ON DEMAND: Cumulative Writing Assignments: Benefits for Students and Instructors
How often have students exclaimed in exasperation, “I hate writing!”? Writing can provoke high anxiety-levels among our students, especially in the wake of the pandemic and/or when a large percentage of their final grade hinges on a single writing assignment. This is particularly, though certainly not exclusively, the case for Mason’s international/multilingual student population. This brief presentation will explain the rationale for assigning cumulative writing assignments that culminate in a final paper students build throughout the semester, and will offer example assignments that can be tailored to specific courses. Having the opportunity to draft, workshop, revise, and expand ideas not only demystifies the writing process—it also cultivates a generative, explorative learning environment by allowing students to experiment with ideas in drafts without fear of receiving a lower letter-grade. The rationale for such writing assignments derives from the principle that when anxieties are mitigated, students are able to learn more effectively. Furthermore, this approach offers a manageable workload for instructors: completion grades can be offered for smaller-stakes components (outlines, lists of evidence, bibliographies), while more comprehensive commentary and letter-grades can be provided on elements like thesis statements, and peer-review can be employed for early drafts. Although scaffolding a writing assignment is not original in itself, some innovative process-based activities this presentation will offer include: the use of new technologies, like Hypothesis, to assist students in brainstorming ideas; suggestions for collaborative support activities, including in-class debates where students assess each others’ evidence to support their thesis statements and pre-final-draft conference-style presentations, where students have the opportunity to present their writing and answer questions from their peers about their final writing projects before they complete the final draft. While I will use a brief example of a cumulative writing assignment from my Shakespeare courses as a case-study, the assignment I outline in this presentation is easily translatable to any course or topic that involves a major writing project as part of its curriculum—and to courses as wide-ranging as online (synchronous or asynchronous), hybrid, or face-to-face, and even spanning undergraduate to graduate levels. Participants will be able to create meaningful writing assignments for their students with a workload that doesn’t overwhelm either students or instructors.
Copyright (c) 2021 Jennifer Wood
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