Students in a First-Year Writing Seminar

The Writing Workshop

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Indispensable Reference

The Writing Workshop

The Writing Workshop is the Knight Institute's home for writing support and services. Our team of writing specialists provides writing assessment, advising, and tutoring for First-Year Writing Seminar students. Workshop staff also consult with instructors on a wide range of issues involved in the teaching of writing, from developing course materials and assignments to grading and responding to student papers. The Writing Workshop offers an alternative route First-Year Writing Seminar (WRIT 1340/1370/1380) and tutorial-based witing courses; supports instructional development in First-Year Writing Seminars; and promotes the integration of writing into many aspects of the University curriculum.

Elements of Academic Writing:
Writing 1370 (Fall), Writing 1380 (Spring)

This alternate route First-Year Writing Seminar is designed for students who may find challenging the transition to college-level writing. In spite of their successful high school backgrounds, some incoming students cannot quite handle the expectations of a typical First-Year Writing Seminar. Such students may not have had formal writing instruction in high school, may be unfamiliar with academic writing, may have serious difficulty with writing assignments, or may feel a general lack of confidence about their writing. Some students find the smaller class size and weekly student/teacher conferences a more comfortable fit. Because they lack training, practice, and/or confidence, some first-year students may have difficulty framing satisfactory responses to writing assignments, organizing critical essays, and/or sustaining their arguments. Their essays may sound overly simplistic, are underdeveloped, and are consequently short and abrupt. Such students' difficulties with English syntax, grammar, usage, and diction may interfere with their ability to write clearly and or students with learning disabilities of sufficient severity may not be able to develop an essay except with careful and ongoing coaching. These students would probably strain the resources and strategies of even experienced writing seminar teachers.

For many students enrolled in a Workshop seminar, English is a second or third language; this writing seminar, however, does not teach language acquisition. Like all writing seminars, WRIT 1370/1380 focus on developing the ability to write effective and clear essays. We work with the weakest English Language learners whose levels of error are so great that they interfere with their abilities to organize and develop coherent essays. We do not enroll students simply because their writing displays some of the more obvious markers of non-native speakers. Students who know how to organize and develop clear essays but whose writing shows obvious patterns of relatively minor second-language interference are not candidates for a Workshop seminar.

Referring Students to the Writing Workshop

Students usually enroll in Workshop seminars after a writing consultation at the beginning of the fall semester; others come directly to the seminars. Still, students with critical problems may appear in your class. Given this possibility, you should recognize early on that some students in your seminar might have difficulty with assignments. Their essays can have so many problems with analysis or with language that you will not know exactly what to comment on or where to begin.

The Writing Workshop can arrange for students who are struggling with initial assignments to transfer from your writing seminar to a Writing Workshop seminar.
It is beneficial for you to identify such students very early in the term—within the first two weeks of the semester. You can identify these students by following a simple procedure.

1. Assign a short essay—analytic or argumentative— for submission by the beginning of the second week of the semester. This is standard practice for writing teachers who want to know something about their students’ writing abilities as soon as possible. It is better to assign an out-of-class essay, one that will indicate the students’ skills for developing and revising. The topic of the essay should also reflect the work of the class itself. A broad or informal topic—asking students to explain their personal interest in the class—may not reveal those students who will have difficulty with the kind of analytical writing you expect later in the term.

2. Identify any essays that don’t seem to fit the level of writing in your class, and send copies of the essays you have identified, the assignment instructions, any supporting handouts, and a brief statement indicating your concerns to the Writing Workshop, 174 Rockefeller. Include the names and colleges of the students along with your name, course information, campus address, and NetID.

3. The Workshop staff will read and evaluate the essays you send. If the staff agrees that certain students might benefit from a Workshop writing seminar, those students will be invited to the Workshop office for a discussion of their writing and advised on the advantages of transferring into a more writing intensive course. Not every student whose work initially seems out of place in your seminar needs to enroll in a Workshop seminar. What looks like weak writing for your class may not look so weak when compared to students already in Workshop classes.

For this process to work with the least disruption, the Workshop needs to receive referral essays before the end of the second week of the semester. After three or four weeks, students become comfortable with their courses and are reluctant to transfer. And because Workshop classes do fill up, a student referred after week two may not find a course with an opening.

Working with multilingual writers in your class

Many students with English as a second or third language attend Cornell. Most are as prepared for First-Year Writing Seminars as domestic students. Nonetheless, you may have multilingual students whose essays show familiar problems with English grammar and syntax but whose abilities in organizing and developing essays do not merit enrolling in the Workshop’s seminar. You can contact Jessica Sands (, the Knight Institute's Mulitlingual Writing Specialist, to discuss strategies for responding to their essays.

Special Topics in Writing: Writing 1390

Even after successfully filling the First-Year Writ- ing Seminars requirement and completing other writing courses, some students still need more focused writing instruction to help them overcome critical writing problems that interfere with their academic progress. Usually these are students who struggle with longer assignments that are essential to their course work or who are dealing with writer’s block. Students interested in this kind of course must speak to the director for permission to enroll.

Knight Writers Mentor Program

Some First-Year Writing Seminar students may feel that their writing is not effectively communicating the depth and quality of their thoughts and ideas, and they may need a steadier system of support than you can provide during office hours. Such students can apply to work with dedicated writing tutors—peer writing mentors— with whom they will meet weekly for the duration of the semester.

Topics of discussion may also include strategies for reading; the influence of language or cultural background on one’s approach to academic writing; coping with adversity, optimizing success, and becoming familiar with campus resources and social networks. Above all, Knight Writers work with students to develop a spirit of inquiry and a sense of empowerment through academic writing.

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