Assessment is an integral part of the first-year writing program: it’s how we discover what is working well, where we need to grow and improve, and how we might provide new kinds of experiences for students and instructors.
Each year, we read and assess student writing from all first-year writing courses. Most often, instructors submit three anonymous, random, and complete student portfolios from each section of English 90, 101, and 102; the portfolios are then read by instructors of these courses so that we can understand what students are learning in our courses. Every year, the Director of First-Year Writing compiles an Assessment Report that describes our findings, we set new program goals and priorities.
For example: the portfolio assessment over the past several years has led to
- multiple workshops and inservices for faculty on issues like research-based instruction, enhancing reflection in first-year writing, and integrating technological approaches into these courses,
- program revisions and pilot projects like the Stretch 90/101 structure and the PoWeR project and
- revisions to the course goals and outcomes for English 101 and 102, among other things
The yearly assessment process also provides FYWP faculty with a rich professional development experience as we read, reflect on, and discuss hundreds of student portfolios.
The First Year Writing Program works closely with Boise State’s Concurrent Enrollment program. Through this program, English 101 is offered in many of the area high schools as a dual enrollment option. With this program, high school students, age sixteen and over who meet requirements, are able to earn regular college credit while completing their senior English requirement.
Writing Plus is a new approach to first-year writing at Boise State that includes three new components: a course, a student-support program, and an evidence-based placement process.
The Write Class
For the past several years, English department chairs and writing faculty from across Idaho have worked collaboratively to generate possible placement alternatives for first-year writing courses. In spring 2009, with the support of Idaho university provosts, several colleges and universities launched pilot placement projects. At Boise State University, we designed The Write Class (TWC), an Evidence-Based Placement process that gives students significantly more input into selecting the appropriate initial writing course and we piloted this process with over 200 students.
Starting in Fall 2013, all incoming first-year students will complete TWC to determine their first-year writing placement.
English 101P, Introduction to College Writing, is the initial first-year writing course for the majority of incoming students,who learn the conventions, expectations, and habits of college writing.
The Projecting Learning, Understanding Success (PLUS) Program offers additional academic assistance and encouragement for students who are repeating ENGL 90, 101, or 102. It’s designed to ensure student success through a variety of low-stakes activities that support students’ academic work.
PLUS is designed to help first-year writing students—now and in the future. The program is made up of activities proven to help students succeed in any academic coursework: reflecting on past challenges, devising strategies for future success, meeting with instructors to discuss progress, and building a strong support system. By participating in the PLUS Program, students not only help themselves but also help us to support other students in the future. Students succeed or stumble for any number of reasons. Telling us about previous experiences and future plans will help us to build new programs, and to structure existing ones, in the ways that encourage the academic and personal growth of all students.