Is it me or do students often seem surprised by just how long the writing process takes? When I first started teaching, I never thought to address the issue of time management with my students. Over the course of my next several classes, however, I started to notice a pattern in students’ comments, such as: The work in this class is really, really time consuming; I’ve never spent this much time writing before; and I didn’t realize it would take SO much time but I am really happy with the end results.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
writing assignment strategies
Staring at a blank screen the night before the research paper was due—this was the dilemma faced by my upper-level science students. The paper, the product of their independent research projects, is an important part of our curriculum and one component of our assessment of their scientific writing skills.
Yvonne is frustrated. She wants to do well in her language arts class, but each essay she completes fails to earn her the grade she believes she deserves. Although her teacher thoughtfully writes out corrective comments on her essays, to Yvonne these seem to run together, forming a nonsensical sea of red ink. With each assignment, she feels less capable and grows more resentful of her instructor.
“Why are teachers afraid of sentences that begin with ‘I feel’ or that draw on personal experience?” Margaret Mott asks, repeating a question she read in an essay early in her career.
Most academics consider Wikipedia the enemy and so forbid their students from using Wikipedia for research. But here’s a secret that they don’t want you to know—we all use Wikipedia, including those academics.
In one of my favorite A Midsummer Night’s Dream passages by William Shakespeare, Theseus comments on the creation of poetry. Informing us that the “poet’s eye” in a “fine frenzy rolling” glances from “heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,” we learn about the process of making sense of the world and composing something about it.
Before embarking on a writing assignment, I challenge my students to imagine a skeptical reader who expects them to answer five important questions. Answering these questions demands critical writing and thinking, and helps the students develop thoughtful content, efficient structure, and clear sentences.
How often does this happen to you? You pore over students’ writing assignments, adding what you feel are insightful and encouraging comments throughout each paper. Comments you hope your students will take to heart and use to improve their writing next time around. Then you return the papers and the students quickly look at the grade and stuff the paper into their backpacks … perhaps mumbling something under their breath as they do.
At the end of English composition, I ask students how what they’ve just learned in my class might be useful in their other classes. They’re often bemused and surprised to learn that professors in other courses care about their writing. To encourage them to take responsibility for succeeding in their future writing assignments, I hand out a list of 20 questions that they might ask to better understand “what the professor wants,” and thus continue to apply what we’ve been practicing.