Colleen Flaherty reviews a new study, a collaboration between the National Survey of Student Engagement and the Council of Writing Program Administrators, which finds assigning more writing assignments does not necessarily mean better student writing. Instead, the study’s authors suggest that better, not more, assignments (ones that are interactive and deeper) improve students’ writing and learning. “Meaning making” writing assignments, or those assignments that require students to construct their own knowledge by interpreting texts or learning experiences, are especially helpful for students’ growth, the authors report.
Interestingly, the study compiled writing colleagues’ best writing assignments, then asked students to rate their assessment of their own learning based on those assignments. These students did not report learning more from writing more assignments, but did report learning more by writing meaningful assignments paired with teacher support. Daniel Melzer, author of a pivotal 2014 study, offers professors the following advice: “I’ve always followed the suggestions in this [new] article that it’s better to assign less formal writing but have students engage in a deep, interactive process of writing and meaning making.”
The findings of the study’s four authors, Paul Anderson, Chris M. Anson, Robert Gonyea, and Charles Paine, are highly relevant to teachers of writing across the disciplines. As Gonyea explains, “There are certain disciplines where students don’t do a lot of writing, and we’d encourage [instructors] not necessarily to assign longer papers, but to assign smaller writing tasks that go a long way in terms of student learning.” These smaller writing tasks can include journal writings and quick writes, and are best revised with help from peers and the instructor. Read the full article to see how you can incorporate these smaller writing tasks and learning interventions into your writing course.