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Handout for "Have They Kept Doing It"--

a Presentation at the

International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning,

Sydney, Australia, July 2-5, 2007


An Introduction to the 4x4 Initiative

What is Writing-Integrated Course Design?

Traditionally, the teaching of writing at the University of Washington has been the province of the English department. Faculty in other areas have also assigned writing, of course, but once through “freshman English,” many students have graduated without being regularly challenged to develop strong writing skills. This is now changing. We in the College of Arts and Sciences have come to understand that traditional writing instruction by itself can offer only an introduction to successful college-level writing. If students are to graduate as strong writers in their fields they will also have to write regularly, in a variety of classes, throughout their entire undergraduate careers.

Writing-integrated instruction

Central to the approaches we have developed to reach the goal of better student writing all across the College is the concept of writing-integrated instruction—a strategy for building writing assignments into courses throughout the curriculum in ways that significantly boost student learning even as they also improve student writing. Because designing writing-integrated courses requires new methods for creating and managing writing assignments, the College has promoted the concept through a variety of faculty seminars; we have also developed the 4x4 Initiative—an assignment design program that engages groups of up to 4 faculty from each of 4 departments in a set of workshops staged throughout the school year.

What is writing-integrated instruction, and how does it differ from traditional instruction?

• Writing-integrated instruction connects writing directly to central course concepts.
• Writing-integrated instruction asks students to write frequently in un-graded as well as graded formats.
• Writing-integrated instruction links its writing tasks in ways that build the skills students will need to write with success for graded course work.


The 4x4 Initiative: What it is, and What it has Done

The 4x4 Initiative is a faculty development program designed and funded by the College of Arts and Sciences to improve student writing all across the College by supporting faculty as they implement newly-designed writing-integrated courses. The Initiative is led by Professor John Webster, Director of Writing for the College, with help from the College Writing Council and the Center for Instructional Development and Research.

  • Program begun: Fall Quarter, 2004; first redesigned classes taught Winter, 2005.
  • Faculty sponsored: 49 (17 in 2004-05; 17 in 2005-06; 15 in 2006-07)
  • Departments represented: 12 [American Ethnic Studies (4 faculty), American Indian Studies (2), Anthropology (9), Biology (4) Comparative Literature (5), Dance (4), Mathematics (2), Philosophy (4), Psychology (4), Scandinavian (4), Spanish and Portuguese (4), Speech and Hearing Sciences (2)]
  • Approximate Number of Classes affected (through 8 quarters): 240
  • Approximate Number of Student Enrollments affected (through 8 quarters): 12,000
  • Approximate Number of Non-4x4 Faculty participating in department-led seminars: 80

One Year Later: Comments from 2004-5 4x4 Faculty, Winter Quarter 2006

Jan Slavik, Scandinavian:

Thank you for the experience of the 4x4 program last year…. my teaching has been significantly transformed and the written work of the students very significantly improved.

Rick Bonus, American Ethnic Studies:

I've spread the word regarding alternative pedagogies of writing to my colleagues within and outside of my dept -- everything I've learned in 4 x 4, especially rubric design, writing exercises, and goal setting. You can tell that I'm … a big fan of this initiative.

Andy Nestingen, Scandinavian:

This quarter in SCAND 360/C. LIT 315, I've … received the best student writing I've seen, and the paper load has been easy to manage. I've become a more effective teacher by adapting the methods, from which the students benefit, all of which makes teaching more enjoyable and so probably more effective. These changes are the culmination of tinkering with my teaching the last couple quarters. One result of that, I think, was a nomination for a distinguished teaching award.

Judy Stone-Goldman, Speech and Hearing Sciences:

I want you to know that I did a class on writing and rubrics this week in one of the 4x4 classes (Sp&H 308). It was so much better than anything I did last year! I was so excited to see my own progress in leading students through this. We also did peer review in what appeared to be a successful and lively experience.

Marianne Stecher-Hansen, Scandinavian Studies:

In the course of the year-long (2004-2005) engagement in [the 4x4 Initiative’s] workshops … many [of my] misconceptions regarding “how to teach students to write” were dissipated. Gradually, I discovered the real significance of the idea that students do not need to “learn to write” but rather need to “learn by writing.” I believe that this thinking is integral to improving the undergraduate learning experience at the UW. Learning by writing is not focused on the fulfillment of a formulaic schematic or an end product; it is a matter of creating an instructional mode in which students may respond in meaningful ways (including writing) to the challenging questions presented in a course of inquiry.


Three Examples of Courses Re-designed by Faculty in the 4x4 Initiative

1: Scandinavian 312: Scandinavian Literature in Translation.

• Traditional writing assignment: an 8-10 page term paper due at quarter’s end.

• Results: functional writing without much investment by students of enthusiasm or imagination.

• Writing-integrated assignment: a course-long sequence of writings beginning with weekly short papers, each written as a letter from the student to a mentor or peer, real or imagined, about the work of literature read for the week, and eventuating in an 8-10 page interpretive essay. As a final project students submitted a portfolio of all their writing along with a final self- reflective essay about their learning in the course.

• Results: significantly higher student interest in writing assignments, along with high ratings for the course as a whole. The interpretive papers were stronger both because (students explained) the letters engaged them more fully in their course learning, and because the instructor built into the new course design occasion for students to revise their first drafts.

Instructor’s comment: “The consistently positive feedback from students in their end-of-quarter ‘self-reflective essays’ – not to mention the enthusiastic emails thanking me for the course –made this one of my most (if not, the most) rewarding teaching experiences at the UW.” (Professor Marianne Stecher-Hansen)

2: Mathematics 441: Topology

• Traditional writing assignment: none beyond weekly problem sets.

• Results: writing made no contribution to student learning, and the course did not contribute to Department’s larger goal of enabling students to graduate as effective writers of mathematical argument.

• Writing-Integrated Assignment: a three-paper sequence of written proofs in addition to weekly problem sets, each including peer review and revision of first drafts.

• Results: students' proof-writing skills improved significantly, even on the weekly problem sets not evaluated for writing style. Students also seemed to acquire a deeper understanding of what constitutes a valid proof than had earlier students.

Instructor comment: [I feel] adding writing-integrated assignments in virtually any upper-level math course will dramatically enhance the quality of our students’ education. (Professor John Lee)

3: English 330: Literature of the Romantic Age (1796-1835).

• Traditional writing assignment: a 6-10 page paper in which students read criticism, and then made their own argument about a work studied in the class.

• Results: an uneven level of performance and of student engagement. Many students saw reading older literature only as “school learning,” not as learning for real life purposes.

• Writing-Integrated Assignment: a series of un-graded short papers that related older literature to modern culture, and culminated in “The Romantic Survival Project”—a 5-7 page graded paper in which students connected their learning about 19th Century poetry within the course to examples of contemporary culture outside the course.

• Results: student-initiated papers that demonstrated how much they had learned about the Romantic Age by articulating connections of course readings to recent movies. The course’s best paper: a comparison of Wordsworth’s 1802 poem “Resolution and Independence” with the Coen brothers’ 1991 movie Barton Fink.

Instructor comment: Students learned more in this course than in any class I’ve ever taught. (Professor John Webster)