University of Glasgow Learning and Teaching Conference 2010 Writing for Results writing/reviewing skills development

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University of Glasgow Learning and Teaching Conference 2010 Writing for Results writing/reviewing skills development

  • Quintin Cutts – Department of Computing Science
  • Katie Grant – author, journalist, Access course/writing tutor
  • Bryony Randall – Department of English Literature


  • What is Writing for Results?
  • What do staff and students say about it?
  • Why should it work?
  • What are we doing next?

Centres on real student writing defects

  • Identified via in-depth analysis of anonymised student essays
    • Katie Grant and (initially) Abi Saffrey
  • Subject specific
    • Philosophy and Earth Science very different (also CS, History, English Literature)
    • Defect categories agreed with the department
  • Range from
    • Mechanical aspects such as grammar, essay layout etc., to
    • Argument construction, effective use of evidence
  • muddled phrasing
  • referencing
  • building arguments
  • colloquialisms
  • opening lines
  • apostrophes
  • using sentence
  • fragments
  • excessive quoting
  • relevance of
  • content to question
  • commas and
  • run-on sentences

Defects form basis of feedforward sheet

  • Marking sheet to be used by tutor while reading through essay
  • Agreed set of defects in a numbered list
  • Tutor action
  • Feedback only useful if the student has some way of working with it

Suite of on-line exercises for practice

  • Authored using a Moodle extension
    • developed by CS students Daniar Aizhulov, Michael Park
  • Four exercise formats
  • Each subject/department appears as a Moodle course
    • The defects on the feedforward sheet are reproduced on the course front page
    • Each defect links to:
      • Blue Question Mark material – accessible explanation of the defect and how to fix it
      • A set of exercises drawn from real student writing

Progress to date

  • Five subject areas covered
    • CS, Earth Science, English Literature, History, Philosophy
    • Essays analysed, feedforward sheet designed and exercises developed
  • Over 1000 exercises on-line
  • Full marking cycle completed with all but Philosophy
    • but two linked submissions really required
  • Controlled experiment completed
    • and two mid-way through

Staff views

  • English Literature tutor
    • I believe that they [the feedforward sheets] stimulate fairer and more focused marking.
  • Arts Writing Skills Programme tutor
    • Pretty incredible.  I only have two questions:  a) where has this been all my life, and b) when can we roll this out?
  • History tutor
    • This looks really excellent.  The sections on muddled phrasing and meaning are particularly useful, but all of it looks good to me.  It really addresses a lot of the problems I saw time and time again this year in my History 1A essays.  

Student views

  • Focus group comments:
    • There is a lack [of writing skills teaching].
    • For me, it was a lifeline because I started to do my PSI and the moment I started working on the exercises, I realised I had some wrong notions about some things, so I think it was very helpful for the entire PSI and in general.  I would say it was more than helpful.
    • I could have done with it sooner.
    • Even if you do know this stuff, it formalises and crystallizes it so that [writing] becomes an easier process.
  • Final year students all indicated they would have benefitted greatly if available from Level 1

Student views

  • Should be more focus on good writing skills in the University
  • Typically students go to generic writing skills sites via Google
    • Noted as not very reassuring
  • Much better to be directed to a site developed with their needs in mind
  • “definitely benefited by using the website, which will help when writing future documents and essays.  It was worthwhile even to brush up on things behind the question mark.”

Influences on the design

  • Mindset, and experiment here at GU
    • Good writing is not an innate skill, but can be learned through practice
    • Feedforward sheets modeled partly on the sheets used in CS
      • Enough on the sheet itself for students to be able to make effective changes in practice
  • Mastery Learning
    • Identify deficiencies in student learning
    • Point them to relevant self-help materials
    • Students work with enough of the materials to fix up the deficiency – self-regulated

Next steps: sustainability

  • Website improvements
    • Difficulty rating, possibly also testing
  • Complete cycles in existing departments
    • Students need to see it as part of typical dept activity
  • Supporting more client departments
    • Second LTDF bid
    • Exploring different ways of supporting depts to take up the scheme
      • Set up entirely new course, using Katie entirely
      • Entirely new course, with Katie consulting
      • Reuse existing course, again with Katie consulting
    • Departments foot a fraction of the bill


  • Promising approach to improving students’ writing skills
  • Subject specific, feedforward design
  • 5 depts on board, over 1000 exercises already
  • If you/your dept/school are interested
    • Contact Katie at once
    • Set up as much as possible over the summer
      • Assuming a funding stream
    • Consider joint site with similar subject(s)?

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