By Jiali Wang and Jacob Steiss
In this study, Dr. Barbara Sarnecka and colleagues examine the impact of writing workshops on graduate students' writing quality, writing practices, and overall well-being.
Why writing workshops?
One reason to use writing workshops is for building a community of practice. Sarnecka sees workshops as "groups of people who share an interest in doing something and who learn how to do it better as they regularly interact.”
Writing workshops also provide time for regular, consistent writing, help promote physical and mental health of students, and provide strategies for composing.
Despite the many reasons for engaging in writing workshops, there have been only a few studies to test the effectiveness of writing workshop for improving writers and writing.
To address this gap, Barbara Sarnecka and colleagues conducted a randomized control trial, to assess the effectiveness of a 5-week (30 total hours) writing workshop for doctoral students.
What did the workshops look like?
Students in the workshops received explicit instruction and guided practice by trained facilitators. Students were encouraged to write in shorter regular periods of time and set goals for writing, including:
After the first five weeks of workshops, some students participated in peer-led writing groups for an additional five weeks. These groups wrote together and exchanged feedback on drafts as they had during the workshops but received no more instruction.
Dr. Sarnecka sees the following as key to workshops:
1) distributed practice (short sessions of writing that fit more easily into a busy work schedule)
2) helping students set guidelines to maintain well-being and mental health while writing (including taking short breaks)
3) explicit instruction in how specific disciplines conduct research, genres of academic writing, and norms regarding publishing and review
After the workshops, some students participated in peer-led writing groups. These groups wrote together and exchanged feedback on drafts as they had during the workshops.
Want to know more about how to structure a writing workshop? Read Sarnecka’s book which addresses the following topics:
How did the workshops help doctoral students?
The study found that students:
Additionally, while the effects of educational interventions such as workshops often fade over time, this study found that positive effects of the intervention were sustained if students participated in peer-led writing groups after the workshops.
It is worth noting the study did not find any effects on 1) actual time spent writing, 2) the quality of writing, or 3) overall student well-being.
What are the key takeaways?
What are you planning for your next writing workshop?
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