One of the reasons why writing is considered a “high-impact practice” is because writing typically requires focused attention and time on the task, two components that have been shown to have a positive impact on student engagement and increase their learning. Unfortunately, students too often miss out on this positive learning because they rush to complete a writing assignment at the last minute. As Professor Beverly Marshall from Finance points out, if we want student writing to improve, we may need to help them learn to manage their time. Now, the question is: how do we do that?
Professor Marshall’s assignment, which she shared at last year’s Conversations in Celebration of Teaching, asks students to use all that they’ve learned in studying finance to research and then predict the future of a particular currency. Such work requires higher order thinking skills as students apply concepts, analyze trends, and consider the complex context that surrounds the fluctuations of different currencies. The assignment also asks students to write their conclusions, and the reasons for those conclusions, in a succinct and clear form for a general audience. To complete this assignment, students have to know the content, including where to find the research they will need to do the required analysis. They also have to know how to convey the information and their conclusions in an appropriate form for their audience. But they also need to know how to get the writing tasks done, including managing the time for drafting and revising. These four knowledge domains: content, genre, audience, and writing process are in play in any writing assignment, and Professor Marshall has designed the assignment carefully to balance the degree of challenge with the students’ abilities.
Many of us help students manage the time writing takes, and encourage them to get started earlier, by providing preliminary due dates. Before the final product is submitted for a grade we might ask for:
Any one of these steps can help students realize that they need to get started early on a long project, but instructors can choose a combination that is appropriate to the assignment, the level of the students, and the problems that previous students have had with the assignment in order to bridge the gap between what students are likely to do on their own and what we know they probably need to do to maximize the learning we intend for the assignment.
Faculty can also involve students in articulating the steps a writing assignment will require, the amount of time each step is likely to take, and the deliverables that would hold students accountable and ensure their progress. A few minutes of such a class discussion can help students better plan for the writing process and save faculty time at the moment of evaluation. Seeing the stages of any writing project unfold over time has the added benefits of making it less likely that students will submit work that is not their own and give teachers insights into the too-often invisible process of student thinking so that they can intervene if necessary to redirect or add extra instruction. Scaffolding the writing process as well as the content knowledge can help students internalize the practices of more experienced writers, making drafting and revision habits that students can carry with them into future assignments beyond graduation.
Finally, the Miller Writing Center hosts a “Late Night Against Procrastination” writing event each semester. The event is free and encourages students to get work done early rather than waiting until the last minute and pulling an all nighter.
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