Small groups

What worked best as you sought to help students learn course content through writing?

The Interview Plans and Materials helped student learn how to prepare for interviews (i.e., guides and schedules of questions) and how to develop employment related written materials (i.e., job description, resume, cover letter, completion of employment application)...Students consistently state that the Self-Analyses are extremely beneficial because they get to view their interview performances and can actually see and hear how they handled themselves as both interviewers and as an applicant interviewee...The Observer Evaluations allow the students to critique/evaluate other students’ performances by providing written feedback to their fellow students. Sharkey, COMG290, F14.

Students are required to read, discuss, and summarize all of the weekly assigned readings. To help internalize the topics, students are required to write reaction papers for each week's topic and relate these subjects to their own personal knowledge and insights, including family and village experiences for heritage students. The writing of reaction papers enables students to develop writing styles representative of adult academic writing in the Samoan and English languages. Small group discussions enable students to incorporate shared experiences and additional insights into their re-writes. The use of written reaction papers rather than oral reports permits students to develop their thoughts and styles through several revisions and also lets them analyze the thoughts and styles of others in the class. Each student is also required to write a research paper. Students further their academic writing and develop research skills and knowledge of the topic. Mayer, SAM452, F12.

What works best for students to learn course content through writing are short, informal, ungraded freewriting assignments during class. These kinds of opportunities give students time to process and organize their thoughts before discussion either as a whole class or as a way to structure small group discussion. I also ask students to write up a summary of small group discussions and present it to the class. This informal writing is then used as a foundation for longer, more formal writing assignments. Aikau, POLS390, F12.

The "Reacting to the Past" games provide students with a clearly defined perspective and set of clear objectives with which to approach the history of a particular historical moment (Athens in 403 BC, China in 1587 AD). Writing, researching, public speaking, and small group work are integrated as students work together to propose laws or policies, debate them, and make alliances. It is clear to them that writing has a direct impact on their ability to accomplish their "victory objectives." Because their proposals must be historically plausible, they are responsible for proving to me that they have done their background research. They then, in turn, inform their fellow students of particular aspects of the historical background of the game. Thus they learn about a topic, write about it and then teach it to their peers. The debate engages them with the content at an intellectual and, more importantly, effective level. Schwartz, HON291H, F12.

At the suggestion of Todd Sammons, whose W-focus workshop I attended last August, I began using Laulima-based writing responses and peer comments to encourage students to engage critically and substantively with the assigned reading. This has worked very well. It gets the discussion going among students before our weekly meeting has even taken place, and it provides a space for the quieter students to express themselves. Matteson, HIST396B, F12.

What worked best as you sought to help students learn to be more effective writers?

Reaction papers are turned in to the instructor and are then re-written based on comments from the instructor. In small peer groups, students are allowed to share their writings and are able to get feedback on style as well as content. These activities work very well for this class, and students seem to benefit a great deal from the peer-level interactions. Each student is required to write a research paper on an approved topic related to Samoan language, culture, and sociolinguistics. Papers may be written in Samoan or English, but students must demonstrate an ability to use the Samoan language as a research tool in the completion of the paper. The first draft of the paper is handed to the instructor by the 8th week. A conference is held with the student to discuss content, accuracy and grammatical form. The paper is rewritten and presented to the class. Students can rewrite the paper based on feedback. The process helped to develop an academic style of writing and revising papers. Mayer, SAm452, F12.

Students are required write a weekly journal recording their reactions to or thoughts on the readings and class discussions. Questions, comments, disagreements, & elaboration on points made in class are some of the types of entries expected in the journal. Entries are submitted twice weekly and must be no less that 2 pages. Students are required to share their journal entries w/ the class in small group discussions. These papers are re-written & re-submitted to the instructor based on comments from classmates and the instructor. Thus students become better writers because they benefit from input from the instructor and their peers. All writing in 427C is in the English language. (Students may use the Samoan language with the consent of instructor). Simanu-Klutz, F12.

Small learning community collaboration on drafting, writing and editing papers. Walton, ITE401, F12.

The best tools for supporting students' learning course content through writing has been the development of a multi-step writing process that requires peer review and oral critical feedback on work such as the Getting to Know a Student paper, lesson plans and reflective blog posts. Via the multi-step writing process students write, evaluate, reflect and revise. Participation in this process has supported students' development of meaningful conceptual and contextualized understandings of course content. O'Neill, ITE404H, F12.

Because they are writing for one another, the students develop a sense of audience. Posting papers for their peers to read on the blog (under pseudonyms) holds them accountable for doing a good job. In the 2nd & 4th papers (Athens #2 and especially China #2) I require students to respond explicitly to ideas in other students' papers. I also found that the spontaneity of the games forces students to think on their feet. More than once, a student has prepared a carefully researched paper on a scientific proposal but by the time they get up to present it, the dynamics of the in-class discussion has made their proposal moot. I have found that students who have already put time and effort into thinking through an argument by means of writing it are more flexible when it comes to adapting. This underscores my philosophy that writing is a dynamic process that is inextricable from thinking and listening. The students will beg me for an extension to revise their paper. I allow it, knowing they gained feedback from peers. Schwartz, HON291H, F12.

I assign every student a peer partner and have them read, respond to, and comment on each other's writing assignment by filling out a two-page peer-editing form. Wang, HIST411, F12.

I meet with students individually and have them peer-review the assignments in order to improve their writing skills. Njoroge, HIST476/AMST440, F12.

Please explain any changes you plan to make in the W aspect of your class.

More directions needed on the responsibilities of the "peer reviewer"; generally they are "too nice" and don't want to hurt each other's feelings so the feedback isn't useful. I looked at some of the tools on the GenEd website and I think I'll try out a couple of those. Watanabe, EDEP411, F12.

The number of assignments I give is greater (five short essays). Also, I am asking students to prepare questions for course discussion and counting these as part of their writing assignments (albeit for very little credit). I want them to view their essay writing and crafting questions for class discussion as a paired endeavor in communicating their own ideas and shaping discussion and debate. Brown, HIST417, F12.

This class is already much different now (I just taught it in Summer 2011) than it was when I first applied for W focus, particularly with the addition of journal entries. For the next offering, I will also introduce a round of peer-editing as well as self-reflection on their first two essays. I have been drawing from the resources of Manoa Writing Program regarding ways to make self-reflection a part of the essay-writing process. Brown, HIST420, F12.