Common problem? Easy fix!

You’re probably at the stage of the session where your students’ writing skills are slowing down your marking processes. Are you having trouble working out what they actually know because their writing is difficult to understand? Or maybe the writing is vague, unfocused, unpolished? Are you longing to just be able to enjoy reading your students’ responses rather than having to also painstakingly decipher meaning or jump over irritating errors? Are you worried that their writing does not meet your discipline or profession’s communication standards? Do you wish you had a magic wand to remove problems that seem to be a common feature in your subject?

Well, maybe you do. It’s not magic, and you’re more likely to reduce the problem than remove it entirely, but it will take minimal effort on your part and should improve outcomes for both you and your students. And NOW is the time to get it sorted to prevent it happening again the next time the subject runs. It’s an easy four step process.

Step 1: Identify common issues by finishing one of these sentences: I wish students in my subject would/wouldn’t … or Students repeatedly ask questions about … or Students often do poorly because …

Step 2: Categorise the issue/s:

  • Lack of understanding or engagement with the subject content
  • Limited research/reading
  • Poor integration of the literature
  • Misunderstanding of task or structural requirements
  • Lack of focus or clear argument
  • Frequent language errors – spelling, grammar, punctuation, paragraph structure
  • Referencing

Step 3: Find a strategy or resource that addresses the issue/s:

  • Contextualised or Academic Skills generic study guides, interactive activities, recordings, or workshops on:
    • Learning and study skills
    • Assessment task analysis
    • Reading and notemaking skills – including how to navigate and extract information from journal articles
    • Writing skills
    • Paraphrasing, quoting, and seamless integration of supporting evidence
    • Developing a coherent argument
    • Specific writing genres (e.g., reports, essays, case studies)
    • Exam preparation strategies
    • Referencing
    • Spelling, grammar, punctuation, paragraphing
    • Proofreading and editing
  • Provide feedback on language issues in all assessments so students are notified of issues early and directed to the Academic Skills team as a source of support. No special expertise required here – just use the academic writing, referencing, and language example comments in NORFOLK to insert relevant prepared comments.

Step 4: Embed that strategy or resource into your subject by documenting it in your Subject Outline’s Learning Schedule and making timely announcements on your Interact2 site, e.g.:

Let me know if you’d like to discuss strategies, resources, and announcements that might be helpful for students in your subjects.

Debbie Wheeler, Academic Skills Coordinator (BJBS)