Webinar Recap: Designing Academic Writing Assignments for all Students, All Environments, All Classrooms
By Jacob Steiss
On July 22nd, 2020, educator and teacher scholar, Jim Burke, shared timely wisdom as teachers prepared for unknown challenges in the upcoming school year. He framed his presentation within the context of teaching during a global pandemic and in remote settings, highlighting the need to be responsive to students’ interests and experiences when designing academic writing assignments.
Here, we share some of Burke’s insights that may be helpful to educators designing responsive, accessible, and standards-based writing activities for their students.
1. Use design thinking when planning academic writing
As a teacher thinking about remote instruction, Burke reminds us to be agile. He stated that “An agile teacher will monitor students’ needs and progress.”
An agile teacher is flexible and responsive to students' needs when designing writing activities. To be responsive, Burke uses design thinking. This approach involves iterative cycles of:
In many ways, teachers continuously engage in design thinking. They often test out different writing activities by collecting information on students’ experiences through careful observation and assessment. Using those assessments, they plan future instruction to better meet their needs.
In his webinar, Burke lists six types of academic writing assignments ELA teachers often use to help students grow as writers. Design thinking is used to refine these assignments using evidence from classroom inquiry over time. Below, you will find the six academic writing assignments Burke uses in his classroom.
These different writing activities can take different forms (e.g. traditional essay or multimedia presentation) and can meet different purposes (e.g. formative assessment or summative assessment). In planning these activities, Burke reiterates the role of design thinking as we plan experiences for students to grow and improve. The image below showcases design thinking when creating (and iterativing) writing assignments.
2. Engage in year-long inquiry projects
He also provides a list of resources to help students engage in new literacy practices like creating digital presentations and conducting interviews with experts in a field.
For meeting the challenge of providing feedback to students writing asynchronously, Burke offers the following template to schedule meetings with students:
This template helps both teachers and students to stay organized during long, but valuable, inquiry-based writing activities. A shared Google sheet may help educators and students with long-term writing activities that are based on iterative cycles of feedback to guide the writing process.
3. Use varied activities, scaffolds, and topics for writing.
Much like Kelly Gallagher’s emphasis on using various genres of writing such as narrative writing, Burke also suggests using different writing activities, such as the year-long inquiry project, and modifying these activities to meet students' needs.
His writing assignments are based on student choice, provide different resources (digital, visual, auditory) to scaffold the writing process, and engage in pre-writing activities to help generate ideas. He specifically recommends that adjustments to academic writing activities are guided by the Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
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