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How I Write, a new podcast from the Writing Intensive Program featuring interviews with CSUSB faculty, staff, students, and community members available now on Stitcher and Apple Podcasts!

The CSUSB Writing Intensive Program (WI) gives students opportunities to develop discipline-specific writing strategies throughout their undergraduate experience. The program offers writing-intensive courses in varying disciplines—from Art History to Biology to Management to Social Work. In our media-saturated age, writing is more important than ever. In the academy, writing is how knowledge is produced and distributed; and, writing plays an important role in how work gets done in virtually every profession.

QOTM (Question of the Month)

What are some ways I can better handle my paper load at the end of the semester?


If you teach with writing, it can be challenging to respond to and grade the projects you receive at the end of the semester. Here are some quick tips to help you handle the workload this semester end, and some longer term strategies you can incorporate into future courses.

Quick Tips

Don’t give feedback, or else limit it to positive feedback

Feedback from professors is one of the best ways students can improve their drafts as they revise. Clear, consistent feedback, focusing on what a student should focus on to have the greatest impact on the overall quality of their draft is vital to student development. 


Remember, the purpose of feedback is not to justify the grade, but to lead to effective revision. At the end of the semester, however, opportunities to revise have, most likely, come to an end. So, while there is a case for providing feedback for its positive emotional effects, you can let yourself off the hook on feedback on drafts that are not going to be revised.

Use a rubric

A rubric is a way to provide consistent evaluation of student work quickly and efficiently. Ideally, a rubric would have been introduced to students at the beginning of the project, and students would have had time to familiarize themselves with it. A couple of norming sessions would be great too. 


In a pinch though, you can use a rubric that you have not introduced to students simply as a grading aid. The benefits of using a rubric-- even in this way-- are that they tend to support consistency compared to assigning grades without a rubric, and are faster than providing marginal and/or end-of-text comments. 


Again, when projects will be revised, a rubric with end-of-project comments is better than a rubric alone, but when projects are not going to be revised, a rubric alone is just fine.

Sort the projects according to type of feedback

If you are planning to return your students’ projects with feedback, you’ll save time by quickly reading through all the projects first, and sorting them according to the type of feedback they require. Not only will sorting in this way give you a better sense of the overall quality of the projects, and thus help you stay consistent in your grading, but you’ll also be able to reuse comments more efficiently, whether using a document with comments from which you will copy and paste, or by using a clipboard manager like Flycut for your Mac, or the clipboard history function in Windows 10.

Longer term workload strategies

(adapted from John Bean's Engaging Ideas)

Design good assignments

One of the best ways to save time is to consider carefully the kinds of writing assignments you give. Much of the writing you assign can be behind - the - scenes exploratory writing, which can be integrated into a class in a variety of ways and often requires only moderate teacher time or even none at all. (See Chapter Seven for ways to use exploratory writing.) When assigning formal papers, you will start your students on the right track if you follow the best practices for assignment design explained in Chapter Six . See especially the discussion of the NSSE/WPA research on writing assignments that promote deep learning (page 97) and the suggestions for giving your students a RAFT and TIP (pages 98 – 100). Also the advice in Chapter Six and Chapter Thirteen on developing the last assignment first and using earlier assignments to scaffold the last assignment can help students work on their own toward better final papers (pages 96 and 241 – 250).


You can also save time by assigning one or two short papers rather than a long one. Also consider not assigning a generic research paper or term paper — a pseudo - academic school genre — in favor of developing more compact research assignments that teach disciplinary ways of using evidence and making arguments (see Chapter Thirteen ). A short paper employing cognitive leverage — a lot of student thinking packed into a small amount of writing — can often produce more student learning than a traditional research paper. Also, consider giving all students the same problem - based assignment rather than letting them choose their own Topics.

Clarify your grading criteria

The more clearly you define your criteria at the outset, the better the final products you will receive. The more students get a feel for what you are looking for, the more help they can give one another during peer review sessions.


Build in Exploratory Writing or Class Discussion to Help Students Generate Ideas

The more students can brainstorm for ideas early on, the more detailed and complex their papers will become. Chapter Seven provides many ideas for building exploratory writing into a course. Exploratory talking is also powerful. If a writing assignment is directly linked to key concepts in the course, class time spent generating ideas for the assignment will not detract from course content.

Have Students Submit Something Early in the Writing Process

These need not be full drafts-- a prospectus, abstract, or even research question and thesis statement work also.

Have students conduct peer review of drafts

Another time saving strategy is to have students review each other’s drafts. Of course, peer reviews sometimes have disappointing results. Unless the teacher structures the sessions and trains students in what to do, peer reviewers may offer eccentric, superficial, or otherwise unhelpful — or even bad — advice. A successful peer review process should benefit both the reviewer and the writer and lead to genuine substantial revision. The good news is that there are ways to make peer reviews work effectively, whether through in - class workshop sessions or through out - of - class strategies whereby peers exchange and review papers on - line. See Bean, 295-302 and our peer review video for more.

Work with our Writing Center

The CSUSB Writing Centers are now fully online offering all appointments via Zoom and email. As always, our writing consultants will work with students, faculty, and staff on any writing project at any stage of the writing process.*

*From the CSUSB Writing Center

Make the most of one-on-one and small group consultations

The art of conferring with students on their writing requires good listening skills supplemented with the ability to provide timely, appropriate guidance.

Meeting with students works best when both you and the student are clear about the purpose of the meeting, and both of you are prepared for the meeting.

Use efficient methods for giving written feedback

Perhaps the most traditional way to coach the writing process is to place comments on students ’ essays. Because commenting on papers is a major part of teaching writing, Chapter Sixteen is devoted entirely to this topic. However, a few suggestions about commenting are appropriate here (313-316). I also explain two alternatives to written comments: “ models feedback ” and rubrics.



Professor Shawn McMurran

In the Classroom

Our featured course design this month is MATH 3100, Mathematical Thinking: Communication & Proof, by Professor Shawn McMurran.


Announcing the Writing Enriched Curriculum (WEC)

As you know, writing is not one-size-fits all. The WEC opportunity offers a faculty-driven approach to supporting effective and relevant writing and writing instruction within an undergraduate curriculum. Apply today!