While the reality is that our classrooms will include students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds, few of us feel comfortable taking that into account when designing courses and assignments, or when we think about the type of student interactions we want to see as a part of our pedagogy. WAC has developed a set of basic principles instructors might reference when trying to think through the keys to creating effective, productive, and inclusive intercultural classrooms.
The OSU Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) team welcomes you to the fall semester! The WAC team, based at the Center for the Study of Teaching and Writing, collaborates with departments and organizations campus-wide to support OSU instructors who use writing in their teaching. We offer group workshops, individual consultations, in-class workshops, and free online resources. The WAC team includes four trained and experienced consultants who strive to make writing a valuable, enriching, and efficient part of your teaching!
Now that spring quarter is almost over, I finally have time to start making plans for semesters. What kinds of activities and assignments can I incorporate in my course to enhance student learning now that the term is longer and the duration of class periods has changed?
The upcoming switch to semesters -- technically only weeks away -- offers instructors an opportunity to redesign elements of their courses. While semesters provide some new pedagogical challenges, such as how to motivate students over the course of 14 weeks when they’re used to 10, they also bring some familiar challenges we have faced as instructors in quarters. For example, regardless of whether the term is 7 weeks (as this inaugural semester-based summer “term” will be) or 14 weeks, we likely want to help students engage with course readings, generate provocative and relevant discussions, offer effective peer-to-peer feedback, and see the relevance of what they’re doing in our courses.
As you go through the process of designing or revising a course in the coming months, we invite you to contact WAC for individual feedback on assignment and course design, or for specific strategies to help you incorporate effective, learner-focused writing in your class. We encourage you to use the semester conversion to experiment with your pedagogy and to make use of WAC’s resources as you integrate writing into your courses. Below are some of the ideas we’ve come up with in the last year to address some of the challenges related to writing instruction.
Given the constraints of the classroom, how can I balance the need to prepare students for the demands of writing in a professional context with the particular objectives of my course?
One of the central challenges of teaching writing is how different classroom writing can be from writing in the field. As writing instructors, we want to help students achieve our course goals while also teaching them to transfer writing strategies from our classes to the workplace. The stakes for writing in civic arenas and the work world are often radically different from what students expect when they are writing for a grade or to complete an assignment. At work, untested prose untouched by careful proofreading or consideration of an audience might reflect badly not only on an individual writer, but also on the organization for which he or she works. Demystifying the differences between classroom and workplace writing and developing assignments that engage work-world stakes can increase student motivation and prepare students to write in other environments.
We want students to carefully examine the significance of the critical thinking you teach them. Turning some focus to the professional contexts they will face enables our students to be both reflective and more effective in contributing to their future civic, academic, and professional endeavors.
How can I help students to effectively collaborate throughout the writing process?
Peer review and group work are commonplaces of many writing classrooms, but as instructors we are often uncertain of how to implement these activities so that they serve our students and course goals. Students sometimes express hesitation about a collective endeavor, because they feel they work more efficiently alone and only need help from the instructor. In these circumstances, students don’t work effectively with one another, and group work can seem frustrating both to instructors and students. However, when used thoughtfully, peer collaboration can help students reflect on their own writing processes, look at writing through an evaluative lens, learn from each other’s writing, and offer constructive feedback.
How can I encourage my students to stay up to date with reading assignments and to read deeply, tasks which are so crucial to their development in writing and critical thinking?
In most cases, reading is supposed to take place outside of the classroom, where instructors have little control. A variety of factors may impact whether students read the material you have assigned. Students may lack motivation (an issue we addressed in our previous tips email) but students may also be overwhelmed by their workloads--especially if they are intimidated by the difficulty of the reading. When students do read, they often believe their major task is to read simply to retain content, rather than to analyze, question, or otherwise critically engage with the text. Fortunately, there are several activities involving writing that can help students to feel more comfortable with their reading and can help their reading become more productive and meaningful.
Does the semester conversion have you rethinking your course design, including how you evaluate student work? The winter quarter WAC reading group will be a great space to consider some changes and get feedback from peers and the WAC team.
How do I motivate my students to take their development as writers seriously? What makes some students want to learn and progress, and others feel content with their writing as it is?
Teachers occasionally feel that students’ lack of intrinsic motivation limits the improvements they can make in their writing. If students are unmotivated to learn, teachers wonder, how can our instruction actually help? Motivating students to work hard to improve their writing may become an even bigger challenge when courses last 15 weeks under the semester system. Yet research has shown that student motivation is not fixed, but something that can be encouraged in the classroom with the instructor’s help. To be motivated, students must understand that being an effective writer is a valuable asset and that working on their writing can bring positive results to many areas of their lives and future employment.
How do I facilitate productive and active participation in the classroom? How do I connect classroom engagement to the writing that students are doing outside of class?
Some instructors get fired up for classroom discussion and engagement; they see participation in the classroom as a way of expanding how students might think about a certain issue or interpret a certain text. Some instructors might approach the topic of classroom engagement with a bit of trepidation; they worry about what might happen if students’ aren’t participating and a conversation grinds to a halt, or what might happen if students get locked into a heated debate about a controversial topic. Connecting class discussion to writing can help you focus your goals for students’ engagement. Efficiently linking classroom engagement and writing will be even more important as we adjust to teaching shorter classes after the semester conversion!
This week, WAC Correspondant Linsday Bernhagen is offering the final entry in a series of reports from her experience grading AP English Language exams.
At about 1:30pm on Friday afternoon, the duck call (which our Question Leader had been using to get our attention all week) sounded for the last time. We were done grading all 413,000+ essays. I personally read about 1240 of them, give or take the few blank ones that crossed my path.