Improving Student Writing
What can you as an instructor do?
If you want to improve students' writing skills, you must give students opportunities to write -- in a variety of ways and contexts. Writers are not born; they develop their skills over time. And we need to keep this in mind as we work together to help students improve their communication skills.
That said, what can you as the instructor do? Lots of things that will improve the student writing you receive and enhance the educational experience students have in your classroom. Keep in mind that students need to practice writing, especially writing about the ideas of others as well as communicating their own views. And students also need time to develop their facility with language -- something they can only do with practice.
Here are a few suggestions:
1) Try to build several short and informal assignments into your course such as periodic summaries of and responses to readings and lectures.
2) Give students five to ten minutes at the end of class to summarize the day's lesson.
3) Have students use five to ten minutes at the beginning of class to respond to a question introducing the day's discussion topic or to the previous session's activities.
4) Assign individual students (one or more for each session) to write up the "minutes" of the previous class session, and then distribute/review them with the rest of the class at the start of the next session.
5) Ask students to keep "facing-page" notes: notes on the left, questions and comments on the right.
Remember, you do not have to grade everything your students write. In fact, spot-checking some of the above writing assignments is an excellent way to keep tabs on how well students are understanding course material. (It will also help you to anticipate the needs of your students.) And many of these informal writing assignments will greatly benefit your students when the time comes to complete formal writing assignments.
When you do assign formal writing assignments, keep in mind that students need time to work on lengthy papers as well as encouragement and help in getting an early start. (That's where the informal assignments can help.) In addition, you should clearly define the expectations of the writing task, preferably in writing: what the student is supposed to do, how the student is supposed to do it, and what criteria will be used for evaluation.
Writing out assignments and distributing them also reinforces the belief that writing is an important form of communication and helps to foster students' development as writers.
And as your students begin their writing, encourage them to act like practicing writers, discussing their work with you, their classmates, and the Consultants employed by the CCNY Writing Center.