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.


College student writing assignments October 5, 2017

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, 2017

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 students reading as a group September 15, 2017

A Method for Deep Reading

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Many students struggle with college-level reading and writing assignments. Part of it is simply not knowing how to get the essentials from a text. I have been experimenting with a simple method I call GSSW: Gather, Sort, Shrink, and Wrap.

The goal of using this method is that students learn to write an essay, based on the readings, that is exemplary of organized, clear, accurate, and critical thinking.


student blogging April 1, 2016

A Blog Assignment with Results

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Blogging can be a tool that aids learning. “Blogs provide students with an opportunity to ‘learn by doing’ to make meaning through interaction with the online environment.” (p. 398) They provide learning experiences described as “discursive,” meaning students learn by discussing, which makes blogs a vehicle for knowledge construction. They exemplify active learning and can promote higher-order thinking. Potential outcomes like these give teachers strong incentives to explore their use.


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.


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.


January 27, 2014

Humor as a Strategy in Writing Across the Curriculum

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We all understand that writing is important and our students should do it well. Even so, many professors feel uncertain when teaching it, especially when their subject area is something far removed from “Composition 101.” Even instructors who work on writing skills find it challenging to maintain momentum when their own academic content inevitably requires attention. Moreover, students, many of whom are easily stressed, worry that their grades will suffer when an “outsider” teaches writing. Some colleges have found it hard to sustain Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) programs just because of this. But it isn’t a lost cause. Writing need not be so frightening and teaching it can be fun…for both students and instructors. And the writing lessons themselves don’t have to detract from any other academic content. Really!


November 5, 2013

Three Types of Assignments that Speed Feedback, Boost Student Engagement

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We often wonder what we can do to help students engage with the material so they can learn it at a deeper level. Students don’t make that an easy task. They arrive in class having not read the material or having not thought about it in meaningful ways, and that keeps them from being engaged in class. Several years ago, I read George Kuh’s article “What Student Engagement Data Tell Us about College Readiness,” in which he writes, “Students who talk about substantive matters with faculty and peers are challenged to perform at high levels, and receive frequent feedback on their performance typically get better grades, are more satisfied with college, and are more likely to persist” (Peer Review, January 1, 2007, p. 4; italics mine). Here are three ways I try to provide feedback that engages students and not overwhelm myself with grading tasks in the process.