What do I want my students to learn, why, and how?

As you develop a write-to-learn assignment, consider the following questions:

1) Why do I want students to complete this assignment?

  • Ÿ What will students learn from this writing activity?
  • Ÿ What will I learn from their writing?

2) Why do I want students to complete this assignment at this point in the class?

  • Ÿ How will this assignment build on what I have already done in the class?
  • Ÿ How will it prepare students for future writing activities in the class?
  • Ÿ How might it prepare students for future writing assignments in or outside of/beyond college?

3) What have I done/do I need to do to prepare students for this assignment?

  • Ÿ Do students understand why I have assigned this writing activity?
  • Ÿ Does the assignment specify an audience?
  • Ÿ Have I allotted sufficient class time for discussion of this assignment?
  • Ÿ Has class discussion reflected the ambition and complexity of learning that the assignment requires?
  • Ÿ Do students have enough information to make effective choices as they write?
  • Ÿ Will it be useful and appropriate for students to see good examples of this assignment?

4) How do I want students to complete this assignment?

  • Ÿ Do I want students to work alone or in pairs/groups? (How does this decision fit with 1, 2, & 3 above?)
  • Ÿ Will they hand it to me, post it on Moodle, read in class, etc?
  • Ÿ Do I want other students to read this before class? If so, have I made the deadlines and guidelines clear?
  • Ÿ Have I allowed sufficient time for student to complete this assignment?

5) How will I incorporate this writing into the class to avoid the feel of “busy work”?

  • See over for some suggestions, but there are many more!
  • Be sure to vary the assignments and answer 1, 2, 3, and 4 above each time.
  • Students learn by repetition, but two or three times is generally enough before the writing seems rote

6) What will I do with this completed assignment?

  • Ÿ Will I grade this piece of writing? If so, have I made my grading criteria clear to students?
  • Ÿ What kind of feedback will I give and how will it connect with 1, 2, & 3 above?

7) How/will this assignment contribute to the grade for the class?

Ungraded Work

  • WTL assignments tend to be ungraded or “low stakes” assignments that feed into class discussion and help accomplish broader learning goals. Not all WTL assignments have to be ungraded, but the advantage of assigning at least some ungraded writing is, to quote the Penn State WAC program, that informal writing can “relieve obsession with surface correctness . . . [allowing students to] begin to see writing as a tool they can use, rather than as just an occasion for numerous small failures.” (Penn State Writing Across the Curriculum Program, “informal Writing”). One of our goals for the seminar.

Letter or Check-Plus, Check, Check -Minus Grades

  • Some of you may prefer to grade some WTL assignments, in which case think about which ones it is most appropriate to grade and how you might explain to students what you expect. The benefit of √+, √, and √– “grades” is that they give the student a sense of improvement (or not) without carrying as much stress as letter grades. A student can be graded on the progress from √- to √+ (or the extent to which he or she tried to learn from previous assignments).

Contract Grades

  • Others may prefer to use “contract grades” where students receive a grade for the number of assignments completed with or without regard to quality (10 =A; 9 = A-; 8 = B+; 7 = B, etc)

Learning Portfolios

  • The principle of the portfolio is “collect, select, reflect.” A learning portfolio invites students to revisit the paragraphs and questions they wrote for a unit of the course and use selected examples to support an extended reflection on what and how the student learned. This can take the form of a narrative (see G-3 above) or a reflection where they summarize or describe (and quote from) a WTL assignment and then reflect on what it taught them, why they were pleased with that particular piece, how they might incorporate that strategy into their learning in the future, and so on.

 Sandra Jamieson, 2013