February 26, 2013
Use online writing diagnostics to develop self-editing skills and improve writing
Because few academics receive formal training in how to write for their discipline, they might avoid attempting to teach their students to write. If faculty or student writers search for models of writing in published articles, they will encounter few examples worth emulating. Sword (2012) evaluated the prose of 1,000 articles (100 articles from each of 10 disciplines: medicine, evolutionary biology, computer science, higher education, psychology, anthropology, law, philosophy, history, and literary studies). All articles appeared in well-regarded peer-reviewed journals with high impact factor ratings. Sword found examples in every discipline in which writers engaged readers and wrote persuasive, compelling arguments in clear prose. She also found many examples of dense, jargon-laden, impenetrable prose.
Stylish academic writing provides good advice to faculty writers who hope to refine their scholarly prose. The book is written for professional academic writers, but graduate student writers can benefit from this advice. Sword hosts a free, online writing diagnostic (the WritersDiet Test). You can submit a sample of up to 1,000 words of text and receive feedback on whether your writing is fit and lean or flabby. The diagnostic will not identify errors in grammar. Instead, it rates five categories of language use: verbs, nouns, prepositions, waste words (it, this, that, there), and adjectives and adverbs. Use the feedback to reflect on and edit your writing.
Have some fun! Submit a CUTLA teaching tip to the WritersDiet Test. (I already have!)
Use the WritersDiet Test to improve student writing
Use the WritersDiet Test to help students improve and edit their writing. Sword (nd) advises instructors to assign a short assignment (2 or 3 paragraphs with at least 300 words) to give students practice with self-editing skills. Discuss how students should interpret the diagnostic feedback. Ask them to edit and resubmit their assignment to the WritersDiet Test and include copies of the diagnostic feedback from both diagnostic evaluations when they submit their final assignment for grading. You might require students to write a short reflection about what they learned about writing by using the WritersDiet Test.
Sword, H. (2012). Stylish academic writing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Sword, H. (nd). Teaching with the Writer’s Diet. [PDF file]
November 27, 2012
Good sources make good content: Improve student information literacy skills to improve quality of written assignments
The best student papers are written clearly, discuss content that is relevant to the disciplinary topic, and accurately analyze and synthesize good quality information to support logical conclusions based on evidence. The best students find and use good sources and use the information they find ethically.
Faculty who want to promote these learning outcomes can collaborate with a reference librarian, who will help instructors in several ways. Subject specialist librarians will develop library workshops that will promote information literacy skills in the instructor’s discipline. Reference librarians can show students how to use library data bases to identify scholarly sources for their discipline, construct data-base search strategies that use appropriate key words and other search terms, evaluate the quality of sources identified in a search, and cite scholarly sources appropriately.
Two reference librarians at UWF recently collected assessment data from instructors who requested library instruction workshops for their courses. In both cases, the overall quality of the student work submitted for class assignments was positively correlated with the overall quality of the sources students cited. Although better students (who write better papers) are likely to already know how to seek out high quality sources, a library instruction workshop might help weaker students identify and select higher quality sources and improve the quality of their assignment submissions.
Reference librarians are eager to help faculty develop assignments designed to improve student skills in using scholarly sources. Faculty can contact the reference librarian for their discipline and schedule a customized information literacy workshop that will meet the specific needs of students in the courses they teach. Contact the reference librarian for your discipline to discuss how you might collaborate to create an effective information literacy assignment and associated library workshop.
This tip is based on teaching strategy suggested by Britt McGowan, Melissa Gonzalez, and Shari Johnson, Reference Librarians at the Pace Library.
January 31, 2012
Grading the mechanics of writing quickly while helping students learn mechanics
When you make the assignment, tell your students that you will be grading them on mechanics by choosing one page (but you don't tell them which page) from the assignment to note instances of errors in the mechanics of language. On that page, you will only put a check in the left (or right) margin in line with each mechanical error. Do not identify what the error is or correct the error yourself.
Set the standard for how many errors on the page will affect the grade for the overall assignment and in what ways (e.g., 0-5 errors = 20 points gained for mechanics, 5-10 errors = 15 points gained, 10-15 errors = 10 points, 15-20 errors = 5 points, more than 20 errors = 0 points).
After returning the graded assignment to your students, make a required follow-up assignment in which students identify and correct all the mechanical errors made on that page (or as many as students possibly can) to gain back points they lost. Students get credit only for accurate corrections. To motivate students to get the mechanics right the first time, award only half the value of the points they lost for each correction they make on the second assignment.
Tell the students to make their corrections on the actual page of the paper in a different color ink (or pencil) than black or the color that you used in making your notations. Give students references to one or more sources of English-language/writing handbooks. (The web has a variety of resources on mechanic of writing.) Of course, you really don't care who or what they consult to identify and correct their errors. Give students three to four days to complete this follow-up assignment.
When you collect these corrected pages, you need only look at the number of checkmarks you made in the margin and the number of correct corrections made to grade the assignment. Students will remember the errors they looked up and corrected and will be motivated to avoid repeating these errors in future papers.
On the next paper, select a different page in the submissions for this feedback procedure. Chances are that you won't see a student repeating the same errors. This second (and the third and the fourth) time around, you will catch new errors, and your students will teach themselves additional mechanics lessons.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy suggested by Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D., Director, Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation, Clemson University. (www.clemson.edu/OTEI).
March 8, 2011
Help students develop paraphrasing skills to help deter plagiarism
Although many discussions of academic integrity and plagiarism focus on failures in ethical reasoning, student problems with good authorship practices are often motivated by weaknesses in reading comprehension or skill in writing paraphrases (e.g., Roig, 2007). Students frequently have problems paraphrasing ideas from primary sources because their understanding of the original work is weak. Sometimes these problems manifest as an over-reliance on quotations. The student who has difficulty paraphrasing might string together quoted material to create a paper and contribute few, if any, thoughts stated in the student’s own language. Some students may attempt to disguise their reliance on quoted material by omitting the quotation marks (and, even worse, omitting a citation) and then discover they are now charged with plagiarism.
Use an in-class reading and paraphrasing activity to promote comprehension of source material and good authorship practices
This exercise will give students practice in writing appropriate paraphrases. It will also serve as an immediate source of feedback about how well they understood the original passage and the concepts discussed. When the class develops a paraphrase that is both accurate and original, misunderstandings of the original ideas will be clarified and corrected. The class will also get direct practice with good authorship practices.
Based in part on an audio workshop, Avoiding the Plagues & Pains of Plagiarism¸ presented by Caroline L. Eisner, Academic Coaching & Writing (www.AcademicCoachingandWriting.org), February 1, 2011.
Roig, M. (2007). Some reflections on plagiarism: The problem of paraphrasing in the sciences. European Science Editing, 33, 38-41.
Providing useful feedback to students about their writing
Developing students’ skill in writing requires that they write frequently, get meaningful feedback about their writing, and revise their writing in response to this feedback. The process of revising determines the quality of writing in the final document, but unskilled writers tend to primarily correct superficial errors in their revisions (Levy & Ransdell, 1995).
Joanne Frattaroli finds that her students improve their writing when they are given feedback on an early submission, especially if the feedback provides global information about writing issues (e.g., a comment that there are many missing commas and direction to a campus resource where students can get a refresher on comma rules) instead of copyediting that identifies all the missing commas.
Providing students with feedback about their writing before they submit a writing assignment for evaluation can be a challenge. Reading rough drafts a few days before reading the same work as final papers doubles the reading workload of instructors. Keep your workload manageable by giving students an early deadline for an optional pre-submission of “near complete” drafts for review and feedback. Make the pre-submission deadline 5-7 days before the final paper is due. Accept and review only those drafts that are “near complete” and do not accept any drafts submitted after the deadline for pre-submissions. The early deadline gives you enough time to make comments, gives students enough time to revise their work in response to feedback, and, combined with the requirement that drafts be “submission-ready,” prevents a flood of papers for review.
Create a learning benefit for all students in the class by making a list of common mistakes or issues seen in the pre-submission drafts you review and give this handout to all students in the class. Encourage students to use this handout to self-evaluate their writing and revise their paper before submission.
Based on a suggestion from:
Joanne Frattaroli, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology and Social Behavior
University of California, Irvine
Levy, C. M., & Ransdell, S. (1995). Is writing as difficult as it seems? Memory & Cognition, 23, 767-779. doi: 1996-22510-001
February 9, 2010
Add a discipline-relevant multicultural component to your course
Students may lack a sense of the larger world, a serious problem in an age of globalization. The following assignment brings students into contact with other cultures while keeping the focus on the content of the course discipline.
Ask students to write about a topic relevant to the class that includes resources from English-language media from around the world. Faculty may consult with their subject specialist librarian for assistance in directing their students to international media resources.
Require students to represent countries from 3 continents in their paper. The articles selected
Students should summarize each article, describe whether the article is published by a government agency or an independent press, and describe the questions the article addresses. Ask students to describe the point of view or assumptions made in the article and summarize the facts presented and the conclusions drawn. Students should describe whether the article is consistent with what they’ve read about their topic in resources published in the United States. Finally, students should describe how the articles were similar and different to one another and reflect on whether reading several international viewpoints altered their opinion, surprised them, or led them to any new conclusions.
Assess the work on clarity, accuracy, logic, relevance, depth and breadth, and the absence of plagiarism.
Students will benefit from this activity by broadening their horizons and experiencing the perspectives of the global community. They might even develop a curiosity about international perspectives and news sources.
Based on a tip provided by:
Department of Psychology/Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching
Western Kentucky University
Thanks to Britt McGowan, Shari Johnson, and Melissa Finley Gonzalez for additional information about using resources in the UWF library.
December 1, 2009
Electronic Information Literacy: Promoting Netiquette in your Class
The campus migration to Gmail provides us with an opportunity to revisit how faculty and students use e-mail for communication. Capitalize on this opportunity by discussing e-mail netiquette with students in your class.
The introduction of electronic communication (e-mail, online threaded discussions, Twitter feeds, etc.) to class interaction poses a new set of challenges for instructors: Teaching students to communicate professionally in electronic media. Faculty might initially think of this issue mainly in terms of their own response to inappropriate language from students in e-mail (Hey! Missed class yesterday. Did I miss anything?) and posts to online discussions (i don’t get the reading this week – booooooring : - ( will this be on the test?).
Effective communication through electronic media is an important skill. Help your students develop this skill with the following strategies:
Good web guidelines on netiquette can be found at the following:
Virginia Commonwealth University
Center for Teaching Excellence
Texas Tech University
Teaching, Learning, and Technology Center
September 22, 2009
Teach students to write by teaching them to use feedback about writing quality
Faculty mentoring upper level students and graduate students may be disappointed in the quality of students writing. How can we develop student skill with writing?
As professionals in our disciplines, we have learned to revise our writing in response to the comments and requests for revision provided by editors and reviewers. In contrast, students seldom get much practice revising their writing in response to feedback. It is easy to forget that we once needed guidance about this aspect of writing. Students need to learn how to use the feedback provided by a reviewer (in this case, their instructor). Moreover, too much feedback at once (related to spelling, punctuation, grammar, organization, supporting ideas with evidence, and other issues) can leave a student feeling overwhelmed.
An effective way to improve student skill with revision of their writing is to provide feedback on only one type of problem at a time. For example, early feedback might ignore technical problems and focus on a single large issue such as organizing ideas in a logical sequence or supporting assertions with evidence. When providing limited feedback, clearly indicate that the feedback deliberately focuses on only one type of problem and that other writing or content issues will be addressed in later drafts. For detailed feedback on mechanics (e.g., grammar, editorial style, spelling), limit feedback to only one or two pages of a draft. This strategy eliminates the temptation for students to treat comments on mechanics as copy editing and will encourage them to use the feedback to correct the entire draft and guide future writing.
This technique is most effective when working with a single student on a large project like a thesis, in which the student expects to submit multiple drafts before completing the project. However, a variation of this technique can be used in classes in which students write several short essays. On the first assignment, students receive feedback on a writing issue without penalty. Subsequent writing assignments should reflect learning from this feedback and will be penalized for errors related to this writing issue. Grading across a series of essays might take the following form:
In this system students are given feedback in doses that don't overwhelm them. Although initial feedback carries no penalties for the student, the instructor attaches consequences to the feedback on future assignments so that the student will attend to the feedback in future writing.
Thanks to Dr. Ken Steele, Department of Psychology, Appalachian State University for this suggestion.
March 17, 2009
Encourage students to write regularly about their learning to improve their learning practices
Reflective writing can help students become more self-directed learners if writing assignments require them to identify and discuss important information learned in their course and describe the strategies that helped them learn. Reflective writing can be achieved by asking students to keep a learning journal, assigning regular in-class writing, or creating a threaded discussion in an online component of the course. Reflective writing can be structured by creating specific prompts that focus attention on learning strategies and an evaluation of their effectiveness.
Examples of prompts for reflective writing assignments:
TRACE Tips: Improving Students’ Learning Practices
Centre for Teaching Excellence
University of Waterloo
September 23, 2008
Use Feedback on Technical Aspects of Writing to Develop Editing Skill
Writing assignments are effective activities to improve student engagement. Writing is a skill that improves only with repeated practice guided by appropriate feedback. Students need practice within their major to develop skill with discipline-specific conventions for writing that supplements general-purpose writing skills. Student writing improves best when students receive feedback on their writing that will inform future revisions and/or writing projects. If student writing consists only of papers due at the end of the term, it is unlikely that students will ever use the instructor comments provided to improve subsequent work.
How can we provide our students with feedback on their writing and create opportunities to revise their work based on this feedback?
Coaches understand that too much feedback can be harmful to acquisition of skilled behavior. Resist the urge to copy edit the entire paper. Students tend to respond to comprehensive copy edit feedback by simply making the changes you suggest without learning to detect their own errors and edit their work. Instead, encourage students to copy edit their own work by providing “minimal feedback” on an early draft (Haswell, 1983).
Ask students to submit the first 2-3 pages of an early draft of their work. Identify problem areas by making a check in the margin next to lines that contain errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and other grammatical errors. Students must find the problem in the line and make the appropriate correction. Provide a handout that describes common errors to help students identify their problems. If you believe the student will benefit from an example of improved sentence fluency with editing, revise no more than one or two sentences in the sample. Expect students to review their entire paper and make appropriate changes before submitting the completed assignment.
Bean, J. C. (2001). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Haswell, R. H. (1983). Minimal marking. College English, 45, 600-604.
April 8, 2008
A peer review assignment is an effective way to engage students in the critical analysis of writing. Peer reviews also provide students with useful feedback to improve final drafts of a written assignment. Adding peer review as an interim assignment for a large project will deter procrastination. Students must prepare a first draft for the larger project in advance of the due date in order to complete the peer review assignment. This activity may also deter plagiarism because students must revise their work based on the comments and suggestions provided by peer reviewers.
Each student submits two copies of the written assignment for peer review two weeks before the final draft is due. These are distributed to two peer reviewers. You can ensure that all students receive at least one competent peer review if you assign papers to peer reviewers based on an index of class performance (e.g., assign reviews so that each paper is reviewed by one student in the top half of the class and one student in the bottom half of the class based on average exam scores). Students are more likely to write peer reviews with good, constructive feedback if they are given specific guidelines and asked to support their comments with evidence. A peer review rubric can structure the peer review process. Contact Claudia Stanny at CUTLA for a sample rubric for peer reviewers. Schedule the due date for the peer reviews so that students receive their peer reviews one week before the due date for the written assignment.
Because students take assignments more seriously if they contribute meaningfully to their final grade, the peer review should be a graded assignment. A Pass/Fail grade that is based on submitting a draft and completing the peer review on time works well to ensure students complete peer reviews and return them to fellow students in time to allow students to revise their work.
Dr. Claudia Stanny, PSY6217
Peer Review: Draft of Research Proposal
February 5, 2008
Encourage students to take responsibility for proofing and checking grammar in their written work.
Before grading any major essay, scan quickly, highlighting grammar errors (you can do this by hand or electronically, using the highlighting feature in MS Word). If a paper contains an excessive number of errors (determined by your criterion), return the paper to the student to correct the grammar before you grade the essay. This correction process takes some additional time that you might build into the assignment deadlines, but the finished papers will be much clearer. Also, your students will have learned a valuable lesson about proofreading before submitting their work, a lesson that will serve them well in college and beyond.
Students may make appointments at the university Writing Lab for a one-hour grammar check before submitting their papers, or they can walk in with a graded paper and receive input on how to correct their errors in grammar and mechanics.
Thanks to Judy Hale Young (Director of Composition) for this suggestion.
January 15, 2008
Ask your students to spend 5 minutes writing about a topic before beginning class discussion of this topic. You need not grade this writing, although you might consider collecting the writing as an easy way to monitor attendance. Will students benefit from writing that does not directly contribute to their grade? Research findings suggest that they do.
Drabick, Weisberg, Paul, and Bubier (2007) compared the test performance of students who either wrote or thought about a topic for 5 minutes before engaging in a 10 minute class discussion of the topic. Ungraded writing produced larger improvements in student performance on both factual and conceptual questions than did merely thinking about the topic, with a larger benefit for conceptual questions. Even when student writing is not graded, these assignments can be effective strategies for improving student learning.
Drabick, D. A. G., Weisberg, R., Paul, L., & Bubier, J. L. (2007). Keeping is short and sweet: Brief, ungraded writing assignments facilitate learning. Teaching of Psychology, 34, 172-176.
November 27, 2007
Ask students to write in class. The minute paper presents students with a prompt for a brief response (answer a question related to material discussed in class that day, provide a concrete example from the student’s experience that is related to the class discussion). Minute papers from a large class can be graded in less than 20 minutes (check (2 points) for an adequate answer, check-plus (3 points) for an exemplary, well-written answer, check-minus (1 point) for a muddy answer that suggests the student was in class but might not understand the concept). Low-stakes writing assignments engage students with course material. When students rephrase topics in their own words, they will retain this information longer. The minute paper can also be a useful check to determine how well students understand the material.
Updated 11/27/12 cdw
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