by Sheri Denison, Ph.D.; Debi Fox, Ph.D.; and Joan O'Leary, Ph.D.
Department of English & Humanities, Matanuska-Susitna College

ENGL 111_making_learning_visible[ small

Context of the Inquiry

ENGL A111: Methods of Written Communication

Course prepares students for tracked 200-level ENGL courses by providing introduction to college-level research writing

  • Course prepares students for tracked 200-level ENGL courses by providing introduction to college-level research writing
  • Focus of UAA catalog course descriptions changed over time, largely following shifts in contemporary composition theory
  • 1970s:  Orderly thought, clear expression, and close analysis of appropriate texts; introduction to research techniques
  • 1980s: Rhetorical modes, sustained writing,  and improved grammar, punctuation, and critical thinking
  • 1990s: Ways in which environment influences language2000s: Documented research paper in APA style
  • 2010: Incorporation of multi-modal media (imbedded graphics, audio, and  video) into writing

Course Artifacts

Focus of the Inquiry

 Writing backgrounds of students vary significantly, from very adept beginning research writers to those who have never written an academic paper requiring sources or specific formatting/citation conventions.   

Research and writing skills are difficult to learn if the required tasks, skills, and topics are presented in a disjointed manner. 

The goals of this inquiry were to:

  • Provide students with a research theme, building shared knowledge in one area
  • Create a discourse community in the classroom
  • Introduce increasingly complex writing and documentation skills and tasks through a skills-scaffolding process

Course Artifacts

Course Design and Implementation

Course changes focus on selected thematic readings, allowing teachers to control readings and to assist students in critical thinking and documentation
  • Center each class's reading, writing, and research activities around a theme:
    • ″Bioethics         

    • ″Public Education         

    • ″Technology
  • Integrate summary and paraphrase in early assignments and in-class exercises
  • Include documentation and source analysis in all assignments
  • Provide sources and guide discussions to help students make connections and synthesize multiple sources
  • Model methods of analyzing issues, problems, and sources to teach students to find, evaluate, and incorporate outside sources into their own writing
  • Guide creation of research paper
  • Use reflective writing so students can synthesize and express what they learn

Course Artifacts


  • Students mastering paraphrase and summary will be more successful with essay writing
    • More improved than "slid," especially at the extreme upper end of the grading scale
  • Students' writing skills will improve as they progress through the course
    • First study courses showed no significant skills improvement over the original course; later study courses showed moderate to significant skills improvement over the original and earlier study coursE
  • Students in the study courses will earn higher grades than those in the original courses
    • Students in study courses earned consistently higher grades on essays
  • Fewer students in the study courses will withdraw or change to audit
    • Fewer students withdrew from or audited study courses
  • Study students' comments in IDEA and other sources will be more positive than comments from students in original courses
    • Even with few IDEA surveys submitted, study students' reactions were significantly more positive for basic understanding of research process, citations, and referencing and for better class discussion base


Course Artifacts


  • Spend more class time on paraphrase and summary writing
  • Add more themes to engage more students
  • Monitor teacher improvement of course and delivery and student progress in learning and skills application

Course Artifacts

Faculty Contact

Mat-su College

Sheri Denison Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, English & Humanities


Joan O'Leary, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, English & Humanities


Deborah Fox, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, English & Humanities