Cultivating a New Audience

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While writing specialists broadly understand that writing helps students learn, we also advocate for writing assignments that prompt students to think rhetorically: how writers use texts to convey meaning appropriate to an audience in a given context.  As a part of this conversation, writing specialists talk about the importance of audience, but research in writing studies, including here at Mason, reveals that college writing assignments do not commonly address an audience beyond the instructor, who typically is addressed as an evaluator.  Continue reading

What Does an Effective Assignment Sheet Look Like?

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It recently occurred to us that, while we have been sharing resources about designing assignments this semester, we haven’t actually shared any samples of designs.  These resources are helpful when considering how to design our assignments, but they don’t show us how to communicate that assignment through a prompt sheet.  So, they compel us to ask: what does a good assignment sheet actually look like? Continue reading

The Benefits of Faculty Writing Groups

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A big challenge for faculty is finding time to write; especially during a busy semester, we can easily find a distraction that will slow down progress on any number of projects that we have just started, gained some momentum on, or almost finished.  To (re)claim time, faculty on Mason’s campus meet every Friday morning to write.  Our Friday faculty write-ins are popular with attendees who report a number of benefits, including progress on projects. Continue reading

Troubleshooting Assignment Designs

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As many instructors know, it can be difficult to know how well-developed a writing assignment is, how clearly the prompt is written, and how students will respond to the project, especially when the assignment is brand new.  Soliciting feedback from colleagues, writing specialists, or students can be an effective method of developing prompts, but instructors aren’t always able to take advantage of that opportunity.  Continue reading

The Meaningful Writing Project

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Developing good writing assignments is a complicated task, one not simplified by the multiple ways in which students sometimes interpret them.  Instructors often find themselves asking: Are my instructions clear?  Do they align with the course’s learning objectives?  And perhaps most important, will my students find this project engaging?  Michelle Eodice, Anne Ellen Geller, and Neal Lerner can’t provide the answers to all of these questions, but their research is helping us to understand what a “meaningful” writing assignment might be for students.  Continue reading

Designing High-Impact Writing Assignments

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We often think of writing as a tool that prompts deep learning, but we don’t always talk about how to use writing assignments to realize this goal.  That might let us assume that assigning any kind of writing will lead to deep learning, or it might prompt us to wonder if there are particular practices that promote this goal more than others.  According to research by Paul Anderson, Chris Anson, Robert Gonyea, and Charles Paine, the answer is the latter: the quality of the assignment design has a greater impact on learning than the amount of writing students are asked to compose. Fortunately, their research has begun to uncover several high impact practices that instructors can use to design writing assignments across the curriculum. They describe these practices as follows:  Continue reading