Faculty on Writing

Professor: William Ostwald (Adjunct Professor, 12 years )
Interviewed By: Annie Sutter
Department: Education
Date: September 28th, 2004

ED 231: Teaching and Learning in the Secondary Classroom

The interview I conducted with Dr. Ostwald was very informal.  After our ED 231 class together, we sat opposite each other at a table in the classroom and I began asking questions.  Most of the questions I asked him were very basic, thus requiring simple answers.  He would think about each question for a moment before answering, and he didn’t expand on many of them without my prompting.  At times he would say “Am I answering your question correctly?  I’m not sure I understand how to answer that.”  Considering the informal nature of most of the questions, I think he was “over-thinking” a lot of the time. 

Dr. Ostwald talked about the typical writing assignments he gives to his students.  He explained that since he only teaches 231, most of the assignments are write-ups of classroom observation and critiques of professional journal articles.  Due to the early stage in the semester, Dr. Ostwald said he has not yet had a chance to evaluate how well each of his students are writing, but the majority write well.  Content, opposed to grammar or punctuation, is the primary focus when reading students’ papers, because he wants to make sure his students are using analytical skills to explain what they see in educational settings.

Although the emphasis on writing is not the most important element of the course, Dr. Ostwald said he thinks it’s important for future educators to know how to write well.  He said he had two secretaries in his administrative days who proofread letters to be sent home to parents and educational reports he wrote for seminars.  This took sole responsibility off his shoulders to present the written information, so he was always collaborating with others.  It also caused critical evaluation of spelling errors and similar mistakes.  Dr. Ostwald said he feels very comfortable with his own writing, and added that it would be difficult to obtain any administrative position without being confident in one’s ability to express him or herself.  He also attributed this level of comfort in part to the extensive written exams he had to complete in his Canadian high school.  He said when the main assessment in a school is written response, students become prepared for analysis and reflection.

When asked to talk about the importance of writing, Dr. Ostwald said it would be difficult to get any kind of job in today’s society with poor literacy skills.  He said it’s even more “paramount” for teachers in the field of education to have above average writing skills.   Dr. Ostwald was a big advocate of the writing center.  He first heard about it on campus and then received notification that one of his students had gone to get help.  He said when he was struggling with a Statistics course for his Ph. D, the writing center helped him do as well as he did.  Dr. Ostwald also expressed his hope that no student feel embarrassed about going there, and that the tutors create the most positive experience possible.