by – Suzanne Wilson Summers

At this year’s Lilly Conference, I attended a session on “Encouraging Student Learning Through Formal Writing: Notes and Future Practice” put on by G. Kevin Randall from Sam Houston State University. The session focused on best practices for designing formal writing assignments to promote deep learning.

At Sam Houston State, faculty have the option to attend a one-week “writing in the discipline” workshop. John C. Bean’s Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning forms the basis of the workshop. Faculty learn how to craft effective assignments using writing to encourage learning.

In these assignments, students are asked to engage in writing exercises that include three key features:

  • Engaging in interactive writing processes
  • Creating meaning-making writing tasks
  • Producing clear writing assignments

Randall offered an example of an old assignment and then showed how he had rewritten it to incorporate these elements. By working through such an intentional process, students made substantially more meaningful and critical connections between the components of their topics. They also developed essential skills which carried over to future classes.

In the fall, I’ll be teaching History 1301 as part of a new Liberal Arts Institute. I’m looking forward to reading Bean’s book and applying it to my class to help my students develop as learners.