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Roseann Torsiello Loren Kleinman

What Does Academic Support Got to Do With It? : Getting students to feel in control of their writing starts in the classroom

By Dr. Roseann Torsiello and Loren Kleinman, Berkeley College

Writers are not just people who sit down and write.
—E.L. Doctrow—

Remember what it was like? As a beginning, or returning student, the thought of writing a paper can be overwhelming; while for others, it may be as simple as dotting an i. However different the scenario, writing is a process that allows all of us to tell the stories of our everyday lives; it is a process that should be fun; it is a process that requires time and dedication from both teacher and student. The process is a contract of academic support between teacher and student, which states: We will be there for each other for as long as it takes.

In a recent and alarming report, Writing Next, published by the Carnegie Institute, authors Steve Graham and Dolores Perin note that “writing well is not just an option for young people—it is a necessity.” Most young people will never meet basic writing skills requirements due to a lack of guidance and instruction from their academic superiors.

Let me reiterate: writing is a process. Too often these words are used as instructional tapestry. Everything sounds good in a lecture, but what happens when our students have to actually compose a paper? Writing-as-a-process is demanding and requires great investment from its students, and even more so from its instructors; it is a constant dramatic cultivation, which requires time, understanding, and mistakes. Remember the contract?

Think about this: in the United States alone, more than 7,000 students drop out of high school each day because many of them can not meet basic literacy demands of the high school curriculum. In addition, one third of high school graduates are not ready for college-level English composition courses. Consequently, there have been many programs formed to help combat this literacy shipwreck, including the Striving Readers Initiative for which the U.S. Congress just appropriated over $29 million for the 2006-07 school year.

Writing Next also illuminates a disturbing find regarding the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The exam, which was used to measure the writing skills of 4th, 8th, and 12th graders, was last given in 2002. The scores were broken down into three levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. Some of the results included:

22% to 26% of students scored at the Proficient level
58% scored at the Basic Level
Overall, 72% of students did not meet NAEP writing proficiency goals.

The consequences of these numbers are significant. Now more than ever, employers are requiring their employees to be proficient in writing. Writing is not only critical to the work place, but an essential skill that can make or break a promotion. So, what can be done?

Here are a few writing process strategies for both the teacher and the student that when used everyday, will generate optimal results in an onsite or online classroom environment. First, it is important that you learn your college’s guidelines for formal written work. (We have provided our guidelines in Appendix A as a template.)

Practice Collaborative Writing. This is an effective approach that allows students to become their own best editors. The basis of Collaborative Writing is to review work completed by peers, and witness how that work can aid in the revision of our own writing.

Another important strategy is Prewriting, which allows the generation of ideas before the actual work of paper writing begins. We need to allow time to gut ideas from our minds, which will provide a clearer look into what we would like to write. Prewriting also allows us the ability to answer and ask questions about the essay we are preparing before we actually start sculpting.

Instructors, it is important to bring in models of good (and not-so-good) writing. Models allow students the opportunity to read, analyze, and duplicate models of good writing. This is an invaluable element in the writing process. Telling students to write an analytical research paper with a compare and contrast element is not enough; we have to show them. Bring in examples, lots of examples: some from past students that really aced it and from experts alike. Also, bring in weak examples and illustrate how to properly revise them. Expose them to the whole gamut.

As an instructor, it is necessary to do two things: review your students writing samples and offer effective and constructive feedback. Every student is a different writer and requires a certain cocktail of elements to best suit his/her needs, so choose instruction based on a student’s requirements. Note: Try to create two sections when you review each students work using the following guiding principles below: (1) Positive Comments and (2) Suggestions for Revision. Remember we don’t to simply tell our students what they have missed we want to show them.

Writing is a skill that relies on a series of processes such as handwriting and spelling, vocabulary, and use of strategies. Unless a student is able to experiment with these strategies, the development of ideas may be delayed. Mastery of the mechanics of writing is interdependent of the experience of writing-to-learn. By integrating material from the content areas, language arts teachers provide the content needed for the student to expand their knowledge of spelling, vocabulary, and the process of writing.

Students must evolve into professional expressers before their entry into the professional world. Employers demand employees who can clearly communicate and initiate their goals, ideas, and concerns through a variety of Info Tech mediums such as e-mail. Students must be both tech and lit savvy in order to survive in today’s job market; otherwise it is easy-come and easy-go.

Do not forget that writing is a bound internal representation of the wilderness within us; it is a continual allusion to experience. Writing reinforces our belief in reverence of all kinds. In response to this, I am reminded of a small anecdote, regarding how we understand writing from the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). During his trip to the Sahara, Borges cupped some sand in his palm and dropped it in another location. He later wrote in his journal: “I am modifying the Sahara.” Borges explained that it was one of the most prominent memories of his trip. The point here is that writing remakes our place in the world and because of this, it is even more important that we are able to articulate and communicate to our peers.

For writing to work, it is imperative that there is a system of academic support in place, which includes offering encouragement to each student; modeling the writing process and asking questions that will facilitate students’ own thinking about writing. By sticking to this mission, perhaps students will not only become good writers, they will be able to analyze the human experience in a variety of platforms and mediums throughout their lives.


Graham, Steve and Dolres Perin. Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools. New York: Carnegie Cooperation of New York. 2007.


Guidelines for Formal Written Work for Students at Berkeley College

Please Note: Each instructor may decide how the various parts or items will influence grading in a particular course. Check with your instructor before formatting and submitting your assignment.

Effective Writing Tips

In order to write successfully and effectively, consider the following questions:

1. Who will read what I write?
a. Identify your audience.

2. Why should they read what I write?
a. State your purpose.

3. What do I have to say to them?
a. Give your message.

4. How can I best communicate?
a. Select your style and tone.

Guidelines for Preparing Papers

1. Paper: White bond, unlined, 8 ½’’ x 11’’
2. Print/Font: Black, Times New Roman, 10 or 12 point font, only
3. Margin: One inch all around; no right justification
4. Spacing: Double space between lines; one or two spaces after end punctuation
5. Page Numbers: Top right margin; Arabic numerals without period
6. Paragraphs: Indent ½’’ (five spaces)
7. Title: On first page or separate title page
8. Basic Parts: An academic paper should contain three basic parts:
a. Introductory Paragraph(s)
b. Supporting Paragraph(s)
c. Concluding Paragraph(s)

Documentation and Research

According to the current Berkeley College student handbook, “Plagiarism is a violation of the integrity of the academic community. Representing someone else’s work as one’s own is a serious academic offense and may result in failure or suspension.”

Know What to Cite (Adapted from the MLA Handbook)

  1. Facts and statistics
  2. Quotations
  3. Somebody else’s ideas and/or opinions

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