Writing Instruction Workshop-Retreat,
12-13 September 2006     

Here are the notes highlighting key ideas that emerged from our collective discussions.

Jump to a section: Decoding the Disciplines | Expectations at WWU Evaluating Writing | Responding to Writing | Assigning Writing | Writing Instruction Practices

Decoding the Disciplines of Writing

Bottlenecks to learning identified in your disciplines/courses included cognitive, meta-cognitve, affective, and technical challenges for students:

  • Unable to distinguish big ideas from details
  • Not able to summarize the main idea or purpose
  • Valuing requirements to earn a certain grade rather than valuing the learning process
  • Difficulty contextualizing material/literature within the discipline
  • Difficulty understanding why writing and critical thinking are important to the discipline
  • Viewing writing as finding “the right answer” rather than a process of creating/exploring an interesting idea
  • Not knowing how to write for different tasks or audiences
  • Struggling to develop an individual philosophy rather than simply repeating experts’ ideas or relying on preconceived notions
  • Not understanding how to research in a disciplinary field

See all workshop notes

Expectations for Student Writing at WWU

Note: These responses reference the document by the same name that was authored by WAG, the Writing Accountability/Assessment Group.

Some ways these expectations jibe with the steps an expert would take to learn in your class:

  • Concerned with audience and purpose according to the needs within the discipline first, and conventions later (Rhetorical Knowledge)
  • Can contextualize ideas within the discipline (Critical Reasoning)
  • Articulates a significant perspective based on multiple sources – develops an idea that is part of a “tapestry of truth” (Critical Reasoning)
  • Able to learn in community – benefits from shared learning/writing experiences, cohort settings (Composing Process)

Anything missing?

  • Concern with disciplinary rules; expert follows them automatically (Conventions).
  • Affective thinking – valuing empathy and passion as well as cognitive thinking (not on Expectations sheet).

See all workshop notes

Evaluating Writing



Subjectivity of grading

  • Model a range of work/alternative models.
  • Provide a model you have already responded to – with your gloss
  • Incorporate meta-commenting into assessment process – give reasoning for criteria & demonstrate your process of reading.

Fraught place of grades in students’ lives

  • Include some informally graded or ungraded assignments.
  • Separate feedback from the grade and deliver separately.
  • Encourage students to value something besides the grade – choice of topic, awareness of how assignment is important to the discipline.
  • Create authentic writing assignments that represent writing within the discipline (outside of academia).

Equation between

grade & self-worth

  • Provide clear rubrics and feedback.
  • Focus feedback on the writing product, not the writer.

Separating growth from true writing proficiency

  • Use portfolios that document progress over time.
  • Ask students to explain what they aimed for, what they ended up with, and what they will do next time.

Not knowing all criteria for success

  • Admit the challenge to students.
  • Provide clear rubrics including specific criteria.
  • Develop a collective rubric/grading criteria as a class.
  • Model successful & unsuccessful writing to accompany rubric.
  • Ask for student feedback on evaluation criteria.

Lack of models, or fear that models will constrain students

  • Provide multiple models that show a range of performance.
  • Talk about why models are successful/unsuccessful.

Not knowing how to teach what students need to know

  • Participate in writing instruction support activities!

Inability of students to *hear* what evaluation says

  • Separate grades from written comments/feedback.
  • Incorporate drafts into the curriculum – teach/instruct before judging writing.
  • Provide methods for students’ self-assessment of strengths, goals, and needs.
  • Discuss evaluation process and rationale in face-to-face meetings with students.
  • Ask students to “mirror” feedback/verify their perceptions.

Time constraints for revising

  • Limit the number of assignments.
  • Limit the length or scope of assignments.

Time constraints for reading and grading

  • Prioritize what should be graded.
  • Limit the number or length of assignments.

Evaluating group/collaborative writing

  • Invite collaborative work during process, but evaluate only the individual efforts.
  • If doing collective products, ask individuals to identify and compose certain sections.

Addressing preconceived notions about students’ abilities

  • Use blind/anonymous reading.
  • Use low-stakes, ungraded writing without names and respond to the ideas presented.

See all workshop notes

Responding to Student Writing 

Some Promising Response Practices:

  • Ask for students to name one or two issues they want response to.
  • Survey students to determine what kind of feedback is most effective for them.
  • Explain your process of reading & model effective responding in class.
  • Link feedback to the writing task (purpose), the criteria, and the writing process.
  • Use feedback as a tool to help students become aware of their “hot spots” and develop resources to deal with them.
  • Avoid over-responding – responding to everything, writing too much, spending too much time, etc.
  • Resist judgment responses during the drafting process.
  • Consider multiple forms of response (e.g. written, oral, audio-taped, self-assessment).

See all workshop notes

Assigning Writing

Emergent Principles for assigning writing:

  • Build in process guidelines when creating assignments and allow for multiple/alternative processes.
  • Give students chance to understand our composing processes and theirs.
  • Create writing assignments that lead to authentic products.
  • Stage or sequence writing assignments in connected pieces that build on one another.
  • Incorporate listening, response, and research skills into curriculum.
  • Clarify what it means to write (epistemology of writing); namely that writing is a process of discovering a perspective based on evidence and continually testing it against evidence (“tapestry of truth) – NOT a process of proving a ready-made perspective..
  • Provide a clear purpose for each writing assignment.
  • Articulate how to form an argument or perspective that accounts for contrary evidence.
  • Assign products that you are willing/eager to read.

See all workshop notes 

 Writing Instruction Practices

Favorite practices that link with “Expectations for Student Writing at Western:

Rhetorical Knowledge

  • Provide data and ask writers to interpret it for varying audiences and purposes.
  • Invite writing in a completely different genre from final product – to highlight genre differences.
  • Invite writing in many different genres for varying real world audiences.
  • Discuss the ethical/moral consequences of addressing writing to different audiences.
  • Write in the wrong or inappropriate style to highlight the right/appropriate style.

Critical Reasoning

  • Provide data and ask writers to explain conclusions about it, providing a line of reasoning.
  • Invite frequent short, critical thinking responses to course concepts.
  • Invite reflective assignments articulating an argument, asking questions, and responding to questions
  • Ask for “text-free” genres (visual/oral/kinesthetic) that demonstrate concepts before/along with writing about them.

Composing Process

  • Invite visual/oral/kinesthetic (text-free) products as part of composing written texts.
  • Use “fun” materials: markers, crayons, colored papers, toys, music, etc.
  • Share/exchange writing rituals/commitment strategies, emphasizing the importance of knowing own processes.
  • Model ways to think about approaching the writing assignment (as an expert).
  • Invite writing early in a course – from the get-go – to suggest how writing is thinking.


  • Demonstrate conventions visual/kinesthetic strategies.
  • Tell your students what your “prejudicial errors”/pet peeves are and explain how to avoid them.
  • Use humor to instruct about conventions to relieve tensions.
  • Acknowledge your own conventional “hot spots”/concerns.
  • Discuss the politics of academic discourse and ethics of “correctness” and acknowledge the benefits and costs of conforming to/breaking away from conventions in different situations, code-shifting, etc.
  • Talk about conventional differences and challenges between different languages/nationalities/etc.
  • Discuss the relationship between conventions and audience – why conventions are important to real world (disciplinary) audiences.
  • Discuss the rationales behind genre conventions.
  • Assign exercises that display the difference between conventions in different genres.
  • Acknowledge that everyone has to learn standard edited English (“nobody’s mother tongue” –Elbow)

General Practices

  • Limit the number of writing assignments, or limit the length and/or scope of the writing.
  • Clarify the importance of writing within the discipline for students.
  • Foster interdisciplinary communication between faculty members about writing and teaching writing.  Share what you know, which is a lot~

See all workshop notes

Consultation Times

Carmen Werder, WIS Director, is available for individual, small group or departmental consultations on any topic related to writing instruction and assessment as well as to consult on expectations for Writing Proficiency courses. 

To set up an appointment contact Carmen at (360) 650-7329 or at Carmen.Werder@wwu.edu.