Creating Writing Assignments for LargeEnrollment ClassesLaura MiccicheDepartment of EnglishAssociate Professor & Director of CompositionUniversity of Cincinnati22 Feb. 2012 / 2:00 – 3:30
Goals for the Session:• Learn strategies for developing formal and informal writing assignments appropriate for a large lecture class and geared toward specific learning goals• Learn how to construct assignments effectively so as to solicit student writing that fulfills a specific purpose• Revise or draft a writing assignment for a large lecture class, share with others, and receive feedback
Assignment TypesLow stakes writing: not a lot of conditions to satisfy; expressive,personal, reflective, taking stock; writing to learn activities; ungraded.Ex. Freewrite about your use of digital tools for writing.Middle stakes writing: teacher-directed, short writing tasks aimed atpracticing key skills (analyzing, synthesizing, critiquing, etc.) andengaging with process of learning disciplinary knowledge; graded orungraded.Ex. Write a one page analysis of Cindy Selfe’s theory of auralcomposing.High stakes writing: formal, audience-directed, engaged withdisciplinary conversations and poised to contribute to them; gradedassignment.Ex. Write a formal researched argument (6-8 typed pages) on anyissue related to digital composing. Integrate source material tosupport your claim.
Graded Writing Assignmentsformal papers and essay exams that test and measure student learning.Alternatives: instead of formal paper, make paper optional oruse a series of shorter low and middle stakes writingassignments, scaffolded throughout the course to build on oneanother; instead of essay exam, combine short-answer andessay questions and control the length of responses.
Ungraded Writing Assignmentsdesigned to give students writing practice and to give instructor feedback about student learning and teaching effectivenesscan be used at beginning and/or middle of class to guide class session; at end of class, to assess student comprehension of lecture/discussionungraded could mean that students get credit (full or partial) or no credit
Some Considerations Before Assigning Writing(this and following slides adapted from John Bean’s Engaging Ideas) Your learning goals for the class: What role do you want writing to have in your course? What thinking skills are you hoping students will develop and writing will facilitate? How will writing assignments help students learn the course material? What do you anticipate will be the most difficult parts of your course in terms of content and thinking skills? How can writing function to address these difficulties? How will you assess student writing? Why do you assess it? What’s the value of writing in relation to your course and/or disciplinary goals? What do you reward in student writing?
Developing Writing Assignments(adapted from Barbara Walvoord’sHelping Students Write Well:A Guide for Teachers in All Disciplines) Assignments should be articulated and distributed in writing Assignments should clearly state the main action that is expected (i.e., analysis, description, reflection, etc.) Specifications should be clearly spelled out (i.e., purpose, criteria, length, format, delivery expectations [hard copy, email, Bb], due date, etc.) Assignments should be written with student readers in mind (define specialized terms) Assignments require that you prepare students by teaching relevant concepts and skills that you expect them to demonstrate through completion of assignment
Ingredients of an Effective Assignment (from Walvoord)Audience: To whom are students writing?Purpose: What is the writer’s purpose in writing this piece?Topic: Are you giving students a broad topic area they mustnarrow and define?Length: How flexible are you on length?Expectations: What criteria will you use to grade the papers?Mechanics: What is the standard format, form for citations,etc.?Level of Polish: How important is the final polishing in relationto grammar, spelling, and punctuation?Process Strategies: What steps or strategies might be useful tostudents in developing the paper?
Ways to Think about Writing AssignmentsApproach writing assignments as building on one another to enhance student learning.Consider writing assignments as opportunities to add complexity incrementally during a course.Think of writing assignments as a progression of intellectual and, if appropriate, conceptual tasks.Writing assignments should have a logic within the course that corresponds to overall learning objectives.
Low Stakes Writing AssignmentsOne-sentence summary: aimed at enhancing listening andcomprehension skills, sharpening summary writing skills, and providingyou with valuable feedback about student learning.Task: articulate major points of lecture or segment of lecture throughtargeted summary writing (i.e., “A question I have is…” or “The point oftoday’s lecture is…”)Uses: collect at end of class to gauge student comprehension or collectat half way point, glance through and read several aloud, addressinginconsistencies or points that seem unsettled—invite questions. Orcollect, mark with ✓+✓✓-, and use for keeping attendance.Alternatively, ask students to swap summaries, read and discussbriefly, then share discussion points with larger class.
Cont.Opening freewrites: designed to connect readings to lectures,encourage regular writing habits, get the class focused and ontask, and gather information for adjusting lectures to studentcomprehension levelsTask: students write briefly at beginning of class in response toopen-ended question (i.e., What questions do you have aboutour reading on evolution?) or specific ones (i.e., What is thebasis for Darwin’s theory of evolution?).Uses: ask several students to read responses aloud and inviteothers to discuss; use as the basis for discussion/lecture
Cont.Chain notes: aimed at collecting snapshots of students’understanding of a concept or idea; active and physical learningactivityTask: instructor passes an envelope or small handful ofenvelopes around with questions written on them, and studentswrite a response on an index card and put in the envelopeUses: instructor can select a few cards to read aloud andrespond to or ask for student responses; quick way to gatherfeedback on an aspect of the course; ask a small group ofstudents to pull out several cards and read one or two aloud as away to start discussion
Middle Stakes Writing AssignmentsJournals: useful in leading students to apply concepts to their own lifeexperiences, to reflect on (rather than regurgitate) new knowledge,and to chart their own learning in the course. They can be open-ended, semi-structured or guided by the instructor.Possible Tasks: catalogue encounters with a subject over the course ofa day; find current news articles and editorials about issues related tothe course and write brief responses to them; reflect (near the end ofthe course) on how they think differently about X and about whatchanges their new knowledge might make in their daily life habits andchoices.Uses: Entries can be read quickly and impressionistically withoutattention to form. A set of them might be turned in at the end of thecourse in a mini-portfolio to be graded on a pass/fail basis.
Cont.Shorter writing assignments that mimic phases inmore formal assignments:If a principle learning goal of the course is to foster students’ abilities to observe or read carefully, employ an observation or reading assignment: a two-page description of a designated object or a one-page summary of a reading.If you’d like to have students gain experience in reading research materials without the whole apparatus of the research paper, employ a directed research assignment: two-page summary or analysis of pre-selected research materials.
Cont.If you believe that this course is one in which students need to practice supporting an argumentative thesis with evidence, you could assign a microtheme: one to two page argument providing evidence (from lectures, readings, reflections and information collected in short writings, or from guided research analysis) in support of a specific proposition stated in the assignment. Themes can be written by collaborative groups or individuals.These middle-stakes assignments will require more readingtime, but response, evaluation, and grading can be stream-lined by using…
Sample of Evaluation TechniquesMinus/check/plus grading – These symbols indicate that anassignment was done, give a rough estimation of its quality, andtake far less time than calculating and defending letter grades.The features characteristic of papers earning each mark can becovered in class.Models feedback -- With this form of evaluation/grading,teachers make no comments on papers. Instead, they providefeedback through in-class discussion of selected essays. Selectan exemplary “A” response and put it on the overhead projector(get permissions early in term). The “models feedback” comesfrom a discussion of what constitutes an “A” response as well asa discussion of typical problem areas found in weaker papers.This discussion clarifies for students the writing and thinkingskills exhibited in strong papers, and reviews and recent coursematerial (the content part of your assignment) (Bean 236).
Sample Assignment #1Final paper description for a 200-level educationclass:You are required to write a final paper,approximately 3-5 double-spaced pages, in whichthey apply theory, knowledge, and skills in theareas of human learning and human developmenttheories through their unique lens of interest,addressing areas of effective instructional,disciplinary, and/or assessment practices and willbe evaluated on writing quality.
Sample #2The nation is facing a variety of ecological problems that havethe following general form: an established practice, whether onthe part of business and industry or on the part of the public, iscontributing to serious health problems for a large number ofpeople. At the same time it would be costly to modify thepractice so as to reduce the health problem.People often say that the answer is one of achieving a "balance"between the amount of money we spend to correct theproblem and the number of lives we would save by thatexpenditure.Develop a point of view and some plausible criteria for tellinghow one would determine this "balance." Make sure youaddress any dilemmas inherent in your strategy for solving suchproblems.(from http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/a-sample-assignment-format/438)
Sample #3Reading Journal. In this journal you might include entries that do any of thefollowing:• define key terms• engage with the readings through questions• record and analyze passages of interest• reflect on connections among the readings• identify problems with a particular reading• analyze cultural phenomena (images, websites, movies, clothing, etc.) through the lens of our readings• use lived experience to expand on or complicate the readingsI will collect your journal twice during the term. Each installment should include atleast 4 typed entries, totaling 8 typed entries by the second collection date. Nospecified length for entries, though each one should represent a substantial efforton your part to say something that goes beyond the obvious. I’ll read and gradeyour journal holistically, focusing on conscientiousness, thoughtfulness, and criticalengagement with the material. I expect you to proofread and edit your entries andto draw from our readings both by quoting directly and by referencingdebates/issues generally. The purpose of this assignment is to keep a runninginventory of your thinking over the quarter—in addition, I hope you’ll do somewriting here that informs your final research paper. (25% of total grade)
Sample #4A different approach:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pR4445u6TZw&feature=player_embedded
Works Cited“Activities for Large Classes.” University of Waterloo: Centre for Teaching Excellence, Web. 21 Feb. 2012.Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing,Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. 2nd ed. SanFrancisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Print.Gardner, Traci. “Ten Tips for Designing Writing Assignments.” Traci’s Listsof Ten, 12 June 2005. Web. 21 Feb. 2012.“Large Classes: A Teaching Guide Writing in Lectures.” University ofMaryland: Center for Teaching Excellence, 2008. Web. 21 Feb. 2012.Walvoord, Barbara E. Helping Students Write Well: A Guide for Teachers inall Disciplines. 2nd ed. New York: MLA, 1986. Print.“Writing Assignments for Large Classes.” Web. 21 Feb. 2012.