BEST PRACTICES

This page offers an overview of common “Best Practices” for integrating and teaching writing in the following areas:

  1. Basic Principles
  2. In-Class Writing
  3. Writing Assignments and Homework – General
  4. Designing Effective Writing Assignments
  5. Teaching Students How to Revise
  6. Assigning Peer Review
  7. Responding to Student Writing
  8. Grading Student Writing
  9. ESL Student Writing
  10. Three Types of Rubrics

For more detailed resources and examples of these practices, visit the Links and Resources page, and the Sample Assignments page includes downloadable assignment prompts.


1. Basic Principles of WAC Best Practices

  • Writing and thinking are intricately connected processes; frequent and varied writing helps students learn. 
  • Students learn that writing about a topic is a mode of learning about it.
  • Increased reading and writing, in both length and frequency, improve higher order learning.
    • Please review the CLASS Disability Office’s services assisting students in writing and reading.
  • Revision improves student writing, increases self-assessment, and develops greater subject understanding.
  • Peer review activities help clarify writing processes, promote collaborative learning, and, in turn, improve students’ ability to evaluate their own writing.

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2. In-Class Writing

  • Regularly assign brief free-writing activities. For example, at the end of class ask students to write about a major point they learned that day and one lingering question they have. Review papers and use to adapt the next class. (Find examples here.)
  • Use writing to generate discussion. Prior to a class discussion ask students to write a brief summary or response on the subject, reading, etc. Students then share with each other, developing a space where writing is expected and promotes discussion.
  • Use readings as opportunities to teach writing and examples of disciplinary genre. Unpack readings as examples of writing in addition to channels of content, especially when they can serve as samples of writing within the discipline or genre.

3. Writing Assignments or Homework – General

  • Assign low and high “stakes” writing assignments (find examples here)
  • Integrate “low stakes” writing in class frequently to actively engage students in lecture content, improve retention, and assess learning
  • Use peer-review to give students opportunities to learn from one another, develop a collaborative environment, and clarify assignment goals; also helps crowd-source feedback to balance time efficiently
  • Assign “active” or “close-reading” of a complex text in which students engage the reading by writing analytically about it as they read, this promotes better reading practices and improves understanding
  • Include a metacognitive element within written assignment, such as asking students to examine and explain what they’ve learned and how; studies in learning process have found that metacognitive writing helps students to learn complex skills, self-assessment
  • Utilize the CLASS Disability Office’s resources on Universal Design

4. Designing Effective Writing Assignments

  • Consider what’s most important, what you want students to learn from the assignment
  • Explicitly define the assignment’s goals, make distinctions between writing and subject matter criteria
  • Ensure that the assignment addresses a clear learning or course objective
  • Include details about formatting and submission requirements
  • Anticipate and review common mistakes in addition to what is expected
  • Provide samples (or review in class) of successful student work
  • If using a rubric in assessment, provide rubric to students ahead of time
  • After grading assignments, review and revise the prompt to address patterned confusion or mistakes 

5. Revision

  • Assign multiple drafts of major written assignments, scaffold assignments
  • Explicitly value revision in discussion, assessment, and course credit
  • Make a distinction between the processes of editing/proofreading and revising content
  • Use peer-review in-class or online to facilitate the revision process

6. Assigning Peer Review

  • Utilize peer review frequently for medium and high-stakes assignments
  • Integrate peer-review as a step in the revision process
  • Use both short (10-15 minutes) and long (full class session) peer review sessions
  • Assign peer review in-class and/or online via forums
  • If using a rubric, ask students to use the rubric to guide their peer review

7. Responding to Student Writing

  • Provide feedback in ways that are responsive to the assignment description
  • Focus feedback on what matters most in ways that are responsive to learning objectives
  • Utilize rubrics (see descriptions of types of rubrics below) and written feedback
  • Use time effectively: focus written feedback on unique achievements or areas needing development, review common or patterned achievement or areas needing development in class
  • Communicate with your LFC about feedback technologies like VoiceThread

8. Supporting ESL Student Writing

  • Students whose first language is not English are often referred to as ESL (English as Second Language), ELL (English Language Learner), or NNS (Non-Native English Speaker).
  • Review pages 5-15 of this document’s suggestions for “Working with Non-Native Speakers”
  • Review this webpage by Sheryl Holt on responding to ESL writers
  • Provide feedback on grammar/syntax but avoid penalizing errors, because grammar is not synonymous with competence and ESL students often struggle to feel confident writing in English
  • Use synonyms frequently, or often, in assignment descriptions
  • Talk with the student about their writing and focus on asking questions to build clarity and understanding around an assignment or their ideas
  • Avoid assigning readings or assignments that depend on familiarity with U.S. popular culture or slang/idioms
  • Review this landmark Statement on Students’ Right to Their Own Language to better understand pedagogical debates about requiring Standard English
  • Focus feedback on what matters most in ways that are responsive to learning objectives
  • Direct students to campus resources to support them like the Writing Lab
  • Familiarize oneself with the common cultural and communication differences of the student, such as a reduced sense of authority in making an argument
  • Recognize that seemingly plagiarized writing may be a miscommunication of expectations or cultural writing conventions
  • Encourage students to take pictures of instructor lessons and notes on the board if they feel rushed when reading and writing in English
  • Consider showing students some of these videos in which multilingual writers describe their strategies for academic writing

9. Grading and Assessing Student Writing

  • Utilize assignment rubrics to clarify expectations and grading processes. There are three common forms of rubrics: holistic, analytic, and single-point. This webpage includes simple examples and free downloadable rubric templates.

10. Three Types of Rubrics

Holistic Rubrics: Holistic rubrics assign one overall score to work such as “satisfactory” or “2 out of 5” where each score has a related description.

holisticrubric

  • BEST FOR: allowing for multiple correct responses/approaches, focusing on overall achievement, assessing a large number of assignments
  • Pros: creating a holistic rubric is relatively less time-consuming and is the quickest to use in grading
  • Cons: can be vague if expectations are not clear and/or categories are not sufficiently detailed, limits personalized feedback (however, instructors can add a brief section for written feedback in addition to the rubric)
  • Click here for a link to examples of holistic rubrics

Analytic Rubrics: Analytic rubrics use a grid structure, breaking the elements of an assignment into parts, allowing itemized feedback/scoring.

a-sample-of-analytic-scoring-rubrics-1-728

  • BEST FOR: efficiently identifying specific strengths and areas needing development, mid stakes assignments, grade-norming, larger assessment projects
  • Pros: once completed, analytic rubrics allow for quick feedback that clearly maps areas of achievement and/or needing development
  • Cons: initially creating the rubric takes a lot of time, so may not work for frequently-evolving assignments; can limit the quality of targeted feedback
  • Click here for a link to examples of analytic rubrics

Single-point Rubrics: Single-point rubrics use columns to elicit feedback in two areas, (1) concerns/needing improvement and (2) exceeding requirements.

single point rubric

  • BEST FOR: high-stakes assignments, providing supportive, high quality, specific feedback
  • Pros: focuses feedback into key areas, works well for significant assignments in advanced courses, promotes targeted, personalized feedback
  • Cons: time-consuming, can magnify criticism when feedback is not balanced due to unsatisfactory work
  • Click here for a link to examples of single-point rubrics

For more detailed resources and examples of these practices, visit the Links and Resources page, and the Sample Assignments page includes downloadable assignment prompts.


Contributors: Jacqueline Schiappa • Last Edited: June 2016