Writing-to-learn QEP sees exciting first session


MSU has launched its first Maroon Institute for Writing Excellence, a faculty training initiative designed to enhance student learning through writing. Among the participants are (l-r) Robert Moore of marketing, Jamie Larson of animal and dairy science, Donald Shaffer of English and African-American studies, and Rich Raymond, also of English and the institute's moderator and facilitator. PHOTO: Russ Houston | University Relations

Instead of encouraging students to learn about writing, a diverse team of Mississippi State faculty members is beginning a process to encourage their undergraduate majors to write to learn.

Launching a writing-focused culture at the university is the primary focus of the "Maroon & Write" quality enhancement plan -- QEP, for short.

Ten selected faculty representatives of the colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, and Forest Resources make up the founding Maroon Institute for Writing Excellence, a month-long intensive workshop.

A plan to improve freshman through senior learning, the QEP is critical to reaffirming MSU's accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Participating faculty will be learning how to better employ writing-to-learn strategies as a vehicle to help students process and retain the information presented to them.

Addressing his campus colleagues at the first session June 6, Rich Raymond, expressed excitement about the plan. Head of MSU's English department, he is the institute's moderator and facilitator

"It's an excellent, excellent sign that the campus chose this QEP," Raymond said. "We've found ourselves using the words 'culture change' as we figure out how to get both students and faculty to think differently about writing.

"It's not just about correctness," he added. "It's about thinking; creative thinking, critical thinking and reaching audiences for purposes that actually matter."

Each of the 10 educators -- including Raymond -- will be reading and keeping a journal about writing-to-learn selections from some of the more well-respected theorists in the field.

"This is not about just improving writing," Raymond emphasized. "Some people mean bad grammar when they say that, but we're about improving writing as a way of improving learning. There's an underlying premise here: It's that you can learn anything, not just literature; math, science, anything, if you write about it."

As they complete the training, team members also will revise their individual class syllabi to include the techniques acquired during the experience.

Raymond reminded the group that, "Everything we're doing here in the Maroon Institute is going to become a test run of what you're going to ask your students to do in your class. I want you to know what it feels like, from a student's point of view, to sit in a peer response group or to share your journal.

"That's going to help you decide how much or how little you want to use journaling in your class or how much you want to use small groups in your class," he said. "It's going to be based on your experience."

Two English department members, instructor LaToya Bogard and associate professor Matthew Little, along with forestry professor Stephen Grado, said they plan to incorporate writing-to-learn strategies in their courses this fall.

The other participants will introduce theirs either in the 2014 spring or fall terms. They include Michael Brown, music department head; Jamie Larson, animal and dairy science assistant professor; Deborah Lee, library professor; Robert Moore, marketing professor; Rick Noffsinger, part-time human sciences instructor and senior extension associate; Donald Shaffer, English and African American studies assistant professor; and Raymond.

Support systems for educators using writing-to-learn strategies will be in place, said Connie M. Forde, QEP topic selection task force and development co-chair. In addition to Raymond and the QEP committee, writing coordinators also will be available in each college to offer input and advice.

Additionally, institute participants will meet twice in the fall and in the spring to examine which techniques are having an impact and which are not.

For more about the QEP, visit www.qep.msstate.edu.

Leah Barbour | University Relations

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