Damian Doyle

Program for Writing and Rhetoric

Course Context

One target course: WRTG 1150 First-Year Writing and Rhetoric.

This was the only first-year course I taught this semester and my targeted audiences was in-coming first-years students. As such, my assessment was confined to this course, which was taught in the Communication and Society RAP.

  • Target of improvement/evidence:
    The focus of improvement in my first-year writing and rhetoric course was to gain a better understanding of students’ preconceived notions “voice” and their understanding of how to employ voice in college writing. Students come into college with high school notions of voice that can often work against them when writing in college. Voice is a threshold concept in first-year writing college writing, and I want students to be aware of its potential strengths and weakness and its application to the different writing contexts they find themselves in over the course of their college career (and beyond).
  • What did you do
    I had students write short responses to prompts I gave them at the beginning of the semester (see survey attachment), at week four when they submitted their first paper (see belief paper tag cloud) and after their persuasive paper at the end of the semester (see final paper tag cloud). After the survey and the belief paper I gathered the written feedback and in the next class session offered a general sense of their responses and explained the purpose of the reflective exercise. (I didn’t have the skills to create a tag cloud at the time, but next semester I’ll be able to throw them on the screen so they can see visually what characteristics of voice dominate at the semester progress and if they have shifted their own rhetorical strategies in how they employ voice based on the assignment).
  • What difference did it make?
    What I was trying to get at with my students is a little tricky. The Program for Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) does not explicitly use the term voice and so when assessing peers’ written work students are asked to detect such things as rhetorical evidence, structure and organization and grammar issues. Thus the students have to almost learn to intuit how to employ voice and I was trying to make it more transparent. I wanted them to understand that voice is complicated and nuanced and they have to be aware its different forms and manifestations in written work. There is some evidence based on the characteristics of the word clouds that students did develop some sophistication in their deployment of voice over the different assignments (see below).
  • How did the classroom assessment
    The feedback from the surveys helped me gauge whether the students were internalizing their own reflective process on their use of voice. I would give them a general sense of which words dominated the surveys at the different stages of the semester. This process had the benefit of making me more conscious of paying attention to the different voices in the common class readings, especially in the first eight weeks.
  • What worked? What did you learn?
    There is certainly a difference in the students’ understanding of voice at the beginning of the semester (tag cloud entering college) and at the end (tag cloud final paper). In the former characteristics such as personal, unique and opinion were dominant. In the final papers students characterize their voice predominately as persuasive, informative, educated and confident and their were new words such as professional and balanced that had not appeared in previous reflections of their voice. Some context here: their final persuasive/argumentative paper builds on an annotated bibliography they have compiled on scholarly and non-scholarly sources. After completing these last two assignments students have a tacit awareness that they are mini experts on the issue they have chosen to write about—which is borne out in the words they chose to characterize their voice after the final paper.


Next semester I would record the written feedback and create word clouds for the following class session and give some time for the class to visually absorb their own progress on this threshold concept over the course of the semester. Their reflections become part of the learning process and this approaches allows me to integrate the information into the classroom exercises. The information I have gleamed from their reflections informs my own knowledge of where they are as they enter college and to be able to meet them at this level and show them the trajectory of where I’d like to see them by the end of the semester.

  • Sharing with colleagues?
    I would like to be able to present my findings to my colleagues, mostly likely at the Fall orientation or at a faculty meeting. This kind of student feedback on voice provides us with useful information in pedagogical approaches to achieving the goal and objectives of the first-year writing course. The PWR’s first-year coordinator would most likely provide the best support in disseminating this knowledge.

Resources: See attachments. 1) Survey, 2) Voice High School, 3) Voice in College, 4) Voice Belief Paper, 5) Voice Final Paper.


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