This year I was again teaching the capstone course for Augustana's Biology degree programme which is the last chance we have as biology faculty to ensure that our students are leaving Augustana with well-developed writings skills. I tried something different this year when I returned students' first written assignment back to them with my comments about their structure and style in addition to their thinking. What I explained to them was that they would be judged on their basis of their writing by future employers and professional schools. Without even having a chance to speak with a potential employer or supervisor or admissions counsellor, their ability to succeed will be judged on the basis of whatever writing they have submitted to the programme or employer.
It was interesting to see my students pay attention when I said that. Even those students who already had good writing skills paid attention. I think this may be another example of promoting student engagement in their learning by making explicit connections between what teachers are teaching and what students need or will need. It is another way of making learning relevant to students.
Did it make a difference in student learning? I don't have any hard data to show that actual student learning outcomes improved but I do have one anecdote. One student who had been avoiding classes requiring writing discussed her aversion to writing and her new understanding of what that could mean when she graduated and moved into her working life. She knew that her writing ability was weak. I suggested that she make it a habit to meet with the Writing Centre on our campus to help develop her writing skills. She did that - and I could clearly see the improvement in her writing in the MT submission of her writing dossier and again with her final submission.
Explicitly stating the impact writing can have on students' lives after university clearly had an impact on one of my students this year. From that perspective, it does makes a difference on student learning outcomes.
ResourcesWeimer M. 2012. A Strategy for Grading Student Writing Assignments. Faculty Focus. January 31.
Haave N. 2015. Developing students’ thinking by writing. The National Teaching & Learning Forum, 25(1), 5–7.