I teach at a public college in New England. As far as I can ascertain, our students are fairly typical of their generation. They work hard, managing multiple responsibilities while attending college. They have enormous difficulty expressing themselves in writing.
At the beginning of my teaching career, 30-plus years ago, I was appalled at student writing. In addition to mechanical errors of grammar, punctuation and sentence structure, most could not express themselves in a coherent or logical way. This was a particular challenge because my discipline, social work, requires precise and competent documentation for continuity of care, reimbursement for services and accreditation. I soon learned that thousands of academics across the country were dealing with the same problem, with little to show for it: everyone had ideas but no one had evidence of an effective intervention.
My own inquiry on a national social work education listserv yielded several ineffective practices: mandated writing-for-practice or writing-intensive courses; remediation for particularly challenged students; and the old standby of red-penciling, later changed to blue or black in order to show support rather than judgment.
Research shows that student writing has not changed in 50 years. This suggests our students should grow into more effective writers as they age into young adulthood, with consistent, sufficient and appropriate supports that coincide with students’ interests. That’s the idea behind Professional Writing for Social Work Practice, co-authored with my English Department colleague and director of the institution’s Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning. The book incorporates students’ interests in the field of social work with writing samples from different practice settings, organized around each component of the core social work curriculum. The book is designed for use in most social work undergraduate and first year MSW courses, and later in practice. If used across the curriculum, it will give students consistent messages about writing for practice, support faculty in applying writing standards, and prepare students for writing expectations they will encounter in field placements and jobs.