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Six Questions to ask about student writing in your course

This presentations outlines a heuristic for thinking about student writing assignments in your course and some ideas for what you might do.

Roger Graves

on 16 October 2014

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Transcript of Six Questions to ask about student writing in your course

Writing: Knowledge-making activities that are under the surface but support the visible learning
Six Questions to ask about Student Writing in Your Courses
Roger Graves
Professor, English and Film Studies
Director, Writing Across the Curriculum
Associate Director, Centre for Teaching and Learning
University of Alberta
Students often scrutinize a course's assignments as soon as they see the syllabus
Writing skills are key outcomes for degree programs
Writing is a key method for learning about any subject
Question 1:
What writing or text-based presentations do you ask your students to do in your class(es)?
If you do not ask them to write or present, could you?

Question 2:
Do you assign the same or similar assignments as other instructors?

Question 3:
Do students really connect with those assignments? Asked another way, do students respond to them “authentically” or are they jumping through hoops here?

Question 4:
Are you genuinely (don’t lie to yourself!) interested in reading what they wrote? Even a bit?

Question 5:
Who do you ask students to write for?
Who actually reads what they write: you, other students, some slice of the public?

Question 6:
Do students write or present in groups? Could they?

Kinds of informal writing assignments

The reading journal
Solving real problems
Generic and focused summaries
Pre-test warm-ups
Using Cases
Response papers
Synthesis papers
What counts as a fact?
The discussion starter
Believing and doubting game
Focusing a discussion
Analysis of events
The learning log
Project notebooks
Analyzing the process
The writing journal
Problem statement
One-minute paper
Role playing
Frame paragraphs

Clinical rounds on stage: extra, confounding symptoms = 5 pts on your grade
What is your mission statement as a new teacher in a Catholic school?
Resurrection Final: Your grade can come back from the dead if you show on the final exam that you have learned the course material
New York photograph and discussion
Las Vegas Area Trip Proposal
Arctic News Project
Museum of Childhood Analysis
Culture Jam Assignment
Alexander, C. (2007). Literacy Matters: A Call to Action. Toronto: TD Bank Financial Group Study.
Bloom, M. R., Burrows, M., Lafleur, B., and Squires, R. (1997). The Economic Benefit of Improving Literacy Skills in the Workplace. Conference Board of Canada, Ottawa.
National Commission on Writing. (2004). Writing: A ticket to work. . . or a ticket out: A survey of business leaders. Available www.collegeboard.com

The capacity to write well is among the most universal of skill sets required in the modern workforce. At the same time, preparing students for writing across the multitude of contexts and modalities they will face in the 21st century economy is extremely challenging. It is a challenge worth investing in: Numerous studies over the past decade have demonstrated that raising national literacy rates have a profound effect on the productivity of the Canadian workforce, the quality of life of individual Canadians, and the size of the Canadian economy (Bloom, Burrows, Lafleur & Squires, 1997; TD Bank, 2007; Fisher & Engelman, 2009). TD Bank (2007) found, for example, that a “1% increase in literacy boosts productivity 2.5% and output 1.5%” (p. 14) leading to a $32 billion increase in income for each 1% increase in national literacy rates. Writing ability is an important part of that picture, defined by the National Commission on Writing (2004) as a threshold skill that factors into hiring and promotion decisions at 52% of the companies they surveyed. Further, as the Canadian economy moves toward knowledge-based and information-communication technology industries (Yan, 2005), highly-skilled workers are required to develop and demonstrate “the skills, strategies, dispositions, and social practices necessary to successfully use and adapt to the rapidly changing information and communication technologies and contexts that continuously emerge” (Leu, et al., 2012, p. 22). Most workers (62% of all employed adults in the United States, for example) use these new technologies mainly for job-related research and email (Madden & Jones, 2008). As the array of communications platforms utilized in the 21st century work place continues to expand, so do the learning challenges facing student writers today
Further reading

Thaiss, C. & Zawacki, T M. (2006). Engaged Writers and Dynamic Disciplines. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Heinemann.
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