Rethinking a writing task

Setting up more formal structures of teaching has not made the students more dependent… if anything it’s made them less so.

For an example of reframing writing as conversation, we can consider an account from the work of the Assessment and the Expanded Text Consortium, an FDTL-funded project based in the English department at University of Northumbria at Newcastle (2000). Although rather old now, it still provides an excellent example of how rethinking the writing (and assessment) task can deliver other payoffs for the teaching and learning process.

The staff team, described in the case study, identified what they wanted their students to be able to do and also what their students had problems doing effectively. They decided that the assessment vehicle they had been using – the essay – was inadequate in so far as it did not help students to perform well in the terms of developing their disciplinary thinking and did not sufficiently focus on the areas students had difficulty with.

They chose another written form – the review - which they felt would be more effective. They devised a sequence of learning experiences for the students, based on a pedagogy they considered desirable: collaborative, active learning, formative assessment, and dynamic interplay between the modes of speaking and writing (both collaborative and individual) drawing on the strengths of both.

It’s worth noticing one of their conclusions at the end of this process: ‘Setting up more formal structures of teaching has not made the students more dependent… if anything it’s made them less so’.

You can download the case study and read the staff team's account of the process here in a text called 'Diversifying Assessment: Reviews, reading dossiers, assessing students in seminars‘. The section we have been discussing on this page is called 'Review Writing'.

Move on to a discussion of another aspect of (re)structuring opportunities for writing:  Practice, Practice, Practice