College student writing assignments October 5

Writing Assignments: A Self-Assessment for Faculty

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Do your writing assignment focus on the product or the process? How about your students? Where do you think their focus is?

At the end of the day, our students aren’t going to take from our courses the products they developed and use them in the future. But they certainly will use and refine the skills they needed to develop that product—as they move on to other courses and well into their respective fields.

When working with online instructors, I found that many will de-emphasize the writing process. They tend to assign a major project or a final paper and all eyes are on the end goal of where students need to ultimately get. But they don’t oftentimes spend a whole lot of time breaking that process down in the same way that they might in a face-to-face class.

Below you’ll find a self-assessment to help you step back and reflect on how you approach writing assignments. It can serve as a helpful reminder of the various steps along the writing journey and how you can help guide students along that path.

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Writing assignments. Student on laptop October 5

Writing Assignments: A Self-Evaluation for Students

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I teach online at an open enrollment institution, which means I get students at all levels of writing ability. Many of them are solid writers with a good understanding of the different steps of the writing process. But I also have students who are just learning to write at the college level. Either they’ve have been out of school for a while or they’re newly minted high school graduates with little experience writing anything other than some kind of standardized writing test.

Rather than make assumptions about what my students might know, I try to demystify the writing process and break it down into individual steps. By forcing them to slow down the process and focus on each step, we can improve the process and, ultimately, the end product.

Below is a self-evaluation that I use with my students. You are welcome to adapt the questions to fit the needs of your courses and students.

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college student deep in thought August 7

Jedi Training: Developing Habits of Perception in Our Disciplines

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As longtime practitioners in our disciplines, we develop implicit skills that can be the source of some of the deepest learning for our students. In his book Experience and Education, John Dewey describes habit as “the formation of attitudes, attitudes that are emotional and intellectual…our basic sensitivities and ways of responding to all the conditions we meet in living” (35). Experiencing implies the sensing body, embodied learning, and Dewey does not shy away from the emotional dimensions of learning—both of which are often where the deepest learning happens, where students’ passion for a discipline ignites, and where experts’ best ideas originate. These often-overlooked dimensions of learning are also where empathy lives, and so it is there that knowledge might blossom not only into expertise but into wisdom.


low-stakes writing assignment February 24

Using Low-Stakes Writing Assignments to Achieve Learning Goals

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During my time as a teaching fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the importance of student learning goals and student learning objectives to quality course design and management. Learning goals, often broad in nature, are most commonly applied at the course level. Learning objectives are statements about measurable expectations and behaviors that can contribute to the achievement of the learning goals.


student writing January 6

Punctuating Error: Strategies to Help Students Become More Disciplined Writers

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When final paper time looms, students become increasingly anxious about the grammatical errors they believe lurk in their writing. That belief is so strong it can undermine their drafts. Even worse, students have come to expect that their professors will point out errors—and make corrections—that seem invisible to student eyes. Such a learned practice dissuades students from the far more productive work of rewriting sentences that would remove many of those errors just as invisibly.

Helping students learn how to revise and rewrite should be our priority so that their writing becomes more effective and they’re able to eyeball what remaining errors need correcting. Nevertheless, even with that process, some errors persist. For years, I struggled with determining how much instruction to devote to error, how to time such instruction, and where to conduct it—classroom, conference, or paper annotations—so that my efforts would prove more helpful than hurtful.

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student studying in library December 1, 2016

Journaling Assignment

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Students will complete a series of short essays about the idea of fairness in different ethical theories. Students will reflect in writing on the following question: what is fairness or how does this idea contribute to, support or challenge my idea of fairness? Another question students will consider is how a particular ethical theory is or is not fair. Students will be evaluated on the following factors:

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student working on laptop November 11, 2016

Wikipedia Projects for Learning

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Most teachers consider Wikipedia the devil’s realm, a place where rumor and misinformation are spread. But in reality, studies have found that Wikipedia has an accuracy of a regular encyclopedia. Inaccurate information is quickly corrected by volunteer editors, and there are strict standards for entering content, including the rule that “everything must be cited.” Most important, Wikipedia is the place where many, if not most, people go to get initial information on a topic. This makes it probably the most important information source on the Internet, and because editing is public, it presents a wonderful opportunity for students to create articles as class assignments.


Google Maps on iPhone June 20, 2016

A Real-World Writing Project Integrating Mobile Technology and Team-Based Learning

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Teaching first-semester freshmen presents some unique challenges. You are teaching them not only your subject, but also how to be college students. One of the best strategies I have found is to begin with a collaborative project that asks them to research their new home: the campus.


student at library August 3, 2015

Using a Discourse-Community-Knowledge Framework to Design Writing Assignments

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The educational benefits of writing are undeniable. Challenging students to write about our disciplines for diverse purposes and audiences deepens learning and promotes critical thinking. And so we put a great deal of effort into creating writing assignments that do not merely ask students to report back to us the content we have “delivered,” but instead require them to explore course content and address a target audience that has specific needs.


July 11, 2014

Designing Developmentally Appropriate Writing Assignments

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Often the articles highlighted in The Teaching Professor are examples of pedagogical scholarship that could beneficially be done in many fields. That is the case with this piece on developing writing assignments, but it also contains content useful to any faculty member who uses writing assignments as a major method of assessing student learning in a course.