Do students write in college?

An Associated Press article by Eric Gorski, Student Tracking Finds Limited Learning in College was sent around the listserv at my school. You might be interested in what it has to say as well.

A new study provides disturbing answers to questions about how much students actually learn in college — for many, not much — and has inflamed a debate about the value of an American higher education.

The research of more than 2,300 undergraduates found 45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing [emphasis mine] by the end of their sophomore years.

One problem is that students just aren’t asked to do much, according to findings in a new book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.” [sic] Half of students did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week.

I know it is possible to get through your sophomore year with little to no writing. If you take a particular remedial writing course, you will write two essays and be graded on your class participation. If you take a similar freshman composition you will write three essays. If you don’t have to take those classes, you might get by with just a research paper and an essay in the next course. Some degrees don’t require sophomore literature. Some students take the teachers who don’t like to grade writing.

But really? I think it is far more likely that it isn’t that students aren’t required to think or write but that students aren’t transferring those skills from one class to the next. (I talked a bit about knowledge transfer here.)

And as for how much they wrote and read… My students don’t read 40 pages per week. But we read, in class and out of class, about 48 essays in a semester. That’s a lot of reading for a class that doesn’t emphasize reading. That’s besides the other reading in our second book and the online stuff.

My students might say that they didn’t write twenty pages of papers in the semester. But if you add up their research and their essays, they wrote more than twenty (between twenty and thirty). If you include their short writing assignments, they wrote about fifty pages. If you asked them about it, though, since I did not require a twenty-page paper, they might say no.

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