Integrating Writing into Courses
What are Writing-Integrated Courses?
A writing-integrated course “integrates” into its design a variety of writing exercises to increase student learning while at the same time preparing students to write better term papers or exams.
How Writing-Integrated Classes Differ from Traditional Courses
Writing assignments in traditional classes are often assigned as supplements to the course—a paper or project completed outside class that in one way or another extends students’ classroom learning. Such projects can be effective for some students, particularly in advanced classes, but in many courses students may not yet know enough about the disciplines or content they are studying to complete these assignments well.
Writing-integrated courses, by contrast, recognize that sophisticated college-level writing requires disciplinarily-defined critical thinking skills, as well as a good grasp of style and grammar. Writing-integrated courses often use informal or "low-stakes" writing exercises, in-class discussions of criteria for writing exercises, and other resources and techniques to give students practice with underlying concepts before asking them to take on more formal written work.
Design Principles for Writing-Integrated Course
- Writing-Integrated Courses center their assignments on concepts central to the course;
- Writing-Integrated Courses help students develop the discipline-specific critical thinking skills students will need if they are to write well;
- Writing-Integrated Courses offer students a series of writing occasions over the course of the quarter in order that they can “write their ways into” the course’s major assignments.
Strategies for Writing-Integrated Courses
- Provide opportunities for low-stakes writing. Because students write best when they have had frequent trial runs, asking them to write informally throughout the quarter builds skills they need for more formal writing at the same time that it encourages active learning of course materials.
- Link exercises to course learning goals. Students engage most effectively with writing when they understand clearly how such writing can increase their understanding of key course concepts.
- Sequence Writing Exercises. Because complicated skills are often best developed in steps, writing-integrated courses offer students a sequence of exercises as a “scaffold” with which to build complex understanding.
Handling the Paper LoadAsking students to write more frequently does create more papers, but this doesn’t have to mean more work than is required for a traditional class in which students write. Here are three of the many ways teachers can use their time more efficiently with student papers:
- Instructors need not read and comment on everything students write. For low-stakes writing it is appropriate to provide only brief comments, or to have students give each other feedback, or even to read only representative selections from a whole set and to use these as the basis for oral comment in class.
- Students can only handle only so much feedback anyway. Research has shown that many of the comments written on student papers never get read, and a primary reason for this is simple overload. Comments are most effective when they target a few key features.
- Marking sentence-level errors requires an awful lot of time while helping students very little. Studies have consistently shown that time spent correcting grammar is not consistently effective. A sentence of praise for what does work, followed by a question or two that can prompt revision, takes less time and produces better results.
An Annotated Bibliography for Using Writing to Improve Learning
This annotated bibliography, written by Amy Vadali (former Writing Program Research Assistant,) contains information for faculty in all disciplines who want to use writing to increase learning. Readings are designed to be accessible to those less familiar with the history and theory of student writing and pedagogy. Topics include:
- How Writing Makes Better Learning
- How Writing is Different in Various Disciplines
- Designing Effective Writing Assignments
- Responding to Student Writing
- Rethinking the (Over)Focus on Grammar
- Existing Bibliographies on the Teaching of Writing and WAC