Weekly Writing Homework

I had two ideas that worked really well last year. One of these is “Weekly Writing Homework.” In courses that are writing-heavy (real analysis, introduction to proofs, abstract algebra, linear algebra), I assign a weekly assignment every week that is only graded on the writing quality. In particular, I do not grade it on the mathematics at all—a student can get a perfect score on the assignment even if all of the mathematics is wrong. This has allowed students to rapidly improve their writing skills—my students consistently create a good-looking proof after roughly four weeks. This means that I only get pretty-looking proofs for two-thirds of the semester.

I have struggled to get students to write well on these proof-intensive courses previously. Weekly Writing Homework is designed to isolate the skill of writing. I use Specifications Grading in these courses, and the Weekly Writing Homework is only graded on these specifications. An important facet of this is that the student should be able to judge whether they have met all of these specifications.

The specifications were largely stolen (very slightly adapted) from here, which was written by Anders Hendrickson.

This homework is graded in the usual Specifications way, Pass or NotYet. Students have to spend a token to resubmit, but they get full credit for the resubmission (I usually give the entire class a free pass for the first assignment, since they do not understand how seriously I take the Specifications at that point).

This was a low cost way of rapidly improving their writing skills—grading takes roughly 30 minutes for a class of 20 after the first couple of assignments. I am certain that Anders’s specifications were the key—they provided the specific instruction on how to write well. This is one of the huge strengths of Specifications Grading—it is a method of instruction as well as a method of grading. In the past, I typically would not explicitly tell students what good writing is. The Specifications give my students the explicit instruction they needed.

2 Responses to “Weekly Writing Homework”

  1. Exam Format | Solvable by Radicals Says:

    […] « Weekly Writing Homework […]

  2. One more thing on Weekly Writing Homework | Solvable by Radicals Says:

    […] forgot one important thing about Weekly Writing Homework: I can give students as much or as little help on the problem as they need. For some students, this […]

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