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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