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Why Use Writing Assignments?

  1. Writing deepens thinking and increases students’ engagement with course content. Good writing assignments get students to think more deeply about what they’re learning. For example, writing a lab report gets students to think more about an experiment and writing an analysis or review (whether of an article, a book, a film, or an event, etc.) encourages students to think more thoroughly and critically. 
  2. Writing fosters students’ engagement with course content. Richard Light of Harvard found that the relationship between student engagement—whether measured by time spent on the course, the intellectual challenge it presents, or students’ self-reported level of interest in it—and the amount of writing students did in a course was stronger than any other course characteristic, including student-instructor rapport (The Harvard Assessment Seminars, Second Report, 1992, 25) 
  3. Writing gives us a window into our students’ thinking and learning and provides immediate feedback on our teaching. Through our students’ writing, we can discover what they understand and are confused about. Discovering the gaps in our student’s understanding can help us improve our teaching. 
  4. Writing assignments can help students retain what they learn. Writing requires us to introduce and focus our topic, organize our ideas, marshal evidence, decide what is essential and what is extraneous, adapt our style and tone to a particular purpose, audience, and context. Having to make these kinds of decisions promotes understanding and retention. 
  5. No one course can teach students to write. Learning to write well requires instruction, practice, and time. Therefore, even if you are only able to include a small writing assignment in your course, doing so gives your students an important opportunity to practice their writing.