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Writing-to-Learn Activities vs. Traditional Writing Assignments

What are writing-to-learn activities, and how do they differ from traditional writing assignments?*

Traditional Assignments

  • Assigned as homework (often a relatively lengthy paper or report)
  • Process   =>   Product  (student’s intellectual work finished when the product is turned in)
  • Graded on A/B/C/D/F basis by teacher (often heavy investment of teacher’s time)
  • Writing to test what is known (is student’s writing/thinking right or is it wrong?)
  • Asks students to be sure about what they write (“What’s your thesis?”)
  • Students see writing assignments as penalty situations (no one ever gets 100% on this test)

Writing-to-Learn Activities

  • Assigned impromptu, often completed in class; may also be homework, often short
  • Process   =>   More Process (writing = thinking = more thought)
  • Ungraded, but meaningful (not busywork); credit given or not given based on clear criteria
  • Writing to think, discover (intellectual engagement is goal; errors a natural part of learning)
  • Allows students to voice and explore questions
  • Students see writing as a tool, a way to help them think about new material

Can we blend these two kinds of writing within assignment sequences?