The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Center Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Handouts

Shaping student writing:
Tools for triggering invention and revision throughout the process

The question of how to respond to student writing is better framed as a question of how we as instructors can facilitate throughout the writing process invention (the generation of ideas and forms), textual revision, and learning. In that light, there are many, varied tools we can use to structure and enrich students' work and ultimately to encourage the kinds of texts and the kinds of learning we aim for. The list below and the attached sheets suggest some of the tools at hand.

Task clarification: Students and instructors often hold quite different notions of what a writing task should look like and what kind of work it should represent. Through written task instructions, classroom activities and discussions, you can work to clarify what you expect of a task, focusing on what you want students to do, what kind of learning you hope will be achieved, and what the final product should look like.

Modeling: In class lectures as well as through readings and activities, you may be modeling the kinds of reasoning you expect, the types of topics/issues you hope to see, the kinds of critical reading and thinking you want students to demonstrate, the disciplinary values (e.g., detail, conciseness, originality, synthesis, application) that you want students to emulate, and so on. By explicitly drawing students' attention to how this modeling relates to assigned writing, you may help to both clarify the task and trigger further invention/revision/learning.

Resources: The quality of students' writing is obviously related to the resources they bring to their work and texts. Facilitating access to textual, material or human resources will often enrich students' invention and learning. Examples of resources to consider include: pointing students to textual source materials (in general or to specific texts); setting up specialized library modules to aid in finding textual sources; encouraging collaborative work among students; structuring environments to aid students' observations; providing students with greater opportunities to observe or manipulate events/objects under study; and providing opportunities to discuss work with instructors or others (students, practitioners, community members).

Logs/journals: You may ask students to keep logs in which they record observations, thoughts, and responses to/questions about readings. Journals and logs often serve as excellent resources for invention and learning. They also can prompt extended engagement in the writing process, particularly if they are turned in periodically.

In-progress reports: If an assignment gives students a choice of topics, you may ask students to give a short proposal for topics so that you can review them. You might request various kinds of in-progress microthemes (see Bean). For term papers, students can write a thesis-support microtheme that provides a skeletal version of the argument (some weeks before the final draft is due). For laboratory reports, you may ask for a microtheme that summarizes findings and discussion or presents the solution to a problem and its rationale. At various points in the process, you may ask students to turn in progress reports on their reading, research, writing, or group collaboration. In addition to giving you an opportunity to respond to the students' work, all of these kinds of in-progress reports encourage students not to wait till the day before the paper is due to begin work.

• In-progress response to drafts: Peers, instructors or others may respond in writing and/or orally to students' drafts. This type of response is often particularly valuable in raising questions and pointing to problems. The need to produce a draft some time before the final paper both provides feedback and also requires students to engage in a more extended process.

To be effective, peers normally need guidelines to structure response activities and goals. Guidance may be given through providing response sheets (see below), explicit instructions, and/or modelling of response.

Response sheets (see attached examples): Response sheets (see links for examples): Response sheets may be used for self-evaluation, to facilitate peer evaluation, or as a framework for instructor written response.

• Cover memos: You may ask students to write a cover memo to introduce their papers (draft or final). The memo should be prompted by specific questions that are appropriate (see link for example).