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Working with Students around Pre-College Writing

In the summers, the DartWrite team creates portfolio sites for each member of the incoming class. We invite students to start designing their sites immediately and encourage them to upload writing from before their Dartmouth experience.

While not every student chooses to upload pre-Dartmouth writing, we think that engaging with students who do is a wonderful way to help them transition to writing at the college level. You could even ask your students to upload pre-college writing to their sites as part of your class. Students in past years have told us that having faculty read and engage with the pre-college writing they upload is a meaningful, rewarding experience.

While talking with faculty in the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric, we've heard lots of approaches for using pre-college writing to initiate work with students. Below, find three of our favorite approaches from our colleagues. Let us know if you’ve developed an interesting strategy you’d like to share in this space (

Personalizing Transitions:

Many of our colleagues ask students to treat their first writing course as an opportunity to consciously transition out of high school writing and into the academic conversations that they will encounter in college. That transition is different for every student, and pre-college writing gives you a great way to understand where students are coming from and how to help them make that transition.

Try hosting one-on-one meetings in the first two weeks of term in which you take a minute to talk about a pre-college writing project. In advance, read projects that students shared on their sites, and ask them to talk about how they expect their experiences with those projects to relate to the work they do at College. What will be similar? What will be different? You'll learn a lot about your students as individuals from those conversations, and you can help them orient their expectations and mindsets in productive ways.

Naming Strategies:

Some faculty ask students to dedicate time inside or outside of class to naming the strategies they use as writers. For these faculty, the completion of each project offers an opportunity for students to step back and reflect on rhetorical moves and choices. Many students discuss these moves and choices in class discussions after a revision is due; others write reflectively (via posts, journals, or project cover letters). Pre-college writing samples and the portfolio can be a space to accomplish some of this important reflective work.

Try dedicating time in your first or second class period to pre-college writing; ask students to talk in small groups about ambitious, challenging, or successful writing work they completed before coming to Dartmouth. Ask them to identify one conscious strategy they used in that project. They might even share their portfolios and uploaded projects to showcase the results of those strategies. Then, use a class-wide discussion to start a list of strategies, which can initiate an ongoing conversation that will extend across the term.

Exploring Disciplinary or Generic Differences:

We expect students to write in different genres during their careers at Dartmouth, and we expect them to develop better understandings of those genres and of the conventions of the disciplinary conversations they enter. For some students, first-year writing affords their first encouragement to start building an awareness of the differences they will encounter across those contexts. Pre-college writing can be a good starting point for discussing those differences.

Try asking students to write a post (perhaps in their portfolio) during the first week of classes in which they describe a pre-college writing project, name its purpose, identify its audience, describe the contextual requirements that shaped their choices, and note how the final product exhibits some of that context. Invite students to share these posts via their portfolios. This exercise can be the start of a larger class discussion about noticing differences in the contextual demands that drive our rhetorical work.