Today’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodrigue, an associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had several conversations with faculty and graduate students about "buy-in" in the classroom.
Current and future teachers wonder: how do I get students to buy-in to the idea that writing and learning how to write well is important?
I’ve posed this question to myself many times over the course of my career and have actively sought different ways to foster student buy-in. Some ideas have worked and some have not. While there are many factors that play a role in the extent to which instructors can foster student buy-in, I have had success at different institutions with the activities and strategies below.
Discuss the importance of writing inside and outside of the classroom
For a 15-20 minute in-class activity, ask students to respond to the following questions in a freewrite.
- What do you want to do after you graduate from college?
- What kind of writing do you think you’ll do at your job?
- What do you think might happen if you’re unable to communicate effectively at your job?
- What do you think might happen if you’re really good at communicating effectively at your job?
- Based on these questions, why do you think writing and learning how to write is important?
Ask students to share what they wrote and make a list of responses on the board. Orchestrate a conversation wherein students engage with the list and brainstorm about what we need to learn and practice in class to in order to strengthen our writing abilities. I encourage instructors to be transparent about how the skills, abilities, and knowledge gained in the course are transferable across writing situations, including the situations they’ll encounter in the future workplace.
(I usually have this discussion on the first or second day of class, but it’s never too late to do so.)
Assign lots and lots of low-stakes writing assignments
Ask students to write every day in class and out of class. For example, you might provide a brief prompt at the beginning of every class intended to either help get them thinking about course material or just to practice writing in general. Here are some interesting prompts that you may consider using in your class.
You can explain to students that research has proven informal writing assignments support student learning and function as ripe sites for invention work. Perhaps most importantly, research states that the more people write, the better writers they become. All of the writing students do in your class will sharpen their writing abilities and communication skills, which in turn will help them learn and succeed in other college courses and in the workplace.
Analyze writing in the workplace
Ask your students to engage with research that reveals the importance of writing and learning how to write. For example, you may assign sections of two studies on workplace writing: “Writing: A Ticket to Work…Or a Ticket Out” and “Writing: A Powerful Message from State Government.” The findings from the first study reveal that most people (2/3 of 8 million surveyed) in business have writing responsibilities and that writing abilities play a significant role in promotion, demotion, and job loss. The second study reveals that all 2.7 million state employees surveyed have writing responsibilities and all agree writing is important. This study is perhaps most persuasive for student buy-in because it demonstrates that jobs and careers that may not appear to demand strong writing abilities and skills may in fact do so.
In using these activities and other variations of them, I’ve recognized that pedagogical and curricular transparency is effective in fostering student buy-in. When we tell our students why we’re doing what we’re doing and how our decisions are informed by research in the discipline, they are more likely to recognize the value of the work they do in the class. Further, I’ve learned that discussions and activities that draw connections between school and the workplace and that emphasize transferability make a strong impact on students, especially students taking required classes or classes they think are unrelated to their major or future career. In positioning students to think about other courses they will take as well as their futures, they are more likely to be persuaded that writing and learning how to write matters.