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Pedagogical Development Office

Teaching Tip: Writing for Learning

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When students submit writing assignments they are expressing their thoughts and their understanding of the material. However, writing doesn’t have to be the end result of the learning process. When students write they are doing all kinds of thinking. They have to collect their ideas on the issue and then try to find ways to express them in a fashion that communicates something to another person. By having students do small writing assignments in your courses, you are encouraging them to engage in this kind of critical thinking on a regular basis. By giving them feedback on their writing you can guide their learning and help them clarify misconceptions. Regular writing assignments can help you get a better perspective on your students learning process and help them develop their understanding long before that final exam or essay.

The Sooner the Better

Get your students writing early in the term. This gives you a chance to see where they stand in their ability to express themselves and what they’ve learned. They will also need time to learn from their mistakes and to get better in their writing and their self-expression. The sooner they start writing assignments, the sooner they can start working on getting better at writing.

Room for Mistakes

In order for students to learn from the writing process, they need to be able to make mistakes. Giving students low stakes writing assignments gives them a chance to try, to fail, to reassess, and to try again. We can learn a lot from our own mistakes. Make sure that your low stakes writing assignments allow students to make mistakes without being penalized too heavily in their grades. It also helps if they have plenty of opportunities to try again as it makes it worth their while to figure out what went wrong and to try a new approach the next time.


Feedback is a major component of writing for learning. Students will put down their thoughts and ideas on paper, but they need some feedback or response from you to let them know if it worked. Give them clear feedback that will help them understand their mistakes. Then make certain that their follow-up assignments require that they consider and apply that feedback.

Editing and Rewriting

By assessing their mistakes and trying again, students will engage in a lot of critical thinking and problem solving. This is a great place for learning to happen. Make certain that your assignments have a follow-up, editing, or rewriting option. Build assignments in stages so that they must consider and apply the feedback you have given them on previous assignments.

Low stakes writing assignments

The following low stakes assignments encourage students to write, to consider feedback, to think critically, and they let you know where your students stand in their learning before the finals.

  1. If students have to write an essay in the course, have them start by writing short responses to readings for the course or for their own research. Then have them summarize and synthesize their own reading reports for the final essay.
  2. If students are solving mathematical or scientific problems on their exams and quizzes, allow them to earn additional grades if they are able to correct their mistakes on their exams and provide a written explanation of where they made a mistake.
  3. If students have a stage or clinical portion for their course, have them submit short journals regularly that discuss some of the things they experienced and learned while actually working in the field.
  4. If students need to encounter different perspectives on an issue in your course, have them write blogs or respond to discussions in LEA forums. Encourage them to respond to each other’s comments and to defend their own perspectives.

Pedagogical Development Office
Vanier College