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Integrating Writing Assignments and Providing Feedback in a Large Class

Integrating Writing Assignments and Providing Feedback in a Large Class

5 June, 2016

Writing is an effective method for students to explore and enhance ideas and enables you to assess students’ higher order thinking of course material.

Understandably, however, it is challenging to grade students’ writing and to give effective feedback for many writing assignments each semester in a large enrollment course.

To give opportunities for students to develop their writing and to get some useful feedback, here are some approaches that teachers can implement.

Small writing assignments

During class, give time for students to respond to short writing prompts.

  • Ask students to apply a theory, relate concepts, or describe a process in writing.
  • Give students sufficient time to do so (2-10 minutes or longer depending on the prompt).
  • These can also be brief homework assignments such as reacting to a reading or keeping a journal, all of which can be posted online in a class management system such asBlackboard.

To provide feedback:

  1. Gather all responses and let students know that you will review every 4th (5th, 6th, or 7th…) one closely.
  2. Compile a list of common themes or issues you have observed in their responses.
  3. Select one good example.
  4. In the next class, give a general overview of the common themes and issues.
  5. Display an model instance and give students 2 minutes to discuss with a partner what characteristics make it a ‘good’ written response. Review these characteristics.
  6. About individualized feedback on these small writing tasks, you can
  • Make the assignment anonymous and not give individual feedback to anyone.
  • Ask students write their names on the writing assignment and return a small sample each time you do this activity throughout the semester—keep track until you eventually give feedback to all students.

Another useful strategy is to distribute a grading rubric or guiding questions and have students self-assess and/or provide peer evaluations in pairs or within small groups.

For tests and exams (essay questions)

Essay questions on tests and exams are not necessarily scrapped for larger lecture classes. Here are a couple of strategies to keep things reasonable:

Heppner (2007) offers essay writing as an alternative for tests and assignments to students in his large lecture classes. He announces that assessments will be made up of multiple choice or fill-in-the blank type questions, but if students believe that they can show their understanding of course material better in essay format, they are welcome to request this. A small percentage of students do request this format, but there is no burden of correcting hundreds of student essays.

Another approach described by Svinicki & McKeachie (2011) is to include an essay on a final exam, but to explain at the onset that the essay question will only be evaluated if it will have an effect on the student’s final grade. This gives enough motivation for students to make a decent attempt on the essay and is sustainable for grading, as only a portion of students will fall into this category.

Larger writing assignments such as term papers

For larger writing assignments:

  • Divide into smaller pieces throughout the semester. For example, start with an annotated bibliography, then a paper outline, first draft, second draft, etc.
  • Coordinatepeer-assessment or self-assessment sessions in class for each stage. For example, at the beginning, students can comment on idea formation and organization and near the end, students can give specific feedback on grammar and style. This will both let students to receive some support and feedback throughout the process, enhance their assessment and revision skills, and will hopefully result in better quality final drafts to grade.
  • Give a clear rubric for students to use as a guide and for graders to use to be consistent. If using rubricsfor grading or peer /self-assessment, be ready to take some class time to introduce the rubric so that students know how to use it effectively.

Collaborative writing for large assignments is also an option. This gives students the chance to develop teamwork skills as well as writing skills. It also means that there will be fewer final papers to check. If using this method:

  • Students will require support in their group work, and given time in class to work on team building and the assigned task.
  • Collaborative technologies can be utilized to facilitate this process such as GoogleDocs or Wikis.
  • To make sure that all students contribute to the assignment, assign roles to group members and reassign roles throughout the semester for different group tasks.

Academic Integrity

As with any assignment, there is the likelihood of academic integrity code violations and with larger groups this may be more difficult to manage.

For large classes, Heppner (2007) suggests integrating mini paper defense sessions.

  • Have students make a short 2-3 minute meeting to defend their paper.
  • Ask questions about some terms or concepts illustrated in the paper.
  • If the group is too large, tell students that they will be selected randomly to defend their papers.