Integrated Reading and Writing in English 101

Dr. Elizabeth Johnston, English 101 Course Coordinator

As English 101 course coordinator at MCC, it has come to my attention in the last few years that students’ writing abilities seem to be decreasing. Working closely with our developmental studies department, I’ve also come firmly to believe that low writing ability is linked to low reading ability. A few semesters ago, I radically revised my English 101 course to a source-based approach; experiencing much success with it, I then led the charge to revise our curriculum to this approach. When I joined the CCTE, I was interested in how working with high school English teachers to create more of a sense of sequencing in our assignments might also impact the success and retention of students in college composition. I was also interested in studying how teaching integrated reading and writing, particularly through source-based writing approaches, impacts students.

I began the semester by assigning to students chapters from Writing from Sources, 8th ed. These chapters introduced students to critical reading, reviewing how to annotate, take notes, identify main claims and subclaims, and write a summary. We also discussed why writing a summary is essential to any academic or career field. We spent about two weeks in class practicing through group discussion analysis of sample essays. I next assigned to them Nicholas Carr’s article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” with an assignment to write a summary of it. I provided them with the assignment, the rubric I would use to grade the assignment (which used language they would now be familiar with because of two weeks of practice), a worksheet to help them revise their first draft, a set of transitions they could use to create flow between sentences, and a checklist to use with their rubric. I asked students to submit the summary and self-evaluation with their assignment.

The successes of this approach to teaching summary as a base for all other source-based writing assignments seem to be the following:
• Students are reading more critically with practice, as is clear from the fact that the majority continued to meet or exceed expectations even as the assignments grew more demanding.
• Students are retaining what they’re learning, possibly through repetitive practice of these skills. The scaffolding of these assignments appears useful.
• Students’ revision skills improve over the course of the semester. This seems to be in response to one or more of the following factors: they are motivated to revise because their revisions are graded; they are motivated to revise because they can see improvement in concrete categories of skill; they are learning to revise by reading my comments to them about their strengths and weaknesses in respect to revision.
• Students ranked improved revision skills as one of the most important skills learned in this course.
• Students ranked learning how to critically read as one of the most important skills learned in his course.
• Students are able to identify concrete connections between the skills learned in this course and their academic and/or career pathways.
• In their final self-evaluations, students seem to better understand writing as a process; students are using the language of critical reading, referencing and employing terminology from the rubric to describe their own writing.

My action research report, Common Assignments and Evaluation Tools in College Composition and 11th Grade English, provides additional information.

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