Many writing instructors, myself included, like to assign a short, ungraded “diagnostic” writing assignment the first week of class. This assignment serves a few functions. Most importantly, it gives you a chance to preview students’ writing and prepare for the task that lies ahead; it helps you be able to steer developing writers to the resources available outside of your class. It gives you a baseline for later comparison. Additionally, the assignment allows students to introduce themselves as writers. It gets them writing right away and sets the tone of the class as writing intensive.
When I use the diagnostic assignment, I look for ability to follow directions and write coherent paragraphs; complexity, fluidity, and variety of sentence constructions; any evidence of shaping and supporting arguments; and of course, glaring problems with grammar or usage. I might have them start the piece as an in-class writing, then ask them to take it home, revise it, and type it up.
Some possible prompts:
• Compare yourself with an older relative when he/she was the same age as you are now.
• Make a metaphor of yourself as a writer. Explain how the metaphor works. For instance, “As a writer I am like a dormant seed...”
• Write about an early reading or writing memory.
Other prompts or diagnostic assignments/activities? Please share; I’m an avid collector of bright ideas! And if anyone can come up with a better name for this assignment than diagnostic (yuck, sounds painful and possibly humiliating, doesn't it?) I'll bake them a plate of cookies.
At PSU students self-place into writing classes. You can help students identify whether they might benefit from additional writing instruction. Every term the following courses are offered (some are full this term, but you can encourage students to sign up in the future):
WR115 Intro to College Writing: For basic writers. This class is a confidence-building course that introduces students to basic concepts and conventions of college writing.
WR121 College Writing: The equivalent of traditional freshman composition, this course gives students practice in writing and revision for college courses. It usually introduces them to researching, the concept of thesis, citation formats, etc.
LING115: Intro to College Writing for Non-native speakers. Introduces non-native speakers to conventions of U.S. academic writing, with a stronger focus on English grammar than WR courses.
WR199: A 1-credit course offered through the PSU Writing Center. Students meet one-on-one each week with an assigned tutor to work on FRINQ or other course writing assignments.
A course called Grammar Refresher is also offered through the English department.
Last, but certainly not least, the PSU Writing Center has scheduled appointments and drop-in hours for FRINQ students and faculty (Wednesdays 11-1). Our web site is http://www.writingcenter.pdx.edu/; the blog: www.psuwritingcenter.blogspot.com.
Feel free to schedule a field trip with your class to the WC during our business hours.