Sometimes we teach students to write. Sometimes we use writing to teach something else. Students need practice and guidance to learn the kinds of writing that are valued in different disciplines – memos, lab reports, analytical reports, reviews or summaries of prior research, executive summaries – the forms of writing our students need to learn can keep us, and them, busy for a long time. But sometimes we need to use writing to help students learn the material or skills we’re teaching. The writing to learn approach is especially valuable in courses with a heavy math or technical component as Professor Becky Barlow discusses in this month’s featured video interview.
As we’ve discussed before in WriteBites Online, creating opportunities for students to apply the knowledge and skills we’re teaching them to real world situations can be difficult, but well worth the effort. Dr. Barlow’s innovative assignment also makes use of a truth most teachers already know: we learn more when we teach what we’re learning to someone else. By asking her students to design a hands-on learning experience for elementary students, she combines the power of teaching others with real world application her students are likely to encounter as they move into careers as forest managers or extension agents. How do we come up with such engaging assignments in our own courses? One strategy is to think through what we want students to learn and why we want them to learn it. Then, consider how students will use this information in the future and whether any of these strategies might work for your course.
Dr. Barlow’s interview also illustrates another truth most of us have learned: we can borrow and adapt strategies from other teachers, even other disciplines, rather than trying to create everything on our own. Auburn’s writing initiative aims to create a community of engaged writers, but also a community of engaged teachers. So, join us at the next WriteBites Lunch, check out the resources in our Teaching Writing Library, and register now for the Conversations in Celebration of Teaching, which will feature innovative teaching from across the university.
Need help creating a more engaging assignment? Contact us for a workshop or an individual consultation.