Active Learning Resources for Writing Instruction

 


The Collection

This collection includes a series of research-based active-learning lesson plans, activities, and curricular resources designed for undergraduate writing instructors and their classes.


The Challenge

Across the university, otherwise accomplished undergraduate students enter our lower-division writing courses with increasingly weak foundational skills in writing. Many of them struggle to identify underperforming sentences or paragraphs. With only a scant working knowledge of the function of words (noun, verb, preposition), they are ill-equipped to grasp common strategies for revision (active voice, noun clusters, prepositional phrases, subject-verb-object order, parallel structure). In short, it's hard to speak the language of revision if students don't first speak the language of language.

Without these basic building blocks, our students struggle to construct persuasive arguments and effective written documents. Their shaky compositional foundation simply cannot support the complex structures of rigorous argument and crystal-clear messaging that students need to construct.


The Opportunity

We teach professional writing courses to students who plan careers in public policy, informatics, public health, law, business and other fields where clarity, coherence, and concision matter. These students will need to be able to articulate, evaluate, defend, and execute complicated plans with a variety of stakeholders and real-world consequences. Thus, they will need to communicate with exacting clarity, logical coherence, and strategic brevity.

These students generally exhibit one of two dispositions when they enter our lower-level professional writing courses: either they believe they already know everything they will ever need about writing ("I got A's in high school") or they recognize that their skills are weak and therefore try to avoid writing. In either case, we have an opportunity to teach them writing skills, including grammar and syntax, in a new way: not as the mastery of arcane rules but rather as strategies for producing results that matter.

We believe students need "down in the writing weeds" instruction rather than high-level, holistic approaches. Once we can demystify the writing process, students begin to complain less that writing is "subjective" and work more consciously and confidently at the sentence and paragraph level, empowering greater sophistication in their writing across the disciplines.


The Resources and License

Consistent with the scholarship surrounding the science of learning, we find that students learn best when we stop professing and start facilitating hands-on learning. In this collection, we provide instructional materials that help teachers integrate active-learning pedagogy into their writing instruction.

These assignments, activities, and curricular materials encourage classroom collaborations that have students not only talking and debating with their peers, but also moving, engaging their senses, and navigating thoughtfully between high-tech and low-tech tools and strategies.

While these materials are particularly geared toward teachers of professional, technical, and business writing, the underlying pedagogy and structure applies to writing instruction broadly and can work across the undergraduate curriculum.

The creation of the materials included here was supported by an active-learning grant funded by Indiana University's Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL) and Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. We share these materials under a Creative Commons Sharelike 4.0 license. For additional information, contact the authors: Dana Cattani (dcattani@indiana.edu) and Miranda Rodak (rodak@indiana.edu).

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