Critical Reading and Writing across the Disciplines
Written by Michael Rouleau
WILLIMANTIC, CT (07/18/2017) The Davis Educational Foundation has awarded Eastern Connecticut State University a $200,000 grant to develop its “Critical Reading and Writing across the Disciplines” initiative. The two-year project aims to strengthen first- and second-year students’ analytical thinking, reading and writing skills by enhancing faculty approaches to teaching critical thinking. The project also aims to improve teaching and learning assessment, as well as better link Eastern’s discussion-oriented First Year Program with its level-two Writing Program – two programs that all Eastern students pass through regardless of major.
“In the past it was assumed that students develop higher-order thinking skills as a cumulative result to degree completion,” explained David Pellegrini, project director and theatre professor. “But today, educational researchers have found that intentional instruction focused on critical reading and writing best ensures that students graduate with the skills they need in competitive and ever-evolving career landscapes. Moreover, this emphasis on critical thinking must begin at the very beginning of a student’s college experience.”
While the grant will be distributed over a two-year period, university officials plan to make the “Critical Reading and Writing across the Disciplines” program a sustained component of Eastern’s liberal arts curriculum.
Beginning in fall 2017, a faculty-led Critical Thinking Task Force will convene with expert consultants in the field of college-level critical thinking pedagogy and assessment. Faculty workshops will be developed and best practices will be shared among colleagues and with students in a process that will transform how critical thinking is taught in each academic discipline at Eastern.
“Critical Reading and Writing across the Disciplines” is connected to two longstanding Eastern programs: the First Year Liberal Arts Introduction (FYI 100) and the Writing Program. To assist them in becoming engaged in the intellectual life of the university, first-year students enroll in one of many discussion-oriented FYI courses that explore a broad, contemporary theme developed from the expertise of the instructor. From there, students take their major’s designated Writing Intensive (WI) course.
“By convening and providing training for instructors of FYI 100 and level-two WI courses, this project will forge meaningful connections between modes of instruction, evaluation and assessment to enhance the development of critical thinking competencies for students from freshman to sophomore year,” added Pellegrini.
“One advantage of a small liberal arts college is that faculty are able to come together to jointly plan programs,” said Provost Dimitrios Pachis, speaking to the collaborative nature of the project. “In line with the interdisciplinary nature of our liberal arts curriculum, this project draws on the interests and expertise of faculty from nearly all of our major programs.”
“We are honored to receive this significant grant from the Davis Educational Foundation, which is recognized for its support of innovative programs at New England colleges and universities,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “We are very grateful to the foundation’s trustees for this grant, which will strengthen the core academic skills of all Eastern students. As a liberal arts institution, we keenly understand the importance of developing strong reading and writing skills in our students, regardless of their major. This grant will allow us to significantly improve our first-year program, increasing student learning from freshman to sophomore year while improving student learning outcomes and retention and graduation rates.”
The Davis Educational Foundation was established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis’s retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc.