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The future of college writing

One- ​​quarter of the nation’s col­lege stu­dents will be able to com­mu­ni­cate in at least two lan­guages by 2025, according to Mya Poe, an assis­tant pro­fessor of Eng­lish whose exper­tise lies in lin­guistic diversity.

In a lec­ture on Wednesday after­noon in the Raytheon Amphithe­ater, she said the influx of inter­na­tional stu­dents is but one of four trends in edu­ca­tion that are poised to change the teaching of writing. Other trends com­prise reme­di­a­tion; the use of tech­nology; and the Common Core State Stan­dards Ini­tia­tive, a U.S. edu­ca­tion reform move­ment backed by the Obama admin­is­tra­tion that seeks to set uni­form stan­dards in Eng­lish and math­e­matics for grades K-​​12.

“Stu­dents come from dif­ferent expe­ri­ences and from dif­ferent test-​​taking con­texts,” said Poe, who joined the North­eastern fac­ulty this fall and whose forth­coming book will examine the effect of writing assess­ment on mul­ti­lin­gual writers and stu­dents of color. “Rigid insti­tu­tional require­ments par­tic­u­larly affect inter­na­tional stu­dents,” she added, noting that many writing pro­grams rou­tinely ignore their edu­ca­tional needs.

The Common Core State Stan­dards Ini­tia­tive, on the other hand, is designed to address stu­dent needs by pro­viding a “con­sis­tent, clear under­standing of what stu­dents are expected to learn, so teachers and par­ents know what they need to do to help them,” according to the program’s website.

But Poe is not sold on the initiative’s edu­ca­tional value, saying that “the stan­dards are dra­mat­i­cally changing what stu­dents are reading and writing in high school Eng­lish class.”

Some high school stu­dents might need to enroll in com­pen­satory edu­ca­tion courses in col­lege, a score of which have begun out­sourcing reme­dial edu­ca­tion through con­trac­tual agree­ments with com­mu­nity colleges.

“It’s like the ostrich in the sand problem,” Poe explained. “If the stu­dents don’t exist, then you don’t have to think about them.”

Out­sourcing basic writing courses to a patch­work group of instruc­tors often results in an unbal­anced learning expe­ri­ence, Poe explained. For that reason, she said, “We need to think of other sup­port mech­a­nisms to help stu­dents with their writing.”

Auto­mated essay scoring pro­grams might be one way to teach stu­dents about the dos and don’ts of writing, but Poe said their assess­ments are often based on descrip­tive mea­sures such as the fre­quency with which cer­tain words are used.

“We need to invest in edu­ca­tional entre­pre­neur­ship to develop tech­nology we want for writing not just for testing,” she said.

– By Jason Kornwitz

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