Freshmen writing seminar unsuccessful, inconsistent


eneseo’s freshmen writing seminar INTD 105 could do better. In my time as a tutor at the Writing Learning Center, I have observed that many students come out of INTD without an understanding of how to form an argument or how to develop their ideas.

Some students were lucky enough to have professors who gave them a lot of helpful feedback and a chance to improve their grades by making progress, but the students who scraped through without understanding the difference between summary and argumentation are done a disservice. They will be unprepared for their required Humanities classes—which together account for seven percent of a degree—and, more importantly, they will enter the real world without being able to properly express an idea or argue a point.

The biggest problem with INTD is simply its immense variability. Professors are given free reign of their classes in order to encourage different methods and to allow the students to pick topics that interest them, and this approach is causing problems. Most courses use the writing handbook They Say, I Say to teach students the basic tactics of persuasion, but I have many students who will walk into a tutoring session and tell me their INTD used no texts on writing at all.

This might not be a problem if the professor is skilled at explaining the basics, but normally this is simply not enough. Writing is a craft students learn by doing and redoing. Furthermore, INTD is a general education requirement, meaning that many students do not want to be there and are therefore reluctant to put forth the effort required for this revision process. As a result, it is imperative that their professors provide clear, thoughtful and constructive feedback. Unfortunately, this is not the case for all professors.

“I think one’s INTD experience depends almost entirely on the professor you get,” biology major freshman Clark Davis said. “Not once did my professor return the previous paper to us before we turned in the next one. This gave us very little opportunity to improve, as we had no idea what we did wrong previously.”

Often, these cases of neglect originate with adjunct professors who may have little incentive to ensure their students’ future success, or from full-time faculty members who are stretched too thin with other obligations. But apart from the nationwide adjunct crisis and the general scarcity of resources at Geneseo, there are some problems with INTD that can be addressed.

The course should be overseen by a central committee, the same way that the Humanities courses currently are. This committee should exercise strict control over what happens in the classroom, ensuring that each class has the benefit of an accessible writing text that students can consult when writing their papers alone late at night. In addition, all INTD teachers should receive training in providing student feedback, so that a baseline standard can be established. The idea that there are many ways of teaching writing is nice—and true in a sense—but constructing our policies around it leads to some students getting left behind.

Writing is the art of thinking elegantly. Messy writing is evidence of messy thinking, and good writing gives a person the ability to convey their thoughts succinctly and eloquently. It is a skill that is useful in education, medicine, social work, pure science, law, business and engineering, which is why all majors have a requirement for a writing intensive course. Good writing is a hallmark of an educated person, and that is what we all should aspire to be.