Low-Stakes Writing for Student Success

Now that the dust has settled from the first couple weeks of the semester, we’re happy to return to our regular posting schedule for the CETL blog. We hope your semester has gotten off to a good start!

As we enter week three, chances are you’ve had the chance to take the temperature of your classes and see where your students are in terms of willingness and preparation to discuss the material, as well as their level of comfort and familiarity with academic writing. If your experience is anything like mine, it’s likely that there is some work to do in both of these areas. How do we create the space for class discussions that invite all of our students to participate? How do we give our students enough opportunities to develop their writing without overwhelming them with a slew of essay assignments?

There are some techniques we can use to address both of these areas. For discussions, having students free-write on a particular question for a couple of minutes before launching into the actual discussion often leads to more thoughtful responses from a wider range of participants. Students who don’t feel confident enough verbally to respond immediately to a question are now given the time to articulate their points, plan their response, and are thus more likely to participate in the ensuing conversation. Moreover, mixing in brief writing prompts with in-class activities provides students with ample opportunities to practice the type of writing skills we want to help them develop. These discussion prompts, as well as other types of low-stakes writing opportunities, are a great way to improve student writing. If we interleave low-stakes writing among our more formal, higher-stakes writing assignments, students will have the chance to practice certain skills, as well as receive feedback, before completing taks that are attached to a larger portion of their grade.

So how would one go about working these types of low-stakes writing assignments into their practice? There are a nunber of ways to go about doing so, but it’s best to begin with deciding exactly what you want them to accomplish. Are you going to use them to spark discussions? To assess students’ understanding of key concepts? Develop specific writing “moves?” The answers to this type of question will help you discern, for example, how and whether to grade these assignments, or what other uses you might find for them. There are a number of ways that brief, easy-to-incorporate low-stakes writing assignments can work for you. An excellent example comes from Grand View’s own Mike LaGier, who uses assignments called LOPs to help students master specific course concepts.  The Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo maintains a page that has both an excellent list of different low-stakes writing activities (adaptable across disciplines) and methods of assessing them, should you choose to do so. Another excellent resource is the venerable collection put together by Thomas Angelo and K. Patricia Cross, Classroom Assessment Techniques(If you’re interested, we have two copies in the CETL Library!)

Other items of interest for the week:

As I shared briefly at our opening meetings, CETL will be facilitating a Faculty Learning Community this year on Inclusive Pedagogy. Watch your inbox for more information and a call for participants this week. Several folks asked where they could find the book I referenced about student “bandwidth”; you can find it at this link, and we’ll also be ordering a copy for the CETL Library.

CETL is also hosting several workshops on specific topics related to inclusive teaching. The first of these–an interactive workshop on “handling difficult discussions”–is this Thursday, September 13, at 4:00 PM in Rasmussen 217. We’ll look at strategies you can use to foster inclusive and constructive discussions, especially when it comes to difficult or controversial topics.

As we enter a season where our problematic political climate will likely become even more so, information literacy remains pivotally important for us and our students. This summer, David Gooblar wrote an excellent piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education that not only makes the case for teaching it, but offers useful suggestions on how to begin doing so.

Finally, many instructors will be receiving an email regarding student progress reports this week. If you teach any of the courses where a progress report is requested, completing those reports will go a long way towards helping connect our students with the resources they need to succeed, especially if those students are struggling right now.


Have a question? Looking for resources or information? Want to take advantage of the services CETL offers? Contact us by clicking here, emailing kgannon@grandview.edu or calling Kevin at 263-6102.

Find out about all our programming, including when and where sessions will be held, by visiting the Calendar page of our site.

With all of the things on the docket this semester, it will be important to remember to make time for yourself and relax. Let this very chill dog be your reminder/inspiration (turn up the sound).