Writing Fellow Roles and Responsibilities
Writing fellows can be successfully integrated into classes in a variety of different ways, depending on the type of course and needs of the faculty member. Writing fellow roles and responsibilities should be clearly negotiated between the fellow and the faculty member and should be presented in the form of a contract signed by both the faculty member and the fellow prior to the semester in which the fellow will be needed. Completed contracts should be sent to the Director of the Writing Center. Although individual faculty members are in the best position to determine how their fellows are used, the following is a list of guidelines based on the experiences of faculty who have participated in writing fellow programs at other institutions:
Faculty members may consider asking Fellows to introduce themselves to the class early in the semester. This way, the students are more likely to see the Fellows as integral to the course. Many also ask Fellows to attend on days when assignments are handed out. This way, the Writing Fellow can hear the faculty member talking about the parameters of the assignment and can see what questions the students have. Fellows can then pass around a sign-up sheet for students who would like a conference.
Faculty members should plan writing assignments, even if only low-stakes writing assignments, early on in the semester rather than waiting until later, which is important for several reasons:
- Students will begin thinking through writing.
- Fellows will get to know students and students’ writing early on.
- Fellows will get essential practice in evaluating writing and conversing with students about writing while attending their fall practicum, essential for fellows to get the full benefit of the practicum since the practicum requires that they discuss and trouble-shoot with their peers the interactions and experiences they are having with the students to whom they are assigned.
Students also see Fellows as more valuable when there is something written in the syllabus about their role in the course.
Faculty members may determine whether meeting with the Writing Fellow should be mandatory or optional, but making student-Fellow conferences mandatory is strongly recommended. Experience at other institutions has shown that simply having the Fellow keep “open office hours” rarely works. Students typically only use a Writing Fellow if it is required (e.g., “Students must make an appointment to see the Fellow at least once during the semester” or “Papers receiving less than [some grade] must make an appointment with the Writing Fellow prior to submitting a revision”) or if there is some benefit to doing so (e.g., “Students will receive [some amount of] extra credit if paper is taken to the Fellow.”)
Some faculty have found it helpful to vet their assignments with their Fellows prior to handing them out to the class. Fellows are typically good at pointing out any ambiguities or areas that require more clarification.
Although faculty and Fellows have filled out a contract, the role of the Fellows may be somewhat fluid, particularly the first time they are used in a course. Faculty should simply be sure that Fellows do no more than 60 hours of work and that they agree with any modification of (or changes to) duties stated in the contract.
How Fellows Help Students
- Fellows can be used to comment on low-stakes assignments that do not require grading.
- Fellows can meet with students to help them clarify their research ideas.
- Fellows can work with students on thesis statements.
- Some faculty ask fellows to comment on drafts of papers and then write their comments on those papers as well, thereby speeding up the grading time. To ensure that the writing fellow is commenting on assignments appropriately, faculty might consider commenting on a few papers and then sharing those comments with the mentor prior to asking the mentor to comment.
- If the writing fellow is comfortable with doing so, he or she could conduct a workshop on some writing-related aspect of the class.
Fellows should only be expected to complete 60 hours of work over the course of the semester, including time spent attending any classes and reading relevant course material. (This amounts to approximately three hours a week, but the time can be allocated as needed and should appear in the contract.)
Fellows should not be asked to simply “fix” grammar on papers. Certainly, Fellows will be helping students with grammatical issues, but in order for students to actually improve their writing skills (as opposed to having papers that just look as if they’ve improved), Fellows should comment on higher-level issues as well (thesis statement, use of evidence, organization, etc.) Ideally, this kind of work should be done face to face.
Fellow Selection Process
An instructor’s use of a Writing Fellow is optional. Each faculty member is responsible for recruiting his or her own Writing Fellow. Once a Writing Fellow is selected, the faculty member should send the name of the student, along with the name of the course and semester in which they will be used, to the Writing Center Director.
Faculty members should think carefully about the choice of Fellow. The best writers in a major will not always have the best interpersonal skills. Faculty should select someone who will be able to connect with students. If faculty members are unsure about the qualifications of a particular student, they are encouraged to discuss their concerns with the Writing Center Director before putting the student’s name forward.
Fellows may or may not have already taken the course or courses they are assigned to, but they should not be enrolled in the course during the semester they are serving as a Fellow.
Instructors may request more than one Writing Fellow if necessary.
If departments are using a Fellow within a programmatic model, the Fellow’s time may be split between two different classes. If the Fellow will be responsible for two classes, both faculty members must sign off on the contract. For logistical reasons, the Fellow’s time may not be divided more than this.
The faculty member should meet with his or her Writing Fellow at the very beginning of the term to review the contract and clarify expectations.
Writing Fellow Training
In order for Fellows to be most effective, it is important for them to have ongoing training and support throughout the year. Writing Fellows must enroll in a 2-credit Independent Study in the semester they will serve as a fellow. This will require Fellows to meet regularly with the Writing Center Director, where they will discuss assigned readings and talk about emerging classroom issues. These credits will appear clearly on their transcript.
The Writing Center Director will be responsible for working with faculty members to develop strategies for effectively incorporating Fellows into the classroom. She will be responsible for working directly with the Fellows. She will assign the readings and oversee the weekly practicum meetings. She will be responsible for evaluating the Writing Fellows and assigning their grades.