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An Educator's Tips to Prepare Students for College Writing

Joe Fruscione Twitter.pngTeaching high school English can sometimes be a daunting task. "I'm not a good writer" and "Miss, I don't know how to start!" are statements I've heard so many times over the years.

As a writing teacher sending students to college, I'm always concerned with making sure that what I'm teaching students aligns with what they need to be successful at the next level of their learning.

And to that end, I reached out to a friend whom I met on Twitter who used to teach writing to college freshmen.

Joe Fruscione is a freelance editor and writer. He is also the co-founder and communications director of PrecariCorps, a nonprofit that supports adjunct professors. He taught university writing and American literature from 1999 to 2014.

Here's some advice that he shared with me in our conversation:

  1. What are some common issues you have encountered in college writing? 

    There is trouble with writing process, they don't allow a draft of an essay to take time and mature. Writing takes time; It needs to be gradual, about two weeks for an assignment.

    There is a reluctance to unlearn or to abandon an old model that they've learned. Learning and unlearning, for example: closed book essays vs open book essays, understanding they need to write a "thesis section" vs a thesis statement; thesis statements can get long and unweildy if we put everything we need to say into one long sentence. They need to "Get to a why" when they write.  A debatable claim should be considered as opposed to a claim or regurgitating facts. We also need to get away from book reports in favor of more critical thinking.

  2. How do you communicate these issues to your students?

    We need to understand that writing instruction has to be ongoing and can often not be communicated in one sentence. Spend more time modeling a good and bad thesis, so students can really see and internalize the different.

    As we teach them to write, we must be thorough in assignment prompts. The more we talk about assignments and front load expectations, the more students will really know what they are working toward. Throughout the process, we should refer to the prompt and remind them while we give a lot of guidance along the way.  

    We must model what a good analysis paragraph looks like using a Google doc and remember that repetition is necessary. Some students make progress right away and others will need the repetition. Don't get discouraged.  When we are providing written feedback, we can't overdo it, (this one took a long time to understand) we must focus on two-three issues that need correcting at a time and allow students to focus on that, rather than over-correct their mistakes.

  3. What advice do you have for HS writing teachers?   

Always remember to frame it that college is different from high school in every aspect of the experience; the expectations in particular. AP essays are great for an exam, but don't hold up for a college essay that should show depth and development.

Really focus on teaching the process and start papers early so that they can "mature." Encourage students to take risks becuase there is no one perfect way to write a thesis statement. Thesis statements should evolve; they can be a few sentences. Show students how to include a variety of sources in their research as they shouldn't all directly relate to the topic being addressed. Students need to learn to dig a little deeper and make connections on their own that aren't explicitly written in one place.

Some useful don'ts to remember when you get to college:

    • Email your professor the night before to ask important questions about an assignment...especially when you've had weeks to do it.

    • Email your professor with a question that you could find yourself on the syllabus

    • Start a sentence with "But in high school we always..." or "But in high school I never needed to..." when your professor is showing you a new way to write, argue, or research.

    • Use your busyness and/or work from other classes as an excuse for why you didn't do an assignment.

    • Make an appointment to meet with your professor...and then not show up.

    • Say "But I never understood the assignment..." when you get a low or failing grade on a project you've had months to do.

    • Challenge or complain about your grades. Chances are, you've earned the grade you've gotten.

    • Related: try to pressure your professor to change your grade with "But my scholarship..." or "My parents said they'd pull me out of school if....". Most likely, a low grade in 1 writing course won't make any of these things happen.  

    • Call your female professors "Ms." or "Mrs."

    • Write an angry, ranting email to your professor after you get a grade you're unhappy with.

    • Think that just because you've read a book or seen a film in high school that you don't need to read or watch it again carefully.

The biggest takeaway was for students to listen to their professors and teachers. Let us teach you. Be open to the advice we provide as we are eager to help you find your own voice.

Do you have any helpful tips you'd like to add to this list to make sure our students are career and college ready? Please share

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