I was poking around the internet the other day and came across a survey of first year writing students at Boise State
from Fall 2000. I had been thinking of asking my students some of the same types of survey questions—if I had been thinking
I would have asked them this at the beginning of the semester.
I asked them this (stolen entirely from the BSU survey):
* Which one of the following do you believe most strongly is the key to becoming a better writer?
a) Studying the basics, starting with sentence structure, then paragraphs, and then the whole compositions.
b) People are born writers. Either you can do it well or you can't.
c) People have to develop confidence in their own writing voices before they can improve.
d) Improving one's writing involves an understanding of the steps involved and practicing each separately.
e) You get better at writing if you read a lot.
f) Developing writers most need to learn how to produce the various forms of writing—argument, exposition, description, etc
g) The best way to develop as a writer is to imitate the writing of others who are better than they are.
h) The key to a writer's development in the fluency. Once a writer can learn to write a lot, he or she will improve.
I don't know which option I'd pick. I'm torn between c, e, f (not in that order).
The BSU results were:
c) 31%, a) 24%, f) 16%, d) 15%, e) 13%, h) 10%, b) 6%, g) 1%
[the numbers don't add up so I'm not sure how they calculated it]
a) 39%, c) 17%, e) 17%, d) 13%, f) 8%, h) 4%, b) 0%, g) 0%
I'm glad no one answered "b," but I wonder how many would have at the beginning
of the semester?
The fact that the overwhelming choice was "a" makes me a little uneasy since that's not how we did things at all. Sure, we worked on sentence-level stuff but we certainly didn't set out on day one and say "ok, let's write a sentence." I do have a fair number of students (maybe 8-12?) who came down the remedial/developmental/whatever you want to call it track before getting to 1A, and I know those classes do
start with "let's write a sentence" and move forward from that.
Re: answer "c," well, I can do something about that. I hope I did. Same with option "e"—we read in our class. Not a ton, but they were constantly exposed to words of all types—essays, historical texts, etc.—and they actually did the reading
for the most part. One can only hope some of it sunk in.
I find it interesting that only a few answered option "f" when that's the type of course we teach. Well, the TAs teach modes-based courses. Not all 61 sections of 1A are modes-based. I don't know anything except to teach that type of course (what with my 14 weeks of teaching under my belt) but I'm not against it at this point. We'll see how that changes over time.