Time/space for writing

One of the tenets of Thinking Writing is that doing more writing and writing more often, in different ways, with increased focus, is one route to improving the quality of students’ thinking and writing. Calls for increasing the amount of writing in a course, however, are often met with concerns: that there is little or no ‘free’ time in a module, that more writing would mean taking out content to the detriment of the module (often thus ‘dumbing it down’), that even if more writing were introduced, staff have no additional time for marking and students tend not to take un-assessed work seriously. Our response is that if the writing is genuinely embedded in the larger module curriculum and is a vehicle for exploring disciplinary knowledge, it will allow students greater opportunity to engage with module content - in terms of how ideas are developed and contested, how research is planned, carried out, and the typical genres of how all of this is communicated in the field. It can take the form of short – miniscule, even – tasks that do not need to be assessed, and that can stand alone as an aid to a lecture or seminar or online discussion group, or can build towards a longer piece of assessed writing.

You can read about a range of approaches for finding time for writing below, including examples of how we have worked with staff in a range of disciplines:

·         The use of stop and write tasks which are short un-assessed writing tasks – stopping at some point in a lecture or seminar for a 1-3 minute focusing activity, such as getting students to write their understanding of a particular theory, or list three questions about it, or write a short paragraph explaining how a particular theory can be applied in a particular situation.

·        Free writing, where students are encouraged to explore and develop their ideas as part of the writing process.

·         Students (and staff) who are working on longer texts have benefited from attending one of our writing or reading retreats, where participants leave their everyday distractions and spend a day focusing only on their writing or reading for identified projects. Retreats are run both centrally as open cross-disciplinary events as well as for students from particular schools to support individual modules or year groups.

·         It may be useful to read our sections on clarifying assessment and on feedback, to think about how to incorporate time around assessment for students to develop judgments about what makes successful writing in their disciplines

  ·         Other ideas for developing reading through critical and creative rewriting, and examples of students responses to these ideas, can be found on our page Provoking critical engagement.