‘Mostly, we think of writing as taking place on the page, and I want to place writing in the mouth’ (Peter Elbow, 2008).
These powerful words from Peter Elbow capture how writing involves reading aloud and talking through the process of making meaning out of words. Writing and literacy more broadly is a social practice that is not just about technical skills. Learning to write effectively involves dialogue and interaction. The same is true of academic writing.
Within the Arts and Humanities, mastery of academic writing skills is often a source of anxiety as it is a student’s primary means of communicating their learning and understanding. These anxieties can influence confidence levels and have a negative impact on a student’s sense of their own ability to engage in academic discourse. The complex critical paraphernalia encountered in much academic writing can act as a barrier not only to a student’s ability to understand a text, but also to communicate their grasp of a topic as they may imitate a style of writing that is perceived as academic.
As the education sector and government continue to debate the level of literacy skills in the UK, the demand for effective academic support within universities to improve the quality of student academic writing is perhaps more pressing than ever before. Active and collaborative writing support is essential, not only to overcome the anxieties that can arise when attempting to create structured, lucid writing about complex critical issues, but also to build student confidence and resilience that will serve them well in the world of work.
The challenges that academic support teams face in developing student academic writing were explored this November at a ‘Grow Your Skills’ event that focused on enhancing institutional practice in academic writing. Led by Lisa Clughen, editor of Writing in the Disciplines: Building Supportive Cultures for Student Writing in UK HE, the workshop considered a number of examples of good practice for the teaching academic writing. The power of collaborative support in developing student academic writing was a central theme of the workshop as “few physical, intellectual or social skills can be acquired simply by being told about them. Most require practice in a supportive environment” (Sadler, 1989: 120). By facilitating opportunities for students to read, write, structure, critically analyse and revise together (using collaborative technologies such as Peerwise), academic writing skills can be positively nurtured.
The workshop fostered a model of appreciative inquiry to engage the delegates in a dialogue about their own practice. Feedback from the event welcomed “the personal attention to my own processes, experiences and dilemmas” as well as “the opportunity to meet people from other disciplines and to learn from their experiences” and gain a ”better understanding of the pedagogical basis of academic writing.”
Discussions throughout the day reinforced how academic writing is very much ‘in the mouth’ and how talk/write methodologies work best to facilitate collaboration and develop student confidence in their writing.
Grow Your Skills in Academic Writing workshop can be run as an in-house training session at your institution. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Clughen, L. & Hardy, C. (2012). Writing in the Disciplines: Building Supportive Cultures for Student Writing in UK HE. Bingley, UK: Emerald.
Elbow, P. (2008). Vulgar Eloquence: Enlisting Speech for Writing Paper given at WDHE, 25 - 27 June, 2008, University of Strathclyde.
Sadler, D. R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18, 2.