Learning by Teaching Others: Writing in a Math-Based Course

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.

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Getting on the Same Page

When I was an undergraduate, I had a course that had a weekly writing assignment. The topic was on the board as we walked into class and the essay was due at the end of the class session. The following class period we got our papers back with a grade at the top, but not a single comment. It was always a mystery to me why I got the grades I got because I had no clear sense of the criteria the professor was using to assign those grades.

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Using Writing In Large-Enrolled Courses

As we’ve explained before, integrating writing into disciplinary courses can happen when we focus not on the formal genres of our disciplines, but on using informal writing activities to help students learn content. These “writing to learn” activities can actually be quite short, even ungraded, and yet be structured in ways that let students work with the content and practice written communication and articulate key concepts in their own words.

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I AM Teaching Writing

Engineers, scientists, managers, pharmacists, doctors, financial consultants, poultry production specialists, farmers, conservationists, teachers, entrepreneurs, electricians. Name any field or profession and you’ll find writing is a key component of what they do. In fact, there’s considerable evidence that no matter what fields our students enter, strong communication skills – especially communication abilities – are what employers look for when hiring and these same communication skills are essential for promotion beyond that entry-level position.

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Nurturing Budding Professionals

Many of our students come to college in order to prepare for a professional career. They need to learn the content that will prepare them for future jobs or graduate study, of course, but they also need to learn how to sound like and think like a member of that profession. Sharon Roberts, Associate Professor of Biology, uses an innovative writing assignment to nurture these budding professionals. Sharon Roberts, Associate Professor of Biology, has developed an assignment for students in her course on virology.

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