leveraging social issues June 8

Leveraging Social and Political Issues to Promote Student Engagement, Improve Writing Skills

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“Your students are failing because you are failing them.” These words can cut to the core of any professional educator who strives for excellence in teaching and learning. However, hidden within that criticism is a more useful message: “To help them succeed, you must inspire their imaginations and capture their attention through meaningful and creative engagement within the classroom.”

As English composition instructors, we are tasked with teaching students how to effectively express themselves through writing as well as understand why that’s such an important skill. Oftentimes this is executed by teaching out of a required textbook that addresses the various functions of writing. However, to make the writing assignments more interesting, teachers should consider allowing students to choose topics or, at the very least, assigning ones that hold current relevance.



student writing conferences April 24, 2017

Student Writing Conferences: Metaphors and Office Décor

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Faculty know that holding student writing conferences will overwhelm them, or at least that is what they’ve heard from colleagues. They’ve even heard such advice from those who never conference with students to provide individualized attention and feedback on their writing.

Perhaps the most disheartening is that conferencing faculty need to take on new and enervating roles as scheduler, negotiator, and time manager. And yes, reader—let’s not forget all those papers conferencing professors “have to read” before students arrive at their office doors!


student writing January 6, 2017

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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students studying at library December 1, 2016

Mind Mapping Can Improve Papers

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I mainly teach undergraduate writing and research methods classes and wanted to share my experiences with mind mapping, also referred to as concept mapping. I’ve found that using it can significantly improve student papers. It’s an excellent innovation that requires student writers to visualize how they would like to approach a writing assignment before they start writing. It encourages them to identify their central idea and graphically illustrate how the main and supporting points advance the paper’s thesis or central idea. This approach comes in handy in laying out a structure for the paper before students start writing. When they plan their “route” first, they end up with papers that coherently make their way to a conclusion.

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students writing in class June 6, 2016

Frame Your Feedback: Making Peer Review Work in Class

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We often hear that peer review is an excellent opportunity for reciprocal student learning. In theory, this makes sense. Since an instructor can only dedicate a certain amount of attention to each student, peer review allows students to receive more feedback and engage more frequently in the content they are learning. Research shows this benefits both the students who receive and provide feedback.


College students working together in class. March 28, 2016

Establishing a Writing Community in the College Classroom

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When I hear the words “writing community,” my mind conjures up an elementary school classroom. I picture the warm, fuzzy second grade teacher wearing a warm, fuzzy sweater, handing out stickers and cookies as the students prepare for an authors’ tea. At this special event, parents will make the appropriate cooing sounds as their small children enthusiastically share their writing within the classroom.


students writing in class March 7, 2016

Unexpected Benefits of Grading Effort and Habit

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Effort and habit are instrumental to learning and writing, but they are often dimly lit in our grading systems. That light needs to brighten with the help of new research and popular literature that highlight how essential habit, effort, and perseverance are to learning. I’ve used an effort-aware grading system in my teaching for some time now, a B-grading contract that locks hardworking students into a minimum final grade of B. For grades rising above B, the quality of the writing is the focus (the product), but only for students who fulfill the contract (the process).


online student on laptop December 7, 2015

Built-in Self-Assessment: A Case for Annotation

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we want students to be critical thinkers, we must routinely and explicitly give them structured practice opportunities to critically examine their own thinking. Squeezing two or three metacognitive activities into a hectic semester teaches students that such reflection is only for special occasions. Rather, student self-evaluation should be a daily course routine.


grading papers November 16, 2015

An Objective Approach to Grading

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It was always the same scenario. I’d be feeling a great sense of accomplishment because I had spent hours grading a set of English papers—painstakingly labeling errors and writing helpful comments. Everything was crystal clear, and the class could now move on to the next assignment. Except it wasn’t, and we couldn’t. A few students would inevitably find their way to my office, plunk their papers down on my desk, and ask me to explain the grade. Something had to change. I knew exactly why I was assigning the grades, but I obviously needed to find a more effective way of communicating these reasons to my students.