I have learned a lot about writing in the disciplines since I first made my calculus students write in response to poorly planned essay prompts. I’ve learned how to break assignments up into manageable steps and how to arrange those steps so students could engage in a coherent writing process. I’ve learned how to give students feedback that lets them know not just how well they’ve done in their writing but also how well they’re doing as the writing takes shape. I’ve learned how to use writing as more than a means of communicating. For me and my students, it is also a means of discovery, exploration, and reflection, even in my most quantitative classes. (p. 129) … [S]ince we are the experts in our disciplines, no one is more qualified than we are to be teachers of disciplinary writing. (p.130) –Patrick Bahls, Student Writing in the Quantitative Disciplines.

I’ve followed Patrick’s blog for a while and was really excited when his book came out. I finally was able to read it. The quotation above opens the book’s last chapter and neatly describes both Patrick’s learning and the learning that I got from his book. Details:

Chapter 1 discusses different functions of writing in a course, such as ways that the activity of writing can help students learn as opposed to “merely” report what they’ve learned (not that the latter is easy). He clarifies some useful concepts and vocabulary, and tackles the psychology of student resistance to writing in quantitative courses—as well as instructors’ reluctance to teach writing in those same courses.

Chapter 2 focuses on the writing process: pre-writing, organizing, drafting and revising, and reviewing others’ work. He’s learned the hard way that students must be instructed and coached in each phase, and gives many ideas about how to do that.

Chapter 3 discusses assessment and feedback. First he points to several ways for you, the instructor, to give feedback in ways that actually help students get better and don’t take [as] much of your time. He then also has an extensive discussion of how to teach students to do peer review.

Chapter 4 covers “low-stakes” writing. These are generally quick exercises, mostly designed to help students with some other task like synthesizing or clarifying understanding. About a dozen good ideas for things like this.

Chapter 5 is about formal projects, ranging from major projects and how to lay them out over a term, to some creative writing ideas.

Chapter 6 is the conclusion, looking at our roles as instructors in teaching, studying, and advocating for writing in quantitative courses.

What I’ll use

I can imagine using almost everything in the book at some point. I got support from an ELA coach at my school last year that helped me learn to write and use a rubric. This made giving feedback on papers about 8-10 times faster. (That rubric, recently revised based on one year’s experience, is here.) So I feel things are under control in terms of how I respond to student papers.

My main focus this coming year is on peer-review. I’m hoping to combine Patrick’s ideas from Chapter 3 with Mylène’s ideas to develop the “peer review” standards and program for my courses this year. I’m hoping that teaching (and assessing) students on their ability to review will, as a side effect, improve the quality of the presentations and papers.