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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The importance of writing

As I may have mentioned in earlier posts, my university is in the process of putting together a system of assessing general education. At the foundation of our general education program are the basic skills. I would argue that the cornerstone of that foundation is writing.

Writing, of course, is a basic means of communication. When a student responds to a test question—at least when beyond the survey classes—the response is in writing, regardless of whether the answer is an essay, a sentence, "text", or simply just a word. Its importance is far beyond that. Writing—good writing—requires that the student have established an internal dialog. We all have multiple voices within ourselves, but having an internal dialog requires that we discipline those voices. We must be able to take an idea and attempt to support it while at the same time honestly looking for valid criticism of that idea. Such an internal dialog enables us to be surer of our opinions and to be able to defend them in a reasoned way.

I would also submit that having learned to write enables us to become better readers. The struggle to convey a particular idea using the writer's toolbox builds the ability to better examine another's writing for nuance. As someone who's played football is better able to appreciate the finer points of the game so is someone who has written better able to understand the subtleties there.

One of the reasons we have chosen to tackle writing first is because of its fundamental importance to learning at level and breadth of the university. Because of its importance, we know that it is thing that we must strive to excel at. As a consequence, the assessment tools we put in place to measure that success must be create carefully and well. These tools, and the spirit of the endeavor, will provide a template to follow in the creation of assessment tools for mathematics and communication, and from there for the rest of general education.

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