Welcome to A Quick Guide to Teaching First-Year Writing (at UA). This document is intended to be a reference tool that will provide you with the basic information you need to begin teaching EN 101 this fall, whether it is taught face-to-face, online, or in a hybrid combination. You are not required to review this document during the summer, of course. We will draw upon this and related documents during our orientation in August.
During orientation, you’ll work in a small group of fellow students who, like you, are teaching EN 101 for the first time at UA. Your fellow students will hail from your section of EN 533 and EN 534, so you’ll work with them during orientation in throughout the fall and spring semesters. It’s our hope that you’ll find a shared sense of collaboration and support among your colleagues, and that this spirit will be sustained and developed throughout the academic year.
Orientation will feature a mix of short, individual conferences with your small group leader; meetings featuring members of your small group; and time for you to read, reflect, and write. We’ll cover the arc of the semester, from syllabus building to finals week, and we’ll cover issues including, but not limited to, working in whatever instructional setting we’ll be working in, building and sustaining an inclusive classroom environment, holding discussions, conducting peer reviews and conferences, managing the classroom, and paper grading strategies.
Note that orientation is just an introduction—a first pass at teaching, a skill that may well become a significant part of your career. We realize this may be a little scary—in fact, we all can remember the first time we taught, and the questions, anxieties, and aspirations we had…and still have! If you’re confused or concerned, you’re not alone. Know that while the work of teaching may be challenging—especially at these fraught times—we are here to support you. If at any time you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to share them with your small group leader.
The following document lays out a few basic principles underscoring the art and craft of teaching writing—no matter what the medium. After some attention to classroom environment, we move on to syllabus building, and then we dig a little more deeply into four main moves good writing teachers make: modeling, discussing, drafting, and revising.
A classroom is a special place, walled off in a sense from the rest of the world, yet very much attuned to it, a product of it. A classroom isn’t just dedicated space with desks and whiteboards, or a set of digital affordances. It’s people, you, and your students, working through myriad processes in order to accomplish certain goals. And people are complicated, messy, frustrating, fun; they bring joy, pain, brilliance and lassitude. They make us laugh and worry; they bring us down to earth; they challenge us; they make all the difference. The more we remember that we are working with people, first and foremost, the more enriching, engaging, educative experience we’ll have as teachers.
To begin: We learn from those we trust. Whether online or face-to-face, students thrive in accessible, inclusive classroom environments in which they feel trust because they are supported, affirmed, and included. You can build an accessible, inclusive classroom environment from day one—from before day one. First-Year Writing has included many inclusive policies on its standard syllabi, and you are encouraged to consult the following materials to help frame your classroom environment and teaching practice in terms of access and inclusion.
Communications.Provide your students with a letter introducing yourself and the course on day one. Talk about course goals and practices (ie, regular in-class writing); mention what you’re studying, researching, and writing; and share a few things that you are comfortable sharing about yourself (a hobby, favorite authors, music). Ask them to write back to you, and model their letters on yours. Indicate that they should share only what they are comfortable sharing. And learn your students’ names as quickly as possible by having them sit in the same seats every day, at least for the first couple of weeks of class. Create a seating chart, and call on them by name.
Guide to Creating Accessible Learning Environments
Moving beyond gender binaries. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teaching-beyond-the-gender-binary-in-the-university-classroom/
Affinity bias and implicit bias. Consider how this may be manifest in your students—and yourself. For resources, please visit https://perception.org/research/implicit-bias/and https://podojo.com/unconscious-bias-the-affinity-bias/.
Stereotype threat. Affirmation/encouragement is a way to help mitigate stereotype threat. Please visit https://perception.org/blog/solutionsmonday-lessening-stereotype-threat/.
Advocacy/support from day one. https://teachinghub.as.ua.edu/faculty-blog/difficult-students/the-disappearing-student-how-we-can-support-students-battling-depression-and-anxiety/
This is a partial list. Please don’t hesitate to share your own best practices and resources.
Tips for Syllabus Building
Watch your language. There’s a world of difference in moving from the second and third person (‘you,’ ‘student’) to the first.
Pay attention to policies.Many of these are shared by the program, and as such are ‘hard baked’ into your OIRA syllabus. Others are not. One of these is your late/missing work policy. When you write it, avoid anything that’s draconian. Remember that we all need extra time, sometimes, for all kinds of reasons. For example, you can encourage students to communicate their needs promptly so that you can negotiate new deadlines with them.
Two Sample Policies:
- If you require a deadline extension, please e-mail me by 11:59 p.m. of the night prior to the due date so that we can negotiate an acceptable arrangement. I will grant all advance deadline extension requests, and I will not penalize you for requesting them. However, please note that you are limited to three such requests this semester. Important: You cannot request a deadline extension for your final paper/project.
- If you miss a deadline without having informed me in advance, I will deduct X number of points from your assignment for each day it is late. I will continue deducting that number of points each day until I reach zero—so please be sure to submit your work as soon as possible, as it is still possible to earn points on late work. Important: Any work submitted past the final minute of the final exam will earn an automatic zero.
Availability/Office Hours. Work out your availability outside of class (which is a must; students will often have questions they won’t ask in class, but will ask you one-to-one): Where and when? How will you phrase/present this information? Does ‘office hours’ convey what you wish it to convey? Students highly value instructor accessibility outside of regular class time.
Note: The FWP does not require you to hold office hours for a certain number of hours. We’ve found that if you indicate that you are available ‘by appointment,’ that’s usually enough.
Classroom etiquette. Work out a collectively authored class etiquette statement. This makes civility and respect a shared responsibility. Please visit https://teachinghub.as.ua.edu/faculty-blog/repost-how-to-foster-an-inclusive-classroom-with-a-constitution/
Disability statement. The following can be added to the standard disability statement:
- My course is intended to be inclusive for all University of Alabama students. If you have any kind of disability, whether apparent or non-apparent, learning, emotional, physical, or cognitive, and you need accommodations or alternatives to lectures, assignments, or exams, please feel free to contact me to discuss reasonable accommodations for your access needs. If, at any point in the term, you find yourself not able to fully access the space, content, and experience of this course you are welcome to contact me by email, phone, or during office hours to discuss your specific needs.
- I also encourage you to contact the Office of Disability Services (Office of Disability Services, 1000 Houser Hall; 205 348-4285; 205-348-3081 – TTY; email@example.com). If you have a diagnosis, ODS can help you document your needs and create an accommodation plan. By making a plan through ODS you can ensure appropriate accommodations without disclosing your condition or diagnosis to course instructors.
Diversity statement.We ask that you add a diversity statement, such as the one shown below, to your syllabus:
- One of the University of Alabama’s greatest strengths is our diverse student body. Together we represent regional, international, racial, gender, physical, cognitive, socio-economic, cultural, and religious diversity; bringing these diverse perspectives together in the classroom is a valuable resource and opportunity for us to understand and learn from our campus community. To ensure that all perspectives/identities/worldviews are respected and valued in class, please note the following:
- Please let me know if something said or done in the classroom, by either myself or others, causes offense or discomfort. Likewise, please let me know if something outside of class is preventing you from fully engaging with the course.
- Please offer your viewpoints! If you have a question or concern, chances are another student in the class is having a similar experience. By speaking up (either in class, privately via email or office hours, or anonymously) you are potentially helping your classmates. If you do not feel comfortable discussing the issue with me, please notify your advisor, a trusted faculty member, or a peer. I encourage you to advocate for an inclusive experience at the University of Alabama.
- Should you need assistance in acquiring or accessing course materials (technology and books, for example) please speak with me privately. I am happy to provide assistance so that all students have access to required materials.
Basic needs statement.Please include the following as well:
- If you are facing challenges securing food or housing and believe this will affect your performance, please speak with me privately, and I’ll direct you to resources.
Let’s start with a couple of quick-and-dirty hits. First, an essay on preparing to teach without overpreparing:‘How to Prepare for Class Without Overpreparing’ And for an essay that captures several best practices in college writing courses, please see “We Know What Works in Teaching Composition”
The last bullet point in the Chronicle article is critical: Everything you do in a composition course should be focused on students and their writing. Everything works in service to those ends. We’ve spent some time considering students. Now, let’s look at what they will be writing.
The FWP has a set of ‘outcomes’ shown on all syllabi (that is, these are baked in). An outcome is a result, or in this case, a set of desired results. By the end of the semester, your students will
- Develop a repertoire of diverse rhetorical strategies that will enable them to assess and appropriately respond to each assignment’s genre, audience, and purpose;
- Demonstrate in writing a strong command of critical thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, interpretation, and evaluation;
- Compose essays by working through multiple drafts; by participating in opportunities for peer and instructor feedback; by applying that feedback in revisions; and, in general, treating the composition of any written text as a deliberate and recursive process;
- Employ grammar, punctuation, mechanics, usage, and basic citation and paper formatting in a manner appropriate to the genre and assignment being composed.
- Reflect, in writing, on their development as writers.
These outcomes should be familiar to you, because you practice them on a regular basis, even if you don’t use the above language to describe them. You write in different ways for different purposes for different audiences: That’s ‘diverse rhetorical strategies,’ and that’s why our program spans several genres, ranging from creative to academic. You write thoughtfully (‘critical thinking’). You revise, over and over. You consider sentence-level practices, or what some folks like to call standards. That is to say, you might not capitalize in a poem or text, but you will in a formal letter of application. But that’s just the beginning. As Horner et al note,
- We can and should teach standards, but precisely as historical, variable, and negotiable. This will help to demystify (and lessen confusion among students about) what these standards are, and will make students feel a greater sense of responsibility, as writers, for the writing practices they engage in. (See Horner et al, “Language Difference in Writing”).
And you’re always, always, always thinking about what you’ve written, and how it measures up, or doesn’t measure up, and how that reflects your own growth and development as a writer.
So in teaching First-Year Writing, you are—conceptually, at least—formalizing much of your current practices as a writer. And you are sharing those practices with your students, and in so doing helping them understand not only how college-level writing works, but also how they function as writers. They may not understand that right now. They may claim to loathe and despise writing. But that’s just where you come in. You are helping them begin to identify, however tentatively, and often for the first time, as writers.
Let’s unpack that—not in the spirit of making things more complicated, but just the opposite. To achieve these outcomes, you’ll put four key classroom practices into play: modeling, discussing, drafting, and reflecting. These are not very complicated moves—and you’ll find yourself repeating them, day in, day out. These moves privilege the daily give-and-take of a working classroom, regardless of configuration; they construct the writing classroom as a space for writers, as a site of care and craft and conversation, of support and challenge, of messiness, discovery, and innovation. I think it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of these simple, familiar truths that dwell at the very heart of the teaching profession.
Practice One: Modeling
When we think of a model in a writing classroom, we’re usually thinking of a model text, an aspirational piece of writing that gives students a sense of what to aim for as they write.
That’s a really important aspect of teaching, to be sure, but in light of current events I want you to first think first of yourselves as models of listening, empathy, and support. You are teaching at a time of crisis, so acknowledge that, and position yourself as someone who is empathetic, listening, available. See Vanderbilt’s article on “Teaching in Times of Crisis.”
Next, make use of model texts—texts that in some way demonstrate the features that you are trying to teach.
On the assignment sheet, locate the key features you’ll be teaching. For example, if you’re teaching a memoir, you may wish to emphasize vivid detail, a well-told story, and clear significance. These will be your focal points for the coming unit. Next, find an example of a memoir that exemplifies these qualities. There are several in Analog, the anthology of UA student writing. (A bonus for using Analog: students respond better to each other’s writing than they do to professionally authored works. You can read the thinking behind the Analog anthology in the introduction).
As you prepare, find examples of vivid detail, significance, and a well-told story in the memoir you’ve chosen. If you’re working with ‘Growth from Decay,’ for example, note how the author talks about his dad polishing off a bottle of Yukon Jack (detail) and creates parallels between his relationship with his dad and the characters on The Walking Dead. Note, too, the features of the story that make it ‘well-told’: there is tension, conflict, even violence, and ultimately an uneasy truce.
It would be all very well and good for you to lecture your students on these key features, and you certainly could; but I’m a big proponent of opening up the floor to discussion (which we’ll detail shortly). You might consider pairing up your students and encouraging them to find clear examples of good detail, significance, and the narrative elements that make ‘Growth’ a compelling read. Give each group time to work and discuss—not too much time; five minutes or so—and then bring everyone back together. Go around the room. Hear from each group. Write their contributions on the board. Note trends, patterns, similarities, linkages between their responses.
Alternatively, you might hold a discussion on ‘what makes writing good’—a discussion you could revisit periodically throughout the semester. Derive mutually acceptable criteria for good writing from those discussions, use it on your assignment sheets and in your grading, and apply those criteria to ‘Growth’ or any piece of writing you come across this semester. You’ll be surprised at how much students bring to that discussion. Ask them: Why these criteria, and not those? Where does writing sample ‘x’ meet these criteria, and to what extent? What could the writer have done to have better fulfilled those criteria? And: What of the labor a writer invests in their work? Should that count, and how should it? Be prepared to let these criteria evolve, breathe, throughout the semester, as your students become increasingly invested in the course.
Then, and this is big: Ask them to think about these features within their own memoirs. What details will help them tell their story? Why do they want to tell their stories (other than for the sake of a grade on a college paper)? How will they tell their stories? How will they know their writing is ‘good’? (And this opens up discussions of genre and scene building, which you can learn more about in the ‘memoir’ unit in the Norton Field Guide).
Use time in class for writing—set your students loose on building, say, a specific scene within their memoirs. Give twenty minutes or so. Ask for volunteers to share their work. Ask all listening to just listen, without judgement, just to hear, to get a sense of the kind of ideas that are in circulation. You’ll often find that students need to hear each other’s work so that they get a sense of how the assignment is being interpreted and acted upon. They find this very reassuring; it helps build their confidence and creativity.
Repeat this exercise as often as possible: Identify the criteria you want to teach, find it in a text (preferably written by a student), ask students to discuss it, have students write in the same vein, ask volunteers to share their work, ask everyone else to listen, let the young writers in your class be inspired, and so forth.
Additional resource: Whitaker—‘Best Practices in Teaching Writing’
Practice Two: Discussing
To build on much of what I’ve already noted in the ‘Modeling’ section, I’m going to ask you to think of yourself as a facilitator of active learning, someone who, instead of trying to have all the answers, helps students become active agents in their own learning. Here’s what we mean by ‘active learning’: You’re helping your students develop skills, and engage in work that helps them think, and, at the end of the day, come out of your class with a surer, more confident sense of themselves as writers. Active learning is ‘doing’ learning. Contrast this with a lecture-based model, in which you are spending hours preparing notes and reading them in a room full of young people who probably aren’t even listening.
To learn more, visit Vanderbilt Center for Teaching and Learning’s Explanation of Active Learning.
And to learn more about how to set up a classroom in which active learning can more naturally occur, visit 20 Ways to Setup a Classroom to Help Your Students Think and Active Learning Classrooms.
As you work to develop active learning teaching strategies, consider a few of these discussion techniques
And these: ‘Interactive Techniques’
And these: “The Dreaded Discussion.” Note that while some of the content is a little out of date, the techniques stand the test of time.
Discussion also occurs in three additional settings: instructor conferences, peer reviews, and in-class writing workshops. Let’s go one at a time, beginning with…
Take a week for a round of conferences, and plan on one round of conferences per unit. Conferences should take the place of class, and should be mandatory. Be sure that your students understand that class is not canceled during conference week. Class will take a different form—one-to-one instruction, which is one of the most powerful forms of teaching there is.
Take care to meet only during weekdays (no weekends), and only on campus, and only in public areas (if you’re Zooming, of course, this is a moot point). I say ‘mandatory’ because many students will not come visit you otherwise. Again, that’s not you; you’ll find that many of your students don’t yet understand the value of speaking with their instructors outside of class.
Your student should bring a draft (I usually suggest something manageable, something I can get through quickly, something in the neighborhood of 250-500 words) and any question she has about it. You’ll skim her draft, and use your reading to answer her question. She’ll respond to you. This should take no more than ten minutes per student.
A variation: You might break students into groups of two or three, and have small conferences with each group. I’ve found that this strategy really helps students learn to talk about writing with each other in a low-stakes environment.
Whatever conference format you choose, it should not be an extensive editing session, but, instead, a way for you and your students to begin building your working relationship—which is to say, you are going to be learning how communicate with, and ultimately trust, each other. This may also be the first time your student has been asked to talk about her written work, and it may be the first time you’ve been asked to offer oral feedback on written work. (This may look like no big deal, but in reality, it is a pretty big deal!).
I should note, too, that conferences actually save you considerable time when grading, as you will be giving feedback in process, when the student is motivated to create the strongest possible draft—not when the draft is complete. Along these lines, conferencing helps ensure that the papers you do grade will be much stronger. Additionally, conferences can help you identify issues in your students’ work, such as struggles with synthesizing information and citation format. This may help cut down on issues with unintentional or intentional plagiarism.
For some more information about holding productive conferences, please see Donald Murray’s ‘The Listening Eye’
Peer review is a powerful tool for teaching writing, as it gives students practice in listening and responding critically to each other’s work. As you know, this sort of critical acumen is vital to any writer’s growth: which is to say, learning to critique makes us better creators. Peer review helps us better understand what works and what doesn’t in any given piece of writing. Peer review makes us more attuned to how other writers think. And peer review compels us to reflect on our own practices. A good peer reviewer, in sum, contributes to knowledge: knowledge of a written work, as well as how writers work.
A problem with peer review, however, is that many students don’t trust it; they feel that responding to their work is your job, not their classmates. And they have a point, as many peer reviews (and here I encourage you to read the articles referenced below) lack structure, clear outcomes, and a sense of strategy. With the articles shown below, I suggest making the goals of each peer review session abundantly clear, and I suggest you ask each peer reviewer to summarize their session in writing.
I like to start small, with the assumption that most students have not had positive past experiences with peer reviews. I group students into twos, and ask each student to read her draft to her peer. That’s all for session one. I want them to experience the work of sharing the same words (out loud) at the same time. And I want them to listen without prejudice, without comment—again, just to get the experience of sharing words with each other.
In a subsequent session, often in the very next period, I’ll ask them to share drafts again, but this time I’ll ask them to indicate just one thing, one specific thing, they like about their peer’s work. Specificity is key. They can’t just say ‘I liked it.’ They have to indicate what they liked, and where they liked is on the page, and why they liked it.
In the next session, I’ll ask them to read aloud to each other (note that I am saying ‘read aloud,’ and note that I am not saying ‘exchange drafts’—they need to hear each other’s words, and they need to focus solely on one draft at a time), and then to indicate a like, and where, and why, and then ask a question: about something that happened, something that was unclear, something that didn’t quite seem to work, etc., and indicate, again, what, where, why. And so on.
As you move forward, you’ll find your students gaining more confidence in this process, and you’ll find that they know their own drafts, and each other’s drafts, quite well. You should in turn build peer reviews around the very material you’re teaching, so go back to your assignment sheet and work out just what it is you’re teaching in this unit, and adapt your peer review to that. (This probably won’t happen until at least unit two, because don’t forget: You’re teaching not only ‘peer review’ but the process of peer review, and that takes time and patience).
Brammer and Rees, ‘Peer Review from the Student’s Perspective’
Nilson, ‘Improving Student Peer Feedback’
The purpose of a workshop is to use student work in progress to model, comment upon, and emphasize/constructively critique writing practice. Share portions of 2-3 student drafts with the class. You will have students who will want to share—you will. The key is how you ask. Don’t ask for volunteers in front of the whole class. Instead, approach students individually, before or after class, during the week before your next workshop, and gauge their interest. You might do this during conferences—often students who are making good progress, and sometimes those who are struggling, will welcome this opportunity to receive peer feedback.
At the start of workshop, ask each student, in turn, to comment on her vision and process, and ask each student, in turn, to raise any questions about her work for the rest of the class to discuss (ie, ‘How can I make it ‘flow’ better?’ ‘Can you understand the what I’m trying to convey here?’). Read that portion of the student’s work aloud, and ask the rest of the class for feedback (this may be a good time to talk about what constructive criticism is). Have your students short writing prompt at the end of the activity, indicating their takeaways. You’ll find that all students benefit. Those who’ve shared their work will have some obvious takeaways, but those who haven’t shared will also leave class with a stronger sense of you, their teacher, as a reading audience—your preferences, your idiosyncrasies. And all will have a better sense of what it means to talk about written work in progress.
Practice Three: Drafting
I’d be remiss if I didn’t begin this section with Donald Murray, who along with Peter Elbow has been instrumental to my own pedagogy. Murray asks us to remember that writing is a process, a truism to which we might say, ‘So what?’ Yet Murray breaks that process down in a manner that is easy to understand and, to an extent, easy to teach. I say ‘to an extent’ because teaching as per Murray means we need to remove a lot of the preconceptions we may have about how teachers, students, and classrooms actually function—or ‘particularly’ function, within the context of writing instruction.
Murray reminds us that writing is a process that we need to be present to at all times. This sounds simple, but it isn’t. Writers need to write—each and every period—and teachers need to understand that that writing can and will be messy, experimental, searching. It’s not linear, and it often has a mind of its own. And that’s OK. Our job is to support our student-writers as they begin making their way into college-level discourse communities. We need to plunge recklessly ahead with them, and be prepared to pull back as they realize that whoops, that was a false start. We need to help them celebrate their triumphs—if only a well-chosen word, or the mere germ of an idea—and move on from miscues.
Murray builds on this by telling us that the primary text in a writing course should be student writing. Period. Don’t waste your students’ time with the latest thing you read in The Atlantic. I promise you, I swear by all that is true and dear to me, they won’t read it and they won’t care. Let them read each other’s work. Let that work be the grist of your class’s mill. Murray teaches us that students should find their own subjects, write using their own language and in their own voice (and our assignment sequence allows this), write as much as possible until they find their subjects and their appropriate treatments of those subjects. Murray reminds us that students are individuals, each of whom needs to practice writing somewhat differently, and that’s OK. For Murray, the drafting process is never complete, and is comprised not of absolutes but alternatives.
Read Donald Murray’s ‘Teach Writing as a Process not Product’
Let me also suggest creating writing peers, or creating peer writing groups. This can create a sense of accountability among your students, which may be of particular value in a hybrid or online setting. Peer writing groups can improve students’ knowledge, attitudes and skills. They create opportunities for collaboration and involvement, and help students learn to communicate about writing: provided, of course, that purposes and roles are clearly defined.
Learn more in Wendy Bishop’s “Helping Peer Writing Groups Succeed”
Practice Four: Reflecting
When you write, you’re in a perpetual state of reflection. You reflect on your ideas, your expression of those ideas, your potential readers and their potential reception of your ideas, and so forth. Reflection is a highly rhetorical act, one that takes into account message, purpose, audience, and messenger, sometimes simultaneously. Much the same can be said about teaching writing. The classroom should be a space of ongoing reflection, often on a daily basis—student writers need to think about what they’ve learned, and what they need to learn, and they need to reflect carefully on what their writing, and the writing of their classmates, teaches them. By inviting your students to reflect, you’re inviting them to grow as writers.
Reflection, again, should be ongoing, a daily task. I often ask my students to write for a few minutes at the start of class and indicate how much progress they’ve made on their essays, and where they feel they could use some additional assistance or specific strategies. Sometimes I’ll collect their writing and teach an entire class around the issues they’ve raised…you can call this crowdsourced teaching, or on-demand teaching. A more sophisticated extension of this model is ‘just in time teaching.’
You can ask students to reflect after a peer review (what did they learn? how will they apply what they learned to their work in progress?); prior to starting a new writing assignment (what are their concerns? what do they feel most prepared to handle?); just before turning in that writing assignment (what did they do well? what still needs work? if they had 24 more hours, what would they work on?); at the start of the semester (what are their habits of mind [see theNorton Field Guide]? what habits of mind would they like to develop in your course?); and of course, at the end of the semester (to what extent have they met the course outcomes? what are their strengths as writers? what would they like to work on in the future?).
Reflection can scaffold the entire semester. I often like to use instructor conferences to encourage students to reflect on their work in progress, and tell me what they think is working well and what needs to work better. I can then tailor my responses accordingly. And my students always surprise me with the depth of their knowledge of their own written work. They often know it better than I thought, and that ability to see it clearly helps drive their continued drafting.
One of my favorite forms of reflection—and one that saves me enormous amounts of time when I grade—is a dialogic self-assessment. In this document I ask students to evaluate their papers just prior to submission by using the assignment criteria. They can write as much or as little as they like (although I find they write a lot more if they use electronic copy; with hard copy, they just fill in the boxes). They have the option of rating their work on a scale of 1-4. There is also space for me to respond with my own comments, which very often mirror or extend the very things we’ve talked about during conferences and workshops. And there is space for my numerical rating and a grade. I find that this technique encourages students to think carefully and critically about their work. To the extent that they discuss their work in terms of course outcomes, the self-assessment helps them recognize the larger purposes of the course—which far transcend the course, of course. Finally, it’s worth noting that this assessment is ‘dialogic,’ an extension of the conversation about writing that’s been taking place all semester long.
Sample Dialogic Assessment Form
It would be easy to dismiss this activity with the charge that students merely use it to argue that their work is ‘great’ and should receive an ‘A,’ regardless of its actual merit. This is why it’s important make the language of grading/assessment clear to your students from the get go: help them understand each one of the criteria that goes into their papers, and reinforce those criteria in your teaching, so they are prepared to critically engage those criteria. I would also suggest modeling an example of a sound dialogic self-assessment, and one that is perhaps thinner and less substantial. Let your students see and examine and interrogate aspirational texts, not just of their papers, but of any written work you assign.
Another powerful tool for reflection is the grading contract, which extends and magnifies the virtues of a dialogic assessment. John Warner has posted a series of blog entries at Inside Higher Ed, detailing his experience with grading contracts.
This strategy privileges what you as the instructor truly value in your students’ writing, and provides students with greater agency in the grading process. Other teacher-scholars—Asao Inoue and Peter Elbow, especially—have done some really good work on contracts as well (see Inoue’s Labor-Based Grading Contracts as well as his blog; and Elbow’s contract for grading in First-Year Writing.
We are as a program still working out how to include grading contracts, but one element you may wish to consider is an end of semester reflection, per Dr. Kefaya Diab’s example.