Faculty Senate

Writing in General Education at WIU

Writing is one of the most important tools for achieving the goals and benefits of general education. The Council on General Education requires that all general education courses include writing as an integral learning tool. Although the type and amount of writing is best determined by the instructor and department, the Council of General Education will use the following guidelines when considering courses for inclusion in the general education curriculum.

  1. For courses with an enrollment of 50 or fewer, students should have at least one written assignment with written or oral feedback from the instructor with an opportunity for revision.
  2. For courses with an enrollment of over 50, students should, as a minimum, write short informal essays or responses to the course material that do not require feedback from the instructor.

"Writing to learn" is a pedagogy that has proved successful for almost two decades now. Useful information for including writing in general education can be found on our faculty resources page. Writing to learn means using writing - usually informal and short assignments - in the class and as homework to help the student:

  • learn a difficult concept,
  • organize complex materials into a relevant order (causes and effects of poverty in a sociology class, for example),
  • demonstrate understanding of a particular topic, and
  • even further explore certain ideas brought up in their texts or lecture sessions.

In other words, using this kind of writing exercises in the class on a daily or weekly basis would facilitate student learning of course material while providing students with essential writing practice to maintain and further develop their writing skills during their Gen Ed coursework. The writing to learn concept was one of the three components of the "writing culture" WIU wanted to establish on the campus (the Writing Program and the WID courses are the other two).

Certainly a formal paper with response and revision is important and should be included, but student writing improves more by writing more often and on a more regular basis; and these short, informal writing to learn exercises do not need to be graded in the formal sense. Teachers can simply read through them, check off full or partial credit and return them to the students (a paper that is on time, fulfills the length requirement and is on topic gets full credit). Those of us who have used such writing exercises estimate that forty such short pieces can be read and checked off in about thirty minutes.

What kind of specific writing exercises are we talking about? Here are just a few examples:

  • the opening focused free write - five to eight minutes - in which students respond to the day's reading assignment by focusing on an idea or question they want to bring up in class.
  • a closing question - a student writes out a question about something from the day's lecture/discussion that they did not understand and want further explained. Students exchange questions and their homework assignment is to answer, as best they can, their peer's question in writing. The next class can open with some of those questions.
  • The closing summary - leave five or ten minutes at the end of class for students to write out the main ideas from the day's lecture or discussion. Take them up and go over them to discover what they did and did not understand in the day's material.
  • Brief one page individual student reports on course material written out of class as homework and presented both as a written and an oral report to their fellow classmates. This gives you and every member of the class a publication at the end of the semester to which every student has contributed one page (larger classes could do the report in pairs or groups).
  • Written descriptions of certain problems or experiments and the processes employed dealing with them - for example, proofs in a math or one paragraph lab reports in a science class.
  • Passage summaries - as homework, have students pick a difficult passage from their assigned reading and write about it for the next class. Their piece should include a brief one or two sentences summarizing that passage as best they can, the reason they picked that passage, and what they want further explained or discussed about it.
  • Journal entries on class issues, concepts, debates, readings, etc.
  • One page analysis of particular products, themes, issues, under discussion in the course materials.
  • Minute papers - or two or three minute papers in which the students write on x class topic for the specified length of time.
  • Design your own test questions (for essay exams).
  • Guided discussion sheets that they fill out in writing at home.
  • A individual project proposal.
  • Brief reviews of articles and essays assigned as class reading.

CGE encourages all faculty to take advantage of the university resources and training available to them in order to better incorporate "writing to learn" pedagogies into their classes. For more information visit our Faculty Resources page.