Writing and the Learning Model

April 7, 2010
Writer: Suzette Gee

Last semester, our learning community discussed writing as it related to the different stages of the learning model. We talked about creating clear writing assignments with a specific purpose, audience, and explicit criteria. We looked at sample grading rubrics and did practice grading together. The consensus was that many teachers assign writing but do not feel confident in grading it. While these activities were useful, perhaps the most popular finding was using informal, exploratory writing as part of classroom activities.

Most of the ideas we used came from John C. Bean's excellent book Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide toIntegrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. As participant Ruth Arnell notes, "The strategies that were most helpful in my classroom were the different ways of using exploratory writing in class.  Some specific examples that helped me were using writing to refocus a discussion or to sum up a particular concept or discussion." Matt Moore, of the Music Department, liked using writing as part of the Ponder/Prove step of the Learning Model:  "Probably the most helpful technique was how to use reflective writing as part of the Ponder and Prove part of the learning model, so students see what they have learned through their studies." These assignments are simple and not difficult to grade, yet allow students to think about their own learning and recognize growth.

Following are some of the strategies most enjoyed by our learning community.

  1. Beginning journal. Start class with a free write on a specific question that will be addressed in class that day. (Bean 105)
  2. Writing during class to refocus a lagging discussion or cool off a heated one. When students run out of things to say or when the discussion gets so heated that everyone wants to talk at once, suspend the discussion and ask for several minutes of writing. (Bean 105)
  3. Writing dialogues. Have students write an imagined dialogue between two people with opposing views. This may be the authors of different articles you have read, figures from history, or characters from fiction. (Bean 110)
  4. What it says/what it does. An interesting way to analyze a persuasive text is to have students fill out a what is says/what it does graph. In the "what it says" section, they summarize the information in the essay. In the "what it does" section, they analyze how the author is creating their argument through offering evidence, appealing to emotion, establishing their credibility, etc. (Bean 138)
  5. Argument evaluation. After reading a persuasive text, ask students to answers these questions: Before I read this text, the author assumed that I believed ...[fill in the blank]. After I finished reading this text, the author wanted me to believe..[fill in]. The author was/was not successful in changing my view. How so? Why or why not? (Bean 142)
  6. Believing/Doubting Game. When discussing controversial ideas, assign different groups to be "believers" or "doubters." Make each group come up with reasons to support or challenge different premises. This is especially helpful when students don't necessarily agree with their assigned role.  (Elbow qtd. in Bean 142)
These are just a few of the strategies we explored throughout the semester. As mentioned, Bean's book is full of helpful ideas applicable to any discipline.