Table of Contents

I. The College Writing Program (CWP)

CWP was founded in 1987 to help integrate the practice of writing into courses throughout the college. This handbook is designed to answer questions you may have about the College Writing Program (CWP) at Lafayette College.

Members of CWP provide various services to the Lafayette community. Writing Associates (WAs) are undergraduate students selected and trained by CWP to support writing in courses in a wide variety of disciplines.  A drop-in service is also available for students who would like to meet with a WA. Faculty development includes workshops for new professors of First-Year Seminar (FYS) and Values in Science/Technology (VaST) in the Common Course of Study.

Faculty associated with CWP provide additional support for affiliated courses, including workshops, individual consultation sessions, and invited speakers.

II. Program Location (CWP)

CWP is formally housed in the Provost’s Office, but is currently directed by members of the English Department (Bianca Falbo, Associate Professor and Tim Laquintano, Assistant Professor), and a full-time coordinator (Christian Tatu).  While the administrators of the program teach in the English Department, the program itself is “owned” not by a single department but by the College. Thus, CWP can be found wherever discussions of writing occur—not only in the Watt College Writing Room (Pardee 319, where WAs do much of their work), but also in classrooms, in dormitories, or on the quad.

III. Guidelines for Participation

Participation in CWP assumes compliance with the following ground rules.

  • WAs function as trained, intelligent, critical readers of work-in-progress, not as graders, proofreaders, or editors.
  • Students meet with a Writing Associate (WA) four times during the semester. Planning to meet five to seven days before a project’s due date usually leaves sufficient time for conferences.
  • Faculty members will meet with the WA early in the semester to discuss the syllabus, plans and due dates for assignments, and general expectations for writing. Faculty should also meet regularly with the WA during the semester to discuss expectations for individual assignments.

Note: Most faculty working with WAs are also teaching W courses.  Requirements for W courses were developed by the Curriculum and Educational Policy Committee (CEP) and designed to provide students with regular opportunities for writing, feedback, and revision.  A list of the CEP requirements for W courses can be found here.

Of course, in the end, CWP works differently for everyone. Although the above practices are common to affiliated courses, we recognize that they do not serve every course. If you find this is the case for your course, please contact us for an individual consultation and we will work with you to develop a plan for writing in your course.

IV. Benefits of Participation in CWP


Benefits for faculty members
  • CWP enables faculty to emphasize high-quality writing without feeling obligated to teach writing
  • Each paper submitted after a WA conference will have gone through at least one major revision
  • By helping students submit more readable papers, CWP enables greater focus on students’ comprehension of the subject matter
Benefits for students
  • WAs encourage students to think carefully about their writing in all situations
  • CWP instills revision, the best of all possible writing habits
  • WAs provide an opportunity for peer discussion, helping students understand the value of positive collaboration
  • By providing a safe space for questions that might betray their ignorance, WAs allow students to take risks in trying to extend their writing abilities, without fear of penalties
  • CWP builds a sense of academic community and cooperation that will benefit students in other working situations
  • In VAST and W courses, students will have the opportunity to practice what they learned in the First Year Seminar and English 110, but may have forgotten
Benefits for WAs
  • WAs gain valuable experience in the practice of teaching and editing writing, and they learn more about their own prose. They acquire the pleasure and confidence that comes from helping others. And they develop a special relationship with a faculty member.

IV. Working with Writing Associates


A. Writing Associates
B. Requesting WAs for Specific Courses
C. Mentor WAs
D. Assignments in CWP Supported Courses
E. Written Guidelines for Assignments
F. WA Conferences

A. Writing Associates

WAs are students from different disciplines, selected for their proven performance in writing and eagerness to help others improve their writing. As intelligent readers who ask tough questions, WAs encourage students to think critically about their writing choices. Each year, CWP employs between 50 and 60 WAs who read drafts of papers for hundreds of students.

Students may become WAs through a once-a-year application process. Competition for WA positions is stiff. Faculty members may nominate students to become WAs, or students can apply on their own. Most WAs are hired before their sophomore or junior year (i.e., at the end of freshman or sophomore year). Candidates submit writing samples and are interviewed by experienced WAs and CWP administrators.

WAs participate in thorough and ongoing training. Each September, they attend a full day workshop after completing required summer prework in reading and writing. The workshop introduces important issues that are further reviewed during weekly required staff meetings run by the CWP Coordinator, Christian Tatu. WAs are expected to discuss current research in composition and explore the ways in which research and theory can be applied to their work. Each WA meets with CWP faculty at least once each semester to discuss their participation. WAs who miss these required meetings are dismissed from the program.

Typically, WAs meet with 15 to 20 individual students from a single course section, holding 30-minute conferences to discuss drafts of written work. An individual WA will work with the same group of students for a full semester. WA assignments are based on experience, major area, and the level of students in the associated course. CWP makes every attempt to place upper class WAs in upper division courses. Since each WA works with only 15-20 students, courses with large enrollments will have two or more WAs.

In a typical semester, a WA meets four times with each student. Although fewer assignments may be required during the semester, WA meetings can be used to discuss revisions or general writing issues. Students should sign up for a conference at least a week before a paper is due. The logistics of signing up for WA conferences vary by course; for example, sign-up sheets can be distributed in class or posted on professors’ doors. Individual conferences usually last thirty minutes. In each conference, the WA discusses a draft with its author, reacting as an intelligent and informed reader. The more complete the draft, the more specific—and helpful—WA comments will be. However, students with preliminary drafts can also derive benefits from WA conferences.

Students usually meet with a WA in the Watt Writing Room (Pardee 319).

B. Requesting WAs for Specific Classes


CWP administrators consider both the faculty and WA needs when making assignments. Faculty members may request a WA with a specific background. These requests are filled as frequently as possible, with upper-level and highly technical courses receiving first priority.

Faculty members may consider that WAs with limited knowledge of a field may make better first readers of student prose, particularly in introductory courses such as FYS or VaST. In these cases, WAs can respond as intelligent lay readers who can identify gaps that experts might ignore, helping students develop stronger skills in argumentation and critical thinking.

C. WA Mentors

WA Mentors are experienced associates whose work has been outstanding. In addition to serving as WAs, they provide other additional training and support for other WAs. Mentor WAs are available to speak with faculty members about general WA issues, or more particular concerns.

D. Writing Assignments in CWP Supported Courses

CWP complements the primary function of your course, but should not shift its focus. Since writing about a subject helps one understand it better, the program should help your students learn the information you seek to impart.

The Curriculum and Educational Policy Committee (CEP) requires all writing courses to assign 20 pages of writing. When working with a WA, we ask that you divide those 20 pages into several shorter assignments to promote improvement in writing and to maximize the effectiveness of the WA support.

Suggestions:

  • a 20-page term paper, assigned and reviewed in parts over the course of the semester;
  • Two separate assignments of approximately 10 pages, each reviewed twice by a WA;
  • A series of one-page papers which are periodically combined into one longer paper and then reviewed and evaluated;
  • A “running assignment” assigned at the beginning of term, then revised and supplemented at various points in the semester.
E. Written Guidelines for Students and WAs

Although affiliation with CWP should not significantly alter your writing assignments, you may need to modify your written directions to enable the WA to work more effectively.

Generally, WAs are able to provide better feedback when a written assignment is specific, and defines terms like “analysis” and “argument” in the context of your individual or disciplinary expectations. This is particularly important in upper-level writing courses in which students are expected to produce writing that conforms to disciplinary conventions and adopts advanced vocabulary in the field.

If there are pedagogical reasons for using a more open-ended topic with your students, the WA would benefit from a brief explanation of your view of the assignment, your expectations of the final product, and your criteria for evaluation and grading. You can communicate this information by meeting with them or via email.

F. WA Conferences


Participation in WA conferences

We ask that all students in an affiliated course be required to participate in WA conferences. All students can benefit. While the benefits offered to students with poor writing skills may be more obvious, talented students rarely receive extensive comments on their papers. Good student writers often rely on intuition or an innate sense of what writing should be like. Our aim is to help these students gain control and awareness of the writing process and how it can be adapted for various situations.

Suggested Timing for WA Conferences

Each assignment discussed in conference must be scheduled carefully. To see 20 students, WAs need seven days because their own class schedules are tightly packed, and they often meet with students on weekends or during the evening hours.

VI. Faculty Development

CWP offers workshops with experts in writing pedagogy, on general topics like assignment design, and for faculty teaching FYS or VAST courses for the first time. An in-house publication, Teaching With Writing, is available upon request. A links page provides access to resources on a range of topics related to teaching and learning.

Our faculty development program is shaped/governed by the following principles:

  • The primary function of CWP is to provide support and resources. CWP does not monitor classroom practice.
  • CWP activities provide opportunities for collaboration and community-building across the college.
  • CWP operates within a network of campus programs, including FYS and VAST.
  • CWP is dedicated to helping all faculty members to identify and articulate their own pedagogical and writing philosophies.
  • CWP seeks to broaden the general understanding of what writing means outside of specific disciplines and to help individuals refine their thinking about the functions of writing both within and across individual fields.

VII. Frequently Asked Questions

What information does the WA need me to provide?

A syllabus, all handouts about writing, and each writing assignment. Your WA will be happy to meet with you in order to discuss any and all of these documents.

Can I expect writing associates to attend class meetings?

WAs carry full course loads. Thus, although your WAs will make every attempt to visit up to three key class meetings per semester, it is unlikely that he or she will be able to attend all your class meetings. We consider “key meetings” to be those in which you discuss writing or writing assignments.

The WA may also ask your permission to take five minutes at the end of a class meeting to arrange the scheduling of conferences or to speak about writing problems common to many papers.

Even if the WA attends discussions of writing assignments, it is important for you to provide a syllabus, all handouts about writing, and each writing assignment. Also, the WA will want to discuss the writing assignment with you before meeting with students. In doing this, he or she can discover what kind of paper you hope to read.

How should I Introduce CWP and the WA to my students?

If you promote CWP as a valuable program that provides important benefits, students will be more likely to improve their writing and succeed in meeting your expectations. It is often helpful to introduce your WA as a source for informed peer review not unlike that provided at journals. Such reviews are not perfect; however, they benefit authors by identifying potential problem areas and helping to define an overall argument.
Here is a sample paragraph for use in a syllabus:

To help integrate the study of writing in courses throughout the curriculum, Lafayette established a College Writing Program (CWP). CWP provides individualized instruction to help you identify potential writing problems before your professor reads a paper. You will meet with a Writing Associate (WA) four times this semester. The WA assigned to this course is [WA’s NAME]. In these conferences (which typically last about 30 minutes), you will discuss drafts of your writing assignments. The conferences will give you an excellent opportunity to ask questions and to discuss your writing in detail. All students, regardless of their writing abilities, should benefit from working with the WA, and therefore, you are required to participate.

What kind of comments will the writing associate make?

We believe that the student should define the conference agenda whenever possible because it is important that students “own” their writing and their conferences.

WAs are trained to help students formulate their thoughts and meet assignment requirements, not to judge or grade written work. Therefore, WAs are trained to make “readerly” comments. In other words, they attempt to express the experiences of a person trying to read an essay. The WA should be expected to frame many comments as questions; e.g., “What is the main point of this paragraph?” “Where is this argument going?”

Since the primary goal of most academic writing is to express particular ideas in a logical and coherent fashion, WAs are expected to focus first on major problems in argumentation, thesis development, organization, and transitions between supportive ideas. We refer to these issues as “higher order” concerns or HOCs. Sentence-level errors, such as grammatical mistakes, often result from conceptual confusion and often disappear once HOCs are addressed.

WAs will also ask each student to identify grammatical problems and proofreading mistakes, so-called “lower order” concerns (LOCs), and then make the proper changes. Generally, the WA will identify patterns or general characteristics of a student’s errors rather than attempting to find each one. Students who need additional explanations or help with grammar can ask for this help.

Additional information about WA training is available from Christian Tatu. An electronic copy of the Writing Associate Handbook is also available.

When should I meet with my writing associate?

We encourage you to keep the lines of communication open with your WA. Your WA will contact you after the first training session, to set up a meeting. At this meeting, you will want to discuss the following:

  • the syllabus and course goals
  • the writing assignments and their goals
  • your late paper policy
  • procedures for scheduling conferences
  • any writing “pet peeves” you or the WA may have

Additional meetings should take place before assignments are distributed and after papers are graded. You should use this time to discuss the WA’s work and make suggestions for improvement, explain the purpose and scope of the assignments, and to clarify your expectations.

How do I develop better rapport with my WA?

Your WA wants you to be satisfied with the job he or she does. If your WA is doing a good job, please say so.

Several Writing Associates compiled a list of suggestions, entitled “What Your WA Wants You To Know.” We have adapted the suggestions here:

  • Your attitude will influence the students’ attitudes toward the WA.
  • Please introduce your WA to the class because it will be helpful for the students.
  • If possible, include the WA’s name and phone number on the syllabus. If several WAs are holding meetings in the Watt Writing Room at the same time, your students can look up the correct name rather than asking each person which class he or she supports.
  • Please give your WA a copy of each assignment.
  • WAs like to know if you have any stylistic preferences, pet peeves, or special requirements for student writing.
  • It would be helpful to understand your policy regarding students who decide not to go to conferences.
  • Please remember to tell your WA if the writing schedule changes.
  • Finals week is not an optimal time for WA meetings.
  • The WA is trained to function as an intelligent reader who brings an outsider’s perspective to the paper. If WAs are expected to do class readings, attend lectures, or see movies for the class, they cannot provide this perspective.
  • Please understand that each student should be held responsible for correcting his or her own grammatical problems, and that severely entrenched problems may require more help than a WA can provide.
  • Please don’t ask the WA to be a grader because this distorts the peer relationship.
  • If you grade rough drafts before you hand them to the WA, please include your thoughts about the focus of conferences. This approach will be more helpful to the students and allow the WA to support your goals.
  • WAs usually fill out Conference Records for each meeting. If you would like to see what was discussed and what kind of progress the students made from draft to draft, please ask.
  • WAs are eager to hear your concerns, answer your questions, and forward your comments. If you have anything positive to say, please do so; the WAs will be grateful.

What kind of instructional support does the program provide?

CWP provides numerous opportunities for instructional support:

  • We regularly ask specialists in writing instruction to offer workshops (experts in writing pedagogy from any discipline are welcome, so please let us know if you would like us to invite someone particular to campus).
  • We offer additional workshops on topics, such as assignment design.
  • We sponsor workshops for faculty teaching FYS or VAST courses for the first time.
  • Our in-house publication, Teaching With Writing, is available upon request.
  • Our links provide access to resources on a range of topics related to teaching and learning.

Program Administrators are happy to work with you individually, at your request, to discuss course design, assignments, and evaluation practices. (We’re happy to talk in person, over the phone, or through email.)

How Is the program evaluated?

At the end of the semester, you should meet with your WA to discuss the Program. In addition to this informal evaluation, we ask that you and your students complete a one-page evaluation form. Copies will be sent via campus mail toward the end of the semester.

How can students in my non-affiliated courses meet with a writing associate?

If students in your other courses desire assistance, please send them to the Drop-in Service.

The Drop-in Service is located in the Watt Writing Room (Pardee 319) and is staffed by our trained Writing Associates on a rotating basis. Students can drop in during the posted hours for a conference of approximately thirty minutes. They should bring with them a draft of their work and, if possible, a copy of the assignment. Students can also receive assistance from Writing Associates for the writing of resumes, job application letters, or other kinds of non-academic writing.