Raise the Bar: Building Better Writing Assignments

Do you ever wish you received better student submissions to your writing assignments? Writing can be difficult for students, as it is a complex skill that needs frequent practice. Implementing structured writing assignments can enhance learning and promote the receipt of better results from students’ submissions. There are several strategies to provide writing activity support for student success.

Are writing assignments important? The ability to write well is a significant skill that is highly valued in the classroom and worlds beyond. These skills are enhanced by challenging students to 1) focus on a particular topic, 2) determine what to read or watch, 3) collate evidence to support their general ideas, 4) curate their ideas, and 5) follow identified style standards. These activities support information literacy; a person’s ability to locate, evaluate and effectively use information when needed [2]. Writing activities also support a student’s information and communication technology literacy; the ability to utilize digital technology, networks, and communication tools to access, evaluate, and share information [3]. Writing assignments increase students’ engagement with your course material. This additional engagement allows students to slow down their thought process and analyze relationships. Students practice organizing information in meaningful ways, which enhances their ability to recall and apply knowledge. Writing provides an avenue for students to share original thoughts and practice communicating clearly.

Using FIU Library Resources

In the process of crafting a writing assignment, you may choose to connect with FIU’s Distance Learning Librarians. The librarians can assist you in designing a research assignment framed around available library resources or create library tutorials specific for the needs of your students. Remember that while you might know the pertinent journals related to your field, your students may not be as familiar. Curating specific resources you wish students to use can be one way of improving what you receive from them. Once you have assigned the writing project to your course, the librarians can conduct research chat sessions or provide other library assistance. This type of support can assist students who feel lost at the beginning of the assignment.

Modeling the Process

Another way to assist students who are unsure where to start is to model your own writing process when beginning a writing task. When highlighting these processes, you might become aware of many steps you complete unconsciously and will need to specify to your students. It might be helpful to provide questions that prompt students to think about writing, such as identifying their audience and what message they are attempting to share. Do you organize your ideas using a traditional outline? Or do you jot ideas and supporting data on separate post-it notes so you can rearrange them as your construct your paper? Do you write your paper in sequence or do you write the introductory paragraph after the remainder of the paper is complete? When you encounter writing issues, do you ask a friend to look over it or take a one day break from the task? How do you identify and track your personal milestones to ensure a large writing project is completing before the deadline?

Create Milestones

During the process of designing your course writing activities, consider breaking up a large writing assignment into less complicated tasks, or milestones. Besides encouraging students to not write their entire assignment at the “midnight hour,” students will be able to concentrate on the individual stages of writing. You might require students to provide a writing proposal or topical outline, then create an annotated bibliography of resources they will be using, and then provide the completed assignment.  Depending on the complexity of the assignment, you may include additional tasks.  If you do not require these subtasks for a grade, students will often draft the assignment at the last minute. Allot adequate time for students to be able to consult with the Center for Excellence in Writing and make revisions before providing you with the final submission.

Recommend the Center for Excellence in Writing

The Center for Excellence in Writing makes available trained peer tutors, providing assistance to students at any stage of the writing process from brainstorming, drafting, revising, or polishing. Besides providing a link to this resource within the course or in the assignment instructions, you would want to encourage students to create a first draft for review.  It might be helpful to some students to suggest a time frame in relation to the final due date by when they should make an appointment with this department (for example, at least one week before the due date to allow time for revision).

        Future installments of this article series will address adopting a variety of other strategies to improve student’s writing, to include:

  • Utilizing TurnItIn technology, which provides you with the tools to ensure academic integrity, and provide feedback (with the option to take advantage of a peer review and revision process);
  • Identifying best practices in providing writing samples in the same genre, possibly previous student work, for your current students to review; and
  • Developing well-defined grading rubrics as an integral component to setting assignment expectations and general grading feedback.

Implementing some or all of these solutions will “raise the bar” for your students’ writing assignments. Get connected with your instructional designer if you are ready to explore ways to revise or add writing components that fit your learning objectives and teaching preferences.

About Sky V. King

Sky V. has been rocking the FIU Online Instructional Designer "hat" since 2012. She promotes the use of best pedagogical practices and implementation of diverse forms of technology, yielding a positive online teaching experience for our professors and engaging learning experience for our students. Her areas of expertise include social media, gamification and user interface design.

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