Teaching first-year writing and developmental writing comes with a set of issues that often do not pervade other writing courses. Writing teachers know the compounded effort they must put into planning. The problems with first-year writing and developmental writing stem from both the students and institutional resources. Writing teachers usually don’t have much control over the latter, but this isn’t always true for the former.
Every semester students enter my classroom with the same mindset: They aren’t writers, and they can’t write. This mindset is exacerbated in developmental writing with some syntax, grammatical, and stylistic issues thrown on top. Each semester I tell my students the same thing on the first day: “There’s no such thing as a bad writer or a good writer; there are only inexperienced writers and experienced writers.”
This is often hard for students to accept. Many have been told that they are terrible writers. Past teachers have marked their work up with a bloody red pen, which only further intensified students’ self-doubt. As a result, students lack a strong support system, and, perhaps equally problematic, students don’t know how to identify their strengths and weaknesses in their writing and learning.
This semester I introduced SWOT Analysis to my first-year writing and developmental writing classes. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This type of analysis is often used in the business world; however, I am not using it for that reason. I’m using SWOT because it’s simple and clear. Students don’t need complexity when they start; students need to be eased into complex thinking. Using SWOT as a starting point, I can better help students identify where they need and don’t need help.
Moreover, SWOT embraces students’ autonomy. Students should have some control over their learning, and, hopefully, SWOT can introduce them to the feeling of controlling their education, learning, and future. If students can identify their writing abilities and inabilities, they can focus on their successes while clarifying areas for improvement.
SWOT Analysis has its pros and cons. It’s simple, clear, and easy to complete. Conversely, its origin is in the business world, its use may lock people into a box, and it doesn’t consider ethical issues. However, the cons can be regulated or addressed in order to place greater value on the pros. Furthermore, if you highlight the cons before use, students can mindfully and contextually use SWOT Analysis to suit their needs.
I created an initial SWOT Analysis where I considered my own writing. It needs work, and it’s overly simple. I intentionally made it rough and simple, so I can talk to students about how to refine their thinking. I will demonstrate, and I hope they will imitate until they are comfortable with SWOT.
I created my example using XMind. You can see it below.