Writing Program Work
I am currently in my sixth year as Director of First-Year Writing at UL Lafayette. My administrative philosophy is simple: I assess the needs of students, teachers, and the university as a whole, and I work to fill those needs using insights and techniques from current research in rhetoric and composition studies. I regularly ask for teachers' perspectives and suggestions and the input of the First-Year Writing Committee, which I chair, when making decisions about the writing program. Writing program administration, like any administrative work, can be more difficult to document than research and teaching, but in my attempt, I have used some of the ideas in the Council of Writing Program Administrators' statement Evaluating the Intellectual Work of Writing Administration. While in my position, I have worked mostly in the following three categories from the CWPA statement:
When I took on this position, the curriculum had just been overhauled after twenty-five years without change. My task was to assess the new curriculum and make changes to its design at my discretion. Under my leadership, the curriculum has changed from a focus on writing as inquiry to a focus on the habits of mind, rhetorical structures, and other conventions of academic writing, generally speaking (though we have kept some aspects of the inquiry element of the curriculum). Our curriculum continues to emphasize writing as a process, critical thinking and reading, and rhetorical strategies. The First-Year Writing Program site for prospective students, parents, and other public constituencies has a brief description of our curriculum.
Another relevant aspect of my curricular design work is my involvement with dual enrollment. I work closely with University College, and with administrators and faculty from local high schools, to form and maintain partnerships with area schools. We now regularly offer First-Year Writing courses at Vermilion Catholic High School, West St. Mary High School, Loreauville High School, and Acadiana High School, and we are working toward offering courses at North Vermilion High School, Teurlings High School, Ascension Episcopal School, and Episcopal School of Acadiana. I understand the particular challenges of upholding college-level academic standards in dual enrollment classrooms: providing teachers with the mentoring and professional development they need and allowing flexibility within the curriculum so that students meet both high school and college outcomes.
I have held many professional development workshops for writing teachers on topics such as responding to student writing, assignment design, plagiarism, teaching research writing, and engaging cultural diversity in the writing curriculum. I have also brought outside speakers to the department: Trish Roberts-Miller, University of Texas; Amy Propen, California Polytechnic State University; and Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, University of Illinois at Chicago. The most significant and labor-intensive project I have done for faculty development, though, is to create an online repository of teaching materials for first-year writing teachers (click "login as a guest" to view the repository) containing over 100 documents, including sample syllabuses, assignment handouts, policy statements, procedure descriptions, and other resources.
Program Assessment and Evaluation:
I have done the most work in the area of assessment. I was asked initially to do assessment in preparation for our SACS review for reaccreditation, but I have done ongoing assessment ever since. Most of the documents in the Administration section of my portfolio are reports based on these assessment projects. I am working on a manuscript for the Journal of Writing Assessment based on the indirect assessment I did of our program: a survey that I distributed to 547 students in English 101 and 102 based on that of the Consortium for the Study of Writing in College. I have implemented practices for closing the loop on weaknesses we found, practices such as uploading instructional support materials onto a First-Year Writing Program Moodle site and conducting professional development workshops. Another assessment effort I’m involved in is the Global Competency Rapid Action Team, a group dedicated to addressing the student population’s weakness in global competency through General Education curriculum design and assessment. I see assessment as a rich opportunity for inquiry and research -- a way to build pedagogical theory.
One document in this part of my portfolio is titled "Proposal to Reduce Class Size in First-Year Writing." Along with my two assistants, I did research to support a change in our enrollment caps in English 101 and 102, which had climbed to 27 students per section after Hurricane Katrina. After reading my proposal, university leaders decided to lower the cap to 25 students per section. That is still higher than I would like, but in our institutional and state context of repeated budget cuts, it was a big win for the writing program, for students, and for teachers.
Other University-Level and State-Level Work:
I have also engaged in assessment connected to K-12 education. Currently, I serve on our university’s Campus Leadership Team for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), for which Louisiana is a governing state. PARCC is responsible for designing assessments tailored to the Common Core State Standards, which most states in the U.S. will soon be using at the K-12 level. I take this work very seriously: we have an opportunity to design rich assessment constructs that are more valid than and as reliable as the standardized tests students now take. One of the documents in this portfolio is "PARCC Campus Leadership Team Work," and it is a collection of competencies that the PARCC Campus Leadership Team wants students to have upon entering college. The audience for this document was the Louisiana Department of Education, and I made sure to include the eight habits of mind listed in the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing among those competencies, so that awareness of this valuable research would be raised.
Along with my PARCC work, I am chairing a committee dedicated to assessing our English Education program and its majors. This committee reports to Dean Gerald Carlson and Associate Dean Paula Montgomery, who assembled the committee in preparation for the College of Education’s National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) review. Our committee, which represents a collaboration between the English Department and College of Education, is called the NCTE SPA, or National Council of Teachers of English Specialized Professional Associations, and our task is to assess how well the English courses and Education courses prepare our undergraduates according to NCTE’s standards for English Language Arts teachers.