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Reading Reflections

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I attended the Assessment residency, I began the process of designing a general education course titled, “The Biology of Women”, based on the main goals of the course. I again encountered this strategy for course design in the readings, described as the “upside down pyramid”, by Randy Bass. One of the main goals for the Biology of Women is for students to write a 10 page research paper. I have taught this course twice, but I am still working to solve the problem of what can be done to improve student writing. I developed a writing rubric and have made observations each time I have taught the course. Through smaller scaled assignments intended to help prepare students to write a final paper, I noticed that many students have difficulty summarizing. This may even be rooted in difficulty comprehending scientific literature. I therefore am looking for a solution to help students with this skill. Additionally, I noticed that as I provided more focused and positive feedback on writing assignments, I created a stronger rapport with each student in which I was able to provide, not just a critique, but also encouragement by acknowledging ways in which students were doing well. I believe that an encouraging, “coach-like” approach is a more effective way to encourage students to continue with the writing process and to therefore produce a better written product. A literature survey supports my own observations, that the type of feedback given such as the “Praise, Question, Polish” approach (Lyons, 1981) promotes improvements. Additionally, a requirement for students to revise assignments in response to feedback has been shown to improve writing (Freestone, 2009). It seems that when students feel that the professor cares about them and their success, students are more motivated to succeed. Although I have created rubrics for research papers and lab reports, I have not specifically tested the hypothesis that professor reassurance, or rapport with students is valuable in improving learning outcomes. When I teach this course again, I would like to consider another method of improving student writing, which involves peer review. Students may be less intimidated by the process of writing if they see that their peers are struggling and overcoming the same obstacles as themselves, and if the process of writing has a more collaborative approach. Therefore, I would like to implement and assess this pedagogy into my course this Fall. As the readings state, it is difficult to assess multiple factors at once, therefore, I would like to develop a plan to teach writing in the Biology of Women course that incorporates the elements that I believe contribute to student success in writing, but I will need to focus on one aspect of the revised course design, such as the peer review process. In considering the importance of the 3 pronged approach, described by Gwynn Mettetal, I may be able to use small scale assignments to assess specific pedagogy or student surveys throughout the course. The “what works” research taxonomy described by Pat Hutchings is what I am most familiar with and have been using because it seems to be the most useful to directly improving outcomes. I found that the “what works” taxomomy resonated with me because it seems to be the most practical for problem solving. Some of the other taxonomies such as “what it looks like” are interesting and perhaps useful in determining what is happening so that problems can be identified. I found the 3 pronged approach, described by Gwynn Mettetal to be very useful in developing a research plan. Because of my small class sizes, this approach will still allow me to obtain meaningful results, if three different types of measurements converge to a common conclusion. I am now left to ponder and consider what other types of assessment I can include in my design.
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