By: Melissa Young, guest writer
As a recent graduate from high school, I was able to reflect on the past four years as a whole and consider what I found helpful, or detrimental, to my performance in school. One of the most important skills students establish in high school is how to write effectively. In my experience, there are four main elements of a writing assignment that will make or break it.
The first factor is the subject matter. Almost every class includes a writing assignment at one point or another, so subjects can vary greatly. Most teachers provide some sort of content for students to base their essays on, such a thesis, video, or article. The level of freedom given to students in this area is important. I have had assignments in which students were allowed to write anything, and, while those topics were more interesting to research, I often found myself getting lost in the information and straying away from the purpose of the essay. I think the more freedom students receive, the more involved the teacher needs to be. Students tend to lose focus on the final product when writing about a subject they are passionate about.
Another element is provided structure, which is usually dependent on grade level. For younger students, writing assignments are typically accompanied by a specific organizer to help them structure their essays, while older students are expected to use their own methods of organization. Limited structural freedom will produce uniform results and, although this may make the grading process faster, it will not provide students with important organization skills.
The most influential element of a writing assignment is the level of teacher engagement. Along with structure, the level of teacher involvement is very dependent on grade level; however, it should also take into account individual students’ needs. There is an abundance of involvement options for teachers. Starting the writing process with a student-teacher meeting allows the teacher to figure out how to best help the students. After receiving enough guidance to lay down the groundwork for their essay, students generally feel more confident in their ability to move forward by themselves. Feedback does not always have to be extremely detailed, simple spelling and grammar checks are easy to conduct and ensure the essay sounds more coherent.
An important note to make is that more teacher engagement does not immediately translate into better writing. When it comes to methods like peer review, the teacher is less of an instructor and more of a supervisor. I have found that peer review sessions have multiple benefits; students not only receive feedback on their essay, but also get to take a break from working on their own paper. On their own, they may not make a huge difference: however, employing a combination of these methods can help students shape their essay as well as their writing skills.
Finally, a simple, but influential element, is grading guidance. When an essay is assigned, the teacher may or may not provide students with the rubric. Access to guidelines gives students a reference to look at throughout the writing process, checking that they are on the right path towards meeting all the requirements. Students will have a much better idea of the format, content, and quality that is expected of them.
Overall, providing select choices regarding subject and structure results in well-crafted papers that interest the students. The need for teacher involvement may vary among students, but as long as each student is comfortable asking for help, they will feel more empowered. PEG Writing provides a progress report for each student, showcasing their strengths and weaknesses. When students need help, the teacher is able to access the report and can work on the specific areas of struggle with them. Writing assignments teach students to research thoroughly, communicate effectively, and satisfy requirements. Whether the teacher uses a pre-made prompt or creates one themselves, students will learn, improve, and apply writing skills that can help them in the future. The writing skills I obtained in high school have already improved my life outside of school; without them, I would not have gotten my first job, my first internship, or into college.