The Rose Pathways Writing Project: Developing a Language for Writing

Collaborative Learning, Peer Tutoring, Satellite Locations, Student Voices, Tutorial Talk and Methods, Writing Across the Curriculum, Writing Centers, Writing Fellows / Monday, April 23rd, 2012

By Amanda Detry and Molly Rentscher.

Each new semester in the Writing Fellows Program presents a range of exciting opportunities and challenges. Having served as Writing Fellows for the past few semesters, we have collaborated with many faculty members and worked with students of all writing levels and abilities. Amid such diversity, however, every writing appointment is shaped by two core values. First, Writing Fellows help students see revision as an essential part of the writing process. Second, Writing Fellows believe in producing good writers—not necessarily good writing—by offering students tools and examples for improving their work.

Chadbourne Residential College
Chadbourne Residential College

When we were given the opportunity to facilitate the Rose Pathways Writing Project, we expected the experience would be similar to our work as Writing Fellows. Rose Pathways is a weekly one-credit writing seminar for current and former residents of the Chadbourne Residential Learning Community here at UW-Madison. We begin each class by sharing dinner with our students, which helps us establish a sense of community. Next, we teach a mini writing lesson (on essay organization, thesis statements, citations, or a similar topic) in response to our students’ specific questions or concerns. Finally, we spend the majority of class facilitating a peer-review workshop: each week, two students present their drafts and receive constructive feedback from their peers on range of higher- and lower-order concerns.

At first, we thought our role in this process would be much the same as our role as Writing Fellows, but perhaps a bit more directive. Like Fellows, we would create an agenda, facilitate a conversation about writing, and perform careful readings of students’ work, but we would also play a slightly larger role in structuring, guiding, and engaging students in that conversation.

For the most part, this has been true. What we didn’t immediately foresee, however, is the role our students would play in developing their own language for this conversation. As our students engage with the ideas and writing of their peers, they have found new ways to talk about writing—a skill they will carry with them into their future coursework.

Three brief stories from class stand out to us:

Barnard Hall, part of Chadbourne Residential College
Barnard Hall, part of Chadbourne Residential College

Story #1: Midway through class one week, a student expressed frustration about an upcoming assignment. The prompt was confusing, and she couldn’t organize her ideas, so she turned to the class: “Where do I start?” We instantly turned on our facilitator brains, prepared to lead a conversation about the direction this student should take with her work; the resulting conversation was so natural, however, that our efforts were scarcely needed. “What are your main ideas?” “Have you considered presenting one aspect of your thesis first, and then follow it up with the other part?” “I think you need to frame your paper around a central topic. . . .”  Listening to our students talk about the structure of an assignment, with no prompt in front of them and only a limited understanding of their classmate’s ideas, revealed the extent to which our students were beginning to take ownership of the writing process and the enthusiasm with which they approached the task.

Story #2: On the first day of class, we ask each of our students to present two drafts over the course of the semester. Recently, however, we’ve found students jumping on the opportunity to present more than twice, or to workshop a paper multiple times. Considering the fact that many of our students used to write papers “the night before they’re due,” as they confessed at the beginning of the semester, this transformation demonstrates their new level of engagement with the writing process and the value they see in completing assignments ahead of time, with careful thought.

Story #3: Each week, we begin our peer-review sessions by inviting each student to constructively praise that week’s writer. During one of our first sessions, the praises rolled in for a particular student’s draft: “You have great voice throughout this paper!” “Your ideas are well-developed; you make a strong case, and I trust what you have to say.” We returned to the writer, who gave a shy smile: “Wow—I didn’t expect to hear so many good things about this paper.” Slowly, slowly, the students of Rose Pathways are helping each other believe they can contribute to academic discussions, and that they have a unique, powerful, and important voice to share through their writing.

As Writing Fellows, we are used to working with individually students on their own writing assignments. The Rose Pathways Writing Project, however, has taught us the immeasurable value of a larger community of writers: a place where students share their work, think critically about their peers’ writing styles, and contribute to an ongoing conversation about forming, reshaping, and communicating one’s ideas through the written word.

17 Replies to “The Rose Pathways Writing Project: Developing a Language for Writing”

  1. It’s such a privilege to direct this program and observe what rich, inventive, and collaborative work you do in Rose Pathways. In particular, I have been so impressed with how you translate your Writing Fellows training and experience into principles and lessons that the students you teach–who are not Fellows, but are thoughtful academic writers–can put into practice. I’ve loved visiting your class and hearing your students use terms from the readings you taught in the first four weeks of class, as well as terminology from writing center and peer tutoring literature. I have learned so much from the hands-on writing exercises you’ve generated each week. Thank you both for being such thoughtful and engaged teachers.

  2. How exciting to be able to witness your students applying the concepts you’ve taught! Congratulations to both of you!

  3. Hey, nice job, you two! Your students are very lucky to have you as teachers. 🙂 Your blog post makes me wonder what sort of environment students prefer when revising and talking about papers–a group setting like this one, or one-on-one in a Writing Center or Writing Fellow conference?

  4. I love the approach you describe here! Seems like the perfect way to both demystify academic writing AND to help students feel connected to it. Congratulations on all the good work you’re doing!

  5. Your story about the developing intellectual and social competencies of your students, and the community processes that support them–which processes include you, of course–is deeply inspiring and fills my heart with gladness for all of you who are privileged to experience these wonderful benefits of a great liberal arts education. It sounds like a fabulous class and a marvelous way to learn how to learn, and how to teach, too!

  6. Wow, I love the way you show how your work has moved from an individual level to a community level. I think this is a great way to think about the work of the Rose Workshop facilitators as well as other kinds of WAC work. Essentially, what it seems like you are doing, is giving students the opportunity to compose and share in a community setting, and through that process, they will learn skills that they can take outside of this workshop and bring into other communities they work in. Congratulations on your great work! You’ll remember this forever!

  7. What a great experience! The peer-review aspect of the students’ writing process is an interesting contrast to the one-on-one format of Writing Fellow conferences. Makes me wonder what Writing Fellow classes would gain from creating their own peer dialogue in addition to conferences with a fellow!

  8. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experiences in the CRC community! I have heard nothing but great things about the Rose Pathways Writing Project and it is a pleasure to have you creating a valuable and worthwhile opportunities that I have no doubt will benefit them in the future.

  9. Fantastic post, Amanda and Molly! Thanks for sharing these experiences. I’m so impressed that students are choosing to workshop drafts more than the required number of times! What a testament to your terrific leadership! Great work!

  10. Hooray for the Rose Pathways Writing Project and the fabulous job you’ve done with it, Amanda and Molly! Thank you for this thoughtful post and the stories of success you’ve shared from this semester. I loved the time I spent working with the two fellows who led the project last year, and I am so, so happy to see how the project has continued to thrive and grow this year as the two of you have put your imprint on it. I think the development of writing communities like the one you’ve shaped make a huge difference in students’ lives and, through them, can really contribute to a vibrant culture of writing on a university campus, too.

  11. Hi Molly and Amanda–Thanks for granting us such thoughtful insights into the Rose Pathways experience! It certainly made me smile to read about students taking ownership over their own writing and supporting each other in such a generous and sensitive fashion. To echo the comments and questions of previous commenters, I’m curious as to what the effects or consequences are when peer tutoring migrates from one-on-one interaction to a group setting. How, if at all, do those students who pass through Rose Pathways go on to create their own collaborative writing spaces among friends, peers, etc.? Keep up the good work!

  12. Hi everyone! Thanks for all the comments and support! This has truly been a fantastic experience. @Logan and Jenna, it’s been interesting to hold conversations with our students about their writing experiences outside the classroom. They have started to apply some of the revision principles we talk about in class (e.g., “higher-order” vs. “lower-order” concerns) while examining their friends’ papers, although they’ve also reported that this doesn’t always go over real well … sometimes students just want a quick grammar fix to an assignment! They’ve also reflected on the frustration they feel when they ask a friend to read and comment their papers, and their friend responds with a simple, “it’s good.” In other words, they do seem to be generating some writing conversations in less formal spaces, much like I found myself doing after participating in the Writing Fellows Program.

  13. I so love hearing about the incredible work Writing Fellows do at UW-Madison, and now here’s a chance to hear what you do beyond the Writing Fellows program. Thanks so much for sharing!

  14. Amanda and Molly, the work you are doing sounds incredibly satisfying and has given me lots to think about in terms of showcasing the writing of individual students in a group setting. I had always sort of thought that most writers would not want to be the object of such intense scrutiny, but it seems from what you depict here that being the center of attention can help the writer experience a tangible sense of an audience of individuals; I also imagine there is a lesson to be learned in providing sincere and thoughtful feedback. I’m very glad that Fellows have really taken ownership of the workshop–it’s a very important extension of the work you do as peer tutors. Congratulations on a successful year.

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