Since this course was a Communication Intensive (CI-H) class at MIT, the students had to turn in multiple writing assignments that reflected their understanding of education as well as their ability to craft supported arguments. The following are three of the strategies we used to get students more engaged in their writing.
We tried to construct writing prompts that the students could really engage with. We wanted students to take a stand on some issue, form an argument, and incorporate unique evidence to support that argument. We encouraged students to weave in their own experiences and to share unique insights they'd gained throughout their lives.
For every writing assignment, students were required to anonymously review another student’s paper online through Moodle. The process of peer reviewing was really beneficial for both the reviewee and the reviewer.
As reviewees, this process meant more feedback and a more diverse audience for their work. The course instructors graded the papers and provided feedback, but a lot of students also wanted to see what other students thought of their work. When instructors are solely in charge of grading, I think students often think, "I'm just going to write what I think the teacher wants to hear me say." But when students are writing beyond a classroom setting, they’re not typically writing for an audience of one; they're writing for a broader audience. Incorporating peer review forced the students to think, "I need to write for everybody in the class because any of my classmates could be giving me feedback." This changed the students’ perspectives as they were writing.
As reviewers, students had the opportunity to practice evaluating work and providing insightful feedback – two highly important skills.
To guide the students' scoring and delivery of feedback during peer review, we gave them a carefully defined rubric for each prompt. Each of the rubrics consisted of three key points that students used in their assessments of the papers. Students were expected to score and give constructive feedback based on the rubric and its key points.
Since this was a CI-H course, we had a writing advisor, Jo-Ann Graziano, who worked with students early on in the writing process. I think this really made a huge difference. We found that students shifted from simply being descriptive to really having a solid thesis and making substantial arguments in their papers after they'd met with the writing tutor.