WAC Best Practices
Writing can facilitate learning by staging or scaffolding assignments: begin with small, informal pieces that gradually build to the bigger issue raised by the assignment.
- Instructors need not feel the need to read and comment on everything students write: informal writing exercises can be read by peers or used to start class discussion; occasional or random collection can keep instructors in contact with students’ writing without feeling overburdened.
- The level of commenting offered should correspond to the level of importance of the writing activity: an informal piece need not have any response, a response paper might warrant questions for further thought, and a formal essay might elicit comments toward revision.
- Feedback need not only come at the end of an assignment: collect or workshop thesis statements, introductions, or other important discrete portions of writing assignments.
- High-order concerns need attention before low-order concerns: suggestions should facilitate organization, focus, or argument revision before grammar, spelling, and vocabulary edits.
- Writing activities should link with course goals: writing should not be done merely for the sake of writing, but should enforce and promote course-specific learning.
- Students—any learners, really—need orientation into writing in the discipline: writing practices change from discipline to discipline, course to course, or even professor to professor, so be sure to discuss guidelines and expectations.
- Course assignments and other materials are important examples of effective writing: these are high-stakes pieces of writing that inform students about important elements of the course, so thoroughly read, revise, edit, proofread, share with peers, etc, any writing that given to students.
- Technology offers important lessons: take advantage of technologies such as blogs, wikis, social networking, and e-mail to encourage clear, effective writing with very real audiences.
- Reflection is an important element in any discipline: writing offers students an opportunity to reflect on elements of their coursework from what worked well in exam preparation to how they would proceed differently with lab work in the future to how they moved from one draft to the next when writing an essay.
For more in-depth descriptions, review our workshop materials or refer to the faculty handbook. Contact our coordinators if you would like to work personally with a WAC fellow on integrating WAC practices into your classes.
Key concepts to designing tests (Reed, 2002) include. Good test questions:
- Address course objectives, material taught in class, and important skills and concepts
- Provide complete, consistent, and unambiguous instructions
- Present only one correct answer when only is called for
- Are easy for all students to understand
- Do not emphasize the trivial and do not ‘trick’ the students
- Have the correct answers randomly arranged throughout the test for multiple-choice tests
- Don’t provide signals or cues to eliminate incorrect answers
- Highlight a negative word, such as not, to avoid confusion
- Give students the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned, not memorized; and
- Are used to review and reinforce learning (Reed, 2002, p. 31).
Become a Critically Reflective Instructor*
Strategy: Obtain feedback from students on their engagement in the course
Time: (1) About ten minutes of class time
(2) Depending on the number of students, the results may take some time to enter, code, and tabulate, creating categories of responses. The results can also be grouped in broad categories and use stick-counting to tabulate the results, picking out exemplar quotes.
Materials: The [PDF] Critical Incident Questionnaire poses five questions to be answered without having students write their names. The questions are:
Continue reading Teaching Strategy Tip #7
Review with Exam Wrappers*
Strategy: Exam Wrappers direct students to review their performance (and the instructor’s feedback) on an exam to adapt future learning.
Time: Allot time for individual review and general discussion in the session after an exam
Materials: Returned exams
Questionnaire (“exam wrapper”) with three questions
Continue reading Teaching Strategy Tip #29
Provide Targeted Feedback*  — Individual
Strategy: Prioritized information about how students’ performance does or does not meet the criteria so they can understand how to improve their future performance
Process: Instructor with each assignment:
- Prioritizes the feedback: consider “what information will be most useful to students at a particular point in time” (p. 149). Focus on a single dimension of performance at a time
- Balances strengths and weaknesses: consider what aspects of performance must be “maintained and built upon” (p. 149), and “what aspects should be adjusted (and ideally, how)” (p. 149)
- Addresses subsequent performance when students have the capacity to incorporate that feedback into further practice (p. 141)
- Provides more repetition of assignments within the same genre, incorporates feedback into subsequent assignments (p. 141)
Continue reading Teaching Strategy Tip #18
Explain Goals for Performance*
Strategy: Providing explicit goals and criteria for performance
Objective: Prevent students from misinterpreting criteria or misunderstanding goals in what they need to do and learn
- Provide concrete or directive instructions:
- Recognize when a key concept is at issue
- Explain the key concept to solve problems or understand a process
- Explain the key concept to a particular audience
- Create a rubric and share it with students.
- Include the levels of the quality of work produced and
- Extend students’ knowledge of the qualities associated with good work
Continue reading Teaching Strategy Tip #16
Fostering Learning Through Interaction
Adsit (2011) provides tips for lectures that are engaging, informative and participatory.
Audience Engagement and Interactivity
Audience attention wanes after 12-20 minutes. Design your class sessions with “activity breaks” to allow your students to process, review and apply the material that you present.
- Ask a question or pose a problem to be solved individually
- Have students work in pairs or trios on a problem or discuss a question
- Use a video or film clip to illustrate the topic
- Present a case study for discussion
Continue reading Teaching Strategy Tip #31
Anticipate the next session’s topic
Strategy: At the end of a class session early in the semester, the instructor informs the students that they will be asked to write, at the beginning of the next session, responses to questions regarding understanding and agreement.
Process: At the beginning of a class session, students are asked to write two entries on index cards or sheets of paper:
- Question 1: Something they did not understand in the reading
- Question 2: Something they disagreed with in the reading
Continue reading Teaching Strategy Tip #23
Master basic metacognitive processes*
Strategy: Support students’ efforts to evaluate their own knowledge and skills, identifying strengths and weaknesses. Instructors can help students recognize what they do well and where they need improvement in their performance. Learning to assess how to complete a performance task (e.g., project, examination) demands guidance from the instructor and practice by the student.
Process: For every demonstration of performance (ungraded and graded), instructors guide students to:
Continue reading Teaching Strategy Tip #28