Teaching Tips

From the Mānoa Writing Program Faculty Board

As faculty members, we are often asked for suggestions on how to make writing-intensive classes work. We offer here tips that reflect concerns frequently mentioned in our interviews with graduating seniors.

Tip for the first day of class

Students who have never taken a WI class are often unsure about what is expected of them. The term "writing-intensive" can be intimidating. You can help your students by discussing the benefits of writing and the kinds of writing they will do in your class. If you can excite your students about the possibilities of writing, not only as a means to retain course content but also as a way to work out problems of understanding, writing will seem less of a drudgery and more of an opportunity for learning. On the first day of class, it would help if teachers would be explicit in their explanations of WI course requirements. What is the purpose behind the writing-intensive course? What do they expect? - Student

Tips on writing assignments

Vary the type and length of writing assignments to reflect the different purposes for writing in your course. Daily journals, progress reports, reaction essays, analytical reports, position papers, presentation outlines, topical free writing, and performance critiques are types of writing used frequently by UH faculty. If I get a job where I have to do a lot of writing, regardless of the type, I'm not afraid to do it. I've written short stories; I'm writing a senior thesis; I've written about research. You can't get through life knowing how to write just one way. - Student
Try to construct formal (and longer) writing assignments by using the building blocks of already-assigned informal writing. It was neat to be able to go back to my journal and my reaction papers when we had to do the term paper. I already had a lot of material. - Student
Consider allowing students to choose topics, approaches, emphases, lengths, or due dates within the framework of an assignment. I like the freedom to take the paper in the direction you wanted it to go. The guidelines are broad enough to take the topic in any way, but they are also narrow enough to give a focus. The freedom allows me to express my thoughts. - Student
Design some assignments around real life situations so that students can experience the application of course material.

If your students are keeping a log or journal, let them know who will be reading it and how it
will "count."

The writing that I've been doing so far is actually a glimpse of what I will be doing--what I'm going to be doing in the industry when I go to work for some firm. I mean everything that they'll ask you to do, like preparing proposals or contracts or specifications for a project, is directly related to the type of writing we're doing in class. It's just groundwork. - Student

Tips for providing feedback on content

Provide short teacher/student conferences. 5-10 minute meetings are very helpful. I notice a lot of other teachers don't really say much and they just slap a grade on papers with no comments. But these WI teachers will really sit down with you and go through and show you how you can improve and what's wrong and everything. - Student
Have students hand in self-assessments of their writing when
they hand in their drafts.
He made us write lists of the strengths and weaknesses of our drafts when we handed them in. So I sort of knew what his comments might be even before I got them back. - Student
On drafts of student papers, provide specific written comments that students can use when they revise. I just hate--here I write this twenty page paper and I pick it up thinking 'Oh, great! I wanna see what the feedback is...' What do I get? Not a mark on the whole thing. The back page says, "Good paper." That doesn't do me any good. I want to see meaningful feedback. - Student
Provide opportunities for students to give each other feedback on the content of their drafts. Instructors can guide students by modeling how to respond to papers. You had to write your papers and let other people read them. And it felt good to see good comments from peers. You know, because usually only your teacher will see it. But it's good to see what your peers say about your writing. If they agree, I must be doing something right. - Student

Tips for providing feedback on mechanics and grammar

Give your students an opportunity to learn how to proofread a paper by having each of them exchange a semifinal draft with a peer who will read the draft for appropriate grammatical structures and mechanics. Students can then help their peers make corrections.

Don't "correct" your students' errors. Instead, put a check near the error and encourage the author to "correct" it while working on the next draft.

Tip for saving time

Students learn through writing. They don't necessarily learn more or less if you "grade" a piece of writing. Give feedback and grades when appropriate; but remember that you don't have to read everything that your students write. Some instructors collect journals, in-class writing, and drafts read by peer reviewers and mark them as either "satisfactory" (completed) or "unsatisfactory" (not completed or not turned in), but they don't read the writing closely.