Fostering the development of writing skills

This workshop focused on the benefits that students can gain from practicing writing in the classroom. In the average college-level psychology class, students are evaluated on one or two high-stakes writing assignments. This workshop recommended the implementation of more frequent, low-stakes writing that will help students learn through the writing itself.

Using writing in the classroom is an active teaching method. Students benefit from having time to think and write about a topic that has been introduced by the instructor. It allows them to take some time and process how they understand what the instructor has been teaching. Low-stakes writing may help to foster independent critical analysis, which is often a daunting idea for students coming from high school. It also helps students develop their own expressive abilities, as well as encourages them to understand other people’s perspective, if the writing is then shared.

It is important for the professor to create a learning objective and put into writing what he or she wants the students to gain from a lesson. One worthwhile goal is to teach students to take the course material and apply it to things that extend beyond the classroom. It engages students to know that they will have acquired a new skill that can be honed with practice.

How to implement low-stakes writing assignments in the classroom:

  • Everyday quizzes
    • Students remember material better if they are quizzed. They even remember it better if they got the answer wrong! Having them grade their own quiz and save the answers can serve as a great note-taking strategy.
  • Videos/activities/anecdotes and 2-minute papers
    • If you’re going to show a video in class or present an example of a topic, make sure you identify what students should be looking for or paying attention to. This will engage them more in the video.
    • After the video, present three or more scaffolded questions, starting with a more concrete one about what they observed in the video, and ending with one that helps them synthesize and relate back to the general lesson.
    • Do this activity with them! It will engage them more to see that you are completing the activity that you have required of them. If you ask them to read their responses aloud, make sure that you offer to read yours aloud as well.
    • Use this writing as a collaborative activity. Engage the students in a think-pair-share by having them write first, turn to a partner and discuss, and then share aloud their ideas and perspectives.

These techniques can be used in any class, and psychology courses lend themselves to low-stakes writing particularly well. By applying low-stakes learning to the classroom, the students gain the same neural changes provoked by practicing writing, without the instructor having to grade countless papers per semester. To motivate the students, have the writing count as part of their participation grade. This will keep them engaged and will get them on their way to learning through writing.


2 thoughts on “Fostering the development of writing skills

  1. jgrosefifer

    This sounds like a great workshop – with some really concrete ideas that you will be able to bring into the classroom when you teach. Was this a GSTA workshop?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.