How to Assign Writing When You Don’t Teach Writing

“I don’t teach writing; I teach religious studies. However, I also ask students to write. Sometimes that feels like a bad idea.”

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  • Stress that all writing is improved by drafting, but do not ask students to “correct” their essays and avoid framing the use of language as right or wrong. Instead, ask student to revise their writing (focusing on content, organization, and style) and to edit surface features (grammar, citation, formatting). A simple change is the language you use has an important positive impact on students.
  • Read and respond to those essays only focusing on those few goals (again, do not read for or mark everything). I recommend sending home a statement to parents explaining that when you assign grades to student writing that you are purposefully not assessing everything, but that each assignment has clearly stated elements that will impact the essay/assignment grade.
  • If students are not going to be allowed or required to revise and resubmit, do not spend time marking the essay; instead have a brief checklist identifying what aspects of the essay impact the grade assigned. (Marking essays extensively that students do not have to address is a form of martyrdom that no teacher can afford.)
  • Seek out a technology platform (as simple as Word, or any word processor, or something similar to Google docs) that supports quicker feedback from you and easier revision/editing by students.
  • Find and use (when there is consent) materials already created by teachers of writing (I typically make my support materials for students accessible to anyone, such as these).

Written by

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education Furman University, taught high school English before moving to teacher education.

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