October 31, 2011

Formative Student Writing Assessment

Everyone who has had an educational pedagogy course has studied formative and summative assessment.

Summative assessment is generally carried out at the end of a course, unit or project and in an educational setting, summative assessments are typically used to assign students a course grade.

Formative assessment is a self-reflective process intended to enhance, recognize and respond to the learning. It is a bi-directional process between teacher and student and should be designed to evaluate students on a frequent basis so that adjustments (by the teacher and by the student) can be made to help them reach target achievement goals.

Much research in the teaching of writing is about the use of formative assessment. Anyone who has taught writing knows how difficult (if not impossible) it is to have a final "test" to measure a student's ability to write.

Formative assessment improves student writing by monitoring it through the prewriting, writing, and revision processes.

I was looking over some notes I made and slipped into a book on assessment years ago. The notes still seem true today as I go into the fifth year of the Writing Initiative at PCCC. Here were my top 10 thoughts while reading that book.
  1. monitor, diagnose, and provide continual feedback to your students
  2. break large writing assignments into several smaller tasks
  3. vary your feedback methods
  4. discuss the myths and realities of writing in an academic setting
  5. make sure students self-assess and reflect orally & in writing on their progress
  6. teachers and students should create and use rubrics and checklists
  7. need to support students in all stages of the writing process
  8. each piece of writing a student creates, no matter how brief, formal or informal, is an opportunity to learn
  9. use individual, small-group, and large-group discussions
  10. feedback is key to a "writing workshop" approach
These are three of the relevant books on my shelf. They are probably intended for K-12 teachers but I find much of it relevant to teaching in higher education, especially at a community college. That is not meant as being at all negative about what we see in colleges today, but it does reflect on the observation that the same issues continue with students from secondary education as they move into higher education. And the same issues exist with the teaching of writing, and to a greater degree, in most college classrooms.

Because Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Our Schools  What Student Writing Teaches Us: FOrmative Assessment in the Writing Workshop  Successful Student Writing Through Formative Assessment

October 27, 2011

Writing Support Online

Back in 2009, I read that the University of Arizona was developing a one-credit online writing course that will be used to supplement their three-credit GenEd (general education) classes.

It's one way to address a problem a problem that occurs on campuses where enrollment is growing and the number of staff and the facilities to support them have not increased.

This is true of many writing centers, and they often have problems meeting the increased demand. For better and for worse, online versions are often seen as an economically feasible solution.

At PCCC, we use eTutoring, but we don't have anything like an online writing center. Since our center only opened in 2009, we are fortunate that our roll out was planned in phases. Since the Center was built to support the writing intensive courses, our student clients increase with each semester. This semester we are running 30 sections of WI courses. By the end of this academic year, we will have about 1000 college-level students in the Center student database.

When the grant ends in September 2012, the Center is designed to become the college-level writing center supporting about 4000 students. (PCCC also has basic skills, EOF and ESL labs.)

An online writing course could be viewed as a form of writing across the disciplines. At UA, the course were introduced as a one-credit supplement to the typical three-credit general education class. It is intended to provide an interactive and self-paced online environment in which students' writing skills are diagnosed and improved.

According to an article on the UA course:
"...the courses will not replace gen-ed classes, but instead will support them with needed writing instruction that is not available in the typical 50 minute lecture period...The online course will offer tutorials on topics in writing not ordinarily covered by professors, such as grammar, drafting a thesis and style and craft. Writing proficiency will be tested by a diagnostic system that will, depending on the student's score, direct him or her signed to target a given problem area. These modules will feature flash animation and other interactive software tailored to the specific skill level of the student.

Thomas Miller, English professor and associate provost of academic affairs, pointed out that the online course will help deal with problems in writing essays before it's too late. He said that students all too often realize they have significant problems in writing only after their papers are returned with a poor grade. Miller added that research on writing pedagogy shows that "students do not read teachers' comments on their papers. They often do not understand comments they read and do not apply them." The online course is intended to remedy this problem by developing students' writing skills before a paper is even assigned to them.The course will "take them through the writing process," Miller said. "It will help them draft a research question or thesis and will include strategic visits to the writing center."
It's an interesting idea. At PCCC, our approach is to try to incorporate these skills into the GenEd courses. We have designed 23 distinct courses so far across al disciplines as writing-intensive. We also strive to better equip those faculty to support their students' writing, as well as sending students to our writing center for face-to-face help and sending them online to use eTutoring.

One reason that we chose this path is because we wanted to also include faculty in the learning process. A good part of our initiative effort goes to professional development. We are trying to help faculty improve their ability to create writing assignments, facilitate assessment and utilize technology to do it.

PCCC, like many other colleges, is looking at putting more courses online each year. Since the Writing Center needs to support them as well as students on two smaller satellite campuses at Wanaque and Passaic, we will also be looking at supplementing writing instruction online.

October 20, 2011

Writing is a daily practice for millions of Americans, but few notice how integral writing has become to daily life in the 21st century. 

To draw attention to the remarkable variety of writing we engage in, and help make writers from all walks of life aware of their own craft, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) created a National Day on Writing.

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution in 2009 declaring October 20 the National Day on Writing.

Today, a gallery of submitted works is opened up for everyone to view a wide variety of pieces.  Many groups, classrooms and writing centers will also be celebrating the day across the country.