Before the Semester Begins

  1. Emphasize in your syllabus the writing process over the product.  Include a sequence of steps and revision as parts of the assignments you design.  Break down the sequence into manageable-size elements and award their completion of each step with some points toward their final paper grade.  Requiring more steps or drafts doesn't increase workload; it affords multiple opportunities for you or peer responders to intervene, and thus may decrease workload by catching problems or rewarding successes early on.
  2. Consider a writing portfolio.  Portfolios include multiple drafts and final versions of several assignments, along with the writer's reflections on writing, revising, and learning.  Portfolios demonstrate the writer's growth and development over time.  They encourage student self-reflection (or "metacognition") about themselves as writers that results in both better writing and more development as writers.  Student portfolios are also generally considered to be durable—they stick with students as meaningful learning experiences long after the semester ends.  And for instructors, portfolios shift the actual grading to the end of the semester.  Digital or E-portfolios are very easy to set up and manage.
  3. Temper "writing in the disciplines" assignments with "writing to learn" activities.  "Writing in the disciplines" assignments are designed to introduce or give students practice with the language conventions of a discipline as well as with specific formats typical of a given discipline.   By contrast, "writing to learn" activities are short, informal writing tasks that help students think through key concepts or ideas presented in a course. Often, these writing tasks are limited to less than five minutes of class time or are assigned as brief, out-of-class assignments.  They may be collected and graded/ungraded, shared with a peer, or for the writer's eyes only.  Research shows students gain as much in content-based learning from the latter as the former, and writing to learn activities are far easier to read and respond to because of their informal, often conversational focus.
  4. Encourage students to think of the writing assignments you give as connected, or fashion course writing as elements of one longer project.  As one WI courses website put it, "Students often benefit most when the work of the semester can be conceived as one project, phased in stages or logical sequences. Moving through a logical sequence of assignments is one way to increase the level of conceptual difficulty gradually, and to ensure that students build on material they have studied in earlier portions of the syllabus. It is more cost-effective for instructors as well, since in some cases they will have seen and responded to smaller components of a project before the cumulative work comes in."