly development takes many paths, and none of these follows a predictable or straightforward route. Students make strides as writers and then stall for a while. They do well writing in one disciplinary area and flounder in another. They feel confident as writers and then feel overwhelmed by a new challenge. Uneveness of writing development is particularly evident in the differences between digital and traditional writing. Some less experienced writers composed more effectively in digital formats while other stronger writers were never entirely convinced that digital writing was actually what one called “writing writing.”
The book-length account of this study is available in two forms: a traditional book and an online version. The latter includes an “engagement layer” that translates study findings into language accessible to non-academics, and a “data layer” that makes all the study data available to other researchers. Developing Writers in Higher Education: A Longitudinal Study will be published by the University of Michigan Press, and will be available in January 2019.
This year two of Sweetland’s ongoing programs, the Writer to Writer series and the Minor in Writing, joined forces. Under the leadership of Writer to Writer chair and Minor in Writing Advisor Shelley Manis, Minor in Writing students have created a student-run journal focusing on interdisciplinary multimodal writing and processes. The journal’s name? Writer to Writer.
After hearing a desire from students for an extra-curricular project on which they could collaborate to create something tangible, Manis and fellow Minor in Writing advisors Julie Babcock and Jimmy Brancho set out to make it happen. This summer, they formed a working group to explore student interest, research other student-run journals, and imagine what Sweetland’s might look like.
Writer to Writer will be comprised of an annual print publication and biannual e-publication with polished student pieces, as well as a website/blog with monthly, more informal publications of student pieces. A core group of committed students has established an Executive Board, formed a student org, and sent out calls for content based on the following vision statement, crafted by the EBoard:
Writer to Writer aims to foster interdisciplinary creativity by showcasing the literary work of University of Michigan students in a variety of modes, mediums, and genres. We hope to create a space through which we can not only cultivate an appreciation for the minds behind the content, but also encourage collaboration and growth amongst our community of writers. By building a publication of strong, challenging, and engaging content, we seek to provoke readers and celebrate the power of creative expression.
Writer to Writer’s Executive Board and teams:
Co-editors in Chief — Jacob Stropes & Antonia Vrana
Outreach Chair — Aylin Gunal | Team: Will Solmssen, Briana Johnson
Art & Design Chair — Brooks Eisenbise | Team: Lauren Weiss, Antonia Vrana
Administrative Chairs (Secretary & Treasurer) – Caitlyn Zawideh & Christine Lee
Submissions Chair — Lauren Weiss
Look for the first electronic issue in December or January, and the first annual print publication in 2019.
Every fall, students from Detroit and surrounding communities come to the University of Michigan’s Detroit Center for free college essay writing workshops run by U-M’s Sweetland Center for Writing (SCW) in partnership with the Admissions Office and its counselors at the Detroit Center. The goal of these workshops has always been to create more access, particularly for those students who are first-generation and/or under-represented.
With these goals of access in mind, students can choose from workshops offered between September and December, with several offered before Michigan’s Early Action November 1st deadline. An undergraduate peer consultant from the SCW and a doctoral student from the Joint Program in English and Education (JPEE) run each workshop, which begins with general insights about the essay writing process, ranging from advice about choosing life events, to navigating how students can better “show” their experiences using voice and imagery. Students then participate in a collaborative peer-review of sample essays, before they are divided into smaller groups for more individualized essay attention on either the Common Application Essay or one of the three required U-M supplemental essays.
Elizabeth Tacke, a JPEE doctoral student who has participated in these workshops for several years, says about this experience:
I find myself most often helping students to see and articulate how the everyday aspects of their lives matter and are applicable to the content of Michigan’s required essays. I’m always most excited to talk with students one-on-one to hear how they are choosing to represent themselves through narrative, their aspirations for study at Michigan, and the sense of self the communities they write about have given them. I recognize the stakes of these workshops through each individual I encounter. For many students, admission to institutions like Michigan is often barred because of inequitable circumstances, yet every student I encounter has a voice, a story to tell, and experiences that would positively impact Michigan’s student population.
This year, in celebration of the National Day on Writing, the Sweetland Center’s Writer to Writer committee collected thank you notes addressed to our good friend, Writing, for whatever the wonderful things it has done for us. Students who visited the Writing Workshop and Peer Writing Centers, as well as students in Sweetland faculty’s classes and many other visitors to the Center, wrote notes ranging from utmost sincerity to tongue-in-cheek parody. Here are just a few…
Sweetland’s prizes for outstanding writing in First-Year and Upper-Level Writing Requirement courses receive a significant monetary award along with having their work published in a series that collects the prize-winning writing in two volumes, Excellence in First-Year Writing and Excellence in Upper-Level Writing. Writing Prize winners were recognized at a ceremony in April 2018.
Sweetland’s prizes for outstanding writing in First-Year and Upper-Level Writing Requirement courses receive a significant monetary award along with having their work published in a series that collects the prize-winning writing in two volumes, Excellence in First-Year Writing and Excellence in Upper-Level Writing. Writing Prize winners were recognized at a ceremony in April 2017.
Thanks to a very generous gift from the Granader Family, Sweetland’s prizes for outstanding writing in First-Year and Upper-Level Writing Requirement courses receive a significant monetary award along with having their work published in a series that collects the prize-winning writing in two volumes, Excellence in First-Year Writing and Excellence in Upper-Level Writing. Writing Prize winners were recognized at a ceremony in April 2016.
First-Year Writing Prizes
Matt Kelley/Granader Family Prize for Excellence in First-Year Writing
Thomas Aiello “Challenging Media Representations of the Global Refugee Crisis” nominated by Robyn D’Avignon, History 195
Caroline Rothrock “Walking into Eternity along Sandymount Strand: Regarding the Importance of Walking in the Works of James Joyce” nominated by Karein Goertz, RC 100
Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Multilingual Writing
Hyunju Lee “What Can You Do on Your Own?” nominated by Scott Beal, Writing 120
Ran Ming “Females in STEM Need a Stronger Voice” nominated by Jing Xia, Writing 120
Granader Family Prize for Outstanding Writing Portfolio
The summer intern experience gave two students, Aaron Pelo and Rachel Hutchings, an opportunity to fine-tune and apply many of the skills they have learned during their time in the Minor in Writing and the Peer Writing Consultant Program.
They worked closely with the Sweetland faculty on a number of projects, including outreach to summer term students as well as gathering and analyzing data on demographics in the Minor in Writing. They found that the Minor brings together students from a large diversity of fields, and that the number of Minor in Writing students in those fields was proportional to the total number of U-M students in that major.
The bulk of their attention was focused on creating supplementary materials for the Minor in Writing and Peer Writing Consultant Program. They put together a number of video recordings of consultation sessions in the Peer Writing Center, in order for those in Writing 300 to have more opportunities to observe real consultation sessions.
They reviewed two semesters’ worth of Minor in Writing gateway and capstone eportfolios, taking note of where students were succeeding and where there was still some room for improvement. With this information they then built an interactive guide aiming to highlight some of the basics of design and digital communication for first-time site builders.
They summed up their experience this way: “Interning at Sweetland allowed us both to have a hand in developing the programs that we care deeply about. We are excited to see how our work is employed and expanded upon in the future.”