Though it's not rocket science, writing is "one of the most cognitively complex tasks that we ask of our students" (as Brady Krien notes in Tips for Teaching and Assessing Writing, a brief blog post for GradHacker on Inside Higher Education). So it should come as no surprise when they struggle to write the way we want them to.
And in case you haven't already figured this out for yourself, writing is also difficult for us as faculty. For us, there's help, as Isabeau Iqbal, PhD, explains in her recent review of Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write by Dr. Helen Sword (Harvard UP, 2017): "Sword's book persuasively describes what every academic writer needs to know (and/or have affirmed): that there are many ways to find the 'sweet spot where productivity and pleasure meet' (p. X) when it comes to writing. That is, there are no strict rules to follow."
For your students, you are a key resource, regardless of your department or discipline. Brady Krien offers six things you can do to help your students improve their writing:
- "narrow your assignment and grading to a discrete list of tasks and don’t sweat the small stuff like comma splices if punctuation isn’t your focus."
- "don’t go overboard with responding to student writing."
- "refer students to resources like the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) when [you] notice that they [a]re consistently struggling with something like verb tense or articles."
- "provide multiple examples of writing that meet the criteria for your assignment."
- "Every class and every individual comes to each assignment with different skills and background knowledge and one strategy for meeting them wherever they are at in their learning process is to use classroom assessment techniques to check in on their progress and address issues early in the writing process (i.e. before 10:00 p.m. on the night before an assignment is due)."
- "read their writing prior to the final due date."
Ball, Cheryl E., and Drew M. Loewe, eds. Bad Ideas about Writing. West Virginia University Libraries. Digital Publishing Institute. Morgantown, WV. 2017. textbooks.lib.wvu.edu/badideas/index.html. Accessed 9 Feb. 2018.
Iqbal, Isabeau. "Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write (Review)." Tomorrow's Professor Postings 1614. 22 Jan. 2018. https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/1614
Krien, Brady. "Tips for Teaching and Assessing Writing." GradHacker. Inside Higher Education, 21 Jan. 2018. https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/tips-teaching-and-assessing-writing
Tauber, Daveena. "Nine Tools for the Accidental Writing Teacher." ChronicleVitae. 30 June 2016. https://community.chronicle.com/news/1460-9-tools-for-the-accidental-writing-teacher
Writing in Large GE Classes: Resources for Doing the Impossible. Academic First Year Experiences, CSU Northridge. 2014. https://www.csun.edu/undergraduate-studies/academic-first-year-experiences/writing-large-ge-classes-resources-doing