Promoting tertiary students' writing. A subject-specific genre-based approach.
In recent years, embedding writing into subject teaching through genre-based writing instruction (GBWI) has been advocated in L1 tertiary education to promote student writing. However, little is known about how this approach can be shaped and implemented in higher education. In this design-based research project in the first year of Dutch higher professional education, the aim was to investigate how subject-specific GBWI can be prepared and designed, enacted and evaluated. First, the preparation and design of subject-specific GBWI interventions was investigated through different preparatory analyses. This resulted in four key elements that need to be addressed in this first phase: 1) investigating current teaching and learning, 2) analyzing the target genres with the help of various sources, 3) professionalizing subject lecturers, and 4) articulating the expectations regarding teaching and learning in the GBWI interventions. Second, the 7-week GBWI interventions were enacted in practice within two first-year subject classes (Event Organization and Introduction to Research) in respectively three and two cycles. In total, 77 first-year students were involved and two subject lecturers. Analyses of qualitative data collected during and after enactment (video recordings, field notes, logbooks, reflective interviews) revealed that enactment of subject-specific GBWI requires a well-balanced combination of designed scaffolding (planned support through activities, materials and participant structures) and interactional scaffolding (unplanned support from lecturers to students in interactions), attuned to the respective subject context. Third, the effect of the interventions on students’ proficiency in writing subject-specific genres was investigated based on students’ pre- and post-tests and genre-based analytic scoring schemes. Comparisons of pre- and post-tests showed statistically significant improvements in students’ writing proficiency in the target genres in all five interventions, with effect sizes ranging from large (d=0.84 and d=1.16) to very large (d=1.35, d=1.40 and d=2.04). In conclusion, it is argued that the present research has shown that the embedded approach of subject-specific GBWI can address a huge challenge for current higher education: promoting student writing.