The language below has migrated from the Undergraduate Advising web site on the Additional Writing general education requirement. While faculty have long used that site as the definitive guide for teaching W courses, the intended audience for that site is students. Guidelines for teaching "W" courses at UW Seattle have moved to this page for instructors.
The following is a brief overview of suggested best practices for teaching a W course. For more in-depth instructional strategies, see Implementing Writing in Your Course and to see Other Campus Supports for Faculty.
A W course should include supported writing assignment sequences that comprise both low-stakes (informal, reflective, and/or ungraded) and high-stakes (well-supported, formal, and/or graded) writing.
Low-stakes writing assignments
Low-stakes assignments should allow students to engage with and think their way through course methods and materials. They can give students an opportunity to practice with the specific contexts and conventions for writing in a particular field or major. Instructors can recognize or validate low-stakes writing assignments either by reading and responding briefly, or by integrating them into in-class activities (like discussion or peer review), or by asking students to include them in an end-of-term collection such as a portfolio.
High-stakes writing assignments
High-stakes assignments should focus on developing students' abilities to think critically about course material and practice writing more formally in a particular major or field. They can take the form of shorter graded papers, take-home exams, or some form of a traditional term project. High-stakes assignments should be preceded by a series of shorter, preparatory assignments and activities that build up to the project.
W assignments can be written in and across different languages and forms of English. Further, W courses can incorporate various forms of writing, including print-based and multimodal genres, as well as academic, informal, and public forms of writing. The form should follow the desired function and support learning goals.
Writing assignments should be designed not based on length (i.e., page count) but rather as a staged, supported process that emphasizes students' development. Some guidelines for building “W” course assignment sequences that support student learning follow below. For more in-depth guidance on these principles, please see Implementing Writing in Your Course.
W Course Guidelines
“W” courses include:
- Writing assignment prompts that contain learning goals. These goals align with course learning outcomes.
Instructors provide these goals in advance, as well as the criteria by which their writing will be assessed.
- Assignments that are sequenced, from low to high stakes. This sequencing is clearly articulated for students in the syllabus and/or assignment prompts.
Sequencing refers to the stages of the writing process and can include discussion, readings, low-stakes assignments like reading responses or brainstorming, staged drafting, feedback (given verbally and/or in writing by instructor, TA, writing centers, and/or peers), and revision.
- Assessment criteria that are grounded in learning outcomes for the assignment.
Example criteria for many effective writing assignments include particular content knowledge or concepts; organization; strength of argument; quality or use of source material; and/or rhetorical considerations like tone, layout, use of images and disciplinary conventions.
- Feedback on students’ writing that is criteria-driven.
Comments should not be restricted to copy edits.
- Assessment criteria that instructors provide (or develop with) their teaching teams. Instructors should hold norming sessions prior to grading whenever possible, so that assessment is uniform.
Assignments may be graded by professors, instructors, TAs, and/or readers.
- A number of writing assignment sequences that is proportional to the number of credits the course bears.
The amount of writing (i.e. page count) matters less than the degree to which students engage in a supported process of drafting and revision, guided by instructors and/or TAs.
Questions or Feedback?
If you have questions, concerns, or feedback we encourage you to reach out to Megan Callow at firstname.lastname@example.org.