Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Strategies

by on November 30, 2010 in 2009-2011 with 2 Comments »


The following is part II of a conversation among faculty who attended the WAC workshop on November 14, 2008.  Part II is on the assessment of writing.

The ASSESSMENT of Writing

Judith on Assessment: “With the CA, I go over each section with each student, and then assign a grade on the completed CA.

“There are three major parts to the assessment.  One is the technical; errors in spelling, grammar, word usage, etc. The correct use of APA would also be part of this.  I try to structure assignments in such a way that cheating is difficult, but that is another issue. The second, of course is the coherence of the structure, involving clear argumentation and use of examples from their readings. I also stress the format of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion, and I ask students to think of the similarity to greeting a friend.  You first say hello, then you may talk, then you say good bye.  I point out how jarring it is if any of these parts are missing. Last, but far from least, is the demonstration of understanding.  In my experience, that is the part that our students are best at.  When working with students I stress the need to close the gap between their ideas and the way in which they express them. Lastly, I let student know, after their first writing assignment, that if I have too much trouble reading something, they will need to revise it and resubmit it.”

Clyde on Assessment: “We must be careful here. What is important about assessing writing is that students learn to assess their own writing, not that teachers do the assessing. So the question becomes how do we teach students to become better assessors of their writing and each other? This is how I teach students to assess their writing in class. First, following the work of Peter Elbow, I teach students different ways of giving feedback. I actually pass out a list of such strategies. As each student reads his/her paper aloud, the others listen and then give feedback practicing the different strategies. I always tell students that it’s as hard to receive signficant feedback as it is to give it.  It’s only at the end of the process that I step in as a teacher to model feedback for the students. The premise of this activity is that if students learn to assess and give useful feedback to others, they will bring the same awareness to their own writing. Thus, assessment should be a learning goal that we are teach students to practice rather than something that only teachers or evaluators do from positions of authority. Students need to learn to assess their own writing. What we, as teachers, should be assessing is our success or failure in teaching students how to assess and, thereby, improve their writing.”

Jinx on Assessment: “In the universe of writing assessment, I tend to focus more on the surface qualities of student writing than I think most faculty members do. After years (both here at MCNY and at NYU) of endlessly writing in the margins of my students’ work words such as “comma splice,” “pronoun disagreement” and “fragment,” and then finding myself actually making the needed corrections myself on the papers, I devised in 2003 a “What’s the ‘Rule’?” sheet that I use 1) to facilitate and speed up my grading of student papers, and 2) to enable students themselves to make the needed corrections.

“The ‘What’s the ‘Rule’?’ sheet contains 13 of the most common errors in student writing. They range from simple stylistic errors (when to use ‘who’ and when to use ‘that’ as the relative pronoun), to subject- verb agreement, punctuation, and the basics of APA citation. Each kind of error is numbered and includes an example of the error, its correction, and a brief statement of the ‘rule.’

“I hand out a copy of the rule sheet at the beginning of each semester. When I grade papers each week I make a squiggly line under the error and jot down the number of that error in the margin. When I hand back the students’ work the next class, I give the students a few minutes of class time to look over their papers and make corrections, using their ‘Rule’ sheets as guides and myself as a resource. I then tell them that if they incorporate the corrections into the electronic version of their paper and re-submit it, I will give them another grade on the paper, enabling them to raise their grade average over the semester.

“I have never ‘measured’ whether this method improves student writing over the long term. Some students have told me that it has helped them improve their writing. The main thing for me it that it enables me to assign lots of writing, grade it quickly, and have students end up with writing samples that they can be proud of.”

Ralph on Assessment: “The work submitted by the students is graded on a P/F basis and returned to students the week following receipt of the materials.

Theo on Assessment: “One way I assess the students’ writing is as follows: after I do one on one work with them on the quality of their writing of the weekly assigment I ask them to go to the lab and do the improvements and get back to me right after that. That gives me a chance to see how much they understood from my explanations in my one on one work with them.

“Then I ask them to continue to work on that paper at home while they prepare the new one, and the following week I ask them to bring both papers,  the new one and the old one for me to see the difference between the version corrected in class and the one they bring which is supposed to be final. This way I can assess not only one phase of the process but much more if not the entire process.

“That also helps me learn about the level of each student specifically and the level of the class in general and thus allows me to decide what type of interventions I need to make or strategies to use in order to be at their level and more efficient.”

Adele on Assessment: “A few years ago I created a rubric for my writing assignments. I particularly used the items that I was repeatedly writing on papers. I go over the rubric in class, post it on the blackboard site for download, and turnitin allows me to attach it when I grade a paper.

“I review but do not grade the individual sections of the CA. Students are responsible for incorporating my comments/suggestions into the final CA document, which is graded.

“Another message I give students is that they start out with an ‘A’ and work their way down from there. They have to earn an ‘F’. But this is more of a philosophy about assessment rather than assessment itself.”

Yasmine on Assessment: It can be helpful sometimes to have the students design the rubric with you so that they know it from the inside out.

As a specialist, I have the benefit of talking through a self-assessment. The first question that I usually ask is: What is the point of the assignment? What do you stand to gain from it? Often, students are thrown by this question. Then I –and I am sure most everybody does this–ask people to describe their strengths before their challenges. That can set them up emotionally for really dealing with the more negative challenges. I model a deep critical revision for one paragraph, and then I ask them to hand back a revision for the second paragraph.

When handing back a paper, I try to focus only on two or three main elements throughout a paper for them to revise. Too many more elements can overload a student and he/she ceases to be able to really integrate the logic of the issue.

One thing I am trying out this semester is having students post their rough drafts and revisions on Blackboard and then they comment on the different kinds of revision they see each other doing.

Heide on Assessment: “I model correct APA citation, paraphrasing, and referencing for the class. I also allow students to resubmit revisions of papers, homework assignments, etc. where there are too many grammatical or format (APA) errors. By considering correct language use in their work, I try to promote student self correction (within a specific timeframe) of both content and writing style.

Ann on Asessment: “At the present time, I grade all essays in this way: overall content is worth 85%, and grammar and punctuation efficiency is worth 15%. I would expect each student to refrain from repeating the same grammar and punctuation errors he/she committed in the previous paper(s). These “deductions” in students’ papers will help them to retain grammar rules and practices and to develop a more scholarly approach to writing, not as a required assignment, but as a continued (and hopefully) enjoyable writing experience.”

Andrew on Assessment: “In each section of the CA, I look for student writing about relevant concepts they have learned, as shown by how well they can define, explain, cite their work. I use an assessment tool to help me determine whether and how well the student has followed the direction provided and achieved the purpose of educating the reader about their understanding of their organization through the lens of academic theory and real-time practice.

“I also pair up “weak” writers with “strong” writers through a subtle self-selection method of cards.”

Pat on Assessment: “What I propose is a part of the P1 Business undergrad CA. As a concluding chapter to the semester, purpose one students are instructed to write a paragraph about their learning experience for each of their courses. This can be used as a Dimension Analysis section of the Constructive Action document, complete with citations and recommendations.

“I believe this exercise allows the students to reflect on their understanding of the PCE curriculum.They must first explain what were the goals, objectives and learning deliverables for each class and whether or not they think these were achieved.  The class is advised to visit the Course Offering link on the college’s website for a summary of the various courses before they write their analysis.”

Richard on Assessment: For all writing assignments I use an editorial comment sheet.  This sheet identifies three broad areas where errors and difficulties have been observed in the past: (1) language & grammar, (2) content issues (clarity, logic, accuracy), (3) APA style.  Written work is returned with the category identified, but not the specific error. That has to be researched by the student (on the view that we learn best what we learn ourselves). Students are then invited to submit a revision (draft 2), with the comment sheet and draft 1 attached.

Jaya on Assessment: “An important principle that I believe in is to use assessment in such a way that it creates ample opportunities for the student to demonstrate their learning.

“That is, use a variety of assessment tools – multiple choice, oral presentation, essay writing, journals etc., and use them many times. For example, to quantify, use six assessment activities over 15 week period, not just one mid-term and one final.

“Try to use transparency in communicating assessment criteria: Does the student know what and how he is going to be assessed? Are the criteria clear to the student? Have I given the criteria before the assignment was given?

“But honestly, many times, despite knowing what is the right thing to do, I don’t always do a good job of assessing student learning – for various reasons including want of time.

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Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Strategies

by on November 16, 2010 in 2009-2011 with No Comments »


The following is transcript of a conversation among faculty who attended the WAC workshop on November 14, 2008.  We came across this document while working on our 5 year evaluation for the Title V LEC grant.  We think it offers valuable insights on WAC strategies.  Part I is on the teaching of writing.  Part II on the assessment of writing will follow soon.

The TEACHING of Writing

1 – Frequent writing assignments based on assigned readings.

Judith Simonsen: “I have students read a particular chapter, and then we have a class discussion on what they have read that week.  At the end of class I give a handout on guiding questions that students need to address in their written work for the next week. I always hand papers back the week after I receive them, and if I see a common confusion, we can go back and address it in class. I have been told by students that these questions are very helpful, and allow them to process what is a great deal of information in an analytical and structured manner.  Writing counts, and I let students know if there are problems in their writing.  Since work is graded, there is an incentive to go to the writing center if they have major problems with their work.”

Clyde Griffin: “For years in content courses, that is, non-writing specific courses, the one page summary has been a standard assignment. No matter how long the reading assignment, students must submit a one page, double spaced paper summarizing the content. The paper is also done in 12” font.

“The strength of this assignment is that it integrates reading and writing. Students must read the assignment and put it in their own words. When I first began working with summaries, I didn’t give students a limit to the pages. The result was that if I gave a reading assignment of 20 pages, the summary produced was also twenty pages, with much of it plagiarized. By limiting the assignment to one page, it forced the student to use their own words and to express their understanding of the content.

“My use of the one-page summary derives from my experience in West Africa where the précis writing was the foundation of the writing program. Nigerian school boys learned to write by learning to summarize selected passages of English. Through this technique they learned both new vocabulary and structure.  Throughout the English Commonwealth this was the standard way in which students in the colonies learned to write Standard English.”

Jinx Roosevelt: “I assign weekly writing tasks in all the courses I teach, whether in the MS.Ed. program or in the undergraduate Human Services program. In the CA courses I assign a portion of the CA outline each week which students must submit and that I grade and hand back for revision.

“In the Values dimension courses I teach (Philosophies of Education) I assign a ‘reaction paper’ for each of the weekly writing assignments. The reaction paper assignments require that the students first read through the assigned text ‘with their hands,’ i.e. underlining and making margin comments in any part of the text that surprises, confuses, or awes them. When they have finished reading the assigned text, they should then look back over it and select a quote that especially interests them and use this as the basis for a 2-3 page reaction paper. Reaction papers thus must include at least one quote (cited in proper APA format) and the student’s well-developed reaction to the quote.”

Ralph Leal: “In my “Research in Business” course I require students to complete an assignment at the end of each chapter. There are probably between five and ten assignments for each chapter. The assignments are due the week following the discussion of the material in class. The ten assignments represent twenty percent of the final grade, so it is incumbent on the students to complete them as they become due. In addition, students are encouraged to complete as many as five additional assignments, on topics of their own choosing, which may be used to enhance their final grade by as much as ten points.

“The syllabus for this course includes a series of information literacy tutorials on a number of subjects which support the research effort. There is one tutorial for each of the fifteen weeks of the semester. I have encouraged students to complete evaluations of these tutorials for extra credit in the class.”

Theo Damian: “I ask a student to come to the blackboard and write a full paragraph from his or her homework assignment. Then I ask students to critique the text in terms of its grammar. From there we go into discussion on rules and practices, on the difference between colloquial speech and writing.

“One other exercise is related to having the students pick a static object and describe it in one full page. This integrates critical thinking skills with writing skills. Then students read their pages aloud in class and again we critique for grammar and re-write it in the correct way.”

2. Writing based on self-assessment

Adele Weiner: “I begin every class with a requirement that asks students to post an introduction to themselves on the blackboard discussion board or the class wiki.

I keep written assignments short (2-3 pages).

“In all my CAcourses I started using a wiki to create a collective reflective journal. A demo can be found at: http://cswe2008.pbwiki.com/;

“I have started using Turnitin.com for paper submission and marking.This has an advantage of

data-sampling submissions

checking for plagiarism

students not needing printers or paper

papers can be submitted 24/7

germs don’t get passed to instructor on the print papers :).”

Yasmine Alwan: “To get students to think more critically about the choices they have made as writers, after they show me a draft, I will often ask students to define the purpose of each paragraph (to provide evidence? to raise a counter argument? to provide background?). I ask them to write this as a clear one or two-sentence statement next to each paragraph. If they can’t define the purpose of the paragraph, they must rewrite the paragraph so they can. It can be surprisingly difficult to think on this meta-level for students, but can help them see how to make each paragraph purposeful and clear. I do the same with the main idea/thesis statement for any kind of paper, separately from the paper itself, i.e. “Please explain your thesis statement in two or three sentences.” For students who tend to run from one idea to the next, this prioritizing thinking can be helpful for their rewriting.

“In the classroom, I tend to ask students to write short pieces every week (2 pages) that extend out of a sample discussed extensively on class. They bring the paper to class always either share it out loud or trade with others for comments for specific things about the paper before reading to the group (such as how well did your peer use details?).

Ann Scalia: “The writing tasks I assign to my students are one self-expression essay, no longer than two double-spaced typed pages relevant to the course, using correct grammar and punctuation throughout, and typed responses to selected conceptual questions from the students’ course textbook, no longer than two double-spaced  pages.

“When writing papers, students should act as two people: the writer and the audience to whom the writing is sent.”

3. Writing based on course content

Charles Gray: In my Purpose 5 skills class (Counseling) the students have two written assignments: a mid-term and a final.The papers focus on (1) a brief description of the citizen and the goal, (2) counseling theory utilized during the semester, (3) the most helpful skill used during the semester, and (4) practice application integrating concepts and theory.

“The primary purpose is to have the students describe how they have integrated concepts/theory in their practice.  For example, it is important for the students to be aware of the connectiveness between the client, goal, and counseling theory chosen.  In turn, it is important for the students to be aware of how skills utilization is tied to the counseling theory.

“Finally, it is important for the students to be able to integrate dimension classes into the CA.  The papers assigned can be adapted (with editing) into appropriate sections of the CA.  Furthermore, the assignments promote my educational philosophy: integration of theory & practice, developing a theoretical base for one’s practice, honing/developing conceptual and critical thinking skills.”

Heide Hlawaty: “I connect writing to real world problems, so that students are writing about content, as well as how that subject affects them. By doing so, I tap into the critical thinking skills necessary for students to articulate their thoughts in a matter that makes the material important to them.

“The task that I utilize is one which connects the experiential learning component of our model of education to a writing opportunity. The American Urban Studies program is a liberal-arts based major that incorporates experiential learning opportunities often not found in Human Services or Business Administration. The Freshmen Earth Science course (first semester) visits the American Museum of Natural History museum as a field trip. During this first visit there, the students answer the following question (along with several others): What makes the Earth inhabitable? What makes the Earth inhabitable? Supported by evidence found in some of the halls of the museum, students cite examples of extreme conditions where life exists, as well as how life evolved. Then, they explain the conditions that cause areas of the Earth to be inhabitable. Lastly, students then write what they can do or what they would like to see done so that they can foster the habitability of the Earth. Students are assessed on their grammar and content, as well as on their evidence and writing progression.

“I like this activity because it incorporates both experiential learning, Earth science, and writing. And, that rocks!”

Andrew Brown: “In my MPA Constructive Action class, I provide samples of my own CA as a model writing sample to help them begin their writing. The students are tasked with writing a version of the provided sample section as it specifically pertains to their organization in relation to the theoretical concepts learned in our class and across other dimensions. They are required to write ORIGINAL work using the model as a basis of proper grammar, spelling, structure of thought and reasoning, as well as APA formatting.

“I ask students to write logs on their perceptions and theoretical understanding of how their group work dynamics transpired in analyzing each other’s work.

“I ask students to be ever mindful of the “reader” so that they are writing as if their audience has no idea about their organization; they should write an academic manner that fully discloses important information to the respective section while being diplomatic as well.”

Pat Gay: “I have also adopted Andrew’s format of providing a visual model which students can build upon. I also went as far as to provide them with the pdf form of the template. This works as an additional opportunity for providing some basic computer literacy, thus forcing them to work with attachments, as well as to create and format their own Word documents.

“Purpose one students in the Audrey Cohen School for Human Service and education enter the CA classroom needing a better understanding of the Audrey Cohen PCE model. In order to reinforce this lesson and ascertain whether they are beginning to see the cohesive nature of their dimension classes and the CA class, I assign weekly in-class writing assignments. One such task was a reaction paper on  ‘Radical Quartet’ written by H. Daniel Gregoire in the “Human Services Reflections Journal”.

The paper serves multiple purposes:

It is a vocabulary building tool

An exercise in argumentative essay writing

An introduction to the dimensions of Purpose Centered Education

An exercise in critical thinking

Basic comprehension and reflection

APA style citation

and much more.

The submitted paper should be no more than two and a half pages in length.”

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