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Lightening the load...

Friday 21 August 2015

One of the struggles of being a teacher is the endless pile of marking. Students need to work on their writing in order to clearly articulate the response to the exam prompts, but teachers end up spending many a weekend reading piles of responses that have the same ideas and arguments, but different sentence structures. The constant marking often leads to frustration and burn-out in the teaching profession. So, we have to learn how to "work smart."

The first thing we have to realize is that we are not teaching "essays." We are teaching much smaller skills - for example, stating a position, writing topic sentences, summarizing a study and analyzing a study. When we give an essay, we are asking students to do all of these things - and we are giving students feedback on all of these things. I think that we can do it better.

I think that we can teach students these skills discretely - and that then means shorter, tighter writing with focused feedback. Although I do not advocating never writing a complete essay, I also think that students will only improve if they write something every week. However, students could write less and potentially learn more.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting several examples of such strategies under "skill development." But in order to introduce some ideas to get you thinking about how you teach writing, here are some simple tips and strategies.

Strategies for teaching writing

  • Give students structures. For example, tell them that when describing a study, they should always include the sentences: The aim of the study was.... The researchers concluded that....
  • Give students a topic sentence of a paragraph and ask them to finish the paragraph. This can either be done as a class, or by having students pull a topic sentence out of a hat. Topic sentences can be very general or very specific. For example, "Although research shows that memory can be distorted, there is also research that shows that memory can be incredibly accurate." or "Neisser & Harsh's research challenged Brown & Kulik's original findings."
  • Alternatively, assign an essay and ask students to only submit three topic sentences. Each topic sentence should be a direct response to the essay prompt.
  • Give students a poorly written essay (from a past student or write one yourself) and have them rewrite the paragraph without changing the example that was used or the nature of the argument.
  • Do an "essay lottery" in which you put three or four essay prompts from the unit in a hat and have students draw a question to answer. This doesn't lighten the load, but it at least varies it. It also is then great for peer editing as students are asked to think about assessing and giving feedback on a question which they were not asked to prepare.

Tags: writing, assessment


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