Category Archives: Written Communication

Helping Students Learn to Organize Their Writing

This week offers the second installment of one-hour workshops on the WC learning objectives with “Ways to Organize Your Writing.” Many students struggle when they’re asked to go beyond the five-paragraph essay structure. We know that they’ll need strategies for the range of kinds of writing that they’ll need to do, and this workshop is designed to give them some of those strategies.

So please encourage your students to try out  the free workshops on Tuesday (at 3:30) and Wednesday (at 3) in Dunn 203, or stop by yourself.

In next few weeks, we’ll discuss evidence and support, audience, and sentence-level editing. So if you want some new tools to help you with your writing at Simpson and beyond, drop by.

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Written Communication Workshops Begin

The first of a series of workshops on the WC learning objectives begins Tuesday, Sept. 27, with a workshop on creating strong thesis statements. Titled “Mapping the Journey,” the workshop will take place in Dunn 203 from 3:30 to 4:30, and will be repeated on Wednesday in the same location from 3 to 4 p.m. Michael Robinson, director of Writing Across the Curriculum, will lead each session.

Workshops on the other four learning objectives–logical organization, support and evidence, audience, and line editing–will take place at the same times and location on Tuesday and Wednesday during each of the next four weeks. The workshops are open to students, faculty, or staff–anyone who would like to attend. Come ready to write.

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Handholds on rock climbing wall

Photo from gogogadgetscott's photostream on Flickr

The Faculty Hour session this week was about teaching students how to integrate their own voice with that of their sources.  At the end of the evening session, I asked the group what advice they thought I should share about this topic on this blog.  We rapidly identified the theme of our conversation: students need something to hold onto as they learn new skills, so instructors need to give students handholds.

Such handholds can take a wide variety of formats.  We talked about giving students assignment that provide a structure for the resulting writing.  For example, students might be asked to write a legal brief following the standard structure of issues, facts, analysis, and conclusion.  We talked about providing students with a good example and a bad example of the finished product for them to compare. We talked about providing students with clear criteria in a rubric.

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The Online Writing Lab

Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab, the Purdue OWL, offers valuable resources for both students and instructors. Visit their sitemap for a list of all the topics. They have informative pages for students about everything from outlining and organizing to mechanics and grammar.  Students may also benefit from completing some of the OWL Exercises on apostrophes, commas, sentence fragments, sentence structure, eliminating wordiness, paraphrasing, or one of the many other exercises available.

The OWL also offers resources for faculty.  Visit the list of downloadable PowerPoint presentations you can have your students view or that you can present in class. If you download the presentation rather than viewing the slides on the webpage, you can read the presenter’s script. I’m considering having my Simpson Colloquium students view the Peer Review Presentation before we engage in an in-class peer review session.  I’ll also have them look at the APA PowerPoint Slide Presentation, although others are likely to prefer the MLA 2009 Slide Presentation.

 

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Written Communication: Planning Assignments

I just attended a faculty development workshop by Michael Robinson called “Written Communication: Planning Assignments and Creating Rubrics”.

He advocated using backward design when planning written communication courses. Rather than starting by deciding what assignments you want to give (e.g., should I have students write journals?), start by identifying the learning objective you want students to have achieved by the end of the course. Then identify how you will measure students’ mastery of the objectives.  The third step is to “identify the skills necessary for students to achieve the objectives.”  This is the step I am most likely to forget to do, thus I want to focus on it in this blog.

Michael offered the following end-of-term assignment: “Write an essay of about 1,000 words in which you make an argument to an audience that disagrees with you about a controversy we have explored in this course.  You must support your argument with primary and/or secondary sources that your audience will consider credible.  You must use APA citation style to cite your sources.”

What skills do students need to do this assignment? They need to be able to distinguish between primary and secondary sources are, cite in APA style, write a thesis statement, construct an argument, identify what counts as credible evidence, etc. Try to be exhaustive when listing the skills, but don’t expect you are going to be perfect.  Your ability to create this list improves over time.  Talking to another faculty member who has used a similar assignment can also be helpful at generating a comprehensive list of skills.

Then figure out which of these skills students are likely to already have and which they will need to learn.  Based on that analysis, create tasks to help them learn and practice the skills they need to gain.  That helps you sequence the assignments.

Michael Robinson is happy to meet with instructors to help them work through this process of backward design to create effective writing assignments and accompanying rubrics.

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