There are many benefits that can come from incorporating writing into the classroom. Students are able to retain and understand course information better when they write about it. Additionally, writing deepens thinking and increases students’ engagement with course material. In order to incorporate writing into the classroom, you must first create an assignment. Good writing assignments prompt students to think more deeply about what they’re learning. Writing teachers build assignments by:
- Examining the goals of the assignment;
- Defining the writing task;
- Establishing the audience for the paper;
- Explaining your evaluative criteria.
Richard Light’s research at Harvard finds that “students relate writing to intensity of courses. The relationship between the amount of writing for a course and students’ level of engagement–whether engagement is measured by time spent on the course, or the intellectual challenge it presents, or students’ self-reported level of interest in it–is stronger than any relationship we found between student engagement and any other course characteristic” (The Harvard Assessment Seminars, Second Report, 1992, 25).
Writing can provide insight into ways students think and learn. With many written assignments, you will be able to see what the students understand or discover what may be confusing them. It can also facilitate better classroom discussions by preparing students to participate in the next day’s discussion through different written assignments.
Students’ critical thinking skills can be improved through writing by teaching them how to organize ideas, develop points logically, make explicit connections, elaborate ideas, argue points, and situate an argument in the context of previous research.
Finally, writing is a necessary skill that, without practice, can suffer. Because learning to write well is difficult and because it requires sustained and repeated practice, we need to ensure our undergraduates write regularly, throughout the curriculum, in all majors.
Here are some tips for producing an effective writing assignment:
The assignment should fit into the objectives of the course through relating to the texts of the class and/or relating to the world beyond the classroom. You should also consider what you want the students to learn or experience from this writing assignment. Should they demonstrate mastery of certain concepts and/or texts? Show logical and critical thinking? Develop an original idea? To learn and demonstrate the procedures, practices, and tools of your field of study?
If it is a larger assignment, you may want to consider sequencing it so that the students write a draft, receive feedback from you or fellow students, and then revise it. Such a procedure has been proven to accomplish at least two goals: it improves the student’s writing and it discourages plagiarism. You should also think about the purpose of the assignment (e.g., review knowledge already learned, find additional information, synthesize research, examine a new hypothesis). Making the purpose(s) of the assignment clear helps students write the kind of paper you want. Finally, what is the required form (e.g., expository essay, lab report, memo, business report)?
When considering the audience, many students write only to the instructor, which causes them to assume that very little requires explanation. Defining a hypothetical audience can help students determine which concepts to define and explain.
Make sure the students know what you will be evaluating and, if possible, explain the relative weight in grading assigned to the quality of writing and the assignment’s content.
After you have finished creating your assignment, here is a checklist to ensure the clarity of the assignment:
- Assignments are provided and explained in writing, including the weighting course writings will have in the calculation of course grades.
- Writing assignments are linked to significant course objectives.
- The assignment specifies the purpose for writing, the audience to be addressed, the form of the writing, and its length.
- Assessment criteria are specified.
- Due dates are specified.
- Longer writing projects are organized in stages.