Writing in Large GE Classes: Resources for Doing the Impossible
"Assigning and Assessing Writing in Large Classes" (2009) (U. Washington at Seattle)
“Assigning and Assessing Writing in Large Classes.” Teaching and Learning Bulletin 2009 (12:4). Center for Instructional Development and Research.
Includes a good discussion of “Responding to Assignments Efficiently and Effectively” and also offers practical tips for returning graded work (obviously a special challenge in a big class: you can’t call out individual student names for this).
Comics (including some rated R) about how to use punctuation from "The Oatmeal"
Yes: a series of comics (available in poster form) explaining how to use semicolons.
Also potentially useful from the same authors: how to use apostrophes, available at http://theoatmeal.com/comics/apostrophe.
Want more? They also have Who vs. Whom: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/who_vs_whom
Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom
John C. Bean's book (now in its second edition, 2011) provides invaluable advice about ways you can get students to learn by writing. Here's a sampling from Ch. 7: Informal, Exploratory Writing Activities:
- "thinking pieces" that ask students to respond to a disciplinary problem that you identify or provide (121). Think of "an architect's sketchbook of possible designs for a project" (125). "Exploratory writing is thesis-seeking, whereas exam writing is thesis-supporting" (125).
- Bean lists "Twenty-Two Ideas for Incorporating Exploratory Writing into a Course" (131ff.) including "Tasks to deepen students' responses to course readings" and "Low-stakes 'shaped exercises' to practice thesis-governed writing.
- Ask students to write in response to a question, and explain that "Before you can do so, you'll need to read Chapter Ten" (or whatever reading assignment was going to be due that class anyway) (134-5)
Bean also includes a helpful how-to discussion about grading exploratory writing. "The key question is not 'How well written is this piece?' but 'To what extent does this piece reveal engaged thinking about this topic?'....[R]eward the process of thought rather than the product." (143)
"Four Key Questions About Large Classes" by Maryellen Weimer
Weimer's short piece raises four questions about who benefits from large classes--and who might be hurt:
- How many students make it a large class?
- Who should be taking large classes?
- What content is best suited for delivery in a big class?
- Who should be teaching the large classes?
Weimer, Maryellen. "Four Key Questions about Large Classes." Faculty Focus. 2 Sep 2015. Online. Accessed 2 Sep 2015.
“Integrating Low-Stakes Writing into Large Classes.” (U. of Michigan, Sweetland)
The LRC: CSUN's Learning Resource Center
The LRC has a Writing Center with tutors who can "assist student writers by offering individualized feedback on their writing, at any stage of the process, including understanding the assignment, brainstorming, forming a thesis, developing content, organizing ideas, and learning proofreading skills." They also offer Writing Workshops on various topics each semester. New in spring 2015: LRC FAQs for Faculty, which explains what happens during a Writing Center conference, how you can encourage your students to visit the Writing Center, what to do if students need long-term help with their writing, and more.
"Marking (Grading) Essays" (2014): how to make grading essays easier and more enjoyable (Tomorrow's Professor blog post)
"Sitting on your desk is a pile of essays that need to be marked. There might be just 10 or 20, or maybe 50, 100 or more. For most teachers, this is not an eagerly awaited task. Is there some way to make marking easier and more enjoyable?"
Brian Martin's answers, summarized:
1. Work in moderation, a little bit each day, rather than procrastinating and bingeing.
2. Remain fresh and alert by taking breaks when needed.
3. Practise going a bit faster while maintaining quality.
4. Aim to do what's good enough, not at perfection.
5. Redesign the task to make it more interesting.
Notes from the Workshop: "Teaching Writing in Large Upper Division GE Classes in ART" (12/5/14)
There were two handouts:
1. Notes for discussion: Working with writing in large GE classes (Sharon Klein), which focused on types of assignments.
2. University Writing Center (Anne Kellenberger): helping your students get the most out of the LRC, including a draft of the Spring 2015 Writing Workshop Schedule
And here's a photo of the whiteboard summary of strategies from the session, followed by a list elaborating on those strategies:
- Assessment meeting of program faculty to note where desired skills are Introduced, Practiced, and Demonstrated.
- They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein: a useful book for students that offers templates to scaffold arguments
- Thinking pieces and microthemes
- Reconsider whether comments are necessary, and if so, how much commenting will be useful
- Rubrics: keep them simple to begin with and try just one on a single assignment if you are new to this process
- Spread out the grading: take breaks
- Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom by John C. Bean (2nd ed., 2011): available online for CSUN users only; also available for checkout in the Academic First Year Experiences Library in CIELO and at Oviatt Library. See esp. p. 297 on how to support successful peer reviews.
- Try this psychological adjustment while grading writing: instead of asking yourself, "How well written is this piece?" try asking, "To what extent does this piece reveal engaged thinking about this topic?" You will still be able to make distinctions between more and less successful writing--but you won't start each paper depressed by its shortcomings. (More about this in Engaging Ideas (2nd ed.), p. 143.)
The other materials from this session have already been posted on this webpage.
"Teaching and Learning in Large Lectures": incorporating assignments and providing effective feedback (Cornell U.)
Davis, B.G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Heppner, F. (2007). Teaching large college classes: A guidebook for instructors with multitudes. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
Svinicki, M. & McKeachie, W.J. (2011). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (13th ed). Wadsworth Publishing.
"Teaching in Thin Air." (Argues that it's "virtually impossible" to teach much about writing in large classes.)
"Teaching with Writing" by Robin Brown: principles and suggestions (U. of Minnesota)
http://writing.umn.edu/tww/assignments/large.html: "Teaching with writing in large classes." Robin Brown. Offers some "principles" and suggestions. Sample:
Formality: Consider the distinction between formal and informal pieces of writing. Formal pieces require more time spent teaching and evaluating the writing process; informal assignments give students a chance to use writing to explore the course content without too much emphasis on the writing process.
"Using Writing in Large Classes" (2006) (Colorado State U.)
Videos and podcasts: a collection (various sources)
- Earlham College videos: https://www.earlham.edu/writing-center/video-resources/ Actually the one on comma splices opens with a very long ad. Perhaps that’s because they’ve just linked out to the Online English Videos “EngVid" series. Decent but dull.
- Harvard faculty talk about the elements of academic argument: http://harvardwrites.com/ 4 videos by 4 eminent faculty. Sharon Klein (director of WRAD at CSUN) sent this link to me in July 2014 and said, “the video--although uneven--is kind of nifty. Not bad for someone to play in an UD GE class...maybe.....and to talk about it."
- Portland State U videos: http://writingcenter.pdx.edu/resources/video/index.php Relatively polished; nice index; essentially narrated slides.
- Purdue Owl on YouTube: index of uploads https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=UUgVqKEU_v6WXOSlgP440MPA (also see the topic-based list of their videos at https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/948/01/)
- U of Colorado at Denver’s Writing Center has short funny “Video Podcasts” at http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/CLAS/Centers/writing/resources/Pages/multimedia.aspx They are NOT closed-captioned reliably and they are essentially narrated animated slides but are better than many, partly because they are super-short.
- U of Florida’s University Writing Program video collections: http://writing.ufl.edu/writing-studio/video-resources/writing-videos/ but they are not captioned, alas. Two sets: Grammar videos and Rhetoric & Writing Strategy videos.
- U of North Carolina at Chapel Hill writing center videos: http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/ (yes—this is the handouts page but any topic marked with a little blue video camera is actually a video). The newer ones like this one on how to make an outline are pretty good: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sp0MWYbLUFU&list=UUVUKh5KMGJFOw7WDGnS6bLw Here’s their YouTube index page: https://www.youtube.com/user/UNCWritingCenter/videos
- Ted-ED Blog: Be a better writer in 15 minutes: 4 TED-Ed lessons on grammar and word choice (http://blog.ed.ted.com/2014/05/29/be-a-better-writer-in-15-minutes-4-ted-ed-lessons-on-grammar-and-word-choice/). 4 videos; 4 topics: commas; Oxford comma debate; nominalizations ("zombie nouns"), and word choice (getting rid of "good" and "bad" in favor of more precise language). (Thanks to Debbi Mercado at the LRC for this one.)
"When to Use Whole-Class Feedback" (Faculty Focus 2014)
"More effective are future-focused discussions. Based on their performance, what do they need to do next time? The discussion should identify specifics; things done well that they should continue doing, along with things to stop and start doing."
"Writing in Lectures" from "Large Classes: A Teaching Guide" (U. of Maryland)
U. Maryland. Sloppy but some good suggestions about types of ungraded writing you can assign.