Two important assumptions of Writing across the Curriculum (WAC) programs (Precept is the foundational WAC course at Union) are that writing is closely related to thinking and that it can be an important means to learn subject matter as well as to communicate an understanding of it to others. One of the best ways to encourage students to learn new ideas or concepts is to have them write or speak about them, especially through informal, exploratory assignments. The following chart shows some of the differences between informal and formal writing assignments.
Writing to Learn Writing to Communicate
Aim: exploratory learning Aim: clear communication
Focus on generating, clarifying ideas Focus on revising, crafting ideas
Audience: self or trusted others Audience: public and distant others
Writer-based prose Reader-based prose
Informal language Formal language
Instructor as mentor Instructor as evaluator
Forms: rough drafts, notes, Forms: essays, reports
journals, freewriting, responses
Essay assignments focus on public communication where structure and correctness are critical elements. Students need to learn to write well to communicate their ideas. Assignment options that focus on learning or exploration of ideas are useful in preparing students to write essays. Or they can be thought-provoking assignments in their own right. Here are some informal writing options that could be used in a Precept seminar to stimulate thinking and learning.
Response papers: Ask students to write about reading assignments as a way to help them think more deeply about what they read. The prompts can be open-ended: What struck you as you read? What thoughts and questions did the reading inspire in you? What connections did you make? Or you can provide students with prompts that focus on specific themes or ideas you want students to notice and explore.
Position papers: Ask students to define or defend a position related to one of the readings.
Letters: Ask students to define and defend a position on an issue in a letter written to someone in authority. They could also explain a concept to someone in need of that particular information. You might ask students to adopt the persona of a character from one of their readings writing to explain his/her actions or ideas to an interested person.
Dialogues: Students create a dialogue between two major figures they’ve read about, revealing their theories or thoughts and exploring areas of possible disagreement.
Lenses: Assign students one or more “lenses” through which to interpret a reading. A reading could be seen, for example, though an environmental lens, a political lens, a gender lens, an age-level lens, or some specific point of view.