These writing assessment guidelines are premised on the idea that students learn to write not only by taking composition courses but also by taking writing-intensive courses in the disciplines. It is also based on the notion that writing across the curriculum is driven by the assessment of learning outcomes. As an instructor and advisor you have an important role to play in helping students develop writing skills. This guide is designed to acquaint you with writing assessment and writing across the curriculum efforts at UAS. We hope that you will find it helpful as you prepare and deliver your courses this year.
Rod Landis and Emily Wall are Co-Directors of Composition for the 2014-2015 academic year. They are available to consult with faculty on a variety of issues related to writing assessment, writing across the curriculum, and the B.A. in English degree.
Paul 507, Ketchikan Campus
UAS Learning and Writing Center
The Roberta Stell Learning and Writing Center, located in the Egan Library, provides placement testing for UAS students. At the Writing Center students receive assistance from both instructors and peer tutors on improving their writing skills, revising their papers, and developing their portfolios. Tutoring in writing focuses on helping students at all stages of the writing process: prewriting, drafting, and editing. All Writing Center services, instruction, and materials are provided free of cost. Please call (907) 796-6348 for more information. Learning centers are also available on the Ketchikan Campus (907-228-4560) and the Sitka Campus (907-747-7717).
Assessment of Basic Writing Competency
• Placement Testing & Advising
All new and transfer students who have not completed English GERs must complete placement testing in English before registering for their first semester of classes. To take placement tests, students must go to the UAS Learning and Testing Center. It is highly recommended that transfer students take placement tests regardless of whether or not they have completed the English GERs. This will provide them with an accurate assessment of their writing skills so that they can be advised appropriately.
• English 110 Portfolio
About a third of UAS students taking the placement exam will qualify to enroll in English 110, Introduction to College Writing, while the others are placed in either English 092 or English 111. English 110 is designed for students who have not yet mastered basic essay organization and editing skills. It prepares students to take English 111, the required freshman composition course at UAS. To ensure that English 110 students achieve basic competency in writing and critical thinking skills, UAS faculty have instituted a required portfolio assessment activity in English 110. Students prepare mid-term and final portfolios of their writing that are reviewed by a panel of regional communications faculty. Students who pass the portfolio review are permitted to enroll in English 111. Those who do not pass are required to re-take English 110.
Important Note: English 110 students learn how to write descriptive, narrative, expository, analytical, and persuasive essays. They do not learn how to write research papers until they take English 111. If you are teaching a course that includes a research paper, you may want to consider requiring English 111 as a prerequisite for your course.
Assessment of Intermediate Writing Competency
• UAS Composition Sequence
All baccalaureate students at UAS are required to take English 111 and either English 211 or English 212. Composition GERs are designed to ensure that students have mastered the fundamentals of academic writing and critical thinking. Analytical and research writing are the emphasis of the composition sequence.
English 111: Methods of Written Communication (3 credits)
Instruction on techniques of essay organization and development, research, and analytical reading and writing. A critical analysis and a research paper are required. Prerequisite: "C" or higher in English 110, or placement test.
English 211: Intermediate Composition: Writing About Literature (3 credits)
This course focuses on understanding and appreciating literature. Students write analyses of at least three works from the various genres (poetry, fiction, drama, film, non-fiction, and/or novel). Traditional literary research among critical sources leads to at least one research paper. Prerequisite: "C" or higher in English 111.
English 212: Technical Writing (3 credits)
Instruction in composition of professional correspondence and technical reports. Develops a broad range of college and career writing skills, including audience analysis, readability, and effective style. Significant critical reading and a major investigative report required. Prerequisite: ENGL S111 (C or higher).
During each academic year, faculty work groups assess composition GER courses. The goal of such assessment activity is to ensure consistency in course requirements and outcomes on a region-and system-wide basis.
Writing Across the Curriculum
Writing across the curriculum is an essential component of writing assessment at UAS. Students learn the fundamentals of written communication in the composition sequence; however, these courses only provide a foundation for the intermediate and advanced skills we would like our baccalaureate programs to foster. The achievement of writing competency is developmental in nature, and consequently, faculty in all disciplines play an important role in helping students learn to write. This doesn't mean all faculty members should become English instructors; rather, it means that they should try to integrate writing into their course assignments and to teach the fundamentals of writing in their disciplines. Likewise, it means that faculty should refer students to the UAS Learning and Writing Center for individualized writing instruction. If you would like to discuss incorporating more writing into your syllabi, contact Rod Landis or Emily Wall, Co-Directors of Composition.
The Writing Process
Professional writers most often do not write documents in a single draft. Research shows that most successful writers follow a series of recursive steps when writing. First, they generate ideas for writing through a prewriting activity. This might involve conversing with others, conducting research, thinking about audience, creating an outline, and/or brainstorming ideas. Next they begin the process of drafting the document, usually revising it in multiple steps. Often they will solicit input from others as they revise their work. Finally, they edit the document carefully, making sure that it possesses the level of polish required by the intended audience.
When designing writing assignments, it is best to reinforce the writing process wherever possible. This helps students create quality papers and develop effective work habits. In the composition sequence, each paper is written in the following steps
- Students brainstorm ideas for writing or present a thesis and outline before the first draft of the paper is due.
- Students turn in an ungraded draft of the paper, which receives extensive written feedback from the instructor. Students may also receive feedback from Learning and Writing Center tutors or from fellow students in peer response workshops.
- Students turn in a second graded draft that receives less extensive feedback from the instructor.
There are many ways to integrate prewriting, drafting, and editing activities into your classroom. Many faculty members require students to submit proposals or annotated bibliographies before submitting first drafts of longer papers. Others schedule peer response workshops or require students to visit the Learning Center when drafting their essays. A good guideline is that the longer and more sophisticated the assignment is, the more intermediate steps you should require students to complete as they work on the paper. For instance, one instructor at UAS requires the following steps for her research paper assignment:
Week 3: Library orientation.
Week 5: Library hands-on session. Research paper topic due.
Week 7: Research paper thesis, outline, and bibliography due.
Week 10: Draft of research paper due. Submit two copies.
Week 11: Peer response workshop.
Week 14: Final draft of research paper due.
Of course, not all writing assignments need to be this involved. Informal writing exercises, such as reading responses and journal entries, need not be written in several drafts. However, it is a good idea to give students the opportunity to write at least one paper in multiple steps.
Communicating Expectations to Students
In the UAS composition sequence, students learn general guidelines for good writing, including how to create an effective thesis, organization, and writing style. However, English faculty members cannot teach the conventions of writing in the disciplines. Discipline faculty members are experts on the conventions and expectations for writing in their fields. There are many ways faculty members can clearly communicate these conventions and expectations to students. You may want to
- Create a handout for each paper assignment you require in your course. The assignment sheet might include (1) due dates, (2) description of the assignment, (3) specific guidelines for how the paper should be organized and formatted, (4) steps the student should follow in carrying out the assignment, (5) grading criteria, or (6) a list or resources available for completing the assignment. The longer or more sophisticated the assignment is, the more detailed and specific the assignment sheet should be. See sample in Appendix B.
- Require or recommend that students purchase a writing handbook that is specific to your discipline (e.g., MLA, APA, CBE). For lower-division courses you might recommend that they purchase Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference (currently in its 8th edition), the handbook required in most composition courses at UAS.
- Provide students with a sample paper for each of their formal writing assignments. Discuss with students what makes the paper a good example of writing in your discipline or successful in terms of fulfilling the assignment.
- Provide students with an evaluation rubric that shows the criteria you will use when grading their writing. See sample in Appendix C.
Written feedback is another important means of communicating your expectations to students. This doesn't mean that you need to edit your students’ papers. What it means is that you provide commentary that will help students develop the kind of papers that are appropriate for college-level writing. If students have editing problems, you can send them to the Learning and Writing Center to work on these issues. Here are some other strategies for commenting on student writing
- Students generally do not read (or at any rate pay attention to) instructor comments on graded drafts. For this reason, you may want to consider commenting extensively on ungraded rough drafts of papers and only writing brief commentary on graded final drafts.
- If you feel comfortable responding to grammar issues in student writing, it is best to focus only on one or two types of error per paper. Otherwise, students will simply make your corrections without looking for patterns of error in their writing. If you don’t feel comfortable marking grammatical errors, simply refer the student to the Learning Center to work with a tutor. Help students gain an awareness of their writing skills and problems.
- Provide students with the opportunity to comment on each other’s papers. On the day a draft is due, require students to bring a couple of extra copies to exchange with fellow students. Provide the students with guidelines that will help them focus their commentary on fellow students’ papers. During the next class period, provide students with fifteen or twenty minutes to exchange oral and written feedback with each other. Help students learn to garner feedback for their writings.
- When grading papers, consider marking "Rewrite" (instead of a grade) on papers that do not meet your minimum expectations for the assignment. Then mandate that the student revise the essay with the assistance of a Learning and Writing Center tutor before resubmitting it for a grade.
Many students come to college with a lack of understanding of plagiarism and a lack of adequate practice in differentiating their own thoughts from those of a research source. This leads to papers that are plagiarized. Though students learn the fundamentals of proper citation and the use of sources in the composition sequence, these skills must be reinforced across the curriculum. Here are some strategies for preventing plagiarism that you might want to consider
- Define and explain the consequences of plagiarism in your syllabus.
- Provide an example of a plagiarized paragraph in class and explain how to correct it.
- Require students to submit an ungraded draft of their research paper and then require them to revise it based on your commentary.
- Require students to turn in photocopies of all sources consulted. For books or long reports, you can simply require them to turn in copies of the pages they cite.
- Keep a departmental file of suspected plagiarized papers.
In order to accuse a student of plagiarism, a faculty member must have documentary proof that plagiarism has occurred. If you have found proof of plagiarism, it is best to consult with your department chair before confronting the student.
Appendix A: Sample Assignment Sheet
This paper assignment is meant to enhance your theoretical knowledge about a specific technique of writing instruction and to make you more knowledgeable about its practical implications in the classroom. Toward the end of September, you should identify a paper topic that particularly interests you. A list of possible topics will be distributed in class. You will then write a 5- to 7-page paper that explores recent research on the topic you have selected. At the end of the semester you will give a 10- to 15-minute presentation based on your research findings.
- An explanation of your interest in this teaching strategy, what you knew before undertaking the research and what you wanted to learn.
- A brief discussion of the educational theory behind this teaching strategy.
- A discussion of how this theoretical base can be translated into practice in the classroom, both at your level of teaching interest and at least one other level. For example, if you are exploring the use of "talk-write" at the primary level, you would also include how teaching strategies in this area might change in higher-level elementary classrooms.
- A sample lesson plan that includes
- The thesis is clearly stated. It makes a point that is thought provoking and reflects critical thinking.
- The organization is clear, efficient, focused, and engaging.
- Topic sentences and transitions are used effectively to introduce and link body paragraphs.
- Examples, quotes, images, or other specific details are used effectively as support for the essay’s thesis and topic sentences.
- Language is precise, appropriate, fresh, and vivid.
- Sentence structure is economical, varied, and elegant.
- There are virtually no errors in proofreading, grammar, punctuation, and syntax.
- The thesis is clearly stated, but it may lack the originality or critical thinking of the thesis in the "A" paper.
- The organization is for the most part clear and focused. The paper may demonstrate some minor breaks in focus or some looseness in structure.
- Topic sentences and transitions are for the most part used effectively to introduce and link body paragraphs. There may be occasional problems with essay coherence but not enough to distract the reader significantly.
- Examples, quotes, images, or other specific details are used as support for the essay’s thesis and topic sentences. However, the thesis is not developed as fully or effectively as in the "A" paper.
- Language is for the most part precise and appropriate.
- Sentence structure is for the most part economical and varied.
- There are some minor errors in proofreading, grammar, punctuation, and syntax. However, these errors do not significantly distract the reader.
- The thesis is adequately stated.
- An organizational scheme is present but is somewhat sketchy and/or hard to follow.
- Topic sentences are sometimes inadequate and transitions between paragraphs are abrupt.
- Examples, quotes, images, or other specific details are used but only to a minimal extent.
- Paragraphs are sometimes choppy and underdeveloped.
- Language is sometimes wordy, vague, unoriginal, and repetitive.
- Sentence structure is sometimes repetitive or hard to follow.
- There are errors in proofreading, grammar, punctuation, and syntax. These errors are somewhat distracting but they do not obscure the essay’s meaning.
- The thesis is unclear.
- An organizational scheme is hard to follow.
- Topic sentences are inadequate and transitions between paragraphs are absent.
- Examples, quotes, images, or other specific details are not used to support the thesis.
- Paragraphs are choppy and underdeveloped.
- Language is wordy, vague, unoriginal, and repetitive.
- Sentence structure is repetitive and hard to follow.
- There are errors in proofreading, grammar, punctuation, and syntax. These errors distract the reader to such an extent that the essay’s meaning is obscured.