Required writing course teaches students to make well informed decisions
Approximately 90 percent of students pass Expository Writing, the Rutgers required writing course, every year and more than half finish with at least a "B" average.
Kurt Spellmeyer, director of the Rutgers Writing Program and a professor in the Department of English, said that the course requires new skills that are sometimes not taught in high school English classes, which can make the first few papers difficult for some students and might contribute to its reputation as being tough.
He said that one reason for this is because high school English courses may not spend as much time on non-fiction prose that analyzes an issue or makes an argument, a necessity in Expository Writing.
But students do learn very quickly, Spellmeyer said. By the end of the semester, they can make excellent arguments that are thoughtful, well organized and written with minimal error.
“Although the rates vary from one semester to the next, about 90 percent of students pass the course,” Spellmeyer said. “Almost everyone who doesn’t pass fails because he or she simply stopped coming to class. If you take your teacher’s comments to heart, if you go to office hours and — this is really important — if you sign up for tutoring at one of the Writing Centers, you are very likely to do pretty well. More than 50 percent of Expos students finish with a 'B' or higher.”
He said the biggest mistake students make is that they do not ask for help. The sooner you go to office hours and enroll in one of the writing centers, the better, he said.
Kristin Rose, a graduate student and professor in the Department of English, said that the biggest and most common mistake that students make in Expository Writing is that they summarize articles instead of analyzing them.
“They are so good at repeating the claim that an author makes, but the challenge is learning to make their own claim and distinguishing it from the author's argument,” Rose said. “I also really encourage my students to be bold and disagree with authors. They often feel that they aren't allowed to argue against the author, but that often leads to really wonderful essays.”
Rose said that skills learned in Expository Writing can help students critically interpret information, synthesize multiple arguments and offer their own input on a wide variety of fields.
When students check their news feed every day, Rose said she hopes that they are not just absorbing the information without a second thought, but that they are critically thinking and forming their own opinions for well-informed conversations with their peers.
“As the semester went on, I got better and better at (writing) and my grades improved. I started to learn more about what I was writing and how to express my ideas better,” said Shikhar Rastogi, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year.
He said that in high school most of his writing consisted of a basic five-paragraph structure where little effort was required. The work he has been required to read in college has been a lot more engaging, he has an easier time coming up with ideas and putting them down on paper now, he said.
Rastogi said that he went to his professor's office every week to see how he could make his essays better, which helped him figure out how to improve. He said that deviating from personal arguments was a common mistake he noticed in his peers' writing.
Rose said that Expository Writing is a challenging course, but many students have a great work ethic and excel in the class.
“Everyone from President (Robert L.) Barchi on down understands that the ability to think critically and creatively and to communicate clearly are more important than ever. When people leave the University, they might forget all about their Economics course or Shakespeare class, but they will need the skills we teach in Expos throughout their working lives,” Spellmeyer said.