In June 24–28, 2013, 38 university teachers from all over Russia came to the XVI Fulbright Summer School in the Humanities held in a spacious room of the Moscow State University’s School of Journalism to discuss how to teach writing at the university and postgraduate level, how to use it as a tool for improving critical inquiry in other subjects, and how to help graduate students and faculty members in their efforts to publish internationally.
The Summer School, titled “Academic Writing: Russian and International Experience”, consisted of three thematic modules of lectures and workshops:
1. First-year composition
Lectures and workshops of this module were conducted by Professor Katherine V. Wills (Indiana University — Purdue University Indianapolis). Professor Wills presented a history of the first-year composition course in U.S. colleges and introduced Summer School participants to the reference documents prepared by the Council of Writing Programs Administrators that serve as a basis for writing courses syllabi in various U.S. universities. This block also included a talk by two renowned teachers of Russian and literature in Moscow secondary schools, who discussed writing habits of Russian school graduates that may serve as a backdrop for university writing assignments.
2. Writing across the curriculum and writing in the disciplines
This series of lectures was given by Professor Martha Townsend (University of Missouri), who considered writing as a tool for better learning useful in various university courses. Professor Townsend talked about how writing as a method to foster learning is now employed in American universities, presented evidence in favor of using writing as a teaching tool in any discipline, discussed the numerous possibilities for designing engaging written assignments that range from low-stakes informal tasks to high-stakes papers, and demonstrated different ways of responding to students’ drafts, arguing for ‘minimal marking’ as opposed to the common practice of pointing out every error. This last topic of responding to student writing was further developed by Olga Aksakalova (director of the writing center at the New Economic School in Moscow), who suggested a holistic approach that
3. Writing for publication
This module was taught by Professor Ronald Schleifer (University of Oklahoma), who led two sample seminars demonstrating the principles of peer review, and also gave a talk on the logistics of publishing journal articles and book chapters. This block also included a talk by Olessya Kirtchik, a co-editor of Laboratorium: Russian Review of Social Research, who discussed the challenges of publishing a bilingual sociological journal with international-grade research in Russia.
Videos of some of the Summer School talks are available online.
Are writing courses needed in Russian higher education? Currently, demand exists insofar as international scholarly publication (i.e., in English) has emerged as a government priority. But under the surface of the publication-abroad campaign one may discern the broader need for enhanced native-language literacy at the post-secondary level. It is not just grammatical and stylistic correctness that is at issue, but capacity for critical, disciplined thinking, well-reasoned judgment, effective and convincing public expression. For Russia, entry into the XXI century may require a campaign for enhanced rhetorical sophistication almost as massive as the campaign for basic literacy with which the XX century began. In order to open up new spaces and possibilities one needs look beyond acquired skills and received ideas, mine inherited cultural resources for new uses, certainly learn what can be learned from the American and international experience, and get closer involved with writing-intensive educational experiments that begin to develop on the global scale.
— Tatiana Venediktova, Director of the Fulbright Summer School in the Humanities
In engaging contemporary Russian scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, I have discovered that there is much that Russian teachers and scholars can learn from our American experience while at the same time there is much we can learn from the sense of widening scholarship and pedagogy that is taking place in Russia today. Writing cross-culturally enriches the work and the horizons of what is possible for both Russians and Americans.
— Ronald Schleifer, George Lynn Cross Research Professor of English and Adjunct Professor in the College of Medicine, University of Oklahoma
Co-facilitating Moscow State University's 16th annual Fulbright Summer School for the Humanities with my two American colleagues was a joy. Even though all of the Russian participants were already experienced language instructors, I think we all sensed that the principles of American-style rhetoric and composition instruction that we were bringing to the event had the potential to enlarge their thinking in unexpected ways. I sense that our Russian colleagues perceived an empowerment of sorts to hear that they alone are not responsible for students’ writing in every discipline henceforward, that teachers in the disciplines share that responsibility. I believe that our work together—the Russians and the Americans–was historic and important. I’m proud to have been part of the team and the experience.
— Martha Townsend, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Missouri
I looked forward to each rich day of the Moscow State University 16th annual Fulbright Summer School for the Humanities: Composition and Rhetoric with my Russian and American colleagues as we energetically shared possibilities about how to contribute to the theory and practice of cross-cultural composition pedagogy through critique, WAC and first-year composition. The collective exchange of ideas from the Summer School has already stimulated academic and personal relations that will impact future cross-cultural scholarship and pedagogy of writing. I am very enthusiastic about the sustained contributions of this Summer School
— Katherine Wills
Assistant Professor of English, Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis
The Summer School was very helpful and threw light on many aspects of how to apply writing to develop critical thinking. Informal writing was a totally new thing for me and I liked this idea very much. Being a supporter of a distributed language approach I appreciate a lot the idea of socializing and collaboration in writing which we lack in the Russian school of writing. Assignments that promote getting together, writing and critical thinking are of supreme importance...
— Olga Karamalak, Associate Professor, Magnitogorsk State University
...I did find this Summer School enriching and inspiring. I gained some really helpful recommendations on overall approach to students’ writing (student involvement at every stage, holistic evaluation, etc.). I had tried to employ some of these principles in my teaching but the school presenters enabled me to see them as a coherent and efficient system, for which I am very grateful...
Thank you once again for the wonderful spirit of enthusiasm and collaboration at this Summer School!
— Yevgeniya Butenina, Associate Professor, School of Regional and International Studies, Vladivostok
...the knowledge I obtained during the summer school will definitely influence how I teach or organize the teaching process and present writing assignments...
— Elina Gubernatorova, Associate Professor, Altai State University
...given that this format was a pilot project, I can't imagine how it could have been better...
— Natalia Novikova, graduate student, Moscow State University