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 Faculty Senate

The University of Montana

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

about the Proposed Criteria for

Writing Courses and Upper-Division Writing Experiences

  1. Writing as Percent of Grade.  I teach a writing course that meets the upper-division (major) writing requirement. The guidelines say that I have to attribute 50 % of the grade to writing skills. That seems pretty high to me. Is that what you mean?

-          The guidelines say that at least 50 % of the grade must be based on written assignments. The grade would logically include some assessment of writing but content, critical thinking, presentation, and other skills relevant to the discipline would also be included in that grade. The remaining portion of the grade would be based on other aspects of the course, such as successful completion of laboratory exercises, class presentations and discussions, exams, and other means of performance evaluation.

  1. Writing as Percent of Grade.  I teach a writing course that is used as an initial writing experience (i.e., after composition and before the WPA). The guidelines say that I have to attribute 50 % of the grade to writing. That seems pretty high to me. Is that what you mean?

-          No, we mean writing assignments. Writing assignments are assessed based on the writers' ability to develop ideas and thoroughly support and refute them according to the purpose of the assignment. Although we are concerned about writing conventions, the emphasis should be on content.  Editing, proofreading, and revision-it's all about clarity.

  1. Formal writing What do you mean by formal writing assignment?

-          What we think of formal writing assignments probably is exactly what you are thinking. But to be clear, a formal writing assignment will have specific format requirements, specific content requirement, traditional composition/grammar/spelling (if appropriate) requirements, and a specified length. Often, but not always, a formal writing assignment will include an opportunity for revision. See FAQs (page requirements).

  1. Informal writing.  How would I evaluate an informal writing assignment as a portion of the 50 % of the grade?

-          This depends on the assignment. Each assignment that you give a student will have some criteria, and you have some expectations for what they must produce. If you define your expectations, then you must be able to determine whether the students have achieved those expectations or not. For example, informal writing could focus mainly on the process by which formal writing is developed: outlines, diagrams, tables, etc., all contribute to development of a formal written work. These are informal writing assignments and can be graded according to the criteria for completion that you provide to the students.

  1. Page Requirement.  The page requirements seem excessive. Do you mean that I have to assign a 16- or 20-page paper? With revisions, that is a huge amount of assessment that you are requiring me to do!

-          We totally agree with you. That would be a huge amount of work. But we really mean that the number of pages submitted during the entire semester should be a minimum of 16 or 20 total. This includes the original document and any subsequent revisions. For example, you could assign an 8- to 10-page paper with one revision that would meet this requirement. Alternatively, more assignments, including informal assignments, of shorter length would meet this requirement. Most faculty members, upon examination of their course, will find that they easily exceed this requirement.  

  1. Page Requirement.  Gosh this sounds great. Can my course consist of entirely informal assignments that total at least 16 or 20 pages of written work? That would really reduce my workload.

-          No, sorry about that. Some portion, which you must justify when proposing the course and which must be clearly indicated in the syllabus, must be formal written assignments. Further, the guidelines do state that the students must revise and resubmit at least one formal writing assignment.

  1. Individual versus group writing.  Our courses use group projects and the groups prepare a report.  Do these new criteria mean we have to have each student prepare an individual report?  That is not only impractical, it is not how students in this discipline will work after they graduate.

We understand that there are instances where learning to work together in a group to prepare a written document is an important skill.  The concern the criteria are trying to avoid is the ability of some students to avoid writing all together.  If your course has group reports, it probably also has mechanisms for determining how a student has contributed to the group work including a written document.  It probably has other assignments that can be used to assess individual writing skills.  If the assignments do not lend themselves to grading of individual writing skills, then it is possible the course is not the best choice for a writing course.  Many classes require papers without being designated writing courses, so this would not be unusual.  There are probably other courses within the major that require more individual effort, and one of these may be a better choice for a writing course in the future.

  1. Enrollment limit.  I really cannot accept the Writing Committee's edict that enrollment should be limited to 25 students. Where do you get off telling me that? I have 200 majors starting every year! I simply cannot teach eight sections of that class. What am I supposed to do?

-          You are not alone in your room with 200 students. There are other programs with these kinds of enrollment issues. The point of our enrollment limits is to ensure that, in general, students receive the necessary attention and feedback to help them improve their writing skills. The Writing Committee will entertain proposals in which the course enrollment exceeds the recommended 25 students, but only with clear and supportable justification. The justification must include a statement that indicates how each student will receive adequate individualized instruction and feedback. For example, in a course of 60 students, each of whom writes, revises, and resubmits an 8-page paper, and for which the instructor spends a minimum of 30 minutes per paper, the instructor is committing him or herself to 60 hours of reading and grading papers for the course. If you can do that, then you have more stamina that I do.

  1. Justifying deviations from criteria I understand the goal of the new criteria is to ensure all graduates have received instruction in writing and multiple assessments of their skill, but our department just cannot find a single course where we can absolutely meet all criteria.  What do I do?

In a perfect world of unlimited resources, we might be inclined to strictly enforce the criteria as presented.  Alas, we have limited resources and competing needs, so we provide the criteria as guidelines for preparing writing course but will look at all justified requests that deviate from the standards.  The key to a successful proposal for a course that cannot meet all the standards will be to provide explicit justification and explanation about how the course will meet the intent of the criteria, which is to ensure graduates can effectively communicate in writing and use writing to improve their knowledge of the world.

    10.  Upper division writing courses.   Can 2 upper-division writing courses satisfy athe requirement for 2 and 4? 

No. One course must be on the writing-course list (requirement #2), and one course must be on the upper-division writing-requirement list (requirement #4). There are writing courses that are upper-division by course number (300-400 level classes), but these are not the same as the upper-division writing requirement because the outcomes are different.   
All students, unless exempted, must pass an approved writing course (#2) before attempting the UDWPA (requirement #3).
Upper-Division Writing Requirement (#4):  All students must meet the approved upper-division writing requirements specified by their majors.  Students should seek specific information about the upper-division writing requirements in their major in the section of the catalog where information about their chosen major is given.  Students cannot use the same writing course to meet both the approved writing-course requirement and the upper-division writing requirement.

There has been some confusion around this issue.  The challenge to this question, which seems to be an easy one, is the lack of the words "lower-division writing course" in guideline #2.  Although the guidelines state specifically "upper division" in #4, the guidelines do not state specifically "lower division" in #2.  "Lower Division" is omitted because the list of approved writing-intensives courses lacks a generous showing of 100 and 200-level courses.  That paucity prohibits an explicitly stated "lower division."

Faculty Senate

The University of Montana

Missoula, MT 59812