Jinna Kim, Department of Sociology
Instructors often use writing assignments to assess students’ learning. There are many ways that writing assignments can be a form of active learning, especially when considering it as a writing process. Below are suggestions for implementing effective writing assignments that will enhance student learning.
Devote a class session to discuss assignment expectations and guidelines (ex. formatting, citations). Instructors can also connect with librarians and host research information sessions in which students learn about the on/offline research-related resources that are available.
It may be useful to construct the assignment rubric collectively as a class. This allows students to understand the purpose of their writing assignment and increases transparency in terms of assessment (See Inoue 2005 and Literrio 2018 for more information).
Having students evaluate their own writing is an effective way for them to think critically about their own writing and learning. Self-assessments may also encourage students to reflect about their progress in writing.
Peer reviews allow students to be actively engaged in their writing process. In addition, peer reviews encourage students to reflect critically about their own work by evaluating their peers’ work, foster a learning community among students, highlight the importance of revisions in the writing process, and teach students how to provide constructive feedback. Peer reviews can be especially useful in long writing assignments such as a research paper or end-of-term paper. Including a check-in during the course will ensure that students begin crafting their work earlier than they might otherwise. That being said, instructors should consider the following when assigning peer reviews:
- Timing: Give students enough time to develop their paper ideas, to write a draft, and to revise their papers after the feedback. Assign peer reviews at least a few weeks before the paper deadline.
- Constructive feedback: Dedicate class time to discussing what constructive feedback is and how to provide it. Instructors can share examples of feedback and even create feedback forms to guide the process. Specifically, instructors can train students to provide feedback on substantive issues (ex. meaning, argument, ideas) rather than surface-level issues (ex. punctuation, grammar). Baker (2016) found that evaluating students on their peer feedback also increases accountability and quality of feedback.
- Pairing: As Burgess-Proctor et al. (2014) find, instructors may face pushback from students in doing peer reviews. Student resistance to peer reviews may come from students who feel that their peer reviewers do not give adequate feedback. That being said, instructors should be strategic in assigning pairs for peer reviews so that all students reap benefits of doing the activity. Instructors may also consider providing students with a clear peer review rubric and assigning grades for peer reviews. For example, instructors can require students to make a certain number of substantive comments on each page or section of the paper to receive full credit on their peer review assignment, or even their final assignment. That way, peer reviews who may otherwise not give adequate feedback will be more motivated to complete quality peer reviews.
The benefits of writing assignments are clear—writing not only facilitates student learning but also is a valuable life skill. That being said, although writing assignments may be time- and labor-intensive for instructors, they can produce meaningful outcomes for student learning when implemented with careful, intentional planning and structure.
Burgess-Proctor, Amanda, Graham Cassano, Dennis J. Condron, Heidi A. Lyons, and George Sanders. 2014. “A Collective Effort to Improve Sociology Students’ Writing Skills.” Teaching Sociology 42(2): 130-139.
Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on December 3rd, 2019.