Cultivating Student Writing

To help improve the quality of your students’ writing, you can follow these suggestions for assigning and evaluating their writing.

  1. Explain the purpose of the writing assignment and show how it fits within the goals of your course.
  2. Make your expectations clear in a written version of the assignment.
  3. Present the assignment during class time, and spend a few minutes discussing it.
  4. Specify an audience for each assignment.
  5. Devise a logical sequence of assignments, from the simpler to the more complex.
  6. Divide longer assignments into several steps, collecting parts of the assignment along the way.
  7. Provide students with samples of the kinds of writing you are expecting.
  8. Set high standards for their written work and communicate the criteria of evaluation in advance.
  9. Plan to allow time for revision.
  10. Recommend that your students come to The Writing Center for one-to-one instruction at any stage of the writing process.
  11. Spend some class time discussing examples of successful student papers.
  12. Think of your written comments as a way of helping students see how they can strengthen their ideas through the process of revision.
  13. Some tips for composing effective marginal comments:
    • Marginal comments should refer to both the substance and the style of the paper.
    • Be specific in your comments. Comments such as “vague” or “logic?” do little to help the student see the problem with the writing. Instead, explain why the writing is vague or illogical.
    • Avoid terse queries such as “What?” Instead, explain precisely what the problem is so students can see where their reasoning is faulty.
    • Look for patterns of error instead of overwhelming the student by marking every grammatical mistake.
    • Mark strong passages as well as weak ones.
    • Avoid rewriting for them. Let your comments reveal the problem so the student can come up with her own solutions.
  14. Some tips for composing an effective final comment:
    • Begin by pointing out the paper’s strengths.
    • Comment specifically on the argument, its structure and purpose.
    • Point out the two or three most important ways in which the paper could be improved.
    • Make your comments positive and encouraging.
    • Establish a goal for the next essay.
    • Make certain that your comments model clear, concise writing.
  15. Encourage them!